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[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]

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[W. V. Quine painting by S. Uchii] (Japan) Obituary: "Gallery of History and Philosophy of Science: Quine" by Soshichi Uchii (Sept. 9, 2003) with painted portrait and biography

W. V. Quine. American Logician and Philosopher. He finished his graduate study at Harvard and started as a logician, but encounters with Carnap (1933), in particular, and with other logical empiricists, led him more to philosophy of language and philosophy of science, eventually to holistic philosophy.
. . .
He was awarded a Kyoto Prize in 1996; his talk on the parsimony of thought was relatively brief but crisp and clear, and impressed the audience. He died on December 25, 2000.

(Netherlands) Obituary: "Remembering Willard Van Orman Quine"
(Journal of) General Philosophy of Science 33
pages 213-229 (2002) by Roger Gibson, (c) 2003

(UK) The Guardian obituary for W V Quine - Dec 30 2000

Willard Van Orman Quine
Philosopher whose revolutionary ideas challenged the accepted way we look at ourselves and our universe
by Jane O'Grady, The Guardian , Saturday December 30, 2000

Willard Van Orman Quine, who has died aged 92, was arguably the greatest American philosopher of the second half of the 20th century. He revolutionised developments in epistemology, metaphysics, logic, philosophy of language and philosophy of maths.

In 1951, his article Two Dogmas Of Empiricism caused a furore in the philosophical world. It challenged received notions of knowledge, meaning and truth, and exceeded even the extreme empiricism of logical positivism by arguing that logic and maths, like factual statements, are open to revision in the light of experience. Experience, added Quine, does not confirm or falsify individual statements, but instead confronts an interlocking theory-laden system of statements, which has to be adjusted as a whole. And there cannot be any universally-held system of beliefs, he argued in his major work Word And Object (1960), since the way any theory describes the world is relative to that theory's linguistic background. Quine revised and clarified such theses in more than 20 books and numerous articles, all written in a distinctive crisp, witty style. He taught at Harvard from 1936 - becoming a full professor in 1948 - until his retirement in 1978, and lectured all over the world.

The youngest son of an engineer, Quine was born in "a modest frame house" in Akron, Ohio. He chose scientific courses at his local high school. An ardent stamp collector and list-maker, he was fascinated by etymology, and obsessed with maps and faraway places. His interest in philosophy began when, aged nine, he became worried by the absurdity of heaven and hell, and only stopped being worried about the dangerousness of his doubts when he realised that they might be justified. Late in high school his brother, already a student at Oberlin College, gave him William James's Pragmatism, which he read compulsively, along with Swami Vivekananda's Raja Yoga. But he always said it was reading Eureka, a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, when aged 14, that first filled him with a desire to understand the universe.

When he went to Oberlin, a fellow poker-player told him about a philosopher of mathematics called Bertrand Russell, and he decided to major in maths, with philosophy of mathematics as a supplement. Quine's years at Oberlin were idyllic. His rooming house, full of kindred spirits, was "an ideal setting in which to wax articulate". His "appetite for cosmic understanding" was sharpened by reading Russell. In the summer of 1928 he and two friends crossed the continent, jumping on to moving boxcars, and spending nights on benches or in prisons. He also found time, somewhat reluctantly, to marry a fellow-student.

Quine was awarded a scholarship to Harvard, where he did a PhD in only two years. During his first year, Bertrand Russell gave a lecture, and afterwards Alfred Whitehead (who had co-written Principia Mathematica with him) introduced Russell to the young philosopher, leading to an exchange of books and letters. The following year, Quine visited Europe on a travelling fellowship, and met members of the Vienna Circle (the anti-metaphysical Logical Positivists), their British disciple AJ Ayer, and the young Kurt Gödel, who had just produced his renowned incompleteness theorem.

The next three months were "intellectually the most rewarding" of his life - six weeks in Warsaw with Alfred Tarski and other innovatory Polish logicians, and six in Prague, where, taken up by the prime logical positivist Rudolf Carnap, Quine discovered what it was to be "intellectually fired by a living teacher rather than by a dead book". They conducted endless discussions together in German, and Quine was lent the typescript of the book Carnap was writing, handed to him sheaf by sheaf from the typewriter as Carnap's wife Ina typed it. He became Carnap's "ardent disciple", and although they were to become increasingly combative philosophically, they remained firm friends.

Quine returned to a junior fellowship at Harvard and to the publication of his thesis - his first book, A System Of Logistics. During the 1930s he developed his ideas in many articles, mainly on logic and set theory (most distinctively propounded in New Foundations Of Mathematics, 1937, and Mathematical Logic, 1940), and on existence and ontology. On What There Is (1948) contained his famous typically succinct formula: "To be is to be the value of a variable."

When Carnap visited Harvard in 1940, Quine and Tarski (also visiting) challenged him on the view crucial to logical positivism that, while most of what we say is verified or falsified by experience, there are some statements (in logic and mathematics) that are necessarily true come what may, by virtue of the meaning of their terms. (This was the only way the positivists could cater for the fact that the latter sort of statements are so obviously incapable of being tested by experience.) In his seminal Two Dogmas Of Empiricism, however, Quine declared it "folly to seek a boundary between synthetic statements, which hold contingently on experience, and analytic statements, which hold come what may". By denying the analytic-synthetic distinction, Quine made even the "truths" of logic and mathematics empirical. No longer the central planks around which our beliefs are arrayed, logical and mathematical statements can (in principle) be modified, even abandoned, in the light of experience, as factual statements are.

This was heresy in all philosophical camps. What experience, it might be asked, could lead anyone remotely to query the apparently adamantine logical law of excluded middle (that every proposition is necessarily either true or not true, and each thing either has or lacks any given property)? Even that law might, said Quine, be revisable as a means of simplifying quantum mechanics, and so might the principle of causality. "Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system [of our beliefs]." For the "totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most causal matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a manmade fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges", so that "a conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field". But, said Quine, "no particular experiences are linked with any particular statements in the interior of the field", contrary to what empiricists had dogmatically assumed. Locke and Hume had held that the basic ingredients of our knowledge are sensory impressions (or the terms for them). For Bentham and later Frege, and the logical positivists, it was the individual statement, not the individual term, that was to be matched against experience.

Quine argued that "our statements about the external world face the tribunal of sense experience not individually but only as a corporate body". Since any observation sentence is theory-laden, the "unit of empirical significance is the whole of science". Later, Quine would argue for a more "moderate holism" in which not the whole of science, but sizeable chunks of it, were the units for empirical revision. And he urged the "maxim of minimum mutilation" in revising. But he always declared that philosophy and science were in the same boat, a boat which, as in Neurath's simile, we are forced to rebuild plank by plank while staying afloat in it. For "there is no external vantage point, no first philosophy" by which to remodel it from outside - it is never docked and crewless on dry land.

Two Dogmas Of Empiricism established his reputation universally. It was published with other articles in From A Logical Point Of View (the title being suggested by a calypso number of Harry Belafonte's) in 1953, while Quine was Eastman professor at Oxford. Word And Object (1960) attacked prevailing philosophical theories which see meanings as objects in a museum of ideas, with verbal expressions as their arbitrary, interchangeable labels. Quine agreed with Wittgenstein and with the pragmatist John Dewey that language is a form of behaviour. He introduced the concept of an utterance's "stimulus meaning" - the set of stimulations which would prompt a person to assent to that utterance.

But, he said, whereas assent and dissent are ascertainable in kindred or culturally similar languages, there is no guarantee that just because the speaker of a radically foreign language ("Jungle") always says "Gavagai" when a rabbit runs past, he means "Rabbit" or "Lo, a rabbit". The word could equally well mean "undetached rabbit-part" or "rabbithood", and a Jungle-speaker's assent or dissent in the presence of assorted stimulations proves inconclusive.

The usual checks against other parts of a language are impossible, since they involve the use of parts of speech, identity concepts, and "if thens", which are also all up for grabs when translating Jungle into English. In such cases of "radical translation", different translators, working independently on Jungle, could thus produce quite divergent manuals of translation, each compatible with the totality of the native-speakers' verbal behaviour, but incompatible with one another. And furthermore, Quine argued, the reason for this is not that we can never know which of these translations is correct. The "indeterminacy of translation" he had diagnosed also involves "the inscrutability of reference". Since there is no language-independent meaning of "Gavagai" or any other expression, there is no determinate classification of what exists, only ontological relativity: what a theory says exists is relative to the manual of translation it uses.

Quine's prolific output and obsession with travelling continued up to and beyond his retirement. He preferred to learn his audience's German, Spanish, Portuguese or whatever, and lecture in that rather than English. He was distinguished by his openness and generosity to students, acknowledging the "close collaboration" on Word and Object of Donald Davidson, then a Harvard classics student, later to be a renowned philosopher.

Quine is often considered a behaviourist (someone who sees all mental life as nothing more than observable behaviour). Certainly he claimed that behaviourism is essential in linguistics, but he eventually adopted Davidson's anomalous monism, which holds that, although there is nothing over and above the physical, our mental states cannot neatly be identified with our brain states, or subsumed under physical laws.

As for the immemorial problem of how we can know about the world around us, his "naturalised epistemology" relocated the problem as that of how we learn to talk about things. If there is any dualistic split, it is not that between mind and body, but between physical objects, including humans, and the concepts that refer to them.

"I have been accused of denying consciousness," Quine said, "but I am not conscious of having done so." Indicatively, however, his 1985 autobiography, The Time Of My Life, is little more than a travel itinerary, so devoid of emotion and internality as almost to suggest not only that he had neither, but hardly even knew what they might be.

Quine had many friends, a very happy second marriage, loved Dixieland jazz and played the banjo in jazz groups. He is survived by two daughters from his first marriage, and a son and daughter from his second, and several grandchildren. Willard Van Orman Quine, philosopher, born June 25 1908; died December 25 2000

Harvard Post (Harvard, Massachusetts) obituary for W V Quine - Jan 12, 2001

W. V. Quine, at 92; World-Famous Philosopher

Willard Van Orman Quine, a logician and Harvard University philosophy professor who has been called one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, according to the New York Times, for his analysis of language and its relation to reality, died on December 25 in Boston. Mr. Quine summered on Bare Hill Pond in Harvard for 50 years.

He was born in Akron, Ohio in 1908 to Cloyd Robert Quine and Harriet Van Orman Quine. He graduated from Oberlin College, then attended Harvard University, where he studied under Alfred North Whitehead, earning his PhD in 1932. After a year of indulging his lifelong passion for travel, he became a junior fellow at Harvard, and three years later became an instructor there; he continued to teach at Harvard for most of the rest of his life, interrupted only by World War II, by his very extensive travels, by the receipt of honors world-wide, and by lectures and classes delivered all over the planet. During World War II he served as a cryptographer, in the course of which he broke the notorious German submarine cypher.

He is survived by two daughters from his first marriage, Elizabeth Quine Roberts and Norma Quine ; a son and a daughter from his second marriage to Marjorie Boynton, who died in 1998, Douglas Boynton Quine and Margaret Quine McGovern; [six] grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

W V Quine Gazette photo

Harvard University Gazette (Cambridge) obituary for W V Quine - Jan 18, 2001

Quine, 92, was major philosopher of 20th century
By Ken Gewertz, Gazette Staff

Willard Van Orman Quine, one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, died on Christmas Day at the age of 92.

In more than 20 books that been translated into some 50 languages, Quine has addressed topics both weighty and whimsical. Noted for his wit, compendious scholarship, and generosity, he is best known for his contributions to the theory of knowledge and logic. He has guest-lectured on five continents.

According to Charles Parsons, the current Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy, Quine's best-known,contributions to logic are the New Foundations system of set theory (1937) and his writings on basic logic and its philosophy.

Parsons said that Quine was also a major general philosopher, "developing a naturalistic position with many ramifications - in particular his much discussed notions concerning language and meaning."

Parsons, who studied with Quine as both an undergraduate and a graduate student, said that he was always impressed by Quine's high intellectual standards and his habit of reading student papers with extreme thoroughness.

"His writing was very eloquent and economical, and there was a similar economy in his conversations, his teaching, and his relations with people. He was very sociable, but he wasn't given to talking when he didn't have something to say," Parsons said.

Parson described Quine's lectures as "very well organized" with a tendency toward compression. "His speaking style was somewhat deadpan; he didn't have the vivid lecturing style that many of the best teachers have. He showed a sense of humor, but it was understated."

Reviewing Quine's "Quiddities: An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary" (1987), a collection of sometimes whimsical short essays, Hilary Putnam, the Cogan University Research Professor, praised Quine as "not only a great philosopher, but also a master of the English language and a genuine polymath."

Putnam wrote that "Anyone who wants to encounter a great philosophical mind in a less technical mood, and to get some feeling for Quine as a peerless companion, raconteur, and amused commentator on the passing show ... cannot do better than to read this book."

Ihor Sevcenko, the Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine History and Literature Emeritus, met Quine in 1974 when Sevcenko became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Quine, who lectured in six languages and wrote one his books in Portuguese, walked up to Sevcenko after the meeting and addressed him in Polish. Sevcenko, who is also multilingual, had studied in Warsaw before going on to earn advanced degrees in Prague and Louvain.

"He took to me because I knew the names of logicians in Warsaw and because I was able to answer his questions about Greek and Slavic etymologies," Sevcenko said.

Sevcenko knew Quine principally as a fellow member of the Faculty Club's "Wolfson Table," a lunchtime discussion group initiated by the legendary Harvard scholar Harry Wolfson. Among this group, the quality of Quine's intellect always shone brightly.

"He spoke about the great philosophers as his equals whose views he either accepted or not. He was very fond of Hume, not so fond of Plato."

According to Sevcenko, the qualities that characterized Quine were unpretentiousness, unfailing curiosity, an unwillingness to talk about himself, and an avoidance of confrontation and intellectual skirmishing. "He was the epitome of greatness and the absolute opposite of pomposity," Sevcenko said.

Prudence Steiner, former director of the writing program at the Extension School and wife of former Harvard General Counsel Daniel Steiner, knew Quine as a fellow member of the Eliot House senior common room. She remembers talking to him about a wide variety of subjects, including etymology, Gilbert and Sullivan, and politics.

"In all these conversations he was good humored, open, laconically funny, and very warm. I found it amazing that someone with so rigorous a mind could be so welcoming and open to all sorts of topics," she said. Steiner remembered one particular aspect of Quine as a conversationalist: "When he heard something that pleased or surprised him, his face would light up and he'd say 'Oh, good!' as though he'd just been given a gift."

Born in Akron, Ohio, Quine earned his A.B. at Oberlin (1930) and his Ph.D., under Alfred North Whitehead, at Harvard (1932).

After joining the Harvard faculty in 1936, he rose to full professor in 1948, and became the Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy in 1955. He retired in 1978.

Quine's many books include: "Mathematical Logic" (1940), "Methods of Logic" (1950), "From a Logical Point of View" (1953), "Word and Object" (1960), "Set Theory and its Logic" (1963), "Ontological Relativity and other Essays" (1969), and "Philosophy of Logic" (1970). In 1985, he published.his autobiography, "The Time of My Life."

Quine received many honors, in particular the first Rolf Schock Prize (Stockholm, 1993) and the Kyoto Prize (Tokyo, 1996). He was a senior fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has served as president of the eastern division of the American Philosophical Association.

L'Humanité obituary for W V Quine - Jan 2, 2001

par Arnaud Spire

Le philosophe américain est mort le jour de Noël à Boston. Avec lui, le calcul et la logique ont trouvé outre-Atlantique une dignité philosophique.

Willard Van Orman Quine, mathématicien, logicien et philosophe, qui vient de disparaître à l'âge de quatre-vingt-douze ans à Boston, aux Etats-Unis, peut être considéré comme une figure emblématique du statut de la philosophie au XXe siècle dans les pays anglo-saxons. Universalité réduite à la théorie de la connaissance, prépondérance de la logique mathématique, critique systématique et positive du discours scientifique, déconstruction des questions métaphysiques, la philosophie n'avait pour Quine ni objet ni méthode à proprement parler philosophique. Sans doute peut-on dire qu'il a été l'expression philosophique d'une civilisation - la société américaine - où l'on à tendance à calculer bien davantage qu'à penser.

La trajectoire philosophique de Quine commence et finit à l'université de Harvard. Il y fit de brillantes études de mathématiques et de philosophie sous la direction de Clarence Irwing Lewis et de Alfred North Whitehead qui dirigea sa thèse de doctorat. · l'exception de courts séjours dans diverses institutions européennes, sa carrière s'achève dans cette même université où il a enseigné la philosophie de 1936 à 1978. En 1933, lors d'un séjour en Europe, il rencontre Rudolf Carnap, cofondateur du Cercle de Vienne, pour qui la tâche de la philosophie est tout entière située du côté de la signification - la science apparaissant comme la seule connaissance possible (1). Il se lie également d'amitié avec le logicien polonais Alfred Tarski qui situait la logique au-delà de la théorie, dans le champ spécifique d'une réflexion sur la validité et la signification des énoncés théoriques (établissant ainsi un niveau inédit de validation, celui de la métathéorie, qui a donné naissance à la " théorie vérificationniste de la signification ").

Quine, qui se tient en même temps et contradictoirement du côté de l'empirisme - le critère de la validité d'une connaissance renvoyant finalement à l'expérience - a manifesté tout au long de son existence un inépuisable appétit pour les voyages et les échanges scientifiques irremplaçables auxquels ils peuvent donner lieu. Le Mot et la Chose (Word and Object, 1960) est l'un des ouvrages majeurs de la philosophie analytique du XXe siècle qui joua en quelque sorte le rôle de philosophie officielle américaine. Les thèses énoncées par Quine dans cet ouvrage ont transformé l'héritage du positivisme logique et métamorphosé la philosophie des sciences et du langage aux Etats-Unis. Le Mot et la Chose (2), livre dédié à Carnap, contient une vue systématique de la pensée de Quine, en particulier en ce qui concerne le langage. Dès sa parution, il a suscité un intérêt exceptionnel dans le monde des spécialistes parce qu'il y développe l'idée que l'empirisme n'est praticable qu'à condition que l'on admette que toute vérité dépend à la fois du langage et des faits et que l'on renonce, d'autre part, à l'illusion selon laquelle chaque énoncé scientifique pourrait se cristalliser dans une expérience immédiate qui la vérifie (Deux Dogmes de l'empirisme, 1955).

On peut dire que l'influence du Mot et [de] la Chose reste en fin de compte prépondérante dans la philosophie analytique américaine contemporaine. Les théories de Thomas Kuhn sur la Structure des révolutions scientifiques en témoignent. Il s'agit, avec le concept de crise et de transformation de la pensée scientifique, d'une véritable transmutation de l'épistémologie dont Quine a été fondamentalement porteur. La première idée est que les données de l'expérience ne déterminent pas une théorie unique de la réalité. La vérité est immanente au schème conceptuel à notre langage, aux entités qu'il pose. Quine a ainsi relancé la question du réalisme... Les théories sont sous-déterminées. Seconde idée. Plusieurs traductions empiriquement équivalentes et contradictoires sont possibles d'une langue à l'autre. LA signification est un mythe. Quine introduit ainsi l'anthropologie dans la philosophie du langage. Enfin, la recherche d'une notation logique est inséparable de la structuration du réel du fait de notre schéma conceptuel. La logique est donc " sur le même bateau " que les autres sciences particulières. Quine ouvre ainsi la voie au développement que connaissent aujourd'hui les sciences cognitives.

Si aujourd'hui, et en France ceux qui se réclament du Cercle de Vienne, ont éprouvé le besoin de sortir du cadre de la théorie de la quantification - à laquelle Quine tendait à restreindre la logique -, c'est que les recherches de Quine lui-même les y invitaient. " Dans un conTEXTE modal, écrivait-il, les occurrences des termes ne sont plus référentielles. Admettre ces conTEXTEs, c'est mettre en péril la doctrine de l'engagement ontologique et l'interprétation de la quantification. " On comprend mieux ainsi l'acharnement de Quine contre la logique modale et la naissance chez lui d'une " sémantique des mondes possibles ". On peut donc se demander si le grand mérite de Quine n'est pas d'avoir redonné au calcul ses lettres de noblesses en y découvrant une pensée naturaliste... et d'ailleurs aux Etats-Unis aujourd'hui, ne calcule-t-on pas d'abord pour penser ensuite ?.

(1) Le Cercle de Vienne est une école néo-positiviste dont la plupart des membres ont quitté l'Europe pour les Etats-Unis après l'annexion de l'Autriche par Hitler. La doctrine du Cercle de Vienne visait à éliminer les pseudo-problèmes posés par la métaphysique.

(2) W.V.O. Quine, " le Mot et la Chose ", collection Champs/Flammarion, réédition octobre 1999, 406 pages.

(UK) Independent obituary for W V Quine - Jan 15, 2001

The philosopher and logician Willard Van Orman Quine died on December 25th at the age of 92. He was the foremost representative of a worldview that attracted and influenced many philosophers in the second half of the 20th century.

Quine's philosophical outlook is known as "naturalism." Its central identity is the unity of philosophy and natural science. Quine thought of philosophy as an activity within nature whereby nature attempts to know itself. His favourite analogy was that we are like sailors forced to repair our ship while still at sea. There is no secure position - no dry dock - from which to clarify or justify our overall views. This contrasts with those who distinguish philosophy from science and place philosophy in a special transcendent position for gaining knowledge. The methods of science are empirical, so Quine was an empiricist, but with a difference. Traditional empiricism takes sensory evidence as the basic unit of thought. Quine's empiricism took account of the theoretical as well as the observational aspects of science. It is holistic. The unit of empirical significance is not single observations but whole systems of beliefs. What helps us choose between such systems is their degree of explanatory power, simplicity and, precision. He was a "fallibilist" because he took the view that each belief in a system is in principle revisable. Quine proposed a new account of our knowledge of the external world including a rejection of knowledge not based on experience, and he extended the same empiricist and fallibilist account to our knowledge of logic and mathematics.

Quine was an important contributor to Logic and the foundations of mathematics. These are empirical subjects when empiricism is understood in Quine's way. They belong to the system of beliefs that make up the natural sciences. The language of logic serves as a specially privileged language in which to express our commitments as to what exists. Quine encapsulated this project in the slogan "To be is to be the value of a variable". This play on Berkeley's "to be is to be perceived" appeared in his influential essay "On What There Is"(1948). The question of which existence claims to accept is answered by empirical science. Our beliefs about what exists in the world, said Quine, are best settled by what our best scientific theories require as their objects. On this basis Quine concluded that we have to believe in the existence of physical objects and mathematical sets, for this is what physical science requires. Quine was a major contributor to discussions in the theory of meaning, some of his papers permanently altering the course of debate in this central part of philosophy.

His Life Quine was born on June 25, 1908 and raised in Akron, Ohio. As a graduate student at Harvard he completed his Ph.D. in two years. While there he had what he described as his "most dazzling exposure to greatness," when Bertrand Russell came to lecture. Russell is one of the two most influential figures for Quine. Both share a preoccupation with questions as to what exists. Some of Quine's most famous systems of logic and set theory are designed to achieve the same effects as Russell's Principia Mathematica while avoiding what Quine sees as its excesses. Wherever possible, Quine tries to get on with the fewest and most precise assumptions, which will suffice to do the job at hand. Peter Strawson wrote of his having a taste for desert landscapes.

A traveling fellowship to Europe in 1932, exposed Quine to the latest developments in logic and philosophy. He described the time in Vienna, Prague and Warsaw as "the intellectually most rewarding months I have known." In Prague, Quine met Rudolf Carnap, one of the most careful expositors of prominent themes of the Logical Empiricists. In the period prior to the Second World War Quine became a member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard. He worked out his two most distinctive systems of logic and set theory in "New Foundations for Mathematical Logic" (1937) and Mathematical Logic (1940) and his views on existence and the nature of logical and Mathematical truth.

Quine served as a naval officer in World War II. After it he became a member of the philosophy department at Harvard and remained so till his retirement. Much of his work after that was the further formulation and elaboration of the views which proved so influential in twentieth century analytic philosophy. He continued his work on the above topics and published his most famous paper "Two Dogmas of Empiricism."(1951) In it he criticized the idea that that there are two types of truths, one analytic, non-empirical and merely based on language and the other synthetic and reducible to individual observations. In place of this distinction he offered his unified holistic empiricist account. Quine published his most well known papers from that period in the collection From a Logical Point of View (1953). In Word and Object (1960) this holistic empiricism is employed to present a conjecture of the indeterminacy of translation. In Ontological Relativity (1968), The Roots of Reference (1974), Pursuit of Truth (1992), and From Stimulus to Science (1995) and essays such as "Epistemology Naturalized" Quine's naturalism comes to the fore.

Quine had a passion for traveling and mentioned many of the places that he visited in his autobiography The Time of My Life.(1985) His former student, friend and colleague Burton Dreben quipped that the autobiography might have been entitled "A Moving Van".

Quine's writing style has been a source of enjoyment to his readers. His restatement of the problem of how a Cartesian self can come to know the external world was put in strikingly naturalistic terms: "I am a physical object sitting in a physical world. Some of the forces of this physical world impinge on my surface. Light rays strike my retinas; molecules bombard my eardrums and fingertips. I strike back, emanating concentric air waves. These waves take the form of a torrent of discourse about tables, people, molecules, light rays, retinas, air waves, prime numbers, infinite classes, joy and sorrow, good and evil."

Los Angeles Times obituary for W V Quine - Dec 31 2000

Willard Van Orman Quine; Renowned Philosopher
Sunday, December 31, 2000 , Home Edition , Section: Metro, Page: B-9, Obituaries
From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Willard Van Orman Quine, one of America's preeminent thinkers, whose analysis of language and reality had wide influence in the world of philosophy, has died. The Edgar Pierce professor emeritus at Harvard, Quine died on Monday at a Boston-area hospital after a brief illness. He was 92.

Quine's clear thinking and fluid writing style earned him his own word in the Oxford English Dictionary. The word "Quinean" appears in the 1987 supplement to the dictionary. It means "of, pertaining to or characteristic of Willard Van Orman Quine or his theories." Quine's lifelong work focused on age-old philosophical questions, such as: what is the world and how do human beings fit into that reality? "The idea of reducing the unfamiliar to the familiar--that's what we have in science," Quine said in an interview some years ago with the Associated Press.

Initially Quine's career work was as a mathematical logician. His first five books were devoted to logic, but he abandoned that pursuit in 1953 and moved on to the philosophy of language, acquiring a wide reputation. From there Quine crossed into the realm of epistemology, the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge. Quine developed a new type of philosophy, which he called naturalized epistemology. He claimed that epistemology's only legitimate role is to describe the way knowledge is actually obtained. So, according to Quine, its function is to describe how present science arrives at the beliefs accepted by the scientific community.

In what is perhaps his most noted book, "Word and Object," Quine "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 on Quine: Semantics and epistemology are intimately intertwined," wrote Dagfinn Føllesdal

Quine was born June 25, 1908, in Akron, Ohio. His father founded a heavy-equipment company and his mother was an elementary school teacher. As a boy he left the Congregationalist religion of his parents because he found its doctrines, especially life after death, "implausible."

"What kind of evidence could there be?" he later said. "I was a little bit nervous--after all it was sinful to lose one's faith. But that didn't bother me much or long, because I thought, if this is all nonsense, then so in particular is that."

As a boy, Quine also loved cartography and stamp collecting, which he translated in his adult life into a zest for world travel, visiting 118 countries and every state.

He graduated from Oberlin College in 1930 and earned his doctorate from Harvard just two years later, one of the fastest in the school's history. He started teaching philosophy at Harvard in 1936 and never left, except for four years in the U.S. Navy decoding messages from German submarines during World War II. He spoke at least six languages and often read philosophical works written in the language of the author.

Quine retired in 1978 from a teaching career in which his pupils had included, not only influential philosophers, but also the satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer and Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber.

After his retirement Quine continued to do active work in philosophy, attending conferences and publishing papers. He wrote 22 books that have been translated into numerous languages and studied by scholars around the globe. In addition to "Word and Object," other noted books include the autobiographical "The Time of My Life," and a collection of essays called "Quiddities."

Throughout his career, Quine composed manuscripts by hand and then polished them with scissors, paste, tape and 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."

He is survived by three daughters and a son. PHOTO: Willard Van Orman Quine in 1995 PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press

Il Manifesto obituary for W V Quine - Jan 4 2001

La filosofia ha perso la logica di Quine

Logico, matematico e filosofo statunitense, tra i grandi maestri del Novecento, Willard Van Orman Quine lascia un'eredità metodologica e di pensiero che ha segnato l'intera filosofia analitica contemporanea, dalla logica, alla filosofia del linguaggio, all'epistemologia e alla filosofia della mente. Nella sua residenza privata a Harvard, da qualche tempo erano ammessi soltanto pochissimi amici e colleghi, tra cui gli allievi prediletti Donald Davidson e il filosofo della mente Daniel Dennett. La sua ultima apparizione pubblica risale al Congresso mondiale di filosofia di Boston, il "World Philosophy Congress" nell'agosto 1998.

Ad appena cinque anni dalla pubblicazione, nel 1965, di Parola e oggetto, il lavoro di Willard Van Orman Quine veniva definito dalla critica "il libro di filosofia americana più discusso del secondo dopoguerra". Nato il 25 giugno 1908 ad Akron nell'Ontario, Quine era allora già entrato nella piena maturità, e da tempo si era imposto con un ruolo chiave nel dibattito filosofico internazionale: da quando, negli anni iniziali della seconda guerra mondiale, aveva guidato l'emigrazione negli Stati Uniti dei maggiori autori e delle idee del Wiener Kreis, il Circolo di Vienna.

Ad Harvard, Quine conseguì il dottorato in logica matematica in soli due anni sotto la guida di Alfred N. Whitehead, coautore, con Bertrand Russell, dei Principia Mathematica. Grazie a una borsa di studio trascorse un anno in Europa, tra Vienna, Praga e Varsavia, dove venne in contatto con i grandi maestri del Circolo, da Rudolf Carnap a Hans Reichenbach, da Moritz Sclick al matematico polacco Alfred Tarski: alcuni di loro si sarebbero stabiliti definitivamente negli Stati Uniti, determinando la svolta logico-epistemologica della filosofia analitica americana del secondo dopoguerra. Una profonda sintonia intellettuale legò Quine, da quel momento in poi, alle sorti del neopositivismo logico che, attraverso di lui, avrebbe cambiato gli orientamenti del pensiero filosofico americano. Decano ad Harvard per oltre cinquant'anni, Quine non soltanto ha rappresentato uno dei riferimenti fondamentali per le correnti della filosofia analitica, ma ha continuato ad esercitare un'influenza potentissima. A partire dal suo ritorno, nel 1934, nella celebre università di Cambridge, i suoi contributi si concentrarono sul ruolo della logica nella fondazione della matematica e sullo sviluppo della teoria degli insiemi (Logica matematica, 1940). Fu dal 1939 che cominciarono ad arrivare a Harvard gli esuli dalle persecuzioni politiche e razziali antisemite, i maestri della logica europea, e tra loro Carnap, Russell e Tarski, che ritroviamo citati come protagonisti di incontri fondamentali nella bella autobiografia A Time of my Life, del 1985 - ristampata nell'aprile 2000, dove Quine fa emergere la sua presa di distanza dal neopositivismo logico. Perché se da un lato egli ha contribuito in modo fondamentale al consolidarsi della tradizione neopositivista negli Stati Uniti, ne ha insieme determinato un nuovo orientamento, originale e radicale: il recupero di quell'ontologia che per Carnap e gli altri neopositivisti era soltanto una "questione metafisica".

Negli scritti che vanno dagli anni '50 (Two Dogmas of Empiricism) agli anni '60 (Word and Object), Quine argomentò la sua critica radicale all'empirismo logico, ovvero allo stesso neopositivismo, osservando come esso si fondi su due dogmi non giustificati: il primo è la totale separazione tra verità analitiche e verità sintetiche. Anche le verità analitiche, infatti, hanno un elemento sintetico, che suppone un qualche rapporto con l'esperienza. La verità analitica di enunciati come "tutti gli scapoli sono non sposati", ad esempio, non risulta dalla semplice analisi del significato dei termini. Il concetto di scapolo non coincide infatti con quello di non sposato, perché quest'ultimo si può attribuire anche ad un bambino, mentre il primo no. Non essendo il concetto di "proposizione analitica" o "vera in tutti i mondi possibili" suscettibile di chiarificazione senza ricorrere a petizioni di principio, la distinzione tra proposizioni sintetiche e proposizioni analitiche si rivela un "dogma non empirico degli empiristi, un metafisico articolo di fede". Il secondo dogma dell'empirismo, ovvero il "riduzionismo", consiste nella tesi secondo la quale ogni enunciato dotato di significato è equivalente ad un complesso logico di termini osservativi che rimandano all'esperienza.

All'epistemologia riduzionista del neopositivismo Quine contrappone un "empirismo senza dogmi" che si fonda sulla tesi secondo la quale tutti gli enunciati scientifici non sono in linea di principio immuni da correzioni empiriche e di carattere pratico. Dunque, per sfuggire ai dogmi dell'empirismo Quine accetta coraggiosamente la prospettiva del pragmatismo più integrale che lo avrebbe portato a una visione relazionata e unitaria dell'attività conoscitiva. In Parola e oggetto (1960) aveva elaborato ulteriormente la sua concezione del linguaggio, sviluppando una teoria comportamentista dell'apprendimento linguistico da cui era derivata una delle sue tesi più discusse e originali sull'"indeterminatezza della traduzione". E' in questo contesto che egli presentò l'esperimento mentale della traduzione radicale: esso riguarda l'impresa di un linguista il quale, venuto a contatto con esseri umani che si esprimono in una lingua a lui ignota, deve fondare le proprie traduzioni solo sull'osservazione del comportamento linguistico dei parlanti nativi. Con un esame dettagliato delle procedure di traduzione degli enunciati indigeni, Quine mostra che il linguista può legittimamente elaborare un numero indeterminato di manuali di traduzione diversi, tutti compatibili con i dati a disposizione, ma incompatibili tra loro. La corretta traduzione degli enunciati indigeni non è determinabile dunque in modo assoluto, ma solo relativamente a uno tra i possibili manuali di traduzione.

Tra le implicazioni fondamentali di questa conclusione vi è quella per cui i singoli enunciati hanno un significato determinato non isolatamente ma solo in quanto parte di un più vasto sistema linguistico (olismo).

Da queste idee, Quine giunse a riprendere quell'aspetto dell'indagine logica che il Circolo di Vienna aveva bandito: quello dell'ontologia. Sempre a seguito della distinzione analitico-sintetico, interno-esterno, Carnap identificava lo scienziato con colui che indaga il mondo e il filosofo con colui che approfondisce la struttura logica del linguaggio sul mondo. Per Quine, invece, le riflessioni sull'ontologia del discorso scientifico non possono essere disgiunte dalle stesse teorie scientifiche: proprio l'indagine ontologica è ciò che può provare un sistema esplicativo e irriducibile. E l'impegno ontologico non può essere fondato solo sull'esperienza: dal punto di vista dell'empirismo di Quine gli oggetti fisici sono infatti dei semplici "postulati culturali". Le ragioni cui richiamarsi devono essere ragioni di natura pragmatica, e il "naturalismo pragmatista" a cui Quine si riferisce è il naturalismo della moderna concezione scientifica del mondo, in cui la scienza ha come scopo la conoscenza della verità.

E' all'interno di questa concezione che egli continuò a battersi, contro ogni compromissione di natura mentalista, e sempre a favore di una formulazione rigorosamente fisicalista del discorso scientifico. La sua difesa di un "naturalismo" fondato sull'idea di una stretta continuità tra scienza e filosofia ha fornito un contributo fondamentale anche allo sviluppo della scienza cognitiva e all'idea che un'adeguata comprensione filosofica della mente non possa prescindere dallo sviluppo della psicologia e della biologia. Il "fisicalismo" ha reso esplicita la sua critica radicale ad ogni forma di "mentalismo": lo studio della mente può avvenire solo all'interno della psicologia e, se pure Quine ammette che vi sono proprietà psicologiche irriducibili, qualsiasi spiegazione di uno stato mentale non può che essere una spiegazione di tipo fisico.

Durante i 35 anni che separano Parola e oggetto dall'ultimo libro From Stimulus to Science (1995), Quine ha continuato a cercare una via di comprensione dei problemi scientifici e filosofici rimasta sempre nel solco di quel neopositivismo logico da lui stesso "superato" e criticato. Peraltro, la sua stessa definizione di "naturalismo" è molto vicina a quella fornita da Carnap in Der Logische Aufbau der Welt (La costruzione logica del mondo, 1928). "Il fatto che si giunga all'acquisizione di una teoria responsabile del mondo esterno - scrive Quine - è frutto di una ricostruzione razionale dell'individuo". Per Carnap come per Quine è il soggetto conoscente a costituire il mondo esterno. E lo fa a partire da semplici elementi primitivi. Tale esperienza primitiva è ciò che Quine chiama global stimulus, lo stimolo percettivo unitario e globale che pone gli individui in relazione con il mondo. Anche nel suo ultimo libro, Quine è giunto così a confermare la sua originale posizione olistica verso la scienza. Nella scienza le ipotesi non vivono sole, bensì all'interno di più ampi apparati teorici: "le nostre proposizioni sul mondo esterno si sottopongono al tribunale dell'esperienza sensibile non individualmente ma solo come un insieme solido". Ovvero, "l'unità di misura del significato empirico è tutta la scienza nella sua globalità".

Ma, forse, il debito più profondo che abbiamo con Quine sta nel suo averci fornito un contributo essenziale alla dissoluzione delle nebbie tecnicistiche che spesso sembrano soffocare quei filosofi e quegli scienziati poco inclini ad accontentarsi di una facile riduzione dei problemi della conoscenza al senso comune: dunque, quella che ci viene da Quine è una indicazione preziosa verso il superamento dei "crampi mentali" che per Wittgenstein sono ciò che rende così ardua la pratica filosofica.

"Il mondo che ci circonda sollecita le nostre estremità nervose con raggi di luce e molecole che stimolano le nostre sensazioni - scriveva Quine nel 1993. - Crescendo in una società linguistica impariamo ad associare modelli di queste sensazioni a parole, e modelli di queste parole ad altre parole....

Riusciamo così a parlare degli oggetti del mondo che ci circonda, di animali, piante, pianeti e galassie, delle stesse estremità nervose, di raggi di luce e molecole. Parliamo anche di cose immateriali come i numeri, le classi e le proprietà. Per tutta la mia vita ho cercato di comprendere con chiarezza le connessioni, logiche e causali, tra gli stimoli sensoriali, il linguaggio e il mondo naturale che il linguaggio si propone di descrivere. Ho cercato di capire con maggiore chiarezza perché le scienze naturali si confermano ampiamente vere tramite l'esperimento e quanto di questo è imposto dall'uomo e quanto dalla natura".

Il Messaggero obituary for W V Quine - Dec 30 2000

Addio Quine, filosofo del linguaggio

Professore nella prestigiosa Università di Harvard, M. Van Orman Quine, il filosofo del linguaggio spentosi a Boston a 92 anni, mise in discussione l'assolutezza, o la unidimensionalità, delle concezioni logiche e neopositivistiche in auge nella seconda metà del Novecento (dopo Wittgenstein e Whitehead), valorizzando invece il pluralismo dei concetti e una prospettiva relativistica della conoscenza. Nelle sue opere più impegnative e più note (Da un punto di vista logico, 1953; Parola e oggetto, 1960; I modi del paradosso, 1966; Le radici del riferimento, 1974; Teorie e cose, 1981), questo studioso rivelò un acume analitico raro, che lo pose, ancor in giovane età, fra i massimi pensatori statunitensi. Per ragioni di spazio, e anche per la complessità di molte sue dottrine, qui si accennerà solo ad alcune delle sue tesi più significative. Vediamole. La polemica contro il neopositivismo, la critica serrata alle posizioni di altri filosofi celebri, come Carnap, Hempel e Nagel, fu espressa da Quine anzitutto in un saggio del 1951, emblematicamente intitolato: Due dogmi dell'empirismo. Sin dagli anni Trenta, Karl Popper aveva respinto i postulati del Circolo di Vienna, i cardini dell'induttivismo, assumendo il suo famoso ''principio di falsificazione''. Quine demolì altri assunti cruciali dell'empirismo logico: a) che esistano proposizioni universalmente vere; b) che tale ''credenza'' possa essere impiegata con profitto nell'ambito del sapere. Un ulteriore ''dogma'' neopositivistico fu criticato da Quine: il predominio dei fatti rispetto alla teoria. La tesi del filosofo americano possiamo così sintetizzarla: i fatti si leggono sempre attraverso determinati ''schemi concettuali''; non esistono proposizioni analitiche o espressioni linguistiche libere da riferimenti concreti, la cui ''verità'' debba essere considerata pura o assoluta. Sono invece possibili, nonché auspicabili, diverse spiegazioni del mondo.

(France) Le Monde obituary for W V Quine - Jan 1 2001

Willard Van Orman Quine, un logicien sceptique qui a appliqué la logique à l'analyse de la réalité
par Christian Delacampagne

Le philosophe américain Willard Van Orman Quine, unanimement considéré comme un classique du XXe siècle dans les pays anglo-saxons, est mort lundi 25 décembre à Boston, où il vivait.

Né le 25 juin 1908 à Akron, dans l'Ohio, Willard Van Orman Quine fait des études de philosophie et de mathématiques à l'université Harvard. Il y a pour professeurs les philosophes Clarence Irving Lewis et Alfred North Whitehead (qui dirige sa thèse de doctorat). Grâce à une bourse, il effectue en 1933 son premier séjour en Europe. Il rencontre alors, à Vienne, Rudolf Carnap et, à Varsovie, le logicien Alfred Tarski, qui resteront ses amis.

Revenu aux Etats-Unis, il devient à son tour enseignant à Harvard. Il y accomplira toute sa carrière et continuera d'y travailler bien après sa retraite, tout en donnant des conférences dans le monde entier pour satisfaire son inépuisable appétit de voyages, thème central de son amusante autobiographie ( The Time of my life, The MIT Press, Cambridge [Mass.], 1985). Il est aussi l'auteur de nombreux livres qui feront de lui, de son vivant, le plus célèbre philosophe américain, et dont quelques-uns seront - tardivement - traduits en français : Méthodes de logique (1950, trad. Armand-Colin, 1984), Le Mot et la Chose (1960, trad. Flammarion, 1978), La Relativité de l'ontologie (1969, trad. Aubier-Montaigne, 1977), Philosophie de la logique (1970, trad. Aubier-Montaigne, 1975). Construite sur le modèle de la logique mathématique issue de Frege et Russel mais ne refusant pas d'aborder, dans un style vif et familier, les grandes questions de la métaphysique classique (pour leur donner parfois des solutions inattendues), la philosophie de Quine se présente comme une réflexion sur la science qui entend ne pas se séparer de la science elle-même. La philosophie n'a, pour Quine, ni objet ni méthode propre. Elle ne se trouve ni au-delà des sciences régionales, ni en position de les fonder.

Sa tâche consiste principalement à clarifier les questions que soulève le fonctionnement du discours scientifique. Elle se doit donc, pour y parvenir, de faire appel aux techniques d'élucidation que lui fournissent la linguistique, la logique et la mathématique. Bien entendu, une telle approche ne saurait déboucher sur de grandes généralisations, ni sur des systèmes définitifs. Elle permet, en revanche, d'atteindre des résultats précis, quoique limités. Le premier de ceux-ci concerne ce qu'on appelait jadis l'ontologie, c'est-à-dire l'inventaire de l'être. Nominaliste convaincu, Quine s'est longuement interrogé sur le statut des catégories logiques (signification, quantification, fonctions de vérité...) utilisées par l'ensemble des sciences, ainsi que sur l'existence d'objets susceptibles de leur correspondre hors du discours. Sa conclusion tend à réduire ceux-ci à un nombre minimal. Pour lui, des entités existent si et seulement si elles peuvent être comptées parmi les! valeurs d'une variable, et si les énoncés dans lesquels figure cette variable sont toujours vrais. Par là, Quine dénonce l'inflation ontologique à laquelle ont cru pouvoir se livrer les partisans de la phénoménologie, et même certains adeptes du positivisme logique.

LE PLUS SALUBRE DES ANTIDOTES Du reste, bien qu'il se sente proche de ces derniers, et particulièrement de Carnap, Quine est loin d'adhérer sans réserve à toutes leurs thèses. Dès 1951, dans un article célèbre, intitulé Deux dogmes de l'empirisme, il montre que si l'on veut sauver l'empirisme il faut, d'une part, admettre que toute vérité dépend à la fois du langage (par définition conventionnel) et des faits et, d'autre part, renoncer à l'illusion selon laquelle chaque énoncé scientifique, considéré isolément, pourrait être réduit à une expérience immédiate qui le vérifierait. Seule la science, dans sa totalité, peut être confrontée à la totalité de notre expérience. Connue sous le nom de holisme, cette doctrine exercera une influence considérable sur l'épistémologie américaine (comme en témoignent, entre autres, les travaux de Thomas Kuhn). Un autre résultat fameux ­ quoique vivement discuté - des recherches de Quine est le principe d'indétermination de la traduction. Deux traductions d'un même énoncé peuvent être toutes deux grammaticalement correctes, et cependant dire des choses différentes. Du coup, se trouvent dissoutes l'idée d'une signification extérieure au discours, indépendante de lui, ainsi que la croyance en l'existence d'une vérité antérieure aux théories scientifiques, et dont celles-ci seraient supposées se rapprocher progressivement.

Enfin, après avoir rédigé Quiddités (trad. Seuil, 1992), petit dictionnaire philosophique qui, par son ton décapant et sa passion antimétaphysique, s'inscrit délibérément dans le sillage de Voltaire, Quine développe avec brio, dans La Poursuite de la vérité (trad. Seuil, 1993), une thèse qui lui tient à coeur : l'idée selon laquelle la théorie de la connaissance devrait, à terme, s'intégrer à la psychologie et donc au cadre général que définissent les sciences de la nature, l'objectivité philosophique ne pouvant être, une fois encore, d'une espèce différente de l'objectivité scientifique. Quitte à ce qu'une telle intégration fasse disparaître en fumée, et à jamais, nombre de questions auxquelles les philosophes ont longtemps été ou sont encore inutilement attachés.

Ce scepticisme dévastateur, appuyé sur des raisonnements techniques souvent ardus, explique à la fois la réputation redoutable de la pensée de Quine, l'immense prestige dont elle jouit dans le milieu de la philosophie analytique anglo-américaine, et le peu d'empressement avec lequel elle a été accueillie en France. On ne saurait trop, toutefois, en recommander la lecture, ne serait-ce que pour des raisons d'hygiène intellectuelle. Quine reste en effet - avec Wittgenstein, quoique d'une manière toute différente - le plus salubre des antidotes, que ce soit contre les dérives des métaphysiques romantiques ou contre les excès de la dialectique hégélienne.

(Switzerland) Neue Zürcher Zeitung obituary for W V Quine - Jan 4 2001

Zum Tode des Philosophen W. V. O. Quine
Michael Hampe

Er war der Härteste der Harten. Schon William James teilte die Denker in «tough» und «tender- minded» ein: Hart, das seien die Empiristen, weich die in Ganzheiten denkenden Rationalisten. Williard Van Ormen Quine, der - wie erst jetzt bekannt wurde - am Weihnachtstag 92-jährig gestorben ist, galt vielen als «beinharter» Empirist. Allerdings war das Denken in archaischen, um nicht zu sagen primitiven Dualitäten wie «hart und weich» nicht seine Sache. Quine bediente sich eines feineren begrifflichen Bestecks - am liebsten der Prädikatenlogik -, das zu einem guten Teil von ihm selbst entworfen wurde. Allerdings ist nicht mehr so leicht zu sagen, ob der am 25. Juni 1908 in Akron, Ohio, geborene Logiker und Philosoph dem Empirismus harte Beine gemacht oder nicht vielleicht das Genick gebrochen hat.

Den Ruf des Empiristen hat sich Quine, der zuletzt die Edgar-Pierce-Professur in Harvard innehatte, durch seine Hochachtung der Erfahrungswissenschaften erworben. Diese bedürfen keiner philosophischen Begründung und zeigen uns doch, was es letztlich gibt. In seinen eigenen Worten gehörte er «jener breiten Minderheit von Philosophen an - oder, wenn man lieber will, womöglich jener schmalen Mehrheit -, die denTraum des Cartesius von einem Fundament wissenschaftlicher Gewissheit, das unerschütterlicher wäre, als die Methode der Wissenschaft je sein kann, endgültig für ausgeträumt halten». So schrieb er 1992 in «Unterwegs zur Wahrheit».

Sein Hauptwerk, «Word and Object», erschien 1960 und wurde zu einem der einflussreichsten Bücher der analytischen Philosophie. Beinahe ebenso einflussreich waren Quines Schriften zur Logik. Quine begann seine Karriere 1932 in Harvard - dem er ein Leben lang treu blieb - miteiner Doktorarbeit bei Whitehead: einer mengentheoretischen Entschlackung der «Principia Mathematica», des Hauptwerks des Logizismus, das die Mathematik auf die Logik zurückführen wollte. Quine war ein ungewöhnlich erfolgreicher Lehrer. Donald Davidson, William Craig, Hao Wang, Dagfin Følledal haben bei ihm studiert. Sie sind heute selbst bedeutende Logiker und Sprachphilosophen. Als Quine 1953 die Eastman- Professur in Oxford innehatte, sassen Dummett, Bennett und Stegmüller zu seinen Füssen, die später die analytische Philosophie Englands und Deutschlands entscheidend prägten.

Quines Szientismus war eine Weiterführung dessen, was im sogenannten Wiener Kreis um die Philosophen Carnap, Neurath, Schlick und Waisman in den zwanziger und frühen dreissiger Jahren «wissenschaftliche Weltanschauung» genannt wurde. Quine hielt sich 1932/33 in Wien auf und lernte diese philosophische Richtung kennen und schätzen. Als die Nazis die Wiener Philosophen bedrohten, die teilweise jüdischer Herkunft und Sozialisten waren, war es (neben anderen) Quine, der ihnen in Amerika Asyl verschaffte, so etwa dem polnischen Logiker Tarski, der dem Wiener Kreis ebenfalls nahestand.

Wenn Philosophie in Quines Augen die Wissenschaften auch nicht begründen kann, so hat sie dennoch die Aufgabe, zu rekonstruieren, was die Wissenschaften auf welche Weise behaupten. Dies geschieht mit Hilfe von Logik und Erkenntnistheorie. In der Erkenntnistheorie bestand Quine auf der Bedeutung von Sinnesreizen - «surface irritations»: Diese legten jedoch nicht eindeutig fest, was wir meinen, auch wenn wir Sprachen in Konditionierungsvorgängen lernen, die ohne sinnliche Erfahrung undenkbar wären. Quines Behaviorismus des Spracherwerbs und seine Vorstellung, dass alles in unserem Überzeugungssystem zur Disposition steht - auch Logikund Mathematik -, wenn wir entsprechende Erfahrungen machen, wie etwa in quantenphysikalischen Experimenten, liessen ihn als eben jenen besonders hartnäckigen Empiristen erscheinen.

Sein Angriff auf den Begriff der Synonomie und die Unterscheidung von analytischen und synthetischen Wahrheiten, wie er sie 1951 in seinem berühmten Aufsatz «Zwei Dogmen desEmpirismus» vorgetragen hat, beschädigten dagegen althergebrachte Überzeugungen des Empirismus auf nachhaltige Weise: Analytische Wahrheiten setzen synonyme Begriffsverhältnisse voraus. Nur wenn «Junggeselle» mit «unverheirateter Mann» bedeutungsgleich ist, kann auch derSatz «Alle Junggesellen sind unverheiratet» analytisch, also logisch wahr sein. Doch Synonymie ist nicht logisch oder empirisch nachweisbar. Sie wird nach Quine schlichtweg gesetzt. Mit dieser Behauptung koppelte er in den Augen mancher die Sprache von der Welt ab und schlug dem Empirismus eine Wunde, von der dieser sich bis heute nicht erholt hat und vielleicht nie wieder erholen wird. Denn wenn es - als Konsequenz aus dieser Überlegung - verschiedene Theorien geben kann, zwischen denen keine empirische Entscheidung möglich ist: wie soll uns dann die Wissenschaft noch sagen können, was es wirklich gibt?

Wie Quine das Verhältnis von Theorie und Erfahrung genau gesehen hat, ist schwer zu sagenund bis heute Gegenstand philosophischer Kontroversen; nicht zuletzt wegen seines «Überzeugungsholismus», der berühmten Duhem-Quine-These. Danach testen wir in empirischen Untersuchungen nie nur die Wahrheit einzelner Sätze, sondern setzen ganze Überzeugungssysteme aufs Spiel. Der klassische Empirismus war eher eine Klein-klein-Angelegenheit: Einzelne Erfahrungen sollten einzelne Behauptungen widerlegen oder bestätigen. Das geht jedoch nach Quine nicht. Bei «Holismus» denken viele eher an Hegel als an Locke. Entsprechend ist Quine von Philosophen wie Davidson und Rorty auch anti -empiristisch rezipiert worden.

Diese Ambiguität ist kein Manko, sondern Ausdruck der Originalität seiner Philosophie. Quine hat sich immer ausgesprochen klar und bestimmt ausgedrückt; er gehörte zu den grossen Stilisten in der Philosophie unseres Jahrhunderts. Nicht nur auf Englisch lassen sich seine Arbeiten mit Vergnügen lesen. Der polyglotte Denker trug auch auf Französisch, Italienisch, Spanisch und in anderen Sprachen vor. Liebhaber von Landkarten und Briefmarkensammler war er ebenso wie ein leidenschaftlicher Reisender, der auf der ganzen Welt seine Überzeugungen vortrug und diskutierte - ein global player der Philosophie.

New York Times obituary for W V Quine - Dec 29 2000

W. V. Quine, Philosopher Who Analyzed Language and Reality, Dies at 92
By Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, December 29, 2000

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, Mr. 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.

Stuart Hampshire, a fellow philosopher, called him in 1971 "our most distinguished living systematic philosopher." Like most philosophers, Mr. Quine set out to define the reality of the world and how humans fit into that reality. He concluded 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 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 developing and which became the framework of his philosophy. In pursuing this objective Mr. Quine found himself in a distinct position among his contemporaries. Among 20th-century philosophers were the so-called historicists those willing to speculate about and proclaim metaphysical truths independent of empirical evidence and the formalists those mathematical logicians who considered philosophy an autonomous, ahistorical discipline that replaced metaphysical speculation with scientific thinking. In the battle between followers of those views, Mr. Quine was a standard-bearer in the latter camp, a hero of empiricism who once declared that "philosophy of science is philosophy enough." Changing Direction In a Scholarly Battle This led him to fight in the ranks of the so- called logical positivists, or those like his European friends A. J. Ayer and Rudolf Carnap, who asserted that all statements of truth must be based on observable data. He even helped to shift the main ground of their battle from Europe to the United States. Yet Mr. Quine later challenged 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." The essay set out to undermine the two main points of positivism. First, Mr. Quine rejected the fundamental distinction between what Kant had called analytic and synthetic propositions, or the distinction between statements that seem true no matter what (like "all bachelors are unmarried") and those that are true because of the way things happen to be (like "Mr. X is a bachelor"). (This position, incidentally, earned him a place in Dan Dennett's "Philosophers' Lexicon," in which names of philosophers are construed as verbs or common nouns: to "quine" is to repudiate a clear distinction.) To deny the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements meant that nothing could be known independent of experience. Second, the essay argued against what he called the dogma of reductionism, or "the belief," as he put it, "that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience." In other words, nothing in a person's experience lies beyond meaningful statement about it. Although this seemed to amount to a rejection of all knowledge of a reality beyond our senses, Mr. Quine did not completely shut the door to a world out there. The alternative that he preferred was this explanation: "The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges." This position led him to two more conclusions about the nature of meaning and what humans can know about objective reality. One, enunciated in his 1960 book, "Word and Object," was that when translating from one language to another, or even from one sentence to another within the same language, there were bound to be many contradictory ways to understand the meaning and that there was no sense in asking which of them was right. This works, in his view, with what he called ontological relativity, which holds that because our theories of what exists are not sufficiently determined by the experiences that give rise to them, quite different accounts of what there is, each with its own interpretation of the evidence, may be equally in accord with that evidence. To the objection that surely at least physical objects must figure in all theories of what is out there, Mr. Quine responded, yes, in practice, although he said he considered physical objects a matter of convenience. Tools for Determining The Real World "As an empiricist," he wrote toward the end of "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," "I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer." He concluded: "For my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer's gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing, the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conceptions only as cultural posits." 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. The surname is from the Celtic language Manx, Mr. Quine's paternal grandfather having emigrated from the Isle of Man to Akron. Mr. Quine was named Willard after his mother's brother, a mathematician. The nominal connection seemed to work. 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 Skeat's Etymological Dictionary, the latter of which, he said, "I persistently consulted and explored over the succeeding half century," a fact attested to by the liveliness and clarity of his writing.)

About his subsequent teaching career he said: "What I enjoyed most was more the mathematical end than the philosophical, because of it being less a matter of opinion. Clarifying, not defending. Resting on proof." 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. (He later edited the 18 pages down to three for the Journal of the London Mathematical Society.) His thesis landed him at Harvard University, where he switched to philosophy to study with Alfred North Whitehead. ("He radiated greatness and seemed old as the hills," Mr. Quine wrote in his autobiography, "The Time of My Life." "I retained a vivid sense of being in the presence of the great.")

Trying to Grasp The Nature of Science Only two years later, in 1932, he had earned his Ph.D., his dissertation being an attempt, in his words, "like `Principia,' to comprehend the foundations of logic and mathematics and hence of the abstract nature of all science." (It was published in revised form by the Harvard University Press with the title "A System of Logistic.") He then went to Europe on a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship and spent the next year in Vienna, Prague and Warsaw, where he studied, lectured and met various members of the Vienna Circle of logical positivists, among them Philip Frank, Moritz Schlick, Alfred Tarski, A. J. Ayer, their English spokesman, Kurt Gödel (who preferred not to be called a logical positivist), and Rudolf Carnap, from whom, Mr. Quine said, "I gained more . . . than from any other philosopher." (In Vienna he dropped a note to Wittgenstein, who never responded.) The European interlude allowed him to indulge his lifelong passion for crossing borders (perhaps related to his penchant for denying distinctions, or, more likely, inspired by a youthful ardor for philately), which, according to a count he made late in his life, was to take him into 118 countries, over another 19, and within sight of 8 more, among the last being China, Oman and Bangladesh. His autobiography describes many of these visits somewhat matter-of-factly. His early love of geography was also reflected in a gift for drawing maps, which later extended to sketching portraits, several of which appear in his autobiography. In 1933 he returned to Harvard as a junior fellow in the newly formed Society of Fellows, which meant three years of unfettered research. Another junior fellow that year was the psychologist B. F. Skinner, with whom Mr. Quine came to share, as he put it, "the fundamental position that an explanation not the deepest one, but one of a shallower kind is possible at the purest behavioral level."

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 translating the German submarine cypher in Washington, as well as by his globe-girdling travels, the bestowal of medals, prizes and some dozen-and-a-half honorary degrees, and by lectures and classes delivered all over the world.

A Harvard Professor To Notable Students 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," Mr. Quine told an interviewer, "he tied for top, 98.9 percent"). In the Navy he met Marjorie Boynton, a Wave in his office who became his second wife in 1948. His first marriage to Naomi Clayton in 1930 ended in divorce in 1947. His second wife died in 1998. He is survived by two daughters from his first marriage, Elizabeth Quine Roberts and Norma Quine; a son and daughter from his second, Douglas Boynton Quine and Margaret Quine McGovern; [six] grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

A Positive View Of State Lotteries Mr. Quine published about 20 books, some reprinted in multiple editions and several translated into as many as eight languages. One of the more accessible works, "Quiddities: An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary" (1987), was praised in The New York Times by John Gross in general for "a deadpan humor that can light up even the most austere subjects" and in particular for commending the state lottery as " `a public subsidy of intelligence,' on the grounds that `it yields public income that is calculated to lighten the tax burden of us prudent abstainers at the expense of the benighted masses of wishful thinkers.' " At the end of "The Time of My Life," Mr. Quine wrote: "I am orderly and I am frugal. For the most part my only emotion is impatience," he continued. "I am deeply moved by occasional passages of poetry, and so, characteristically, I read little of it."

Although a "Quine" is defined in the New Hackers Dictionary as "a program that generates a copy of its own source text as its complete output," Mr. Quine never wrote on a computer, always preferring the 1927 Remington typewriter that he first used for his doctoral thesis. Because that project contained so many special symbols, he had to have the machine adjusted by removing the second period, the second comma and the question mark. "You don't miss the question mark?" a reporter once asked him. "Well, you see," he replied, "I deal in certainties."

NRC Handelsblad - Krantenarchief - Dec 30 2000

Filosoof Quine overleden
Door een onzer redacteuren

De Amerikaanse filosoof W.V. Quine is afgelopen week op 92-jarige leeftijd overleden in zijn woonplaats Boston. Quine, emeritus hoogleraar aan Harvard, gold als een van de grootste filosofen van de twintigste eeuw. Hij hield zich vooral bezig met de vraag naar de verhouding tussen taal en wereld en met wetenschapsfilosofie.

Quine maakte al in de jaren vijftig naam met het essay `Twee dogma's van het empirisme' (1951). Daarin vecht hij een begrippenonderscheid aan dat sinds Kant fundamenteel is voor de filosofie, namelijk dat tussen uitspraken die waar zijn op grond van waarneming, en uitspraken die waar zijn louter op grond van de betekenis van woorden (`alle vrijgezellen zijn ongetrouwd'). Volgens Quine is van die laatste categorie geen definitie mogelijk zonder in een cirkelredenering te vervallen.

Ander zeer invloedrijke stellingen van Quine waren dat van een taal meerdere, tegenstrijdige vertalingen mogelijk zijn en dat elke ontologie (zijnsleer) relatief is, dat wil zeggen niet dwingend kan worden afgeleid uit een geheel van bekende feiten.

Quine werd geboren in Akron (Ohio) en doceerde sinds 1932 aan Harvard, met een korte onderbreking tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Zijn bekendste boek is Word and Object (1960). Hij schreef ook het eigenzinnige en geestige filosofische woordenboek Quiddities (1987).

Oberlin Alumni Magazine obituary - Spring 2001 Vol.96 No.4

Willard van Orman Quine '30, hon. '55 (1908-2000)
by Colin Moock
W V Quine Oberlin photo

Known to his friends as Van, Willard Quine arrived in Oberlin from his family's home in Akron, Ohio, in 1926 after selling his cherished stamp collection to help finance his tuition.

His older brother Robert had attended Oberlin, so Mr. Quine was somewhat familiar with the campus. Among his new college friends was a group of enthusiastic poker-players, who, while shuffling cards one day, began to discuss their excitement about the philosophy of Bertrand Russell. Mr. Quine, who was captivated, imbued himself in Russell's viewpoints and decided immediately to major in mathematics with a minor in the philosophy of math.

In his autobiography, The Time of My Life, he recalled his four years at Oberlin as "idyllic." His rooming house, filled with kindred spirits, was "an ideal setting in which to wax articulate." Following his sophomore year, he and two friends spent the summer crossing the continent, jumping onto moving boxcars, and spending nights on benches or in prisons. This was the first of the adventures that led to his lifelong insatiable desire to travel.

By the time Mr. Quine retired, he had set foot in 113 countries in five continents. For his 90th birthday, his family took him to North Dakota, the only state of the union he had not visited.

After graduating summa cum laude from Oberlin, the next stop was Cambridge, Massachusetts, where, spurred by the economic uncertainties of the Depression, he completed the requirements for a Harvard doctorate in just two years under the supervision of leading philosopher Alfred North Whitehead.

Eligible for a yearlong, post-doctoral Sheldon Travelling Fellowship, he married Naomi Clayton '29, and the young couple set off for Vienna, Prague, and Warsaw, meeting the most distinguished mathematicians of Europe. Planning carefully, they returned to Harvard 12 months later with exactly $7 between them.

Mr. Quine was elected as a junior member of the newly formed, prestigious Society of Fellows, which allowed him three years of research. In 1936 he began a teaching career at Harvard that would last for the next four decades. He retired in 1978.

He tried to integrate the rigorous study of logic and language with philosophy to discover what humans can know and how they can know it. Although not all of his peers agreed with him, he was nevertheless considered the world's foremost analytical philosopher, and certainly a luminary of the academic world. Mr. Quine's position was that philosophy was contiguous with science, not a separate, privileged field, that could provide an independent foundation for other areas of study.

His specialty was in mathematical logic and in the meaning of language, and he theorized that what exists is what our best theory says exists. He set out to define the reality of the world and how humans fit into it. The conclusion he arrived at was that a person could only understand the world empirically, or through direct experience of it. He believed that nothing that humans know lies outside the realm of language, and so the theory of knowledge depended upon a theory of language. His paper, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," published in 1951, helped to crumble the barriers between science and philosophy.

Aside from guest lectures on five continents, Mr. Quine left Harvard only once, for four years, to serve in World War II as a Navy officer deciphering communication codes used by German submarines. His facility in languages included not only German, but also French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and a smattering of ten other languages. One of his more than two dozen books was written in Portuguese. His magnum opus was Quiddities, written in a style that was eminently lucid, and, at the same time, lively, elegant, and accessible to the layman. In his 500-page autobiography, he includes a long segment about his friendship with Oberlin classmate and lifelong friend Ed Haskell '28, whom he describes as "ambitious, opinionated, contentious in the classroom, and rather shunned as an eccentric." The author mentioned that he often accepted speaking engagements only for the sake of their frequent reunions.

Mr. Quine typed his manuscripts on a 1927 Remington typewriter he had modified by replacing characters he didn't use with mathematical fractions. When asked why he didn't need the question mark on his typewriter, he replied. "Well, you see, I only deal in certainties."

Among the hundreds of students whom he taught were the mathematician and political satirist Tom A. Lehrer and Theodore J. Kaczynski, later known as the "Unabomber." Mr. Quine is possibly the only philosopher whose name appears in the Oxford English Dictionary. The listing "Quinian" is defined as "Of or pertaining to or characteristic of Willard van Orman Quine or his theories." Many philosophers use "to Quine" to repudiate a clear distinction.

Mr. Quine had a softer side. He enjoyed a very happy second marriage and was close to each of his children; two by his first marriage and two by his 1948 marriage to Marjorie Boynton. He loved Dixieland jazz and played the banjo in jazz groups. He also liked Mexican folk songs, Gilbert & Sullivan, and playing the mandolin. A self-taught pianist, he preferred limiting himself to only the black keys.

Mr. Quine was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree by Oberlin in 1955, and held a dozen and a half other honorary degrees. He was recipient of the 1993 Rolf Schock Prize in Stockholm, and the 1996 Kyoto Prize in Tokyo.

Predeceased by his wife and his former wife, he is survived by three daughters, a son, six grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.

correction by Douglas Quine to name of brother "Robert" (not "Douglas") and number of grandchildren

W V Quine photo

Philosophy Now - March/ April 2001

Obituary: Willard V. Quine (1908-2000)
by Dr. Paul O'Grady, Philosophy Department, Trinity College, Dublin

Willard Van Orman Quine is regarded by many as the most significant philosopher to have written in English in the second half of the twentieth century. Born in Akron, Ohio, his parents of Dutch and Manx descent, he attended Oberlin College where he studied mathematics and philosophy. He graduated to Harvard, where he competed his PhD in a record two years on Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica, under Whitehead's supervision. He was elected as one of the first group of research fellows of that institution (as was B.F.Skinner). This gave Quine financial security (it was 1932) and freedom to pursue his research interests. He travelled to Europe, attending the meetings of the Vienna Circle, where he met his great mentor Rudolf Carnap. He also met A. J. Ayer and Kurt Gödel. The Vienna Circle espoused an anti-metaphysical and scientific-minded philosophy. Quine's distinctive philosophical contribution was to develop their views in revolutionary ways, undermining positivism from within using resources from American Pragmatism and creating a new philosophical landscape.

His first major book, a collection of essays From A Logical Point of View (1953 - probably the only seminal text named after a Harry Belafonte calypso) heralded many of the themes developed subsequently, particularly in Word and Object (1960) his chief work. He denied any distinction in principle between knowledge derived from the senses and any other kind of knowledge. In so doing he recast the way philosophers understood their task - since he denied that philosophy has any special tools or methods not available to scientists. Specifically he rejected the view that philosophers analyse meanings in a way analogous to chemists analysing physical compounds. This was part of his reason for famously rejecting the distinction between analytic and synthetic sentences, between those true by virtue of meaning and those true because of how the world is. He held that there is no decent notion of meaning available to make such a distinction. In so doing Quine defended what was called a naturalistic method. Philosophy does not supply foundations for the sciences, neither does it provide vocabulary or logical tools for scientists. Rather philosophy is part of the general scientific project of understanding the world - it looks at certain kinds of theoretical questions about knowledge, evidence and meaning in collaboration with the sciences, not construed as a separate foundational area. In his works he elegantly articulated this kind of philosophy, defending many contentious theses about reference, meaning and knowledge.

Despite the austerity of his philosophical vision, (his taste for desert landscapes as he put it), he was a master stylist, revelling in the pithy epigram. In citing an historical forebear of his empiricist philosophy he noted "The Humean predicament is the human predicament". In holding that our account of what exists (our ontology) is best captured and expressed in the calculus of mathematical logic, he expressed it as, "to be is to be the value of a variable". Among his most powerful metaphors was that of our system of beliefs as a web, with those parts at the centre less liable to change, those at the edge quite changeable - but everything revisable in principle, even logic and mathematics.

His influence has been immense - among the leading contemporary philosophers are his students Putnam and Davidson, W V Quine photo who respond in quite different ways to his work. Developments in cognitive science are indebted to his lead (for instance the work of Daniel Dennett). He has set much of the agenda for philosophy of language, epistemology and curiously enough contemporary metaphysics. He resisted the therapeutic tendency of philosophers influenced by the later Wittgenstein, robustly producing a systematic and distinctive metaphysical system. In so doing he strongly influenced the contemporary practice of philosophy in America and Britain. Despite travelling extensively and lecturing in many languages throughout the world, his academic career was rooted at Harvard, where he delighted in teaching freshman logic as well as his more advanced classes. He married twice, with four children and numerous grandchildren.

(c) Dr Paul O'Grady 2001 - Paul O'Grady lectures in philosophy at Trinity College Dublin.

The above obituary is from Philosophy Now Issue 31. More obituaries of Willard V. Quine from the world's press may be found at the Quine Pages compiled by his son, Dr. Douglas B. Quine.

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