Passing by the naturalistic turn: On Quine's cul-de-sac

Philosophy 81 (2):231-253 (2006)
Abstract
1. Naturalism Naturalism, it has been said, is the distinctive development in philosophy over the last thirty years. There has been a naturalistic turn away from the a priori methods of traditional philosophy to a conception of philosophy as continuous with natural science. The doctrine has been extensively discussed and has won considerable following in the USA. This is, on the whole, not true of Britain and continental Europe, where the pragmatist tradition never took root, and the temptations of scientism in philosophy were less alluring. Contemporary American naturalism originates in the writings of Quine, the metaphysician of twentieth-century science. With extraordinary panache, he painted a largescale picture of human nature, of language and of the web of belief. I believe that in almost every major respect, it is, like the picture painted by Descartes, the great metaphysician of seventeenth-century science, mistaken. But it evidently appeals to the spirit of the times. So it is worthy of critical examination and careful refutation. I shall argue that the naturalistic turn is a cul-de-sac – a turn that is to be passed by if we are to keep to the highroad of good sense. Naturalism, like so many of Quine’s doctrines, was propounded in response to Carnap. As Quine understood matters, Carnap had been persuaded by Russell’s Our Knowledge of the External World that it is the task of philosophy to demonstrate that our knowledge of the external world is a logical construction out of, and hence can be reduced to, elementary experiences. Quine rejected the reductionism of Carnap’s Logischer Aufbau, and found the idealist basis uncongenial to his own dogmatic realist behaviourism, inspired by Watson and later reinforced by Skinner. The rejection of reductionism and ‘unregenerate realism’, Quine averred, were the sources of his naturalism (FME 72). What exactly was this? We can distinguish in Quine between three different but inter-related programmes for future philosophy: epistemological, ontological and philosophical naturalism. Naturalized epistemology is to displace traditional epistemology, transforming the investigation into ‘an enterprise within natural science’ (NNK 68) – a psychological enterprise of investigating how the ‘input’ of radiation, etc., impinging on the nerve endings of human beings can ‘ultimately’ result in an ‘output’ of our theoretical descriptions of the external world..
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Gary Kemp (2010). Quine: The Challenge of Naturalism. European Journal of Philosophy 18 (2):283-295.
Nathan Sinclair (2012). A Dogma of Naturalism. Metaphilosophy 43 (5):551-566.
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