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Willard Van Orman Quine

The other main tenet of Logical Positivism attacked by Quine in these works was that of Reductionism the theory that any meaningful statement gets its meaning from some logical construction of terms which refers exclusively to immediate experience. Although Quine's criticisms played a major role in the decline of Logical Positivism , he remained a Verificationist. Thus, he believed that, while it may be possible to verify or falsify whole theories , it is not possible to verify or falsify individual statements.

He also subscribed to a kind of Relativism , believing that for any collection of empirical evidence, there would always be many theories able to account for it. In his Metaphysics and ontology or "ontic theory" as Quine referred to it , two articles stand out, "Steps toward a Constructive Nominalism" and "On What There Is" In general, his ontology was originally nominalistic , maintaining that only particular individuals exist, and that universals or abstract entities do not exist except perhaps as linguistic symbols.

He made clear, however, that accepted scientific theories allow for more than one ontic theory of existence, and that it is incorrect to seek to determine that just one such ontic theory is true. The primacy of mathematical logic in Quine's ontology is evident in his celebrated definition of being: "To be is to be the value of a variable". By this time, he had abandoned his earlier Nominalism by acknowledging the existence of abstract entities , and he also developed a behaviorist account of language learning. It was in "Word And Object" that he first proposed his thesis of the indeterminacy of translation , particularly regarding radical translation the attempt to translate a hitherto unknown language.

He noted that there are always different ways one might break a sentence into words, and different ways to distribute functions among words, so that a single sentence must always be taken to have more than one different meaning. He effectively broadened the principle of Semantic or Confirmation Holism still further to arrive at the position that a sentence and therefore a word has meaning only in the context of a whole language.

Quine's early work was mainly on mathematical Logic , including significant contributions to the development of the important mathematical area of set theory , particularly in his papers "A System of Logic" , "New Foundations of Mathematical Logic" , "Mathematical Logic" , "Methods of Logic" and "Set Theory and Its Logic" He also developed an interesting paradox , which has come to be known as Quine's Paradox : "yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation" yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation.

See the additional sources and recommended reading list below, or check the philosophy books page for a full list. A huge subject broken down into manageable chunks. Random Quote of the Day:.

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Back to Top. Willard Van Orman Quine Books. If you quote this material please be courteous and provide a link. If this view is right, it is misleading to speak of the empirical content of an individual statement - especially if it be a statement at all remote from the experiential periphery of the field. Furthermore it becomes folly to seek a boundary between synthetic statements, which hold contingently on experience, and analytic statements which hold come what may.

Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system.

Even a statement very close to the periphery can be held true in the face of recalcitrant experience by pleading hallucination or by amending certain statements of the kind called logical laws. Conversely, by the same token, no statement is immune to revision.

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Revision even of the logical law of the excluded middle has been proposed as a means of simplifying quantum mechanics; and what difference is there in principle between such a shift and the shift whereby Kepler superseded Ptolemy, or Einstein, Newton, or Darwin Aristotle? For vividness I have been speaking in terms of varying distances from a sensory periphery. Let me try now to clarify this notion without metaphor. Certain statements, though about physical objects and not sense experience, seem peculiarly germane to sense experience and in a selective way: some statements to some experiences, others to others.

Such statements, especially germane to particular experiences, I picture as near the periphery. But in this relation of "germaneness" I envisage nothing more than a loose association reflecting the relative likelihood, in practice, of our choosing one statement rather than another for revision in the event of recalcitrant experience.

For example, we can imagine recalcitrant experiences to which we would surely be inclined to accommodate our system by re-evaluating just the statement that there are brick houses on Elm Street, together with related statements on the same topic.

The Development of Analytic Philosophy: Wittgenstein and after

We can imagine other recalcitrant experiences to which we would be inclined to accommodate our system by re-evaluating just the statement that there are no centaurs, along with kindred statements. A recalcitrant experience can, I have already urged, be accommodated by any of various alternative re-evaluations in various alternative quarters of the total system; but, in the cases which we are now imagining, our natural tendency to disturb the total system as little as possible would lead us to focus our revisions upon these specific statements concerning brick houses or centaurs.

These statements are felt, therefore, to have a sharper empirical reference than highly theoretical statements of physics or logic or ontology. The latter statements may be thought of as relatively centrally located within the total network, meaning merely that little preferential connection with any particular sense data obtrudes itself. As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported ,into the situation as convenient intermediaries - not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer.

Let me interject that for my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer's gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind.

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Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience. Imagine, for the sake of analogy, that we are given the rational numbers.

We develop an algebraic theory for reasoning about them, but we find it inconveniently complex, because certain functions such as square root lack values for some arguments. Then it is discovered that the rules of our algebra can be much simplified by conceptually augmenting our ontology with some mythical entities, to be called irrational numbers. All we continue to be really interested in, first and last, are rational numbers; but we find that we can commonly get from one law about rational numbers to another much more quickly and simply by pretending that the irrational numbers are there too.

I think this a fair account of the introduction of irrational numbers and other extensions of the number system. The fact that the mythical status of irrational numbers eventually gave way to the Dedekind-Russell version of them as certain infinite classes of ratios is irrelevant to my analogy. That version is impossible anyway as long as reality is limited to the rational numbers and not extended to classes of them. Now I suggest that experience is analogous to the rational numbers and that the physical objects, in analogy to the irrational numbers, are posits which serve merely to simplify our treatment of experience.

The physical objects are no more reducible to experience than the. The salient differences between the positing of physical objects and the positing of irrational numbers are, I think, just two. First, the factor of simplification is more overwhelming in the case of physical objects than in the numerical case. Second, the positing of physical objects is far more archaic, being indeed coeval, I expect, with language itself. For language is social and so depends for its development upon intersubjective reference.

Positing does not stop with macroscopic physical objects. Objects at the atomic level and beyond are posited to make the laws of macroscopic objects, and ultimately the laws of experience, simpler and more manageable; and we need not expect or demand full definition of atomic and subatomic entities in terms of macroscopic ones, any more than definition of macroscopic things in terms of sense data. Science Is a continuation of common sense, and it continues the common-sense expedient of swelling ontology to simplify theory.

Physical objects, small and large, are not the only posits. Forces are another example; and indeed we are told nowadays that the boundary between energy and matter is obsolete. Moreover, the abstract entities which are the substance of mathematics-ultimately classes and classes of classes and so on up-are another posit in the same spirit. Epistemologically these are myths on the same footing with physical objects and gods, neither better nor worse except for differences in the degree to which they expedite our dealings with sense experiences.

The over-all algebra of rational and irrational numbers is underdetermined by the algebra of rational numbers, but is smoother and more convenient; and it includes the algebra of rational numbers as a jagged or gerrymandered part. Total science, mathematical and natural and human, is similarly but more extremely underdetermined by experience.

The edge of the system must be kept squared with experience; the rest, with all its elaborate myths or fictions, has as its objective the simplicity of laws. Robert Sokolowski. Michael Loux. Seeing Things as They Are. Frege Explained. Joan Weiner. Godel's Proof. Ernest Nagel. Constructing the World. David J. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Michael Williams. The Body in the Mind. Mark Johnson. Christopher Hookway. The Waning of Materialism. Robert C. David Woodruff Smith.

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  • The Human Thymus: Histophysiology and Pathology;
  • Peter Hylton. Phenomenology Explained. David Detmer. Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, Volume 2. Philosophy of Mathematics. Knowledge, Thought, and the Case for Dualism. Richard Fumerton. Hilary Putnam. Resurrecting Old-Fashioned Foundationalism. Michael DePaul. Thought and Language. Howard Robinson.

    What IS Sex? Alenka Zupancic. A Companion to W. Gilbert Harman. The Cambridge Companion to Quine. Roger F. Gibson Jr. The Concept of Meaning. Mind, Language, and Metaphilosophy. Richard Rorty. Robert J. The Revolutionary Kant. Graham Bird. Peter van Inwagen.

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    The Legacy of Kant in Sellars and Meillassoux. Fabio Gironi. Saul Kripke. Alan Berger. Paul Horwich. The Measure of Mind. Wittgenstein and Quine. Robert Arrington. The Emergent Self. William Hasker. Philosophical Introduction to Set Theory.