[hist-analytic] Quine's "two dogmas"
Rogério Passos Severo
rpsevero at gmail.com
Fri Jan 30 04:57:43 EST 2009
Dear Roger and others interested in Quine:
I have recently written a review of Peter Hylton's book on Quine, which
should be coming out in the Phil Quarterly later this year. In case you're
interested, here it is.
Best wishes, --Rogério
Book Review*: Quine*. By Peter Hylton. (Routledge, 2007. Pp. x + 405,
hardcover. Price £50.00)
The latest volume of the *Arguments of the Philosophers* series is on
Quine. The author is a leading Russell and Quine scholar, and this
particular book has been keenly anticipated over the last few years.
Hylton's earlier book on Russell is widely acknowledged as one of the best
currently available.1 <#sdfootnote1sym> So it's natural to expect
high-quality material in this case too. Readers will not be disappointed.
But there is an important difference to bear in mind. Whereas the one on
Russell contains analysis and historical reconstruction, this one offers "a
unified, sympathetic, and comprehensive treatment" (p. 1) of Quine's
The first half of the book dwells mostly on Quine's epistemology (chapters 4
–7), whereas the second half is mostly on metaphysics, or the "the structure
of reality" (chapters 9–13). The book begins with three introductory
chapters: the first with an overview of Quine's naturalism, the second on
his historical background, and the third on the analytic-synthetic
distinction. There is also chapter 8 on indeterminacy of translation, and a
concluding section at the very end. The book as a whole covers nearly all of
Quine's work; the only major topic left out is Quine's more technical
contributions to logic.
The book has been elegantly written and presents Quine's philosophy in terms
that are favorable and reasonable; the author renders Quine's arguments as
cogent as possible, and in this regard it's hard to find another book quite
like this one. But apart from these matters of style and intent, the book
also stands out in more substantive ways. I'll briefly comment on three
topics on which Hylton is particularly incisive and differs most from other
1. Oftentimes Quine is portrayed as a negative thinker whose main purpose
is to destroy traditional doctrines, especially those associated with
meaning, modalities, and analyticity. Against that kind of approach, Hylton
construes Quine as a systematic philosopher whose take on traditional
notions can only be properly understood within the context of his positive
philosophical project. Quine's philosophy, according to Hylton, contains two
main strands, which he dubs "epistemic" and "metaphysical". Both are set out
by Quine's naturalism: "the recognition that it is within science itself,
and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is to be identified and
described" (Quine, *Theories and Things*, p. 21).
Quine's epistemology is an attempt to explain how we have come to acquire
the sophisticated theories of the world that we now have. Hylton call this a
"genetic project". As with anything else in Quine's philosophy, this project
is to be carried out within natural science: it is natural science (broadly
construed) investigating its origins. Because the project is undertaken at a
very high-level of abstraction and generality, it's called "philosophical",
and that's all there is to the distinction between science and philosophy on
Quine's metaphysics is an attempt at "limning of the true and ultimate
structure of reality" (*Word and Object*, p. 221). Again, this is to be
carried out from within the confines of our current best theories of the
world, or natural science broadly speaking. According to Hylton, this is a
project of systematization and clarification, hence the goal of finding the
simplest and clearest framework (or "canonical notation") for science. As in
the case of the genetic project, the philosophical nature of Quine's
contributions here lie not in any peculiarity of method or goal, but in
their high level of systematicness, abstraction, and generality.
That Quine's philosophy is to be conceived as having a metaphysical strand
alongside its epistemology is something of a novelty in the literature.
Hylton himself calls attention to this, by contrasting his reading with that
of another important author (Roger Gibson Jr.) who construes Quine's
philosophy as centered predominantly on epistemology (p. 370, n. 3). Sure
enough, this is not metaphysics of the traditional kind, but rather
"metaphysics naturalized" (p. 367).
2. In a paper published 25 years before the book, Hylton argued that
Quine's qualms about the analytic-synthetic distinction should be set apart
from his indeterminacy of translation arguments.2 <#sdfootnote2sym> This was
new at the time, and it is restated in the book. Discussion of the two
topics is spaced four chapters apart from each other (chapters 3 and 8).
This purports to show that the two topics can be treated independently.
Hylton's view in this regard is not shared by some other
authors.3<#sdfootnote3sym>Indeed, indeterminacy of translation is
often thought to affect nearly all
of Quine's philosophy. Hylton argues that it "is of relatively little
If translation were determinate then we could use that fact to define a
notion of synonymy, and hence of meaning. But *that* kind of notion of
meaning would play neither of the roles which have chiefly led philosophers
to invoke the term "meaning". It would not explain language-acquisition or
language-mastery. It would not underpin a notion of truth by meaning which
would play a fundamental epistemological role... (p. 230)
3. Hylton also stresses that there is no argument in Quine *against *the
analytic-synthetic distinction. This is a point often
misread.4<#sdfootnote4sym>Quine himself traces the distinction in
* Roots of Reference *(pp. 78-80) and elsewhere. His criticisms have to do
not with it being drawn, but with the use that Carnap and others tried to
make of it. What Quine rejects is the idea of a set of epistemologically
privileged sentences that are not justified empirically. Even if one grants
that there are sentences true in virtue of meaning (analytic), their
truth-values will still hinge on how the world is, and in this sense they
will not be epistemologically privileged. Ultimately their justification
will be empirical, just like that of any other any sentence. This is because
the way we use each word (what it means) is tied up to the overall theory of
the world we happen to have. That whales are mammals and not fish is not
just a matter of meaning, but an empirical fact about the world. That energy
and matter can be inter-defined is an empirical claim of the theory of
relativity, and not just a terminological stipulation. The main reason
supporting Quine's view is holism: the thesis that sentences are not in
general justified one at a time, but as a "corporate body" (large sets of
sentences at a time). This is a thesis which Quine takes to be trivial and
obvious (see *Pursuit of Truth*, p. 16), but that has deep consequences.
Because sentences are in general justified collectively, any reason one
might have for accepting an individual sentence must depend on whatever
reasons one has for accepting the portions of the theory to which it
belongs. This is true even of analytic sentences: a choice of vocabulary (a
taxonomy) is part of what contributes to the empirical success of a theory
as a whole.
Recently Michael Friedman has put forth a neo-Carnapian view in which some
sentences are *constitutive* the meanings of other
sentences.5<#sdfootnote5sym>Friedman argues that scientific practice
is more structured than Quine
suggests, and that different sentences play different roles. But on Hylton's
reading Quine's account is just set at a higher level of generality and
abstraction than Friedman's, and does not deny any structuring of the
sentences within a theory. The point is merely all sentences, including
Friedman's constitutive sentences, are subject to empirical justification
insofar as the overall theory of which they are part is subject to
confirmation by observations.
I'd like to finish this review with something that might be seen as a
drawback to the book. While providing a detailed and sympathetic treatment
of Quine's philosophy, the author chose to avoid nearly all comparisons with
other philosophies. The concluding chapter does have a short but very
interesting discussion of three ways in which Quine's philosophy may be
found wanting (pp. 365–369). But the discussion is abstract and does not to
engage directly with other philosophers. No names are mentioned. This a
trait that runs through most of the book: the actual debates in which Quine
figures so prominently are mostly left out. There is also not much on
Quine's general influence on contemporary philosophy, or what his legacy
might be. In other words, this is mostly an insider's account of the
arguments; reckoning how they fare relative to others was not the author's
goal. The main achievement of the book is to show the force of Quine's
philosophy when it is understood systematically.6 <#sdfootnote6sym>
Rogério Passos Severo (*Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul*)
1 <#sdfootnote1anc>*Russell, Idealism, and the Emergence of Analytic
Philosophy *(Oxford UP, 1990).
2 <#sdfootnote2anc>"Analyticity and the Indeterminacy of Translation",
*52 (1982): 167-184.
3 <#sdfootnote3anc>E.g., Gary Ebbs, *Rule-Following and Realism* (Harvard
UP, 1997), p. 338, n. 56.
4 <#sdfootnote4anc>See Hylton's criticism of Boghossian in "Holism and
Analyticity in Quine's Thought", *Harvard Review of Philosophy 10 *(2002):
5 <#sdfootnote5anc>Friedman, *Dynamics of Reason* (CSLI, 2001).
6 <#sdfootnote6anc>For comments and criticisms, I'd like to thank Andrew
Blom, Bárbara Vianna, David Harker, Giovani Felice, and Mauro Engelmann.
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