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Understanding 20th-Century Philosophy—the Case of Quine

B. John Bayer

Presented at: OCON 2006

Date: Jun 30, 2006

The late W. V. Quine was one of the most influential American philosophers of the 20th century, and the story of his philosophy is in many ways the story of 20th-century "analytic" philosophy. This course will survey and evaluate central points of Quine's philosophy.

Inspired by Bertrand Russell and mentored by Rudolf Carnap, Quine was steeped in the early tradition of logical positivism and linguistic analysis. But, in time, Quine came to reject central tenets of the analytic tradition. His critique of the analytic/synthetic distinction and the empiricist criterion of meaning were instrumental in dethroning the orthodoxy of logical positivism, ushering in a new era of "naturalism" in philosophy that persists to this day.

Although Quine portrayed himself as a defender of science and objectivity, his basic philosophic premises imply a skepticism more like contemporary postmodernism than Quine was willing to admit. Understanding this will help explain why even the best of today's philosophers remain under the sway of ideas that are at odds with science and reason.


Parts: 3

Handout: none


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