[hist-analytic] Quine's "two dogmas"

steve bayne baynesrb at yahoo.com
Sat Jan 31 08:04:03 EST 2009


Thanks for the review Rogerio!

If it weren't for the fact that I've heard Quine reject the analytic/synthetic
distinction from his own lips I would be more receptive, maybe. But
the idea that Hylton understood Quine better than Quine strikes me as
ludicrous. The alternative is a secret philosophy held by Quine. I can
find no instance where Quine clarifies his position, as one would 
expect if Hylton were right. 

There is a crucial asymmetry between scientific theories and theories 
of language. Where analytical hypotheses are analogous to theories 
the difference remains that the former do not reflect "a fact of the matter." 
Physical theory does. This is what sharply distinguished Chomsky and 
Quine on indeterminacy, with Putnam (on this rare occasion) siding with 
Chomsky. The notion of a fact of the matter is NOT epistemological:

The intended notion of matter of fact is not transcendental *nor yet 
epistemological*, not even a question of evidence; it is ontological, a 
question of reality. (Theories and Things p. 23). Note: here we are NOT 
talking about the inscructability of reference! But even if we were it would 
make little difference. Consider Quine's employment of Lowenheim/Skolem 
or for that matter even Putnam's use of the theorem. This is not epistemological. 
It is ontological! No. Quine rejects the analytic/synthetic distinction. It was
never an epistemological distinction; that distinction belonged to the a priori 
and the a posteriori which some who defended the linguistic theory of logical 
necessity confused.

I think Hylton may be trying something sensationalist; but it is a sensational 
mistake, if reports of his views are accurate, which they probably are.

Thanks bunches for this review.

Steve


Steve

--- On Fri, 1/30/09, Rogério Passos Severo <rpsevero at gmail.com> wrote:
From: Rogério Passos Severo <rpsevero at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: Quine's "two dogmas"
To: hist-analytic at simplelists.com
Date: Friday, January 30, 2009, 4:57 AM


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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
 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
philosophy. 
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 authors. 




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 this view. 

	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
 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
 Indeed, indeterminacy of translation is often thought to affect
nearly all of Quine's philosophy.  Hylton argues that it "is of
relatively little significance": 





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
 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
 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



Rogério
Passos Severo (Universidade
Federal do Rio Grande do Sul)


	1Russell,
	Idealism, and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy (Oxford
	UP, 1990).


	2"Analyticity
	and the Indeterminacy of Translation", Synthese 52
	(1982): 167-184.


	3E.g.,
	Gary Ebbs, Rule-Following and Realism
	(Harvard UP, 1997), p. 338, n. 56.


	4See
	Hylton's criticism of Boghossian in "Holism and Analyticity in
	Quine's Thought", Harvard Review of Philosophy 10 (2002):
	11-26.


	5Friedman,
	Dynamics of Reason
	(CSLI, 2001).


	6For
	comments and criticisms, I'd like to thank Andrew Blom, Bárbara
	Vianna, David Harker, Giovani Felice, and Mauro Engelmann.

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