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Willard Van Orman Quine

Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000) held the Edgar Pierce Chair of Philosophy at Harvard University from 1956 to 2000. Considered one the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, he is the author of Mathematical Logic, The Roots of Reference, The Time of My Life: An Autobiography (MIT Press), and many other books.

Titles by This Author

Willard Van Orman Quine begins this influential work by declaring, "Language is a social art. In acquiring it we have to depend entirely on intersubjectively available cues as to what to say and when." As Patricia Smith Churchland notes in her foreword to this new edition, with Word and Object Quine challenged the tradition of conceptual analysis as a way of advancing knowledge. The book signaled twentieth-century philosophy's turn away from metaphysics and what Churchland calls the "phony precision" of conceptual analysis.

In the course of his discussion of meaning and the linguistic mechanisms of objective reference, Quine considers the indeterminacy of translation, brings to light the anomalies and conflicts implicit in our language's referential apparatus, clarifies semantic problems connected with the imputation of existence, and marshals reasons for admitting or repudiating each of various categories of supposed objects. In addition to Churchland's foreword, this edition offers a new preface by Quine's student and colleague Dagfinn Follesdal that describes the never-realized plans for a second edition of Word and Object, in which Quine would offer a more unified treatment of the public nature of meaning, modalities, and propositional attitudes.

An Autobiography

"Some Pow'r did us the giftie grant/ To see oursels as others can't." With that play on Burns' famous line as a preface, Willard Van Orman Quine sets out to spin the yarn of his life so far. And it is a gift indeed to see one of the world's most famous philosophers as no one else has seen him before. To catch an intimate glimpse of his seminal and controversial theories of philosophy, logic, and language as they evolved, and to hear his warm and often amusing comments on famous contemporary philosophers.

From his beginnings in Akron, Ohio in the early 1900s, Quine takes us on a tour of over 100 countries over three-quarters of a century, including close observations of the Depression and two world wars. Far from a philosophical tract, it is an ebullient, folksy account of a richly varied and rounded life. When he does dip into philosophy, it is generally of the armchair sort, and laced with a gentle good humor: "There is that which one wants to do for the glory of having done it, and there is that which one wants to do for the joy of doing it. One can want to be a scientist because he wants to see himself as a Darwin or an Einstein, and one can want to be a scientist because he is curious about what makes things tick .... In normal cases the two kinds of motivation are in time brought to terms .... In me the glory motive lingered ......

In this book, Quine approaches the details of his life the way he has always approached them with a sharp sense of interest, adventure and fun. And he has a skill for picking a word that is just off-center enough to pull an ordinary event out of the humdrum of daily life and evoke its personal meaning. The result is a book of memories that is utterly mesmerizing.

Willard Van Orman Quine is the author of numerous books, including Word and Object, published by The MIT Press in 1960.

A Bradford Book.

Language consists of dispositions, socially instilled, to respond observably to socially observable stimuli. Such is the point of view from which a noted philosopher and logician examines the notion of meaning and the linguistic mechanisms of objective reference. In the course of the discussion, Professor Quine pinpoints the difficulties involved in translation, brings to light the anomalies and conflicts implicit in our language's referential apparatus, clarifies semantic problems connected with the imputation of existence, and marshals reasons for admitting or repudiating each of various categories of supposed objects. He argues that the notion of a language-transcendent "sentence-meaning" must on the whole be rejected; meaningful studies in the semantics of reference can only be directed toward substantially the same language in which they are conducted.