Who is Willard Van Orman Quine?June 26, 2021
American contemporary logician and philosopher who developed a theory of the foundations of logic, and particularly its semantic aspects.
Being faithful to the mathematical logic developed by Russell and Whitehead in general, Quine tried to articulate the ontological consequences of the acceptance of a logic theory, opposing the general view of British philosophers that logic is ontologically neutral. With the thesis that there is a fundamental distinction between analytic propositions that are incorrigible and synthetic propositions that can be corrected by experiment, Quine strongly opposed the view that every meaningful proposition is a construction created from direct and unmediated experiments, following Duhem, following Duhem, not an isolated proposition, but an isolated proposition. He also claimed that he was subject to a series of propositions. In his view, a proposition is not just a “simple summary of experiments”, but a component of a scientific system.
The first of these dogmas is that there is a sharp distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions; The second is the dogma that meaningful statements can be resolved into simple propositions that can be compared directly to immediate experience. Quine also calls this second dogma the dogma of reductionism. For ultimately a talk about objects is reduced to simple contents present in sense experience. The first of these dogmas brings along a division of labor between scientists and philosophers. While scientists pursue synthetic truths, philosophers clarify existing terms through analytical definitions, reveal the forms of logical inferences, and reveal the means of right thinking. The second dogma can be based both on Hume’s idea that experience begins with sensory impressions, and on the verifiability principle of logical positivists.
The two dogmas of empiricism are interrelated because the discovery of analytic propositions represents a limit situation for synthetic propositions, furthermore, analytic propositions can be resolved into elements of complex synthetic propositions to yield simple propositions comparable to sense experience.
For Quine, uncritical semantics consists of a museum myth in which the exhibits are meanings and words are labels. Changing language is changing labels. Now the main objection to this view by proponents of the naturalist approach is not that meanings are mental things, which would be a strong enough criticism. The main criticism remains valid even if the labeled display products are not mental ideas but Platonic ideas or even concrete objects referred to them. As long as we consider a person’s semantics to be somehow determined in his mind beyond what is inherent in the overt behavior he may exhibit, semantics is corrupted by a malignant mentality. Quine’s emphasis on observable behavior is crucial here. According to Quine, there is no other source of data that a person can penetrate beyond the behavior of others in the language learning process. Behavioral treatment of meaning has profound consequences. According to Quine, when we adopt a naturalistic understanding of language and a behavioral theory of meaning, we also give up the specificity of meaning. In other words, there is no longer a definite answer to whether the meanings of two different expressions are the same. There is no data beyond the behaviors observed in the hands of a child who has just learned the language. What one of the two speakers of the same language refers to or means when he uses a word is equally subject to ambiguity. For Quine, at the core of the problem lies an ambiguity about the individuation of objects. Since we cannot objectively speak of individuals and individuation by themselves, we have to make a division and individualization within and according to language. However, in doing so, we do not have any more tools than observable behaviors. Ultimately, Quine calls this problem inscrutability of reference.
Quine uses Russell’s theory of definite descriptors to solve the problem he calls the “riddle of the nonexistent”. From this point of view, Quine says that the statement “for an expression containing a singular term to be meaningful, there must be something named by that term” loses its validity. Starting from this point, Quine takes up the problem of universals and makes a similar criticism for general terms. According to Quine, the meaningfulness of general terms does not require the existence of universals. The result of all these discussions is that the situations to which we attach ourselves from an ontological point of view only “There is this thing (x) with such and such properties.” We see that it is through such expressions. To use Quine’s example, “Some dogs are white.” premise obliges us to accept the existence of white dogs.