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Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

W. V. O. Quine (1908 – 2000) American philosopher at Harvard of logic and science.  The edge of the system must be kept squared with experience

W. V. O. Quine

W. V. O. Quine when a young philosopher of the theory of knowledge and science

W. V. O. Quine

W. V. O. Quine as an older professor of philosophy at Harvard.

Quotations of Quine sourced from – Tempus fugit, BrainyQuote, GoodReads,


Quotations W. V. O. Quine

Modern empiricism has been conditioned in large part by two dogmas. One is a belief in some fundamental cleavage between truths which are analytic, or grounded in meanings independently of matters of fact and truths which are synthetic, or grounded in fact. The other dogma is reductionism: the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience. Both dogmas, I shall argue, are ill-founded. One effect of abandoning them is, as we shall see, a blurring of the supposed boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science. Another effect is a shift toward pragmatism.
My present suggestion is that it is nonsense, and the root of much nonsense, to speak of a linguistic component and a factual component in the truth of any individual statement. Taken collectively, science has its double dependence upon language and experience; but this duality is not significantly traceable into the statements of science taken one by one.

Science is a continuation of common sense, and it continues the common-sense expedient of swelling ontology to simplify theory.

The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field.

Total science, mathematical and natural and human, is similarly but more extremely underdetermined by experience. The edge of the system must be kept squared with experience; the rest, with all its elaborate myths or fictions, has as its objective the simplicity of laws.

Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer . . . For my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing, the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conceptions only as cultural posits.

A curious thing about the ontological problem is its simplicity. It can be put into three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables: ‘What is there?’ It can be answered, moreover, in a word–‘Everything’–and everyone will accept this answer as true.

Language is conceived in sin and science is its redemption.

Life is what the least of us make the most of us feel the least of us make the most of.

Physics investigates the essential nature of the world, and biology describes a local bump. Psychology, human psychology, describes a bump on the bump.

It is one of the consolations of philosophy that the benefit of showing how to dispense with a concept does not hinge on dispensing with it.

To mention Boston we use ‘Boston’ or a synonym, and to mention ‘Boston’ we use ‘ ‘Boston’ ‘ or a synonym. ‘ ‘Boston’ ‘ contains six letters and just one pair of quotation marks; ‘Boston’ contains six letters and no quotation marks; and Boston contains some 800,000 people.

To be is to be the value of a bound variable.

To be is to be the value of a variable.

Students of the heavens are separable into astronomers and astrologers as readily as are the minor domestic ruminants into sheep and goats, but the separation of philosophers into sages and cranks seems to be more sensitive to frames of reference.

Life is agid, life is fulgid. Life is what the least of us make most of us feel the least of us make the most of. Life is a burgeoning, a quickening of the dim primordial urge in the murky wastes of time.

Creatures inveterately wrong in their inductions have a pathetic but praise-worthy tendency to die before reproducing their kind.

Uncritical semantics is the myth of a museum in which the exhibits are meanings and the words are labels. To switch languages is to change the labels.

It is one of the consolations of philosophy that the benefit of showing how to dispense with a concept does not hinge on dispensing with it.

Language is a social art.

Confusion of sign and object is original sin coeval with the word.

Language is conceived in sin and science is its redemption.

Meaning is what essence becomes when it is divorced from the object of reference and wedded to the word.

One man’s observation is another man’s closed book or flight of fancy.

‘Ouch’ is not independent of social training. One has only to prick a foreigner to appreciate that it is an English word.

The familiar material objects may not be all that is real, but they are admirable examples.

We do not learn first what to talk about and then what to say about it.

As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer . . . For my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing, the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conceptions only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience.

Total science, mathematical and natural and human, is similarly but more extremely underdetermined by experience. The edge of the system must be kept squared with experience; the rest, with all its elaborate myths or fictions, has as its objective the simplicity of laws.

COMMENTS

[Ideas like] creatures inveterately wrong in their inductions have a pathetic but praise-worthy tendency to die before reproducing their kind. This is evolution in action, but in this case it is evolution of ideas.

The edge of the system must be kept squared with experience; the rest, with all its elaborate myths or fictions, has as its objective the simplicity of laws. This is a statement of science as a progressive experience bouncing between experience and theory, and as the world is infinitely fine there are an infinity of new ways of observing it. The comprehensible laws that are created to fit the new experiences reach points of diminishing comprehensibility as they approach Planck-level reality. Ultimately all history could be described in quantum mechanics but it would be absolutely incomprehensible to human minds. The various levels of laws about various levels of behaviors are comprehensible and adequate for our predicting behavior of the system they are describing at their level.