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The Indeterminacy Thesis Reformulated

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The Indeterminacy Thesis Reformulated

In this piece I argue that Quine's indeterminacy of translation thesis presume certain notions (e.g. that of incompatible, or rival, empirically equivalent translation manuals) which can not be accommodated within a Quinean framework. Quine needs to distinguish between merely orthographically different yet empirically equivalent translation manuals (e.g. the German manual that translates 'book' as 'Buch' and the Italian manual that translates 'book' as 'libro') and genuinely conflicting empirically equivalent manuals. The problem for Quine is that his own account of the identity of theories is incompatible with the claim that there can be conflicting empirically equivalent manuals fitting an individual's speech. For instance, a manual that translates 'Gavagai' unto 'rabbit' can be reconciled with a manual that translates 'gavagai' unto undetached rabbit part' by simply treating the two manuals as belonging to different languages and then mapping the term 'rabbit' as it occurs in the first manual unto the term 'undetached-rabbit-part' as it occurs in the other manual. Furthermore by Quine's physicalist credo "No difference without a physical difference" any two putative conflicting empirically equivalent manuals are not genuine rivals because they are, by Quine's own admission, consistent with the same distributions of ultimate particles. Both Quine's account of the identity of theories and his physicalism are inconsistent with his formulation of the indeterminacy thesis. In fact, by Quinean lights there is no fact of the matter as to whether such purported rival manuals are genuine rival manuals or merely different versions of the same manual. In the final section an alternative indeterminacy thesis is presented. Ironically, this version of the indeterminacy thesis states that empirically equivalent manuals cannot be genuine rivals. It is claimed that this alternative does justice to the considerations that motivated Quine's original indeterminacy thesis.Article

Gemes, Ken (1991) The Indeterminacy Thesis Reformulated.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Citation: Journal of Philosophy (1991) 91:91-108.
Subjects: Philosophy
Keywords: Indeterminacy, Quine
Divisions: Institute of Philosophy
Collections: London Philosophy Papers
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