Quine’s thesis of translational indeterminacy stands as one of the most central, surprising, and influential results of analytic philosophy in the twentieth century. The suggestion that the meaning of linguistic terms and sentences, as shown in the situation of radical translation, is systematically indeterminate and undetermined by actual speech practice, has for decades engendered thought and reflection on the nature and basis of linguistic meaning. And even beyond this surprising moral itself, Quine’s theoretical use of the radical translation scenario has been wholly or partly responsible for a wide variety of theoretical programs in analytic philosophy since the middle of the last century, including Davidsonian semantics, Dummett’s consideration of the form and shape of knowledge about meaning, Rorty’s celebration of “philosophy without foundations,” and, more recently, Brandom’s pragmatist project of analyzing the roots of meaning and normativity in intersubjective and socially regulated speech behavior. On many retellings of the history of the analytic tradition, the suggestion that the philosophical analysis of language and meaning depends on reflection about the structure of intersubjective linguistic practice marks a general sea change in the methodological self-conception of analytic philosophy, away from the brands of metaphysical, epistemological, or purely syntactic analyses that had characterized its earlier projects, and toward the more concrete, pragmatic, and empirically influenced reflective practice that philosophers inherit today.
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