Passing Theories through Topical Heuristics: Donald Davidson, Aristotle, and the Conditions of Discursive Competence

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Stephen R. Yarbrough, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:

Abstract: What are the conditions of discursive competence? In "A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs" Donald Davidson explains how it is possible that in practice we can, with little effort, understand and appropriately respond to linguistic anomalies such as the malapropism—anomalies because, by definition, the "language" cannot account for how we understand them. Such anomalies, Davidson concludes, are the exceptions that do not prove but refute the traditional rule that antecedent linguistic systems govern discursive meaning. If that is so, then meanings are not a property of a linguistic system and are not "governed by learned conventions or regularities" (1986, 436); therefore, learning and sharing such conventions, what we traditionally call "language," is not a necessary condition of successful communication. He shows this by arguing that two conditions must be met for successful interlocution and that meeting these sufficiently allows successful interlocution to take place. A third condition—that the interlocutors share a language, an organized set of learned conventions or regularities "learned in advance of occasions of interpretation" (436) for which phenomena such as malapropisms would be anomalous—is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition of discursive competence.

Additional Information

Philosophy and Rhetoric 37(1) (Summer): 72-91
Language: English
Date: 2004
Linguistic anomalies, malapropisms, language, interlocution

Email this document to