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  • Cited by 6
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2006

9 - Quine and Logical Positivism



In “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” Quine’s most widely cited and reprinted paper, he famously rejects the analytic-synthetic distinction and a verificationist theory of meaning. Both of these had been fundamental tenets of logical positivism (or logical empiricism, as it has also been called), and Quine has been seen as an archcritic of this philosophical movement, one whose criticisms have contributed significantly to its demise during the second half of the twentieth century. And while logical positivism waned, Quine’s philosophy waxed and gained ascendancy.

This view of Quine and logical positivism – correct, as far as it goes – leaves out of account the significant fact that contact with members of the Vienna Circle, the chief begetters of logical positivism, and especially with its leading figure, Rudolf Carnap, was crucial for Quine in the early years of his philosophical development and that Carnap’s ideas and some ideas of other positivists, notably Otto Neurath, remained important to him throughout his philosophical life. This fact Quine himself insisted on and prominently acknowledged. Word and Object, Quine’s most important statement of his philosophy, bears the dedication, “To Rudolf Carnap, Teacher and Friend,” and Quine chose a passage from Neurath as one of the two epigraphs for that book. In “On Carnap’s Views on Ontology,” a paper Quine wrote and published at the same time as “Two Dogmas,” he declares, even while addressing philosophical differences between himself and Carnap, that “no one has influenced my philosophical thought more than Carnap” (OCVO 203).