Davidson's externalism and Swampman's troublesome biography


  • André Leclerc Federal University of Paraíba




After the seminal works of Putnam (1975), Burge (1979), and Kripke (1982), the next important contribution to externalism is certainly Davidson’s (mainly 1987, 1988, 1989, 2001). By criticizing the positions of these philosophers, Davidson elaborated his own brand of externalism.
We shall first present some features of Davidson’s externalism (the importance of historical-causal connections for the foundation of language and thought, for the explanation of how language can be learned, and how attitudes can be identified by the interpreter, and finally how mental content is determined by appealing to the idea of triangulation), to prepare the discussion of a few problems. We then discuss two questions in Davidson’s externalism. First, how to reconcile the fact that external factors determine mental content, as Putnam, Burge and Davidson himself argued convincingly, with token-physicalism, the thesis that mental events are identical with physical events occurring “in the head” (or the thesis that mental events supervenes locally on brain activities)? The second main problem is how to reconcile the first person authority with some prima facie consequences of externalism, mainly that we should know the relevant parts of our (natural and social) environment in order to know the content of our own thoughts? We argue that Davidson’s answer to the first question is not successful, while his answer to the second was a breakthrough.