Quine and Davidson on Language, Thought, and Reality, Chapter 7

Quine and Davidson on Language, Thought, and Reality, Chapter 7

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7 Indeterminacies According to Quine, the indeterminacy of translation shows that there ate no cntena o{ldenhty for meamngs, and hence that our intuitive notion of meaning is vacuous (PC 1-2, 67-8; OR 23; PT 37, 52-3). This - in turn spells ruin not just for analyticity, but for intensional noiloOs - (proposition, attribute, necessity, etc.) in general. It also undermines the 'traditional semantics' which revolved around these notions. Quine vari- ....... ---,=-:----- ously characterizes this semantics as 'mentalistic', on account of its com- mltment to meaning as something beyond behaviour, as 'absolutist', on account of its presupposingseparate and distinct meanings, and as 'intro- spective', on account of Its uncrltlcaI acceptance of our llltuitlve notion of .--r:neamng (RR 36; MVD 86; RHS 493; ITA 9). ---- Indeterminacy also threatens the idea that propositional attitudes have a determinate content. What we believe and desire is expressed by sentences. If it is pointless to ask whether a sentence the native assents to means 'p' or 'q', it is also pointless to ask whether she believes that p or that q (RIT 180-1). Since beliefs and desires are individuated by their content, this will demolish what isknown as'intentional psychology', our pervasive practice of explaining the behaviour of human beings by refer- ence to their beliefs and desires. Quine has welcomed this consequence. He accepts the 'Brentano thesis', according to which our intentional and intensional statements cannot be reduced to the purely extensional state- ments of the physical sciences. To him, however, this demonstrates not 'the indispensability of intentional idioms and the importance of an autonomous science of intention' but rather the baselessness ofintentional idioms and the emptiness ofascience of intention ... If weare limning the true and ultimate structure of reality,the canonicalschemefor us isthe austere schemethat knows ... [200] ", (",""it. Jf li <lM< /4 u C-J I&- "::>>-<;/Ir.:.-c pj tH 0t~:c. k~) Ii rtivt"\ J J! t>., L F' \.-<4 It?&-'j ic.. .Itt fa. ~ .
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Indeterminacies 201 no propositionalattitudes but only the physical constitution and behavioroforganisms. (WO 221; see WP ch. 21; MVD) There are various ways in which these momentous conclusions might be resisted. In this chapter I argue that some of them fail, but that indetermi- nacycan nevertheless be avoided, partly by adopting the less austere and more realistic perspective on linguistic understanding recommended in the last chapter .In ~_\,;ftion }, I deny that radical translation and hence in- ... etermina startsat home and defend our first-person authori concern- 1\: in s eaker's meaning and re erence. ecnon 2 defendsrhe indeterminaCYJ thesis against tree 0 jection at it is self-refq1i\tg, ffi'at it confuses on- tological and epistemological questions, and thun wrongly presupposes a third-person perspective on meaning. But although meaning cannot transcend observable behaviour. it transcends radical translation and in- terpretation, since the latter needlessly restrict the semantically relevant~ "features oflinguisticbehaviour and impose YRwarraoted methodological -restrictions.
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