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Another approach to Quine's objection to analyticity and synonymy emerges from the modal notion of logical possibility. A traditional Wittgensteinian view of meaning held that each meaningful sentence was associated with a region in the "logical space" Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 1.

The central theses underlying the indeterminacy of translation and other extensions of Quine's work are ontological relativity and the related doctrine of confirmation holism. The premise of confirmation holism is that all theories and the propositions derived from them are under-determined by empirical data data, sensory-data, evidence ; although some theories are not justifiable, failing to fit with the data or being unworkably complex, there are many equally justifiable alternatives.

While the Greeks' assumption that unobservable Homeric gods exist is false, and our supposition of unobservable electromagnetic waves is true, both are to be justified solely by their ability to explain our observations. Quine concluded his " Two Dogmas of Empiricism " as follows:. 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. 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.

Both sorts of entities enter our conceptions only as cultural posits. Quine's ontological relativism evident in the passage above led him to agree with Pierre Duhem that for any collection of empirical evidence , there would always be many theories able to account for it. However, Duhem's holism is much more restricted and limited than Quine's. For Duhem, underdetermination applies only to physics or possibly to natural science , while for Quine it applies to all of human knowledge.

Thus, while it is possible to verify or falsify whole theories, it is not possible to verify or falsify individual statements.


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Almost any particular statement can be saved, given sufficiently radical modifications of the containing theory. For Quine, scientific thought forms a coherent web in which any part could be altered in the light of empirical evidence, and in which no empirical evidence could force the revision of a given part. The problem of non-referring names is an old puzzle in philosophy, which Quine captured when he wrote,.

A curious thing about the ontological problem is its simplicity. It can be put into three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables: 'What is there? How can we talk about Pegasus? To what does the word 'Pegasus' refer? If our answer is, 'Something,' then we seem to believe in mystical entities; if our answer is, 'nothing', then we seem to talk about nothing and what sense can be made of this?

Certainly when we said that Pegasus was a mythological winged horse we make sense, and moreover we speak the truth! If we speak the truth, this must be truth about something. So we cannot be speaking of nothing. Quine resists the temptation to say that non-referring terms are meaningless for reasons made clear above. Instead he tells us that we must first determine whether our terms refer or not before we know the proper way to understand them. Lejewski writes further,. This state of affairs does not seem to be very satisfactory. The idea that some of our rules of inference should depend on empirical information, which may not be forthcoming, is so foreign to the character of logical inquiry that a thorough re-examination of the two inferences [existential generalization and universal instantiation] may prove worth our while.

Lejewski then goes on to offer a description of free logic , which he claims accommodates an answer to the problem. Quine had considered the problem of the empty set unrealistic, which left Lejewski unsatisfied. Over the course of his career, Quine published numerous technical and expository papers on formal logic, some of which are reprinted in his Selected Logic Papers and in The Ways of Paradox.

Quine confined logic to classical bivalent first-order logic , hence to truth and falsity under any nonempty universe of discourse. Hence the following were not logic for Quine:. Mathematical Logic is based on Quine's graduate teaching during the s and '40s. It shows that much of what Principia Mathematica took more than pages to say can be said in pages.

The proofs are concise, even cryptic. Quine's work in logic gradually became dated in some respects. Techniques he did not teach and discuss include analytic tableaux , recursive functions , and model theory. His treatment of metalogic left something to be desired. For example, Mathematical Logic does not include any proofs of soundness and completeness. Early in his career, the notation of his writings on logic was often idiosyncratic.

His later writings nearly always employed the now-dated notation of Principia Mathematica.

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Set against all this are the simplicity of his preferred method as exposited in his Methods of Logic for determining the satisfiability of quantified formulas, the richness of his philosophical and linguistic insights, and the fine prose in which he expressed them. Most of Quine's original work in formal logic from onwards was on variants of his predicate functor logic , one of several ways that have been proposed for doing logic without quantifiers. For a comprehensive treatment of predicate functor logic and its history, see Quine For an introduction, see chpt.

Quine was very warm to the possibility that formal logic would eventually be applied outside of philosophy and mathematics. He wrote several papers on the sort of Boolean algebra employed in electrical engineering , and with Edward J. McCluskey , devised the Quine—McCluskey algorithm of reducing Boolean equations to a minimum covering sum of prime implicants. While his contributions to logic include elegant expositions and a number of technical results, it is in set theory that Quine was most innovative. He always maintained that mathematics required set theory and that set theory was quite distinct from logic.

He flirted with Nelson Goodman 's nominalism for a while, but backed away when he failed to find a nominalist grounding of mathematics. Over the course of his career, Quine proposed three variants of axiomatic set theory, each including the axiom of extensionality :. All three set theories admit a universal class, but since they are free of any hierarchy of types , they have no need for a distinct universal class at each type level.


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  • Quine's set theory and its background logic were driven by a desire to minimize posits; each innovation is pushed as far as it can be pushed before further innovations are introduced. For Quine, there is but one connective, the Sheffer stroke , and one quantifier, the universal quantifier. All polyadic predicates can be reduced to one dyadic predicate, interpretable as set membership. His rules of proof were limited to modus ponens and substitution. He preferred conjunction to either disjunction or the conditional , because conjunction has the least semantic ambiguity.

    He was delighted to discover early in his career that all of first order logic and set theory could be grounded in a mere two primitive notions: abstraction and inclusion. For an elegant introduction to the parsimony of Quine's approach to logic, see his "New Foundations for Mathematical Logic," ch. Just as he challenged the dominant analytic—synthetic distinction, Quine also took aim at traditional normative epistemology. According to Quine, traditional epistemology tried to justify the sciences, but this effort as exemplified by Rudolf Carnap failed, and so we should replace traditional epistemology with an empirical study of what sensory inputs produce what theoretical outputs: [28] "Epistemology, or something like it, simply falls into place as a chapter of psychology and hence of natural science.

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    Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Quintessence: Basic Readings from the Philosophy of W. Quine by Willard Van Orman Quine ,. Roger F. Gibson Jr. Through the first half of the twentieth century, analytic philosophy was dominated by Russell, Wittgenstein, and Carnap. Influenced by Russell and especially by Carnap, another towering figure, Willard Van Orman Quine emerged as the most important proponent of analytic philosophy during the second half of the century.

    Yet with twenty-three books and countless a Through the first half of the twentieth century, analytic philosophy was dominated by Russell, Wittgenstein, and Carnap. Yet with twenty-three books and countless articles to his credit - including, most famously, Word and Object and Two Dogmas of Empiricism - Quine remained a philosopher's philosopher, largely unknown to the general public.

    Quintessence for the first time collects Quine's classic essays such as Two Dogmas and On What There Is in one volume - and thus offers readers a much-needed introduction to his general philosophy. Divided into six parts, the thirty-five selections take up analyticity and reductionism; the indeterminacy of translation of theoretical sentences and the inscrutability of reference; ontology; naturalised epistemology; philosophy of mind; and extensionalism.

    Willard Van Orman Quine

    Representative of Quine at his best, these readings are fundamental not only to an appreciation of the philosopher and his work, but also to an understanding of the philosophical Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages. More Details Original Title. Other Editions 1. Friend Reviews.