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Journal of PhilosoPhical research Volume 34, 2009

Why QuIne Is not an externalIst

RobeRt SinclaiR
Brooklyn College

abStRact: This essay reconsiders the place of meaning within Quines naturalism. It takes as its point of departure Davidsons claim that Quines linguistic behaviorism entails a form of semantic externalism. It then further locates this claim within the Davidson-Quine debate concerning whether the proximal or distal stimulus is the relevant determinant of semantic content. An interpretation of Quines developing views on translation and epistemology is defended that rejects Davidsons view that Quine be read as a proto-externalist. Quines empirical evaluation of translation entails no positive theoretical doctrine concerning how meaning is determined, but concludes that communication is a theoretically unquantifiable practical art or skill. Moreover, his ongoing epistemological development highlights theoretical concerns that diverge in fundamental ways from Davidsons interest in semantics. Quine then has reasons for resisting the entailment to semantic externalism that Davidson finds in his work. These reasons should have also led him to question the scientific legitimacy of Davidsons concern with content determination.

. . . a . . . point where Davidson sees us diverging is between what he calls his distal and my proximal theory of meaning . . . my misleading term stimulus meaning was no doubt at the root of the trouble, and should be neutrally paraphrased in terms of the triggering of nerve endings, as is now my way. The triggering is proximal and the external object or situation is distal. Meaning is as may be, and may best go without saying. W. V. Quine n his recent essay Quines externalism, Donald Davidson has argued that Quines linguistic behaviorism, which claims that all there is to meaning can be gleaned from instances of observed usage, entails a form of semantic externalism where the meaning of expressions is tied to the objects, events, and situations


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they are about (2003, 293). He further claims that the acceptance of this form of semantic externalism, or what he also calls a distal theory of meaning, would in no way require a rejection of Quines naturalist commitments in philosophy (1990, 68). In opposition to this interpretation, we find gibsons remark that Quines focus on translation derives from his main interest in naturalized epistemology and not from any basic concern with the determination of linguistic meaning (1996, 99). Quine has himself emphasized how his examination of translation is epistemological rather than semantical, being concerned with why translation works, rather than with what the translator does or should do (1999, 74; Hylton 2007, 199). However, this has led him to famously affirm the indeterminacy of translation thesis, which highlights the empirical limits of the theory of translation and further illustrates his general questioning of the scientific credentials of meaning. The central issue then turns on the status of meaning within Quines scientific conception of naturalism and the further question of what is left for the study of semantics once we consider his negative reflections on the empirical limitations of translation. This essay addresses this specific interpretative question by critically evaluating the externalist reading of Quines position offered by Davidson. More specifically, it develops an interpretation of Quines reflections on translation that rejects the entailment to externalism that Davidson finds in Quines work. on the reading defended here, Quine rejects any positive theoretical commitment in semantics, be it externalist or internalist.1 My discussion focuses on how this conclusion follows from his examination of the empirical status of translation, and its specific role in discrediting the philosophical use of the concept meaning. This lack of any theoretical commitment in semantics indicates a difference in how Quine conceives the issue of content determination. His understanding of the study of semantics, including the question of the determination of meaning, focuses on facts about linguistic usage with communication depicted as an indispensable type of practical skill but as unfit for the demands of strict theoretical science.2 As a result, there is no clear theoretical answer from Quines perspective to Davidsons question concerning what determines the meaning of our utterances, but simply a practical concern with how our use of words facilitates linguistic communication. Quine further explains that in addressing this issue we can only appeal to the vague standards of fluency and effective dialogue that indicate our degree of success at mutual understanding and comprehension (1992, 59). To seek more from Quines reflections on translation, as Davidson does, is to downplay the import of Quines critical evaluation of translation and its connection to his main epistemological interests. In order to provide further support for these general remarks, I will begin by sketching the relevant details of Davidsons interpretive stance towards Quines work by locating it within the question of whether the proximal or distal stimulus should be favored as the relevant determinant of semantic content. We will see that this debate remains largely inconclusive as Quines reply does not directly respond to the semantic issue as Davidson formulates it. This is further explored in subsequent sections as I examine the status of Quines new found intermediate position

Why QuIne Is not an externalIst


between his old proximal view and Davidsons preferred distal account of meaning, and explain how this position addresses a problem for Quines own epistemology but not Davidsons main semantic question. The details of Quines philosophical development highlight theoretical concerns that diverge in fundamental ways from Davidsons interest in meaning, revealing that his basic epistemological motives conflict with the entailment to semantic externalism Davidson reads into his work. The last section develops a more explicit Quinean reply that questions the scientific legitimacy of Davidsons interest in content determination. Davidsons semantic externalism appeals to empirical constraints or patterns between communicators and distal events in an attempt to support his further assumption that there remains, in the face of Quinean indeterminacy, a determinate empirical basis for the theory of interpretation. I argue that Quine has reasons to reject this attempt to deflate translational indeterminacy by indicating how it deviates from the general scientific perspective that is central to his naturalism. I further suggest that Quines failure to respond to Davidson in such terms results from his wrongly thinking that they agree on the pragmatic status of semantic determination. Their disagreement is then located within a more fundamental divergence over the philosophical import of semantics, further highlighting significant differences that neither philosopher fully appreciates.

i. DaViDSonS PRoXiMal-DiStal analYSiS anD QUineS alleGeD eXteRnaliSM

In his Meaning, Truth and evidence (1990), Davidson urges Quine to embrace the kind of semantic externalism that he himself endorses and which he also thinks plays an under appreciated role in Quines own work.3 His discussion turns on the central question of what determines the meaning or semantic content of observation sentences, those utterances that he explains are closest to the observational end of language use (1990, 7071).4 In pursuing this question, Davidson discerns two different positions in Quines writings calling them the proximal and distal theories of meaning respectively. With the proximal theory, meaning is tied to the proximal stimulus, so that the meaning of an observation sentence is determined by the neural activity that leads to our acceptance or rejection of the sentence. Davidson notes that this proximal view is based on Quines introduction of the stimulus meaning of an utterance, defined as roughly the set of stimulations that would cause one to assent or dissent to that sentence. observation sentences are then taken to be semantically equivalent for two speakers if their utterances share stimulus meanings, that is, if roughly the same patterns of neural input would prompt assent and dissent for both of them. This is, as Davidson further notes, central for Quines concern with radical translation, which seeks to examine the nature of the evidence relevant for the translation of one language into another and which highlights stimulus meaning as the evidential basis for translation (1990, 7273). However, in addition to this proximal theory, Davidson also detects a more promising distal theory within Quines work, a view that takes sameness of meaning


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to be defined in terms of shared public objects or events. on this distal account, meaning is causally tied to distal objects so that sameness of meaning is the result of interpreters and speakers correlating their responses to mutually shared distal causes. This form of semantic externalism, then, rejects the proximal stimulus as essential to the determination of meaning and favors external objects as both the cause and content of our utterances. The main difficulty with Quines emphasis on the proximal stimulus, as Davidson has recently explained, is that homology of patterns of stimulation could lead to wrong translation, and in any case [is] irrelevant to it (1999e, 82). Consider the possibility that someone has the same patterns of stimulation when a warthog is in view, as when I observe a rabbit. In this case, the individuals proximal stimulus might lead him to assent to gavagai when seeing the warthog, and by matching this stimulus meaning with my own, we would proceed to translate gavagai as lo, a rabbit. However, the problem is that in this situation I see a warthog, while this individual claims (according to the translation recommended by the proximal theory) to see a rabbit (1990, 75). In this imagined case, translation by the matching of stimulus meaning has led to the wrong translation of the sentence.5 Davidson concludes that what is then relevant to the correct translation or interpretation of anothers sentences is not what occurs at our sensory surfaces, but rather the shared distal events witnessed by both interpreter and native. our ability to use and learn language is dependent on the fact that the content of our sentences is, from the very start, causally anchored to shared objects, events, and aspects of our local environment.6 Davidsons further defense of this point begins with what he takes as a central insight of Quines work in this area, namely, that all there is to meaning is what can be learned from observed usage (1999e, 2003). He then continues by explaining how this insight, when coupled with the role ostension plays in the process of learning a language, entails the kind of distal theory of meaning sketched above: Consider the situation that is fundamental in the acquisition of a first language: ostensive learning. . . . In this situation, nothing can be conveyed that is not provided in the context of the triangle consisting of learner, relevant environment, and teacher. But all that teacher and learner share is the external world, the distal stimuli. The content the learner will pick up, with luck, is that an utterance of gavagai means that a rabbit is in sight. The content is anchored to the shared object, event, or aspect of the world from the start. (Davidson 1999e, 84) Davidson further notes that, given this situation, the content of our sentences contains elements that are not, like our neural input, contingently related to the environment, since the distal object that is part of the shared context of learning is required for the acquisition of meaning. The result, he further claims, is that no theory of meaning that fails to appeal to such external connections could succeed in determining the content of our sentences. The activation of our sensory surfaces, while serving as the causal interface between us and distal objects, plays no fundamental role in the determination of the specific content of our sentences. The presence of both the

Why QuIne Is not an externalIst


proximal and distal accounts within Quines theory of translation, then, suggests to Davidson a fundamental tension concerning how to best handle the question of content determination. His proximal-distal analysis is a plea for Quine to move away from his use of stimulus meaning in determining the content of utterances and to accept the tacit externalism also present in his view and which Davidson thinks provides a sounder basis for the theory of meaning (2003, 293). Quine himself responds to this suggestion by explaining that he has now moved to an intermediate point between his old proximal view and Davidsons distal view and that he thinks Davidsons objections to his proximal account can be met by his new intermediate position (1990b). This reply is surprisingly silent concerning Davidsons main worry about what determines the content of our utterances, and as will be explored in the next section, the further details of this new intermediate position do not explicitly address this question either. Quines failure here is, I will later suggest, no simple oversight, as it provides an initial indication of the way Davidsons semantic concerns are not Quines own. I will further discuss how the details of Quines developing views in epistemology and the theory of translation are not designed to address this question, and more significantly, that the very question itself rests on empirical constraints and assumptions about meaning that violate the scientific strictures of Quines naturalism. While Quine never quite responds to Davidsons criticisms in such terms, I will later argue that such a reply follows from a fuller consideration of the motives found within Quines reflections on meaning and knowledge. The next section will review some of the relevant details of Quines reflections on the empirical status of translation and explain how this informs his so-called new intermediate position. This will prepare the way for a fuller consideration of recent developments in both his epistemology and view of meaning, and help to further explain why Quine should have questioned the theoretical legitimacy of Davidsons main concern over content determination.

ii. tRanSlation anD PRe-eStabliSHeD PeRcePtUal HaRMonY

Quines examination of translation is motivated by his interest in exploring the empirical credentials of translation, thereby proposing that we approach semantical matters in the empirical spirit of natural science (1970, 8). The point of such an exercise is to examine to what extent the process of translation measures up to the third person, objective methods of empirical science. As we will see, this examination also has consequences for the general question of the scientific and empirical credentials of the concept meaning itself. Since the point of translation is to preserve sameness of meaning, Quines extension of empirical methods to translation involves the idealization known as radical translation, the situation where a linguist proceeds to translate an unknown language without the help of dictionaries or bilingual guides. It is in such idealized cases of translation that we can address the question of what raw empirical data is available for the translation of the natives utterances (kemp 2006, 3366; Quine 2000c, 419). As we have


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seen, the relevant data is captured with Quines introduction of stimulus meaning, which consists of the ordered set of stimulations that would prompt assent or dissent to the sentence in question (1960, 3233). Stimulus meaning is for Quine a scientifically acceptable notion of objective evidence, since it adheres to the sort of scientific clarity and public accessibility that he takes as central to empirical science.7 It is by correlating stimulus meanings that the radical translator then proceeds to construct a translation of the natives utterances, eventually yielding a translation manual for the language.8 Quines detailed account of the steps the linguist must take is designed to help uncover a clear standard of synonymy from within the available evidence for the preservation of meaning. This perspective depicts translation as seeking to establish semantic relations between languages that purport to supply identity criteria for meanings. Quines empirical examination of translation then asks whether the available empirical evidence for the assignment of meaning provides a clear operational definition of synonymy.9 His conclusions are famously negative. By working within these empirical constraints we are led to the indeterminacy of translation, demonstrating that the full clarification of synonymy required for the justified postulation of meanings is not forthcoming. The evidence relevant to translation cannot fully determine one unique translation of the language under examination and this then calls into question the idea that translation is capable of fully preserving sameness of meaning. The completion of any translation manual must rely on the educated guesses of the translator, thereby revealing the paucity of evidence available and resulting in the further controversial claim that there cannot then be a genuinely objective science of meaning and translation.10 our confidence in the positing of a fixed semantic reality that is preserved through translation has now been compromised because of the lack of evidence required for the warranted postulation of meanings. In assessing the empirical credentials of translation, Quine is then interested in highlighting its limits as an objective science, and how this further challenges the existence of determinate meanings like propositions underlying the activity of translation and communication. The tendency to then interpret Quines reflections on translation as yielding positive claims concerning the determination of meaning conflicts with his basic aims and motives.11 He is not concerned with providing an account that explains how meaning is determined, or to clarify what precisely determines the content of our utterances. rather, he explores the scientific viability of the theory of translation by examining its resources for the empirical clarification of synonymy. This clarification remains elusive. Without it meanings become ontologically suspect, further questioning those views that make use of the concept meaning for philosophical and scientific purposes (Hylton 2007, 53). The result is not a theory of meaning that determines the meaning of our utterances, but an argument against the development of a fully objective science of meaning. Quines basic philosophical motives within his treatment of radical translation are fundamentally at odds with Davidsons more positive reading of Quines core semantic achievements.12

Why QuIne Is not an externalIst


These conclusions are further supported by Quines emphasis on how his interest in translation is informed by his fundamental project in epistemology. This connection can be seen with the importance he assigns to language learning within his naturalized account of knowledge: The channels by which, having learned observation sentences, we acquire theoretical language, are the very same channels by which observation lends evidence to scientific theory. . . . We see, then, a strategy for investigating the relation of evidential support, between observation and scientific theory. We can adopt a genetic approach, studying how theoretical language is learned. For the evidential relation is virtually enacted, it would seem, in the learning. This genetic strategy is attractive because the learning of language goes on in the world and is open to scientific study. It is a strategy for the scientific study of scientific method and evidence. (Quine 1975, 7576) once described in this way, we can readily notice why Quine takes his examination of translation to be of a piece with his epistemological interest in the evidential support of science.13 The process of translation, where the translator learns words and sentences from the native, is, for Quine, the same process by which scientists come to agree on the observations that they report through their utterance of observation sentences. Successfully understanding an utterance, or translating an expression and the seemingly different question concerning how evidence bears on a given theoretical statement are, for Quine, really two versions of a more basic epistemological question (Hylton 2007, 96). Attempting to understand how translation proceeds is then simply one facet of Quines larger and more fundamental project of explaining how, on the basis of sensory stimulation, we successfully construct scientific theories of the world. That this remains his main motive in describing translation resurfaces when Quine discovers a problematic assumption built into his account, which ultimately results in his adopting his new intermediate position in response to Davidsons objections. In Word and Object (1960), Quine postulated an intersubjective homology or shared likeness of stimulation between linguist and nativethe sharing of stimulus meaningsin order to explain how agreement with vocal output is the result of a community of cause in the neural structure (Davidson and Quine 1994, 227).14 Whether considering radical translation or scientific activity more generally, Quine thought that we must affirm a homology of neuroreceptors between participants, and view this shared objective structure as relevant to the matching of utterances.15 However, Quines appeal to this shared causal structure is not without its problems, and he quickly comes to recognize the inadequacy of his original position.16 The matching of observation sentences in translation appears to require that assent to two sentences be prompted by the same neural input for both the linguist and the native, or in the case of scientific activity, both scientists. However, participants do not share neural receptors so they cannot in any strict sense share the relevant stimulation.17 We have seen Davidson suggest that the shared stimulus be located with the distal object, thus bypassing such problems with the proximal stimulus and


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emphasizing how our sentences are directly tied to the relevant external aspects of the surrounding scene. In this way, he thinks we can also deal with the question of content determination, which we have seen him argue is not adequately addressed with Quines continued use of stimulus meaning. Quine resisted this suggestion in his response to Davidson, and further explains: I remain unswerved in locating stimulation at the neural input, for my interest is epistemological, however naturalized. I am interested in the flow of evidence from the triggering of the senses to the pronouncements of science; also in the rationale of reification, and in the credentials, if any, of the notion of cognitive meaning. It is these epistemological concerns and not my incidental interest in linguistics, that motivate my speculations on radical translation. (1990d, 3)18 Here we have an explicit description of Quines motives behind his reflections on radical translation indicating that they remain epistemological and part of his attempt to scientifically clarify the connections between sensory stimulation and our advanced scientific pronouncements. At this stage then, (1990d; 1992) Quine concludes that we can simply do without intersubjective likeness of stimulation, the translator and native each having their own private stimulus meanings for a respective observation sentence. The affinity between sentences is not then to be found with stimulus meaning, but within the externals of communication (1992, 42), which is mediated by human empathy and the need to communicate in ignorance of the neurological mechanisms of perception. Fluency of dialogue now becomes the ultimate test of a successful translation manual and the firmer factual basis for translation earlier captured with the tying of observation sentences to shared stimulus meanings is now dropped (Quine 1992, 43). But with the elimination of shared stimulus meaning it also follows that the objective data for translation is downgraded further from Quines position in Word and Object, where observation sentences where translated by matching stimulus meanings. Translation is presented as an irremediably pragmatic affair, based on the interests and intuitions of the translator, which now plays an even greater role in filling the gap left by the paucity of data (Quine 2000d, 418).19 yet Quine retains private stimulus meanings within his conception of naturalized epistemology because of its continuing theoretical importance for clarifying the empirical interface between individuals and the external world. This scientifically clear description of the causal connections between distal objects and our utterances can, he argues, only be found at our sensory surfaces (Quine 1993; Quine and Tomida 1992).20 We can now see why Quine presents his new view as intermediate between his early proximal account and Davidsons proposed distal view. Quines central aim is to account for both the translators and the scientists ability to successfully carry out their respective activities. These are two aspects of what we might describe as his core epistemological project, which seeks to give a scientifically clear and adequate account of how on the basis of sensory stimulation we are capable of producing a translation of a language, or a well-confirmed scientific hypothesis.21

Why QuIne Is not an externalIst


However, Quines early attempts at such an account relied on his mistaken theoretical assumption that translators and scientists share neural stimulation. Importantly, Quine understands Davidsons distal account as a suggestion for avoiding this problem, which he rejects because his epistemological motivations require the greater clarity found with the now unshared proximal stimulus rather than a scientifically vague appeal to distal situations. Quine then fully acknowledges that we must do without shared neural input in translation and science, further noting that empathy and the recognition of distal objects are both central to successful translation and communication.22 The appeal to such resources is what makes translation a thoroughly practical activity, and which helps to prevent the mistaken cases of translation mentioned by Davidson (Quine 1992, 4344; 1995a, 8283). His position is now intermediate between his earlier one and Davidsons distal approach, because of his rejection of a shared causal structure as necessary for translation and science, and his acceptance of the distal stimulus as important for translation. But he retains private stimulus meanings for the increased scientific clarity required of his epistemology, which would be lost if he simply adopted the vagueness of shared distal events. In his later work, Quine seeks to clarify this issue further by wondering what explains the successful use of empathy and appeal to the distal within translation, even if the results of this activity consist of a theoretically unquantifiable form of practical knowledge (1996, 160). He once again emphasizes the importance of the distal stimulus within translation but is now more explicit about how this suggestion still leaves unexplained his central epistemological concern: I recognized the adequacy of this object-oriented line in describing the procedures of translation, having described them thus myself, and its adequacy likewise for lexicography. There remains a problem for epistemology and neuropsychology, however, when we reflect with Darwin on the intersubjective diversity of nerve nets and receptors. How does the mere sameness of the distal cause, the jointly observed object, prevail over the diversity of the proximal segments of the causal chains, inside the two observers, and still issue in agreeing response? (1996, 160, my emphasis) Here, Quine recognizes the importance of distal objects for success in translation, and for establishing dictionary definitions of what speakers mean through their use of certain terms, something that he takes himself to have described even in his earlier writings.23 However, he returns to what remains the outstanding problem for his naturalized epistemology concerning how, despite not sharing neural stimulation, we still agree about what is happening around us. The significance of this issue should now be quite clear. Without an adequate answer to this problem his naturalized account of human knowledge will remain incomplete, since it would fail to fully explain how, on the basis of sensory stimulation, we come to provide successful scientific accounts of the world. Without an explanation for why, despite a diversity of neural input, we still come to agree on the distal scene, Quine will simply not have answered the central question of his ongoing epistemological project.24


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He accounts for the distal harmony required for success in translation and science through what he calls a preestablished intersubjective harmony of our subjective perceptual similarity standards (1996, 160). each of us has our own subjective standards of perceptual similarity between neural intakes that can be objectively determined through the reinforcement and extinction of our responses. This is, as Quine notes, different from receptual similarity between neural input, since the observation of a tiger, for example, from various angles results in perceptually similar neural input for each individual; we see the same tiger despite the receptual diversity between our neural intakes (Quine 2000e, 407). now, the main problem is that this perceptual similarity is subjective, being internal to each individual, yet we still somehow tend to agree on what we observe and talk about. Quine seeks to explain this convergence or perceptual harmony between our similarity standards by emphasizing both an instinct for inductive expectation and natural selection: We have, to begin with, an inductive instinct: we tend to expect perceptually similar stimulations to have sequels that are similar to each other. . . . Successful expectation has always had survival value, notably in the elusion of predators and the capture of prey. natural selection has accordingly favored innate standards of perceptual similarity which have tended to harmonize with trends in the environment. . . . Derivatively, then, through our sharing of an ancestral gene pool, our innate standards of perceptual similarity harmonize also intersubjectively. The effect of the intersubjective harmony . . . is that what . . . two observers agree on is the shared distal subject matter and not the unshared proximal stimulations. (Quine 1996, 161) In this way, perceptual harmony is achieved not through our interaction with each other and events, nor by anatomical homologies, but is preestablished by natural selection, which then moulds our innate expectations into conformity with what transpires in our local environment. Importantly, Quine takes this to explain how it is that both translators and scientific experimenters can successfully agree on the distal scene (1999, 7475). It thus resolves what he takes to be the central explanatory lacuna remaining in his attempt to clarify the move from sensory stimulation to our successful discourse about the world.25 We can then describe the last developments to Quines epistemology in the following way. on technical grounds internal to his own project, Quine emphatically rejects the idea of shared neural structure between participants within both science and translation. Shared stimulus meanings were then dropped from his account of translation, with Quine still postulating subjective stimulus meanings to participants in both science and translation, and concluding that empathy plays an indispensable practical role in translation. It is, as we have seen, his main epistemological interest that results in this continued emphasis on the clarity of the proximal stimulus. However, Quines central motives push him to readdress the issue of proximal dissimilarity, since his core epistemological concern underlies both translation and science, requiring an explanation of success in both activities. This results in his dropping the misleading term stimulus meaning completely

Why QuIne Is not an externalIst


from his epistemology and providing the description of perceptual harmony between participants sketched above.26 My main aim in dealing with these various changes is to highlight how little they have to do with the concerns that inform Davidsons reading of Quines position. Quines interest in radical translation is part of his general epistemological attempt to examine how sensory stimulation yields our successful system of knowledge. rather than offer a positive semantic doctrine with his empirical evaluation of translation, Quine asks how much sense can be made of that activity from his empirical, scientific perspective. His initial conclusions were quite famously negative, and with his reply to Davidsons proximal-distal analysis the situation worsens, since without shared proximal stimulation there is even less of an objective basis from which to carry out successful translation. Quines basic motives are then antithetical to the attribution of any positive semantic doctrine to his account of translation. Moreover, the later changes that he makes to his position are consistent with this main epistemological motivation. If Quine was interested in answering the question of content determination suggested by Davidsons critical remarks, then he would seem to have little reason to maintain any theoretical role for the proximal stimulus. nor would he see the need to introduce the notion of perceptual harmony to address the problem of the diversity of sensory stimulation. That he does indicates the different concerns that sustain his own epistemological viewpoint and the importance of these later modifications for furthering his main explanatory interests. The development of Quines position, then, demonstrates how the changes to his position are not offered as a reply to Davidsons main question concerning what determines the content of our utterances, but to his own epistemological concerns. Quines original treatment of radical translation, through to his rejection of shared stimulus meaning and finally culminating with his appeal to perceptual harmony, all form part of his underlying attempt to clarify and address his core epistemic interest. A careful examination of the perspective internal to Quines own project reveals little support for Davidsons externalist interpretation, and thus no reason for viewing any positive semantic doctrine as following from his work. What this also shows is a basic disagreement between Davidson and Quine over the philosophical status of meaning. Although Davidson is correct in recognizing the close connection between meaning and knowledge in Quines position, and at times provides a accurate account of his scientific motives, he resists the full force of Quines negative conclusions concerning the philosophical study of meaning.27 As I will further explore in the next section, Davidsons externalist reading of Quines achievements finds its main source within his own attempt to rehabilitate the philosophical study of semantics. Despite his explicit acceptance of Quinean indeterminacy, this does not further convince him that semantics is not a subject fit for philosophical inquiry. Davidsons different reading of the proper consequences of indeterminacy will then help to further illustrate his different approach to semantics. It will also help to pinpoint the source of their disagreement and further


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indicate why Quine has reason to question the scientific legitimacy of Davidsons interest in content determination.

iii. DaViDSon, QUine anD tHe PRobleM oF MeaninG

Davidsons interpretation then attempts to move Quines view in a direction that Davidson favors, but which Quine himself resists. I have argued that this resistance follows from a careful consideration of both Quines main epistemological motivations and the later modifications he makes to his view. However, their debate itself never makes this fully apparent. It is especially noteworthy that Quines responses never directly address Davidsons semantic question concerning what determines the meaning of our utterances. This section attempts to reconstruct a more direct Quinean reply to Davidsons semantic question that criticizes its theoretical legitimacy. While this response is not one that Quine himself explicitly offers, it remains consistent with his most basic philosophical commitments and motives. I will show how Davidsons semantic program, and his later more explicit semantic externalism, introduces empirical constraints for the determination of meaning that Quine would not accept. But this, I further argue, indicates that Davidson remains committed to assumptions about semantic determination that Quine has also questioned. This divergence is further highlighted by an examination of their contrasting attitudes to translational indeterminacy and its proper consequences. Davidson attempts to deflate indeterminacy through an appeal to determinate empirical patterns and he further argues for the objectivity of interpretation through an analogy with physical measurement. I demonstrate how Quine would object to both of these points. The source of this debate is then found in this more basic divergence over the philosophical status of semantics. I conclude by suggesting that Quines failure to appreciate this difference stems from his mistakeningly thinking that Davidson shares his view concerning the practical status of communication and interpretation. It will be useful to begin with Quines description of the social basis of linguistic meaning: each of us learns his language by observing other peoples verbal behavior and having his own faltering verbal behavior observed and reinforced or corrected by others. We depend strictly on overt behavior in observable situations. . . . There is nothing in linguistic meaning beyond what is to be gleaned from overt behavior in observable circumstances (1992, 38). Here, we have Quines central claim that all there is to the meaning of utterances is to be found with overt behavior in readily observable circumstances. He further argues against the positing of sentence meanings by looking to the core empirical data found within these social transactions involved in language use. Hence, his empirical examination of radical translation, which we have seen is concerned with determining the empirical limitations of the theory of translation. However, the strategies taken to implement translation, coupled with the available empirical evidence, prove incapable of determining a unique translation of the language in question. Importantly, Quine takes this entire enterprise as a polemic against meanings as propositions, since without any clear criteria for synonymy, we lack the requisite empirical clarity

Why QuIne Is not an externalIst


needed to sustain the idea of determinate, stable meanings that underwrite the practice of translation. There cannot then be a fully objective science of meaning, and the concept of meaning itself lacks sufficient clarity to be of any real use within strict theoretical science (Putnam 2002, 277278; Hylton 2007, 5354). What this suggests is that for Quine the viability of semantics as a theoretical discipline, and the scientific applicability of meaning as a theoretical concept, rests on our ability to clarify synonymy. The result is that linguistic usage is all there is to meaning, where translation and communication more generally are viewed as practical activities that aim to facilitate mutual understanding (Quine 1992, 43, 5659). However, and this is central, we cannot empirically specify the various conditions of linguistic usage in clear enough terms to find a place for this intersubjective business of semantics within the demands set by strict theoretical science (Quine 1969b, 86; 1986c, 73). The communication of meaning consists of an irremediable type of procedural knowledge that ultimately depends on the intuitions, subjective preferences and educated guesses of communicators. The measure of success in communication and translation can, then, only appeal to what Quine would see as the vague standards found in smoothness of communication and the fluency of dialogue (Quine 1992; 1995a). In so doing, it is further revealed as unfit, indeed, incapable of meeting the demands of theoretical science. What this then suggests is that for Quine any question concerning what determines the meaning of our utterances is to be found through the practical interactions that comprise linguistic usage, but that this very fact highlights the way semantic determination cannot be viewed as a theoretical issue for empirical science or philosophy. For Quine, to the extent that such a question remains a sensible one to ask, it can only be understood as a pragmatic concern, which turns on the linguistic transactions between participants that, with effort, empathy and useful guesses, yields an effective and successful understanding of each other.28 We have seen that Davidson takes Quines basic claim that meaning is use as resulting in a semantic doctrine concerning how the meaning of utterances is determined. Similarly, he often seeks to establish specific philosophical points by illustrating how they are connected to what we mean by using certain terms.29 As he then explicitly notes, his externalism is built on this early and ongoing positive approach towards the philosophical study of semantics (2001b, 11). given the reading of Quines project that has been developed in this paper, it is difficult to see such statements and concerns as not trading in assumptions about meaning that Quine has sought to reject. Despite Davidsons insistence that he is not interested in reinserting meanings into the study of semantics (1999e, 82), there is, at least, the appearance that he is tacitly committed to the idea that there is something empirically determinate that remains relevant to the determination of meaning and which is capable of supporting a semantic theory. If true, this is all the more surprising given his acceptance of Quines indeterminacy of translation, a conclusion that for Quine results in a rejection of the science of meaning.30


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In order to see if this is a fair assessment of the assumptions that underwrite Davidsons approach to semantics, we need to consider some of the relevant details of his core semantic project. While Davidson understands Quines indeterminacy arguments as undermining the myth of fixed meanings, he still maintains that there is a set of invariant empirical facts of the matter or patterns that provide a basis for establishing what we mean by our utterances. Davidson then introduces an alternative set of empirical constraints that allow him to provide a firmer basis for meaning than Quine would think is empirically available. I will argue that Quine has reasons to question both Davidsons use of these empirical resources and his further assumption that there remains an empirical basis rich enough to correctly determine the meaning of our utterances. As is well known, Davidsons semantic theory or program has its roots in his early interaction with Quines seminal Word and Object, which he read in draft form in the late 1950s (1994, 188; 1999a, 152). His novel approach to such a theory attempts to combine key lessons from both Quine and Tarski (1999a, 153). Davidson argues that a semantic theory adapted from Tarskis methods for defining truth provides us with the correct formal structure for a theory of meaning. More specifically, he claims that knowledge of the meaning of sentences can be formulated within a recursive theory of interpretation for a speaker, where the resulting theory will be finitely axiomatized and assign truth conditions to each of a speakers sentences. However, in order to demonstrate how this formal theory could have empirical application, we need to use methods first introduced by Quine with radical translation. Davidson explains that this resulting synthesis of Quine and Tarski left him with a number of outstanding issues needing resolution. These included finding the logical forms of natural language sentences so that they could be made to fit this Tarski-style theory, the general question whether knowledge of such a theory would enable one to understand a speaker, and finally the question of its empirical interpretation or what Davidson calls radical interpretation (1999a, 153). As we have seen, Davidsons view claims that when proceeding to interpret the speech of another, we should not view their utterances as tied to surface stimulation, but to the external objects in the world that prompt them. The evidence for the determination of meaning is then found with the external and publicly observable circumstances that lead a speaker to accept or reject a sentence. Davidson describes the point in these terms: the events and objects that determine the meaning of observation sentences . . . are the very events and objects that the sentences are naturally and correctly interpreted as being about (1990, 72). His emphasis on what determines the meaning of our utterances should then be understood within his attempt to merge the formal constraints on truth provided by Tarski with the empirical constraints found in Quines radical translation. What is then determined, and thus what we know when we successfully interpret someone, is captured by the holistic assignment of truth conditions to statements of the language, where this assignment fits the relevant empirical evidence consisting of the external circumstances that prompted these utterances. nowhere in his theory of interpretation

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does Davidson appeal to meanings as objective entities, and he often cites Quines indeterminacy arguments as having undermined this general idea (1999c; 2001c, 144145; 2003).31 So we have what appears to be an agreement between Quine and Davidson over the way indeterminacy rids us of the myth of meaning, but a remaining divergence over what further consequences to draw. Quine takes this conclusion to reveal the question of what determines meaning as too unclear to admit of scientific treatment, while Davidson thinks that there remains enough empirical constraints to determine the meaning of our utterances, and that the resulting account is deserving of the title theory of meaning. He then thinks that despite Quines negative assessment of the scientific status of semantics, meaning remains something that we can know about, and he engages in what he views as the philosophically important task of providing a systematic description of this knowledge.32 What is most significant for my purposes here is the explicitly Quinean side of this project, where Davidson wonders about the empirical constraints on such a theory. It is with such constraints that Davidsons semantic externalism comes increasingly to the forefront in his thinking, and this is where we can locate his fundamental disagreement with Quine concerning semantics.33 Their ultimate divergence turns on their respective readings of the indeterminacy argument, and more specifically, how Davidsons acceptance of Quinean indeterminacy includes his further attempt to deflate the radical nature of this conclusion through an emphasis on the empirical constraints already mentioned.34 It is precisely here, I would suggest, that we can recognize the way Davidsons account rests on the very assumptions about semantic determination that Quine thinks are rendered otiose with his indeterminacy argument. To see this we should note that Davidson thinks the acceptance of Quines central insight that linguistic usage creates, and so constitutes meaning, leaves us with no reason to reject the indeterminacy of translation and its undermining of the notion of invariant meanings (1999e, 8081; 2001c, 214). But he further emphasizes how one can limit the scope of this indeterminacy. What is especially revealing is his further remark that: The extent of indeterminacy is determined by the number of ways a speaker can be interpreted consistent with the available evidence. Conversely, what a speaker means is what is invariant in all correct ways of interpreting him (1999e, 81). Davidson is here suggesting that there then remains a factual core that places empirical limits on the number of ways one can correctly interpret someone. To further illustrate his understanding of indeterminacy he often introduces an analogy between the ascription of meaning and the case of measurement: If you have the axioms that define some system of measurement, whether of weight, temperature, or subjective probability, you can represent the structures so defined in numbers in endless ways. What matters is what is invariant. With weight, an arbitrarily chosen positive number is assigned to some particular object; relative to that assignment, the numbers that measure the weights of all other objects are fixed. you get an equally good


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way of keeping track of weights by multiplying the original figures by any positive constant; its the ratios that are invariant. Invariances are facts of the matter. (1999c, 596; 1998, 9899)35 The analogy between such schemes of measurement and the case of interpretation depends on our sentences (and their contents) playing the same role as numbers because of the many relations they have to each other and the world. If we keep such relations in place, we can then match our sentences with those of a speaker in different ways without, as Davidson says, changing our mind about the facts (1999c, 596). In the same way that we can use numbers in diverse ways to track the same complex structures in the world, we can use our sentences in many different ways to keep track of what is empirically fixed across different interpretations. Davidson further emphasizes that Quine made this claim concerning the possible diversity in our attempts at translation in order to draw a negative conclusion: that all there can be to meaning is what is found in our attempt to capture these complex structures. This is what undermines the idea that there are determinate meanings that underlie this process such that there could be only one way to correctly fix these meanings. But Davidson further notes that this conclusion does not entail there are no facts of the matter: the facts are the empirical relations between a speaker, her sentences, and her environment. This pattern is invariant (1999c, 596; 1998, 100; my emphasis). It is then Davidsons construal of the available evidence, here in terms of complex empirical patterns between speakers, utterances, and environment, that suggests to him a way to further deflate the seeming radical nature of Quines advocacy of the indeterminacy of translation. now, as Davidson himself has indicated, this presentation of the empirical constraints available within interpretation rejects the full force of Quines indeterminacy argument with its explicit emphasis on there being no fact of the matter that settles the choice of competing translation manuals. For Quine, this results in there being nothing to discover, or to be right or wrong about, with regard to the evidence available for the creation of a translation manual (Hylton 2007, 198202). As we have seen, Quines assessment of what he views as the relevant data, described in terms of stimulus conditions, results in translational indeterminacy, with the determination of meaning reduced to scientifically unquantifiable pragmatic transactions between communicators. There then remains a general worry from this Quinean perspective whether such added empirical constraints are scientifically clear enough to provide the empirical basis for the theory of meaning that Davidson suggests. That there may be reason to suspect that Davidson is making more of meaning than Quines view of indeterminacy would allow is further suggested by this telling passage: the indeterminacy of interpretation . . . is no threat to the objectivity of interpretation or to whatever claims interpretation can make to scientific respectability. Indeterminacy just reflects the fact that the empirical . . . constraints on interpretation can be met in more than one way. What we are interested in is what these constraints leave invariant, as in any science.

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Quine emphasized indeterminacy in order to wean us away from the myth of meanings. Having been weaned, we can now turn to the legitimate question of what is invariant, the facts of the matter. (1999d, 124) So while he thinks that indeterminacy has undermined our confidence in the myth of meanings, Davidson maintains that the process of interpretation retains a notable degree of objectivity, even hinting at a degree of scientific respectability. As we have seen, there remains an empirical set of facts about the relations between speakers, their utterances and immediate environment that is fixed and invariant. While such invariant patterns, as Davidson calls them, can be captured in many ways, what is especially noteworthy is how they remain fixed across all successful attempts at interpretation. Davidsons attempt to deflate indeterminacy by highlighting these invariant empirical patterns then remains committed to the idea that there is something determinate to be found within the process of interpretation. not objective meanings, which Davidson follows Quine in rejecting, but empirical patterns, and that such patterns are comprised of those facts that empirically determine what is meant through the use of sentences. I think it is then clear that Davidsons view of indeterminacy remains predicated on the assumption that there is something to correctly fix or capture within a theory of interpretation and that this determines the extent to which the ascription of meaning remains objective. He then attempts to support this assumption by introducing empirical constraints that help make sense of there being determinate facts of the matter that our theory of meaning must be responsive to. Davidson is then seeking to rehabilitate semantics as an objective endeavor in the face of Quines criticisms, not through an appeal to determinate meanings uniquely captured by our theory, but with his emphasis on the fixed empirical basis found within the complex patterns between interpreters and distal objects.36 But this assumption and its attempted empirical vindication is not one that Quine would accept, indeed it is one that he has sought to challenge through his own assessment of the empirical limitations of translation. We can extend the very same Quinean criticisms to this rehabilitated view of semantics, and wonder whether the empirical invariance that Davidson introduces is enough to provide the study of semantics with the scientific respectability he thinks it can. We have seen that Quines conclusions concerning the empirical limits of translation question the idea of a clear synonymy criterion that would warrant the postulation of distinct meanings. Without this criteria we are then unable to make further empirical sense of the claim that there is something uniquely determinate within our linguistic transactions. Importantly, however, Quine takes this to further indicate that there really is nothing to get right or wrong with regards to meaning. The meager empirical basis for translation does not simply indicate that we cannot determine one best translation, but that the entire attempt to correctly capture what is meant is misguided (Hylton 2007, 198). Following Quine, Davidson has given up the search for uniquely determinate meanings, but he resists the further claim that there is nothing to correctly capture


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by affirming that empirical patterns remain invariant across divergent interpretations. However, from a Quinean perspective one might ask for a corresponding empirical clarification of the identity conditions of such patterns, so that we would indeed be justified in affirming them as invariant facts of the matter. Moreover, Quines conclusions concerning the pragmatic status of effective communication suggests that such empirical facts or patterns do not sufficiently clarify the conditions of use needed to sustain the idea that the activity of interpretation is capable of scientific theoretical treatment. Davidsons appeal to these empirical patterns suggests that we can still make sense of there being a determinate basis for the theory of interpretation, but without clear answers to these above concerns, Quine would wonder whether this is so, and continue to question if this provides the process of interpretation with any degree of scientific objectivity. Quine then has reasons internal to his own naturalism for questioning Davidsons empirical rehabilitation of semantics and his corresponding attempt to deflate the conclusions made in the name of translational indeterminacy. However, while these points are important they are indeed only preliminary, since there is reason to think that Quine would further question the sort of analogy Davidson makes between the ascription of meaning and physical measurement. In the case of translation and interpretation, semantic hypotheses are introduced to fit the available empirical data only through the practical skill of the translator. Quines most fundamental point concerning the unscientific status of semantics indicates that no matter how broadly we construe the physical facts this will never allow us to empirically incorporate such semantic hypotheses into strict theoretical science. And this further reveals their status as the irreducible practical add-ons of communicators.37 Unlike the specification of meaning, the measurement of physical phenomena is based on standards for the explanation and predication of physical phenomena that remain internal to the ongoing empirical successes of physical science itself. For Quine, this type of explanation then stands in sharp contrast to the largely intuitive ascription of meaning offered by the translator. What is surprising is that Davidson also appears to accept something like this point when he emphasizes a shortcoming of his measurement analogy (2001c, 83, 218). In the case of numbers and measurement we can objectively specify the properties of the numbers used to measure physical phenomena prior to the measurement. But in the case of interpretation we cannot specify the standard used to interpret one another prior to the very attempt to actually engage in interpretation. The successful assignment of my sentences to yours then depends in an uneliminable way on my intuitive skill at determining what interpretation makes best sense of your statements (Davidson 1999d, 125). But we have seen that it is precisely this feature of interpretation and translation that Quine thinks removes it from the purview of strict theoretical science. The standards that are used in translation are too interest relative and vague to meet the explanatory demands of rigorous empirical science (kemp 2005, 156, 158). As a result, the objectivity of physical measurement fails to be analogous with the procedures found with the ascription of meaning.

Why QuIne Is not an externalIst


While these critical remarks do not by themselves undermine the viability of Davidsons overall semantic program, they do indicate that Quine has reasons for questioning Davidsons attempt to rehabilitate semantics as an objective area of inquiry. Their contrasting interests do not, then, simply involve small matters of technical detail, rather they point to a significant and fundamental divergence over the philosophical study of meaning. More specifically, we have witnessed a profound divergence over what empirical constraints are available for the determination of meaning. Quine emphasizes basic empirical limitations that he thinks prevents the study of semantics from finding a place within the strict standards of science. While Davidson agrees that semantics cannot live up to the standards of natural science, he nevertheless thinks there are empirical facts that support the type of semantic determination promoted by his truth-theoretical conception of semantics. For my purposes here, this disagreement demonstrates the way Quine has reasons internal to his perspective for questioning the theoretical viability of Davidsons interest in semantic determination. If this interpretation of Quines attitude to Davidson externalism is correct, then there remains a lingering question concerning why he failed to respond to Davidson in such terms. Moreover, his positive comments about Davidsons work on interpretation appear to conflict with my main conclusions. However, I take my remarks to suggest the following interpretive conjecture. Quines statements concerning Davidsons focus on interpretation should be read as simply acknowledging its importance for addressing the pragmatic question of content determination, which we have seen Quine emphasize as dealing with fluent dialogue and successful negotiation.38 He then thinks Davidson understands content determination as determined through pragmatic transactions between communicators, which is a separate concern from his narrower reflections concerning translational indeterminacy and the subsequent rejection of meanings as unscientific. Quine does not then recognize the way Davidsons interests contribute to his externalist doctrine concerning how meaning is determined. This is at least one crucial reason why their debate on these issues remained inconclusive. However, we have seen that Davidsons attempt to read Quines work as leading to his conception of semantic externalism goes beyond anything that Quine would endorse. For Quine, no semantic doctrine can find a place within the scientifically rigorous formulation required of his naturalism. This then reveals that there remains a truly divisive issue between Davidson and Quine concerning the philosophical importance of providing a theory of meaning. lastly, it also demonstrates that Quine has reasons internal to his own epistemological motives for questioning the theoretical viability of Davidsons semantic externalism.39

1. Davidson gives this definition of externalism: a theory or position is externalist if it entails that a persons beliefs and what he means by what he says are not completely determined


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by the physical state of his brain (2003, 292). His externalism then takes distal objects to determine the content of our utterances, and he further argues that this view follows from Quines reflections on translation. Davidson admits that despite his efforts, Quine has remained an explicit internalist, where meaning is wholly determined by physical states of the brain (2003, 296 fn). It is this tendency to interpret Quines work in such positive semantic terms as being either externalist or internalist that I wish to challenge in this paper. It does not, of course, follow that Quines view has no implications for the question of content determination. As we will see, Quine agrees that distal objects play a role in the determination of meaning, but he concludes that this is a purely pragmatic question that cannot be given a precise theoretical formulation. If this is correct, then Quine cannot be said to accept any philosophical doctrine concerning content determination. I take this to then serve as a specific illustration of Quines more general and systematic argument against the theoretical usefulness of meaning (Hylton 2007, 4). 2. This point is forcibly argued by kemp 2005, 158159; and 2006, 6466. 3. He develops this interpretation in a series of articles beginning with Meaning, Truth and evidence (1990), and continuing with his on Quines Philosophy (1994), and externalisms (2001b). His most detailed account is given in 2003. The positive semantic perspective that informs Davidsons reading of Quine derives from his famous semantic program from the 1970s. For several key methodological statements see Davidson 1984, 124, 143 and 149. Some aspects of this program will be considered in the last section. 4. The importance of the distal stimulus for addressing this question is central for Davidsons earlier account of radical interpretation and it here resurfaces as an explicit criticism of Quines view (Davidson 1984). Davidson notes the importance of the distal stimulus for his semantic project and its later development in 2001, 11. 5. Davidson mentions that more philosophically humdrum cases of astigmatism and deafness would yield similar examples of wrong translation (1990, 74). As we will see, Quine soon rejects this homology of stimulation, recognizing it as implausible and unnecessary for his account of translation. He later claims that he never thought actual translation proceeds by the matching of stimulus meanings, rather this was his theory of the translators activity (1996, 159). 6. Davidson has recently focused on the question of whether the proximal theory can serve as a correct theory of meaning or content, which is why it is my central focus here (1999e: 84). I thus pass over his further extension of such worries when he considers the skeptical and relativistic consequences of Quines adherence to the proximal stimulus. For some further discussion of these issues see Bergstrm 2001; gibson 1995; ramberg 2001; and Tersman 2001. 7. Consider Quines remark: My development of stimulus meaning was an exploration of the limits of an empirically defensible and scientifically indispensable core idea of meaning (1986b, 367). For further discussion of Quines use of stimulus meaning, see my 2002a. 8. This simplifies a more detailed account. See Quine 1960; 1970; kemp 2006, 3554; and Hylton 2007, 215221 for further details. 9. This motive is clearly expressed in Quines Cognitive Meaning (1979). Also see 1986a, 110; 1987, 10; and 1992.

Why QuIne Is not an externalIst


10. For useful discussion of Quines aims in studying translation see kemp 2006, 3537 and Hylton 2007, 197200. Quines early presentation argued that the translation of observation sentences is determinate and that further moves away from observation increasingly rely on the guesses and analytical hypotheses offered by the translator. later, Quine would emphasize various degrees of indeterminacy (1970, 12). 11. Two other examples of this tendency would include Chomsky (2000, 478), who interprets radical translation as a model for how translation actually proceeds, and Fodor and lepore (1994, 103106), who present the epistemic position of the radical translator as that of real field linguists. 12. Davidson may be willing to grant this point and yet still claim that there remain insights that can be used as the basis for a more adequate theory of meaning. My point is simply that this claim is antithetical to Quines own basic motivations and that, as a result, Quine has reasons to resist Davidsons interpretation. 13. In Roots of Reference Quine also notes the connection between semantics and epistemological concerns over evidence (1974, 38). This is also mentioned in a reply to Davidson (Quine 1999, 74), as well as in his Tomida interview (1992). 14. In a recent interview Quine explains what he means by homology of receptors: homology will mean that for each nerve ending on one subjects surface, theres a corresponding one on the other persons surface, such that they are doing the same work (Quine and Tomida 1992, 9). 15. Quine also states that his use of stimulus meaning has a role that transcends translation theory (Davidson and Quine 1994, 227). 16. He notices this as early as 1965, when he claims that such homology should not be expected and should not matter. See his Propositional objects (1969a); and Hylton 2007, 123. 17. Quine further explains how this led him to modify his definition of an observation sentence. In Word and Object (1960, 43), he defined observation sentence by appealing to the sameness of stimulus meaning between speakers. later in 1981, he defines it for a single speaker in the following way: If querying the sentence elicits assent from the given speaker on one occasion, it will elicit assent likewise on any other occasion when the same total set of receptors is triggered; and similarly for dissent (1981, 25). A sentence could then be deemed observational for an entire community if it proved observational for each member of that community. later, Quine rejects the view that observation sentences can be defined through simple responses to sensory stimulation. He thus accepts the theory ladenness of observation and speaks of degrees of observationality and theoricity (2000a). For a full discussion of these changes and their implications for Quines view see Hylton 2007, 135143. 18. At first, Quine rejects Davidsons suggestion because he thinks it assumes that subjects can refer to objects, which he wants to more fully explain (1990d; 1990c). But he later realizes (in his 1992 Tomida interview) that he too assumes the existence of objects when he speaks of nerve endings. He then changes his reply in 1992, explaining how he is unhappy with the vagueness of shared distal situations. Davidsons suggestion then becomes a violation of the scientific clarity needed for Quines epistemology, which is why the proximal stimulus remains important for him. For further discussion concerning how a Quinean might think


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Davidsons appeal to the distal stimulus fails to address the question of how our sentences come to refer to objects, see Hylton 2007, 122127. 19. This point is made by kemp 2005, 158; 2006, 64. He further argues that this results in a greater disparity between translation and science than seen in Quines earlier work. The result is that Quines later emphasis on the use of empathy introduces scientifically unquantifiable elements, such as distal situations into his theory of translation. 20. nerve endings, as Quine explains, afford a clearly individuated, homogeneous domain (1993, 114). Here, Quine is highlighting how our neuroceptors are clear, easily comparable units and are thus perfectly suited for the kind of empirical clarity demanded of his naturalist requirements. From Quines perspective, to give up this neat interface between subjects and their environment would be to reject the one place were we can provide a clear, naturalistically acceptable, presentation of the sensory basis of science. And this is, of course, a central part of Quines core epistemological project. 21. Hylton makes a similar point when he emphasizes that radical translation belongs to the epistemological side of Quines work (2007, 199). 22. Quine mentions this in 1999, 74; and 2000b, 410. As we will see below, there would also be a fundamental role played by our perceptual similarity standards, some of which are innate, and which Quine claims are basic for all learning, including the learning of language (1995a, 1920). 23. Here I disagree with glock 2003, 188; koppelberg 1998, 269; and Davidson 2005, 64, who all point to this quote as a concession to Davidsons distal account of meaning. I take it to simply highlight Quines acceptance of a point that he always thought was part of the process of translation, and that he was aware of even in Word and Objectthat translation proceeds by appeal to distal objects and events. However, it still remains silent on the main semantic issue that is of interest to Davidson. If Quine was simply accepting Davidsons externalism, then it would remain puzzling why he continues to emphasize an outstanding problem for his own epistemology. 24. I have provided a more detailed account of Quines epistemological project in my 2004 and 2007. Quines own early programmatic statement of this project is found in his 1969a with further details in his 1975; 1992; 1995a; and 1995b. 25. For more details concerning this recent change in Quines view, see his 1995a; 1996; 1997; and 2000a. 26. Quine substitutes neural input for stimulus meaning in his later work (1995c; 1999). My 2002a provides a more thorough analysis of the motivations behind Quines use and subsequent dropping of this term. Hylton claims that this change is more terminological then substantive (2007, 375376). While the main motives and details of Quines account are largely unaffected by this change, it is worth noting how it is related to Quines mistaken assumption about the homology of stimulation. It is his attempt to address this mistake that eventually results in his dropping the term. 27. Davidson correctly cites the scientific motivation underlying Quines use of stimulus meaning: The notion of stimulus meaning, which Quine introduced (I think) in Word and Object, seemed neatly to bypass the problems of a sensuous given. Unlike sense data, activated nerve endings, in terms of which stimulus meaning was defined, belong to the realm of respectable science (1994, 189). Also see Davidsons 1999c, 134; 2001b, 10; and 2003.

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28. For Quines discussion of semantics see his 1979; 1981; 1986b; and 1990a.


29. This particular strategy has been part of Davidsons work for a long time. In a short early piece he characterizes what he describes as the a priori and metaphysical features of the concept of a physical object: a physical object is an object whose changes are governed by laws and this is something which is a priori. . . . After all we must mean something by calling something a physical object and I would say that this is a very rough sketch of part of what we do mean by calling something a physical object (1964, 227). Also see Davidsons comments in 2001a, 293294. From the perspective of this paper, it is noteworthy that Davidson thinks it makes sense to talk about what we mean by using certain terms. We have seen Quine question the legitimacy of such talk in philosophy. 30. See Davidsons comments in 2001c, 144. In what follows, all references to indeterminacy focus on its application to sentences and their meanings. For Davidsons discussion of the indeterminacy of reference and how it can be accommodated with various formal devices, see his 1999c; 1999b; and 2001a. 31. He further states that meanings have no demonstrated use for the theory of meaning, see his 1984, 21. 32. For several expressions of this positive stance towards the theory of meaning see the references in note 3. 33. For a useful overview of Davidsons use of Tarski see lepore and ludwig 2005. I have provided a more detailed account of Davidsons use of radical interpretation in my 2002b. 34. See Davidsons remarks in 1984, 224225, 228229; 1999e; 1999b; and 2001a, 297. For his use of further formal constraints to address indeterminacy of reference, see the references in note 30. 35. He uses this analogy in many places including briefly in 1984, 257 and with further detail in 1984, 224225; 2001c, 7481, 132133, 214215; and 2003, 295. 36. Stroud suggests a similar conclusion when he remarks that meaning is more determinate for Davidson than for Quine, see his 2003, 611. Davidson has also claimed that what is invariant is meaning, see his 1984, 225. 37. This point is made by kemp 2005, 159. 38. For comments that speak favorably of Davidsons account of interpretation see Quine 1995a, 8081; 1999, 7576. In another passage Quine appears to even accept Davidsons distal view of meaning: Actually, my position in semantics is as distal as his. My observation sentences treat of the distal world, and they are rock-bottom language for child and field linguist alike. My identification of stimulus with neural intake is irrelevant to that (1993, 114). While this may appear to be a concession to Davidsons externalism, Quine is simply acknowledging that his observation sentences are about distal objects, a claim that by itself does not answer Davidsons specific worry about what determines the content of such sentences. Quines remarks are then compatible with his view that such determination is a pragmatic question settled through linguistic transactions between communicators. His further emphasis on neural intake as irrelevant to this semantic question is also in line with his core epistemological concerns discussed in earlier sections. 39. I would like to thank Jonathan Adler, Bjrn ramberg and two anonymous referees for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. This work was supported (in part) by a grant from The City University of new york PSC-CUny research Award Program.


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