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Quine's Empirical Assumptions

Quine's Empirical Assumptions

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Quine's Empirical AssumptionsAuthor(s): Noam ChomskySource:
Synthese,
Vol. 19, No. 1/2 (Dec., 1968), pp. 53-68Published by: SpringerStable URL:
Accessed: 28/12/2009 15:53
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NOAMCHOMSKY
QUINE'SEMPIRICALASSUMPTIONS*
Perhapsthe clearest andmostexplicitdevelopmentof whatappearstobeanarrowlyHumeantheoryoflanguage acquisitionin recentphilosophyisthatofQuine,in theintroductorychapterstohisWord andObject.1If the Humeantheoryisroughlyaccurate,thenaperson's knowledgeoflanguageshouldberepresentableas anetwork oflinguisticforms-letussay,tofirstapproximation,sentences-associated withone anotherand,inpart,associatedtocertain stimulus conditions.ThisformulationQuine presentsas,Itakeit,afactual assertion. Thus he statesthatour"theories"-whether"deliberate",aschemistry,or"secondnature",as"theimmemorial doctrineofordinaryenduringmiddlesizedobjects"-caneachbecharacterizedas"a fabric ofsentencesvariouslyassociatedtooneanotherandtonon-verbal stimulibythemechanismofconditionedresponse" (p. 11).Hence the wholeofourknowledge (ourtotal"theory",inthissense)canbecharacterizedinthese terms.Onedifficultythatarisesininterpretingsuchpassagesasthesehastodowiththe relationbetweenlanguageandtheory,where the lattertermcoversalsogeneralcommon-senseknowledgeandbelief.Quine'sviewsabout theinterp?n?trationoftheoryandlanguagearewellknown,but,evenacceptingthemfully,onecouldnotdoubt thataperson'slanguageandhis'theory'aredistinctsystems.Thepointistooobvioustopress,but itis, nevertheless,difficulttoseehowQuine distinguishesthetwoinhisframework.Infact,throughoutthediscussion,heseemstousethetermsinterchangeably.Forexample,inChapter1,hediscusses thelearningoflanguageingeneralterms,exemplifiesitbyanexamplefromchemicaltheory leadinguptothestatementjustquoted,thenseeminglydescribesthe"vast verbalstructure"soconstructed,the associativenetworkthatconstitutesone'sknowledgeof science("andindeedeverythingwe eversayabout theworld"),asboth the"bodyoftheory"thatoneacceptsand thelanguagethatonelearns. Thusthediscussionofhowoneconstructsandusesatotaltheoryofthissortconcludeswiththefollowingstatement:53Synthese19(1968-69)53-68.? D.ReidelPublishingCo.,Dordrecht-Holland
 
NOAM CHOMSKY
Beneaththeuniformitythatunitesusincommunicationthereisachaoticpersonaldiversityofconnections,and,for eachofus,theconnections continuetoevolve.Notwoofuslearnourlanguage alike,nor,inasense,doesanyfinish
learningit whilehelives.Since thecommentmerelysummarizesthe discussionofhow the"singleconnectedfabric"constitutingourtotaltheoryisacquired(thelatterdiscussion itselfhavingbeenintroducedtoexemplifylanguagelearning),itseemsthatQuinemustbeproposingthatalanguage,too,is"afabricof sentencesvariouslyassociatedtooneanotherandtonon-verbalstimulibythe mechanismofconditionedresponse".Otherpartsof hisexpositionreinforce theconclusionthatthisiswhatisintended,as weshallseeinamoment.Nevertheless,interpretationofQuine'sremarks ismade difficultatpointsbecause of histendencytousetheterms'language'and'theory'interchangeably,thoughobviouslyhemustbepresupposingafundamentaldifference betweenthetwo-heis,forexample,surelynotproposingthattwomonolingualspeakersofthesamelanguagecannotdisagreeonquestionsofbelief,orthatcontroversyoverfactsisnecessarilyasirrationalasanargumentbetweenamonolingual speakerofEnglishandamonolingualspeakerofGerman.Elsewhere,Quinestatesthat he isconsideringalanguageasa"complexofpresentdispositionstoverbalbehavior,in whichspeakersofthesamelanguagehaveperforcecometoresembleoneanother"(p.27).Thusifalanguageisanetwork of sentencesassociatedtooneanotherandtoexternalstimulibythemechanism ofconditionedresponse,thenitfollows thataperson'sdispositiontoverbalbehaviorcanbecharacterizedin termsof suchanetwork. Thisfactualassumptionisfarfromobvious.Ireturntootheraspectsofthisconceptof'language'below.How isknowledgeofsuchalanguage acquired?Evidently,aHumeantheorywillacquiresubstanceonlyifsuchnotionsas'similarity'arecharacterizedinsomeway.Quinethereforepostulatesaprelinguistic(andpresumablyinnate)"qualityspace"withabuilt-indistancemeasure(p.83-4).Evidently,thestructure ofthisspacewilldeterminethecontentofthetheoryoflearning.Forexample,onecouldeasilyconstructatheoryofinnateideasofaratherclassicalsortintermsofaprelinguisticqualityspacewithabuild-indistancemeasure.Quinewould,apparently,acceptaverystrongversionofatheoryofinnate ideasascompatiblewithhisframework.Thus heconsidersthepossibilitythat"aredball,54

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