Wednesday, June 18, 2008

W.V.O. Quine Video

Here is part of a 1977 video of W.V.O. Quine being interviewed by Brian Magee on BBC TV.

Magee introduces Quine as "a philosopher at the very summit of world reputation."

In this clip, Quine talks about how philosophy is on a continuum with science but is also different from it. He gives the examples of history and engineering as being at the most applied end of the sciences and philosophy and mathematics being at the most abstract end.

Magee asks Quine about the sorts of questions that philosophy takes up. Quine says that the question of how the world began is for physicists to deal with. The question of how life began is a question for biologists. And the question of why the world or life began is not a question at all, not even one for philosophers. It's merely a pseudo-question, because it doesn't have an answer.

Finally, Quine divides philosophy into two categories--ontology and epistemology. Philosophy deals with questions about what there is and questions about what we can know. On the subject of what there is, Quine says that objects are either material or mathematical.

Well, I'm an undisputed fan of Quine (see this website)--but doesn't this seem like a narrow view of philosophy?


Noumena said...

Well, this is a man who said `Philosophy of science is philosophy enough'. (Though, now that I think about it, this is ambiguous between the philosophies of science of Dewey, Neurath, Carnap, and Reichenbach.)

Despite denying Carnap's internal/external questions distinction, Quine never really escaped from the non-cognitivism about values that makes even the Left Vienna Circle problematic from the perspective of a robust ethicist.

Jack Nelson (who, I should note, is the husband of the philosopher ultimately responsible for my eventual career decision) actually has a paper called `The last dogma of empiricism', where he argues that fact/value emotivism was a crucial shortcoming Quine never managed to shake off. The paper is in Hankinson Nelson and Nelson, eds., Feminism, science, and philosophy of science, Kluwer 1996.

Evelyn Brister said...

I second Noumena's recommendation of Jack Nelson's paper. I would just say that although that Kluwer collection contains a number of papers worth reading, the article is also in a more available collectionby the same editors:
Feminist Interpretations of W.V. Quine, published in 2003 by Penn State Press.