Quine on the Nature of Naturalism

Southern Journal of Philosophy 55 (1):96-115 (2017)
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Quine's metaphilosophical naturalism is often dismissed as overly “scientistic.” Many contemporary naturalists reject Quine's idea that epistemology should become a “chapter of psychology” and urge for a more “liberal,” “pluralistic,” and/or “open-minded” naturalism instead. Still, whenever Quine explicitly reflects on the nature of his naturalism, he always insists that his position is modest and that he does not “think of philosophy as part of natural science”. Analyzing this tension, Susan Haack has argued that Quine's naturalism contains a “deep-seated and significant ambivalence”. In this paper, I argue that a more charitable interpretation is possible—a reading that does justice to Quine's own pronouncements on the issue. I reconstruct Quine's position and argue that Haack and Quine, in their exchanges, have been talking past each other and that once this mutual misunderstanding is cleared up, Quine's naturalism turns out to be more modest, and hence less scientistic, than many contemporary naturalists have presupposed. I show that Quine's naturalism is first and foremost a rejection of the transcendental. It is only after adopting a broadly science-immanent perspective that Quine, in regimenting our language, starts making choices that many contemporary philosophers have argued to be unduly restrictive.
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