Locations of visitors to this page britannica quine web page award

Willard Van Orman Quine 1908-2000
Obituaries, Memorials, Symposia, and Photographs - part 1

Obituaries, Photos (this page)

WVQ Web Site Map

WVQ Web Content by DBQ

DBQ Family Web Sites

Valid HTML 4.01!

[SafeSurf Rated All Ages]Obituaries, memorials, symposia, and photographs of Willard Van Orman Quine, mathematician and philosopher. Professor Quine was born June 25 1908 (anti-Christmas) and died December 25 2000 (Christmas). The last paper he presented was Three Networks: Similarity, Implication, and Membership in Boston (August 1998); it was published in Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, Volume 6. Extensive visitor comments regarding his philosophy may be read in the read in the W V Quine guest book where you may sign into (email) the guestbook: [guestbook] to post your comments & questions. This page is maintained by Douglas Boynton Quine; please e-mail recommended additions, or corrections to the webmaster: [webmaster]

AP photo W V Quine

MEMORIALS and W V Quine SYMPOSIA listing

OBITUARIES - United States of America Listing

OBITUARIES - International listing

Photographs of W V Quine Through 10 decades of life

W V Quine age 2 age 2 ----- [W V Quine age 19] ----- age 27 [W V Quine age 27]
age 19-------------
age 37 [W V Quine age 37]--------age 45 [W V Quine age 45] -------- [W V Quine age 54] age 54 ----- [W V Quine age 66] age 66
age 72 [W V Quine age 72] ------- [W V Quine age 88] ----- [W V Quine age 92] age 92
------ age 88 at Kyoto prize ceremony

Photograph Credits

Ages 2 through 77 from The Time of My Life: An Autobiography. (1985)
Age 88 from The Inamori Foundation Kyoto Prizes & Inamori Grants (1996), age 92 from family.

Memorials and Memorial Symposia for Willard Van Orman Quine

Quine at 100: A Centenary Conference at Harvard University - October 25-26, 2008

  • Saturday: academic talks in the morning and afternoon followed by an hour long non-philosophical "Reminiscences" session to give the audience some sense of Quine as a person. The session ends with a public reception.
  • Sunday: academic talks in the morning and an afternoon round table "Quine's Philosophical Legacy", with three philosophers as panelists.

  • Confirmed Participants (details of additional speakers to follow):
    • Daniel Dennett, Tufts University
    • Gary Ebbs, Indiana University
    • Catherine Elgin, Harvard University
    • Dagfinn Føllesdall, Stanford/Oslo
    • Alexander George, Amherst College
    • Peter Hylton, University of Illinois at Chicago
    • Charles Parsons, Harvard University
    • Huw Price, University of Sydney
    • Thomas Ricketts, University of Pittsburgh

NF in the Bay Area: Stanford University - June 25-27, 2008 Meeting Home Page and Further Information

The workshop is devoted to Quine's "New Foundations" axiomatic set theory and associated topics. Both open questions and new results will be discussed. The subjects involved include Model Theory, Proof Theory, and Set Theory.

W. V. Quine marker program

Quine Historical Marker Dedication: 106 King Building, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio - June 25, 2008 at 5 p.m.

on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ohio's outstanding native son, the distinguished philosopher and logician Willard Van Orman Quine. In commemoration of the occasion, an official historical plaque from the Ohio Historical Society was unveiled at Oberlin College (where Quine did his undergraduate studies).
  • Dr. Al MacKay, Provost and member of the Department of Philosophy at Oberlin College:
    Opening Remarks and Welcome
  • Chad Miller, YSU graduate student and author of the Ohio Historical Society application for a historical marker:
    Why Quine Matters to Me.
  • State Representative Bobby Hagan, Ohio's 60th District:
    Celebration of a great native son of Northeast Ohio
  • Musical Interlude: from Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan:
    How Quaint the Ways of Paradox
  • Warren Goldfarb, Walter Beverly Pearson Professor of Modern Mathematics and Mathematical Logic at Harvard University:
    On Quine's Philosophy (text)
  • Tom Ricketts, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh,
    Quine Speaks for Himself (text)
  • W. V. Quine marker Professor Warren Goldfarb's adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan piece, "A Modern Major General"; performed by the YSU Quine Tones
    Modern Major Quine
  • Gerald Massey, Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh:
    Glimpses Behind (text)
  • Dr. J. D. Britton, Manager of the Local History Office of the Ohio Historical Society:
    The Dedication of an OHS historical marker
  • Dr. Douglas Quine, Son of Willard Van Orman Quine and webmaster of the Willard Van Orman Quine website:
    A Fitting Recognition for a Scholar and World Traveler (text)
  • Unveiling of the W. V. Quine Marker: Albert MacKay, Chad Miller, Warren Goldfarb, J. D. Britton, Douglas Quine

W. V. Quine PrincetonQuine Centennial Event at Princeton University - June 23, 2008

Betts Auditorium, Architecture Building, Princeton University Campus
3:00 pm to ... with a reception following
Organized by Professor Gilbert Harman (Princeton University) and Professor Ernie Lepore (Rutgers University).
Some Quine memorabilia will be on display and planned speakers include:

  • Ernie Lepore, Center for Cognitive Science, Rutgers University:

  • Morton White, Professor Emeritus, School of Historical Studies, Institute of Advanced Study Princeton:
    Quine as Teacher, Friend, and Colleague

  • Dagfinn Føllesdal, Clarence Irving Lewis Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University (and) Professor emeritus at the University of Oslo:
    The Public Nature of Language

  • Gilbert Harman, Stuart Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University:
    Inscrutability and Indeterminacy

  • Stephen Stich, Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University:
    Quine and Cognitive Science

  • John Burgess, Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University:

  • Daniel Garber, Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University (and) Chair, Department of Philosophy:
    How Quine Made Me an Historian of Philosophy

  • Anthony Appiah, Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University (and) the University Center for Human Values:
    A chapter of psychology

  • Paul Boghossian, Silver Professor of Philosophy, New York University:
    Meaning and Analytic Truth

  • Delia Graff Fara, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University:

  • Jason Stanley, Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University:
    Quine's influence on 20th C Philosophy of Language (text)

  • David Schrader, Executive Director of the American Philosophical Association:
    Quine and the APA

  • Douglas Quine, W. V. Quine literary estate (and) Fellow, Pitney Bowes Advanced Concepts and Technology:
    Mortui Vivos Docent - the Pleasure of Learning from Quine's Archives (text)

  • W. V. Quine Peru Ernie Lepore, Center for Cognitive Science, Rutgers University:
    Concluding remarks

Homenaje a W. V. O. Quine (con ocasión del centeranio de su nacimiento), UNMSM, Lima, Peru - June 20, 2008 at 11 am in Auditorio de la Facultad de Letras y Ciencias, Humanas de la UNMSM

  • Presentacion: Oscar Garcia Zárate
  • Expositores:
    Luis Piscoya Hermoza
    Javier Vidal López

Quine Centennial Symposium, CSMN, Oslo, Norway - June 17, 2008

W. V. Quine Undervisningsrom 1, Georg Sverdrups hus, Blindern campus - June 17, 2008
from 9:15 to 17:30. The "Quine Centennial Symposium" has been organized by Professor Dagfinn Føllesdal

  • 9:15 - 9:30 Dagfinn Føllesdal, CSMN, and C.I. Lewis Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University, Introduction: "W.V. Quine, 25 June, 1908 - 25 December, 2000"
  • 9:30 - 11:00 Gerald J. Massey, Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh: Duhem and Quine: Bedfellows or Antagonists?
  • 11:15 - 12:45 Peter Hylton, Professor of Philosophy and UIC Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago: "Quine and the Aufbau: the possibility of objective knowledge"
  • 13:00 - 14:00 Lunch
  • 14:15 - 15:45 Charles Parsons, Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, Harvard University: "Quine's nominalism."
  • 16:00 - 17:30 Thomas Ricketts, Professor of Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh: "Quine on Reference, Ontology, and Truth."

May 7, 2002 Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences Meeting - Memorial Minute: Willard van Orman Quine

  • Chair: Professor Charles Parsons (chair), Professor Warren Goldfarb, Professor Hilary Putnam, Harvard University (text of talk)

April 27, 2002 American Philosophical Association (central division) meeting in Chicago
IV-A Symposium: Quine
The Westin Michigan Avenue Chicago Hotel, Mayfair Room, 3rd Floor

  • Chair: David Henderson, University of Memphis:
  • Speaker: Roger Gibson, Washington University: A Tribute to Quine
  • Speaker: Ernie Lepore, Rutgers University: Quine's Holisms
  • Speaker: Peter Hylton, University of Illinois:

December 19-21, 2001 Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta, India

Seminar On Naturalised Epistemology: Western And Indian Philosophy Celebrating 50 years of Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism
Department of Philosophy, 56A, B.T. Road, Calcutta 700 050
Sponsored By Indian Council Of Philosophical Research And United States Educational Foundation In India

  • DECEMBER 19, 2001
  • Welcome Address by the Head of the Department.
  • Inaugural Address by the Vice Chancellor.
  • Introducing the theme of the Seminar by the Director.
  • Keynote Address by Professor D. P. Chattopadhyaya.
  • Speaker: Professor Bob Hale:The Instability of Quine's Global Empiricism
  • - Chair: Professor Tushar Kanti Sarkar
  • Speaker: Professor Arthur Falk: A Defence of a Quinian Holism
  • - Chair: Professor Amita Chatterjee
  • Speaker: Professor Amita Chatterjee: A Naturalised Twist to Nyaya Pramanavada: Quinning 'Justification'?
  • - Chair: Professor Pushpa Misra
  • Donald Davidson's paper "Quine's Externalis" was read out in absentia

    DECEMBER 20TH, 2001
  • Speaker: Professor Sibajiban Bhattacharyya: Crticism of the Naturalised Epistemology from the Nyaya point of View
  • - Chair: Professor Sandhya Basu
  • Speaker: Professor Amitabha Dasgupta: On the Epistemic Nature of Quinian Corpus
  • - Chair: Professor Kalyan Sen Gupta
  • Speaker: Professor D. Prahladachar: Quine's Criticism of Analytic Synthetic Distinction: SOme Observations
  • - Chair: Professor Arindam Chakrabarti
  • Speaker: Professor Arindam Chakrabarti: On What there will be --- The Furture in Quine
  • - Chair: Professor Prabal Kumar Sen

    DECEMBER 21, 2001
  • Speaker: Professor Vrinda Dalmiya : Caught in a Net: Feminism and Naturiles Epistemology
  • - Chair: Professor Shefali Moitra
  • Speaker: Professor Prabal Kumar Sen : Naturalised Epistemology and Indian Epistemology
  • - Chair: Professor Sukharanjan Saha
  • Panel Discussion Chair: Professor Indrani Sanyal
    • Dr. Rupa Bandyopadhyay
    • Dr. Sadhan Chakrabarti
    • Dr. Manidipa Sen
    • Ms. Maushumi Guha

September 13-15, 2001, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany

On the occasion of the 50th birthday of W.V.O. Quine's pioneering essay, a conference on:
50 years of empiricism without Dogmas. The case against analyticity reopened
Conference organized by Hanjo Glock, Kathrin Glueer, and Geert Keil

speakers, affiliation, and topics (in the order of appearance)
  • Herbert Schnädelbach (Berlin) Opening Address
  • Paul Boghossian (New York) Meaning and Inferential Warrant
  • Verena Mayer (Munich) Analyticity Revisited or Kant's Notion of Analyticity Regained
  • Asa Maria Wikforss (Stockholm) An a posteriori Conception of Analyticity?
  • Peter Pagin (Stockholm) The Problem of Synonymy
  • Tyler Burge (Los Angeles) Analyticity and Logic
  • Kathrin Glüer (Berlin) Analyticity and Implicit Definition
  • Christian Nimtz (Bielefeld) Analytic Truth - Still Harmless after all these Years?
  • Hans-Johann Glock (Reading) The Linguistic Doctrine Revisited
  • Olaf Müller (Göttingen) Does the Quine-Duhem Thesis Prevent us from Explaining Analyticity
  • Geert Keil (Berlin) Science Itself Tells Us

April 14, 2001, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

A Memorial Celebration of The Life and Philosophy of Willard Van Orman Quine
Saturday, April 14, 2001 from 3 to 5 p.m. Betts Auditorium, School of Architecture, Princeton University
  • Ernie Lepore, Rutgers University: Introduction
  • Christopher Peacocke, New York University: Quine and Oxford (text of talk)
  • Douglas Quine: Family Memories (text of talk)
  • Gilbert Harman, Princeton University: Philosophy of Language (text of talk)
  • Morton White, Institute for Advanced Study: Harvard (text of talk)
  • John Burgess, Princeton University: Logic (text of talk)
  • Stephen Neale, Rutgers University: Necessity
  • Kit Fine, New York University: Modality and Empiricism
  • Gideon Rosen, Princeton University: Significance for Younger Philosophers
  • Alex Orenstein, Queens College: Naturalism
  • Stephen Stich, Rutgers University: Boundaries Between Science and Philosophy (text of talk)
  • Ernie Lepore, Rutgers University: Conclusion

    Reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Tower Room, 1879 Hall, Princeton University

March 30, 2001, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, Israel

A Conference In Memory Of W.V.O. Quine
Friday, March 30, 2001 from 9 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.
Beith Meyersdorf, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus
  • Avital Wohlman: Chair, 1st session
  • Eddy M. Zemach: W.V.O. Quine: Introductory Remarks
  • Eddy M. Zemach: The Fat Man in the Door
  • Mark Steiner: Frege and Quine on the Infinite
  • Ayal Donnenfeld: Chair, 2nd session
  • Gad Prodowski: Nature's Double Donation
  • Yuval Eilon: The Theoretician's Dilemma and the Double Standard
  • Meir Bozaglo: Contemplating Paragraph 57 of Word and Object

March 16-17, 2001, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan

"Two Dogmas": A 50-Year Retrospective
Department of Philosophy, 20th Annual Colloquium in Philosophy

Friday March 16, Kuenzel Room, Michigan Union, 1st Floor, 530 S. State Street
  • 4:00 p.m. Professor Gilbert Harman, Princeton University "The Future of the A Priori"
Saturday, March 17, Pendleton Room, Michigan Union, 2nd Floor, 530 S. State Street
  • 9:00 a.m. Professor Christopher Peacocke, New York University, "Three Principles of Rationalism"
  • 11:00 a.m. Professor Paul Boghossian, New York University, "The Analytic and the A Priori"

March 2, 2001, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

A Celebration of the Life of Professor Willard Van Orman Quine
Friday, 3 to 5 p.m., Emerson Hall, Room 105, Harvard Yard
Speaker list
together with some favorite musical selections
  • Brahms: Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungren - Ein Deutsches Requiem (with Margaret Quine McGovern)

  • Warren Goldfarb, Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University (introduction)

    Goldfarb & Sullivan: Major General Quine lyrics by Warren Goldfarb

  • Dagfinn Føllesdal, Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University text of talk as published

    Gilbert & Sullivan: Modern Major General - Pirates of Penzance

  • Douglas Boynton Quine (text of talk)

    Robert Mitchum: From A Logical Point of View (title line)

    Everly Brothers: Bye Bye Love

  • Morton White, Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (text of talk); it was published (chapter 41) in From a Philosophical Point of View: Selected Studies
  • Norma Quine (text of talk)

    Fiesta Mexicana: La chaparrita

  • Hilary Putnam, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Harvard University

    Gilbert & Sullivan: Ways of Paradox (When You Had Left) - Pirates of Penzance

  • Margaret Quine McGovern (text of talk)

    J.K. Novak & Bridge Band: Sweet Georgia Brown

  • Ernest Lepore, Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University (text of talk)

    Verdi: Libiamo Ne'lieti Calici - La Traviata

  • Benjamin M. Friedman, Professor of Economics, Harvard University (text of talk)
  • Juliet Floyd, Professor of Philosophy, Boston University (text of talk)

    Gilbert & Sullivan: Overture - Pirates of Penzance

January 26, 2001, Stanford University, Stanford, California

A Symposium in Memory of Willard Van Orman Quine
Friday, 2:15 p.m., Building 420, Room 41 (Jordan Hall, Psychology)
  • Solomon Feferman, Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy, Stanford University, "Quine's Logic and Philosophy of Mathematics"
  • Grigori Mints, Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University, "Quine and the Modalities"
  • Patrick Suppes, Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University, "Quine and Skinner"
  • Julius Moravcsik, Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University, "Quine's Philosophy of Language"
  • Dagfinn Føllesdal, Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University, "Quine's Philosophy; Personal Recollections" (via video)
  • Donald Davidson, Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley, "Quine's Philosophy; Personal Recollections"

[Dictionary American Regional English book cover]Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE)

DARE is a multi-year project of the late Professor Frederic Cassidy - a close friend of Quine since college days. The first three volumes (through letter "O") are available. They are a wonderful source of information about the regional differences in English across the United States. This continuing "monumental effort" of research and documentation has been a passion of Quine's. Memorial gifts to complete the work may be made to DARE / University of Wisconsin Foundation, 6131 Helen C White Hall, 600 N. Park Street, Madison WI 53706

News Media Obituary Texts (sources A-F)

Associated Press (brief) obituary for W V Quine - Dec 28 2000

BOSTON (AP) - Willard Van Orman Quine, whose theories and writings earned him his own word in the Oxford English Dictionary, died Monday after a brief illness. He was 92. Quine was known for his study of mathematical logic, set theory and the philosophy of language. His published works include 'Word and Object,' written in 1960, and a 1990 collection of his essays, 'Quiddities.' The word, 'Quinean', appears in the 1987 supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary. It means 'Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Willard Van Orman Quine or his theories.' Quine was the Edgar Pierce Professor Emeritus at Harvard, where he had taught since 1936. Born June 25, 1908, in Akron, Ohio, Quine graduated from Oberlin College in 1930 and received a doctorate from Harvard in 1932. He started teaching philosophy at Harvard in 1936 and never left, except for four years in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He wrote his books on a 1927 Remington typewriter, which he modified by replacing characters he didn't use with mathematical fractions. Once asked why he didn't need the question mark on his typewriter, he replied 'Well, you see, I deal in certainties.' AP-NY-12-28-00 0546EST

Atlanta Journal Constitution obituary for W V Quine - Dec 30 2000

W.V. Quine, Harvard philosophy professor
via New York Times, Saturday, December 30, 2000

W.V. Quine, a logician and Harvard philosophy professor whose analysis of language and its relation to reality made him one of the influential philosophers of the 20th century, died on Monday in a hospital in Boston, where he lived. He was 92.

As a mathematical logician who wrote and published prolifically, Mr. Quine was often perceived as a philosopher who focused his analytic talents on apparently disparate doctrines and theses. Yet those who understand him best insisted on his status as a thinker who addressed and attempted to answer the larger questions of philosophy.

Like most philosophers, Mr. Quine set out to define the reality of the world and how human beings fit into that reality. The conclusion he arrived at was that a person can only understand the world empirically, or through our direct experience of it.

In ''The Philosophy of W.V. Quine: An Expository Essay,'' a study that the subject himself endorsed, Roger F. Gibson Jr. wrote that if Mr. Quine's project could be summed up in a single sentence, that sentence would read. ''Quine's philosophy is a systematic attempt to answer, from a uniquely empiricistic point of view, what he takes to be the central question of epistemology, namely, 'How do we acquire our theory of the world?'''

Mr. Quine's answer, in a nutshell, began by rephrasing the question to read, ''How do we acquire our talk about the world?'' In his radically empiricist view, nothing that humans know about the world lies outside the realm of language, and so he insisted that any theory of knowledge depended on a theory of language, which he duly set about to develop and which became the framework of his philosophy.

In pursuing these objectives, Mr. Quine seemed to place himself in a distinct position among his contemporaries. If 20th-century philosophy can be defined as a battle between what the so-called historicists --- those who believed in speculating about and proclaiming metaphysical truths independent of empirical evidence --- and the formalists --- those mathematical logicians who wanted philosophy to be a historical discipline that replaces metaphysical speculation with scientific habits of thought --- then Mr. Quine was a standard bearer in the latter camp, a hero of empiricism who once declared that ''philosophy of science is philosophy enough.''

Yet having even fought in the ranks of the so-called logical positivists, Mr. Quine went on to challenge them in what is arguably the best known of his many published essays, 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism.'' It first appeared in the Philosophical Review in January 1951 and was reprinted in 1953 in a collection of his essays titled ''From a Logical Point of View.''

Beacon Hill Times (Boston) obituary for W V Quine - Jan 9, 2001


Willard Van Orman Quine, Chestnut Street, died on December 25, 2000, following a brief illness. He was 92. He was the Edgar Pierce Professor Emeritus of philosophy at Harvard University, and was recognized as a world leader in mathematical logic, set theory and the philosophy of language. Professor Quine was born in Akron, Ohio and received his B.A. at Oberlin College in 1930. In 1932, he earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University and remained there as a professor for the rest of his career except for a four-year period during World War II when he served in the United States Navy Intelligence as a Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander. Professor Quine published 22 books in English and one in Portuguese. He held honorary doctorates from many universities and was a recipient of the 1993 Rolf Schock Prize in Stockholm as well as the 1996 Kyoto Prize in Tokyo. Professor Quine was predeceased by his brother and two wives, and is survived by three daughters, one son, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Boston Globe obituary for W V Quine - Dec 29 2000

W.V. Quine; at 92, Famed logician
By Tom Long, Globe Staff, 12/29/2000, page E21

Willard Van Orman Quine, considered one of the leading thinkers of the 20th century in the fields of mathematical logic and the philosophy of language, died Monday in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He was 92 and lived in Boston.

Mr. Quine, whose clear thinking and fluid writing style earned him his own word in the Oxford English Dictionary, had been the chairman of the philosophy department at Harvard University and was the Edgar Pierce professor emeritus there. He published more than a dozen books, translated into 44 languages and read mainly in the upper circles of academia. Two more widely read books were his autobiography, ''The Time of My Life,'' in 1987 and a 1990 collection of his essays, ''Quiddities.'' He wrote of logical problems and perplexities in a clear, concise style that was accessible to the layman. The word ''Quinean'' appears in the 1987 supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary. It means ''Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Willard Van Orman Quine or his theories.''

He was born in Akron, Ohio. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1930 and hitchhiked to Harvard. He obtained his doctorate within two years under famed philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. ''That's ripping, old fellow. Right jolly!'' said Whitehead when Mr. Quine explained his choice of topic for his dissertation, according to the autobiography.

He started teaching philosophy at Harvard in 1936 and left only for four years in the Navy during World War II. He served in Washington and worked with cryptoanalysts trying to break the German submarine code. In 1979, he received an honorary degree from his employer, which read: ''Beyond philosophical dispute a great logician who has left a lasting imprint on his field; within our special compass a friendly teacher, a colleague of generous heart.''

Mr. Quine wrote all his books on a 1927 Remington typewriter, which he modified by replacing characters he didn't use with mathematical fractions. Once asked why he didn't need the question mark on his typewriter, he replied ''Well, you see, I deal in certainties.''

As a boy, Mr. Quine loved to draw maps, and his interest in geography combined with his love of collecting stamps. In adult life, his passion for collecting stamps became, as he put it, a passion for collecting countries. In all, he visited the 50 states and 118 countries. He spoke at least six languages and often read philosophical works written in the language of the author.

Mr. Quine was predeceased by his first wife, Naomi Clayton, and his second wife, Marjorie Boynton. He leaves three daughters, Elizabeth Quine Roberts of Anchorage, Alaska, Norma of London, and Margaret Quine McGovern of San Francisco; a son, Douglas of Bethel, Conn.; [six] grandchildren and a great-grandchild. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Cape Cod Times obituary for W V Quine - Dec 30 2000 (?)

W. V. Quine, 92
Mathematical logician; noted 20th century philosopher
The New York Times

BOSTON - W. V. Quine, a logician and Harvard philosophy professor whose analysis of language and its relation to reality made him one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, died on Monday at a hospital in Boston, where he lived. He was 92.

As a mathematical logician who wrote and published prolifically, Quine was often perceived as a philosopher who focused his analytic talents on many apparently disparate doctrines and theses. Yet those who understood him best insisted on his status as a system builder, or a thinker who addressed and attempted to answer the larger questions of philosophy. Indeed, Stuart Hampshire, a fellow philosopher, called him in 1971 "our most distinguished living systematic philosopher."

Like most philosophers [throughout] the ages, Quine set out to define the reality of the world and how humans fit into that reality. The conclusion he arrived at was that a person can only understand the world empirically, or through direct experience of it.

In "The Philosophy of W. V. Quine: An Expository Essay," a study that the subject himself endorsed, Roger F. Gibson Jr. wrote that if Quine's project could be summed up in a single sentence, that sentence would read, "Quine's philosophy is a systematic attempt to answer, from a uniquely empiricistic point of view, what he takes to be the central question of epistemology, namely, `How do we acquire our theory of the world?' "

Quine's answer, in a nutshell, began by rephrasing the question to read, "How do we acquire our talk about the world?" In his radically empiricist view, nothing that humans know about the world lies outside the realm of language, and so he insisted that any theory of knowledge depended on a theory of language, which he duly set about to develop and which became the framework of his philosophy.

Willard Van Orman Quine - or Van to his friends - was born on June 25, 1908, in Akron, Ohio, the second son of Cloyd Robert Quine, a machinist and successful businessman, and Harriet (Van Orman) Quine.

He took a liking to mathematics in high school and majored in it at Oberlin, although philology and philosophy also interested him early. During his junior year at college his mother presented him with Whitehead and Russell's "Principia Mathematica" and his honors thesis at Oberlin used the system of "Principia Mathematica" to prove with 18 pages of symbols a law having to do with ways of combining logical classes.

His thesis landed him at Harvard, where he switched to philosophy in order to study with Alfred North Whitehead.

In 1936 Mr. Quine became an instructor in philosophy at Harvard, where he taught, off and on, for the rest of his life, interrupted only by service in the Navy during World War II, when he did cryptanalytic work in Washington, as well as by his globe-girdling travels.

His students at Harvard included Donald Davidson and Burton Dreben, the philosophers; Tom Lehrer, the mathematician and songwriter; and Theodore J. Kaczynski, the Unabomber ("although I don't remember him," Quine told an interviewer, "he tied for top, 98.9 percent").

Over the course of his career Quine published some 22 books, some of them reprinted in multiple editions.

Chronicle of Higher Education obituary for W V Quine - Feb 2 2001

An Imaginative Philosopher: the Legacy of W.V. Quine
By Richard Rorty

Willard van Orman Quine, the dean of American philosophers, died at the age of 92 on Christmas Day. Just 50 years before, in December of 1950, he read a paper to the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association that rocked the audience back on its heels. "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," when published the following year, went on to become the most discussed and most influential article in the history of 20th-century Anglophone philosophy. Few pieces of similar brevity have had such an impact on the course of philosophical thought. It is a model of succinct and convincing argumentation, a good sample of Quine's elegant prose. But it is, above all, an imaginative breakthrough. For in it, Quine raised in a new and urgent form the old question of the relation between philosophy and empirical inquiry.

In "Two Dogmas," Quine questioned the distinction between necessary and contingent truths. Empirical research produces truth of the latter sort -- assertions that can, in principle, be rescinded in light of further observations or experiments. ("Squirrels do not hibernate" and "E=mc2," for example.) Philosophy, Plato and Aristotle taught us, should produce necessary truths, just as mathematics does. Rudolf Carnap, Quine's mentor, and his fellow logical empiricists (like Bertrand Russell and A.J. Ayer) agreed. But, they said, necessary truths are "analytic" truths -- statements that tell us nothing about reality, but simply reflect linguistic conventions. "Two plus two is four" is made true by the meanings of "two" and "four" and "plus," just as "All bachelors are unmarried" is made true by the meanings of its component terms.

Philosophy, the logical empiricists concluded, should not try to tell us anything about the nature of things. It should confine itself to clarifying the meanings of statements and to exhibiting what Carnap called "the logical syntax of language."

At midcentury, many philosophers took the opposition between that modest view of philosophy and the older, more ambitious view to be epitomized in the contrast between Carnap, a thoroughly decent man who held left-wing political views, and Martin Heidegger, a megalomaniacal ex-Nazi who asked questions like "What is Being?" without bothering to make clear how he would know when he had given the right answer. Carnap wanted philosophers to make their criteria of success explicit and, thereby, to imitate the intellectual honesty characteristic of empirical researchers. Heidegger had considerable contempt both for the natural sciences and for the new mathematical logic developed by Russell and others that Carnap viewed as an indispensable tool of good philosophical work.

Quine, a brilliant young contributor to that kind of logic, had gone to Prague in 1933 to work with Carnap. A few years later, he was helping Carnap and his fellow emigres find jobs in the United States (thereby rendering an invaluable service to American academic life). So it was natural to expect that his 1950 talk (in a symposium on "Recent Tendencies in Philosophy") would be a logical-empiricist manifesto. Instead, Quine went public with doubts he had privately been pressing on Carnap for years. There is, Quine said, no test to determine where appeals to empirical reality stop and appeals to relations of ideas, to the meanings of words, begin. Indeed, there is no good way to sort truths out into the necessary ones and the contingent ones. In place of that ancient dualism, he suggested, we should envisage a spectrum running from beliefs that we cannot imagine giving up to those
that we can easily imagine being disconfirmed by future observations.

Much influenced by his friend B.F. Skinner, Quine was prepared to draw a line between fact and language -- between appeal to sense experience and appeal to knowledge of meanings -- only if it could be drawn on the basis of observation of linguistic behavior. But there is, he pointed out, no test by which a linguist learning a new language can tell which appeal the natives are making when they treat the truth of a certain sentence as uncontroversial. So "Two Dogmas" proceeded to turn the empiricist side of logical empiricism against its logical side. "For all its a priori reasonableness," Quine said, "a boundary between analytic and synthetic [that is, empirically confirmable and disconfirmable] statements simply had not been drawn. That there is such a distinction to be drawn at all is an unempirical dogma of the empiricists, a metaphysical article of faith."

"Two Dogmas" raised the question: How can we have analytic philosophy, the kind of philosophy Carnap and Quine, himself, wanted to do, if there are no such things as analytic truths? Quine's bombshell not only shed doubt on a distinction that had seemed obvious to Plato, Aristotle, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant, but also seemed to dash the newfound hope that philosophers might achieve permanent, useful results once and for all.

Quine shared the usual Anglophone distaste for Heidegger, and he obviously did not want to bring back the sort of speculative metaphysics that had been produced by, for example, F.H. Bradley and A.N. Whitehead. But he did not offer a metaphilosophical program to replace the one that Russell and Carnap had put forward. Rather, he simply urged philosophers to bring philosophy into contact with empirical science -- to stop trying for necessary truths and to instead find perspicuous ways of arranging the materials that natural science provides. He envisaged, for example, a future in which epistemology, the philosophical study of knowledge, would be "naturalized" and, thus, absorbed in what we now call "cognitive science." That sort of collaboration with empirical inquiry now seems to many Anglophone philosophers the best way to advance their discipline.

Such a view of their cultural role makes them willing to move philosophy out of the humanities and to place less emphasis than in the past on familiarizing students with the writings of great dead philosophers. Quine once quipped that there are two sorts of people who became philosophy professors: those who are interested in the history of philosophy and those who are interested in philosophy. When his colleagues at Harvard (where he taught throughout his career) tried to get him to teach historical material, he resisted. He once did give a course on Hume, but remarked in his 1985 autobiography, The Time of My Life, that "determining what Hume thought and imparting it to students was less appealing than determining the truth and imparting that." His remark echoes one Carnap is supposed to have made when asked to give a course on Plato: "I will not teach Plato. I shall teach nothing but the truth."

The attempt by analytic philosophers to get out of the vicinity of history and literature departments and to move nearer to scientific laboratories has contributed to the notorious "analytic-Continental" split within the discipline. In non-Anglophone countries, Heidegger's obnoxiousness is cheerfully admitted, but he is nevertheless regarded by many philosophy professors as the most important thinker of the 20th century. That opinion is shared by quite a few U.S. and British teachers of literature, political theory, and intellectual history -- people who cannot see much point to what the analytic philosophers are doing, and who suspect that Anglophone philosophy has become overtechnical and intellectually sterile. The charge of sterility, however, is unjust. On the contrary, Quine's challenge to Carnap (together with complementary challenges to received views offered by Thomas Kuhn and Ludwig Wittgenstein) opened the door to a whole series of original and fruitful reconsiderations of traditional accounts of the relations between language and reality, between knowledge and sense-experience, between science and philosophy. Such reconsiderations have given rise to doubts concerning the conviction, held by Quine, that natural science is the area of culture in which truth about reality is most clearly and obviously attained and in which rationality is most clearly in evidence. Many philosophers who acknowledge a deep debt to Quine have become less eager to praise the so-called hard sciences as paradigms of knowledge. Whereas Quine famously claimed that "the philosophy of science is philosophy enough," these neo-Quinean thinkers are more willing to see scientific inquiry as less different from the rest of culture than Quine took it to be.

Quine never deviated from the claim that the vocabularies of logic and the physical sciences, properly regimented by philosophy, could reveal what he called "the true and ultimate structure of reality." But many contemporary analytic philosophers agree with the late Nelson Goodman, a colleague of Quine's in the Harvard philosophy department, that no such structure exists -- that there is, as Goodman put it, no one way the world is, but merely various alternative descriptions of it. Some descriptions are useful for certain purposes, others for other purposes, but none of them is closer to or farther away from reality. Goodman's view is reminiscent of John Dewey's approach to philosophy and, in particular, of Dewey's willingness to neglect questions about the relation of thought to reality in order to concentrate on the relative pragmatic utility of alternative ways of thinking.

Many of Quine's best students (like Donald Davidson) and many of his most fervent admirers (like Hilary Putnam) tried to argue him into abandoning or softening his scientism, but with no success. The doctrine that statements about human beliefs and desires do not represent anything real, whereas statements about stars and molecules do, remained central to Quine's thinking. Davidson, Putnam, and others have spent many years trying to extend and radicalize Quine's views, pointing to apparent inconsistencies and backslidings in his thought, implicitly (and occasionally explicitly) criticizing him for not appreciating the implications of his own breakthrough. It is to their and Quine's credit that such criticisms, which went very deep indeed, never led either to personal antagonism or to the breakup of analytic philosophy into warring philosophical schools. On the contrary, the respect, created by a profound sense of indebtedness, that Quine showed to Carnap, even as he did his best to demolish some of Carnap's most cherished beliefs, was matched by the honor deservedly paid Quine by those trying to demolish some of his own.

The relation between Quine and Davidson was particularly close, and Davidson, still producing original and provocative philosophical ideas at the age of 83, inherits Quine's decanal position. Davidson has summed up his radicalization of Quine's doubts about the distinction between language and fact by saying that "we have erased the boundary between knowing a language and knowing our way around the world generally. ... I conclude that there is no such thing as a language, not if a language is anything like what many philosophers and linguists have supposed. There is therefore no such thing to be learned, mastered, or born with. We must give up the idea of a clearly defined shared structure which language-users acquire and then apply to cases."

Davidson's hyper-Quineanism not only offends Noam Chomsky (who regards it as a priori dogmatism, exhibiting contempt for empirical linguistics), but causes consternation among those who think that analytic philosophy would be bankrupt if it could not study precisely the sort of clearly defined shared linguistic structures that Davidson thinks do not exist. Nor did it go over well with Quine himself. When Davidson suggested that we throw out not only the analytic-synthetic distinction, but every other residue of the old Lockean-Kantian distinction between the unorganized jumble provided by the senses and the organizing mind that makes sense of that jumble, Quine dug in his heels.

In his 1974 article "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme," Davidson urged that the distinction between concepts and sensory data, like that between our conceptual schemes and the unconceptualized world to which they are applied, should be set aside: "[The] dualism of scheme and content, of organizing system and something waiting to be organized, cannot be made intelligible and defensible. It is itself a dogma of empiricism, the third dogma. A third, and perhaps last, for if we give it up, then it is not clear that there is anything distinctive left to be called empiricism."

Quine rejoined, in an essay jovially titled "The Very Idea of a Third Dogma" (included in his 1981 book Theories and Things), that empiricism is too important to abandon. If empiricism were to go, Quine thought, so would the project of naturalizing epistemology -- showing how human beings fashion ever more accurate pictures of the world on the basis of the meager inputs provided by their sense organs. Quine's hope for that project, and for the resulting confluence of philosophy and empirical research, rested on his conviction that philosophy's job is to serve as handmaiden to natural science.

In Davidson's view, however, the hard sciences are not so special: He is less sure than Quine that statements about elementary particles are more closely related to reality than statements about moral and aesthetic values. Empiricism, being merely Locke's awkward attempt to find a philosophy that would harmonize with the corpuscularian mechanics of Boyle and Newton, can perhaps be allowed to wither away.

If tomorrow's analytic philosophers wind up following Davidson's lead, and if they come to agree with Putnam that scientism has had a bad influence on 20th-century philosophical thought, then analytic philosophy will have metamorphosed into something that Russell and Carnap would have been hard put to recognize. Historians of 20th-century philosophy are likely to identify "Two Dogmas" as the beginning of that transformation, but they may think of Quine as unwilling to cross over into the land that his disciples went on to colonize.

If such a transformation should occur, there might be some (admittedly faint) chance of an end to the still rather bitter and contentious disagreement about the role of philosophy in culture that divides analytic from nonanalytic philosophers. The former typically cannot see the point of Heidegger. The latter, who still dominate the philosophical profession in most non-Anglophone countries, think (as I do) that there is a lot to be learned from him. Most nonanalytic philosophers do not regard the sciences as an appropriate model for philosophy. They would like to keep philosophy within the humanities. Although they do not share Heidegger's contempt for natural science, they think its importance is overestimated by their analytic colleagues.

Philosophers outside the analytic tradition typically spend more time thinking about intellectual history than about natural science. Some of their favorite books are sweeping narratives of the history of ideas, stories about how European thought got from the Greeks to the present. Those are the sort of stories told, for example, by Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche (in The Birth of Tragedy), Heidegger, Hans Blumenberg, and J¸rgen Habermas (in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity). Reading and writing books of this sort creates quite a different sort of intellectual ambience than the study of relatively brief, pithy, argumentative essays of the sort written by Quine, Davidson, Putnam, and their admirers. Non-analytic philosophers prize such intellectual virtues as historical resonance and synoptic vision as much as they do argumentative acuity.

There ought to be room within a single discipline for both sorts of thinking and writing. Unfortunately, many analytic philosophers still have the same sort of doubts about their nonanalytic colleagues that Carnap had about Heidegger in the 1930's. They suspect their nonanalytic colleagues of frivolity, irrationalism, and a morally dubious refusal to argue from clearly stated premises to clearly stated conclusions.

Many nonanalytic philosophers retaliate with equally unfortunate charges of decadent scholasticism. They see the problems to which analytic philosophers claim to offer solutions as flimsy artifacts, periodically discarded and replaced as the hungry analytic generations tread each other down. Non-Anglophones who take the trouble to familiarize themselves with the analytic tradition sometimes sneer that English-speaking philosophers spent the 50 years prior to "Two Dogmas" marching up a molehill -- and the ensuing 50 years marching back down again.

Such sneers are as misguided as many of those hurled by the analytic philosophers. Critics do not realize that Quine opened a door that led into a larger intellectual world. By insisting that philosophy could remain faithful to the spirit and the results of modern science -- while repudiating the dualisms it had inherited from Plato, Aristotle, Hume, and Kant -- he cleared new philosophical paths. He made it possible for his students to go to places nobody knew existed. Though the importance of "Two Dogmas" will never be immediately evident to the laity (any more than the importance of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason), most of those who do the background reading required to understand the mindset against which Quine was reacting will gasp in admiration at the power of his splendidly iconoclastic imagination.

Philosophy does advance, but not in any straightforward, linear way. Rather, progress is made on several different fronts at once, by fits and starts. It takes time for any initiatives to be consolidated, and more time for them to be integrated with other initiatives. We philosophers are still deliberating not only what morals should be drawn from "Two Dogmas," but what lessons can be learned from Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. A recent book by the philosopher of language Robert Brandom, Articulating Reasons, makes as good use of Hegel as it does of Quine. I do not think (and here I disagree with many of my fellow philosophers) that progress is typically made by careful, rigorous examination of the implications of alternative arguments. Occasionally it is, but more often it is the result of someone like Quine spotting what Hegel would have called the implicit contradiction lying at the heart of conventional wisdom, envisaging how things would look if a distinction that has come to seem intuitive and commonsensical were set aside, and then knocking all the pieces off the table. "Two Dogmas," as I remarked earlier, exhibits great argumentative skill as well as great imaginative power. But the latter does most of the work.

That sort of power, the rarest of intellectual gifts, is found in both analytic philosophers like Wittgenstein, Quine, Wilfrid Sellars, and Davidson, and in nonanalytic philosophers like Nietzsche, Dewey, Henri Bergson, Heidegger, and Jacques Derrida. What such figures have in common -- their ability to envisage alternatives that nobody else has glimpsed -- is far more important than any differences among them. So (to draw a conclusion that Quine would probably have resisted with all his strength), it would be a good thing if philosophy students in every country were encouraged to study both kinds of 20th-century philosophy.

Richard Rorty teaches philosophy in the department of comparative literature at Stanford University.

Il Corriere della Sera obituary for W V Quine - Jan 4 2001

Ricordo del filosofo Quine - Ma c'è una verità oltre le parole

"Si dice che il linguaggio serva a trasmettere idee: quando impariamo un linguaggio impariamo ad associarne le parole alle stesse idee a cui le associano gli altri parlanti. Ma come sappiamo che queste idee sono davvero le stesse?". Così Willard van Orman Quine soleva scuotere le certezze di filosofi, linguisti e psicologi. Il "mago di Akron" - dov'era nato, nell'Ohio, nel 1908 - amava sollevare un caso non molto diverso dalla storia di Topolino e il selvaggio Giovedì. Un quineano Topolino sente l'indigeno Giovedì esclamare "Gavagai!" al primo fremito tra le foglie e, vedendo comparire un coniglietto, conclude che Gavagai voglia dire Coniglio. Eppure, con Gavagai l'indigeno intende forse qualche frammento di coniglio, o il movimento del coniglio, o magari (se è una sorta di "Platone delle savane") la "coniglità", cioé l'idea eterna di coniglio. Topolino deve servirsi della sua "conoscenza di fondo" per poter interpretare il comportamento linguistico del nativo. Viceversa, come uno di noi potrebbe spiegare a un qualsiasi Giovedì cosa intendiamo quando al ristorante si ordina un "coniglio alla cacciatora"? Alla fine, il "civilizzato" si rende conto che l'universo mentale del "primitivo" è tutt'altro che primitivo, mentre questi scopre che il mondo "civile" non è radicalmente differente dal suo. Ma ciascuno dei due riesce a spiegare il comportamento dell'altro soltanto entro le proprie strutture linguistiche. Resta così una inevitabile dose di "provincialismo", ma senza di essa Topolino non intenderebbe nemmeno ciò a cui Giovedì fa riferimento. A detta di Quine, ciò riflette non tanto "la imperscrutabilità della mente dell'indigeno, quanto il fatto che non c'è niente da scrutare". Ci sono però comportamenti da capire. Ma non è compito esclusivo dell'antropologo a contatto con forme di vita esotiche. Esso "comincia a casa nostra": non solo è difficile stabilire se Coniglio e Gavagai siano sinonimi, ma persino se lo siano Scapolo e Non sposato. Quine, non pago di aver giustiziato le idee platoniche, ha sferrato un attacco a un altro caposaldo della filosofia: la distinzione tra enunciati sintetici, la cui verità dipenderebbe da dati di fatto, ed enunciati analitici, la cui verità dipenderebbe dal "significato" dei termini che vi ricorrono - come è appunto il caso dell'enunciato "Tutti gli scapoli sono non sposati". Certo, la classe degli Scapoli coincide attualmente con quella dei Non sposati, ma supponiamo che tutti gli irlandesi abbiano i capelli rossi e che non si dia "rosso di pelo" non irlandese: sarebbe ragionevole concludere che Irlandese e Rosso di pelo siano sinonimi?

Accettiamo due termini come sinonimi soltanto se la loro identità è "necessaria" - ma la verità "necessaria" non è altro che una versione della verità "analitica", e si finisce così per ragionare in circolo. Ci viene in aiuto il rigore della scienza, come pretendevano Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap e gli altri esponenti del positivismo logico, che Quine aveva conosciuto di persona e stimato? Se nella conoscenza sapessimo separare la componente fattuale da quella puramente linguistica, potremmo rifondare la distinzione tra "analitico" e "sintetico" che ossessiona la filosofia almeno dai tempi di Leibniz e di Kant. Contro quest'ultimo dogma, il "mago di Akron" ha evocato con un colpo di bacchetta due dei più anomali filosofi del nostro secolo, il francese Pierre Duhem (fisico e storico del pensiero scientifico, impegnato nell'apologetica cattolica) e l'austriaco Otto Neurath (sociologo, non privo di simpatie per il bolscevismo), i quali avevano mostrato come non si potesse "verificare o falsificare" un singolo enunciato scientifico, bensì un'intera "rete" di conoscenze, la cui ramificazione era potenzialmente infinita. E Quine: "Tutte le nostre conoscenze - dalle più fortuite questioni di geografia e di storia alle leggi più profonde della fisica atomica o finanche della matematica pura - non sono che un edificio fatto dall'uomo, che tocca l'esperienza solo lungo i suoi margini". Un disaccordo "alla periferia" provoca un "riordinamento" all'interno del campo.

Ma non c'è alcun vincolo che ci imponga di procedere in una direzione piuttosto che in un'altra: conta solo la coerenza della ristrutturazione, né c'è altro modo per privilegiare la spiegazione in termini di "campi e particelle" della fisica contemporanea rispetto, poniamo, alla "mitologia degli dei di Omero". Relativismo? Quine (che è mancato "poche ore prima della fine del millennio", vedi Corriere della Sera del 31 dicembre 2000) si ostinava a ripetere che quando cambia l'enciclopedia con cui descriviamo il mondo non dobbiamo concludere che la verità cambi con essa, ma che "erroneamente abbiamo supposto vero qualcosa e che abbiamo imparato meglio". La verità resta quella dell'indagine scientifica - e i metodi di quest'ultima vanno estesi alla filosofia. Quine parlava di "naturalizzare" la stessa teoria della conoscenza, ricorrendo agli strumenti "cognitivi" offerti da psicologia, logica e informatica: "Fallibilismo è la parola d'ordine, non relativismo. Fallibilismo e naturalismo".

Daily Telegraph obituary for W V Quine - Jan 1, 2001

Professor W V Quine
Philosopher who shone among thinkers of the English-speaking world by challenging some of their most deeply held assumptions

PROFESSOR W V QUINE, who has died aged 92, was one of the foremost philosophers of the last half century.

He made his name internationally in 1951 with an article, Two Dogmas of Empiricism. In it he challenged widely accepted principles of logical discussion. There was no point, Quine said, in trying to validate individual statements by checking each against our experience. New experiences modify our whole system of thought.

In this respect Quine's ideas had a parallel in the structuralism of the new generation of linguists and anthropologists. But Quine approached things from a direction of symbolic logic. His first love had been Bertrand Russell, who with A N Whitehead had published Principia Mathematica (1910-1913). Quine took to mathematical logic like a duck to water.

To his mind, just as possible worlds can be constructed in mathematics so they could as easily be knitted from logical statements about the real world. Add or modify an axiom in a mathematical system and the whole structure falls into a new shape. So why not see what happens if one removes the inviolability of axioms in the logical treatment of reality.

Even the principle of non-contradiction was not inviolate. This axiom, that something cannot be true and not true at the same time, had been preserved as a necessary tool even by logical positivists. Quine was demanding they should see how things stood if it were jettisoned. Quine's contemporaries had been used to regarding statements as true by virtue of one of two criteria. Either they conformed empirically to the evidence of the senses (synthetic statements). Or they were true by virtue of the terms in which they were defined (analytic statements). Quine refused to allow a distinction between the two types.

Another fascination for Quine, who prided himself on his ability to speak several languages, was the difficulty of translating terms from one language to another and proving at the same time that the translation meant the same thing. He was taken by the idea of words having significance only as a kind of behavioural response within the whole culture.

Later he modified the requirement of taking into account a whole system of thought. He advocated instead a kind of moderate holism, to limit consideration of a system to one interlinked section. He also applied a sort of Ockham's Razor- "the maximum of minimum mutilation" - to the amount of fiddling with a system that a logician in justified in undertaking.

One effect of Quine's sheaf of subversive challenges was to make metaphysics - a system of abstract, universally valid thought - impossible. That had been pretty much the case for logical positivists of the English-speaking world in any case. But for Quine, as system of thought must be scientific in the same way as the empirical science; it was just too bad if as a result behaviourism must be applied to the way we reason in order to see how it functions. But at least Quine insisted on a rigorous methodology in logic itself. His thought had been of great use not least to those who strongly disagreed with him

Willard Van Orman Quine was born the son of an engineer in Akron, Ohio, on June 25, 1908, the second of two brothers. His first enthusiasm was for maps and philately; later he sold his stamp collection in order to finance his education. But he retained his fascination with collections and making patterns of the particular.

In 1926 Quine enrolled at Oberlin College, near Cleveland, Ohio, to read mathematics. Two books given to him by his mother, Principia Mathematica and a volume by the 19th century philologist W W Skeat, pointed the way to his future. In 1930 he began to study philosophy under Whitehead at Harvard.

Two years later, he won a travelling scholarship which took him to Vienna, Warsaw, and Prague, where he worked with Rudolf Carnap, a practicing logical positivist. Back in Harvard in 1933, he became a junior fellow, and in 1936 began his long teaching at the university.

He found that he preferred the mathematical to the philosophical aspects of his subject, "because of it being less a matter of opinion", and acknowledged Harvard's generosity in allowing him to concentrate on his special interests

Quine's Harvard career was interrupted by the Second World War, during which he served in the Naval Reserve. Part of his work was to decipher codes being used by German submarines.

When the article Two Dogmas of Empiricism was published in the book From A Logical Point of View in 1953, Quine was in Oxford for a year as a visiting professor. Oxford philosophy at the time was hospitable to logical positivism; A J Ayer's popularizing Language, Truth, and Logic had come in 1936. Quine not only had first hand experience of the Vienna School and of muscular discussions with Carnap in Prague and Harvard, but he had picked up logical positivism and shaken it just as it had seemed to have begun to have run out of excitements. Quine had now become a star in the English-speaking world and remained one for the rest of his days.

His other books include A System of Logistic (1934), Elementary Logic (1941), The Philosophy of Logic (1970), The Roots of Reference (1974) and Pursuit of Truth (1990). His autobiography, The Time of My Life (1985), gave nothing away; but Quiddities (1985) caught the spirit of the man with his partiality for word-play and his deadpan humor. He always tapped out his books on a 1927 Remington.

Quine loved travelling. For his 90th birthday his family took him to North Dakota, the only state in the union which he had not visited. He set foot in 118 different countries, and saw several others from aeroplanes or (as he put it) "from the side". He married first, in 1930 (dissolved 1947) Naomi Clayton; they had two daughters. He married secondly, in 1948, Marjorie Boynton, who had worked with him on breaking German codes; they had a son and a daughter.

(Switzerland) Dialectica obituary for W V Quine

Quine - the philosophers' philosopher
by Dagfinn Føllesdal
published in: Dialectica 55: 2 (2001), pp. 99-103

The American philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine died in Boston on Christmas Day. He was born in Akron, Ohio, June 25, 1908, came to Harvard in 1930, took his doctorate there two years later and stayed there the rest of his life, first as research fellow and from 1941 as professor.

Quine is an interesting phenomenon in 20. century philosophy. He tops the list of the philosophers who are most discussed by other philosophers. A few days ago there appeared a five volume collection of articles on Quine, 140 articles selected from more than 2000 articles that have been written about him. However, 140 articles is no more than what is written on Quine during one year. Leading philosophers, as Peter Strawson and his Oxford colleague Stuart Hampshire are clear in their estimation: "Quine is the foremost systematic philosopher who is alive today", Stuart Hampshire wrote in 1979. "Quine is the most distinguished and influential of living philosophers" wrote Strawson ten years later. Nevertheless, Quine is less known among non-philosophers than, for example, Wittgenstein and Heidegger, and if one counts the total number of citations, also from authors who are not professional philosophers, both Wittgenstein and Heidegger come up alongside Quine.

What is the reason that Quine, who engages philosophers so strongly, and who may be called the philosophers' philosopher, is less known by the general public? One might think that he was writing in a heavy and difficult way. However, he had a brilliant style, lively, often playful, and always sparklingly clear. He wrote much, but worked it all through as if it were poetry. His style is concise, every word counts, but nevertheless it flows easily and effortlessly. Bertrand Russell, who won a Nobel prize in literature, was far more wordy. This condensed style as probably one reason why many find Quine difficult. One has to concentrate, as when one is reading good poetry, every sentence stimulates to reflection. This pressure for concentration is experienced even more strongly when one is not familiar with the problems that are being discussed and the context in which they belong. However, when one thinks through what is said, one is struck by how well Quine has been able to express what he wants to communicate. Many of his brief, apt, phrases have become part of the philosophical vernacular, as, for example, "recalcitrant experience" (experience that clashes with what we are expecting and therefore forces us to revise our opinions), and "no identity without identity" (when one speaks of objects, one should give clear criteria for when objects are the same and when they are different).

Quine was always striving to express his insights as clearly and simply as possible. This was for him an important part of intellectual honesty. It is easy to write clearly about the simple. But great philosophy usually arises where a passion for clarity is coupled with a concern for the deepest issues. This coupling may be paralyzing for some, but it was not so for Quine. In all the fields of philosophy where he was working he wrestled with the most profound issues. He had a special ability to spot obscurity and confusions. Sometimes he saw how to make old positions clearer and he provided new arguments for them. Other times he saw that the obscurity concealed deep problems and that it reflected a way of looking at the world that is fundamentally flawed. What was typical of Quine and what makes him a great philosopher, is that he not only pointed out obscurity but came up with new ways of looking at things. At first, these new ways of looking might be experienced as upsetting: they conflicted with too many cherished beliefs. Many critics of Quine seem not to be aware of how comprehensive his new way of looking at the world is. They do not note that their criticism often springs from assumptions that are part of the position that Quine has undercut.

What, then, were the issues on which Quine worked?

He worked on the whole spectrum of big problems in epistemology and metaphysics. Particularly revolutionary were his works on language and communication, where he rejected the traditional views on meaning. Ever since the old Greeks philosophers have assumed that there is a realm of meanings - a "third world," as the German philosopher Gottlob Frege called it - to which we all have access. When we learn a language, we learn to connect these meanings with linguistic expression and thereby we become able to communicate with all those who attach the same meaning to these linguistic expressions as we do. This view seems natural and simple and had dominated philosophy until Quine questioned it. Quine emphasized the social nature of language: "Each of us learns his language from other people, through the observable mouthing of words under conspicuously intersubjective circumstances. Linguistically, and hence conceptually, the things in sharpest focus are the things that are public enough to be talked of publicly, common and conspicuous enough to be talked of often, and near enough to sense to be quickly identified and learned by name; it is to these that words apply first and foremost," Quine writes in the beginning of Word and Object (1960), his main work on language and communication.

All philosophers and linguists will agree with Quine that language is a social phenomenon. But Quine was the first who took this seriously and followed it out with great persistence to consequences that many philosophers find it difficult to accept. He pointed out that the child on its mother's lap does not learn to associate words and expressions with meanings which the mother supposedly associates with them, but with things in the surroundings towards which mother and child direct their attention. It is the association between word and thing that is important here. Frege maintained that there must be meanings that we all share, since otherwise we cannot communicate. But the meanings that are alleged to exist in the mother's head are not accessible to the child and therefore play no role in the learning process. And since this was the only reason for assuming that there are such meanings, there is no reason to think that there are any.

There arises, however, a problem here: how can the child know what the mother perceives? The light- and sound-waves mother and child receive from the surroundings are not sufficient to uniquely determine what things they see. A mental element is needed in addition, a structuring of what we see, such that it is experienced as a world, with things, properties, etc. Many philosophers have held that this mental element is reducible to something physical, but Quine argues that the mental is irreducible. He here sides with the Austrian philosopher Franz Brentano and the Czech philosopher Edmund Husserl, who had similar ideas more than a hundred years ago and he diverges from the great majority of the leading philosophers of the 20th century.

During the 35 years that separate Quine's of Word and Object from his last book, From Stimulus to Science (1995), Quine worked persistently to find out how we can get insight into what others pereive without assuming that we already understand what they mean and say. According to Quine we here move in a circle: we have to make conjectures about what others perceive in order to understand what they mean, and we must make conjectures about what they mean in order to understand what they perceive. Many of the most famous theses that are connected with Quine's name are consequences of this circle, such as "indeterminacy of translation" and "inscrutability of reference." This enterprise, of studying the interplay between meaning, understanding and perception, involves the whole range of Quine's philosophical insights: his views on epistemology and ontology, or what there is and what is meant by "to be", and on causality, natural kinds, time, space and individuation, that is: our organizing our surroundings into objects. Quine argued carefully for his view and he showed that it has many consequences that conflict with traditional positions. One of these consequences is that one must give up the distinction between so-called analytic and synthetic statements, which has been basic to philosophy of language since Kant, and which Quine called one of the dogmas of empiricism. Quine rejected also what he called the "dogma of reductionism," "the supposition that each statement, taken in isolation from its fellows, can admit of confirmation or infirmation." This undermined the logical empiricists' conception of mathematics, and also their rejection of religion and ethics as "cognitively meaningless." Also the concepts "necessity" and "possibility" were subject to criticism by Quine.

Because Quine, like Wittgenstein, emphasized how communication is based on our publicly accessible activities and actions, many have believed that Quine denied the existence of something mental, or consciousness. "I have been accused of denying consciousness, but I am not cosciuos of having done so", Quine wrote in his entertaining book Quiddities: An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary (1987). And he continued: "Consciousness is to me a mystery, and not one to be dismissed. We know what it is like to be conscious, but not how to put it into satisfactory scientific terms."

There are also many other similarities between Quine and Wittgenstein: the ability to see problems where others do not see them, the independence from established authorities, the abundance of ideas. But there is also a big difference: Quine was above all a constructive philosopher. He saw his ideas as interconnected, and he used his life to work out his philosophical vision, where all these different insights have their natural place.

However, Quine did not build up his philosophy as a firmly anchored system, as did, for example, Spinoza. There is no absolutely certain starting point that can be the foundation for our philosophical edifice. Nor is there any point of view from where we can see it all from outside: we are thrown into a kind of existence that we must seek to understand without stepping out of it. "There is no vantage point, no first philosophy," Quine said. He therefore picked as his motto for his main work of Word and Object the following quotation from Otto Neurath: "We are like seafarers, who must rebuild their ship in open sea, without being able to take it apart in a dock and build it up of its best constituents from the bottom up."

The ship simile expresses much of Quine's personality. He was always concerned with improving the ship. "The Pursuit of Truth" was the title of one of his latest books, and throughout his life he was striving for truth with great energy and seriousness. He was aware that even our most fundamental beliefs may be mistaken. He was therefore always interested in objections, always willing to listen, and ready to change his views if the criticism was good. His students understood quickly that he did not want to form any philosophical school; he preferred well-argued objections to admiring emulation. Quine was always open, willing to listen, ask questions, and, if he was convinced, revise. He never reacted negatively, but was on the contrary encouraging and more interested in finding out what was right than in being right. He was always welcoming and positive, full of care for his students, friendly to his colleagues and warm towards his friends and his family.

The ship Quine left us is radically different from the one he found when he started doing philosophy in the 1930s. Quine has created a new way of looking at the eternal questions of philosophy and their interconnections. He leaves a transformed philosophical landscape for new generations of philosophers to explore.

Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Philosophers 1950-2000: W. V. Quine (25 June 1908 - 25 December 2000)

in volume 279, pages 237-254, Gale, Thomson, Detroit
by Roger F. Gibson, Jr, Washington University, St. Louis

(UK) Economist obituary for W V Quine

Willard Van Orman Quine, philosopher, died on December 25th, aged 92
Jan 11 2001 (on-line) and Jan 13 2001 (print)

WHO came after Wittgenstein? The answer is Willard Quine. Historians will remember him as the most important philosopher of the second half of the 20th century. Yet, unlike Ludwig Wittgenstein, Mr Quine was not widely known. Paradoxically, that fact reflects a large part of his achievement.

He was drawn to philosophy by the writings of Bertrand Russell. He described "Principia Mathematica", which Russell wrote together with Mr Quine's teacher, Alfred Whitehead, as the book that meant the most to him. (It consists of three enormous volumes of formulae; Mr Quine's tastes were dry.) He took two main things from Russell. One was a belief that both the content and methods of mathematical logic were fundamental to philosophy; and the other a conviction that philosophy is a science, differing from other branches of inquiry only in its level of generality and abstractness.

Philosophy would make progress, the two men believed, by accumulating knowledge in painstaking steps, drawing on the collaborative efforts of many, just as the other sciences do. They wanted it to end its old bad habit of looking to the all-encompassing visions of gurus for illumination. This was and still is a controversial idea among philosophers, many of whom profess to reject the assimilation of their subject into science. But it has won the day. Whether or not they agree with it in theory, most philosophers in the English-speaking world behave as if it were true. Philosophy has become an increasingly specialised profession, with no gurus, thanks in no small part to Mr Quine's influence. As a non-guru he was not a public figure.

After some formative trips to Vienna, Prague and Warsaw in the early 1930s, where he met the members of the "logical positivist" Vienna circle, Mr Quine returned to his native America. He began teaching at Harvard, where he stayed until his retirement, interrupted only by service in the second world war when he was a code-breaker. His pupils included not only many philosophers but also Tom Lehrer, a satirical songwriter, and Theodore Kaczynski, known as "the unabomber", whose parcel bombs, set off apparently as a protest against technology, killed three people.

The missing question mark Willard Quine's early work was in the field of mathematical logic and set theory, the subject of half a dozen of his 23 books. His typewriter was adapted to provide keys for mathematical symbols. One of the keys dispensed with was the question mark. He quipped that he did not need it because he dealt in certainties. Although Mr Quine has no important theorem to his name he wrote on mathematical logic with ingenuity and wit. He took pleasure in being photographed under the street sign in Oxford's Logic Lane. It was later in his career that his originality in general philosophy came to fruition, starting with a paper, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", published in 1951. He took the view that the difference between matters of fact and matters of meaning is only of degree, not of kind. The statement that all bachelors are unmarried is true as a matter of meaning; that Bill Clinton is married is true as a matter of fact. Mr Quine developed a theory of language according to which truths of fact blend into truths of meaning, so that there is no absolute distinction between the two. This had revolutionary implications in philosophy. Most philosophers of the past century-including those influenced by Wittgenstein, the "logical positivists" and Oxford's school of linguistic analysis-had presumed that philosophy was concerned with meaning or concepts, whereas science was concerned with facts. Now the barriers they had sought to erect between philosophy and science began to crumble.

The ramifications of Mr Quine's theory were spelled out in "Word and Object" (1960). From his rejection of the distinction between fact and meaning flowed a system of ideas about experience, translation, learning, understanding and the notions of necessity and possibility. British philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries-Locke, Berkeley and Hume-had sought to explain how our knowledge of the world was founded on our experience of it. Drawing on the results of logic, linguistics and psychology, Mr Quine now sought to update these accounts. One study of his work, endorsed by Quine himself, dubbed his theory "enlightened empiricism". It is a spartan philosophy: economical in its attempts to establish that the languages of mathematics and physics are enough to express every genuinely factual statement, and that the kernel of those languages is the basic logic of his beloved "Principia Mathematica". He was accused of denying the reality of consciousness, but replied that he was not conscious of having done so.

"The Philosopher's Lexicon" offers the verb "to quine": to deny a distinction. Philosophers like their little jokes. Mr Quine wrote "Quiddities", which exhibited his fascination for words old and new. He could have had a fondness for the quinombrom, an old word for conundrum, defined in James Howell's "Lexicon Tetraglotton" of 1660: "You will judge, perhaps, that the author hath some strange freaks, or quinombroms, in his noddle."

Search Web Site Pages

  • Search WVQUINE web pages ONLY (FreeFind) (WVQ Site Map)
  • Search QUINE, WVQUINE, and TRISKELION-LTD (FreeFind)
  • Find books at Amazon.com by 10 character ISBN (i.e. 0262670046) - or at the web site
    Amazon Jump icon

    Enter book ISBN

    Amazon search

[E-Mail Cartoon]

Return to top