Willard van Orman Quine

American philosopher and logician (1908–2000)
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Willard Van Orman Quine (25 June 190825 December 2000) was an influential 20th Century American philosopher and logician.

Willard Van Orman Quine (1980)





From a Logical Point of View: Nine Logico-Philosophical Essays (1953)


Willard van Orman Quine. From a Logical Point of View: Nine Logico-Philosophical Essays (1953). Harper and Row, New York

  • How are we to adjudicate among rival ontologies? Certainly the answer is not provided by the semantical formula "To be is to be the value of a variable"; this formula serves rather, conversely, in testing the conformity of a given remark or doctrine to a prior ontological standard.
    • "On What There Is"
  • Nonbeing must in some sense be, otherwise what is it that there is not? This tangled doctrine might be nicknamed Plato's beard; historically it has proved tough, frequently dulling the edge of Occam's razor.
    • "On What There Is"
  • Wyman's overpopulated universe is in many ways unlovely. It offends the aesthetic sense of us who have a taste for desert landscapes.
    • "On What There Is", p. 4. a humorous comment on the idea "unactualized possible".
  • Modern empiricism has been conditioned in large part by two dogmas. One is a belief in some fundamental cleavage between truths which are analytic, or grounded in meanings independently of matters of fact, and truths which are synthetic, or grounded in fact. The other dogma is reductionism: the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience. Both dogmas, I shall argue, are ill-founded. One effect of abandoning them is, as we shall see, a blurring of the supposed boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science. Another effect is a shift toward pragmatism.
    • "Two dogmas of Empiricism"
  • The word 'definition' has come to have a dangerously reassuring sound, owing no doubt to its frequent occurrence in logical and mathematical writings.
    • "Two dogmas of Empiricism", p. 26
  • Our argument is not flatly circular, but something like it. It has the form, figuratively speaking, of a closed curve in space.
    • "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", p. 26
  • No particular experiences are linked with any particular statements in the interior of the field, except indirectly through considerations of equilibrium affecting the field as a whole.
    • "Two Dogmas of Empiricism"
  • Even a statement very close to the periphery can be held true in the face of recalcitrant experience by pleading hallucination or by amending certain statements of the kind called logical laws. Conversely, by the same token, no statement is immune to revision. Revision even of the logical law of the excluded middle has been proposed as a means of simplifying quantum mechanics; and what difference is there in principle between such a shift and the shift whereby Kepler superseded Ptolemy, or Einstein Newton, or Darwin Aristotle?
    • "Two Dogmas of Empiricism"
  • As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. 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 conception only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience.
    • "Two Dogmas of Empiricism"
  • The issue over there being classes seems more a question of convenient conceptual scheme; the issue over there being centaurs, or brick houses on Elm Street, seems more a question of fact. But I have been urging that this difference is only one of degree, and that it turns upon our vaguely pragmatic inclination to adjust one strand of the fabric of science rather than another in accommodating some particular recalcitrant experience. Conservatism figures in such choices, and so does the quest for simplicity.
    • "Two Dogmas of Empiricism"
  • Tactically, conceptualism is no doubt the strongest position of the three; for the tired nominalist can lapse into conceptualism and still allay his puritanic conscience with the reflection that he has not quite taken to eating lotus with the Platonists.
    • "Logic and the Reification of Universals"


  • A fancifully fancyless medium of unvarnished news.
    • A mocking title for the 'protocol language' imagined by some of the logical positivists, in Word and Object (1960), section 1
  • Creatures inveterately wrong in their inductions have a pathetic but praiseworthy tendency to die before reproducing their kind.
    • "Natural Kinds", in Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (1969), p. 126; originally written for a festschrift for Carl Gustav Hempel, this appears in a context explaining why induction tends to work in practice, despite theoretical objections. The hyphen in "praise-worthy" is ambiguous, since it falls on a line break in the source.


  • Logic chases truth up the tree of grammar.
    • Philosophy of Logic (1970)
  • "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation" yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation.
    • Quine's paradox, in "The Ways of Paradox" in "The Ways of Paradox and other Essays" (1976)
  • Necessity resides in the way we talk about things, not in the things we talk about.
    • Ways of Paradox and Other Essays (1976), p. 174

The Web of Belief (1970)

(2nd ed., 1978). With J. S. Ullian
  • At root what is needed for scientific inquiry is just receptivity to data, skill in reasoning, and yearning for truth. Admittedly, ingenuity can help too.
    • S.4
  • Implication is thus the very texture of our web of belief, and logic is the theory that traces it.
    • S. 41

1980s and later

  • It is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is to be identified and described.
    • Theories and Things, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1981
  • We cannot stem linguistic change, but we can drag our feet. If each of us were to defy Alexander Pope and be the last to lay the old aside, it might not be a better world, but it would be a lovelier language.
    • Quiddities: An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary (1987), p. 231
  • Life is agid. Life is fulgid. Life is a burgeoning, a quickening of the dim primordial urge in the murky wastes of time. Life is what the least of us make most of us feel the least of us make the most of.
    • Quine's response in 1988 when asked his philosophy of life. (He invented the word "agid".) It makes up the entire Chapter 54 in Quine in Dialogue (2008).
  • Possibly, but my concern is that there not be more things in my philosophy than are in heaven and earth.
    • Response to being quoted William Shakespeare's statement from Hamlet: "There are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in your philosophy." As quoted in ‪When God is Gone Everything Is Holy: The Making Of A Religious Naturalist‬ (2008) by ‪Chet Raymo‬

Quotes about Quine

  • I do not agree with Quine, that there is no analytic-synthetic distinction to be drawn at all. But I do believe that his emphasis on the monolithic character of our conceptual system and his negative emphasis on the silliness of regarding mathematics as consisting in some sense of 'rules of language', represent exceedingly important theoretical insights in philosophy. I think that what we have to do now is to settle the relatively trivial question concerning analytic statements properly so called ('All bachelors are unmarried'). We have to take a fresh look at the framework principles so much discussed by philosophers, disabusing ourselves of the idea that they are 'rules of language' in any literal or lexicographic sense; and above all, we have to take a fresh look at the nature of logical and mathematical truths. With Quine's contribution, we have to face two choices: We can ignore it and go on talking about the 'logic' of individual words. In that direction lies sterility and more, much more, of what we have already read. The other alternative is to face and explore the insight achieved by Quine, trying to reconcile the fact that Quine is overwhelmingly right in his critique of what other philosophers have done with the analytic-synthetic distinction with the fact that Quine is wrong in his literal thesis, namely, that the distinction itself does not exist at all. In the latter direction lies philosophic progress. For philosophic progress is nothing if it is not the discovery of new areas for dialectical exploration.

See also

Philosophy of science
Concepts AnalysisA priori and a posterioriCausalityDemarcation problemFactInductive reasoningInquiryNatureObjectivityObservationParadigmProblem of inductionScientific methodScientific revolutionScientific theory
Related topics AlchemyEpistemologyHistory of scienceLogicMetaphysicsPseudoscienceRelationship between religion and scienceSociology of scientific knowledge
Philosophers of science PlatoAristotleStoicism
AverroesAvicennaRoger BaconWilliam of Ockham
Francis BaconThomas HobbesRené DescartesGalileo GalileiPierre GassendiIsaac NewtonDavid Hume
Immanuel KantFriedrich SchellingWilliam WhewellAuguste ComteJohn Stuart MillHerbert SpencerWilhelm WundtCharles Sanders PeirceHenri PoincaréPierre DuhemRudolf SteinerKarl Pearson
Alfred North WhiteheadBertrand RussellAlbert EinsteinOtto NeurathC. D. BroadMichael PolanyiHans ReichenbachRudolf CarnapKarl PopperW. V. O. QuineThomas KuhnImre LakatosPaul FeyerabendJürgen HabermasIan HackingBas van FraassenLarry LaudanDaniel Dennett

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