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W. V. O. Quine (Willard Van Orman Quine) Biography

(1908–2000), (Willard Van Orman Quine), Dear Carnap, Dear Van, A System of Logistic, Mathematical Logic

American philosopher, born in Akron, Ohio, educated at Harvard, where he held a succession of appointments throughout his academic career. His doctoral studies were supervised by A. N. Whitehead. In 1932 he visited Vienna, Warsaw, and Prague, where he began a lasting association with Rudolf Carnap; their letters are collected in Dear Carnap, Dear Van (edited by R. Creath, 1990). His early publications, which established him as one of the first American exponents of logical positivism, include A System of Logistic (1934) and Mathematical Logic (1940). His eventual doubts concerning logical positivism's conceptions of meaning led to the critique formulated in ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’, an essay reprinted in From a Logical Point of View (1953); acknowledging a debt to Pierre Duhem (18611916), he rejected the grounding of logical analysis in singular terms, affirming that ‘our statements about the world face the tribunal of experience not individually but as a corporate body’. His challenge to the traditional assumptions of philosophy continued in Word and Object (1960), which contained the theory of the ‘indeterminacy of radical translation’; his view that singular concepts have no real power of signification was extended to cast doubt on the convertibility of meaning between languages. His other publications include Ontological Relativity (1969), The Roots of Reference (1974), and The Pursuit of Truth (1989), which sustain his lively and provocative contributions to symbolic logic and the philosophy of language. His informal autobiography The Time of My Life appeared in 1985.

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