Home > Analytic Tradition, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Summaries > W.V.O Quine: On What There Is (Summary) (Part 3)

W.V.O Quine: On What There Is (Summary) (Part 3)

March 5th, 2008


 |   [Part1] |   [Part2] |   [Part3] |   [Part4] | 

Quine’s criteria are different; his basis for claiming the significance[8] of a linguistic utterance either derives from treating it as an ultimate and irreducible matter of fact, or from analyzing people’s ordinary reactions to the utterance in question and similar utterances. He reduces the useful ways that people commonly speak of meanings to two: the having of meanings (significance) and the sameness of meanings (synonymy). One’s “giving” the meaning of an  utterance is his utterance of a synonym in a more ordinary and clearer language than the original. If such an interpretation of meaning is unsatisfactory, then one can simply speak of an utterance as significant or insignificant, and in relationship to other utterances (in synonymy or heteronomy). Though Quine recognizes the difficulty and importance of handling this approach properly, he once more refers to the lack of any increase in explanatory power resulting from adopting McX’s ontology- in this case, the adoption of special and irreducible intermediary entities called “meanings. ”

In light of the preceding arguments, McX is led to question whether any statements are possible that lead one to be committed to universals or other entities Quine finds unwelcome. Once again, Quine cites Russell’s theory of descriptions in tandem with quantifiers, explaining that the entities can be stated as bound variables, so long as it is said that “there is something [a bound variable] which red houses and red sunsets have in common. ” As explained earlier, the only way to make ontological commitments is to use bound variables. If “to be is to be the value of a bound variable,” whatever is said by names can be spoken of without names; names can be converted to descriptions, and then eliminated by Russell’s theory of descriptions; the purported namehood of an utterance can be repudiated if no respective entity is affirmed by the proper use of bound variables. Variables of quantification have a range of reference over the whole of an ontology (regardless of the particular ontology), and an ontological presupposition is convincing if and only if it must be considered among entities in this range of reference in order to establish the truth of an affirmation.

Therefore, the utterance “some dogs are white” does not commit the speaker to recognizing doghood or whiteness as entities. Rephrased, it states, “some things that are dogs are white,” which only creates the requirement that the quantifier “something” has a range of reference that includes white dogs, but need not include whiteness or doghood. However, it is also recognized that the statement “some zoological species are cross fertile” entails a commitment to the abstract entities “zoological species” unless the subject of the statement is reducible to another entity. Generally, a commitment to any reference persists until some means of paraphrasing a statement can be devised to change (or properly delineate) its bound variable’s reference.

Choosing an Ontology

Bound variables alone do not commit one to any single ontology, but only describes the process by which one becomes committed to an ontology. One means of adjudicating among ontologies, relative to a particular theory, is by finding an ontology whose entities are required to be within the range of reference of the bound variables of the theory in order to render the affirmations of the theory true. Modern disagreement over the foundations of mathematics is divided almost exactly on the issue of which entities lie in bound variables’ permissible range of reference.

Quine suggests that Occam’s razor be fully applied as an adjudicator among ontologies and that any ontology should be accepted in the same way that scientific theories are accepted: one must seek the simplest theory that accounts for all of the evidence. In the case of ontology, one must seek the simplest conceptual scheme that can be created to account for all the elements of raw experience. Quine’s argument, by his implicit admission, refutes the realist position on universals only as much as he asserts that a physicalist ontology containing universals is a useful “myth,” specifically in the fields of the physical sciences and more so in mathematics; put differently, he refutes it only by undermining its necessity by emphasizing the marked difference between naming and meaning, untangling Plato’s beard in the process. In the end, he states that the question of which ontology to adopt remains unanswered, with only “tolerance and an experimental spirit” as advice and judgment to be reserved for each myth based on its quality relative to a particular point of view.

 |   [Part1] |   [Part2] |   [Part3] |   [Part4] | 


Comments are closed.

© 2009-2017 Christopher Khawand All Rights Reserved