Monday, March 31, 2008

Quine on ontology

From the depths of Word and Object comes this delightfully worded statement on ontology:
"What distinguishes between the ontological philosopher's concern and all this is only breadth of categories. Given physical objects in general, the natural scientist is the man to decide about wombats and unicorns. Given classes, or whatever other broad realm of objects the mathematician needs, it is for the mathematician to say whether in particular there are any even prime numbers of any cubic numbers that are sums of pairs of cubic numbers. On the other hand it is scrutiny of this uncritical acceptance of the realm of physical objects itself, or of classes, etc., that devolves upon ontology. Here is the task of making explicit what had been tacit, and precise what had been vague; of exposing and resolving paradoxes, smoothing kinks, lopping off vestigial growths, clearing ontological slums."
There is something in the closing lines that appeals to me. Hopefully I'll be able to post something more substantive on this stuff soon. (More promissory notes...)

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

The last bit about ontological slums reminds me of Wittgenstein's statement in PI:

"Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses."

Indeed, I've often thought of Quine's notion of regimentation, which is reflected in the passage you quote, in relation to the old city analogy: the philosopher of language as urban planner.