The philosophers’ magazine/autumn 2002

What is structuralism? The stock To explain why we should see Quine can translate the natives’ gavagai either as answer is that it is the brainas a structuralist, I would like to revive rabbit or as undetached rabbit’s part, so he child of Ferdinand de his widely discussed thought experican translate his peers’ rabbit either as Saussure, later fostered by Levi-Strauss, ment, featuring a field linguist decipherrabbit or as undetached rabbit’s part. Hence Foucault, Derrida and their allies. But I ing an unknown language spoken by the cultural relativism appears to muthink we have only to confront the ausnatives somewhere in the middle of tate into an “individual relativism”, a terely scientific style of Saussure’s Course nowhere. On hearing the natives exkind of solipsistic skepticism in which de linguistique générale with that of the claiming “Gavagai!” whenever they see a we can be certain neither that we underwritings of the French structuralists to rabbit, the linguist records in his notestand the natives, nor even that we unrecognise an essential discontinuity. The book the tentative translation hypothderstand each other! French philosophers have developed esis gavagai = rabbit. Next, Quine asks us However this is not a conclusion only certain consequences of Saussure’s to imagine another linguist, who, ob- Quine would be willing to draw. He teaching; and, moreover, in a rather nonserving the same behaviour of the same does not say that we cannot understand Saussurean way. natives, proposes the hypothesis gavagai each other (nor even that we cannot un- In my recent book I put forward the = undetached rabbit’s part. Quine then conderstand the natives): that we can is conalternative thesis that the kind of strucsiders ways of deciding which of the tinually testified to by the indubitable turalism advanced by Saussure is in fact two linguists is correct, and concludes, successes of our communication. For present implicitly in the writings of to the astonishment of many readers, Quine, there is no other measure of unpeople not normally associated with the that there is no feasible way to decide; derstanding, save the smoothness and term, namely the (post)analytic phiand hence that both linguists are corfruitfulness of linguistic interaction, the losophers such as Willard Van Orman rect..
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