Blurring Boundaries: Carnap, Quine, and the Internal–External Distinction

Erkenntnis 82 (4):873-890 (2017)
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Abstract
Quine is routinely perceived as saving metaphysics from Carnapian positivism. Where Carnap rejects metaphysical existence claims as meaningless, Quine is taken to restore their intelligibility by dismantling the former’s internal–external distinction. The problem with this picture, however, is that it does not sit well with the fact that Quine, on many occasions, has argued that metaphysical existence claims ought to be dismissed. Setting aside the hypothesis that Quine’s metaphysical position is incoherent, one has to conclude that his views on metaphysics are subtler than is often presupposed; both the received view that Quine saved metaphysics and the opposite view that Carnap and Quine are on the same anti-metaphysical team seem too one-sided if we take seriously Quine’s own pronouncements on the issue. In this paper, I offer a detailed reconstruction of Quine’s perspective on metaphysical existence claims. Scrutinizing his published work as well as unpublished papers, letters, and notebooks, I show how Quine is able to both blur the boundary between scientific sense and metaphysical nonsense and to argue that we cannot ask what reality is really like in a distinctively philosophical way. I argue that although Quine’s position is much closer to Carnap’s than the received view suggests, it still differs in two crucial respects.
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Archival date: 2017-10-17
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