Willard van Orman Quine

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Necessity resides in the way we talk about things, not in the things we talk about.

Willard Van Orman Quine (25 June 190825 December 2000) was an influential 20th Century American philosopher and logician.


From a Logical Point of View: Nine Logico-Philosophical Essays (1953)[edit]

Willard van Orman Quine. From a Logical Point of View: Nine Logico-Philosophical Essays (1953). Harper and Row, New York

  • How are we to adjudicate among rival ontologies? Certainly the answer is not provided by the semantical formula "To be is to be the value of a variable"; this formula serves rather, conversely, in testing the conformity of a given remark or doctrine to a prior ontological standard.
    • "On What There Is"
  • Nonbeing must in some sense be, otherwise what is it that there is not? This tangled doctrine might be nicknamed Plato's beard; historically it has proved tough, frequently dulling the edge of Occam's razor.
    • "On What There Is"
  • Wyman's overpopulated universe is in many ways unlovely. It offends the aesthetic sense of us who have a taste for desert landscapes.
    • "On What There Is", p. 4. a humorous comment on the idea "unactualized possible".
  • The word 'definition' has come to have a dangerously reassuring sound, owing no doubt to its frequent occurrence in logical and mathematical writings.
    • "Two dogmas of Empiricism", p. 26
  • Our argument is not flatly circular, but something like it. It has the form, figuratively speaking, of a closed curve in space.
    • "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", p. 26
  • Tactically, conceptualism is no doubt the strongest position of the three; for the tired nominalist can lapse into conceptualism and still allay his puritanic conscience with the reflection that he has not quite taken to eating lotus with the Platonists.


  • A fancifully fancyless medium of unvarnished news.
    • A mocking title for the 'protocol language' imagined by some of the logical positivists, in "Word and Object (1960), section 1
  • Creatures inveterately wrong in their inductions have a pathetic but praiseworthy tendency to die before reproducing their kind.
    • "Natural Kinds", in Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (1969), p. 126; originally written for a festschrift for Carl Gustav Hempel, this appears in a context explaining why induction tends to work in practice, despite theoretical objections. The hyphen in "praise-worthy" is ambiguous, since it falls on a line break in the source.


  • Logic chases truth up the tree of grammar.
    • Philosophy of Logic (1970)
  • "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation" yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation.
    • Quine's paradox, in "The Ways of Paradox" in "The Ways of Paradox and other Essays" (1976)
  • Necessity resides in the way we talk about things, not in the things we talk about.
    • Ways of Paradox and Other Essays (1976), p. 174

The Web of Belief (1970)[edit]

(2nd ed., 1978). With J. S. Ullian
  • At root what is needed for scientific inquiry is just receptivity to data, skill in reasoning, and yearning for truth. Admittedly, ingenuity can help too.
    • S.4
  • Implication is thus the very texture of our web of belief, and logic is the theory that traces it.
    • S. 41

1980s and later[edit]

  • It is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is to be identified and described.
    • Theories and Things, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1981
  • We cannot stem linguistic change, but we can drag our feet. If each of us were to defy Alexander Pope and be the last to lay the old aside, it might not be a better world, but it would be a lovelier language.
    • Quiddities: An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary (1987), p. 231
  • Possibly, but my concern is that there not be more things in my philosophy than are in heaven and earth.
    • Response to being quoted William Shakespeare's statement from Hamlet: "There are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in your philosophy." As quoted in ‪When God is Gone Everything Is Holy: The Making Of A Religious Naturalist‬ (2008) by ‪Chet Raymo‬

Quotes about Quine[edit]

See also[edit]

Philosophy of science
Concepts AnalysisAnalytic–synthetic distinctionA priori and a posterioriCausalityCommensurabilityConsilienceConstructCreative synthesisDemarcation problemEmpirical evidenceExplanatory powerFactFalsifiabilityFeminist methodIgnoramus et ignorabimusInductive reasoningIntertheoretic reductionInquiryNatureObjectivityObservationParadigmProblem of inductionScientific lawScientific methodScientific revolutionScientific theoryTestabilityTheory choiceTheory-ladennessUnderdeterminationUnity of science
Metatheory of science CoherentismConfirmation holismConstructive empiricismConstructive realismConstructivist epistemologyContextualismConventionalismDeductive-nomological modelHypothetico-deductive modelInductionismEpistemological anarchismEvolutionismFallibilismFoundationalismInstrumentalismPragmatismModel-dependent realismNaturalismPhysicalismPositivism/reductionism/determinismRationalism/empiricismReceived view/semantic view of theoriesScientific realism/anti-realismScientific essentialismScientific formalismScientific skepticismScientismStructuralismUniformitarianismVitalism
Related topics AlchemyCriticism of scienceEpistemologyFaith and rationalityHistory and philosophy of scienceHistory of scienceHistory of evolutionary thoughtLogicMetaphysicsPseudoscienceRelationship between religion and scienceRhetoric of scienceSociology of scientific knowledgeSociology of scientific ignorance
Philosophers of science PlatoAristotleStoicismEpicureans
AverroesAvicennaRoger BaconWilliam of OckhamHugh of Saint VictorDominicus GundissalinusRobert Kilwardby
Francis BaconThomas HobbesRené DescartesGalileo GalileiPierre GassendiIsaac NewtonDavid Hume
Immanuel KantFriedrich SchellingWilliam WhewellAuguste ComteJohn Stuart MillHerbert SpencerWilhelm WundtCharles Sanders PeirceWilhelm WindelbandHenri PoincaréPierre DuhemRudolf SteinerKarl Pearson
Alfred North WhiteheadBertrand RussellAlbert EinsteinOtto NeurathC. D. BroadMichael PolanyiHans ReichenbachRudolf CarnapKarl PopperCarl Gustav HempelW. V. O. QuineThomas KuhnImre LakatosPaul FeyerabendJürgen HabermasIan HackingBas van FraassenLarry LaudanDaniel Dennett

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