Donald Davidson and Jack Vance: Two Responses to Sapir-Whorf

Philosophy Assignment:

Read “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” by Donald Davidson and “The Languages of Pao” by Jack Vance.  They are both responses to the question: Does language change how we think?  Vance responds yes and Davidson says “No.”

For your exam, please answer any set of the following questions.  Be sure to demonstrate the rigorous connections between the assumptions and arguments in all of your answers.

1)Do Vance and Davidson actually disagree?  Davidson allows himself the wiggle-room of “large imaginative differences”.  Is that what Vance is talking about?   Vance sometimes appeals to different ways of dealing with the world — does he accept that there is a world?  If you decide they don’t disagree, is that how you’re going to play it all the time, taking everything that seems to be an interesting disagreement and watering it down so it just seems like boring, trivial nonsense.  Is that how you want to live your life?

2)What is the difference between a single person concluding that the world is as he believes it to be, and a person concluding that a language is only a language as he interprets it to be?  I’m sorry I mean “as it must be interpreted to be according to Quine”.

3)What’s the difference between investigating these questions by means of an analytic philosophy essay and a science fiction novel?  Which is better?

4)What does it have to do with the fact that both Davidson and Vance flourished in the Bay Area?  Is this a Pacific Rim kind of thing to worry about?

5)Davidson used to write for the radio and Vance used to write for t.v.  What about that? Nuts, right?

6)Is the difference between Vance and Davidson itself an example of a difference in language and a conceptual scheme?  Obviously, right?  But like, so what?

Some students have inquired as to whether the assignment to answer “any set” of these questions includes the empty set.  Of course it does, my sweet, sweet children, how could you doubt it?

But if you choose  to answer the empty set of questions, be sure and show your work.


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