Quine's dilemma

Synthese 69 (1):27 - 39 (1986)
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Abstract

Quine has long maintained in connection with his theses of under-determination of physical theory and indeterminacy of translation that there is a fact of the matter to physics but no fact of the matter to translation. In this paper, I investigate Quine's reasoning for this claim. I show that Quine's thinking about under-determination over the last twenty-five years has landed him in a contradiction: he says of two global physical theories that are empirically equivalent but logically incompatible that only one is trueand that they are both true. In accord with the former position, I explain Quine'ssemantical argument for the claim that there is a fact of the matter to physics but not to translation. However, Quine has apparently come to regard this position as inconsistent with his empiricistic scruples: if both theories imply all and only true observation categoricals, then in what sense could one of them be false? Quine'strivial expedient argument construes such pairs of theories as merely two true descriptions of the same world in different terms. In accord with this latter position, I suggest that Quine is left without a way to differentiate under-determination and indeterminacy. In short, Quine's contradiction poses a serious dilemma: either only one such theory is true and his empiricism is sacrificed, or both theories are true and his distinction between under-determination and indeterminacy is sacrificed.

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References found in this work

Theories and things.W. V. Quine (ed.) - 1981 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Mind and Language.Willard V. Quine - 1975 - Oxford University Press.
On the reasons for indeterminacy of translation.W. V. Quine - 1970 - Journal of Philosophy 67 (6):178-183.
The nature of natural knowledge.Willard V. Quine - 1975 - In Samuel D. Guttenplan (ed.), Mind and language. Oxford [Eng.]: Clarendon Press. pp. 1975--67.

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