Donald Davidson's "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme"

 Davidson argues that the assumption that individuals existing in one society share most of the beliefs can be used to negate the dualism of conceptual scheme and experiential content. In addition, he rejects the idea of pragmatisms. Empiricisms and relativisms are rejected along this idea in this essay as he suggests that they become nullified along with the concept of scheme-content dualism.

 Societies and individuals possess conceptual schemes that are unique to them and may not be possessed by any other person or groups of people anywhere else (Davidson 5). These conceptual schemes are created through the organization of the sensory content. Naturally, the sensory content of each individual is organized in a special way and there may exist minimal chances that another person can possess a similar organization. The organization of sensory content at the societal level depends on the values of that society and what binds them together. However, there is no guarantee that the uniqueness of this content limits its possession to just a specific individual (Davidson 14). The concept of dualism of this scheme content is made up of the fact that each individual or society has their own understanding of the phenomena that make up the universe to the extent that the knowledge of each person is incommensurable. Davidson argues that this possibility does not exist. Further, he proposes that the very initial concept of conceptual scheme is illogical.

Davidson (6) notes that many doctrines have tried to associate language with different conceptual schemes. According to him, languages should be different if conceptual schemes are different. However, it is evident that we can translate one language and be able to communicate the message that it carries to all the people in the world. This is a proof that though the wording of the languages may differ, we can be able to get the meaning of what another person has said and even go ahead to learn their language which will the help us translate it into our own. He further argues that if at all the concept of a conceptual scheme exists, there is only one of it in the whole world. If numerous of these schemes existed, communication through language would have been a totally impossible phenomenon. Therefore, to Davidson (12), the very idea that we exist in one world where all of us can communicate effectively is s proof that it is impossible to make any sense of conceptual relativism.

There are several difficulties that I experience in understanding the argument that Davidson puts forward. A good part of the essay is spent explaining how conceptual schemes are different between individuals and society. However, Davidson, towards the middle of his essay states that the very idea of conceptual schemes is illogical. This is a contradiction from the beginning of his essay since he had used this very concept to challenge dualism that earlier philosophers had built on the concept of the conceptual scheme. Therefore, I feel that if Davidson’s aim was to negate the idea of dualism of conceptual schemes, he should just have concentrated on showing that conceptual schemes are incommensurable as this would be enough instead of starting his essay on a higher level by negating dualism. Therefore, his essay seems to be in two parts that are contradicting each other and this gave me difficulties in understanding his argument as a reader.