Willard Van Orman Quine Essay Research Paper

Willard Van Orman Quine Essay, Research Paper

Willard Van Orman Quine

“If pressed to supplement Tweedledee’s ostensive definition of logic with a discursive definition of the same subject, I would say that logic is the systematic study of the logical truths. Pressed further, I would say that a sentence is logically true if all sentences with its grammatical structure are true (”Quotations from the Writings of Willard Van Orman Quine.”).” Often described as the foremost American philosopher of the twentieth century, Willard Van Orman Quine is a significant presence in matters of symbolic logic, as well as other philosophical aspects (Kemerling). Born June 25, 1908 in Akron, Ohio, Quine underwent extensive training in mathematics and philosophy at Oberlin College and Harvard University. He continued training at Prague, under the instruction of Rudolf Carnap. Some of his more widely known publications include: Two Dogmas of Empiricism, Word and Object, From a Logical Point of View, and Philosophy of Logic (”Quine, Willard Van Orman” Britannica CD). Throughout all of Quine’s theories and publications, the central concept is that of Logical Empiricism, and the rejection of Logical Positivism.

In order to understand the basis of Logical Empiricism, it is necessary that one understand the relative difference between the concepts of analytical logic and synthetic logic. An analytic statement is one of explicit logical truth. For example, the statements, “President Johnson is President Johnson” and “Either it is raining out or it is not raining out” are those of explicit logical truths. The first implies the concept of strict identity, “a = a”. The second reflects the tautology of the form “p or not p”. In his “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”, Quine does not dispute this fact. However, upon examination of the sentence “All bachelors are unmarried men”, Quine finds discord. This sentence is customarily referred to as analytic, because it is tacitly of the form of “a = a”, translated to “All unmarried men are unmarried men”. In this example, a notion of synonymy between the definitions of the expressions “bachelor” and “unmarried man” is presupposed. Continuing, the statements “All crows are black” and “Johnny is crying” are deemed synthetic, for the reason that it’s meaning does not depend on the truthfulness of the separate terms, but that is it is an assertion about a group of objects in the empirical world. The sentence, “Johnny is crying” does not attempt to ascertain that every person by the name of Johnny is crying, but simply that this particular Johnny is (”Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism”). Therefore, “a judgment is analytic if the concept of it’s predicate is already contained in that of it’s subject”, however it is synthetic “if the concepts of its subject and predicate are independent”. “Alternatively, a proposition is analytic if it is true merely by virtue of the meaning of its terms or tautologous; otherwise, it is synthetic (Kemerling).” This understanding is the basis for Quine’s Logical Empiricism.

“Quine believes the very notion of analyticity to be spurious.” Quine’s view can be expressed through a statement by Olshewsky: “If analytic statements are true by virtue of being capable of reduction to logical truths, by virtue of what are these logical truths true? If by virtue of conventions, then are they arbitrary? If by virtue of some sort of rational insight, then are they not synthetic rather than analytic? If by virtue of the meaning of the logical connectives, do such meaning ultimately require some sort of practical justification.” Quine disapproves of the term analytic, because in order for such a thing to exist, it must be assumed that “things” have “meanings”, in such a manner that these meanings can be equated with each other in a non-subjective manner. Quine is of the belief reduction, “the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience”, and analyticity are dependent upon one another if logical empiricism is to remain coherent (”Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism”).

Lastly, W.V.O. Quine also rejects the idea of Logical Positivism. The basis of logical positivism is that a “distinction between those statements in which their truth or falsity depends upon the meaning of the terms involved and those in which their truth or falsity is a matter of empirical and observable fact” can be drawn. This distinction is thought by most empiricists to be the foundation for a diversion between the deductive and empirical sciences. Quine, in “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” and other publications, argues that this distinction is impossible to draw, and therefore argue against logical positivism itself (”Western Philosophical Schools and Doctrines”).

Overall, Willard Van Orman Quine supports the view that logical positivism is based on analyticity, and because analyticity is impossible, logical positivism is, in turn, an unsupported idea. He rejects the belief in analyticity of Immanuel Kant, Hume, and Rudolf Carnap, instead for the belief of Olshewsky, that all statements are synthetic, because an analytic statement would presuppose the existence of universal meanings. His contributions to the development of contemporary philosophy involve these modifications of the empiricist traditions of pragmatism and logical positivism (Kemerling). These contributions combined with Quine’s publications distinguish him as the most important analytic philosopher of the twentieth century (”W.V.O. Quine”).


Kemerling, Garth. “Philosophy Pages.” Online WWW. Http://www.philosophypages.com (2000)

“Quine, Willard Van Orman.” Britannica CD. CDROM. (1997)

“Quine’s ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’.” Online WWW. Http://www.the-spa.com/thirteen/quine2.htm.

“Quotations from the Writings of Willard Van Orman Quine.” Online WWW. Http://www.rbjones.com/rbjpub/philos/history/wqq001.htm. (May 26, 1997)

“Western Philosophical Schools and Doctrines.” Britannica CD. CDROM. (1997)

“W.V.O. Quine.” Online WWW. Http://www.gis.net/~d13/quine.htm


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