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.
Hilary Putnam

I seem to be in a minority in claiming that, in the sense of equating lack of verifiability with meaninglessness, which was the logical positivist sense of "verificationism", Quine was no verificationist. But an excellent defense of this "minority view" by Panu Raatikainen appeared in The Southern Journal of Philosophy, vol. XLI (2003). Here are some key paragraphs:

"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.


  1. {Whether Quine was a "Verificationist", ... 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.}

    Excellent posts. {much good science is untestable} should really be a very important idea in the science-epistemology, as many truths which sit on top of the ‘net’ of empirical facts need not to be observable themselves. Thus, I have proposed a ‘beauty-contest’ epistemology. Instead of ‘discovering’ laws of nature, we can ‘design’ a universe and deduce (derive) the laws of this designed-universe. Then, a beauty-contest can be set up between the ‘discovered-laws’ and ‘the derived-laws’.

    This ‘epistemology’ issue is hotly discussed at some other blogs. One is about the BIV (brain in a vat), and two views on that issue may have some relevancy to this article. See, and .

  2. I truly appreciate the chance of learning about the fact that Quine (a great philosopher) made a statement {much good science is untestable} many years ago. This great statement should encompass two parts.
    One, a theoretical framework to support this statement.
    Two, more than one solid examples as the evidences of this statement.

    Although Quine might already done the above, I would like to take up these challenges, perhaps from a different perspective.

    First, the theoretical framework: in the BIV story (mentioned in my previous comment), I showed a ‘paradox axiom’ {No Mystery Thesis (NMT)}:
    One: for any mystery {paradox (logic, Church’s undecidability theorem, Tarski’s indefinability theorem) or physical (dark matter, dark energy), etc.}, it is always solvable if there is an ‘external’ point outside of that mystery-space.

    Two: for any mystery-space, there is always an external-point outside of it.

    This NMT is supported with three points.
    First, with mathematics (the Godel incompleteness theorems): if this mystery-space is a (any) formal system (however it is constructed), there is always a ‘point’ outside of that mystery-space.

    Second, with physics equation: the ‘now’ is the ‘external-point’ of the entire history of this universe, and this is described with the ‘Space-time force’ equation.
    F (space-time force) = K ħ/ (delta S x delta T)
    This equation gives rise to ‘uncertainty principle’ and ‘gravity force’, and these two describe the entire history of this universe.

    Third, with the “Martian Language Thesis (MLT) -- Any human language can always establish a communication with the Martian or Martian-like languages”. MLT is based on the solid fact that every ‘point’ in the history of this universe has a corresponding ‘point’ in the ‘meaning-space’ (the external point). For a syntax without any semantics is still having a meaning-point of (zero, void or nonsense) in the meaning-space.

    This No Mystery Thesis (NMT) provides the theoretical framework for the statement {much good science is untestable}. This NMT also has the power of ruling out everything ‘untrue’.

    Second, the ‘4’ solid examples for this statement {much good science is untestable}.
    Example one: the ‘string-unification’.
    A G-string language (symbolic representation) consists of three different line-strings (vocabulary). And, each string carries a (½ ħ).
    Line-string (1) = (r, y, b 1)
    Line-string (2) = (r, y, b 2)
    Line-string (3) = (r, y, b 3)

    Every line-string has three nodes (or chairs), and each node can be symbolically represented with two symbols, V and A (alphabets).
    V is transparent and carries 0 electric charges.
    A is opaque and carries 1/3 electric charge.

    With them, there are some rules (theorems or grammar) for this language system.
    1. (V, V, V) = (r, y, b) = white = colorless, as V is transparent.
    2. (A, A, A) = colorless = white, as A is opaque.
    3. (V, A, A) = (r, A, A) = red, (A, V, A) = yellow, (A, A, V) = blue
    4, (V, V, A) = (r, y, A) = blue (complement of r + Y)

    With the above language, all 48 known quark/lepton particles can be ‘described’, as below,

    String 1 = (V, A, A 1) = {1st , red, 2/3 e, ½ ħ} = red up quark.

    String 2 = (-A, V, V 1) = {1st , red, -1/3 e, ½ ħ} = red down quark.

    String 3 = (A, A, V 1) = {1st , blue, 2/3 e, ½ ħ} = blue up quark.

    String 7 = (A, A, A 1) = {1st, white (colorless), 1 e, ½ ħ} = e (electron).

    String 8 = (V, V, V 1) = {1st, white, 0 e, ½ ħ} = e-neutrino.

    String 9 = (V, A, A 2) = {2nd , red, 2/3 e, ½ ħ} = red charm quark.

    String 48 = -(V, V, V 3) = – {3rd, white, 0 e, ½ ħ} = anti-tau-neutrino.

    As this part of the Standard Model (the 48 matter particles, the quark/lepton structure) is an a-knowledge (already proven), its ‘describing’ language (not a theory) must be ‘necessary true’, and there can be no argument about it. Are physicists ever able to probe the meaning of those symbolic alphabets (V and A)? This is really a non-issue, as it is only a ‘language’, not a theory.

    To be continued

    1. Continuing from above

      Example two: with this language (not theory), both proton and neutron can be ‘described’ as glider of the game of Life while that glider is a base for constructing a Turing computer (see ). Now, we have found that a computing device is embedded in the elementary particles. And, this provides the first linkage to the high level bio-intelligence with the laws of physics.

      Example three: Calculation of Alpha {Empirical measurement: (1/Alpha) = 137.0359 … }
      Beta = 1/alpha = 64 (1 + first order mixing + sum of the higher order mixing)
      = 64 (1 + 1/Cos A (2) + .00065737 + …)
      = 137.0359 …
      A (2) is the Weinberg angle, A (2) = 28.743 degree
      The sum of the higher order mixing = 2(1/48) [(1/64) + (1/2) (1/64) ^2 + ...+(1/n)(1/64)^n +...]
      = .00065737 + …

      This equation is based on the premise that ‘time’ has ‘4’ dimensions (+/- t, +/- it), ‘I’ is the imaginary number. The chance of ‘observing’ this premise is not good, but this premise gives rise to ‘all’ known physics laws.

      Example four: the space-time force equation
      F (space-time force) = K ħ/ (delta S x delta T)
      This equation gives rise to ‘quantum principle’, gravity and dark energy (see ). Again, any direct ‘measurement’ on the equation is unlikely, as it must manifest into ‘4’ different forces.

  3. Just found your blog. Glad you are doing it.

  4. Hilary, in his "Two Dogmas in retrospect" (Canadian JPhil 1991) and in other late writings, Quine rejects his original radical holism. In "Five Milestones of Empiricism", he writes,

    "It is an uninteresting legalism . . . to think of our scientific system of the
    world as involved en bloc in every prediction. More modest chunks suffice,
    and so may be ascribed their independent empirical meaning, nearly enough,
    since some vagueness in meaning must be allowed for in any event." (FME, Theories and Things, Harvard UP, 1981, 71).

    This is more acceptable, isn't it?

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