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A topic that recurs in the interviews with Quine is his views on analyticity and how his views have changed since “Two Dogmas”.

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There are several interviews in Quine in Dialogue that are worth reading. A 1978 interview with Magee has a bit that made me stop.

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In my browsing of Amazon, I came across something kind of exciting. There are two new collections of Quine’s work coming, edited by Dagfinn Follesdal and Douglas Quine. They are Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionalist and Other Essays and Quine in Dialogue. The former appears to be split between previously uncollected essays, previously unpublished essays, and more recent essays. The latter appears to consist of a lot of lighter pieces, reviews, and interviews. Amazon doesn’t seem to have the tables of contents available yet, but they are available at the publisher’s page, here and here. Both look promising for those that are interested in Quine. I’m curious to read Quine’s review of Lakatos in the latter volume. It could be wildly disappointing, but it would be nice to see Quine’s reaction a philosophy of math that is so at odds with his own. [Edit: In the comments, Douglas Quine points out that more detailed information for the new volumes, as well as information on other centennial events, are up on the W.V. Quine website.]

The other Quinean thing is a question. Is there anywhere in Quine’s writings where he discusses the role of statistics and probability in modern science? It seemed like there could be something there that could be used as the beginning of an objection to Quine’s fairly tidy picture of scientific inquiry. (This thought is sort of half-baked at this point.) Over the holidays I couldn’t think of anywhere Quine talked about how it fit into his epistemological views. It seemed odd that Quine didn’t ever discuss it, given the importance of statistics in science, so I’m fairly sure I’m forgetting or overlooking something. There might be something in From Stimulus to Science or Pursuit of Truth, but I won’t have access to those for a few days yet. [Edit: In the comments Greg points out that Sober presented a sketch of a criticism along the lines above in his paper “Quine’s Two Dogmas,” available for download on his papers page.]

Both Evans, in his “Identity and Predication,” and Davidson, in e.g. “Meaning, Truth, and Evidence,” criticize Quine’s views on reference while accepting what he says about the indeterminacy of translation. Neither thinks that Quine has established that we should understand others as possibly talking about rabbit stages as opposed to rabbits. They both want to emphasize the primacy of objects. The ways they go about this differ somewhat. Davidson argues on broadly epistemological grounds. To get a conception of evidence that will support our beliefs, we need a distal view of stimuli, which requires the distal end to be an object to act as the causal origin of a stimulus. Evans argues on semantic grounds. Given the speech behavior of a community with enough expressive resources to use a negation, we must understand them as talking about objects, material bodies, instead of something else.

Evans’s argument doesn’t seem to work since he draws conclusions from the descriptions of the speech behavior of the community that are not warranted by that description. In particular, his description doesn’t support his ascription of negation and contradiction. Quine could respond to his argument in this way, denying that Evans has established that they are using the language in such a way that we must (can?) understand them as using logical language. As translators we haven’t reached the stage of translation in which we can pick out the logical particles.

There is a certain affinity between Evans’s argument for objects and Brandom’s argument for the predicate/term structure of sentences. Both rely on the expressive power of a negation to argue that there must be a certain sort of thing on pain of contradiction. Brandom’s argument is a bit more nuanced since he just needs a way of constructing a sentence with a reversed inferential “polarity”. Using a conditional will do the job as well. Really, all Brandom needs is an operator with a tonicity (…,-,…), i.e. that is antitonic in some position, to get his result. Evans’s argument needs the contradiction to result, so it seems like he needs the negation specifically. There are some further differences. Evans wants to establish an ontological conclusion, that there must be material bodies, while Brandom wants to establish a linguistic conclusion, that there must be a certain sort of linguistic structure. The particular linguistic structure, singular terms and predicates, naturally gives rise to thinking that there must be objects for the singular terms to refer to but this is an extra step; it is one that Brandom is, I think, not particularly disposed towards since he does not take reference as a primitive notion. Evans does not describe his argument as relying on the expressive capacity of negation, but it is an apt description. It is not until we attribute negation to the language users, translating something as a negation, that we are forced, according to Evans, to understand them as talking about material bodies. The stages of translation preceding that allow the possibility of understanding them as talking about, e.g., time slices or universals or some such.

It is another question whether there is some way in which Evans’s and Davidson’s arguments are related. Davidson understands his argument as being broadly semantic, even though I called it epistemological. I think he says that the picture he lays out, the distal theory of stimulus, is one way of doing semantics. This is because, I think, he sees investigating concepts and semantics as investigating the world in a way. In “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs” he says something along the lines of knowing a language is no different than knowing one’s way around the world generally. I don’t know to what extent Evans would be on board with this. He does emphasize the importance of connecting conceptual capacities up with navigating the world, as in his different notions of space and their relation.

In his “Things and their place in theories” Quine presents his views on ontology. In particular, he presents three sorts of ontologies one could adopt. The first is the physical object ontology which, unsurprisingly, includes physical objects amongst its things. The second is the space-time ontology which replaces physical objects with the regions of space-time points that the objects occupied. This is broadened then to include empty regions as well. The third sort of ontology replaces space-time points with quadruples of real numbers, and so gets by with just set theory. Sets are all you need to make sense of science on this view.

The first two options seem reasonably attractive. What strikes me as odd about the third option, Quine’s favored one, is that it doesn’t seem to mesh with what he says about perception. The essay opens by saying, “Our talk of external things, is just a conceptual apparatus that helps us to foresee and control the triggering of our sensory receptors in the light of previous triggering of our sensory receptors.” The sensory stimulations constitute observations and perceptions. I’m going to set aside how Quine gets from the former to the latter. It makes sense to say that we observe physical objects and, possibly, that we observe space-time points or regions of them. We don’t observe sets or quadruples of reals. Thus, we shouldn’t adopt this third option for ontology, since it doesn’t help us explain our sensory stimuli and observations.

My uneasiness can probably be alleviated with a more thorough going Quinean response. In the above, I said that “we don’t observe sets” understanding “we” in the physical object sense and “observe” in the roughly standard sense. Replacing objects with quadruples of reals (or sets of them) will require likewise adjusting how we understand “observe”. Proxy functions could be inserted appropriately. It will have to be some set-theoretic relation containing the observers and the observed quadruples. The observers, us, will likewise have to be understood in terms of sets of quadruples of reals, with certain quadruples appearing in the sets that represent our surface irritations. This more consistently Quinean approach responds to my earlier worry, but there is a lingering one, although it seems a bit lame. The worry is that I am not a set of quadruples of reals, although I could be represented as one. If we are worried about what there is, why should we concern ourselves with representations of things, rather than the things themselves? It happens that in this case the representations are full-fledged objects in their own rights. I’m not sure how moved I am by this last consideration. In writing it up, I started to think I was missing something in Quine’s view.

From the depths of Word and Object comes this delightfully worded statement on ontology:
“What distinguishes between the ontological philosopher’s concern and all this is only breadth of categories. Given physical objects in general, the natural scientist is the man to decide about wombats and unicorns. Given classes, or whatever other broad realm of objects the mathematician needs, it is for the mathematician to say whether in particular there are any even prime numbers of any cubic numbers that are sums of pairs of cubic numbers. On the other hand it is scrutiny of this uncritical acceptance of the realm of physical objects itself, or of classes, etc., that devolves upon ontology. Here is the task of making explicit what had been tacit, and precise what had been vague; of exposing and resolving paradoxes, smoothing kinks, lopping off vestigial growths, clearing ontological slums.”
There is something in the closing lines that appeals to me. Hopefully I’ll be able to post something more substantive on this stuff soon. (More promissory notes…)

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. Read the rest of this entry »

This week in the Quine and Carnap class we’re talking about the analyticity debate. I’ve read most of the Carnap pieces for it and wanted to write a short note on them. It is a rough note. One thing that surprised me in Carnap’s response to Quine’s “Carnap on Logical Truth” was how little weight he seems to place on analyticity. Carnap says that if there is a change of meaning of a term along the lines that Quine discusses, then the analytic truths change as well. They change because we have changed languages, from Ln to Ln+1. I had thought that there would be more stability in languages and analytic truths. Rather than switching the whole language and with it the analytic truths, one would just change part of the language, leaving the analytic truths as is.

I’m not sure if I think this is a good response. It trades a difference in meanings for a difference in languages. it makes it hard to see what the the distinction is between speaking a language in which the meanings change and switching between speaking different languages. This seems reasonable enough. I’m not sure what sort of pragmatic ground one could supply for opting for the one rather than the other. I had thought that analytic truth supported the former but Carnap seems to say no.

The relativization to a language prompted the question, legitimately or not: What is the difference between the predicates ‘analytic sentence’, ‘true’ and ‘logically true’? In a way they are similar; they are relativized to a language. Truth doesn’t have a lot of weight put on it by Quine. (I might be wrong here. I’m going to talk to someone about that tomorrow.) He mentions the use of it to generalize about linguistic items. Analytic sentences are a genus of the species of truth, as Quine says, as are logical truths. Logical truths are true in virtue of logical form though. Analytic truths are true in virtue of meaning, which surely means that they are true in virtue of the meanings in that structural configuration. Not all sentences with those meanings are true nor are all sentences with that structure true.

What extra do we signify when calling a sentence analytic? It isn’t a greater commitment to its truth. That can be abandoned readily. Carnap says the analytic sentences aren’t ones that must be held come what may. If there is recalcitrant experience we can always switch our language to a similar one in which certain sentences are no longer analytic. A change in analytic sentences is a change in meaning though, so it doesn’t seem like much can be made of truth in virtue of those meanings; they are too fluid.

At this point I’m a little confused about what Carnap is maintaining in opposition to Quine. In “Carnap, Quine and Logical Truth,” Isaacson gives an interpretation of the analyticity debate that puts little distance between Quine and Carnap’s ultimate positions. When I read it, this seemed rather surprising. After reading Quine and Carnap’s contributions, it seems pretty close to the truth.

I’m reading Word and Object in its entirety, something I’ve never done before. I tend to stop around the middle of chapter 2. I came across something I found surprising. On p. 76-77, Quine quotes Wittgenstein in the context of explaining the indeterminacy of translation: “Understanding a sentence means understanding a language.” This was a little surprising since it is from the Blue and Brown Books. I thought they didn’t have wide circulation. At least that is the impression I got from somewhere, possibly Monk’s biography of Wittgenstein. Quine had referenced the Tractatus in some other essays, but I had chalked that up to the influence of the Vienna Circle and the Tractatus generally. Apparently Quine read him some Wittgenstein.

In response to some conversations, class, and a few comments over at Greg’s, I read most of Quine’s Philosophy of Logic. It turns out that Quine is very much a truth-before-consequence philosopher. What is really surprising is how little the notion of consequence figures into Quine’s book. The index on the edition I have doesn’t even have an entry for consequence. I don’t remember any discussion of consequence coming up during the course of reading. In the discussion of deviant logics, Quine only talks about different logical truths, nothing about differing consequence relations. Just from reading his book you’d get the idea that logical consequence wasn’t much of a topic, let alone a central one to the idea of logic.


Shawn Standefer, recent Ph.D. in philosophy from Pitt. (More about me)