Volume 6, 2007
The Inconsistency of Deflationary Truth and Davidsonian Meaning
In this essay, I argue that the deflationary view of truth is inconsistent with Davidson's theory of meaning. I take deflationism to consist of two basic theses: the linguistic thesis that truth talk is always expressive and never explanatory, and the metaphysical thesis that truth is not a property. Since Davidson construes meaning in terms of truth-conditions, it appears that Davidson regards truth talk as explanatory, and truth as a property. Michael Williams argues otherwise, suggesting that Davidson's theory of meaning can be understood in terms of his theory of radical interpretation, and that radical interpretation does not require a notion of truth richer than the deflationist allows. I argue that at the level of the T-sentences Davidson's theory of meaning entails (T-sentences yielded through the practice of radical interpretation), a non-deflationary notion of truth is indeed required. This is because, first, for Davidson, to grasp the meaning of a sentence is to grasp the T-sentence associated with it, and the T-sentence predicates the property truth of that sentencesecond, because it does so, in T-sentences "true" is explanatory, not merely expressive. I then consider the objection that T-sentences can be understood in terms of a norm of assertion, rather in terms of "true" as predicating a property of sentences, and I respond that the objection confuses pragmatic issues with semantic issues.