Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Beer and Davidson

Further to my previous entry, some stray italics round a reference to beer and Donald Davidson in a reply here reminds me of the only time I ever met him. It was at a conference in Reading in 1996, a last chance to see Quine in this world, an opportunity to watch Dennett get the better of Searle and to hear Davidson say he was tired of being subtle about the matter and that animals really didn’t have minds.

I went to the conference with a group of graduate students from Warwick including a masters student from Hong Kong whose good command of English was nevertheless understandably challenged by Davidson’s famous, singular use of ‘very’. Much of our conversation about Davidson’s philosophy actually focused on my student’s attempt to master the spontaneous use of ‘very’: “Dr Thornton, can I say…?”. Thus it was no surprise that the last time I saw him was making a beeline for Davidson at registration – the sudden realisation of the opportunity for a linguistic coup clearly momentarily distracting him – “Ah! The very David Donaldson!”.

Later in the bar, Davidson was briefly alone and, because I was a little older and a post-doc, my friends encouraged me to go first and talk to him. I did, buying myself a pint and him the half pint he asked for, and chatting to him initially about Wittgenstein. Politely, so as not to crowd him, the others joined us one by one, bringing a pint and a half of beer as if as the price of admission. As a result, I recall the great man becoming gently and very good naturedly tipsy. But, because of the number of pints I drank myself, I now remember the event as an example of why a strict redundancy theory of truth is wrong (the need for a device for compendious endorsement). Although I’m sure that whatever Davidson said was true, I can’t now replace such mention with use.