Thursday, June 19, 2014

Comment on a comment
Daniel Estrada writes,
"I also think i's important to emphasize how radical Quine's holism was. Putnam refers to the "evidential holism" to distinguish it from "meaning holism", and describes it as a "moderate" view (using Quine's own description). Perhaps it is true that most philosophers agree with Quine's rejection of verificationism, but it seems to me Quine's holism goes farther than that. 

Quine doesn't just argue for a holistic treatment of the relationship between evidence and theory; in Two Dogmas, Quine says the evidence impinges on the whole of science. Evidence doesn't just pertain to this or that theory, any more than meaning pertains to individual sentences; instead, evidence meets the totality of our knowledge as a "fabric". 

This isn't "meaning holism", but it isn't a moderate holism either. It certainly isn't the overwhelmingly consensus view Putnam seems to think it is; see discussions on the autonomy of the special sciences for philosophers (like Fodor) who reject Quine's picture of "total science". If people are failing to appreciate the just how radical of Quine's views, then I suspect they underappreciate the radicalness of his holism too. I wonder if Putnam isn't making the same mistake here. "

Daniel is quite right. The epistemic holism of "Two Dogmas" was extreme (although the less extreme version that Quine called "moderate holism" and described in Pursuit of Truth (p.16)  would have sufficed for his purposes). Many interpreters (e.g. Dagfinn Follesdal) think that the moderate position was Quine's all along, and that the extreme language in "Two Dogmas" was rhetorical overkill.