Willard Van Orman Quine was born in Akron, Ohio, on June 25, 1908. His father, Cloyd Robert Quine, was an Akron businessman with a machine shop background. In 1917, Cloyd Quine founded the Akron Equipment Company, whose business was the manufacture of tire molds. The business flourished, what with Akron being then the rubber tire capital of the world. Willard’s mother, Harriet Ellis Van Orman, was a housewife and public school teacher who taught at a local elementary school for ten years. In his autobiography Quine fondly recalls his mother’s culinary skills:
My mother baked bread and rolls in my early years and the smell beckoned. She was also good at pies, cakes, and strawberry shortcake. She made jelly from the fruit of our little quince tree, and she made cherry sunshine by the heat of the sun.
Harriet Quine considered herself to be deeply religious, and in her later life she became a deaconess in the Congregational Church. The religious training of Willard and his only sibling, Robert Cloyd Quine, a year and a half his senior, consisted of their being “sent to Sunday school about half the time, and seldom sent to church” (TL 14). However, the more Willard was exposed to the Word, the more skeptical he became:
I may have been nine when I began to worry bout the absurdity of heaven and eternal life, and about the jeopardy that I was incurring by those evil doubts. Presently I recognized that the jeopardy was illusory if the doubts were right. My somber conclusion was nonetheless disappointing, but I rested with it. I said nothing of this to my parents, but I did harangue one or another of my little friends, and I vaguely remember a parental repercussion. Such, then, was the dim beginning of my philosophical concern. Perhaps the same is true of the majority of philosophers.
I do consider myself as behavioristic as anyone in his right mind could be.
Quine is an advocate of naturalism, a view comprising two theses, one negative, one positive. The negative thesis is that there is no adequate first philosophy - that is, there is no a priori or experiential ground outside of science upon which science can either be justified or rationally reconstructed, as was the wont of many traditional epistemologists. The positive thesis is that it is up to science to inform us about what exists and how we come to know what exists.
On the negative side, if there is no adequate first philosophy, then epistemologies as disparate as Descartes' and Carnap’s fail of their purpose. While Descartes sought to deduce the truths of nature from a foundation of clear and distinct ideas, (early) Carnap sought to rationally reconstruct scientific discourse from a foundation of elementary experiences. Quine advances a series of philosophical arguments and considerations designed to establish the untenability of Descartes-like and Carnap-like epistemic projects. In short, Quine argues that Descartes-like efforts fail because not even the truths of arithmetic, let alone all the truths of nature, can be deduced from a (consistent) foundation of clear and distinct ideas, and he argues that Carnap-like efforts fail because a theory’s theoretical terms cannot be defined, even contextually, in observation terms.
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