Willard Van Orman Quine 1908-2000
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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: to post your comments & questions . This page is maintained by Douglas Boynton Quine; please e-mail recommended additions, or corrections to the webmaster:
by Douglas B. Quine, December 26, 2000
Edgar Pierce Professor Emeritus Willard Van Orman Quine of Harvard University, 92, died December 25, 2000 (Christmas) in Boston, Massachusetts following a brief illness. Professor W. V. Quine http://www.wvquine.org/wv-quine.html was recognized as a world leader in mathematical logic, set theory, and the philosophy of language.
Professor W. V. Quine (eponym of "Quinean" in the Oxford English Dictionary) wrote 22 books in English and 1 in Portuguese (61 translations have been published representing 14 languages). From his best known work, Word and Object (1960), to his autobiography (The Time of My Life, 1985), and his highly accessible book of essays, Quiddities (1990), his understanding of language and clear writing style earned him fans in many walks of life. He has been the subject of countless dissertations, books, papers, and discussions; Garland Books is publishing a five volume set of papers on his work later this month (Professor Dagfinn Føllesdal, editor). He was awarded 18 honorary degrees by international institutions including University of Lille, Oxford University, Cambridge University, Uppsala University, University of Bern, and Harvard University. His influence in philosophy and mathematics was recognized in his professional offices and through professional honorary fellowships and awards including: Society of Fellows, Harvard University (Junior Fellow, 1933-1936; Senior Fellow, 1949-1978), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow 1949 -), Harvard University (Chairman, Philosophy, 1952-1953), Association for Symbolic Logic (President, 1953-1955), Institute for Advanced Studies (Princeton, NJ, 1956-1957), American Philosophical Association (President 1957), American Philosophical Society, member (1957 -), Centre for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences (Palo Alto, CA, 1958-1959), British Academy corresponding fellow (1959 -), Instituto Brasileiro de Filosophia, corresponding member (1963-), Centre for Advanced Studies (Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT), Nicholas Murray Butler gold medal (1965), Columbia University (New York, 1970), National Academy of Sciences fellow (Washington DC, 1977), Institut de France (1978), Norwegian Academy of Sciences (1979), F. Polacky gold medal (Prague, 1991), Charles University gold medal (Prague, 1993), Rolf Schock Prize (Sweden, 1993), and the Kyoto Prize (Japan, 1996).
Van Quine, as he was known to his friends since high school years, was born in Akron, Ohio on Anti-Christmas (June 25) 1908. His parents, Cloyd Robert Quine and Harriet Van Orman, were both raised in Ohio. His father founded the Akron Equipment Company and his mother was a teacher. A love of canoeing and geography led him to paddle around the lakes near Akron and draw maps for the summer inhabitants. Stamp collecting was an early influence which led to a high school stamp business and short lived internationally distributed publication OK Stamp News (1924-1925); his life long wanderlust led to travel in 118 countries (plus 27 viewed from above or the side) and all 50 states (North Dakota after his 90th birthday). He graduated from Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio) in 1930 and earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1932 (the fastest in Harvard history). Hired in 1936 as an Instructor in Philosophy, promoted to Associate Professor (1941), Professor (1948), Edgar Pierce Professor (1956), and finally Edgar Pierce Professor Emeritus (1978), his active career at Harvard University spanned more than 60 years with a 4 year gap during World War II in United States Navy Intelligence (Lieutenant then Lieutenant Commander, 1942-1946). Throughout his career, he composed manuscripts by hand and then polished them with scissors, tape, and a portable 1927 Remington typewriter which was modified to include special characters required for mathematics by eliminating the duplicated or easily simulated characters such as !, ?, and 1. Following his official retirement to emeritus status, he continued to write and expanded his travel as he participated in mathematical and philosophical conferences on his work around the world. His love of languages (he spoke English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish) led him to learn enough of a local language to introduce his talk if he could not present it all in the local language. His love of music led him to savor Dixieland Jazz, Mexican folksongs, Gilbert and Sullivan; he enjoyed playing the mandolin and piano (self taught - preferentially the black keys). Despite European press reports to the contrary, he never did own or play jazz on a clarinet.
He was predeceased by his brother, Robert Cloyd Quine, his first wife Naomi Clayton, and his second wife Marjorie Boynton. He is survived by his children Elizabeth Quine Roberts of Anchorage (Alaska), Norma Quine of London (England), Douglas Boynton Quine of Bethel (Connecticut), and Margaret Quine McGovern of San Francisco (California). He is also survived by his grandchildren Melissa O'Brien, Benjamin Willard Roberts, Alexander Boynton Quine, Grant Augustus McGovern, Victoria Boisvert Quine, Ashley Quine McGovern, a great grandson Jesse Rice, and nephews Robert Wolfe Quine and William Van Orman Quine. Arrangements will be announced.
by Professor Dagfinn Føllesdal, December 27, 2000
Willard Van Orman Quine died on Christmas Day. He played a crucial role in shaping philosophy during the 20th century. Early encyclopedias classified him as a logician, but he soon came to be regarded as a general philosopher, to begin with a philosopher of logic and language, but eventually as a metaphysician, whose radical thoughts about ontology, epistemology and communication have repercussions within all major areas of philosophy.
His early work, from his dissertation in 1932 to 1943, was mainly in logic, with the eleven page article "New Foundations for Mathematical Logic" in American Mathematical Monthly in 1937 as the most important contribution. This little article has inspired a large number of further contributions and is even today the subject of intensive research and discussion.
However, from the very beginning Quine's work in logic was philosophically motivated, and gradually he focused more and more on philosophical issues. Questions of ontology were the first to make their appearance, in "Ontological remarks on the propositional calculus" (Mind 1934), and ontology always remained one of Quine's key philosophical concerns. He sharpened the ontological issues ("To be is to be the value of a variable") and discussed ontological commitment. He always had a Spartan bent and his book Set Theory and Its Logic (1963) is basically concerned with keeping the ontology as minimal as possible. Together with Nelson Goodman he explored the possibility of being a nominalist. Unlike Goodman, he settled for a platonic realism. However, in his later work, this realism took an intriguing new turn, not yet fully explored in the secondary literature, towards indeterminacy of reference.
Another main theme that came up early in Quine's work and grew to become his main contribution to philosophy, started as a skepticism towards meaning and other related notions, such as analyticity and modality. This skepticism grew into a major revamping of previous philosophical views on communication and the relation of language to the world. The first glimmer of this appeared in "Truth by Convention" (1936). From 1943 it found expression in a number of articles directed against modal notions, such as necessity and possibility. In 1951 Quine sketched an alternative view on meaning in "Two Dogmas of Empiricism." This view was worked out in Word and Object (1960), where Quine also clinched his criticism of the modalities by arguing that quantification into modal contexts leads to a collapse of modal distinctions.
Quine's objections against quantifying into modal contexts can be resolved by giving up traditional semantics in favor of a semantics where so-called "genuine" singular terms, or "rigid designators," refer to the same object in all possible worlds where that object exists. This basic idea in the so-called "new theory of reference" arose as a response to Quine's critical objections and owes much to his acute analysis of the underlying problems.
Quine's main concern, his criticism of the notions of logical necessity and possibility, analyticity and traditional views on meaning remains vibrant. In a number of books and articles Quine has developed further the view on meaning that he set forth in Word and Object. The central idea is one that Quine shares with most other philosophers and linguists, viz. the public nature of language. Quine's major contribution is that he has taken this idea seriously and followed it out with great persistence, to consequences that many philosophers find it difficult to accept. One of these consequences, indeterminacy of translation, is the idea of Quine's that has been most widely discussed. However, it is only a consequence of more fundamental ideas concerning the public nature of language that Quine has refined and partly revised in his later writings.
In particular, Quine has from the very first pages of Word and Object stressed that what we perceive and what we take others to perceive plays a crucial role in language learning and language use. This is a key point in Quine: semantics and epistemology are intimately intertwined. His epistemology is naturalistic: it is contained in natural science, as a chapter of empirical psychology, and yet it is epistemology that provides an account of the evidential bases of natural science, including empirical psychology itself. In the study of meaning and communication a key problem is to get insight into what others perceive without imputing to them our own view of the world and our own ontology. In Word and Object Quine endeavored to do this in terms of stimulus and response. However, although stimuli and responses are empirically accessible, they are not publicly accessible. The evidence we build on in language learning and language use must be accessible to the members of the community in their daily lives. During the 35 years that separate Word and Object from Quine's latest book From Stimulus to Science (1995) Quine again and again sought to find a way of dealing with what others perceive without begging the questions of meaning and translation. This enterprise involves the whole range of Quine's philosophical insights: his views on epistemology and ontology and on causality, natural kinds, time, space and individuation.
Quine has created a new way of looking at these eternal questions of philosophy and their interconnections. He leaves a transformed philosophical landscape for new generations of philosophers to explore.
Quine was born in Akron, Ohio, on June 25, 1908, took his B.A. at Oberlin College in 1930 and spent his whole professional life at Harvard, where he took his Ph.D. in 1932, was a Sheldon Traveling Fellow in 1932-33, Junior Fellow 1933-36, and thereafter taught philosophy, from 1956 as Edgar Pierce Professor. He had honorary doctorates from numerous universities, was a member of several academies, and received many prizes, including the first Rolf Schock Prize in Stockholm in 1993 and the Kyoto Prize in Tokyo in 1996.
He leaves behind three daughters and one son, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
by Professor Roger Gibson, July 25 2001
Willard Van Orman Quine, the most distinguished analytic philosopher of the latter half of the 20th century, was born in a modest frame house on Nash Street in Akron, Ohio on June 25, 1908. After graduating from Akron's West High School in January, 1926 he enrolled in Oberlin College in the fall. His studies at Oberlin centered on mathematics and mathematical logic. It was during his studies at Oberlin that he first encountered Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell's three-volume masterpiece Principia Mathematica. PM was to have a life-long influence on Quine's thinking about logic. Another lingering influence traceable to his Oberlin days was the behaviorism of J. B. Watson as expounded in his Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist. Quine graduated summa cum laude from Oberlin in 1930.
In the fall of 1930, Quine enrolled as a graduate student in philosophy at Harvard University. He applied to Harvard because Whitehead was teaching there. At Harvard he studied with C. I. Lewis and H. M. Scheffer, and wrote a dissertation entitled The Logic of Sequences: A Generalization of 'Principia Mathematica' under the nominal direction of Whitehead. Quine took his Ph.D. in just two years at the age of twenty-three. He was awarded Harvard's Sheldon Traveling Fellowship for 1933. He used the fellowship to visit Vienna (where he attended meetings of the Vienna Circle), Prague (where he met Rudolf Carnap), and Warsaw (where he met Stanislaw Lesnieski, Jan Lukasiewicz, and Alfred Tarski, among other eminent logicians). Quine's Sheldon year had a profound and lasting impact on his intellectual development. Upon his return to the United States he was awarded a three-year fellowship as a Junior Fellow in the newly formed Society of Fellows. In 1936 Quine was appointed to the faculty of Harvard's philosophy department. Except for a tour of duty with the U. S. Navy served in Washington, D. C. during WWII, Quine remained on the faculty of Harvard, eventually as Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in he Society of Fellows, until his mandatory retirement in 1978 at the age of seventy.
During his remarkably productive sixty-five year career as an academic philosopher, including thirty-some years teaching philosophy and logic at Harvard, Quine authored 23 books and countless journal articles. These writings have been collectively translated into dozens of languages. With the knowledge of a professional geographer and an unbelievable gift for languages, Quine traveled the world, lecturing on six continents and in six languages. Along the way he garnered eighteen honorary degrees, he won a number of medals and prize, including Japan's prestigious (and lucrative, $460K) Kyoto Prize. Numerous national and international conferences have been held on Quine's philosophy, and books and articles written by his critics and commentators are too numerous to list. Yet, for all this, Quine remains an unknown figure to the overwhelming majority of the American public. More surprising is the fact that despite being widely acclaimed in philosophical circles for his eloquent and parsimonious prose, Quine's philosophy is not always well understood by philosophers.
So why is it that so many Americans have never heard of Willard Quine? First, the man in the street rarely reads analytic (i.e., scientific) philosophy so Quine's brand of philosophy isn't for everyone. In an article he wrote for Newsday titled "Has Philosophy Lost Contact with People?" Quine put the point as follows: "think of organic chemistry; I recognize its importance, but I am not curious about it, nor do I see why the layman should care about much of what concerns me in philosophy."1 The truth is, Quine was a philosophers' philosopher. Most of his writings are aimed at an audience of professional philosophers and logicians, and so, many of his writings have a forbiddingly technical content. Second, personality wise, Quine lacked the flamboyance of a Russell ("Better Red than dead.") and the mysticism of a Wittgenstein ("What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."), so these two major avenues into the popular mind--flamboyance and mysticism-were not open to Quine. He was a modest man who did not seek the limelight, but then neither did he shun it, even when he harbored misgivings about the context; for example, he wrote: "If instead of having been called upon to perform in the British television series 'Men of Ideas' I had been consulted on its feasibility, I should have expressed doubt."2 Perhaps, but he did appear on the show and allow himself to be interviewed by the host, Bryan Magee.
A more difficult question is why do so many of Quine's philosopher readers fail to understand his philosophy. I think there is enough "blame" to go around. For example, on the one hand, many of Quine's readers fail to see the systematic unity of his thought, a failure that has all of the ill effects of taking things out of context. On the other hand, sometimes Quine's prose can be deceptively simple-enough so as to engender an unwarranted confidence in his readers' minds that they have understood him correctly.
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I came to know Quine in the 1970s when I was a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Missouri-Columbia. In those days no course on Quine was offered at Mizzou (in spite of the fact that Quine's magnum opus, Word and Object, had been in print since 1960). However, in 1972 a congenial faculty member in the department agreed to direct an independent studies on Word and Object for two of my fellow graduate students and myself. We read Word and Object with great enthusiasm but with little comprehension. Our erratic meetings with our director amounted to little more than the blind leading the blind. Somehow, though, I learned enough about Quine's views to write a master's thesis in 1973 on his conception of philosophical analysis (explication).
By the fall of 1975 I was eager to find a suitable Ph.D. dissertation topic; Quine came to mind. In an impulsive moment in mid-November of 1975, I wrote to the Great Man at Harvard inquiring if it were possible for me to sit-in on any courses he might be scheduled to teach in the spring of 1976. Luck was with me, for a few days later I received a letter from Quine informing me that his one course offering for the spring was to be Word and Object, and that I was welcome to sit-in, if I wished "to migrate for such slender faire." He continued, "a more formal arrangement is possible but that would lead to a needless expense of $1,000." I was struck by his thoughtfulness, humility, and generosity. I resolved to migrate, but it would be three long months before I would meet the Great Man face to face.
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I arrived in Boston via TWA on Saturday morning, January 31, 1976. I had never been to Boston before, nor did I know anyone who lived there. After retrieving my sole piece of luggage, a seabag dating from my days in the Marine Corps a decade earlier, I hailed a taxi that delivered me to the Holiday Inn in Sommerville. I checked in for one night's stay. The room rate was a staggering $34 a night. Too rich for my graduate student blood. I would have to find a place I could afford, and soon. However, that would have to wait until tomorrow, for that afternoon I was anxious to see Harvard. I caught a taxi to Harvard Square.
The weather in Cambridge was overcast and bitingly cold. The low lying areas of Harvard College were sheets of ice. My first impression of the campus was deflationary. Most of the buildings on campus stood empty and unlit, awaiting the beginning of the spring semester. At the moment the campus resembled a ghost town. I was virtually alone as I traversed the icy sidewalks of a bleak Harvard Yard in search of Emerson Hall, home to the philosophy department. After locating Emerson Hall, I wandered around campus and Harvard Square before making my way back to my hotel around dusk.
Later, as I lay in bed at the end of my first day in Boston I began to wonder if I hadn't made a big mistake leaving my wife and my three-month old daughter in Missouri, giving up my teaching assistantship for the spring semester at Mizzou, coming to a city where I knew not a soul, thinking I could cut the mustard at Harvard, and believing that I could master enough of Quine's philosophy in three months to float an ambitious dissertation to be titled "The Logical Structure of Quine's Philosophy." I spent a restless night.
The next morning, February 1, my nocturnal woes subsided as things began to fall into place. In the "apartments for rent" section of the Sunday Boston Globe I found a one-room, ground level apartment(?) listed (and at an affordable $45 a month) in Jamaica Plain. I called the number in the ad to see if this jewel were still available. It was, and the voice on the other end of the line gave me clear instructions on how best to get from here to there. I checked out of the Holiday Inn and an hour later I met the owner of the voice on the phone. The apartment was on S. Huntington Avenue; a jewel it was not. Inexplicably, a mountain of uncollected trash had accumulated behind a number of apartment buildings in the area. Nevertheless, the price was right so I rented it for February, March and April.
The apartment was furnished with a cot, a kitchen table and chair, a compact refrigerator, and a small stove having two electric burners. I couldn't help noticing that the exterior of the stove behind the burners had melted. Puzzling; but not for long; the explanation was elementary: the apartment had baseboard heat along just one wall. The landlord kept the room just warm enough to prevent the water pipes from freezing during the winter. It didn't take winter tenants long to realize, however, that the two burners on the stove, if left on "high" for hours, helped to take the chill off the room. The stove registered years of such abuse. The truth is that the three months I lived there were long, lonely, dreary, and cold. However, on the afternoon of February 1, fresh from the high rent Holiday Inn, I was thrilled and relieved to have a place to stow my seabag.
Late that afternoon I took a trolley from "home" to the Park Street Station where I caught the Red Line subway which zoomed to Harvard Square-a practice run in preparation for the real thing once the semester began. On this my second visit to campus I noted that the largest of Harvard's thirty-some libraries, the Widener Library (named for a victim of the Titanic's tragic voyage) was roughly fifty paces from Emerson Hall. The authorities had granted me library privileges, and I spent many memorable days reading and writing at one of the huge tables in Widener. ~ . ~ . ~
On Monday morning, February 2, I made my way to campus again, this time with the purpose of introducing myself to Quine. His office was on the second floor of Emerson Hall. I ascended the two flights of stairs as if in slow motion. I was about to come face to face with the Great Man. As I centered his closed door I drew a deep breath before knocking; maybe he's not in. A voice responded, "Come in." When I opened the door I found Quine standing before his desk, halfway to the door. He was a good six feet tall, trim, and sporting a marvelous tan he had acquired while vacationing in Mexico during the semester break. He was wearing a coat and tie. At the time he was 67 and I was days away from being 32.
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As we shook hands I mumbled something stupid like, "Professor Quine, I presume." He had a firm grip and large hands. I explained who I was and that I had come from Columbia to sit-in on Word and Object. He heard 'Columbia' and naturally thought I was from Columbia University. It took an awkward moment or two to clear up this "minor" confusion. Obviously, he didn't remember our exchanging letters in November of 1975. He volunteered some remarks regarding his recent visit to Mexico-which I would learn later was one of his favorite places to vacation. Getting down to business, he told me that Word and Object would meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 to noon in a classroom in Emerson Hall once the new semester began in a week or so. I thanked him for his time and told him how much I was looking forward to Word and Object; then I left. The meeting that I had anticipated for nearly three months was over in less than ten minutes. Still, it was a success, for I had made contact with the Great Man and he didn't bite my head off. In fact he was downright friendly. I felt a great wave of relief come over me as I bounded down the same two flights of stairs that minutes before had been so difficult to ascend. I emerged from Emerson Hall into the bright sunshine of Harvard Yard. Of course, it never crossed my mind that my ten-minute meeting with Quine marked the beginning of a twenty-four year friendship that would change my life.
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The first class meeting of Word and Object took place in Emerson Hall in early February. The room's thirty-some chairs were occupied, and there were chairless students lining three walls. By the end of the semester there were less than twenty students who finished the course. However, on the first day of class many of the students who were present had no intention of enrolling in the course. Rather, they had come to get a glimpse of the Great Man. After class several students asked Quine to autograph their newly purchased, pristine, and probably never to be read, copies of Word and Object. Quine cheerfully and without fanfare complied. A further testament to Quine's celebrity status on campus was the abundance of Quine graffiti etched on various surfaces in the men's room in the basement of Emerson Hall.
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Quine taught Word and Object purely as a lecture class. Remarkably, asking questions in class and engaging in discussion were not permitted. Any questions students might have were to be written and handed to Quine at the end of class. Quine would respond to them at the beginning of the next class. There were few questions. Making matters worse, Quine was not a gifted lecturer. He relied on a stack of five-by-seven note cards covering virtually everything in Word and Object and Roots of Reference. Occasionally he would break free of the cards, and when he did his lecturing improved greatly. I recall one class meeting in April when Quine lectured without notes for the last fifteen minutes of class. He so mesmerized the students that when the class was over no one stirred until Quine had left the room. My conjecture is that his Draconian teaching method derived from the fact that he had so much material to cover and so little time to do so. However, there may have been a second consideration, for according to a rumor going around at the time, he once offered the course as a seminar and the students weren't up to it.
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On Wednesday, March 10, I had my first hour-long meeting with Quine in his office to discuss the feasibility of my dissertation topic-the logical structure of his systematic philosophy. I ask if it were okay for me to record our discussion; he said it was. I was sitting on a couch to the left of Quine's desk. I placed my tape recorder on his desk. But when I tried to plug in the microphone I found that my hand was shaking so badly that I had to steady it by resting my wrist on the edge of Quine's desk. From his position seated behind his desk, he surely noticed this symptom of my nervousness, but he said nothing. The meeting began with my requesting that he not hold back any criticisms he might have regarding my proposed dissertation. I then read him a two-page précis of the dissertation. He liked what he heard for the most part, but he thought that I needed to say more about his behaviorism. One thing led to another and soon my hour was up.
As I was preparing to leave, Quine gave me two of his recent (1975) articles I hadn't known about: "The Nature of Natural Knowledge" and "Mind and Verbal Dispositions." I was pleased to have them but even more pleased by Quine's positive response to my project. I had a viable dissertation topic! Now all I had to do was to write it. I celebrated this milestone with a cup of coffee at a café in Harvard Square.
Later in March we met again in his office to discuss my progress. After an hour of discussion I began to gather my things to leave; Quine said, "Sit down. You have come a long way." We discussed for another hour. Quine was a generous person.
My writing progressed apace. I worked all day everyday. I copied in longhand every word of Word and Object. And I read and re-read Roots of Reference. I allowed my self no diversions. Getting Quine right became an obsession. By the time my days at Harvard came to a close in April, I had written all but the last chapter of my dissertation. That final chapter was eventually completed, and I took my Ph.D. at Mizzou in 1977. That same chapter was my first publication; it appeared in Erkenntnis. Quine was one of the referees of that paper for Erkenntnis. In 1982 a revised and expanded version of my dissertation was published under the title The Philosophy of W. V. Quine: An Expository Essay, with a foreword by Quine.
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The Boston/Cambridge area was Quine's home base for seven decades, from 1930 to 2000, but I always thought of him as a Midwesterner. Certainly, many of his character traits were instilled in his youth in Ohio. I have already noted his thoughtfulness, humility, and generosity, but he was also honest, frugal, industrious, sociable, and conservative. As a rule, Quine was patient and polite regarding his critics, but now and again someone would get his goat and suffer his verbal wrath. For example, in response to an irksome remark of a critic, Quine wrote: so-and-so "predicts that I will pretend not to understand what he means by his 'assertions about the spiral of understanding as corresponding to the walls of our cosmos.' I am tempted, perversely, to pretend that I do understand. But let us be fair, if he claimed not to understand me, I would not for a moment suspect him of pretending."3 Needless to add, Quine had a lively sense of humor.
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Harvard had a policy (now illegal) of mandatory retirement at age seventy. Quine retired in 1978, just two years after I sat-in on Word and Object. Retirement for Quine meant retirement from teaching; he still had twenty years of writing and lecturing before him. Indeed, he published five books and over eighty articles during his retirement years.
During those same years I was privileged to be in his presence at the University of Missouri, the University of Nebraska, Washington University, Boston, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Norway, and the Czech Republic. On one of his visits to Washington University, where at the time I was a Visiting Assistant Professor who had applied for a tenure position there to begin the following year, Quine weighed in on my behalf and I got the job. Two years later, 1988, Washington University hosted a five-day international conference on Quine's philosophy. Nearly 300 people attended the conference. In 1990 another five-day international conference on Quine was held in San Marino. Also in 1990 Quine gave ten lectures in Girona, Spain. In Stockholm in 1993, the King of Sweden presented Quine with the first Rolf Schock Prize, followed by a two-day conference on Quine in Oslo. In 1995 there was a four-day conference on Quine in the Czech Republic. This list is by no means a complete list of Quine's activities during his retirement years; rather, it is limited to those of his activities that I witnessed.
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During the last two years of his life Quine suffered from memory loss.
My close friend Ernie Lepore (a philosopher at Rutgers University) knew of this and suggested that we visit Quine on the occasion of his 91st birthday, June 25, 1999. On June 24 I flew from St. Louis to Boston and, just as I had done twenty-three years earlier, I took a taxi from Logan International to the Sommerville Holiday Inn. The 1976 room rate of $34 had inflated to $199. Ernie drove from New Jersey to the Holiday Inn. He had never seen Harvard so we took a taxi from the Holiday Inn to Harvard Square. Ernie's first impression of the campus couldn't have been more different than my first impression twenty-three years earlier. June 24, 1999 was a beautiful day in Cambridge. The flowers and flowering trees were in full boom, the temperature was in the 70s, and there were students everywhere. The campus was alive and well.
The next morning, Quine's 91st birthday, Ernie and I drove to Quine's home, 38 Chestnut Street. Sadi, Quine's wonderful live-in housekeeper, was expecting us and had told Quine we were coming. However, when we arrived it wasn't clear that Quine knew who we were, though he seemed to recognize my voice.
Ernie soon had Quine buckled up in the front seat of Ernie's Toyota with me in the back seat. We were heading north on a scenic route to picturesque Marblehead. Quine seemed delighted to be out and about, even if it were with two "strangers." We arrived at our destination around noon. Ernie parked the car and set out on foot to find a restaurant. He soon returned with good news: there was a restaurant just a few blocks away. We drove to the restaurant where we enjoyed a splendid lunch.
Quine seemed to be enjoying himself, but Sadi had cautioned us that "The Professor" needs several rest periods daily. So after lunch we headed back to 38 Chestnut Street, arriving in plenty of time for Quine to catch a nap before we were to dine with Quine's closest philosophical ally, Burt Dreben, and his lovely philosopher wife, Juliet Floyd, at their flat near Boston University.
We arrived at Burt and Juliet's at around 6:15, fifteen minutes early. Juliet served us drinks while she continued working in the kitchen. Burt was in his bathrobe when we arrived but when he joined us fifteen minutes later he had on a three-piece suit and tie. Seeing Burt was bitter sweet, for he had cancer, and he knew that he had only months to live.
We had a wonderful evening, but sadly it was to be the last time I saw Burt. In 1990 Burt had confided to me that he was going to have a difficult time when Quine died, after all he had been by Quine's side at Harvard since the 1940s. However, in a twist of fate befitting Somerset Maugham, it was Burt's death that was to pose a difficult time for Quine.
We left the dinner party around 11:00. Ernie dropped Quine and me off at the front door of 38 Chestnut Street. I spent the night at Quine's, but Ernie couldn't find a parking space and so he returned to the Holiday Inn. The next morning Quine called upstairs, "Roger, breakfast." Breakfast was light, however, for we were going to the Harvard Faculty Club for Sunday brunch later.
Once Ernie arrived we three piled into his Toyota and headed to the Faculty Club. Following Quine's verbal instructions, Ernie had no difficulty getting us to campus and locating the Faculty Club. Quine and I waited while Ernie parked the car. Since we made our reservation in Quine's name, the maitre d' had reserved for us "The Professor's favorite table." He may have been retired for twenty-one years, but he was still a celebrity on campus. I half-wondered if there might still be Quine graffiti in the men's room in Emerson Hall!
After a fine brunch, Ernie dropped Quine and me off at 38 Chestnut Street. Ernie was meeting some friends at M.I.T. Quine showed me his office on the third floor. This is where he did most of his work, not in his office on campus. There were a number of daggers hanging on one wall of his third-floor office, but when I asked about them he couldn't remember where they had come from. Nor at this point in his life could he recall the titles of his books and articles.
Quine retired to his room for a nap. Soon I would have to leave for the airport to catch my flight to St. Louis. Much to my regret Quine was still resting when I left so I didn't get to say good-bye. That gnawed on me later, for I didn't know if I would ever see him again.
~ . ~ . ~
However, I did see him one more time; the occasion was his 92nd birthday. I flew into Boston; Ernie came by train. This time we stayed at the Parker House. By an uncanny coincidence, the next morning June 25, 2000 was both Quine's birthday and the unveiling of Burt Dreben's headstone. Ernie and I rented a car and drove to Burt's ceremony. Of course Juliet, Burt's widow, was there.
Doug Quine, Van's son, informed us a week earlier that his dad was hospitalized, but that there a slim chance that he might be home in time for his birthday. However, we then learned from Sadi that Quine would not be released that soon, but he could have visitors at the hospital. On the afternoon of his birthday I called Juliet to see if she wanted to accompany Ernie and me to visit Quine in the hospital. She did, so the three of us went together.
We found Quine sitting up in bed, taking a little oxygen. He was very alert, enough so as to correct Juliet's pronunciation of the names of some of the places in Scandinavia she told him she had visited recently, and enough so as to talk for ten minutes on Ernie's cell phone with Donald Davidson in Berkeley about Davidson's upcoming trip to Turkey. Sadi had told us that one of Quine's daughters, Norma, had visited him on the morning of his birthday. However, when I asked Quine if Norma visited him this morning, he said, "No, and she should have; its my birthday." Well, geography is one thing, visitors are another. On Quine's mental map visitors came and visitors went, but the continents remained conveniently fixed. His passion for geography and for maps truly was life-long.
We stayed about an hour. Juliet gave Quine a kiss on the cheek and said good-bye; Ernie did the same. That left me alone face to face with the Great Man. I shook his hand and thanked him for all he had done for me. As I turned to join Juliet and Ernie in the hallway, Quine said in a loud clear voice, "Roger, thank you for coming." I thought, "and thank you, Van, for allowing me 'to migrate for such slender faire' twenty-three years ago." Van Quine, teacher and friend, died on Christmas Day, 2000-exactly six months after his 92nd birthday.
When he died there was a spate of Quine obituaries published around the globe. Many of them followed the lead of The New York Times by quoting the following sentence from my 1982 book: "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?'." When that sentence was first penned (probably at one of the large tables in Widener in 1976) it expressed something fairly new, but today it comes close to being the received view. Quine nudged things in that direction when he wrote in the foreword of the book, "In reading Gibson I gain a welcome perspective on my own work." Did I mention that Quine was a generous person? To have known him is an honor and a privilege; I shall miss him.
Roger F. Gibson
1 W. V. Quine. "Has Philosophy Lost Contact with People?" in Theories and Things (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), pp. 192-193.
2 Ibid., p. 193.
3 W. V. Quine. "Reply to Henryk Skolimowski," in The Philosophy of W. V. Quine, edited by Lewis E. Hahn (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1986), p. 493.
In Darwin's Wake, Where am I?
Philosophy has lost a giant this week. Willard Van Orman Quine died on Christmas Day at the age of 92. There is no need for me to remind my fellow members of the American Philosophical Association of his great contributions to philosophy. But I will take a moment to express something about what he meant to me personally. He was not just my teacher and my friend. He was my hero, a man who was quietly but passionately committed to truth, to clarity, to understanding everything under the sun - and to making himself understood. More than anybody else he has made me proud to be a philosopher, so I would like to dedicate my Presidential Address to his memory.
Modern Major Quine
As you may be aware, in honor of your father's retirement in 1978, I penned new lyrics to Gilbert and Sullivan's Modern Major General. It goes on for the full three stanzas, pretty much covering all the main points of Quinean thought (including indeterminacy of translation, inscrutability of reference, opacity and transparency, substitutional quantification, etc). Friends of mine have claimed that it would be a good exam, for a course on Quine, simply to ask the students to footnote and explain the song. I was very proud of this piece, and your father liked it very much. -- Warren Goldfarb, February 26, 2001
I am the very model of a modern neo-posit'vist
Quine Memorial Symposium
I am grateful for the invitation to be here with you today, joining you in marking the loss of our dear friend.
Quine was a father figure for me. It was through him that I came to philosophy. I was studying and working in mathematics and physics in Norway, and although I always had a strong interest in philosophy, I could not imagine how one could have philosophy as a profession. One day I came across Quine's little book, From a Logical Point of View. Suddenly I understood that if I could do philosophy this way, I would want to have it as a profession. So I applied for a fellowship to Harvard and began studying with Quine in 1957. After I received my Ph.D. in 1961, I became his junior colleague for some years before I went back to Norway. For more than 40 years I have therefore enjoyed having him as a teacher, colleague, and friend.
While I was here at Harvard, Quine read my manuscripts and always had very helpful proposals for improvements. Often they had to do with content, but even more often they were improvements of my mode of expression. Thus, for example, I remember writing a review of a logic text book. Since there are hundreds of such books, and a new one would need something to recommend it compared to the previous ones, I started my review: "This addition to the already large number of logic texts . . ." Quine suggested: "This addition to the glut of logic texts . . ." So typical of him, one word that expressed exactly what one wanted, instead of many that still did not get it all. His own writing was always like that. Whenever I write about philosophy, I have him in mind as a reader. It is as if he were looking over my shoulder while I am trying to shape my thoughts. This is not a paralyzing feeling; he was always so kind and sympathetic. It is a feeling that makes me try to do my best, a feeling for which I am grateful.
Quine wrote in a brilliant style, lively, often playful, and always sparklingly clear. His style is concise, each word counts, but nevertheless the text flows easily. Bertrand Russell, who won a Nobel Prize in literature, was far more wordy. Many of Quine's short, apt phrases have become part of the philosophical vernacular, such as "recalcitrant experience," and "no entity without identity."
He published a lot, but he worked it all through as if it were poetry. He worked long hours, and also very efficiently. As for the long hours, I remember that one September, when we came back from our vacations, Quine told me that he was very satisfied with his summer. He had spent it at his summer place in the little town of Harvard, Massachusetts, at his desk or drifting around on the lake in the bow of his little row-boat, and had put in one hundred net working-hours per week on the manuscript for his book Set Theory and Its Logic.
As for the intensity of his work, another episode that comes to my mind is the grading of the exams for a logic course, the renowned Philosophy 140. Quine taught the course; I was one of his two teaching fellows (the other, Jim Baker is here with us today). Quine was always interested in feedback from the students and took his share of the grading to see what the students had understood and what they had misunderstood. He did more of the grading than we, the teaching fellows, did. He worked relentlessly, without stop, hour after hour. And he did it conscientiously.
Quine was engaged by teaching and put a lot of work into his courses. In the first course I took with him, a course in the philosophy of language, he required seven term papers in addition to midterm and final. There were about twenty-five students in the course and he read all the papers himself and gave them back with detailed and very helpful comments. After his retirement, he was recalled to active duty for another five years. He had requested this primarily because he wanted to teach his usual introductory logic course in order to get feedback from his students that could enable him to further improve his book Methods of Logic, which went through five ever-improved editions.
Quine's lectures were always well-organized and exceptionally clear. However, he always read them from a set of notes on cards. In conversations he was always lively and engaging and never had difficulty finding the right expressions. I therefore suggested several times to him to put away the cards. However, he told me that when he spoke freely, he found that he did not use the precise, well-thought-out expressions that he used in his polished writing.
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.
Quine played a crucial role in shaping philosophy during the twentieth century. A concrete testimony to his worldwide influence is the following episode from Norway in 1972 (where, by the way, Van, Marjorie, Doug, and Margaret climbed one of the tallest mountains of Norway and stayed overnight in a small hut on the top). Quine there visited the Lapp town of Kautokeino, far north of the Polar Circle (where, during the three-month polar night, the temperature often goes down below forty). I had arranged, without Quine's knowledge, that a young Lapp, who had written his M.A. thesis in philosophy wih me on Quine, should stand at the roadside when we arrived and offer to show us around. Quine was impressed by the Lapp's fluent English, and his respect for the level of culture among Lapps was raised further when the conversation turned to philosophy. However, when the discussion started to focus on subtle issues in the philosophy of language, Quine understood that he had met the northernmost expert on his philosophy.
What, then, were the issues on which Quine worked?
Early encyclopedias classified Quine as a logician, but he soon came to be regarded as a general philosopher, to begin with a philosopher of logic and language, but eventually as a metaphysician, whose radical thoughts about ontology, epistemology, and communication have repercussions within all major areas of philosophy.
His early work, from his dissertation in 1932 to 1943, was mainly in logic, with his eleven-page article, "New Foundations for Mathematical Logic," in American Mathematical Monthly in 1937, his most important contribution. This little article has inspired a very large number of further contributions and even today is the subject of intensive research and discussion.
However, from the very beginning Quine's work in logic was philosophically motivated, and gradually he focused more and more on philosophical issues. Questions of ontology were the first to make their appearance, in "Ontological remarks on the propositional calculus" (Mind 1934), and ontology always remained one of Quine's key philosophical concerns. He sharpened the ontological issues ("To be is to be the value of a variable") and discussed ontological commitment. He always had a Spartan bent, and his book Set Theory and Its Logic (1963) is basically concerned with keeping the ontology as minimal as possible. Together with Nelson Goodman he explored the possibility of being a nominalist. Unlike Goodman, he settled for a platonic realism: there are not only physical things, but also numbers and other abstract objects. However, in his later work, this realism took an intriguing new turn, not yet fully explored in the secondary literature, towards indeterminacy of reference.
Another main theme, which came up early in Quine's work and grew to become his main contribution to philosophy, began as a scepticism towards meaning and other related notions, such as analyticity and modality. This scepticism grew into a major revamping of previous philosophical views on communication and the relation of language to the world. The first glimmer of this appeared in "Truth by Convention" (1936). From 1943 it found expression in a number of articles directed against modal notions, such as necessity and possibility. In 1951 Quine sketched an alternative view of meaning in "Two Dogmas of Empiricism." This view was worked out in Word and Object (1960), where Quine also clinched his criticism of the modalities by arguing that quantification into modal contexts leads to a collapse of modal distinctions.
Quine's objections against quantifying into modal contexts can be resolved by giving up traditional semantics in favor of a semantics in which so-called "genuine" singular terms, or "rigid designators," refer to the same object in all possible worlds where that object exists. This basic idea in the so-called "new theory of reference" arose as a response to Quine's critical objections and owes much to his acute analysis of the underlying problems.
Quine's main concern, his criticism of the notions of logical necessity and possibility, analyticity, and traditional views on meaning remains vibrant. In a number of books and articles Quine has developed further the view on meaning that he set forth in Word and Object. The central idea, the public nature of language, is one that Quine shares with most other philosophers and linguists. Quine's major contribution is that he has taken this idea seriously and followed it out with great persistence to consequences that many philosophers find it difficult to accept. One of these consequences, indeterminacy of translation, is the idea of Quine's that has been most widely discussed. However, it is only a consequence of more fundamental ideas concerning the public nature of language that Quine has refined and partly revised in his later writings.
In particular, Quine has from the very first pages of Word and Object stressed that what we perceive and what we take others to perceive plays a crucial role in language learning and language use. This is a key point in Quine: semantics and epistemology are intimately intertwined. His epistemology is naturalistic: it is contained in natural science, as a chapter of empirical psychology. Yet it is epistemology that provides an account of the evidential bases of natural science, including empirical psychology itself. I shall not here talk more about Quine's naturalism. To save time, I refer you to the excellent books and articles on this topic by Roger Gibson (who is here).
I will, however, say something more on Quine's views on meaning and communication, which I consider the most important of Quine's many contributions to philosophy. In the study of meaning and communication a key problem is to get insight into what others perceive without imputing to them our own view of the world and our own ontology. In Word and Object Quine endeavored to do this in terms of stimulus and response. However, although stimuli and responses are empirically accessible, they are not publicly accessible. The evidence we build on in language learning and language use must be accessible to the members of the community in their daily lives.
During the 35 years that separate Word and Object from Quine's last book From Stimulus to Science (1995), Quine again and again sought to find a way of dealing with what others perceive without begging the questions of meaning and translation. This enterprise involves the whole range of Quine's philosophical insights: his views on epistemology, ontology, causality, natural kinds, time, space, and individuation.
We are here moving in a circle: we have to make conjectures about what other persons perceive in order to understand what they mean, and we must make conjectures about what they mean in order to understand what they perceive.
That we have to move in a circle is a central insight of Quine's. 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 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 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 these eternal questions of philosophy and their interconnections. He leaves a transformed philosophical landscape for new generations of philosophers to explore.
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. For me, having worked both on Husserl and on Quine, one difference between the two philosophers is striking. Husserl wrote in such a difficult and long-winded manner that it is a great challenge to present his philosophy in a clear and simple form. Quine was such a masterly writer that there would be little point in trying to state his views more clearly. What remains, then, is only criticism. Almost all I have written on Quine has been critical, from my dissertation, which I wrote with him as my advisor, to my latest article. However, 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.
We will all miss him.
Willard Van Orman Quine
I knew Dad for just over half a century since, as he explained, I was born on the last fall day of the first half of the twentieth century. While many of his colleagues knew him longer, my recollections are less philosophical and mathematical.
As you know, Dad was not a religious man. Indeed, his thoughts on the subject were eloquently outlined in his essay What I Believe. This essay was one of 13 by a number of august thinkers including Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, James Thurber, and HG Wells collected by Mark Booth in a book by the same name. I guess Dad's idea of a functional temple was a temple of knowledge - such as we are gathered in today - which makes this a very fitting place to recognize him. There was, however, one occasion which he recorded, and several of us witnessed, that could have shaken a lesser man. I'll quote from his travel journal of our 6 month trip abroad in 1964 and 1965.
"Here is a factual account of miraculous interventions observed in the train bound from Venice to Milan. The six of us had a compartment and were eating bread and cheese that we had brought aboard. Liz was relaying a description she had lately heard of pathetic pilgrims to the Portuguese shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. I said, "Speaking of our Lady of Fatima puts me in mind of an amusing anecdote." Straight way there was a mess. Marge had given me a block of cheese by putting it on a paper napkin that was on my lap; the cheese tumbled through, and in trying to rescue it I spilled wine from my cup. I got things cleaned up and went doggedly on. "It puts me in mind of an amusing anecdote. 'Who dat heavy set lady ...'", and crash! came an overnight bag on to my head as the train started up. I rallied. 'Who dat heavy set lady I seen you wid last night?'" The train jerked and a raincoat came tumbling.
*****His attention to detail in the written word is, of course well known. You may be amused by the earliest example that I'm aware of. The OK Stamp News, which Dad authored and distributed at the age of 16, was printed on a home printing press by Jack Chamberlain - who later became an executive at Bendix Corporation. The first issue was printed with the erroneous title: Our Debutante; Dad recalled the issue and insisted that Jack reprint it. The next version came out: Our Debute; again Dad recalled it. Finally the third version was successful: Our Debut.
Without ever having a TV at home when we grew up, we learned stories from our parents. As a child, I loved Dad's frequent readings on summer evenings in Harvard. While Charles Dickens was too dense to read myself, Dad hooked us by reading them out loud - and the last chapter each night left us in suspense until the next evening.
Another of my favorites - allegedly recorded in a letter in Dad's files - is the story of the cigarette that saved Bertie's - that is Bertand Russell's - life. Russell flew to Norway in a seaplane for a meeting. On the flight up, he started smoking. The stewardess, however, told him that he was not permitted to smoke in the front cabin. Responding that he would die unless he had a smoke, he moved to the back. As it landed in a fjord, the seaplane hit a submerged log and flipped. Those in the rear, including the aged Russell, survived by swimming until they were rescued.
Despite various reports in the British press about Dad playing jazz on his clarinet or his banjo, actually he played the piano and the mandolin. One mandolin met an unceremonious end when it spent the winter neatly wedged into its designated spot within the open 2 by 4 board frame of our house in Harvard. It was crushed when the house contracted in the cold. Its successor continued to be played for a number of years and indeed my son, Alexander, has exercised it recently.
Of course Dad also loved to play with language. He filled notebooks with thoughts, one liners, and phrases which he wrote or which captured his attention. One instance, I fear, took advantage of my sister, Margaret. He captured the exchange as follows in his 1964 notebook:
I said to Margaret. "Eighty-Two, You know what I mean?'
I wonder whether people studying the indeterminacy of translation have considered this problem - that when statement is made in a non-native tongue, it creates a implied question - which does not exist in the native tongue.
He also loved to pull apart idioms - much as Gary Larson in The Far Side enjoyed pulling apart visual cliches. For instance, in his last notebook - which began in 1985, Dad wrote.
"I've been sick as a dog. Sick as a wet dog. Even sicker than some wet dogs. I've been as sick as a diseased dog. I've been diseased."
I must say that until I read this last weekend, it never occurred to me to question the logic of that familiar first expression. [page 13, 1985 notebook]
The beginning of that journal, incidentally, is annotated as follows:
It is amusing to see the carbon paper copies on the first dozen pages. These notebooks also served as repository for his sketches of people and places - some of which were reproduced in his autobiography, The Time of My Life, in 1985. Perhaps the one opportunity for a unique phrase that he missed was the title of this book - which has been used in very similar forms for autobiographies by many authors - including former First Lady Betty Ford. I'm told his close friend Burt Dreben captured the ideal title for the autobiography - Traveling Van. [1964 notebook, page 4]
In 1951, Henry Aiken, his wife, and my parents went to a nightspot in Greenwich Village where they heard Harry Belafonte sang a Calypso song which suggested a great book title:
Today that book is Dad's best seller on-line. Obviously, for those of you who know the rest of the song, much as he enjoyed the music, it is clear that he did NOT implement the song's recommended conclusion in his personal life.
As we grew up, there were events that provided glimpses into the importance of the work in Dad's office. I remember one summer at the age of 9 - before the age of photocopies, when manuscripts had to be painstakingly retyped or microfilmed to create a duplicate. A few days before the trip to Cambridge to microfilm, Dad kept his old briefcase containing the only copy of Word & Object on a hook by the door of our cabin at the lake. He said if there were a fire - this was the first object to get out of the house. Later when the book was finally published, I remember him saying the book had taken him 7 years to write. Clearly this was something important.
Speaking of writing, Dad created some legends in his time - including the typewriter with no question mark. The "unnecessary" characters had been replaced with mathematical symbols. That 1927 Remington is over there on the table. In recent years obtaining replacement ribbons became an increasing challenge; sometimes the old tattered one had to be re-inked instead. Next to it are two letters written in response to a request posted in the on-lineWVQ guest book by a total stranger. Dad typed a prose response and mailed it to me to relay on the original response. Two days later, Dad thought of a mathematical response and typed another letter. It was illuminating to see the question answered in two different ways.
If there are those among you who were tormented by his lack of a question mark (as well as exclamation mark); I've already asked how he coped. The exclamation mark could be created with an apostrophe / backspace / period and the question mark was 7 / backspace / period - but naturally neither was required in either letter.
Despite his many academic interests, Dad was also quite physically active. At the age of 89, he still could out - walk many of his younger colleagues and thought nothing of a stroll from Beacon Hill past Prudential Center and back. He did not however, believe in gratuitous exercise. He would not walk on a treadmill - he would explore the city. In recent summers my parents walked to Harvard center for the mail each day - about a 3 mile round trip (rural free delivery had not yet reached as far as 32 miles from here). Another favorite form of mental relaxation (which I found contagious), he called "mucking about". He would descend into the swamp behind the house with his hoe and carefully remove whatever leaves or sticks clogged the stream. Over 30 years, the nearly perfectly level hoe wide slot which ran the length of the swamp reached a yard depth in places - as well as providing an elegant object lesson in the ancient Egyptian technique of determining a level using standing water.
He did move beyond swamp water. He appreciated a drink of the good stuff - and for many years, those who tried to keep up with him did so at their own peril. While his parents were confirmed teetotalers, they kept a bottle of medicinal whiskey in the house in the event of an extreme emergency. In 1969, when we emptied out the ancestral house, the bottle was still full. It is probably just as well that they had conscientiously abstained - for Dad had consumed that whiskey during prohibition - and replaced it with tea which might have had unexpected effects four decades later.
While I'm not skilled in philosophy or mathematics, Dad and I worked out a great division of labor. I specialized in Biology, Computers, and Technology - and helped out with repairs. We both avoided spectator sports and the entertainment industry. He covered everything else.
Now because of his name he did have an advantage avoiding technology. When someone called asking for "Willard" or "Mr. Quinn" - we knew immediately they were strangers calling to sell something. There was no need to screen calls with caller ID or an answering machine.
In any case, the remarkable thing was that even in Biology, his perceptive questions about my college research rivaled those of the faculty. My interests in computers and Internet technologies occupy much of my time today. On July 4th, 1996, I decided that he should have a web site - and spent the day building him one. For his birthday 2 years later, I printed it out and presented him a laminated copy which he studied carefully. One New Year's Eve, we spent the entire evening pouring through a travel notebook to create the country by country summary of his travels which have been posted on-line ever since.
I do have to be careful about implying that he regarded computers as friends, in his written musings one quote that caught my eye was:
"Computers do slow things up, but it must be said for them that they create jobs for people who otherwise would be unemployable" [1985 notebook page 20]
That does cut a little close to home. It is also ironic from the co-author of the Quine-McCluskey theorem that has been instrumental in simplifying wiring diagrams and thus facilitating the development of computer technology. But even there he was consistent; Dad did the logic and McCluskey did the technology.
Understandably, then, since he died, we've been flooded with e-mail from around the world. For a while, there were hundreds of visitors a day and many of them left messages about him. People told stories of how they met, how he influenced them, and how he patiently worked with them. Two weeks ago, I received a letter from one of Dad's fans (as he called them) in China. He asked me if possible, could you tell me how much you are influenced by your father's philosophy. I suppose the Principles that I have learned were:
Dad's memory and knowledge were intimidating to most of us. It seemed that on almost any subject we chose to investigate, he already knew more than we did. It was therefore especially difficult for him when his memory started to fail. I found it touching to read on the second to last leaf of his final notebook an entry entitled:
I've taken you down this path of stories and quotes linked by a thin thread because I feel that the only way to describe such a varied person is to illustrate them from many facets and to paint an image for you to visualize the whole.
In closing I'd like to play an aptly titled song introduced to him by my cousins, Dad's favorite rock and roll song. (Bye Bye Love by the Everly Brothers)
W.V. Quine (1908 - 2000)
It saddens me greatly to think that during the past year three Harvard philosophers who were very good and old friends of mine have left us: Nelson Goodman, Burt Dreben, and now, alas, Van Quine. I have spoken warmly of all of them elsewhere but today I offer a special word of thanks to Van, who was my teacher. I learned more from him than I learned from any other teacher, both during my student days and afterward.
I took his course on mathematical logic in 1938, which dated the beginning of a friendship I always prized. We ceased to be colleagues in 1970, when I left Harvard for the Institute for Advanced Study, but we kept up our friendship through correspondence and frequent encounters at meetings of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. Neither his reaction to the Harvard bust of 1969, about aspects of which we differed, nor our disagreement about a highly controversial Ph.D. thesis diminished my respect or my affection for him.
My impression of Van was made not only by his legendary quickness, his fertile mind, and his prodigious writing, but also by his openness of mind, his wit, and his freedom from stuffiness and cant. When I entered the Harvard Department of Philosophy in 1948 with the support of Van, he was without question its most luminous figure, he encouraged me enormously, and he was always fun to be with. Nothing boosted my morale more than a favorable word from him about my work, or a proposal he once made in a letter when he wrote: "I have thought lately that it might be fruitful if you and I were to team up our courses" -- his Philosophy of Language and my Problems of Analytic Philosophy --so that the latter would be listed by him in the Course Catalogue as advised preparation for the former. I regarded that as praise indeed from Sir Hubert to a junior colleague.
I have spoken of Van's open mind, and what I mean is that he seemed willing to consider surrendering his most fundamental beliefs in any philosophical conversation I ever had with him. I don't mean that he lacked confidence in his beliefs. I mean that he did not treat himself as an institution or as a philosophical pope, as constitutionally unable to listen to an opposing argument or unable to consider yielding a point to his interlocutor so long as he regarded him as serious and not as a mere debater or a point-scorer. Perhaps it was this trait of Van that led Nelson Goodman to say to me, somewhat peevishly, after Van had abandoned their once jointly held nominalism: "Van defines a philosophical belief as one that he is prepared to give up first".
For this reason I find it ironical that the New York Times obituary of Van reported (perhaps apocryphally) that when asked why he was willing to have the question-mark removed from his typewriter in favor of some logical symbol, he replied that he dealt in certainties. In my opinion, no logician ever questioned the certainty of set theory more than Quine did when he absorbed it into the Duhemian body of statements that faces what he called the tribunal of experience, and therefore allowed that parts of it might be surrendered under certain circumstances.
I have said that Van was fun to be with, a trait that clearly appears in a charming letter of 1953, part of which was directed at my young sons. I had said in passing when writing to Van while he was visiting in Oxford and I in Princeton, that Steve at 8 was missing multiplication in his Princeton school after moving from Cambridge (Mass.) for the year, and that Nick at 11 had become very interested in geography. To that part of my letter Van replied in a passage that requires me to write something on the board (for the convenience of the on-line reader, the evolving blackboard displays are presented sequentially below) with some things lined out: Van wrote in a way that evokes his presence and his charm: "Since Stevie misses multiplication, he may enjoy gorging on this one. Well, so you have these two numbers, see, and you want to multiply one of them by the other. 0. K., so you write them down more or less side by side, as potential headings of two potentially parallel potential columns, roughly thus:
Then you go to work on the left one, cutting it in half. Write the half underneath. No fractions, though. If it was odd, just forget the fraction. If it was 58 .. 537, just put down 29 .. 268 as its half. That's near enough. Then, under that in turn, put its half (ignoring, again, the fraction if any); and so on, until you get down to 1. That completes your left-hand column.
19 27 9 4 2 1
Then go to work on the right-hand number, making a column under it by exactly the opposite method: doubling each time. This could go on forever, but don't let it. Keep your right-hand column lined up with your left-hand column, entry by entry, and stop as soon as you are opposite the bottom of your left-hand column.
19 27 9 54 4 108 2 216 1 432
0. K., so now you have the two columns side by side. The next thing to do is to start in on the right-hand column and cross out a lot of it. Cross out all the entries which have even numbers opposite them in the left-hand column. Keep only those entries in the right-hand column which have odd numbers opposite them in the left-hand column. All right, now add up the right-hand column, what's left of it after all the crossing out. The result, unless I have made a mistake somewhere, is the answer to your original multiplication problem.
19 27 9 54 4
It may be that this information reaches Stevie a bit too late to be altogether useful. If I had tipped him off earlier, he would never had had to learn the multiplication table.
I can't be equally helpful to Nicky, who is probably wondering what places to construe as the capitals of Bornu and Kamchatka. I did recently read, for the first time in my life, an article on Tibesti, but it doesn't help a bit. I can say, though, that Roman Jakobson is an authority on the almost dead variety of Ainu language which is just barely spoken, but used to be spoken ad nauseam and very nearly to extinction, on the island of Sakhalin (Karafuto to you). This I did not learn from Roman, but from the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford and Warden of Wadham, Sir Maurice Bowra; and only last evening at that. Bowra says it may be the oldest language in the world, and the Ursprache of the Red or North American Indian. If Roman would stick to sensational discoveries and leave the maundering about signans and signatum to you and me, it would be a better though saner world."
There you have Van: the brilliant expositor, the gentle teacher, the great philosopher and the piercing wit.
Although sixty-odd years have gone by since I sat at Van's feet, I still feel the influence of his thinking. And so I would like to conclude by commenting on one of his philosophical one-liners and its role in my own thinking. This audience is of course familiar with many of them:
"To be is to be the value of a variable", "No entity without identity", and "Philosophy of science is philosophy enough". I would like to take the last one as the text of my concluding words in order to point to one of its ironic effects on me. Recall that philosophy of science for Quine is a psychological study of science as a cultural institution. But recall as well that there are other cultural institutions that philosophers have studied, such as art, religion, law, and politics, and in my view they too may be studied empirically and psychologically. In my view, philosophy of art, of religion, of law, of history, and of politics are all disciplines worth pursuing, in which case philosophy of science is not philosophy enough. I doubt that Van would have quarreled with this use of his one-liner, but my dialectical transformation of it into its negation has led me to think that it would not be a mistake to formulate a different one-liner: Philosophy of culture is philosophy enough. I hope that if Van is listening, he will agree.