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Ontological Relativity & Other Essays First Printing Edition
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From the Back Cover
This volume consists of the first of the John Dewey Lectures delivered under the auspices of Columbia University's Philosophy Department as well as other essays by the author. Intended to clarify the meaning of the philosophical doctrines propounded by Professor Quine in 'Word and Objects, ' the essays included herein both support and expand those doctrines.
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"Ontological Relativity & Other Essays" is a collection that recapitulates the major philosophical themes that have come to be known as Quinean philosophy. From the two dogmas of empiricism, ontological relativity, radical translation, holism, and indeterminacy of translation, all of these issues are themes in this collection of essays. These essays discuss some of the core ideals of Quine, ideals that are central to understanding Quinean philosophy.
He wrote in the Preface to this 1969 book, “The title essay of this book was presented as a pair of lectures of the same title at Columbia University, March 26 and 28, 1968. They constituted the first of the John Dewey Lectures… To help orient the reader, the title essay is preceded in the volume by ‘Speaking of Objects.’ This was my presidential address to the eastern division of the American Philosophical Association in 1957… The remaining four essays in the book are of recent vintage. They were already at press before this book was thought of and they still are.”
He notes in the first essay, “There is indeed an archaic precedent for confusing sign and object; the earliest conditioning of the infant’s babbling is ambiguous on this point. For suppose a baby rewarded for happening to babble something like ‘mama’ or ‘water’ just as the mother or water is looming. The stimuli which are thus reinforced are bound to be two: there is not only the looming of the object, there is equally the word itself, heard by the child from his own lips. Confusion of sign and object is original sin, coeval with the word.” (Pg. 15)
He begins the title essay, “Philosophically I am bound to Dewey by the naturalism that dominated his last three decades. With Dewey I hold that knowledge, mind, and meaning are part of the same world that they have to do with, and that they are to be studied in the same empirical spirit that animates natural science. There is no place for a prior philosophy.” (Pg. 26)
He points out, “So, though [Bertrand] Russell was wrong in suggesting that numbers need more than their arithmetical properties, he was right in objecting to the definition of numbers as any things fulfilling arithmetic. The subtle point is that any progression will serve as a version of number so long and only so long as we stick to one and the same progression. Arithmetic is, in this sense, all there is to number: there is no saying absolutely what the numbers are, there is only arithmetic.” (Pg. 45)
He continues in the same essay, “How then can there be no sense in saying what the objects of a theory are? My answer is simply that we cannot require theories to be fully interpreted, except in a relative sense, if anything is to count as a theory. In specifying a theory we must indeed fully specify, in our own words, what sentences are to comprise the theory, and what things are to be taken as values of the variables, and what things are to be taken as satisfying the predicate letters, insofar we do fully interpret the theory, RELATIVE to our own words and relative to our overall home theory which lies behind them. But this fixes the objects of the described theory only relative to those of the home theory, and these can, at will, be questioned in turn.” (Pg. 51)
He adds, “Ontological relativity is not to be clarified by any distinction between kinds of universal predication---unfactual and factual, external and internal. It is not a question of universal predication. When questions regarding the ontology of the theory are meaningless absolutely, and become meaningful relative to a background theory, this is not in general because the background theory has a wider universe.” (Pg. 53)
He says about Hume, “he did succeed in construing some singular statements about bodies as indubitable truths… But general statements, also singular statements about the future, gained no increment of certainty by being construed as about impressions. On the doctrinal side, I do not see that we are farther along today than where Hume left us. The Humean predicament is the human predicament.” (Pg. 72)
He asserts, “Induction itself is essentially only more of the same: animal expectation or habit formation. And the ostensive learning of words is an implicit case of induction. Implicitly the learner of ‘yellow’ is working inductively toward a general law of English verbal behavior, though a law that he will never try to state; he is working up to where he can in general judge when an English speaker would assent to ‘yellow’ and when not. Not only is ostensive learning a case of induction, it is a curiously comfortable case of induction, a game of chance with loaded dice.” (Pg. 125)
These essays are a highly interesting collection , that will be of great interest to anyone studying Quine, or modern logical philosophy.
Thomas J. Hickey