Monday, June 9, 2014
"Two Dogmas" on "Confirmation"
In 1976, when I delivered the John Locke Lectures at Oxford, I often spent time with Peter Strawson, and one day at lunch he made a remark I have never been able to forget. He said, "Surely half the pleasure of life is sardonic comment on the passing show". This blog is devoted to comments, not all of them sardonic, on the passing philosophical show.
In my previous post I mentioned that as a young philosopher I noticed that Quine never used the word "confirmation". A reader of this blog pointed out that it occurred a half dozen times in Quine's celebrated paper "Two Dogmas of Empiricism". So it behoves me to point out that Quine uses it there only to deny that there is such a thing as the confirmation of a statement. His reasons for distrusting the notion are explicitly stated (on pp. 41-2 of the version in From a Logical Point of View): "I hope we are now impressed with how stubbornly the distinction between analytic and synthetic has resisted any straightforward drawing. I am impressed also, apart from prefabricated examples of black and white balls in an urn, with how baffling the problem has always been of arriving at any explicit theory of the empirical confirmation of a synthetic statement." In sum, the notion of confirmation of a statement, to which Carnap and Reichenbach devoted so much attention, should be discarded along with the analytic/synthetic distinction.