Thursday, March 11, 2004

Review of Nelson and Nelson's On Quine

Nelson and Nelson's On Quine is one title in the ever growing Wadsworth's Philosophers Series. It is a rather typical volume. It is about 100 pages long and covers the basic ideas that Quine has made popular during his career. Quine was arguably the most significant post-positivist philosopher. He became famous for a few things, all of which are spelled out nicely and clearly in the book.

Quine's most interesting achievement was his eradication of the analytic/synthetic distinction which has been vital for philosophers from Kant through the positivists. The distinction, and Quine's dissolution of it is still controversial. Quine's main interest was in naturalism though. Quine taught us that philosophy was just science being "self conscience". Science was supposed to be continuous with philosophy, not above it. Epistemology was to be reduced to psychology, for example. Our ontological commitments are to be determined by what our best science commits us to. Our science, like our language, is meaningless when taken one fact or one word at a time. We need to be holistic about both. All of our scientific beliefs are are well intertwined, and no word in our language has meaning when taken in isolation. It is only when we consider it as a whole can we determine meaning.

The book goes through all of this and a few other important views of Quine. It can serve as a good introduction to Quine. If you know Quine's main work, you will find this generally uninformative. If you want to get a grip on some of the central views of contemporary philosophy without going through Quine himself, this is a good place to start.

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