Washington & Lee University

Phil 395A
W. V. Quine:

Meaning, Knowledge, and Reality

Prof. Gregory
Spring 2003

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Two websites devoted to W. V. Quine:

Contact Information:

Professor Gregory
Newcomb 26
Department of Philosophy
Sec: Karen Lyle
N-29 (Newcomb Computer Lab)

Office Hours:

TTh 11-12:30, and by appointment.

If you need to reach me outside of office hours please email me or call my office number and leave a voice message—be sure to leave a phone number or email address at which you can be reached.


Quine, W. V. (1980) From a Logical Point of View. Second Edition, revised. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Originally 1953.

———. (1960) Word and Object. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

———. (1969) Ontological Relativity and Other Essays. New York: Columbia University Press.

———. (1976) The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays. Revised and Enlarged Edition. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Originally 1966.

———. (1981) Theories and Things. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

———. (1992) Pursuit of Truth. Revised Edition. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Originally 1990.

Reading Packet.

Articles from JSTOR.


Click here or in the banner above to access class schedule.

Course Description:

Willard Van Orman Quine is one of the twentieth century’s most important, most systematic, most controversial, and most misunderstood philosophers. His seminal article “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (1950/51) divides the century clean in half and is (rightly or wrongly) considered the most important article of the last century. With it Quine slew the dragon of logical empiricism (or so rumor has it), and it has been reprinted, translated, and written about (not always well) more than any other short piece ever. We will focus on four main areas of Quine’s philosophy. Meaning: his rejection of the analytic/synthetic distinction in favor of holism; his rejection of the very concept of meaning through his thesis of the indeterminacy of translation (between any two languages there are infinitely many equally adequate, but incompatible, translations). Knowledge: his rejection of the a priori/a posteriori distinction in favor of holism, his rejection of traditional rationalism and empiricism in favor of a radical naturalistic epistemology. Reality: his deflationary theory of truth, his ontological relativity (we cannot say absolutely what our words refer to), his view that only the structure of theory is important (but there can be infinitely many incompatible structures), his (despite all the above) metaphysical realism. Naturalism: this is the key to understanding how all these apparently absurd and disparate elements fit together (or fall apart), but some think it signals the death of philosophy...


Reading. You are expected to read the assigned material before it is presented in class. This does not mean skimming. This means reading critically—making an earnest effort to understand what the author is saying, noting where you have questions, disagreements, confusions, etc. Feel free to write in the margins of your books, or, if you plan on selling them back, keep reading notes. This will help you in understanding the reading, participating in discussion, and writing papers (see below). If you had difficulty with the reading it would be especially helpful to formulate a question or two (with an attempt at an answer) and hand them in at the start of class. You should always bring the relevant books to class.

Discussion Participation. This class will be a mix of both lecture and discussion (once in a while I shall lecture for extended periods, but hopefully not too often). Discussion will range from general class discussion to small-group activities. Even during the portions of class when I am lecturing, I encourage you to raise a hand, ask a question, and potentially start a class discussion. Consistent, thoughtful participation will gain you full credit for this portion of your grade. (Details below.) There are things I can do to ready you for discussion, but in the end it is up to you to read the material, think about it, and go for it—the more discussion we have, the more fun the class will be.


Grunts, Growls, & Screeches:

Formal Papers:

Other Work:

Late papers suffer a 1/3 grade penalty for each day they are late, unless other arrangements have been made.

Click here for the “Notes on Writing and Grading”, and here for “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”. You must read these before sending your Syllabus Confirmation.

Critical Thinking. If you are doing well in the above three areas, then you are probably doing well with critical thinking, too. What I mean by ‘critical thinking’ is not just the expression of opinions, likes, and dislikes. Anyone can say what they believe, or react to what another believes. In some cases (hopefully many cases) you will have strong feelings about what we are reading or discussing. These strong reactions are good, but they are only the beginning. We want to do more than just express our reactions. Thinking critically requires: (1) clearly and accurately expressing the relevant claims, (2) examining and questioning (both the reasons for and consequences of) others’ and (especially) one’s own beliefs, (3) developing and being responsive to alternative views, (4) trying to support or reject such views on the basis of evidence and argument, and (5) being willing to accept the outcome of such inquiry.

Attendance. The only way you will do well in the four areas above is by consistently attending class. More than one or two absences will negatively affect your grade, both by impeding success in the areas above, and by negatively impacting my assignment of your participation grade. When you have good reason for being absent from class you should communicate with me as soon as possible concerning your circumstances.


Component % of Final Average
Participation/Attendance 30
Grunts/Growls/Screeches 30
Final Paper 40

Final Grade will be based your Final Average and factors including improvement over the semester.

There are no extra credit assignments.

Click here for the “Notes on Writing and Grading”, and here for “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”. You must read these before sending your Syllabus Confirmation.

Other Things:

I will not accept any assignment of 2+ pages without proper stapling. I do not provide staples. (This excludes in-class assignments.)

Be on time to class. It is impolite and distracting to walk into class once it has already begun. Also, do not start putting your books and papers away until the class is actually over. This, too, is impolite and distracting. In fact, I really hate both of these behaviors, so if you want to stay on my good side… I do realize that people are sometimes late. It is likely that I will be late at least once. Keep it to a minimum. If ever you know that you will be late, miss class, or have to leave early, let me know ahead of time.

Use my office hours, or make an appointment. I will be in my office during the allotted time. This time is set aside for you, do not be timid, do not feel as if you are intruding upon me. We can, of course, make appointments to meet at other times, days, or places.

The more you communicate with me—regarding how quickly the class is moving, how difficult the assignments are, whether you will be late or miss a class, whether you are having trouble, etc.—the more smoothly the semester will go for all of us. Never hesitate to ask a question in class, even if you must interrupt me to do so. Never hesitate to approach me before, after, or outside of class.

The ‘What’s the Point?’ Challenge:

It may happen at some time during lecture, discussion, or your reading that you feel lost, or bored, and wonder ‘What’s the point of this reading [discussion, lecture]?’ or ‘What’s it got to do with anything?’ or ‘I don’t get it...’. Whenever this happens please feel free to raise your hand (or send me an email) and ask me (indeed I challenge you to do so). You might want to try to work out your worry (or lack thereof) in how you ask your question, but all you really need do is ask me ‘What’s the point?!’ or say ‘I don’t get it!’ (times like these may produce a good grunt or screech.)

Syllabus Confirmation:

You must complete the syllabus confirmation by midnight, Friday, April 25 to be eligible for class participation credit. If you have any questions or concerns about the policies, do not hesitate to contact me.

Click here for the “Notes on Writing and Grading”, and here for “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”. You must read these before sending your Syllabus Confirmation.

Please copy the italicized statement below, click on the link following it to open an email to me, and paste the statement into your email. Don't forget to click “Send” in your email client! (It may take a while for your email client to open a new message.)

Here is the statement you are confirming (select and copy it):

I hereby confirm that I have read the Course Syllabus including the homepage, the class schedule, the “Notes on Writing and Grading”, and the “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”, and I understand all policies contained therein.

Syllabus Confirmation