Paul Roth

What Does Translation Translate?: Quine, Carnap and the Emergence of Indeterminacy

2020/21 Keele Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture

This paper traces exchanges between Quine and Carnap so as to document Quine's evolving realization that his criticisms starting with those found in "Truth by Convention" leave a theory of meaning without anything to be a theory of. For although Carnap retreats from attempts to formulate a general theory of meaning, he never surrenders the view that one can articulate a framework of meaning distinct from whatever else it is that one wishes to discourse about. So while Carnap compromises on the scope of a linguistic framework, he retains at the core of his thinking the view that such frameworks make meaning possible. This in turn engenders Quine's successive efforts to reformulate the issue that separates them, efforts which lead to Quine's poignant acknowledgement that "my dissent from Carnap's philosophy of logical truth is hard to state and argue in Carnap's terms." (CLT, 385) Carnap and many who come after him take translation as a recapturing of determinants of meaning. They do not recognize that freed of dogmas, i.e., those philosophical pillars empiricists took to support fixed features that made for meaning, no basis for theorizing meaning remains. In short, Quine’s indeterminacy thesis is a principled reason for the futility of attempting any philosophical theory of meaning.
About the speaker:
Paul Roth is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of California-Santa Cruz. He publishes on Quine, naturalized epistemology, philosophy of social science, and philosophy of history. He recently published The Philosophical Structure of Historical Explanation (Northwestern University Press, 2020). The talk is based on a forthcoming paper in a volume on the Quine-Carnap debate edited by Sean Morris and to be published by Cambridge UP.  
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