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Volume 11, 1998

Cognitive Semantics II

Richard N. Manning
Pages 18-40

All Facts Great and Small

I examine the arguments Donald Davidson has offered through the years concerning the ontological bona fides of facts. In “Truth and Meaning”, Davidson uses the so-called “slingshot” argument to the effect that if true sentences refer, then they are all coreferential. Through a detailed examination of the assumptions underlying this argument, I show that, while it is effective as part of a reductio of bottom-up, reference based semantics, it has no tendency to establish the truth of its negative conclusion concerning the existence of facts. Davidson also argues against facts by claiming they are of no help in the explication of truth. I claim that his repeated invocation of the slingshot in this context, as well as of arguments from other authors employing assumptions similar to the slingshot's, is inappropriate, especially in light of his own commitment to a top-down semantics — a committment inspired, ironically, by the reductio offered in “Truth and Meaning”. Davidson's other argument against truth as correspondence, namely that our grasp of facts is no better than our grasp of truths, is sound. But this argument does not show that there are no facts; it shows only that no theory of truth in terms of corre- pondence to facts can genuinely illuminate its explanandum.

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