A bit of evidence in support of which result the analytical philosopher can ruefully supply on his own, simply by recalling that in his eagerness to travel light he has been prone to regard wisdom as just another piece of excess baggage impeding the progress of traditional philosophy that he has long since dumped by the wayside.6 [6 See in this connection Quine's mention of wisdom in Theories and Things(1981: 193)]
Quinean poetics reopens this whole issue of wisdom, in connection with the vexed question of what the putative wisdom of the poet might be supposed to consist in, but no longer on the level of airy generality, where it has languished hitherto. Not that the philosopher can expect to be easily credited as a disinterested arbiter of his quarrel with the poet. But if the suspicion of parties is inevitably very strong here, it may yet be overcome by the following line of reflection. Having jettisoned all claims to wisdom and quite ungrudgingly ("with good riddance too"), the analytical philosopher is quite prepared to certify those of the poet, not least because he can always slyly add, "If it is in the pages of the poet that wisdom is to be found, it takes the philosopher to find it!" A fair enough division of the spoils as far as poet and philosopher are concerned, though I fear that some literary critics, even among those who have themselves been happily poaching on philosophy in recent decades, may not be quite so sanguine when (turnabout is fair play) philosophers return the compliment. Which is not to say that the Quinean exegete expects to address the poetic text directly, without the mediation of the literary critic.
Simply as a methodological point, a Quinean gloss will characteristically have a meta-meta-linguistic character, being itself parasitic on the first-order gloss of the critic. So much for ruffled feathers! There is enough anxiety to go around (inevitable, perhaps, when interdisciplinary studies get down to business), for even the poet, while flattered by so much attention, will not be free of it, as he unpacks this figure of parasites preying on parasites.---José A. Benardete "Metaphysics and Poetry: The Quinean Approach." Poetics Today (Summer, 1996), pp. 129-156
I was delighted with the wit, ingenuity, and erudition that into "Metaphysics and Poetry: The Quinean Approach." What with my intentness on the ontic demands of science and the joy of meeting them as frugally as may be, I never entertained quality instances sive abstract abstract particulars. They are gratuitous for science, and science owes much of its beauty and efficiency to economy of thought and objects. But poetry has its beauty too, or can have, and economy is merely one among the wellsprings of its beauty. To each its own, therefore, and vive le sport. It is refreshing to see my familiar devices in strange applications.
Let me clarify the history of my ontology....Quine to J. Benardete, October 14, 1996.
A few weeks ago, at Dailynous there was a discussion about an old article by Quine in Newsday 1979. One of the commentators noted that Quine's piece had been reprinted in Theories and Things. Sadly the discussion failed to notedthat there already existed a very substantial response to Quine's piece in the scholarly literature: José A. Benardete's "Metaphysics and Poetry: The Quinean Approach," partially quoted above. Benardete's observations deserves further reflection (I have made some tentative comments in this lecture in honor of my former colleague).
Below I reproduce a transcript of a letter from Quine in response to Benardete's piece. (I did not correct the typos.) I thank Diego Benardete for calling my attention to it, and I thank the Quine estate, especially Douglas Quine, and José Benardete for allowing me to reproduce it on Digressions. I also thank Dan Dennett for helping me contact Douglas Quine. The piece is of interest primarily for Quine's brief intellectual autobiography, but it also acknowledges one of the technical points (on tropes) in Benardete's piece. [A pdf file copy of the original is available to scholars upon request.]
38 Chestnut Street
Boston, MA 02108
October 14, 1996
Dear Professor Benardete,
I was delighted with the wit ingenuity, and erudition that went
into "Metaphysice[sic] and Poetry: the Quinean Approach." What with my
intentness on the ontic demands of science and the joy of meeting them
as frugally as may be, I never entertained quality instances sive ab-
stract particulars. They are gratuitous for science, and science owes
much of its beauty and efficiency to economy of thought and objects.
But poetry has its beauty too, or can have, and economy is merely one
among the wellsprings of its beauty. To each its own, therefore, and
vive le sport. It is refreshing to see my familiar devices in strange
Let me clarify the history of my ontology. Except for one fleet-
ing flirtation in midlife, I have been an extensional platonist since
undergraduate days. For some years my platonism was reluctant, but im-
posed by my standards of ontic. commitment. Those standards, viz. val-
ues of variables, became explicit in 1939 ("Designation and Existence” ), [sic]
The fleeting flirtation was my 1947 paper with Goodman, "Steps to-
ward a Constructive Nominalism.'' It adhered to my commitment criterion
and was technically correct, but the mathematics that it accommodated
was clumsy and limited. I promptly resumed my extensional platonism.
In later years, when I saw into the basic function of reification as a
means of structuring science (see From Stimulus to Science. 1995, pp.
24-36), even the reluctance lapsed.
My strictures against analyticity, by the way, were never meant
to challenge the very cases (e.g. elementary logis [sic] or the Bachelor)
that served to identify the folkconcept of "truth by meaning" whose
philosophival [sic] extrapolation I was challenging. What I scouted was the
extrapolation of the dichotomy across the whole fabric of theoretical
science. I was criticizing Carnap, who leaned so heavily on just that.
W. v. Quine