Indeterminacy Translation Thesis

Indeterminacy Translation Thesis-57
But then, Quine claims, just as in the original case, there is simply no fact of the matter as to which of the alternatives captures what we really mean when we say there is a rabbit; and just as in the original case, the alleged indeterminacy extends as well to the correlative state of mind.It is this result which I regard as an unintended reductio ad absurdum of the premises which lead to it.

But then, Quine claims, just as in the original case, there is simply no fact of the matter as to which of the alternatives captures what we really mean when we say there is a rabbit; and just as in the original case, the alleged indeterminacy extends as well to the correlative state of mind.It is this result which I regard as an unintended reductio ad absurdum of the premises which lead to it.

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For, it is claimed, the indeterminacy extends not only to our knowledge of the native speakers meaning, but to that meaning itself and even to the state of mind of the native speaker which embodies it.

Thus the view seems to be that when the native says gavagai, he means something having to do with rabbits, but no particular, determinate thing: his thought is somehow intrinsically indeterminate between the various alternatives. But the most crucial point is that while Quine develops his argument mainly in relation to the situation of radical translation, he makes it quite clear that its significance is not restricted to that rather unusual situation.

A simple and by now familiar illustration will help to make clearer the basic thrust of the thesis.

Quine imagines a (putative) word in the unknown language, gavagai, which is observed to be uttered in the presence of rabbits (or to which the native speakers respond affirmatively when rabbits are present).

Though my own belief is that, when properly understood, metaphysical realism is both true and obvious, I can quite well understand some degree of sympathy for an argument which aims to refute it.

What I will claim to be absurd about Putnams argument, however, is not the denial of metaphysical realism per se, but rather the way in which this denial is defended and the view which is claimed to be the only alternative.Quines claim, in brief, is that while such a radical translator can perhaps succeed, in principle at least, in translating (i) observation sentences and (ii) truth-functional connectives in a determinate, non-arbitrary way, the possibility of determinate, non-arbitrary translation does not extend to the rest of the unknown language.While the sentences which fall outside these bounds can indeed be putatively translated in a way which will be consistent with all possible behavioral evidence, any such possible translation will, he argues, be only one of indefinitely many different alternatives, all of which are equally satisfactory from a behavioral standpoint and between which only an essentially arbitrary choice is possible.Restated so as to bring out the key point a bit more clearly, that thesis says that no appeal to purely behavioral evidence, no appeal to how the native words are actually used in concrete situations, suffices to determine a unique translation of the native language, so that widely differing translations are, on this basis, equally acceptable.This initial result, though no doubt a bit surprising, is hardly startling in itself.While I do not have time here to enter into a detailed discussion, I think that in the end the argument is best construed as a challenge to Quines opponents to show how determinate radical translation is possible, given only behavioral evidence, and I think it is fair to say that this challenge has not been met.Thus I regard Quines initial thesis, the thesis of the indeterminacy of radical translation proper, as reasonably firmly established.His claim is that although the translator can perhaps determine that gavagai has something to do with rabbits, he will be unable to determine (on a purely empirical, behavioral basis) whether gavagai should be translated into English as rabbit, or alternatively, for example, as temporal stage of a rabbit or as undetached rabbit part or as fusion of all rabbits (in Goodmans sense) or perhaps even as the universal rabbithood.Which of these translations is chosen will of course have a bearing in turn on which native locutions are to be equated with other English locutions, such as numerals, expressions for identity and diversity, etc.In such cases, it seems, our picture of the world would be totally or almost totally false, in spite of being in perfect agreement with our evidence and methodologically flawless.Now metaphysical realism is a heady doctrine at best, and it is easy to portray it in a way in which it might seem itself to be absurd or at least highly dubious.


Comments Indeterminacy Translation Thesis

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    It is commonly believed that Quine's principal argument for the Indeterminacy of Translation requires an untenably strong account of the underdetermination of theories by evidence, namely that that two theories may be compatible with all possible evidence for them and yet incompatible with each other.…

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    Early on Kuhn drew a parallel with Quine's thesis of the indeterminacy of translation 1970a, 202; 1970c, 268. According to the latter, if we are translating one language into another, there are inevitably a multitude of ways of providing a translation that is adequate to the behaviour of the speakers.…

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