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Quiddities: An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary Paperback – April 14, 1989


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 249 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; Reprint edition (April 14, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674743520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674743526
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 6.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,500,404 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The playful nature of this book is evident not only in its subtitle but in its title as well: quiddities can be either essences or inessentials. The 80-odd entries (alphabet to zero) give us a relaxed, informal Quine speaking his mind unfettered by the exigencies of the active professoriat (he is professor emeritus, Harvard). For the most part, the entries deal with philosophical, linguistic, and mathematical issues ( altruism, beauty, freedom, identity, phonemes, real numbers), but there are also discussions of gambling, gender, and universal library and of neologisms (mathematosis, misling). This mixed bag will interest sophisticated readers; philosophers, while delighting in the free play of a fine intellect, may secretly wish for more depth. Leon H. Brody, U. S. Office of Personnel Management Lib., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

[Quiddities] is infused with a deadpan humor that can lighten up even the most austere subjects...At almost every turn there are cheerful ripples of wordplay...These pieces are distinguished by good sense and, at many points, sardonic wit. (John Gross New York Times)

The book is infused with a deadpan humor that can light up even the most austere subjects...At almost every turn there are cheerful ripples of wordplay, as in the title, which at various times has meant essence, a subtle distinction and a quibble. (New York Times Book Review)

Mr. Quine is an intellectual--high, wide and handsome--opening his mind to the rest of us here in a way that exemplifies the best of what a first-rate mind can do when aiming to explain himself to non specialists in mostly nontechinical language...Every phrase in this book is a condensation of ideas usually stated at greater length, but Mr. Quine has the gift of turning the complex into the conversational without sanding off the edges. Often he sounds like the world's most intelligent stand-up comic...It is impossible in this space to exhibit the full Quinian magic, the magnificent command of reasoning, pace, rhetoric and humor--how in two pages he considers the traditional arguments justifying altruism as self-interest and finds them wanting. (Raymond Sokolov Wall Street Journal)

A chief pleasure of reading these essays lies in their unexpected connections. A path through the side-alleys of cross-reference in Quiddities draws a revealing map of Mr. Quine's interests...Few people apart from Mr. Quine could write a sensible and informative essay on Things in two-and-a-half pages. (The Economist)

Quiddities, according to Western, are the essential qualities of things: or, trifling distinctions, quibbles. Quiddities also is the playful title of a book of essays by W.V. Quine, the eminent analytical philosopher and emeritus professor at Harvard...But now, in this 80th year, he has produced a small entertainment--he calls it 'frivolous'--that represents a departure from his customary highly specialized books...Quine writes with grace, wit and precision, and for those who enjoy word play and mind stretching, much of [the book] is intellectual fun. [It] is organized alphabetically from Alphabet to Zero, and contains essays, besides the previously mentioned two, on such other diverse subjects as freedom, gambling and truth. (Charles E. Claffey Boston Globe)

Quine is not only a great philosopher, but also a master of the English language and a genuine polymath...Anyone who wants to encounter a great philosophical mind in a less technical mood, and to get some feeling for Quine as a peerless companion, raconteur, and amused commentator on the passing show...cannot do better than to read this book. (Hilary Putnam London Review of Books)

This is Quine distilled. There is the marvelously elegant style, the effortless wit, the philosophical authority, and the gleeful display of a quirky and exact learning...Quine expresses himself through smart obiter dicta on philosophical topics seldom addressed in his more austere texts. This could be a cult book for a very sophisticated audience, the kind that reads Fowler for pleasure and Dr. Johnson's dictionary for brilliance. (Arthur C. Danto)

Quiddities is the work of an author who has faith in his own idiosyncratic enthusiasms. Ranging from lucid expositions of philosophical topics that are central to the fields that have intrigued him throughout his career--particularly logic and the philosophy of mathematics...Quiddities will serve as a superb introduction to central issues in contemporary thinking about logic, mathematics, language and science, an introduction that may lead [one] on to appreciation of Quine's half century of seminal writings. Aficionados will enjoy the witty reformulations of familiar themes and find a bonus in learning about the quintessential quirkiness of natural language. (Philip Kitcher Nature)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bruce C. Douglas on November 20, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The 83 entries in this philosophical dictionary provide wonderful short discussions on a huge array of topics. It contains a diverse selection of entries on, e.g., real numbers, Godel's theorem, beauty, formalism, paradoxes, and on and on. Of course the selection emphasizes analytic philosophy, or its point of view, but this is what makes it handy to have when reading other more dense works by Quine.

Quine is also a fine writer, capable of explaining a lot in a small space. This is definitely a book to have whenever some time is available for quiet reflection.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By I. Martinez-Ybor VINE VOICE on April 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
Though I was never his student, when I read of Prof. Quine's recent passing, I felt sad. Quiddities has been an intermittent companion for several years now, something to have always handy, good for a break from other thinking or reading, bracing air in a stale airliner cabin, light at the end of a thoroughly muddled day. Topics ranging from science to language, cosmology to Fermat's last theorem, this is a book to cherish, hold, and for me, the proverbial layman, a treasure trove of knowledge and judicious, informed opinion.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By N. Coppedge on August 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The topics mostly concern what are called 'quiddities' which in this case is delimited to mean something like 'meaningless babble' or 'what is ordinarily ignored in semantics'.

It's an okay coffee table book, if you don't want pictures, and don't need something with a strong thesis.

I was disappointed, because I thought by 'quiddities' what was meant were 'central problems' or 'abstract extranea'. This book was not as paradoxical as I hoped. It is a dictionary as expressed, but it is surprisingly short, and the content isn't as interesting as advertised.

I hope I have been helpful to potential readers.

Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary, or MIT's online philosophical dictionary, called The Lexicon, found at:

[...]

might be much more helpful (and creative).
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rambam HaTalmid on February 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
A marvellous, book this ranges from the Aleph-Bet to the Infinite.
From Democritus's atomic theory to Godel's Theorem.

If you like Borges, you will enjoy Quine.
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