The rabbit from the hat of W.F Quine

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Submitted by Anonymous Guest on Sat, 2007-08-18 19:40

Recently I've been introduced to W.F Quine philosophy by friend. He is considered to be the most influential philosopher of 20th century. He died at respectful age of 92 years in the year 2000 and only the list of his published works takes 11 pages. I had some glimpse on the issue which is central in his philosophy- ontological relativism, and I didn’t like what I’ve seen. And this is my arguments.
Quine did to epistemology what Heisenberg did to the science of physics- he introduced indeterminacy into the studies of knowledge. First he, as good Kantian has divorced object of the study from its percept and percept from the concept. He said
“ But what is an observation? When I look at the sky, am I observing the photons that hit my color receptors, or am I observing the blueness that results?( the answer is-both, it is sine qua none). Quine contends that an observation is whatever is closest to the sensory receptors, notwithstanding consciousness on our part. Observation sentences then, are about bodies rather than impressions, because observations are what we agree on. It doesn’t necessarily matter then, that when we look at the sky I may perceive one version of “blue” and you may perceive another. We both agree that the sky is “blue,” because we are referring to a physical phenomenon outside of ourselves that gives us both some sort of impression, congruent or not.”
In other words his epistemology became a matter of semantics and not perceptual-conceptual conscious process making concept-formation process sort of socio-linguistic collectivist event without any effort of human mind. How one can obtain knowledge “consciousness notwithstanding” is beyond mine and I believe any honest person understanding. And if Quine is right then how he himself arrived to this conclusion? By means of gut-feelings or by conducting polls?
But the worse part of his philosophy is what he calls translational indeterminacy.
Consider Quine's example of the word "gavagai" uttered by a native upon seeing a rabbit[1]. The linguist could do what seems natural and translate this as "Lo, a rabbit." But other translations would be compatible with all the evidence he has: "Lo, food"; "Let's go hunting"; "There will be a storm tonight" (these natives may be superstitious); "Lo, a momentary rabbit-stage"; "Lo, an undetached rabbit-part." Some of these might become less likely - that is, become more unwieldy hypotheses- in the light of subsequent observation. Others can only be ruled out by querying the natives: An affirmative answer to "Is this the same gavagai as that earlier one?" will rule out "momentary rabbit stage," and so forth. But these questions can only be asked once the linguist has mastered much of the natives' grammar and abstract vocabulary; that in turn can only be done on the basis of hypotheses derived from simpler, observation-connected bits of language; and those sentences, on their own, admit of multiple interpretations, as we have seen Indeterminacy of translation also applies to the interpretation of speakers of one's own language, and even to one's past utterances.
As Kant postulated that human mind is unable to learn reality because it is human mind-that is having certain identity, so Quine denies the possibility of knowledge because knowledge too has identity-that is a context. ”Individual statements”- he said-“ cannot be suitably translated because they have fixed meaning only in the context of the theories they belong to.” But all knowledge is contextual. As Ayn Rand observed
“ The primary meaning of rationality is context-keeping. A man cannot be rational out of context, though he may be “logical” out of context, in a particular case.”
So if observation is socio-linguistic construct, knowledge is untranslatable and consciousness is not taking part in the process how can we know anything at all? Here is Quine’s answer:
“ Knowledge is subject to the mechanical inner working of the brain, which was sculpted unconsciously by evolution, which in essence follows the paths paved by physical law.”
Within such a deterministic system volition and choice obviously have no place. Translation of knowledge-Quine concluded-can be (in) consisted with behavioral evidence.
This is the only thing which left to us as means to acquire knowledge-to observe people as if they were rats in the maze. If you look around and you don't like the shape of the our world or our society maybe it is because most influential philosopher of our time has ascribed to human beings less intellect then he ascribed to rabbits.

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