Notes on Quine’s Two Dogmas and Speaking of Objects

Speaking of Objects

Willard Van Orman Quine argues that when we talk and think about objects, both physical and abstract and have a tendancy to break them down into singular and general terms (Always, sometimes, never). We can transform alien pattens into understandable language. In compiling a language, we make crude adaptions to it. ‘Lo! Rabit is’ and ‘There we have rabit’ translates into ‘they’re is a rabit’. The native language informs us that the so-and-so is present. However, these don’t have to be rabits. It could mean ‘rabbithood’ for all we know.

We don’t want rough estimates of words, meanings and phrases however. We want the whole textbook. The Linguist when translating the language, may come to think as the natives do. I would seem to share the same conceptual scheme in regards to the native, or at least understand his conceptual scheme.

The children who acquire first terms of language: ‘mama’, ‘red’, etc, learns to use such language in appropriate situations. Yet we cannot call these things or substances yet. For example, ‘mama’ could refer to ‘older female figure’ or ‘girl provider’. It may not necessarily have the same connotations as mother. ‘Water’, ‘red’, ‘mama’ all have historys in specific encounters.

As the child develops, it acquires three words. ‘hello, mother again’, ‘water, I more’ and ‘red is more’ are all on par with: more mother, more water, more red. Finally, a child can create a patten of behavior that represents ours more closely and can indulge in our given conceptual scheme. It is only when the child can use fully individulite terms, such as apple, can he be said to be speaking of the object itself.

Individulite terms can be used as bulk terms. ‘cool’ can refer to a tempriture or attitude. There is a trial and error process of using the correct term in the correct conext. The physical object of an apple also has this process. ‘an’, ‘that’, ‘not that’ the child also learns through becoming attuned to longer phrases. Before indivdulisation of the term occurs,a child would not be able to distigush between singlar and general terms, as there are no singular objects to talk with.

Quine argues we could know the conditions in which an utterance is used in a forign language, yet we would not know what is being reffered to i.e the object of refferance. We come to know what is being reffered to as a matter of trial and error. We refine the truth/falsity of our sentances through a process of negation. If we use the utterance wrongly, we correct ourselves. If not, we continue as we have done.

As our language develops and we can further individualize the terms that make up a sentence, we can synthesise new objects by merging the constintuent terms into a complete sentance. At this stage, things do not have to be observable for us to have an understanding of them. For example, blue apple, round square, etc.

After this, we come to understand phrases in matters of degree or quality. E.g. Roundness, mankind, etc. This is done by creating genral terms out of the individual ones to highlight relationships between entities

Two Dogmas of Empiricism

First Dogma

The first Dogma of Empiricism involves a belief in some fundamental split between analytic and synthetic truths. Quine argues that the two distinctions are a part of the same coin however. For Kant, an analytic statement is a statement that attributes to its subject no more then what is already contained within itself. In other words, it is true by virtue of its meaning. Yet what something means may not necessarily be the same thing as a name or reference. Take the ‘evening star’ and mourning star’, they both have the same referent but mean different things. Similarly, the word ‘cool’ can either refer to a low temperature or a particular attitude or aesthetic judgment.

Meaning then, is not necessarily the same thing as name or referent. If I were to say ‘She’s rather cold’, I could mean two distinct things by using the same utterance. The first is that her body temperature is low and secondly, that she is uncaring. Sunrise and Sunset both have the same referent as well (i.e. The sun), but have different meanings. If they were analytic, we could say that sunrise = sunset.

Singular terms

Purports to name an entity, either abstract or concrete.

General terms

True of an entity, or of each, or many, or none.

The class of all entities, of which a general term is true, is called an extension of the term. We need to distinguish the meaning of a general term and its extension. For example, the general terms ‘creature with a heart’ and ‘creature with a kidney are perhaps alike in extension, but not in meaning. Confusing meaning with extension is however, less common than confusing meaning with naming in regards to singular terms.

Meaning and references are hence distinct. Once the theory of meaning is sharply separated from the theory of reference, we are on the right track to recognizing as the business of the theory of meaning as simply the synonymy of linguistic forms and the analyticity of statements. Meanings themselves however, should be abandoned due to their obscurity. While statements might be logically true if they are analytic, this is not the same as their meanings being synonymous.

If I say a calculator is a computer and a computer is a calculator, these are both logically analytic statements. But when we talk about computers and calculators, we mean very different things, even though by definition they refer to the same device. Both are defined as programmable electronic devices, designed to accept data, perform prescribed mathematical and logical operations at high speed, and display the results of these operations. Yet we mean very different things when we talk about computers and calculators. They do not appear to be synonymous in meaning.

We may call into question who exactly defines X by Y. Whether this be a bachelor is an unmarried man, or a calculator is a computer. What makes us justified in appealing to the dictionary and appealing to the lexographers formulation of the law? Maybe he might have assumed the two to be factually synonymous due to his own belief that they are. Philosophers and Scientists are equally guilty in rephrasing terms into language that is easier to understand as well.

Neither bachelor and unmarried man, nor computer and calculator have exchangeable truth values in themselves. They are not the same thing, yet are defined as the same thing.

In Explanation, the intention is not merely to paraphrase something but to extend its meaning. Often refining and supplementing its meaning. Yet all definitions hark back to pre-synonymies. If we are to supplement or refine a term, we still relate the new term to old synonymies in order to explain it. Definition then, has become a dangerously reassuring sound.

Second Dogma

The Verification theory of meaning refers to gaining a meaning from the statement by either empirically affirming or inferring it. Synonymy then is gained by empirically affirming the statement. Verification theory, via empirical affirmation, could save analytic statements. Yet we must first ask ourselves what is the nature of the relationship between a statement and the experiences which contribute or detract from its confirmation? Radical Reductionism, conceived now with statements as units, aims at specifying a sense-data language which it hopes to build unit by unit.

This and other kinds of reductionism create the second dogma of emprisism, reducing our experiance of the world to units of direct experiance. Locke and Hume, start with the most basic units of experiance which they build up from. Other philosopher like carnap meanwhile, have kept logical functions in their empirisms.