Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 34, 2009

Robert Sinclair
Pages 279-304

Why Quine is Not an Externalist

This essay reconsiders the place of meaning within Quine’s naturalism. It takes as its point of departure Davidson’s claim that Quine’s linguistic behaviorism entails a form of semantic externalism. It then further locates this claim within the Davidson-Quine debate concerning whether the proximal or distal stimulus is the relevant determinant of semantic content. An interpretation of Quine’s developing views on translation and epistemology is defended that rejects Davidson’s view that Quine be read as a proto-externalist. Quine’s empirical evaluation of translation entails no positive theoretical doctrine concerning how meaning is determined, but concludes that communication is a theoretically unquantifiable practical art or skill. Moreover, his ongoing epistemological development highlights theoretical concerns that diverge in fundamental ways from Davidson’s interest in semantics. Quine then has reasons for resisting the entailment to semantic externalism that Davidson finds in his work. These reasons should have also led him to question the scientific legitimacy of Davidson’s concern with content determination.