W. V. O. Quine: Pragmatism within the limits of empiricism alone

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The term 'pragmatism' is used thematically and historically. Most commonly, its use is to refer to a nineteenth- and twentieth-century American school of philosophy, whose main protagonists were C. S. Peirce, W. James and J. Dewey. Alternatively, its use is to characterize a broad family of philosophical views, held by many philosophers of various periods and persuasions. W. V. O. Quine, a prominent twentieth-century analytic philosopher, is known to have kept a careful distance from the historical school in question. While readily admitting to certain affinities between pragmatism and his own thinking, Quine turned his back on American pragmatism, and criticized some important pragmatist tenets. On the other hand, he utilized pragmatist themes for his own theoretical purposes. In doing so, he made contributions to pragmatism that no student of that school can safely ignore. In 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism', Quine described the conclusion of his arguments against analyticity and reductionism as 'a shift to pragmatism', and as constituting a more 'thorough' pragmatism than that admitted to by R. Carnap and C. I. Lewis. Whereas these earlier masters accepted a restricted form of pragmatism with respect to the choice between languages, or conceptual schemes, but not with respect to theory-choice in the empirical sciences, Quine focused his critical attention on the latter. Finding the conceptual/empirical distinction lacking in point of empirical support, he moved to extend pragmatism to questions of empirical fact as well. In doing so, Quine brought tools from the pragmatist toolkit, e.g. holism, to bear on the problems of logical positivism and logical analysis. At the same time, he brought analytic rigour to these pragmatist tools and arguments, raising them to the attention of contemporary philosophers.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Pragmatism
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781139022132
ISBN (Print)9780521110877
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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