Thursday, March 13, 2008

A pithy note on Quine

I'm reading Word and Object in its entirety, something I've never done before. I tend to stop around the middle of chapter 2. I came across something I found surprising. On p. 76-77, Quine quotes Wittgenstein in the context of explaining the indeterminacy of translation: "Understanding a sentence means understanding a language." This was a little surprising since it is from the Blue and Brown Books. I thought they didn't have wide circulation. At least that is the impression I got from somewhere, possibly Monk's biography of Wittgenstein. Quine had referenced the Tractatus in some other essays, but I had chalked that up to the influence of the Vienna Circle and the Tractatus generally. Apparently Quine read him some Wittgenstein.

6 comments:

Aidan said...

I always end up leaving off after chapter 2 - never made it any further.

But the question is: how do you know that this time you're reading it in its entirety??

Justin said...

Aidan, you'd never ask questions like that if you'd had some good Pitt style philosophy of action.

Shawn said...

aidan,
One motivating factor is that the last three chapters, I think, are assigned for the Quine class I'm in. I want to see the wild frontier that is post-chapter 2 Word and Object.

Although, it is the crucial difference between:
(a) I will read Word and Object, and
(b) I foresee I will read Word and Object.

justin,
I think I need some good Pitt style philosophy of action.

Ole Thomassen Hjortland said...

I hardly ever make it past ch 2, § 13, and when I do, it's just to read about regimentation. But this I think is a helpful chapter; it sheds some light on the relationship between Quine's model-theoretic (and in particular substitution-theoretic) talk in Philosophy of Logic and Ontological Relativity, and ch 2 of W&O.

I didn't know much about the Wittgenstein link. I heard from someone that Quine sent a letter to Wittgenstein at some point (probably before visiting Carnap), but that Wittgenstein never answered. Does anyone have the details?

N. N. said...

That's interesting that Quine read the Blue Book. Concerning its circulation, I'm reminded of this bit of personal history by Stanely Cavell:

"I don't remember ever hearing the name Wittgenstein in those years [the late 40s] (perhaps it was mentioned in connection with truth-tables), but I did see it in another context, on the cover of a typescript in the UCLA departmental office called The Blue Book. (It was in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet, where blank paper was stored.)" ["On Wittgenstein," Philosophical Investigations, 2001, p. 89]

Jeremy said...

Wittgenstein says something to this effect in PI 199, not only Blue Book: "To understand a sentence means to understand a language. To understand a language means to be master of a technique."