W. V. Quine

NEH Summer Seminar
For College and University Teachers
And Advanced Graduate Students

20th Century American Philosophy
Quine and Davidson

Gilbert Harman and Ernie Lepore
June 20 - July 29, 2011
Princeton University

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Week 1: June 20-25

The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction, the Reconstruction of Meaning on an Empirical Basis, Radical Translation, Indeterminacy, and Ontological Relativity

  • Monday: 6pm barbecue at Scully Dormitory
  • Tuesday: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 Lepore
  • Wednesday: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 Harman
  • Thursday: 10-12:30 Rosen, 2-3:30 Discussion

Rudoph Carnap (1891-1970) was an important philosopher of the 20th century. In these three seminars, we will explain the disagreement between Quine and Carnap---Quine's de facto mentor. Quine began his career as an enthusiastic supporter of Carnap and the so-called Logical Positivist movement, but over the years their paths diverged. Quine became, in fact, Carnap's deepest most persistent yet most sympathetic critic. These three seminars will trace the nature of their disagreements and their significance.

Week 2: June 27 - July 1

Ontology, Ontological Commitment, and Modality

Visits this week by William Craig Rice, head of Educational Programs at NSF, and Douglas Quine, W.V. Quine's son.

  • Tuesday: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 Lepore and Harman
  • Wednesday: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 Ray, Hanks, Gleizekos, and Stojnic
  • Wednesday evening: Barbecue at Scully with Doug Quine.
  • Thursday: 10-12:30 Burgess, 2-3:30 Discussion

The metaphysical tradition that Quine and American philosophy in general inherited from the logical positivists is that basic ontological and modal commitments are language-dependent, that is, they depend on what definitions are chosen. If you choose differently from me, we do not disagree; we merely speak different languages. Languages are not true or false; they are not that sort of thing. Rather, the choice of a language is a matter of convention---which means we could have chosen otherwise. When Quine and Carnap diverged, it was not a retreat to the methods that pre-date the positivist---an appeal to intuition---but rather Quine sought to replace both frameworks with a novel metaphysical framework. We will explore the debate and his novel position in these three seminars.

Week 3: July 4-8

Regimentation, and Naturalized Epistemology

  • Tuesday: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 Lepore and Harman
  • Wednesday: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 George, Kemp, Mou, and Franco
  • Thursday: 10-12:30 Kelly, 2-3:30 Discussion

Along with Quine's metaphysical innovations came a novel epistemological approach. According to Quine, scientific reasoning begins with a body of beliefs, the beliefs we do in fact have. Quine calls this "the lore of our fathers." Experience does not always conform to these beliefs, so we must revise. Our revisions are guided by two principles: simplicity and conservativism. We want to effect as simple and tidy a system as possible and we want to preserve as much of our previous beliefs as possible. They give rise to a new---a naturalized---epistemology. The topics of these three seminars will be to develop and evaluate his proposals.

Week 4: July 11-15

A Compositional Theory of Meaning

  • Tuesday: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 Lepore and Harman
  • Wednesday: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 Buchanan, Hom, Pupa
  • Thursday: 10-12:30 Lepore and Harman, 2-3:30 Delia Graff Fara

We will in these three sessions examine the development of Davidson's program in the theory of meaning, drawing primarily on his twin papers "Theories of Meaning and Learnable Languages" and "Truth and Meaning." The former introduced the project of constructing a compositional meaning theory for natural languages. The latter introduced the suggestion that a truth theory can fulfill this function. This will lead us to the formulation of an explicit compositional meaning theory, and a discussion of the relation of the theory to a representation of linguistic competence.

Week 5: July 18-22

Logical Form and Agency

  • Tuesday: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 Lepore and Harman
  • Wed: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 Ferrero, Mairja, Silk, Atkins
  • Thursday: 10-12:30 Ludwig, 2-3:30 Discussion

Davidson's most famous article, "Actions, Reasons and Causes," championed the view that ordinary action explanation is causal explanation of a special sort, namely, a sort which cites causes which also show minimally what was to be said for the action from the agent's perspective. An action explanation, according to Davidson, is successful when it indicates what he called the primary reasons for the agent's action. A primary reason shows something about what was to be said for the action from the agent's point of view. What these views about the nature of action reveal to us about agency and the more technical issue of the logical from of action (and event) sentences are the topics of these three seminars.

Week 6: July 25-29

Propositional Attitudes and Radical Interpretation

  • Tuesday: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 Lepore and Harman
  • Wed: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 Manning, Martininch, Kim
  • Thursday: 10-12:30, 2-3:30 Wrap Up

Davidson's project of Radical Interpretation and Quine's project of Radical Translation are similar. In each case, the evidence ultimately available to a theorist consists in the speaker's responses to his environment, which reveal his dispositions to verbal behavior. But whereas for Quine the radical translator aims to produce a translation manual, for Davidson the radical interpreter seeks to produce a theory of interpretation that says not what expressions and sentences are the same in meaning but what expressions and sentences mean. And whereas the radical translator keys his translations to responses to stimulus patterns, the radical interpreter keys his interpretation to speaker responses to distal rather than patterns of stimulation at the sensory surfaces. How all this plays out and why these philosophers disagree are the topics of these three seminars.

Last edited: "July 09, 2011, 06:21 am"