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"When I meet my interlocutor for the first time I know nothing about his/her belief system, about the array of sentences he/she holds true. According to Davidson, I have no option but to assume that his/her belief system is very much like my own, that for the most part there is a massive overlap between our beliefs. This is what Davidson calls the principle of charity, a methodological maxim that regulates interpretation, guiding how we go about comparing and contrasting belief systems and correlating idiolects. The principle of charity says that we must assume that speakers believe mostly true beliefs and, therefore, for the most part their belief systems overlap. For Davidson, this is a methodological constraint on interpretation, an unavoidable presupposition of our interpretative practices: interpretations must be charitable in order to be meaningful interpretations at all; charity is a condition of possibility of interpretation. As Davidson (1984) puts it: 'we cannot take even a first step towards interpretation without assuming a great deal about the speaker's belief. [. . .] the only possibility at the start is to assume general agreement on beliefs' (p. 196)."

Principle of charity:

  • We must believe that an interlocutors beliefs are like my own
  • ???
  • We must believe that an interlocutors beliefs are mostly true
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  • It is not an argument that their beliefs must be (mostly) like ours or true, it is an argument that we should assume that. We should assume it simply because otherwise the task of interpretation is pointless. If there is no common ground or common truth the sounds made by them are just noise. For the same reason we should search for something only in places that are lit. Not because the thing has to be there, but because otherwise we can't find it anyway.
    – Conifold
    May 12 '20 at 17:14
  • @Conifold Why do we need to assume common truth (over and beyond common ground)? Additionally, I'm not so sure he isn't saying that it is in fact incoherent to say most of our beliefs are false.
    – afish24467
    May 12 '20 at 18:29
  • Because on Donaldson's theory, which is in the style of Frege's, meaning is derivative from truth values. So saying that most our beliefs are false is indeed not very meaningful.
    – Conifold
    May 12 '20 at 18:35
  • @Conifold if saying most of them are false is not meaningful, certainly saying most of them are true is also not meaningful?
    – afish24467
    May 13 '20 at 0:56
  • There is no symmetry between the two unless it is known which ones are true/false. Davidson's meaning building only works when most are true.
    – Conifold
    May 13 '20 at 2:04

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