‘There is no such thing as a language,’ Donald Davidson tells us (‘A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs,’ in Ernest LePore, ed., Truth and Interpretation [Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1986] 433-46, 446). Though this is a startling claim in its own right, it seems especially puzzling coming from a leading theorizer about language. Over the years, Davidson’s important essays have sparked the hope that there is a route to a positive, nonskeptical theory of meaning for natural languages. This hope would seem to be dashed if there are no natural languages. Unless Davidson’s radical claim is a departure from his developed views, the Davidsonian program appears to have undermined itself.
In a recent book, Donald Davidson’s Philosophy of Language: An Introduction (which Davidson has enthusiastically endorsed), Bjorn Ramberg promises to establish that Davidson's startling claim is not an aberration. Rather, it 'emerges as a natural development of his theory of meaning' (2). He reads the claim that there is no such thing as a language as the claim that the concept of a language has no useful theoretical role. Like the concepts of meaning and reference, it is a 'ghost of reification' which Davidson attempts to 'exorcise' from our philosophical thinking about linguistic communication. All three concepts can be seen as mere ladders to be kicked away once the edifice of a Davidsonian theory of linguistic communication is properly erected on the sole foundation of the concept of truth. The result, he assures us, ‘is not a theory which undercuts itself, but a comprehensive, coherent account of the phenomenon of linguistic communication’ (3).