Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quine on Pragmatism

            "Science is a continuation of common sense" (Quine 20)- with this statement, Quine rejects the two dogmas of empiricism and the "double standard for ontological questions and scientific hypotheses" (21). Quine does this by proving that the two dogmas that logical positivism relies on are in fact identical; and each is flawed. He refutes analyticity by demonstrating that it is circular and reductionism by showing that it is too ambiguous in that it is impossible to verify single statements without adjusting all scientific statements. In doing so, he successfully argues that science and the "myth of physical objects [are] epistemologically superior" (Quine 19) in that, while they are posits as much as are the gods of Homer, they provide a better explanation for experience.
  Quine first refutes the "truths of reason and the truths of fact" (1), meaning a distinction between analytic truths and synthetic truths; Quine proves that they are "two sides of a single dubious coin" (1). He first breaks down the attempted definitions of analytic truth, by criticizing the Aristotelian idea of essence and meaning as elusive and too debatable to be useful (Quine 3). This leads to his conclusion that the problem of definitions- that truth by definition would necessarily imply some sort of meta-dictionary, which is nonsensical. Yet the suggestion by Leibniz of interchangeability is inconsistent with cognitive synonymy, and so fails to solve the problem of analyticity (Quine 9). Finally, he refutes the attempt by Carnap to revert to "the vagueness of ordinary language" (Quine 10). He does remark that analyticity might be save if it were possible to confirm the verification theory of meaning, but Quine maintains that to verify just one scientific statement at a time would be impossible, because the radical reductionism of Carnap is at best, sketchy, and at worst, defies the "translatability of statements about the physical world" (Quine 16). Once this has been proved, Quine is able to show that the two truths, analytic and reductionist, are connected to a degree that one cannot exist without the other (17).

            It is this very argument against reductionism that allows Quine to put forward his holistic pragmatism, that science has a "double dependence on language and experience; but this duality is not significantly traceable into the statements of science one by one" (17). Therefore, what we term scientific knowledge is only a useful system of explanations that have proved to be more useful than other theories. This is the form of pragmatism used by Darwin in explaining evolutionary theory, and how Quine posits Darwin to have superseded Aristotle's theories of essence and the Platonic idea of a priori truth.

            Thus Quine is successful in his arguments, by demonstrating that the two tenets on which logical positivism is based are dependent on each other and incorrect. He then demonstrates that both are false in asserting absolute a priori truth, and proposes the explanation of science as a whole field, of which all statements are dependent on each other, and of which any can be true depending on the entire system.

Works Cited
Quine, Willard Van Orman. "Two Dogmas of Empiricism." The Philisophical Review 60 (1951): 20-43.

Shuang Sanny Xu


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