Willard Van Orman Quine (1908-2000)

      Quine focused on logic and the philosophy of logic. That is to say, like a great many philosophers of this past century, from Frege, RUSSELL, and Whitehead on, he was obsessed by formal logical reasoning to the point of irrationality! Just as ZENO tried to prove that motion is logically impossible (though everyone knows better), Quine tried to show that "radical translation" from one language to another is logically impossible. Suppose, he said, that you are standing by a native in a foreign land who speaks only a language you do not understand. A rabbit runs by and the native says "gavagai". Quine claims that you have no way of knowing whether 'gavagai' means "rabbit", or "there goes a rabbit", or "isn't it a lovely day!" Of course, linguists and even ordinary people have sometimes gone into foreign areas knowing not a single word of the local language, and have mastered it quite well. But don't bother me with the facts! Logic says it is impossible! The simple answer to Quine's puzzle is that if you have not yet got enough experience with the new language to be sure of its proper translation, then get some more experience with it. As long as beings share a common universe, and to the extent they share a common existence, proper translation will always be possible.

      Quine also seemed not to notice that his same "logic" should lead him to deny that we can ever learn our original language! (How does a child born in the foreign land learn what 'gavagai' means?!)

Williard Van Orman Quine
Often was heard to whine:
"From a logical point of view,
No translation can you do."
—JSH (1998)

According to W. V. Quine
Any ontology's fine
And that's why I
Think he's a heckgavagai.
—Brian Leftow

If reference is inscrutable
And ostension mutable
There's just no knowing
where Quine is going.
—Brian Leftow

Quine and Cartwright point with glee
to the 1992 Times, where we
read that Mr. Bobbitt
was for awhile a scattered object.
—Brian Leftow

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