I do wish Donald Davidson would write a book. I mean, a proper book with a beginning, a middle and an end, in contrast to the collections of papers of which the present volume is an instance. My wishing so is not invidious. These bite-sized essays, each a mere fifteen or twenty pages long, often impress one as serious philosophical achievements even when they are read piecemeal, as they were written. But when they're read together, one sees (what I, at least, hadn't fully realised) that Davidson is a kind of bird that's become rare almost to extinction: a systematic philosopher. That's to say that he holds to a small number of very general principles the application of which, he claims, resolves a heterogeneous bushel of philosophical puzzles. The puzzles range from, for example, whether animals believe things (apparently they don't), to whether the concept of the self is irreducible (apparently it is), to how many people it takes to think about a light bulb (apparently it takes two; see below). A lot of the fun of reading these papers is seeing how an exiguous collection of commitments plays out in so many different domains.
LRB 7 March 2002 | PDF Download