Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionalist

W. V. Quine

in Future Pasts

Published in print September 2001 | ISBN: 9780195139167
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199833214 | DOI:
 Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionalist

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In this essay, Quine reflects on his philosophical development, taking a steadfast adherence to extensionalism as a unifying principle of his whole philosophy starting as far back as the 1930s. Quine calls two sentences coextensive if they have the same truth value, two general terms or predicates coextensive if they are true of just the same objects, and two singular terms coextensive if they designate the same object. Extensionalism is the general doctrine that no distinction is clear and philosophical significant if it cannot be captured by differences in extensions. Intensionalism, by contrast, takes distinctions of meaning as irreducible and prior to distinctions of extension. The philosophical origin his extensionalism Quine takes to be his seeing that the intensional ontology of propositional functions not only does no mathematical work in Russell’s and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica, but, in addition, had no clear criteria of individuation. Quine’s doctoral dissertation was thus concerned with reinterpreting the Principia extensionally. Much of the rest of his career consisted of meeting other philosophically significant challenges to extensionalism. The most important challenges discussed in this essay are the idiom of logical implication, predicates of irreferential singular terms, and propositional attitude ascriptions. The two most important strategies for meeting these challenges are the elimination of singular terms via Russell’s theory of descriptions and semantic ascent.

Keywords: Russell; Whitehead; Tarski; extension; coextensive; extensionalism; propositional attitude; principle of individuation; intension; intensional objects; propositional function; logical implication; material implication; singular terms; theory of description

Chapter.  3529 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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