Quine's Naturalism (interview of Sander Verhaegh about the topic)


INTRO: Sander Verhaegh is an Assistant Professor at the Tilburg Center for Logic, Ethics and Philosophy of Science (TiLPS) at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. His research focuses on the history of analytic philosophy (especially Quine and the Vienna Circle), the history of psychology, and the philosophy of psychology. Here he discusses Quine’s naturalism, the naturalistic turn, Quine and epistemology, Quine and traditional metaphysics, Quine’s best arguments for naturalism, his deflationary views about truth, reality, justification and meaning, the analytic-synthetic distinction, his attitude to behaviorism, philosophy’s relationship with science, whether there’s a naturalistic justification for naturalism, and Quine’s legacies.

EXCERPTS: ‘Historically, philosophical naturalism has often been defined in opposition to ‘supernaturalism’. Where supernaturalists believe that at least some phenomena require ‘supernatural’ explanations, e.g. we need god(s) to explain the origin of the universe; we cannot explain consciousness without introducing souls or Cartesian minds, naturalists defend a picture of reality in which man, mind, and morality are conceived of as natural phenomena.’

‘Because much of the historiography of twentieth-century analytic philosophy is focused on the Carnap-Quine debate, people tend to forget that the two basically shared the same perspective on philosophy. I believe it is historically more accurate to claim that Carnap and Quine, in their discussions about analyticity, ontology, and the nature of logic and mathematics, were only disagreeing about the details.’

‘Quine has always been puzzled by the nature of epistemology. In the archives, I found a bunch of notes for a book he was writing when he was working in the Navy during the Second World War. Quine never completed the book, partly because he could not come up with a satisfying solution to the problem of how to square his naturalism with a satisfying epistemology.’

‘Considering that we are only directly acquainted with sense data, the phenomenalist asks, aren’t we obliged to show that our best scientific theories can be derived from primary sense experiences if we want to be sure that those theories are truly justified? Quine’s principal move against the phenomenalist (an argument he first developed in the years between “Two Dogmas” and Word and Object) is to deny the presupposition that we are directly acquainted with sense data in the first place.’

‘ Quine’s arguments against traditional epistemology and traditional metaphysics are cut from the same cloth. Quine dismisses questions about whether electrons, bacteria, and chromosomes really exist, because our very notion of ‘reality’ is itself a scientific notion.’

‘When you adopt a Quinean picture, it is still perfectly possible to do metaphysics, epistemology, or philosophy of language. Quine only teaches philosophers that they should be more humble. Our theories about the world are fallible; it is always possible that we will one day discover that our most fundamental theories are largely incorrect. ‘

‘Between 1930 and 1967, Quine did not hesitate to identify himself as a behaviorist (although his views were very different from those of Skinner). After 1967, however, Quine starts to be more careful in his use of the term.’

‘Although Quine himself has always maintained that his project can “be pursued at one or more removes from the laboratory, at one or another level of speculativity” (both quotes are from The Roots of Reference), I believe he does not have any good arguments to support his approach.’

MORE (interview): https://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/quines-naturalism/

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