WILLARD VAN ORMAN QUINE. Nilay MEYDAN – Selda AKKULAK. 1- INTRODUCTION.
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WILLARD VAN ORMAN QUINE
Nilay MEYDAN – Selda AKKULAK
Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000) worked in theoretical philosophy and in logic. (In practical philosophy, ethics and political philosophy, his contributions are negligible.) He is perhaps best known for his arguments against Logical Empiricism (in particular, its use of the analytic-synthetic distinction).
Two Dogmas of Empiricism is a paper by Willard Van Orman Quine. The paper is an attack on two central aspects of the logical positivists' philosophy. One is the analytic-synthetic distinction between analytic truths and synthetic truths, explained by Quine as truths grounded only in meanings and independent of facts, and truths grounded in facts. The other is reductionism, the theory that each meaningful statement gets its meaning from some logical construction of terms that refers exclusively to immediate experience. He also presents his own holistic theory of meaning.
According to the Verification Theory, a sentence is meaningful just in case its being true would make some difference to the course of our future experience; and a sentence ‘s particular meaning is its verification condition, the set of possible experiences that would tend to show that the sentence was true.
In the 1950s and 1960s, W. V. Quine posed two challenges to the Positivists’ philosophy of language. First, he attacked the notion of analyticity, that is, he attacked the claim that some sentences are true entirely in virtue of what they mean and not because of any contribution from the extralinguistic world.
The distinction between analytic truths and synthetic truths plays a crucial role in Logical Positivist’s philosophy. (Analytic truths might be characterized as those true solely in virtue of the meanings of the words they contain, synthetics truths as true in virtue of extra-linguistic fact as well as meanings.) Quine famously rejects that distinction.
Quine offers a diagnosis of the persistence of the concept of analyticity. Philosophers find the idea plausible because they tend to assume that there is a clear notion of cognitive meaning which relates each sentence to the experiences which count for it or against it and which can be applied to sentences taken one-by-one. Given that sort of notion of meaning, we could say: the synthetic sentences are precisely those to whose truth or falsehood experience is relevant; the analytic ones are those whose truth or falsehood is wholly independent of experience (and which can therefore be known a priori).
Quine criticizes this idea of atomistic (sentence-by-sentence) cognitive meaning. He argues that it requires the sort of radical reductionist position that Carnap had attempted in (1928). Against this latter view Quine invokes holism, the idea that most of our sentences do not have implications for experience when they are taken one-by-one, each in isolation from the others.
What has experiential implication is, in most cases, not an individual sentence but larger chunks of theory. Holism, Quine claims, undermines the atomism of atomistic cognitive meaning. Holism is not a very controversial doctrine; by 1934 Carnap had explicitly embraced it, as Quine certainly knew. It is for this reason that Quine should be seen as offering a diagnosis.
Quine believes that if linguistic meaning is anything it is a function of evidential support. But his own epistemology differs from the Positivists’ in being holistic. There are sentences you hold true and sentences you reject as false, but in each case the support for your belief is a complex matter of the evidential relations your sentences bears to many other sentences.
Here is Quine’s second challenge to the Positivist’s. It is not just that there are no analytic sentences, yet it is that there is no such thing as meaning. Quine denies our meaning facts in the first place, in the form of his doctrine of the indeterminacy of translation.
The general claim of the indeterminacy of translation is that there might be different ways of translating a language which are equally correct but which are not mere stylistic variants. The claim includes what one might think of as the limiting case of translation, that in which a given language is ‘translated’ into itself.
Some philosophers have held that the idea of indeterminacy is absurd, or that it amounts to an extreme form of scepticism about whether we ever understand one another, or whether correct translation is possible at all. It is not hard to see how such opinions arise.
One picture of communication is like this: you have an idea, a determinate meaning, in your mind and convey it me by your utterance. To those who have that picture, indeterminacy may seem to threaten the idea of communication, for it seems to suggest that the conveying is always vulnerable to drastic failure. In the case of translation, one view is that synonymy, sameness of meaning, is the criterion of correct translation; in that case, indeterminacy may appear as a denial that translation is possible at all.
Such views, however, take for granted a view of communication, or of translation, which is very far from Quine's. For Quine, the criterion of successful communication, whether or not translation is involved, is fluent interaction, verbal and nonverbal: “Success in communication is judged by smoothness of conversation, by frequent predictability of verbal and nonverbal reactions, and by coherence and plausibility of native testimony” (1990, 43).
From this point of view, talk of synonymy and of ideas in the mind is simply a theoretical gloss which is (at best) in need of justification. Quine doubts that the gloss is justifiable; his scepticism about the theorizing, however, is not scepticism about the data. Smooth communication certainly occurs, sometimes in cases where different languages are involved. That successful translation occurs is not cast in doubt by anything he says; his claim, indeed, is that it may be possible in more than one way.
At this point we need to distinguish the two kinds of indeterminacy. The first is indeterminacy of reference: that there is more than one way of translating sentences where the various versions differ in the reference that they attribute to parts of the sentence but not in the overall net import that they attribute to the sentence as a whole. To use an example which has become famous, a given sentence might be translated as “There's a rabbit” or as “Rabbithood is manifesting itself there” or as “There are undetached rabbit parts”, or in other ways, limited only by one's ingenuity.
Something like this, Quine suggests, can be done systematically for terms referring to physical objects: each such term is translated as referring to all of space-time other than the portion occupied by that object; each predicate is translated by one which is true of the space-time complement of an object just in case the original predicate is true of the object. It will not help to ask the person we are translating whether she means to refer to the family dog or to its space-time complement: her answer is subject to the same indeterminacy.
The second kind of indeterminacy, which Quine sometimes refers to as holophrastic indeterminacy, is another matter. Here the claim is that there is more than one correct method of translating sentences where the two translations differ not merely in the meanings attributed to the sub-sentential parts of speech but also in the net import of the whole sentence. This claim involves the whole language, so there are going to be no examples.