Willard Van Orman Quine

Willard Van Orman Quine (June 25, 1908 – December 25, 2000) (known to intimates as "Van") was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition. From 1930 until his death 70 years later, Quine was continually affiliated with Harvard University in one way or another, first as a student, then as a professor of philosophy and a teacher of logic and set theory, and finally as a professor emeritus who published or revised several books in retirement. He filled the Edgar Pierce Chair of Philosophy at Harvard from 1956 to 1978. A recent poll conducted among analytic philosophers named Quine as the fifth most important philosopher of the past two centuries. He won the first Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy in 1993, for "his systematical and penetrating discussions of how learning of language and communication are based on socially available evidence and of the consequences of this for theories on knowledge and linguistic meaning."

Quine falls squarely into the analytic philosophy tradition while also being the main proponent of the view that philosophy is not merely conceptual analysis. His major writings include "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" (1951), which attacked the distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions and advocated a form of semantic holism, and Word and Object (1960), which further developed these positions and introduced Quine's famous indeterminacy of translation thesis, advocating a behaviorist theory of meaning. He also developed an influential naturalized epistemology that tried to provide "an improved scientific explanation of how we have developed elaborate scientific theories on the basis of meager sensory input." He is also important in philosophy of science for his "systematic attempt to understand science from within the resources of science itself" and for his conception of philosophy as continuous with science. This led to his famous quip that "philosophy of science is philosophy enough." In philosophy of mathematics, he and his Harvard colleague Hilary Putnam developed the "Quine-Putnam indispensability thesis," an argument for the reality of mathematical entities.

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    Unlike Descartes, we own and use our beliefs of the moment, even in the midst of philosophizing, until by what is vaguely called scientific method we change them here and there for the better. Within our own total evolving doctrine, we can judge truth as earnestly and absolutely as can be, subject to correction, but that goes without saying.
    —Willard Van Orman Quine (b. 1908)

    Analyze theory-building how we will, we all must start in the middle. Our conceptual firsts are middle-sized, middle-distanced objects, and our introduction to them and to everything comes midway in the cultural evolution of the race.
    Willard Van Orman Quine (b. 1908)

    Our talk of external things, our very notion of things, is just a conceptual apparatus that helps us to foresee and control the triggerings of our sensory receptors in the light of previous triggering of our sensory receptors.
    —Willard Van Orman Quine (b. 1908)

    Theory may be deliberate, as in a chapter on chemistry, or it may be second nature, as in the immemorial doctrine of ordinary enduring middle-sized physical objects.
    Willard Van Orman Quine (b. 1908)

    Our age is pre-eminently the age of sympathy, as the eighteenth century was the age of reason. Our ideal men and women are they, whose sympathies have had the widest culture, whose aims do not end with self, whose philanthropy, though centrifugal, reaches around the globe.
    —Frances E. Willard 1839–1898, U.S. president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union 1879-1891, author, activist. The Woman’s Magazine, pp. 137-40 (January 1887)

    If there is a case for mental events and mental states, it must be that the positing of them, like the positing of molecules, has some indirect systematic efficacy in the development of theory.
    —Willard Van Orman Quine (b. 1908)

    Our talk of external things, our very notion of things, is just a conceptual apparatus that helps us to foresee and control the triggerings of our sensory receptors in the light of previous triggering of our sensory receptors.
    —Willard Van Orman Quine (b. 1908)

    ‘Ouch’ is not independent of social training. One has only to prick a foreigner to appreciate that it is an English word.
    —Willard Van Orman Quine (b. 1908)