Davidson’s Truth and Predication–at least parts of it–have been in front of me this weekend. Good stuff, although I am out of sympathy with many of the details of the stories he tells, both about the history of the problem of predication and about the solution of the problem.
But I guess my fundamental disagreement with Davidson centers on the reality of the problematic he investigates. For Davidson, the unity of the proposition must be explained; explaining it requires solving the problem of predication. Seeing things this way, when Davidson turns to Frege he understands objects and concepts as constituents of propositions, constituents fashioned, as it were, so as to constitute a propositional unity. Predictably, Davidson is most fascinated with concepts, since they are–even more than objects–fearfully and wonderfully made: they are incomplete. Objects of course are complete–as are propositions (although in a different sense (Frege got confused about this, unfortunately)). The beginning of wisdom in reading Frege is recognizing the varieties of incompleteness and completeness he thematizes in his thinking–but that is a topic for another post. What I want to consider here is the way that Davidson turns Frege upside-down. I believe Frege understands objects and concepts as abstractions from propositions, not constituents of propositions. Objects and concepts are, shifting descriptions, made from propositions, not made for them. The proposition, the propositional unity, is prior to objects and concepts. There is no explaining the unity; and there is no problem of predication to solve. Davidson’s problematic is unreal.
Of course there is a problematic looming here, but it is more metaphilosophical than metaphysical. Namely, how do we philosophize without this problem? What would it be to philosophize constrained by the unity of propositions, recognizing that ultimately our only grip on anything as an object of thought is as what we are thinking instead of as what we are thinking about? Or, to put this in a more Fregean way, what would it be to philosophize constrained by The Context Principle–and its two companion Principles from Foundations? Frege’s Principles, as I believe (and have argued elsewhere), are the methodological counterpart to the unity of the proposition. Taken seriously–kept is Frege’s word–the Principles reorient philosophy itself. Wittgenstein’s work, both in TLP and in PI, strives to keep Frege’s Principles. Arguably, Davidson senses this. Although he shies away from Wittgenstein (saying a bit about why in a long footnote) he does at one point talk of a “deep truth” in a “Wittgensteinian thought”–but he seems unable to see how really to entertain the thought. That is unsurprising, since the thought impugns the problematic that provides the very structure of Davidson’s thinking.