Article

W.V.O. Quine

Gary Kemp

in Philosophy

ISBN: 9780195396577
Published online November 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0005
W.V.O. Quine

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Willard Van Orman Quine (b. 1908–d. 2000) was the main agenda setter in post–World War II philosophy of language and related fields. He was also a highly active logician; if his views on formal and mathematical logic did not shape the field in quite the same way as his work on language, epistemology, and metaphysics, the latter largely sprang from his work on logic and the related domain of the foundations of mathematics. His doctoral thesis (“The Logic of Sequences,” 1933) attempted to clean up and generalize yet boil down the great Principia Mathematica of Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1910, 1927). Quine’s subsequent works—including A System of Logistic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934), Mathematical Logic (1940, 1951; Quine 1951, cited under Quine’s Monographs), “New Foundations for Mathematical Logic” (1937, 1953, 1961; Quine 1961, cited under Logic and Set Theory), and Set Theory and Its Logic (1963, 1969; Quine 1969, cited under Quine’s Textbooks)—developed more refined and original ideas on largely the same topics. In philosophy he is known most generally for his commitment to extensionalism, which—for scientific purposes—rules out as inadmissible that two expressions could have the same truth-value or extension or refer to the same object yet not be interchangeable in containing sentences without affecting the truth-values of the containing sentences. Closely related are his celebrated criticisms of the unexplicated reliance on the concepts “meaning,” the “a priori,” and “analyticity” among empiricist philosophers; pressed harder, Quine believed, those notions cannot support the edifices empiricists had envisaged. A scientifically rigorous attitude toward language shows that the notion of the meaning of a sentence, in the intuitive sense that sustains the idea that two correct translations of a given foreign sentence must be in some clear sense be equivalent, must be discarded; meaning in that sense is “indeterminate.” In metaphysics, specifically ontology, he is celebrated for formulating a clear and seemingly rigorous test for ontological commitment in his “On What There Is” (1948; Quine 1961, cited under Ontology): existence is equated with being the value of variable in the first-order predicate calculus. Less well known but equally interesting are his later views concerning the question of what exists; he held that certain considerations undermine the idea that there is a single answer to the question “What is there?” Finally, the notion that epistemology should be “naturalized” and more generally that philosophy itself should be thought of as taking its place within natural science has caused considerable commentary and indeed controversy.

Article.  9812 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; Epistemology ; Feminist Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Moral Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Law ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Religion ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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