Logic and the Structure of the Web of Belief

Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy 3 (5) (2015)
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Abstract

In this paper, I examine Quine's views on the epistemology of logic. According to Quine's influential holistic account, logic is central in the “web of belief” that comprises our overall theory of the world. Because of this, revisions to logic would have devastating systematic consequences, and this explains why we are loath to make such revisions. In section1, I clarify this idea and thereby show that Quine actually takes the web of belief to have asymmetrical internal structure. This raises two puzzles. First, as I show in section 2, Quine's mature thoroughly naturalized view has it that logic is simply obvious, and this is explains why we do not typically consider revising it. While Quine presents this naturalized view as a way to make good on his earlier metaphor of centrality in a web of belief, I argue that the resources of Quine's naturalized epistemology cannot adequately explain why we are reluctant to revise logic. And, Quine seems to recognize this point himself. In light of this, I explain in section 3 how Quine can allow that our overall scientific theory has systematic structure in a way that is consistent with his naturalistic strictures. Second, the asymmetrical internal structure of the web of belief seems to be inconsistent with its being a holistic web at all. I defuse this problem in section 4 by showing how Quine distinguishes between structural and confirmational considerations. I close by using this distinction to show how Quine's view can evade Michael Friedman’s criticisms, and allow for important methodological distinctions between areas of the web of belief.

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Matt Carlson
Wabash College

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