Philosophy Word of the Day — Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000)

An image of Quine as seen on his passport.
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Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000) worked in theoretical philosophy and in logic. (In practical philosophy, ethics and political philosophy, his contributions are negligible.) He is perhaps best known for his arguments against Logical Empiricism (in particular, its use of the analytic-synthetic distinction). This argument, however, should be seen as part of a comprehensive world-view which makes no sharp distinction between philosophy and empirical science and thus requires a wholesale reorientation of the subject. . . .

Quine’s philosophical thought is remarkably consistent over the course of his long working life. There are, of course, developments, as he comes to appreciate difficulties in his view, or its implications, or distinctions that need to be made. Outright changes of mind, however, are relatively rare and mostly on relatively minor points. We can, for the most part, treat him as holding a single philosophical view; what he calls naturalism is fundamental to that view. This is not to say that his naturalism was self-conscious and explicit from the start. It was, rather, something that he became clearer about over the years. . . .

At one point, Quine describes naturalism as “the recognition that it is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is to be identified and described” (1981, 21). . . .

Many philosophers would no doubt accept that the methods and techniques of science are the best way to find out about the world. . . .  The distinctiveness of Quine’s naturalism begins to emerge if we ask what justifies this naturalistic claim: what reason do we have to believe that the methods and techniques of science are the best way to find out about the world? Quine would insist that this claim too must be based on natural science. (If this is circular, he simply accepts the circularity.) This is the revolutionary step, naturalism self-applied. There is no foundation for Quine’s naturalism: it not based on anything else. (Continue article)

– Peter Hylton in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Update:  The following information on an upcoming conference on W. V.  Quine was helpfully provided by Douglas Quine:

The young researchers’ group APhEx (Analytical and Philosophical Explanation) has organized an international conference on W. V. Quine at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”: “Word and Object” 50 years later: Colloquium in Celebration of W.V.O. Quine May 28-29, 2010. Department of Philosophical and Epistemological Studies
Faculty of Philosophy, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Via Carlo Fea, 2 – Villa Mirafiori, Rome, Italy. Details are available at the W. V. Quine website:  http://www.wvquine.org.

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4 thoughts on “Philosophy Word of the Day — Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000)

    • Hi Douglas,
      Thanks for the helpful resources. I’ll update my post on Quine (I’m guessing there’s a family relation, given your last name : ) with the info you provided on the Conference in May.
      Thanks again,
      Chris

      • Yes, I’m W. V. Quine’s son! I created and manage the web site, I was co-editor of the two centennial books “Quine in Dialogue” and “Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionalist” that were published by Harvard University Press in 2008 (last two entries at http://www.wvquine.org/wvq-book.html), and I manage the literary estate. Best Regards – Doug

  1. The young researchers’ group APhEx (Analytical and Philosophical Explanation) has organized an international conference on W. V. Quine at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”: “Word and Object” 50 years later: Colloquium in Celebration of W.V.O. Quine May 28-29, 2010. Department of Philosophical and Epistemological Studies
    Faculty of Philosophy, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Via Carlo Fea, 2 – Villa Mirafiori, Rome, Italy. Details are available at the W. V. Quine website.

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