Can a Theory of Language Provide the Basis for Interpersonal Comparisons? The Contribution of Donald Davidson

Davidson has shown that there is a connection between intrapersonal and interpersonal comparisons, while at the same time arguing that they overlap and mutually determine one other. This paper shall show that the eminently social character of thought and language requires to consider knowledge of “self,” and in particular, the fact that intrapersonal comparisons have to be treated as the outcome of a context, of a bundle of distinct beliefs but also of a contact with others. Nonetheless, access to my own thoughts, and hence to my intrapersonal comparisons, involves only myself, and I know better than anyone what I think. How then can I come to know the others’ minds and embark upon interpersonal comparisons? Here two elements will be distinguished: the first consists in considering the other as to a great extent sharing beliefs similar to my own, allowing me to compare the other to myself on the basis of my own intrapersonal comparisons; the second relates to language, and bids us to be charitable towards the other and to consider that he is generally right about his beliefs and thoughts, as I am myself.