[quickphilosophy] Re: Fodor on Concepts IV: Circularity

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 23 Sep 2010 19:05:25 -0000

--- In quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Ron Allen <wavelets@...> wrote:
> Hi Martin:
> I'm not demanding strong requirements of Quine; I'm asking for an example.
> Scriven says something apropos of this situation:
> "The general point I hope to make is this: Skinner's position on almost every 
> issue admits of two interpretations--one of them exciting, controversial, and 
> practically indefensible; the other moderately interesting, rather widely 
> accepted, and very plausible--and Skinner's views quite often appear to be 
> stated in the first form but defended in the second." [from M. Scriven, 'A 
> study of radical behaviorism,' in Feigl & Scriven, eds., The Foundations of 
> Science and the Concepts of Psychology and Psychoanalysis, Minnesota, 1956, 
> p. 88]
> Seems the same with Quine's behaviorism: He states the thesis of 
> indeterminacy of translation, gives some purported examples, which are just 
> alternative meanings of the new word 'gavagai', and then draws a radical 
> conclusion. Now, you, Neil, and Walt are defending it, not in the radical 
> form that Quine presents and relies upon, but as the uncontroversial and not 
> even mildly interesting claim that there are shades and nuances of meaning. 
> The upshot is that there are words and phrases in one language that often 
> cannot be efficiently translated as a practical matter into another.
> Last night I was translating a passage from Greek to English. At first I 
> rendered the 2nd person singular, aorist indicative active form of 
> 'diagignosko' as "you perceived distinctly". Then, in thinking about the 
> context a little bit more, where Hermes would be quite familiar with what a 
> decent pig sacrifice made to him should look like, I switched it to "you 
> distinctly recognized". Is neither correct? Just the second? No, both are 
> correct; one rendering simply catches a nuance within the story that is not 
> transmitted through the other.
> Walter says that Quine thinks "All bachelors are unmarried men" is true, but 
> not analytic. OK, then, how could Quine know that it's true? Only by 
> inspecting all bachelors and seeing if they have been married and whether 
> they have a Y chromosome. That's ridiculous, isn't it?
> How does Quine know all coupes have two passenger doors? Answer: because he 
> inspected all coupes and found that they all had two passenger doors. And so 
> on. This is ridiculous, as Grice and Strawson and Katz and lots of other 
> folks keep pointing out.
> Thanks!
> --Ron

Hi, Ron.

First, I don't think of the claim that there is no perfect synonymy in the 
world as "not even mildly interesting."  In fact, I'm not sure you do, since 
you later seem to suggest that any such claim is shown to be obviously false by 
your examples involving coupes and bachelorhood.  

Second, I think Quine takes a grey position where you allow only for black and 
white.  So, e.g., he takes all bachelors being unmarried as central, but not 
therefore unrevisable.  It's all a matter of places on a continuum for him.  
That is, I take it that for Quine, the statement that all bachelors are 
unmarried is much like a statement that all water is H2O.  You ask how he can 
know that "All bachelors are unmarried is true" without investigating every 
single one of them.  But I know that all cats are mammals without such 
investigation, and yet that's clearly an empirical statement.  

I know it (if it's true), because I both believe it and have evidence for it.  
But it's no more infallible than anything else.  If it turns out that 1/4000 of 
the cats in the world are actually amphibians, I didn't know what I thought I 
knew after all: in spite of my evidence and my belief, I couldn't know it, 
simply because it wasn't true.  He'd make a similar argument for bachelors, I 
believe.  He may not be right, but clearly it's an important and controversial 


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