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Article

Volume 48 • Number 3

July 2011



 

 

QUINE'S SEMANTIC RELATIVITY


by Gilbert Harman


Philosophers sometimes approach meaning metaphorically, for example, by speaking of "grasping" meanings, as if understanding consists in getting mental hands around something. Philosophers say that a theory of meaning should be a theory about the meanings that people assign to expressions in their language, that to understand other people requires identifying the meanings they associate with what they are saying, and that to translate an expression of another language into your own is to find an expression in your language with the same meaning as the expression in the other language. One difficulty with taking seriously such metaphors of grasping, assigning, and attaching meanings is that people are not aware of doing these things in the way that they are aware of grasping doorknobs, attaching post–it notes, and assigning tasks to employees. In any event, Quine did not find such metaphors to be useful. In his view, to understand someone else is to interpret them—that is, to find a way to translate from their outlook into one's own. Interpretation is translation. And translation is indeterminate.


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ISSN: 2152-1123