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Volume 48 • Number 3

July 2011




by Thomas Ricketts

Quine's discussions of ontological relativity have long puzzled many admirers of Word and Object (1960), for ontological relativity seems somehow to undermine the compelling view of ontology that Quine presents in the last chapter of that book. Hilary Putnam expresses this puzzlement when he says, Quine holds that Tarski has rehabilitated the notion of truth (and of reference). He also holds that there is no fact of the matter as to what the truth conditions of a sentence in an arbitrary "alien language" are. How can he reconcile these views? This is the most subtle question in the whole of Quinian philosophy. Putnam himself has argued that there is no reconciliation to be found within Quine's views. Something has to go. In one telling objection, Putnam converts Quine's modus ponens into a modus tollens: Quine's demands for [precise criteria for synonymy] lead him to reject not only the existence of an objective relation of synonymy, but also the existence of a fact of the matter as to whether or not two terms (in another language) are the same or different in reference. To avoid having to abandon the notion of reference as he has abandoned the notion of synonymy, Quine must then claim that in his "home language" the situation is different. One can be a "robust realist" with respect to one's home language and give a nonrealist or antirealist account of the functioning of every other language.

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ISSN: 2152-1123