Referential Inscrutablility, Perception, and the Empirical Foundation of Meaning

Philosophy Research Archives 9:535-569 (1983)
  Copy   BIBTEX


W.V.O.Quine’s doctrine of referential inscrutability (RI) is the thesis that, first, linguistic reference must always be determined relative to an interpretation of the discourse and, second, that the empirical evidence always underdetermines our choice of interpretation--at least in principle. Although this thesis is a central result of Quine’s theory of language, it was long unclear just how much force RI actually carried. At best, Quine’s discussions provided localized examples of RI (e.g., ‘gavagai’), supplemented merely by arguments for the (in principle) constructability of more general referentially divergent manuals. In defense of Quine, Gerald Massey provides a method for generating large-scale referentially divergent manuals for a complex language. I argue that, while Massey’s rival manuals do meet Quine’s translational criteria, they are demonstrably inferior to their commonsensical “homophonic” competitor. This result provides a clear indication of seminal deficiencies in Quine’s behaviorial approach to the theory of language. Next I argue that Quine’s acceptance of standard assumptions about the nature of perception strongly influences the shape of his semantical theory. Finally, I suggest how an alternative to the standard account of perception might provide grounds for a more adequate understanding of language.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 92,075

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Quine's Thesis of Referential Inscrutability.I. Dean Beebe - 1988 - Dissertation, Boston University
Discussion.Christopher R. Hitchcock - 1992 - Journal of Philosophical Research 17:215-223.
Quine on modality.Dagfinn Føllesdal - 1968 - Synthese 19 (1-2):147 - 157.
Quine and Davidson on Meaning and Holism.Chienkuo Mi - 1998 - Dissertation, The University of Iowa
The Passing Show.William Gilbert Evans - 1984 - Dissertation, Stanford University
Three Dogmas of Holism.Daniel Renwick Wilson - 1985 - Dissertation, University of Kansas
The Naturalization of Intentionality.Jonathan Peter Wilcock - 2001 - Dissertation, City University of New York
Inscrutability and visual objects.Ben Phillips - 2017 - Synthese 194 (8):2949-2971.


Added to PP

14 (#992,444)

6 months
6 (#524,433)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Citations of this work

New elements of a theory of mind in wild chimpanzees.Christophe Boesch - 1992 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 15 (1):149-150.

Add more citations

References found in this work

No references found.

Add more references