[Blog comments, if at all, in square brackets. This is part of something I worked on regarding Quine and philosophical anthropology. Still a work in progress, in my view now.]
...I cite a later article of Quine (1992, 6) ["Structure and Nature"From the Journal of Philosophy 89 (1)]:
Natural science tells us that our ongoing cognitive access to the world around us is limited to meager channels. There is the triggering of our sensory receptors by the impact of molecules and light rays. Also there is the difference in muscular effort sensed in walking up or down a hill. What more? Even the notion of a cat, let alone a class or a number, is a human artifact, rooted in an innate predisposition and cultural tradition. The very notion of an object at all, concrete or abstract, is a human contribution, a feature of our inherited apparatus for organizing the amorphous welter of neural input?
From the above passage one does not just note the consistency of Quine’s idioms, but his consistency of views as well. But what is Quine driving at? Does it lead to the type of reductionism mentioned earlier? What Quine is driving at has implications to views on knowledge and language, not necessarily a reduction of persons in the form of “persons are nothing but physical objects.” There is nothing more to a person but a human being’s physical constituents. Quine is far from arguing for this sort of reduction.
[Photo credit to: http://www.wvquine.org/wvq-obit.html. A page maintained by Douglas Boynton Quine]
However, going by the above passages so far cited does not close off the possibility that Quine was a behaviorist. Affirming that persons are physical objects would seem to entail this. Glock (2001, 9) aptly classifies Quine’s behaviorism as “methodological.” In Glock’s words,”mental phenomena should not feature in a scientific explanation of behavior.” In at least both Word and object and his “Replies” (1969) [Reply to Chomsky], Quine repeatedly eschews any outright denial of the existence of mental phenomena. Following Glock’s methodological characterization of Quine’s behaviorism, Quinean naturalism does not argue that mental phenomena do not exist. Not including mental phenomena in a naturalistic study of behavior does not entail a denial of mental phenomena. This is important to note in this paper for this is at least one difference between Husserl’s conception of naturalism and Quinean naturalism. Such would have a bearing on the purported inappropriateness of using naturalism on the philosophical discussion of a person.
While Glock’s classifies Quine’s behaviorism as methodological, the former backtracks when he compares Quine to another influential philosopher, Wittgenstein. Glock argues that a significant difference between Wittgenstein and Quine are there versions of behaviorism. Glock (2001, 13) writes that
Wittgenstein condones a ‘hermeneutic’ distinction between understanding and explanation which implies that human action cannot be made intelligible solely through the causal explanations of natural science.
Glock implies in the above passage that Quine subscribes to the notion that human action can be made intelligible solely through the causal explanations of science. This implication of Glock is further emphasized by mentioning “hermeneutic.” This is not a paper on the differences between analytic and “continental” traditions (that includes hermeneutics), or the intersections between them, but Glock seems to capitalize on this. Some of the usual philosophical discussions of the person are readily found in the “continental’ tradition especially if one identifies the series of philosophies that came after Husserl.
Glock goes on to point that in talking of understanding (a human being) one cannot help but use an intentional vocabulary and that this is precisely what Quine denies. Glock’s differentiating the behaviorism of Quine versus Wittgenstein recalls the previous discussion on reductionism. A person’s actions are “intelligible solely through the causal explanations of science” for a person is nothing but a physical object.
Even without Glock, it seems simple enough that Wittgenstein and Quine are on divergent paths when it comes to the relationship of philosophy and science. As has been discussed, Quine’s idiom buttresses the consistency of the naturalism he advocates. But even if this were the case, this does not mean that for Quine the causal explanations of science are sufficient to understand human action. Glock (2001, 13) continues his discussion of Quine’s divergence from Wittgenstein (and consequently to the “continental” tradition) by referring to the former’s “stimulus-response” behaviorism. It seems to be an inconsistency on Glock’s (2001, 11) part for earlier he refers to Quine’s anti-reductionism, “no individual statement can be associated with a specific set of experiences…” One major upshot of Quine’s (1961) “Two dogmas” is anti-reductionism that is incompatible to stimulus-response behaviorism. For meaningful statements do not refer to immediate experience on by one, and Quine’s rejection of the analytic-synthetic distinction relegates one to the contextual or holistic. They are contextual in that even purportedly analytic statements (“All bachelors are unmarried men”) are dependent on empirical factors and usage (Quine 1961, 24) and also the rejection of reductionism. Therefore there is a need to interpret, to understand, if one follows Glock’s terminology. Quine’s naturalism does not rule out this hermeneutic aspect. Quine (1992, 6) himself, in a passage cited, earlier does write about “cultural traditions” and “human contribution” in order to make sense of neural inputs (like our encounter of cats and numbers).
Quine’s (1985, 6) discussion of “mentalistic idioms” (like belief) and their translatability to neurology can illuminate further why the previous charges of reductionism and behaviorism will not necessarily go against his naturalism:
There is no presumption that the mentalistic idioms [intentional vocabulary for Glock] would in general be translatable into the anatomical and biochemical terminology of neurology, even if all details of the neurological mechanism were understood. Thus take belief. Assessed on its objective manifestations, belief is a very mixed bag. Lip service is our most convenient clue to belief, but is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition.
Quine, in the paragraph before this, talks of his “identificaiton [sic] of mental states with bodily ones, neural ones; a construing of the mental as neural.” Ontologically, as has been shown, Quine is physicalist but he does distinguish between matters of scientific knowledge (anatomy, biochemistry and neurology) and matters of mentalistic idioms (belief). The latter is a different consideration even if “all the details of neurological mechanism are understood.” That this is Quine’s (1985, 7) point is buttressed by his endorsement of Davidson’s (1980) anomalous monism versus a metaphysical dualism of mind and body. The position is called anomalous monism in that there is only the body that may be understood through the many sciences. But when one talks of the mind there need not be any necessary connection with the sciences in making sense of this. For instance, the stomach’s being empty and all that is entailed physiologically by this state need not be connected with one’s elation at having stuck with a strict dietary regimen. Davidson is doubtful one can find strict laws that connect what happens in the “physical” with the “psychological.”
Quine takes the other horn of Davidson’s anomalous monism in emphasizing and focusing on that which is covered by scientific laws. But this focus also serves to highlight, albeit in a different way, that beliefs and other propositional attitudes have to be understood on a different model from natural science. Notice that beliefs and propositional attitudes would apply to persons. Consequently, Quine’s would have no qualms in other areas of inquiry not having a causal explanation in the matter of persons. In Quine’s (1985, 6-7) words and continuing his discussion of belief:
Acceptance of wagers is a firmer sign, and the accepted odds even afford a measure of the strength of a belief; but this test is available only if there is a prospect of subsequently finding the answer, acceptably to both parties, and settling the bet. Other behavior, such as searching or fleeing or standing expectantly, can serve tentatively as manifestations…but these manifestations vary drastically [emphasis added]…Other grounds…may be sought unsystematically [emphasis added] by probing the subject’s past for probable causes of his present state of mind…
Again, unlike what Glock claims, the above passage buttresses the notion that here Quine’s view would involve what Glock calls understanding. That is, Quine is not ascribing only a causal model to an intentional vocabulary. Glock (2001, 14) then cites a passage of Wittgenstein to further contrast it to Quine’s view. Here is some of the specified passage of Wittgenstein (1958, 126):
But can’t I imagine that the people around me are automata, lack consciousness, even though they behave in the same way as usual… Say to yourself for, for example: “The children over there are mere automata; all their liveliness is mere automatism.” And you will find these words becoming quite meaningless; or you will produce in yourself some kind of uncanny feeling…Seeing a living human being as an automaton is analogous to seeing one figure as a limiting case or variant of another; the cross pieces of a window as a swastika, for example.
However, if one takes seriously Quine’s acceptance of anomalous monism then the above will be acceptable to Quine. That is, to borrow Glock’s (2001, 14) terms, a “special act of aspect-seeing” to regard a human being as an automata, limiting oneself to the human being as physiological mechanism as what scientists do. If it is true that Quine is an anomalous monist then he recognizes difference in aspect. That is why the intentional vocabulary is not presumed to be translatable to science in Quine’s view. This further buttresses the idea that Quine is not a reductionist-behaviorist about a person. The next passage of Wittgenstein (1958, 126) is perhaps closer to Quine’s point also:
It seems paradoxical to us that we should make such a medley, mixing physical states and states of consciousness up together in a single report: “He suffered great torments and tossed about restlessly.” It is quite unusual; so why do we find it paradoxical? Because we want to say that the sentence deals with both tangibles and intangibles at once.-But does it worry you if I say: “These three struts give the building stability”? Are three and stability tangible?-Look at the sentence as an instrument, and at its sense as its employment.
Quine’s focus, most would say “bias” is that the intentional vocabulary would be “unsystematic” or “vary drastically” if one compares it to the methods of the natural sciences. But this hardly means, contra Glock, that Quine cannot deal with intentional vocabulary in a similar way that Wittgenstein did. Quine has very significant qualms with the intentional vocabulary, nevertheless produces an account that I believe can address human beings as persons to be understood (“hermeneutically” following Glock’s expression).