[SydPhil] SHAPE Talk by Gary Ebbs, USYD, Phi Common Rm, 10.30am Tues Dec 4

David Macarthur david.macarthur at sydney.edu.au
Mon Dec 3 09:58:13 AEDT 2012

The next SHAPE talk will be on Tues, Dec 4, at 10.30am in the Philosophy Common Room (SE corner of Main Quad, USYD).

Speaker: Prof. Gary Ebbs, (University of Indiana, USA)

Title: “Quine’s Naturalistic Explication of Carnap’s Logic of Science”

ABSTRACT:  If one studies Quine’s epistemology without appreciating its deep connections to Carnap’s logic of science, one can easily get the impression that unlike Carnap, Quine aims to preserve and clarify the traditional empiricist idea that our best theories of nature are justified by, or based on, our sensory evidence, and are for that reason likely to be true. Quine writes, for instance, that
“[The] human subject is accorded a certain experimentally controlled input—certain patterns of irradiation in assorted frequencies, for instance—and in the fullness of time the subject delivers as output a description of the three-dimensional external world and its history. The relation between the meager input and the torrential output is a relation that we are prompted to study for somewhat the same reasons that always prompted epistemology; namely, in order to see how evidence relates to theory, and in what ways one’s theory of nature transcends any available evidence.”
Commenting on this and similar passages in Quine, Barry Stroud writes
“… the question Quine poses in terms of the “underdetermination” of the “torrential output” by the “meager input” makes essential use of a notion of epistemic priority.  It is because the “information” we get at “input” does not uniquely determine the truth of what we assert as “output” that we must explain how we get from the one to the other.”
I argue that despite its superficial plausibility, this interpretation of Quine is mistaken: following Carnap, yet also radically transforming his views, Quine takes our best current theory as our ultimate arbiter of truth. The goal of Quine’s naturalistic account of the relationship between theory and evidence is not to show that our best theories of nature are justified by our sensory evidence, but to show that we can describe science from within science itself in a way that mirrors and thereby clarifies his doctrinal principle that we can only judge truth from the standpoint of our best current theory.


Dr. David Macarthur
Senior Lecturer
Philosophy Department
University of Sydney, 2006, Australia
Ph: +61-2-9351-3193

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