Article: Jeff Speaks, Truth theories, translation manuals and theories of meaning

Truth theories, translation manuals, and theories of meaning
Jeff Speaks
January 20, 2006

Versions of the Davidsonian program in semantics aim to use a Tarskian truth theory to accomplish the tasks of a theory of meaning. In “Truth and Meaning,” Davidson identified two related aims for the theory of meaning: (i) to give the meanings of expressions of the language, and (ii) to explain the semantic competence of speakers of the language, by stating information knowledge of which would be sufficient to understand the language.
From the start, the attempt to use a truth theory to accomplish these tasks faced a number of fundamental objections. In the last thirty years, though, a number of variants of Davidson’s original framework have been proposed to avoid these objections.
The question I wish to raise in this paper is: do any of the proposed modifications of Davidson’s original theory validate the idea that, as Davidson put it, we find in Tarskian truth theories “the sophisticated and powerful foundation of a competent theory of meaning”?

I will argue that they do not. To show this, it will be useful to begin with a discussion of two traditional problems for the Davidsonian program, and the solution to these problems offered by Max K¨olbel in his “Two Dogmas of Davidsonian Semantics.”