Book Reviews

Additions to the Bibliography on Mind and Consciousness

compiled by Piero Scaruffi

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Quine Willard: WORD AND OBJECT (MIT Press, 1960)

Quine criticized the distinction between analytic and synthetic and advanced an indeterminacy principle to distinguish the logical from the extra-logical vocabulary: the only vocabulary that counts as logical is the one that is free of translational indeterminacy.


Quine Willard: FROM A LOGICAL POINT OF VIEW (Harper & Row, 1961)

Contains the famous "Two Dogmas Of Empiricism", a manifesto of holism. Influenced by Pierre Duhem's argument that hypotheses cannot be tested in isolation from the whole theoretical network in which they figure, Quine thinks that an hypothesis is verified true or false only relative to background assumptions. There is no certain way to determine what has to be changed in a theory, any hypothesis can be retained as true or discarded as false by performing appropriate adjustments in the overall network of assumptions. No sentence has special epistemic properties that safeguard it from revision. Science is but self-conscious common sense.
The structure of concepts is determined by the positions that their constituents occupy in the "web of belief" of the individual. The child's concepts are based on the notion of similarity, and they slowly evolve to acquire a more theoretical structure.


Quine Willard: ONTOLOGICAL RELATIVITY (Columbia Univ Press, 1969)

The truth of a statement cannot be assessed as a function of the meaning of its words. Words do not have an absolute meaning. They have a meaning only with respect to the other words they are connected to in the sentences that we assume to be true. Their meaning can even change in time.
Quine's underdetermination theory originates in the sciences. For every empirical datum there can be an infinite number of theories that explain it. Science simply picks the combination of hypotheses that seems more plausible. When an hypothesis fails, the scientist can always modify the other hypotheses to make it hold.
Language is a special case. An empirical datum is a discourse and a theory is its meaning. There are infinite interpretations of a discourse depending on the context. A single word has no meaning, its referent is "inscrutable". The meaning of language is not even in the mind of the speaker. It is a natural phenomenon related to the world of that speaker.
A translation depends on the manual of translation that has been chosen.
Like verificationists, Quine thinks that the meaning of a statement is the method that can verify it empirically. Like holists, Quine thinks that the unity of meaning is given by science in its entirety, i.e. verification of a statement within a theory depends on the set of all other statements of the theory. Each statement in a theory partially determines the meaning of every other statement in the same theory.
This is a variant of Brentano's "irreducibility" thesis, that mental states cannot be reduced to physical states. But Quine believes that intentional phenomena should be purged from science.


Quinn Naomi & Holland Dorothy: CULTURAL MODELS IN LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT (Cambridge Univ Press, 1987)

Physical objects, because they exhibit spatial properties, allow us to build mental models. The only way to build a mental model for a non-physical object is to transfer the model of a physical object through a metaphor.



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