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Quine- Two Dogmas 2.pdf

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University of Toronto St. George
Peter King

CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY: QUINE (II) [1] Recall from last time that Quine argued against the analytic/synthetic distinction, or more exactly that there is no principled way to draw the distinction. The second dogma he attacks is the idea that the meaning of a statement is a matter of the conditions confirming or disconfirm- ing (Quine says ‘infirming’) it, or, if we dispense with the appeal to meaning, that statements are synonymous when “they are alike in point of method empirical confirmation or infirmation” (35). In particular, Quine charges that empiricism adopts what he calls “radical reductionism”: Thus Locke and Hume held that every idea must originate directly in sense experience or else be compounded of ideas thus originating... we might rephrase this doctrine in semantic jargon by saying that a term, to be significant at all, must be either a name of a sense datum or a compound of such names or an abbreviation of such a compound. The connection with Hume should be clear: if we think the ‘meaning’ of a term for sense- experience is given by the idea associated with it, then this is no more than the demand that ideas should be ultimately indebted to impressions—as Hume put in, back in Enquiry §2: (T1*) Each perception is either (a) an impression, or (b) an idea that is either (b ) simple in 1 itself or (2 ) a complex composite of simple ideas. (T3*) Each idea is either (a) a simple idea that is a copy of an impression, or (b) a complex composite of simple ideas, each of which is a copy of an impression. What’s wrong with this suggestion? [2] Quine argues in effect that there is no way to spell out a unique (set of) impression(s) to correspond to the ideas involved in matters of fact and experience, in Hume’s language. The reason is that there is no sharp way to distinguish the analytic from the synthetic, as we have seen (38–39): The two dogmas are, indeed, at root identical. We lately reflected that in general the truth of statements does obviously depend both upon language and upon extralinguistic fact; and we noted that this obvious circumstance carries in its train, not logically but all too naturally, a feeling that the truth of a statement is somehow analyzable into a linguistic component and a factual component. The factual component must, if we are empiricists, boil down to a range of confirmatory experiences. In the extreme case where the linguistic component is all that matters, a true statement is analytic. But I hope we are now impressed with how stubbornly the distinction between analytic and synthetic has resisted any straightforward drawing... We cannot work with scientific statements on an individual basis; they depend on language and on the world, but not taken independently of one another. (Think of Quine’s example of ‘having a heart’ and ‘having kidneys’.) Instead, Quine suggests that they are judged together against sense-experience collectively, “as a corporate body.” [3] In short, Quine proposes in place of the two dogmas of empiricism his own brand of semantic holism: we take into account the whole of our experience in determining the meaning of a statement. Here is how he presents it, in a famous passage (39–40): The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geog- raphy and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathemat- ics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the peri
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