W. V. Quine is arguably the intellectual father of contemporary naturalism, the idea that there is no distinctively philosophical perspective on reality. Yet even though Quine has always been a science-minded philosopher, he did not adopt a fully naturalistic perspective until the early 1950s. In this paper, I reconstruct the genesis of Quine’s ideas on the relation between science and philosophy. Scrutinizing his unpublished papers and notebooks, I examine Quine’s development in the first decades of his career. After identifying three commitments supporting his naturalism---viz. empiricism, holism, and realism---I piece together the evolution of Quine’s position by examining the origins of these commitments one by one, showing how his early views gradually evolved into the mature naturalistic position that would have such an enormous impact on post-war analytic philosophy.
Quine’s argument for a naturalized epistemology is routinely perceived as an argument from despair: traditional epistemology must be abandoned because all attempts to deduce our scientific theories from sense experience have failed. In this paper, I will show that this picture is historically inaccurate and that Quine’s argument against first philosophy is considerably stronger and subtler than the standard conception suggests. For Quine, the first philosopher’s quest for foundations is inherently incoherent; the very idea of a self-sufficient sense datum language is a mistake as there is no science-independent perspective from which to validate science. I will argue that a great deal of the confusion surrounding Quine’s argument is prompted by certain phrases in his seminal ‘Epistemology Naturalized’. Scrutinizing Quine’s work both before and after the latter paper provides a better key to understanding his remarkable views about the epistemological relation between theory and evidence.
Quine’s holistic empiricist account of scientific inquiry can be characterized by three constitutive principles: noncontradiction, universal revisability and pragmatic ordering. We show that these constitutive principles cannot be regarded as statements within a holistic empiricist’s scientific theory of the world. This claim is a corollary of our refutation of Katz’s [1998, 2002] argument that holistic empiricism suffers from what he calls the Revisability Paradox. According to Katz, Quine’s empiricism is incoherent because its constitutive principles cannot themselves be rationally revised. Using Gärdenfors and Makinson’s logic of belief revision based on epistemic entrenchment, we argue that Katz wrongly assumes that the constitutive principles are statements within a holistic empiricist’s theory of the world. Instead, we show that constitutive principles are best seen as properties of a holistic empiricist’s theory of scientific inquiry and we submit that, without Katz’s mistaken assumption, the paradox cannot be formulated. We argue that our perspective on the status of constitutive principles is perfectly in line with Quinean orthodoxy. In conclusion, we compare our findings with van Fraassen’s  argument that we should think of empiricism as a stance, rather than as a doctrine.
Some sceptics claim that we ought suspend judgment whenever an epistemic peer disagrees. In this paper we argue that the sceptic’s conclusions are only correct in a limited number of scenarios. We show that sceptic’s conclusion is built on two premises---viz. the principle of evidential symmetry and the principle of evidentialism---and show that both premises are incorrect. First, we argue that peer disagreements are not symmetrical. Next, we show that even if one assumes that peer disagreements are symmetrical, it might still be rational to stick to one’s guns in the light of peer disagreement.
Scientism, the view that only scientifically supported beliefs are epistemically justified, faces two influential problems: (1) scientism itself does not seem to be scientifically supported and hence self-referentially incoherent; and (2) scientism seems to dismiss many plausible commonsense beliefs as unjustified. In this paper, we show that both problems presuppose a needlessly narrow conception of science and argue that when scientism is based on a broader, more realistic conception of science, neither problem arises. Furthermore, we argue that our more moderate variant of scientism is still strong enough to have philosophical bite.
Naturalists argue that metaphysics ought to be in some sense continuous with science. Putnam has claimed that if we push naturalism to its limits, we have to conclude with Quine that reference is indeterminate. Since Putnam believes Quine’s thesis to be utterly absurd, he regards naturalism to be an unsatisfactory approach to metaphysics. In this essay, I show that Quine’s ideas about reference do not necessarily follow from his naturalism and that, as a result, Putnam’s reductio argument against naturalism breaks down. In addition, I argue that Putnam’s pluralistic alternative to Quine’s views is perfectly compatible with a naturalistic perspective and that, in consequence, the relation between science and metaphysics is less straightforward than it might initially seem to be.
During the past few decades, a radical shift has occurred in how philosophers conceive of the relation between science and philosophy. A great number of analytic philosophers have adopted what is commonly called a naturalistic approach, arguing that their inquiries ought to be in some sense continuous with science. Where early analytic philosophers often relied on a sharp distinction between science and philosophy—the former an empirical discipline concerned with fact, the latter an a priori discipline concerned with meaning—many philosophers today follow Willard Van Orman Quine in his seminal rejection of this distinction as well as in his reconstruction of their discipline in naturalistic terms, thereby propagating a scientifically informed philosophy.
Despite his influence on the contemporary metaphilosophical scene, the historical development of Quine’s naturalism has never been systematically studied. Although Quine scholars and historians of analytic philosophy have shown a growing interest in Quine’s development in recent years, most studies up until now have focused exclusively on his evolving position on the analytic-synthetic distinction.
This dissertation offers a historical study of Quine’s naturalism. It provides a detailed reconstruction of Quine’s development, a novel interpretation of his arguments, and a systematic investigation into the Quinean commitments that play a substantial role in the metaphilosophical position that had such an enormous impact on analytic philosophy. As such, this dissertation aims to contribute to the rapidly developing historiography of analytic philosophy as well as to a better, historically informed, understanding of what is philosophically at stake in the contemporary naturalistic turn.