I read Alexander George’s “On Washing the Fur without Wetting It” today. The assessment of he gives of the analyticity debate is very appealing. He gives some arguments that the standard interpretation of the debate is incorrect since it makes out Quine’s arguments to be too weak or Carnap to be too dense. I need to think about it some more before I can comment on the reconstruction, but I did want to comment on the moral that he draws. The big contribution of the paper is an explanation of how the different takes on analyticity change what is at stake in the debate. As George puts it:
“[F]or this distinction between kinds of truth is of a piece with one between kinds of difference, and so differences over anlyticity must affect how those very differences can be conceived. This is no doubt a source of the difficulty in obtaining a satisfactory perspective on the dispute…: for there appears to be no way even to judge what kind of dispute it is without thereby taking a side in it. To try to determine the nature of a disagreement over the nature of disagreements without taking any kind of position on that disagreement is just to try to wash the fur without wetting it.”
The last sentence was included to explain the title. I don’t think the last sentence is correct in general. George makes a case that it applies to the different stands on analyticity in particular, which is all that is needed.

If one endorses the distinction like Carnap, the debate seems insubstantial since it appears to be a matter of framework external questions. If one denies the distinction like Quine, then it looks like there are substantial things at issue. George thinks this is so for Quine because once he rejects the distionction, “there is nowhere for any dispute to locate itself beyond the arena of factual disagreement.” If one looks at the debate as a Carnapian, it will look like Quine isn’t saying anything damaging against Carnap. If one looks at the debate as a Quinean, it will look like Carnap isn’t offering a strong defense. This leaves the question of how the exposition was since, according to George, we can’t approach this debate in a way that doesn’t beg the question on one side or the other. He seems to do a good job of appearing neutral, which would undermine his point.
Regardless, his reading is an improvement over the traditional ones because it makes some sense out of why this debate is so hard to get a grip on.

The paper closes with a sort of aftermath for Quine. George argues that Quine’s empiricism and linguacentrism, the name for Quine’s view that one cannot escape a language and all systems of belief to pass judgment on disagreements ontological or otherwise. lead to a problem. Quine wants to maintain that theories can be incompatible and empirically equivalent but, in virtue of some more theoretical claims, one be true and the other false. This is dubbed “sectarianism.” Quine at some points later in life considered a view on which such empirically equivalent theories could both make a claim to truth. This is dubbed “ecumenical.” This position, George thinks, starts to look quite Carnapian. If two theories are empirically equivalent, then choosing one over the other is a pragmatic matter, hinging on no facts of the matter beyond the empirical on which they agree. The tension between (1) wanting to say one theory is true and the other false even though (2) there is no empirical evidence that could bear this out. (2) is supported by his empiricism, but I’m a bit confused about how linguacentrism is supposed to support (1). It seems like the rejection of the analytic/synthetic distinction is supposed to get the disagreement between theories into the realm of the empirical, in some sense, which realm would allow at most one to be true. Linguacentrism is supposed to be useful to Quine in responding to this, but I’m having trouble seeing it. George presses the tension, claiming that Quine is forced to be more like Carnap and adopt an ecumenical stance. In the end it is hard to see what Quine can end up maintaining that Carnap would disagree with.

If George is right up to this point, then his conclusion seems correct. He makes it sound like Quine didn’t see a fundamental tension in his own views. There is something about the latter part of the article that seems like a starting point for a response. This is how linguacentrism is the source of the problem. I may just need to read this part again, but in reviewing the article it seems like the support for (1) isn’t coming directly from that. Linguacentrism seems to be a side issue. This doesn’t eliminate the problem but it might sharpen it for a response. Another possibility, just for fun, is that this is another indication that Quine should give up empiricism, as Davidson urged. Of course, this is a different reason than the one Davidson provided. (What was that article?) Quine, of course, would hate this reply, as he indicated in his response to Davidson.