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Margaret Atherton

I am so happy to see the work of Grace de Laguna publicized here. She was in fact a prolific philosopher whose work I have admired for some time. It is also worth noting that both she and her husband were professors in the philosophy department of Bryn Mawr College.

Eric Schliesser

Margaret, did you know her personally? Would love to learn more about her.

Margaret Atherton

Eric! How old do you think I am? The De Laguna’s daughter, Frederica, taught at Bryn Mawr when I was there but sadly I don’t think I ever heard any mention of her mother, although I was a philosophy major.


Related to whether Quine knew about their early views, I just noticed that he gave a lecture at Bryn Mawr in December 1949: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2021795

Walter Horn


Eric Schliesser

Margaret I was careful NOT to ask if you had *studied* with her.:)

Margaret Atherton

Thank God for small mercies, Eric. But really, thank you for calling attention to Grace de Laguna and I hope some people are driven to take a look at her work.

Leonard J Waks

The post is useful in bringing the work of Grace de Laguna back into circulation. It is a perhaps unfortunate, but inevitable fact, that philosophy has a programmatic dimension. In their publications each philosophers advance both arguments and claims and also themselves and their schools. Some philosophers and their works fall off the current map. Calling this 'amnesia' is not helpful.

The argument is also somewhat uncharitable to Quine. As one who started my study of philosophy on the 1960s it is hard to overestimate the importance of Two Dogmas. I would not say that all of my teachers were 'dogmatists' but clearly these dogmas polluted the very air we breathed. Quine, along with Kuhn and a few others, really helped to clear the air.

One thing I would love to know more about is the de Laguna's critique of classical pragmatism. Their views as stated here sound surprisingly like Dewey's views - already developed in his essays on logic of 1902.

Finally, I am very pleased to see G. P. Adams and W. P. Montague (eds.) Contemporary American Philosophy: Personal Statements. I read this as an undergraduate and it impressed me deeply. Over the last ten years I have been editing a book series modeled explicitly on this book, and plan to turn to the various branches of philosophy soon.

Greg F-A

This is a very interesting post! I didn't know anything about the de Lagunas, so thanks for writing it.

The one thing I would mention is that Quine really *did* know the views of C. I. Lewis, since Lewis was his teacher and then colleague at Harvard. And many of Quine's epistemological claims are much closer to Lewis's formulations than to the de Langunas'. So I would hesitate to say that Quine "ignore[d] the views of the classical pragmatists." Here are two quotes from Lewis's _Mind and the World Order_:

"that is a priori which we can maintain in the face of all experience, come what will" (231). That sounds very close to Quine's view in "Truth by Convention" that an analytic sentence is a statement which is "held true come what may."

(2) "the whole body of our conceptual interpretations form a sort of hierarchy or pyramid with the most comprehensive, such as those of logic, at the top, and the least general, such as 'swans' etc. at the bottom; that with the complex system of interrelated concepts, we approach particular experiences and attempt to fit them, somewhere and somehow... Persistent failure leads to readjustment... The higher up a concept stands in our pyramid, the more reluctant we are to disturb it, because the more radical and far-reaching the results will be if we abandon it..." (305-6).
And that sounds very similar to Quine's web of belief.

As Daniel Lindquist pointed out to me, Davidson thought Lewis was a massive influence on Quine's epistemological views (though Quine didn't fully realize that):

"DAVIDSON: I do think that C.I. Lewis had a tremendous influence on Quine, but Quine doesn't realize it. The explanation for that is that Quine had no training in philosophy and so when he took Lewis's course in epistemology, he took for granted that this is what everybody knows about epistemology. Quine didn't realize that Lewis was any different from everyone else; pretty soon he worked out that there are some things he didn't agree with Lewis about, like the analytic-synthetic distinction. I don't think Quine would put it this way. As I said, I don't think he realized any of this, but you can find most of Quine's epistemology in C.I. Lewis minus the analytic-synthetic distinction. Epistemology naturalized is very close to the heart of C.I. Lewis. I don't think that Quine knows the extent to which there really is a sequence that starts with Kant and goes through C.I. Lewis and ends with Quine." (in _Problems of Rationality_, p.237)

Stephen Turner

There is a literature: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0048393116672829

Paul L. Franco

Let me echo both of Greg's points above. The post is very interesting. I saw Peter Olen give a talk on Grace de Laguna at HOPOS 2016, which was also interesting (perhaps it was a version of the piece mentioned by Stephen above). So I'm glad to hear more about her views.

Also on Greg's point regarding Quine's connection to C.I. Lewis, Rob Sinclair has a nice paper on Lewis's influence on Quine: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/trancharpeirsoc.48.3.335?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

See also Carl Sachs and Peter Olen's recent volume on C.I. Lewis: https://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9783319528625

And since Kuhn's views were mentioned above, there's a link between him and Lewis also, as Juan Mayoral argues in the volume just mentioned and also in this paper: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0039368109000223?via%3Dihub

One other thing: It's interesting to note, as others have, Quine's "amnesia" about Carnap's clear statements of the conventional dimension of verification in "Testability and Meaning"--Lewis figures prominently here, too--and also about holism and the degrees of difference between L- and P-rules in §82 of The Logical Syntax of Language . Quine presumably read both of these works with some care (though Carnap, of course, didn't take the same lessons from these observations that Quine did).


Very interesting.

As you probably know, Quine apparently didn't know about Duhem's similar thesis about holism in physics until Hempel pointed this out after Quine published the Two Dogmas in Phil Review (and so Quine added a footnote to Duhem before the version was reprinted in From a Logical Point of View, I think). Of course, Quine (and others') thesis about holism is more general, but I thought it interesting that Duhem also doesn't seem to be discussed in Theodore and Grace's 1910 book. if I remember right, the Aim and Structure of Physical theory would've come out about 5 years before their book.

Does anyone know if anyone has done a history tracing the development of confirmational holism? (whether restricted to physics or broader in scope?)

Joel Katzav

The de Lagunas acknowledge their debt to Dewey, as well as trace their holism back to Hegelian idealism. As for C. I. Lewis, I do not count him as a classical pragmatist, partly because he rejected speculative philosophy. Moreover, of course, Quine of the 1930s was close to Lewis. They both still believed in the a priori, for example. But it is only in the 40s that Quine comes to reject the a priori; his position at this time starts to come close to that of the de Laguna’s.

More importantly, I am not being uncharitable to Quine; an important reason why his work appeared so significant to young analytic philosophers in the 1960s is because analytic philosophers had been systematically marginalising thinkers like the de Lagunas. Their work did not simply ‘fall off the map’.

Steven Gross

Perhaps it's not so clear that Quine only rejects the a priori in the 40s. There's the following well-known remark in "Truth By Convention" (written 1935, published 1936): "Still, there is the apparent contrast between logico-mathematical truths and others that the former are a priori, the latter a posteriori; the former have "the character of an inward necessity", in Kant's phrase, the latter do not. Viewed behavioristically and without reference to a metaphysical system, this contrast retains reality as a contrast between more and less firmly accepted statements ...."

Joel Katzav

Yes, but the quote is consistent with supposing that some claims are held come what may, and Quine is explicit at the time that, on his view, the claims of logic and mathematics are insisted upon come what may.

Steven Gross

Yes indeed. But perhaps the basis for maintaining that we won't give them up is so fundamentally different from what had been meant ("viewed behavioristically") that there's room to question whether this amounts to an endorsement of the apriori as it had been understood? (Well, perhaps Quine himself would question whether there's sense in asking whether he's there endorsing what had been meant by 'apriori' or rather changing the subject.)

Joel Katzav

It is enough for me to make the point about Quine moving closer to the de Lagunas' position. In any case, Quine's early views were no more a departure from what had been said than his later views were.

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