Monday, May 4, 2015

An Unpublished letter from Quine to Hookway

My friend Chris Hookway has given me permission to print the following letter:

                                                                                            May 31, 1988

Dear Mr. Hookway,

Many thanks for sending me your book, and for writing it.   I was much pleased and surprised to see it, but I have only now been free to settle down to it.

I read Part I with delight and admiration; I delight in your grasp and appreciation of my views, and admiration of your lucid exposition.

Early in Part II (page 62, line 11) a misconception of my attitude toward prediction seems to emerge. I have never viewed prediction as the main purpose of science, although it was probably the survival value of the primitive precursor of science in prehistoric times.  The main purposes of science are understanding (of past as well as future), technology, and control of the environment. So I have written, in one place or another..  My point about prediction is that it is the checkpoint.

Soon I begin to trace a related and more persistent misunderstanding, traceable perhaps to an ambiguity of 'physical'. There is a hint of the trouble on p. 63, lines 3-5;  more so on p. 64, line 17-20; p. 69, last paragraph; p. 203, line -6; p. 213, line -4; p . 214, middle. All these passages ascribe a far narrower conception of science to me than I hold. I even accept history. On page 72, lines -15 through -13, you do have me right; also p. 77, lines 10-14. My physicalism is the "disappointing"  brand, and was not meant as novel or interesting. It differs none from Davidson's, surely.

My basic position early and late is empiricism, and hence prediction as touchstone. Physics enters my picture only because, in my naturalism, I take the current world picture as the last word to date. If evidence mounts for telepathy or ghosts, welcome. Physicists would go back to their drawing boards. Whether to call the resulting theory physics still, on determinationist grounds, is a verbal question.

What transcends all this is just prediction as checkpoint.  This remains as long as we are engaged in the language game of empirical science rather than some other language game. So I agree with your p. 73,  last seven lines.

Like Rorty, and excusably in view of some phrasing in WO, you have me distinguishing between constitutive and regulative conditions of translation (pp. 182, 220). Actually I am Putnam's Quine2 not Quine1. [Quine is referring to my “The Refutation of Conventionalism”—HP]  It would indeed be insane to translate 'gavagai' as 'rabbit part' rather than 'rabbit'.

We translate on the assumption that the native talks as we do, barring evidence to the contrary. Hence the principle of charity; but the broader and better principle is simply empathy and folk psychology. Otherwise it would be hopeless to try to think up analytical hypotheses. The point of indeterminacy of translation is just that all the checkpoints are in observable verbal behavior in observable circumstances. Contrary to your p. 170 (foot), Davidson and I see eye to eye here. And I am not as far from Evans as you and he supposed. So I quite agree with your p. 163, line 16f, and 171, top.

Also I appreciate the utility, even indispensability, of mentalistic language.  As you rightly say somewhere, I merely ban it from the austere scientific descriptions and explanations. Thus  the "double standard" in WO. I share Davidson's anomalous monism.

My focus on stimulations reflects a divergence in purpose from Davidson.  (Your p. 163, foot and 217, foot.) The philosophical focus of his concern with translation is other minds. My concern is partly that, or meaning, but I am concerned to integrate these matters with "naturalized epistemology" in general, that is, the theory of evidence for science. Hence my starting point is the sensory receptors.

Incidentally I have no strong feelings about the old term "epistemology"; I have acknowledged some differences. But my pursuit of it, under whatever name, is decidedly more central to my thinking than translation. It is little noticed in your book. Observation categoricals, critical semantic mass, empirical content, and the logical role  of reification in linking theory to observation.

On page 151, end of section, and at other points the crucial difference between (1) indeterminacy of translation in the full sense (sentence by sentence, holophrastically) and (2) inscrutabiliy of reference is underplayed. The rabbit-part bit comes under the latter head, and so do some actual and disputable cases, notably that of the Japanese classifiers (OT). The other is the stronger and more debatable thesis. But a plausible artificial case based on geometry is in Edwin Levy's essay in the Boston Studies in Philosophy of Science, vol.8 (1971), pp. 590-605.

Apropos your p. 211 (foot), I recognize that I am hard to classify on realism and relativism.  see my "Relativism and Absolutism”, in the Monist, 1984. My realism lurks in my naturalism: science tells me what there is.

As for your quandary about "intensional content" midway in the same p. 211, I just blame it on the notion of "intensional content", which was the target of my indeterminacy thesis to begin with,


P. 207, lines 13f, prompt me to state my present view on truth of empirically equivalent theories. I accept both as true (as you say on p.200, line 6),couched in an inclusive language. Truth is defined over the whole language, à la Tarski, not over each theory separately. If the theories are incompatible, we reconcile them by Davidson’s trick of respelling.

Page 199, foot, it is not clear to me that you can always find such a manual; not for sentence-by-sentence translation. You have it right on the next page.

It is too bad the volume on me in The Library of Living Philosophers did not reach you in time.  It did appear seven months before the date on you p. 98, line -10, so it was a near miss.

Not but that there are pages in your Parts II-IV that I applaud as heartily as Part I.  Pages 119, 123-124, 180, 198, and 211 gratified me especially.

                                                   Sincerely yours,

                                                           
                                                                   W.V. Quine



2 comments: