Measuring the mental: an apology for the analogy

Publication Type:


Transliteration of original Title: 
Izmerenie mental'nogo: apologiya odnoy analogii
Garris Rogonyan
National Research University Higher School of Economics (Saint Petersburg)
Issue number: 
No.4 (Vol.50)

The article considers pros and cons for a theoretic-measurement analogy, proposed by some philosophers as an illustration of semantic indeterminacy. Within this analogy ascribing of meanings to a certain linguistic expressions is compared with attribution of numbers according to a certain theory of measurement. Donald Davidson used this analogy in order to extend W. V. O. Quine's thesis of indeterminacy of translation to the interpretation of all human behavior. In other words, not only linguistic meanings, but all mental states are considered as indeterminate. The article explains the failure of some counter-arguments put forward against Davidson’s use of this analogy and against the thesis of indeterminacy on the whole. Particularly, instrumentalist version of the analogy is rejected for there is no direct relation between indeterminacy and underdetermination of theories by empirical evidences. The article concludes that the semantic indeterminacy is largely based on indeterminacy of rationality.

interpretation, reference, indeterminacy of meaning, underdetermination, theory of measurement

Churchland P. Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979. 157 p.

Collins J. D. Indeterminacy and Intention. In: Hahn E.L. (ed.). The Philosophy of Donald Davidson (The Library of Living Philosophers Volume XXVII). Chicago, IL: Open Court, 1999, pp. 501 - 528.

Crane T. An alleged analogy between numbers and propositions. Analysis, 1990, vol. 4, no. 50, pp. 224 - 230.

Davidson D. Comments on Karlovy Vary Papers. In: Kotatko P., Pagin P., and Segal G. (eds.). Interpreting Davidson. Stanford: CSLI, 2001, pp. 285 - 307.

Davidson D. Istina i interpretatsiya [Inquires into Truth and Interpretation]. Moscow: Praxis, 2003. 448 p. (In Russian)

Davidson D. Problems of Rationality. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004. 280 p.

Davidson D. Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001. 237 p.

Dennett D. The Intentional Stance. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987. 388 p.

Dresner E. A Measurement Theoretic Account of Propositions. Synthes, 2006, vol. 1, no. 153, pp. 1-22.

Fodor J. Psychosemantics. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987. 171 p.

LePore E., Ludwig L. Donald Davidson. Meaning, Truth, Language, and Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. 446 p.

Matthews R. The Measure of Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. 267 p.

Rawling P. Davidson’s Measurement Theoretic Reduction of the Mind. In: Interpreting Davidson. Ed. by Petr Kotatko, Peter Pagin, and Gabriel Segal. Stanford: CSLI, 2001, pp. 237 - 255.

Rawling P. Davidson’s Measurement-Theoretic Analogy. In: LePore E., Ludwig L. (eds.). A Companion to Donald Davidson. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013, pp. 247 - 263.

Searle J. Indeterminacy, Empiricism, and the First Person. Journal of Philosophy, 1987, vol. 3, no. 84, pp. 123 - 146.


Full Text: