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Title: Objectivity and the Variety of Language
Subtitle: Quine, Putnam, Davidson
Author(s): BEN-MENAHEM, Yemima
Journal: Logique et Analyse
Volume: 253    Date: 2021   
Pages: 89-109
DOI: 10.2143/LEA.253.0.3289338

Abstract :
Quine adduced two arguments that point to the obstacles facing an objective understanding of the language-world relation: one is based on the underdetermination of theory by observation, the other pointing to the inscrutability of reference (also referred to as ontological relativity). Together, these arguments generate the indeterminacy of translation—a thesis of ongoing concern not only to Quine, but also to many of his interpreters, among them Putnam and Davidson. This paper begins with an examination of these arguments, and proceeds to monitor the changes they underwent as Quine, Putnam, and Davidson were struggling with their justification and import. It is shown that Quine wavered on the underdetermination of theory whereas Putnam vacillated on ontological relativity. Davidson, in turn, despite his numerous expressions of deference to Quine and his philosophy of language, actually deviated quite significantly from Quine’s conception of meaning. The differences between their positions notwithstanding, Quine, Putnam, and Davidson shared a pragmatist rejection of scepticism and an avowal of commonsense realism. These commitments, I will argue, underlie their responses to the worrisome indeterminacies of the language-world relation.

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