The Construction of Relations in Hume and Quine, directed by Jaakko Hintikka (Introduction)

Dissertation, Boston University (1999)
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Hume and Quine argue that human beings do not have access to general knowledge, that is, to general truths . The arguments of these two philosophers are premised on what Jaakko Hintikka has called the atomistic postulate. In the present work, it is shown that Hume and Quine in fact sanction an extreme version of this postulate, according to which even items of particular knowledge are not directly accessible in so far as they are relational. For according to their fully realized systems, human beings do not initially perceive any relations, or similar epistemological elements that can associate or combine terms on which a relational or general knowledge claim may be based. Nor, likewise, do human beings perceive the relations or the associations themselves as separate entities. ;In Chapters 1 and 2, respectively, it is shown precisely why Hume and Quine deny that human beings initially perceive either such associative elements or associations in general. Concomitantly, it is made clear why Hume's and Quine's respective epistemologies preclude human beings from initially apprehending not only general knowledge, but particular relational knowledge as well. But this is not to say that Hume and Quine do not think we can eventually acquire such associative elements and correspondingly, knowledge. Rather, Hume and Quine do provide an account of knowledge, but one that holds all relational and connective elements to be constructed by the human mind. In Hume's case, they are constructed by the imagination. In Quine's case, we are never told quite how this construction occurs, although the evidence suggests that Quine implicitly relies on a faculty similar to Hume's imagination. ;In the final chapter of this thesis, it is argued that both Hume and Quine must be read as philosophers who justify knowledge by reducing its possibility to a psychological faculty of construction, as well as to a few concepts of intuitively grasped relations. By way of conclusion, it is shown that this makes Quine's naturalism the psychological heir to Carnap's Aufbau.
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