Willard Quine, fully Willard Van Orman Quine

Quine, fully Willard Van Orman Quine

American Philosopher and Logician

Author Quotes

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

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.

Our argument is not flatly circular, but something like it. It has the form, figuratively speaking, of a closed curve in space.

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. Truth values have to be redistributed over some of our statements. Reevaluation of some statements entails reevaluation of others, because of their logical interconnections — the logical laws being in turn simply certain further statements of the system, certain further elements of the field.

Different persons growing up in the same language are like different bushes trimmed and trained to take the shape of identical elephants. The anatomical details of twigs and branches will fulfill the elephantine form differently from bush to bush, but the overall outward results are alike.

It makes no sense to say what the objects of a theory are, beyond saying how to interpret or reinterpret that theory in another.

Our talk of external things, our very notion of things, is just a conceptual apparatus that helps us to foresee and control the triggerings of our sensory receptors in the light of previous triggering of our sensory receptors.

The variables of quantification, 'something,' 'nothing,' 'everything,' range over our whole ontology, whatever it may be; and we are convicted of a particular ontological presupposition if, and only if, the alleged presuppositum has to be reckoned among the entities over which our variables range in order to render one of our affirmations true.

English general and singular terms, identity, quantification, and the whole bag of ontological tricks may be correlated with elements of the native language in any of various mutually incompatible ways, each compatible with all possible linguistic data, and none preferable to another save as favored by a rationalization of the native language that is simple and natural to us.

Just as the introduction of the irrational numbers ... is a convenient myth [which] simplifies the laws of arithmetic, ... so physical objects are postulated entities which round out and simplify our account of the flux of existence.... The conceptional scheme of physical objects is [likewise] a convenient myth, simpler than the literal truth and yet containing that literal truth as a scattered part.

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 word ‘definition’ has come to have a dangerously reassuring sound, owing no doubt to its frequent occurrence in logical and mathematical writings.

Entification begins at arm's length; the points of condensation in the primordial conceptual scheme are things glimpsed, not glimpses.

Language is a social art.

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

Theory may be deliberate, as in a chapter on chemistry, or it may be second nature, as in the immemorial doctrine of ordinary enduring middle-sized physical objects.

Everything to which we concede existence is a posit from the standpoint of a description of the theory-building process, and simultaneously real from the standpoint of the theory that is being built. Nor let us look down on the standpoint of the theory as make-believe; for we can never do better than occupy the standpoint of some theory or other, the best we can muster at the time.

Language is conceived in sin and science is its redemption.

Science is not a substitute for common sense, but an extension of it.

There is no breaking out of the intentional vocabulary by explaining its members in other terms.

For me the problem of induction is a problem about the world a problem of how we, as we are now (by our present scientific lights), in a world we never made, should stand better than random, or coin-tossing chances changes of coming out right when we predict by inductions.

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.

Scientific method is the way to truth, but it affords, even in principle, no unique definition of truth. Any so-called pragmatic definition of truth is doomed to failure equally.

To be is to be the value of a variable.

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.

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American Philosopher and Logician