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Gadamer and Davidson on Language and Thought



Recently philosophers interested in bridging the gap between continental and analytic philosophy have looked to connecting Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics with Donald Davidson’s philosophy of language. Both seem to share a number of positions, and each was familiar with the other’s writings. In this essay, I look at Davidson’s criticisms of Gadamer’s hermeneutics—in particular Gadamer’s view that dialogue always depends on a shared language and, when successful, produces a new common language to understand a topic. I argue that Davidson’s objections miss the way Gadamer is using conversation (Gespräch) as a technical term. Working out the difference between what Davidson and Gadamer mean reveals a deeper divide between their views about the relation between language and thought.