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Willard Van Orman Quine Edit Profile

also known as Orman

philosophy professor

Willard Van Orman QUINE, American philosophy professor. Medal, Columbia University. Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton 1956-1957; Institute de France; Institute Institute de Philosophie, Academy Institute de Philosophic des Sciences, Institute Brasileiro de Filosoffa, American National Academy, of Sciences.


Quine, Willard Van Orman was born on June 25, 1908 in Akron, Ohio, United States. Son of Cloyd Robert and Hattie Ellis (Van Orman) Quine.


Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, summa cum laude, Oberlin College, 1930. Master of Arts in Philosophy, Harvard University, 1931. Doctor of Philosophy, Harvard University, 1932.

Master of Arts, Oxford University, 1953. Doctor of Letters (honorary), Oberlin College, 1955. Doctor of Letters (honorary), Ohio State University, 1957.

Doctorate (honorary), University Lille, France, 1965. Doctor of Letters (honorary), Akron University, 1965. Doctor of Letters (honorary), Washington University, St. Louis, 1966.

Doctor of Humane Letters (honorary), University Chicago, 1967. Doctor of Letters (honorary), Oxford University, 1970. Doctor of Letters (honorary), Temple University, 1970.

Doctor of Letters (honorary), Cambridge University, England, 1978. Doctor of Laws (honorary), Harvard University, 1979. Doctor of Philosophy (honorary), Uppsala University, Sweden, 1980.

Doctor of Letters, Syracuse University, 1981. Doctorate, University Berne, Switzerland, 1982. Doctor of Humane Letters (honorary), Ripon College, 1983.

Doctor of Philosophy (honorary), University Granada, Spain, 1986. Doctor of Humane Letters (honorary), Adelphi University, 1989.


Fellow, Society of Fellows, Harvard 1933-1936, Faculty Instructor in Philosophy 1936-1941, Association Professor 48, Professor, of Philosophy 1948-1956, Edgar Pierce Professor, of Philosophy, Harvard University 1956-1978, Emeritus Professor since 1978. United States.N.R. 1942-1946. Visiting Professor University of Sao Paulo, Brazil 1942, George Eastman Visiting Professor, Oxford University 1953-1954.

Shearman Lecturer, University of London 1954. President Association for Symbolic Logic 1953-1955. Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, Stanford 1958-1959.

Gavin David Young Lecturer, Adelaide University, Australia 1959. Visiting Professor Tokyo University 1959. Fellow, Wesleyan University Center for Advanced Study 1965.

Fellow, American Academy, of Arts and Sciences, N.A.S., American Philosophical Society. Correspondent Fellow British Academy, Norwegian Academy. Correspondent; Lecturer, New York 1971, Saville Fellow, Oxford 1973-1974.

President American Philosophical Association 1958.



Quine, Tampa: University Presses of Florida. (1988) Enlightened Empiricism: An Examination ofW.V. Quine’s Theory of Knowledge, Tampa: University of S. Florida Press. Gochet, Paul (1986) Ascent to Truth: A Critical Examination of Quine's Philosophy, Munich: Munich Verlag. Hahn, L. E. and Schilpp. P. A. (1986) The Philosophy of W. V. Quine, Peru, 111.: Open Court. Hookway, Christopher (1988) Quine, Cambridge: Polity Press. Kirk, R. (1986) Translation Determined, Oxford University Press. Shahan, R. W. and Swoyer, C. (1979) Essays on the Philosophy of IV. V. Quine, Norman, Ok.: University of Oklahoma Press, and Hassocks, Sussex: Harvester. Quine’s influence on analytic philosophy has been profound and wide-ranging.

His early contribution to logic amounted to a substantial modification of the Russell-Whitehead system of Principia Mathematica, but like Russell he remained loyal to the idea of extensional two-valued logic, evincing a considerable scepticism about the very notion of alternative logics, especially those constructed to accommodate modal concepts like those of necessity and possibility. Quine was himself influenced by logical positivism, but even while reacting to it, he preserved a strong empiricist orientation. He shared with the positivists the view that science is the only source of knowledge. There is no ‘first philosophy' of the type envisaged by traditional philosophers.

Espousing a broad naturalism, Quine saw philosophy as part of science, in effect as natural science’s reflection on itself. He was particularly concerned with the application of this naturalistic perspective to language. In a famous paper he mounted an assault on analyticity and the whole notion of ‘truth by virtue of meaning’.

At issue was the positivist verification principle, according to which analytic statements were characterized as those which were ‘verified’ by all experiences or observations. He further argued that attempts to define analyticity were circular, involving equally problematic notions like that of synonymy or sameness of meaning, and that verification could not be applied to individual statements in isolation. Quine thus embraced a holistic view in which our beliefs confronted experience, not individually, but as an entire body.

Predictions which turned out to be false would entail a revision of the overall system, but this would not dictate exactly how the adjustments were to be made. Quine, therefore, had a strong aversion to intensional notions such as those of ‘meaning’, ‘property’ or ‘proposition’, seeing them as having no legitimate role in a proper semantic or psychological theory. One upshot of his attack on analyticity and meaning was that there were no ‘objective’ relations of synonymy or sameness ot meaning, and hence all translation was indeterminate. This thesis of the ‘indeterminancy of translation’ entails that the linguistic behaviour ot language speakers is consistent with incompatible but equally coherent schemes or ‘manuals’ of translation that might be constructed.

There is no ‘fact of the matter’ as to the meaning of a speaker’s utterances. Given that, on Quine's view, there are no meanings or analytic truths, then there is an immediate and radical implication for philosophy itself: there is no role for philosophy as an activity exclusively or predominantly concerned with a priori theorizing about ‘concepts’ or ‘meanings. Quine sought to extend his programme by naturalizing epistemology, providing a heavily behaviouristic account of the relation of beliefs and theories to sensory input. Quine appeals to the fact that we do, after all, learn language not only from the non-human world, but from other human beings, and that acquiring such language understanding is a matter of bringing one’s own speech behaviour into line with that of others m one’s particular language community. Quine is also justly renowed for his discussion of ontological commitment, commenced in the seminal paper.

Without exaggeration it can be said that this paper generated a vast secondary literature devoted to questions of ontology and reference. The question for Quine is how one determines the ontological commitments of a theory. Natural language is unhelpful in this regard, since it has many different ways of expressing such commitments, i.e. there is no one readily identifiable syntactic device serving the purpose.

Furthermore, speakers of natural language talk prima facie about all manner of things: their sentences contain names of nonentities, there are definite descriptive phrases which do not always have the function of referring to objects. Quine's recommendation was that ontological disputes could be clarified by resort to logic, and more specifically the device of quantification. This would mean that, in the technical thought logical idiom, ontological commitment would be expressed by means of what is standardly known as the ‘existential quantifier.

Thus someone could express their ontological commitment by saying things of the form ‘There are Xs’, where ‘X’ indicates the kinds of entity to which the person is committed. This is the basis for Quine’s famous slogan that ‘To be is to be the value of a bound variable’. Critics pointed out that there are at least some uses of ‘There is’ and related expressions in natural language which do not plausibly carry ontological commitment, e.g. ‘there are several Ways of dealing with this problem’, but which, if subjected to the technical regimentation Quine recommends, would involve such commitment.

Quine’s indeterminancy thesis has implications for his account of ontological commitment: if there is no ultimate fact of the matter about what exactly someone is saying or what entities they are referring to in their utterances, then what a speaker if ontologically committed to becomes relativized to the particular manual or scheme of translation used to interpret their utterances. For all the relativistic overtones of his approach, Quine has commitments of his own, not least of which is his physicalism, his view of Physics as the basic science to which all other lesser’ sciences should be in principle reducible. Respite a pronounced leaning towards nomalism, he reluctantly feels he has to countenance one category of abstract entity-sets. Science needs mathematics, and while one might dispense with many of the apparent ‘entities’ of mathematics such as numbers, no mathematics adequate for Physical science can be sustained without sets.

As always, Quine’s ultimate justification for his stances is essentially pragmatic, and his own outlook represents yet another twist to the story °f American pragmatism in philosophy. Quine’s views have been the focus of many debates: with Rudolf Carnap and Jerrold Katz on [he notion of analyticity, and with Ruth Marcus Barcan and others on the question of modality ar>d the possibility of modal logics. He had a stgnificant influence on Donald Davidson, his holism has been questioned, perhaps most forcefully by Jerry Fodor. and despite his own logical slance, he has inspired much work on the development of logics tolerating reference to uonentities, at least some of which have put in Question his coupling of the notions of existence and quantification.


Served to Lieutenant commander of The United States Navy Reserve, 1942-1946. Fellow American Philosophical Society, British Academy (correspondent). Member American Philosophical Association (president East division 1957), Association Symbolic Logic (president 1953-1956), American Academy Arts and Sciences, National Academy Sciences, Institut de France (correspondent), Norwegian Academy, Institut International de Philosophie, Instituto Brasileiro de Filosofia (correspondent), Academie Internationale de la Philosophie de Science, Phi Beta Kappa.


  • Other Interests

    Philosophy of language. Mathematical logic; epistemology. Philosophy of science.


Married Naomi Ann Clayton, September 19, 1930. Children: Elizabeth Roberts, Norma. Married Marjorie Boynton, September 2, 1948.

Children: Douglas Boynton, Margaret McGovern.

Cloyd Robert Quine

Hattie Ellis (Van Orman) Quine

Naomi Ann Clayton

Marjorie Boynton

Elizabeth Roberts Quine

Norma Quine

Douglas Boynton Quine

Margaret McGovern Quine