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Homer's Gods and Physical Objects; Or, Quine's Holism

"Two Dogmas of Empiricism" is justifiably one of the most famous texts in 20th century philosophy. It's less an essay than a force, a wrecking ball, a left hook aimed directly at the chin of the basic principles of philosophy of science circa 1950. And for the purposes of this meetup I'd like us to talk not so much about the arguments that constitute the bulk of the text (although they'll definitely come up) as about what gets left behind after its target goes down. In the infamous final section (#6, "Empiricism without the Dogmas") Quine proposes, in place of the Carnapian empiricism he has just leveled, what has been called his "holism." Suddenly all propositions - even logical laws - fall to the same level in the system, all entities become the theoretically useful posits of that system, and the system is to be continually reevaluated for purposes of simplicity and economy while an underdetermined stimulation called "experience" nips away at the far edges. How should this be understood? What would be the consequences?

We'll probably start the meetup by running through the text of this section once. You can find the whole essay here:

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  • Erik C.

    In the past it was just so easy to brush Quine off. I felt he didn't understand the analytic/synthetic distinction, and ignored the much more interesting treatment of it in Kant to argue with Carnap. I still think he doesn't understand the analytic/synthetic distinction, but I can appreciate how the form of it that he dismisses helps to uncover the analytic/synthetic distinction in a new (pragmatic) way even if Quine wouldn't agree to using these terms.

    Also I understand what is strange to Scott now that I see that Quite is giving an interpretation of the Being of beings. Need to think about that transition which - since it was acceptable to many - introduced an entirely new domain of 'metaphysics' that kept its continuity with the former tradition only insofar as it rested on the interpretation of 'beings' in some manner.

    2 · January 4, 2013

  • Brian

    you realize this is a misleading title kinda, right haha

    December 11, 2012

    • Scott

      Haw. Are you saying there's something inappropriate about treating Homeric gods as theoretical posits potentially useful for science? BUT WHAT ELSE COULD A GOD BE???

      December 11, 2012

    • Brian

      All men, by their nature, are actuated by the desire to know!

      December 11, 2012

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