In Favour of the Classical Quine on Ontology
Kemp (Gary)
Source: Forthcoming (as of April 2019) in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. By the ‘classical Quine’ I mean the philosophical position which reached its culmination in "Quine (W.V.) - Word & Object" of 1960. By the ‘later Quine’ I mean the philosophical position which first flowered with "Quine (W.V.) - Ontological Relativity" of 1968 and grew to arguably more precise expression in Quine’s books and papers of the 1990s. (This distinction is something of an idealisation, but on the whole I do think that the earlier flesh-and-blood Quine and the later held the views as I’m characterising them). An important difference is over ontology and I shall argue that there are good reasons for preferring the classical Quine’s view of ontology over that of the later Quine. The later Quine maintained that since reference is inscrutable, the ontology of the entirety of ‘our theory’ is relative to its interpretation, and consequently the scientific importance of ontology is decidedly secondary to that of the structure of predicates of the theory, its ‘ideology’. I shall argue that the inscrutability of reference does not establish the relativity of ontology: the relativity cannot be nearly so rampant as is often supposed, and more generally the classical Quine was right in not treating the semantics of reference as peculiarly relevant to ontology in the way assumed by many of his later writings, which is necessary for the inference to relativity. A further implication is that the apparent support received for Quine’s version of structuralism from that quarter is nullified.
  2. I shall not question the essential Quinean commitments germane to this discussion, commitments to which both the classical Quine and the later Quine subscribed:
    • to extensionalism;
    • to the maxim that to be is to be the value of a variable;
    • to existence’s being expressed by the existential quantifier;
    • to there not being any properties, relations, universals or attributes (beyond the sets of objects denoted by such terms as ‘the set of chickens’);
    • to there not being any merely possible objects or possible worlds;
    • to classical mathematics — or rather to a standard set-theory or to a non-standard alternative such Quine’s own ‘New Foundations’ theory;
    • to Quine’s naturalism — that scientific practice sets the norms for philosophy and that there is no choice but to ‘speak within’ our science as we have it, rather than from some transcendent or prior philosophical position; and lastly,
    • to a certain notion of reference to be explained presently.


See Kemp - In Favour of the Classical Quine on Ontology.

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