The Ontological Significance of Inscrutability

Philosophical Topics 35 (1-2):115-134 (2007)
Abstract
I shall here discuss some matters related to the so-called radical indeterminacy or inscrutability arguments due to, e.g., Willard v. O. Quine, Hilary Putnam, John Wallace and Donald Davidson.1 These are arguments that, on the face of it, demonstrate that there is radical indeterminacy in what the expressions in a theory refer to and in what the ontology of the theory is. I will use “inscrutability argument” as a general label for these arguments. My main topic – after I have dealt with some issues that in the context are mere preliminaries – will be what the consequences of inscrutability for ontology might be. (The label ‘inscrutability’ is not ideal, as it suggests that the problem raised is primarily epistemic. But it is common to use the label in the context of Quine’s arguments. And it has the advantage over the alternative suggestion “indeterminacy” that it signals that we are here dealing with a special kind of indeterminacy, not only more widespread but also in principle irremediable.).
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