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10/27/2017

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Greg F-A

This is just a side-note on your in-passing remark about clarity in Quine (all philosophy blogging consists of a series of footnotes to Schliesser ;) ). I think I might disagree with you: I think post-nominalist Quine really downgrades the importance of clarity (perhaps reducing it to zero) -- and it sounded in the OP like you might not agree?

I finally finished(?) a paper I was writing on clarity in Quine. I can send the whole ridiculous thing to you if you are interested, but I have cut-and-pasted below the final paragraph summarizing what I had argued for. I think I might disagree with you: I think post-nominalist Quine really downgrades the importance of clarity (perhaps reducing it to zero), and it sounds like you might not agree?

"In sum, I hope I have made plausible the claim that Quine’s post-nominalist attitude towards clarity as a general theoretical virtue is complicated. It often does not appear on his lists of theoretical virtues, even if we count ‘naturalness’ as close enough to ‘clarity’ (as I believe we should)— but sometimes it does appear on those lists. When Quine explicitly appeals to clarity or naturalness, it is possible that at least sometimes he is doing so merely to be dialectically fair to his opponent. That is, the nominalist (specifically, Quine himself circa 1947) complains that type restrictions are unnatural, so latter-day Platonist Quine feels the need to at least voice that complaint, without endorsing naturalness as a genuine theoretical virtue, so that a full list of purported pros and cons of each position is on the table. Alternatively, it is possible that Quine thinks clarity or naturalness is a genuine theoretical virtue, but does not weight it very much (if he weighted it heavily, then nominalism or Pythagoreanism could have ‘won’ against their competitors). Both these hypotheses are speculative. But in any case, it appears the post-nominalist Quine does not attribute the same importance to naturalness, clarity, intelligibility, or whatever one calls it, as he does to the other theoretical virtues of empirical adequacy, simplicity, and efficiency."

Eric Schliesser

Hi Greg,
Sure, feel free to send the thing. At one point I was thinking of writing up the earlier blog post on clarity and relate it to the debate over analyticity.
I think we are not far apart: we agree that Quine had a different attitude toward clarity than Carnap; that early Quine was more inclined to take clarity seriously than later Quine. You may well be right that of the theoretical virtues clarity/naturalness does not play a large role for later Quine. Where we may differ (and you know the material surely better than I do), is that I think there are one or two passages (in Word and Object, paragraph 34) where he treats clarity as a benefit that arises from regimentation. I tend to think Quine thinks that's very important.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.

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