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W. V. O. Quine

(1908—2000) American philosopher and logician

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US philosopher, logician, and radical critic of modern empiricism.

Born at Akron, Ohio, Quine was educated at Oberlin and Harvard, where he completed his PhD under the supervision of A. N. Whitehead. After spending some time in Vienna, Warsaw, and Prague he returned to Harvard as Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy (1948–78).

Quine has worked extensively in the field of set theory, publishing his mature views in Set Theory and its Logic (1963). He is best known, however, for his work on the philosophy of language. In his classic paper ‘Two dogmas of empiricism’ (1951) he challenged the basic empiricist assumption that there is a clear distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions. Attempts to define the notion of analyticity invariably presupposed an understanding of some intentional concept like synonymy, which was in fact no clearer than analyticity itself. Further, Quine argued, ‘no statement is immune from revision’: even the principles of logic themselves could be questioned and replaced.

In his later book, Word and Object (1961), Quine argued for the indeterminacy of translation. This amounted to the claim that there was in principle no satisfactory way to ensure that a sentence P was a correct translation into language A of sentence Q in language B. He further conceded his commitment to the existence of abstract entities on the grounds that mathematics demands the use of sets with which to define such essential concepts as number. His later publications include The Time of My Life (1985), Quiddities (1987), and The Logic of Sequences (1990).

Subjects: Philosophy

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