Quine's Behaviorism and Linguistic Meaning: Why Quine's Behaviorism is not Illicit

Philosophia 39 (1):51-59 (2011)
Some of Quine’s critics charge that he arrives at a behavioristic account of linguistic meaning by starting from inappropriately behavioristic assumptions (Kripke 1982, 14; Searle 1987, 123). Quine has even written that this account of linguistic meaning is a consequence of his behaviorism (Quine 1992, 37). I take it that the above charges amount to the assertion that Quine assumes the denial of one or more of the following claims: (1) Language-users associate mental ideas with their linguistic expressions. (2) A language-user can have a private theory of linguistic meaning which guides his or her use of language. (3) Language learning relies on innate mechanisms. Call an antecedent denial of one or more of these claims illicit behaviorism. In this paper I show that Quine is prepared to grant, if only for the sake of argument, all three of the above claims. I argue that his claim that there is nothing in linguistic meaning beyond what is to be gleaned from overt behavior in observable circumstances is unscathed by these allowances (Quine 1992, 38). And I show that the behaviorism which Quine does assume should be viewed as a largely uncontroversial aspect of his evidential empiricism. I conclude that if one sets out to dismiss Quine’s arguments for internal-meaning skepticism, this dismissal should not be motivated by the charge that his conclusions rely on the illicitly behavioristic assumptions that some have suggested that they do
Keywords Quine  Indeterminacy  Meaning  Behaviorism
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DOI 10.1007/s11406-010-9277-2
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Word and Object.W. V. Quine - 1960 - MIT Press.
Pursuit of Truth.W. V. Quine - 1990 - Harvard University Press.
Epistemology Naturalized.W. V. Quine - 1969 - In Ontological Relativity and Other Essays. New York: Columbia University Press.

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