My argument has two parts. First I urge that a correct understanding of the speech, beliefs, desires, intentions and other propositional attitudes of a person leads to the conclusion that most of a person's beliefs must be true, and so there is a legitimate presumption that any of them, if it coheres with most of the rest, is true. Then I go on to claim that anyone with thoughts, and so in particular anyone who wonders whether he has any reason to suppose he is generally right about the nature of his environment, must know what a belief is, and how in general beliefs are to be detected and interpreted.He gives full definition to his meaning of beliefs and what he means by a coherence theory.
Beliefs for me are states of people with intentions, desires, sense organs; they are states that are caused by, and cause, events inside and outside the bodies of their entertainers.Davidson makes an argument after that along these lines:
... What distinguishes a coherence theory is simply the claim that notion can count as a reason for holding a belief except another belief. Its partisan rejects as unintelligible the request for a ground or source of justification of another ilk.
[1.] [A] theory of knowledge that allows that we can know the truth must be a non-relativized, non-internal form of realism.Okay, so maybe it looks like a fishy argument but it kind of comes to this: I'll break it down like this.
[2.] [Y]our utterance means what mine does if belief in its truth is systematically caused by the same events and objects.
[3.] [NB. My inference:] Your utterance means what mine does. (1, 3)
[4.] [M]ere coherence, no matter how strongly coherence is plausibly defined, can not guarantee that what is believed is so. All that a coherence theory can maintain is that most of the beliefs in a coherent total set of beliefs are true.
[5.] [So...] The question, how do I know my beliefs are generally true? thus answers itself, simply because beliefs are by nature generally true. Rephrased or expanded, the question becomes, how can I tell whether my beliefs, which are by their nature generally true, are generally true? (3 & 4)
1. "[A] theory of knowledge that allows that we can know the truth must be a non-relativized, non-internal form of realism."
Davidson doesn't try to refute skepticism as to maybe just trust a kind of phenomenological description to give credence to an inference to the best explanation. What I mean is that Davidson seems to think if we describe the world as correctly as possible as we perceive it, intersubjectively, then we are well on our way to giving a good explanation to how we know things about the world. This, for Davidson, seems to be realism enough. Basically, he thinks that when we look at our beliefs about what we perceive to be the most immediate things, it at least looks like our beliefs about the objects around us and events that we see are caused by the objects and events that are external to us. This is the best inference we can make, he seems to think. Of course he wants to say that even though external objects and events are causes for these sensory beliefs they are not themselves reasons or justifications for the belief. He writes:
[T]he distinction between sentences belief in whose truth is justified by sensations and sentences belief in whose truth is justified only by appeal to other sentences held true is as anathema to the coherentist as the distinction between beliefs justified by sensations and beliefs justified only by appeal to further beliefs. Accordingly, I suggest we give up the idea that meaning or knowledge is grounded on something that counts as an ultimate source of evidence. No doubt meaning and knowledge depend on experience, and experience ultimately on sensation. But this is the 'depend' of causality, not of evidence or justification.2. [Y]our utterance means what mine does if belief in its truth is systematically caused by the same events and objects.
The way Davidson explains this is that when we listen to people talk, we appeal to a principle of charity: We assume, other factors notwithstanding, that someone is not a liar or crazy, etc., and is instead trying to express himself clearly and intelligibly using language. If this is true, if people are sincerely trying to express themselves using a given language, they are doing so if their and our worlds are the same. And incidentally, per the first premise, they must be.
4. [M]ere coherence, no matter how strongly coherence is plausibly defined, can not guarantee that what is believed is so. All that a coherence theory can maintain is that most of the beliefs in a coherent total set of beliefs are true.
This is how Davidson explains the situation.
All beliefs are justified in this sense: they are supported by numerous other beliefs...and have a presumption in favor of their truth. The presumption increases the larger and more significant the body of beliefs with which a belief coheres, and there being no such thing as an isolated belief, there is no belief without a presumption in its favor.He thinks that it does not make much sense to ask how many beliefs a person can have since a belief is really determined by ascribing beliefs to yourself and others. And if that is the case, we can really only understand beliefs, Donaldson thinks, by appeal to the body of beliefs, which by their nature are going to be mostly true, that a person has.
So Davidson's conclusion about knowledge and a coherence theory of it is that if we understand the nature of beliefs, which are about the world and true, by definition he thinks, then we will understand that we and other people mostly have true and non-coincidental beliefs about the world, and so have knowledge about the world.
Davidson does not so much address traditional philosophical problems as assert premises that look to be self-evident. And either you share his intuitions or you don't. The fact that the intuitions are so common is what makes Davidson an appealing philosopher.
What do you think? Do you think I've correctly represented Davidson's thinking here? Do you think Davidson is right?