Friday, June 20, 2014
A Final Post (For Now) On Whether Quine was a "Verificationist"
In 1976, when I delivered the John Locke Lectures at Oxford, I often spent time with Peter Strawson, and one day at lunch he made a remark I have never been able to forget. He said, "Surely half the pleasure of life is sardonic comment on the passing show". This blog is devoted to comments, not all of them sardonic, on the passing philosophical show.
"Quine considers explicitly the notion of meaninglessness and the normative role it played in the heyday of the Vienna Circle, when metaphysics was denounced as meaningless. As Quine puts it, ‘[f]or this purpose a sentence was rated as meaningless if neither it nor its negation was either analytic or empirically verifiable.’ ‘However’, Quine adds, ‘the notion of analyticity has its troubles, and the notion of verifiability has had, increasingly down the years, its troubles too’.[i]"
"Further, in his recent response to Bergström, Quine expresses his view on the verificationist criterion of meaningfulness quite clearly: ‘Contrary to positivist spirit, I do not repudiate sentences for lack of empirical content.’[ii] Quine then continues his reply by citing himself in From Stimulus to Science:
Even if I had a satisfactory notion of shared content, I would not want to impose it in a positivist spirit as a condition of meaningfulness. Much that is accepted as true or plausible even in the hard sciences, I expect, is accepted without thought of its joining forces with other plausible hypotheses to form a testable set. Such acceptations may be prompted by symmetries and analogies, or as welcome unifying links in the structure of the theory. Surely it often happens that a hypothesis remote from all checkpoints suggests further hypotheses that are testable. This must be a major source of hypotheses worth testing. Positivistic insistence on empirical content could, if heeded, impede the progress of science.[iii]"
"In a very similar vein, Quine writes the following on another occasion:
... let me add, contrary to positivism, that a sentence does not even need to be testable in order to qualify as a respectable sentence of science. A sentence is testable, in my liberal or holistic sense, if adding it to previously accepted sentences clinches an observation categorical that was not implied by those previous sentences alone; but much good science is untestable even in this liberal sense. We believe many things because they fit in smoothly by analogy, or they symmetrize and simplify the overall design. Surely much history and social science is of this sort, and some hard science. Moreover, such acceptations are not idle fancy; their proliferation generates, every here and there, a hypothesis that can indeed be tested. Surely this is the major source of testable hypotheses and the growth of science.[iv]"
[i] W.V. Quine, ‘Philosophical Progress in Language Theory’, Metaphilosophy 1, p. 7.
[ii] W.V. Quine, ‘Responses’, Inquiry, 37 (1994), p. 497.
[iii] W.V. Quine, From Stimulus to Science (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 49.
[iv] W.V. Quine, ‘Naturalism; Or, Living Within Ones Means’, Dialectica, 49 (1995), p. 256.