Quine's Holism 


You know the drill: Quine & Holism

It is fair to say that Quine was a pivotal figure in 20th Century philosophy.  A single slim volume of his at mid century managed to wreak havoc with the Anglo-American analytic tradition.  Its repercussions provoke lively debate into this next millennium, even on the Continent. 

 Yet, Quine was no subversive, anarchist or visionary.  He was a Harvard don.  He just wanted to set the record straight.  He and Niels Bohr were nevertheless the progenitors of what is the single most characteristic concept of our postmodern world.  

And what is this concept?  Does this have something to do with the $40 billion holistic health industry?  What does context dependency have to do with ginseng tea? 

It has to do with non-localized, distributed meaning.  There may be a private mental language, but words are not thoughts.  It is all representation and context.  The meaning is not in the sound, it is in the silence between the sounds, to give it a Zen twist.  The only real meaning is in what we can live and feel.  Fear is in the pit of the stomach, as they say.  It is in the shadows.  


I have been reading Ernest Lapore's Conditions on Understanding Language (c.1995) [listed on Philosophy of Language Links], an attack on the behaviorist, functionalist reduction of semantics to linguistics and syntax.  On his view, Quine is one of the reductionists.  He cites agreement with Fodor and Dummet in his own metalinguistic, metaphysical approach to a purely mental semantics. 

It appears that I will need to review Fodor.  According to Christopher Green, Review of Jerry Fodor's 'In Critical Condition', Fodor is a reluctant defender of innate ideas.  The fact that Fodor is also a proponent of strong 'computational functionalism' in no way inhibits his thorough going criticism of his 'colleagues'.  Innate ideas are not good news for materialists.  

Using Fodor as the icon, we may be able to locate a coterie of conscientious objectors to the program of the materialists and reductionists, who nonetheless can speak directly to them.  There remains the hope that an argument will emerge that is sufficiently cogent to cause a public rethinking by the intellectual community.  If rational theism is to emerge in some rational fashion, this would be its best opportunity.  

I'm starting with Fodor's Doing Without What’s Within.  

I'll have to return to holism a bit later....


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