American Philosopher. B. 1917 in Massachusetts. Ph.D. in Classical Philosophy from Harvard granted in 1949. Currently teaches at University of California, Berkeley. Best known for his work in the philosophy of language. Davidson's work has always been represented in essay form and has, for the large part, been collected in two books:
  • Essays on Actions and Events (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), includes these essays (amongst others): ‘Actions, Reasons and Causes’, ‘Agency’, ‘Intending’, ‘The Logical Form of Action Sentences’, ‘Causal Relations’, ‘The Individuation of Events’, ‘Mental Events’.
  • Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), includes these essays (amongst others): ‘Truth and Meaning’, ‘Quotation’, ‘On Saying That’, ‘Radical Interpretation’, ‘Thought and Talk’, ‘On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme’.
Davidson's work has touched on a number of areas central to the core of analytic philosophy. Some, like Richard Rorty have claimed that he has helped to undermine the analytic tradition, though the majority see Davidson as helping to solve the fundamental problems in epistemology and the philosophy of language that are the darlings of contemporary analytic departments. Davidson's work touches on a wide range of philosophical concepts including: truth, meaning, knowledge, theories of action, akrasia (weakness of will), and translation.

Davidson owes an important debt to the philosophers W.V.O. Quine and Alfred Tarski. In his work on truth, Davidson offered a revised conception of Tarski's minimalist approach to truth. Davidson's semantic theory of truth defines the concept of truth thus: a sentence P is true if and only if P. Davidson, it should be noted, is offering a formal definition of truth, while not necessarily explicating the content of this definition. Such a move is famous for analytic philosophers, and Davidson, as well as the tradition, has been blamed for being too technical and proferring theses with little relevance to other disciplines. Some have argued that a concept such as truth that supposedly ranges over a wide sphere of human action and belief deserves greater treatment than the formal definition offered by Davidson and Tarski. Rorty, on the other hand, expresses approbation of Davidson's work for he thinks that it helps us to see the narrow scope of analytic philosophizing. Given such narrow focus, Rorty thinks we can move on to more interesting philosophical endavours and vocabularies that revolves around concepts such as irony and solidarity rather than truth and knowledge.

In his work on the concept of meaning, Davidson takes Quine's work as his point of departure. Like Quine and Wittgenstein, Davidson desires to shift the rhetorical question with which our inquiry begins. The question traditionally asked by the epistemologist, ‘What is meaning?’ is replaced by the more pragmatic question, ‘What would a speaker need to know to understand the utterances of another?’. The rhetorical effect of this shift is that meaning is no longer taken to be a static property that adheres in a word, a sentence, or a proposition, but is rather a function of understanding, translation, and interpretation. Meaning, on Davidson's view, is holistic in that it is incorporated into a web of beliefs (Quine's concept). Meaning is also, on Davidson's view, to some extents dependent upon a situation in which meaning is recognizable, or recognized, -- for example, we do not ascribe meaning to the utterances of faucets, mainly because we do not impart rationality to the utterers (i.e., the faucets). Davidson has put his use to meaning in arguing against the twin antagonists relativism and scepticism that have plagued modern philosophy ever since Descartes' doubt: the analytic fixation on Cartesian methodology has never wavered. In constructing his theory of meaning, Davidson also famously denounced what he called the third dogma of empiricism, namely the Kantian-Quinean notion of conceptual schemes that organize and translate our raw and preconceptual sensory experiences.

A good online source on Davidson's work is