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I do not censor à la Carnap nor demarcate à la Popper
—W.V. Quine., 1993. Letter to Hilary Putnam.

Introduction or things I'd like to include[edit]

RationalWiki (RW hereafter)

  • I want to critique the process for deciding what is missional, and also, the process for deciding what is deleted. Specifically, I want to critique mission statements 1 and 2.
  • A common presupposition is that there exists a 'sharp and clear' distinction between: the meaningful/meaningless or science/pseudoscience or crankery/non-crankery. I believe that this is naïve and mistaken, and that we ought to be sceptical about any attempts to provide such a distinction.
  • The thesis of 'semantic-holism' shows that the meaning of a sentence is derived from its connections to large chunks, and sometimes, the whole of the English language. Thus, two articles that appear unrelated can support oneanother's meaning i.e. the sentences can help clarify and make more intelligible the contents of another article.
  • The thesis of 'confirmation holism' demonstrates that sentences are supported by evidence - as large wholes - consisting of sentences that appear in different articles.
  • Abandonment of the "Two dogmas of empiricism": abandonment of the 'analytic/synthetic distinction' and 'meaning-reductionism', leads to all knowledge-claims being viewed as synthetic, and meaning being viewed as holistic. Therefore, all knowledge is sensitive to empirical evidence; and thus, meaning can neither be attributed to words in isolation from other words (in sentences), nor can it be attributed to sentences in isolation from other sentences.
  • Thus, taken together, the rejection of both the "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", implies a continuum where all sciences exist - differing only by degree (rather than kind), and sentences gain their meaning from their participation in wholes that connect, otherwise distinct domains of inquiry.
  • Confirmation Holism
  • The Duhem-Quine Thesis:
  • Once my sandbox has matured to a draft (atm its just a glorified list), I would like to analyse it (where applicable) for any fallacies, cognitive biases, cognitive distortions, etc. If I find any, I'll expunge them, so as to enhance its rigour. Of course, later on, I shall submit it to our 'RW peer-review', for the possibility of a more objective critique.
  • Add plenty of reliable references from rigorous sources, perhaps with an evaluation 'said' sources (i.e. Journals' metrics in comparison to other journals)
  • Internal links to any RW pages that provide evidence.
  • My essay is partly serious and partly speculative: I intend to explore some Quinian themes in the context of RW.

Observation: Sentences and Categoricals[edit]

Observation sentences (OS hereafter):= "The human counterpart of bird calls and ape's cries" sic. Examples: 'its raining', 'its cold', 'Dog!'. They are true on some occasions, false on others. They report publicly observable situations i.e. all of the community are disposed to agree on the truth or falsity of such a sentence on the spot, if they have normal perception.[1]

Observation categoricals (OC hereafter) := Joins two OSs to express the generalised expectation that whenever one OSs holds, the other holds aswell. Examples: 'When it snows, it's cold'; 'Where there's smoke, there's fire', etc. They are proto-scientific laws. OCs express inductive expectation, which underlies all learning.[2]

These sentences make up the 'outer edge' of the 'web of belief', experience.[note 1] The OSs and OCs are pragmatic entities: their cash-value lies in their ability to be conditioned to experience.

Semantic Holism on RationalWiki[edit]

  • A conceptual scheme = a language
  • My essay applies to the English language version of RW. Thus, when I speak about the 'concepts' of a conceptual scheme, I am speaking about the English language.
  • The unit of 'meaning' is sentences, not propositions.
  • Meaning is 'holistic': Sentences gain 'meaning' via., there relation to wholes: clusters of sentences and sometimes the whole of a language.
  • For example, take this sentence from the RW "Absurdism" article: "Absurdism is an underdeveloped philosophy, and thus relativistic in nature." To understand the meaning of this sentence, one needs to understand the meaning of 'Absurdism', to do this you may appeal to the meaning of 'Absurd' i.e. you may say "something is absurd if it is irrational" or "Sisyphus's task is absurd because it doesn't make sense"; to understand the sentences' meaning, one also needs to understand the following words: 'underdeveloped', 'philosophy', 'relativistic', 'nature' etc; and in each case, one finds, that in specifying the meaning of the sentences' words, one has to appeal to other sentences - in which said words are used - and for those sentences, one appeals to even more sentences, and so on. The example-sentence's words only make the sentence meaningful, when they are composed together as a whole, and the individual words are only meaningful via., their use in other clusters of related sentences. (in accordance with grammatical rules).
  • A useful analogy to illustrate semantic-holism is Quine's "web of belief": RW's sentences gain their meaning from participating in a web (this 'web' represents the whole of the English language): the meaning of any sentence is derived from its connections to the whole of 'said' language. More precisely, a sentences' meaning is derived from all its manifold behavioural uses; in this context, its uses on the internet and outside of it.
  • Thus, the meaning of sentences on RW depends on their behavioural use - in relation to clusters of other sentences, and sometimes the whole of the English language.
  • Some of these clusters will include sentences from other RW articles.
  • Clusters of sentences are only meaningful when they attain what Quine calls "critical mass" i.e., just in case, a cluster implies an OS or an OC. OCs and OSs are capable of being inter-subjectively verified, confirmed, or falsified: there behavioural use in response to appropriate stimulation can be publicly observed.
  • Quine's "web of belief" analogy: Our beliefs are like a spider's silk-web[note 2], wherein every belief is a point, connected to other points, which in-turn are connected to other points, and so on; the end result - each point is connected and supported by the whole of the web, however indirectly. Moreover, just like the spider's web, it is composed of several spirals, each which differs in terms of its proximity - to the centre - and to the outer edge, respectively.
  • To use another simile of Quine's in this context: the whole structure of our beliefs is like a "field of force whose boundary conditions are experience"; thus, the outer-edge of the web represents those sentences, closest to experience: OSs. Whilst the centre of the web represents those beliefs farthest from experience i.e., mathematics and logic.
  • The meaning of sentences on any RW article will depend on the clusters of sentences they belong to, and some of these clusters will include sentences from other RW articles. Thus RW articles support eachother's meaning via., belonging to the same cluster or related clusters.
  • As a consequence, articles that appear unrelated may contain, content that supports the other articles' meaning.
  • Thus, substantially altering an article (deleting it) may have a significant effect on another articles meaning.
  • Deleting a seemingly unrelated article, may significantly effect the meaning of our best articles (Gold, Silver)
  • Our best articles are the most valuable to RW.
  • Therefore, we ought to be cautious when deleting articles.
  • The thesis of 'semantic-holism', in relation to RW, illustrates one aspect of the mutual dependencies that exist between articles. English sentences that are used on RW are more closely related than sentences used outside of the wiki, since they are applied in a specific context, with its own nuances of use. The intelligibility of RW articles, depends on their relations to the sentences of other articles. The very "intelligibility" of the mission statements depends, in part, on the relations between sentences involving: 'pseudoscience', 'science', 'crankery', etc., and other sentences - both of which - only become meaningful, in relation to wholes.
  • The theses of semantic-holism and confirmation holism, each imply that the structure of the "web of belief", obtains 'meaning' or 'confirmation' by being conditioned to ranges of neural stimulation; even-though the nerve sets of two different people can be wildly different, there exists a pre-established harmony, between their responses to neural stimulation (i.e., intersubjective agreement), this "pre-established harmony" is not, in Leibniz's sense "divine", rather, it is the result of natural selection - of humans having a shared environment - to which in response they have evolved.
  • Semantic holism and confirmation holism both bestow empirical content on "wholes": clusters of sentences or, more precisely, sets of sentences. Mathematics, however, does not have empirical content. The participation of mathematics in these implying sets does not confer empirical content. The content belongs exclusively to the implying set. "No mathematical sentence has empirical content, nor does any set of them." "No conjunction or class of purely mathematical truths, however large, could ever imply a synthetic observation categorical." However, every set of truths has some nonmathematical members, hence the set may be said to have "empirical content".[3]

Confirmation/Evidential holism[edit]

Confirmation holism is a thesis about the logical relation between theory and evidence. In Quinian terms, confirmation holism is about the relation between clusters of theoretical sentences and OCs[4]

  • RW is 'theory laden': most articles rely on scientific theory; the English language, is itself, 'theory-laden.'
  • No sentences on RW are atheoretical.
  • A consequence of rejecting the analytic/synthetic distinction, is that all knowledge is empirical.
  • Thus, knowledge exists on a continuum: different subjects are distinguished by their remoteness from observation
  • Theories are confirmed or disconfirmed as wholes. So, if a theory is confirmed by empirical findings, then the whole theory is confirmed, including any mathematics or logic it utilises.
  • The same evidence that is appealed to in justifying the obviously empirical portion of the theory, is also appealed to in justifying the mathematical and logical portions of the theory.
  • Thus, the theory present in each article is confirmed as a whole, and this "whole" may contain other articles.

The Duhem-Quine thesis[edit]

The falsity of an observation categorical does not conclusively refute a hypothesis: one cannot logically determine which theoretical sentence is falsified; what is refuted, is the conjunction of sentences that was needed to imply the observation categorical. Whenever we are confronted with a falsifier, we do not have to retract the hypothesis in question; we are free choose which sentences to revise and which ones to hold fast (that make up the conjunction).[5]


  • In conjunction with the above analogies, I want to stress the role of structure, in relation to the "web of belief". What's important in the web, is not the individual points/nodes, which consist of sentences that purport to refer to things, rather it is the logico-mathematical structure that holds it all together; to use a different metaphor, its neither the individual isolated-vertices of the spider's web, nor the aggregate-whole of all the vertices, that bring Ariadne Araneidae solace at days end, rather it is the silk that binds the structure - leading home those tired, poor, huddled masses of insects, yearning to breathe free, thine structure welcomes thee, tempest-tost to me, and I lift my gentle lamp beside my golden thangs.
  • The evidence that supports the content of RW articles is preserved in the structural relations of: the language, logic, and mathematics that are utilised within said articles. The objects that some language purports to refer to, are irrelevant to the evidential support of an article e.g., the logical concept of implication ('p ɔ q') is fundamental to all evidential-relations, but the truth of this notion is independent from the objects to which we interpret 'p' and 'q' as referring to.

On 'sharp' conceptual distinctions/dichotomies[edit]

  • Note to self: Hegel was himself, largely against absolute dichotomies....his philosophy, of course, cannot be dismissed from this section.
  • Sharp distinctions between concepts, by and large do not exist (exceptions to this are the fact/value distinction and the is/ought distinction).
  • Sharp epistemological distinctions: analytic/synthetic distinction, a priori/a posteriori, etc., do not exist.[note 3]
  • Generally, the so called 'distinctions' between concepts are a matter of degree, not kind. Reality is like a grey fabric, with no purely white threads and no purely black threads.
  • As a naturalist I do not countenance:
  • (a) any perspectives that claim to offer a transcendent perspective on reality i.e. one independent from the man-made concepts of science
  • (b) We can only work from within science; in other words - there is no first philosophy.
  • As a consequence of (a) and (b) I do not accept any attempts to seek a demarcation between science and pseudoscience nor do I accept any attempts to reject metaphysics from the basis of the analytic/synthetic distinction; both of which are based on a science-independent perspective, that makes the arrogation as to having some special or superior method of insight: a philosophy prior to science.

Heinrich Hertz[edit]

On the postulates for scientific representation of images (i.e., a scientific representation is an entity of the metalanguage: anything enclosed thusly ‘…’, which could be a series of symbols, statements and more complex sentences, notational variants, a diagram, a theory, &c.) Hertz has the following to say about what he calls the “appropriateness” postulate:

But we cannot decide without ambiguity whether an image is appropriate or not; as to this differences of opinion may arise. One image may be more suitable for one purpose, another for another [purpose]; only by gradually testing many images can we finally succeed in obtaining the most appropriate.
—Heinrich Hertz, Introduction, pp. 2-3.[6]

, and Hertz has this to say about the value of varying what representations, what sentences and classes of sentences, we take to be fundamental:

By varying the choice of the propositions which we take as fundamental, we can give various representations of the principles of mechanics. Hence we can thus obtain various images of things; and these images we can test and compare with each other in respect of permissibility, correctness, and appropriateness.
Ibid., p. 4.

In other words, it is by allowing the scientist free association in exercising her own ingenuity (among her other faculties), unrestrained by a priori presumptions (e.g., by outmoded standards of rigour), that we may come to understand the appropriateness of our images – the myriad activities and goals an image, or class of images, are employed in and have historically been employed in; images evolving over-time. –. The path of scientific progress, in its evolutionary tread, is overgrown and entangled; to legislate—in spite of experience—a positivist policy of censorship (against certain language forms) or a Popperian policy of demarcation—in both cases, to engrail scientific practice with assumptions …..

J.L. Austin[edit]

  • Austin like Quine stresses the therapeutic process for 'first-philosophy' i.e. therapy for its grandiose, pretensions and arrogations. The first-philosophers obsession with certain words, such as 'real' and 'reality' and the lack of attention to the (not even remotely interchangeable) uses of verbs e.g. 'look', 'appear', and 'seem' etc, obliterates the natural subtlety of actual distinctions between things. The way first-philosophers use these 'words' (from the previous sentence) is not the the way they are ordinarily used, but a new use! which nevertheless fails to be explained or made coherent.
  • If we neglect the ordinary uses of sentences, we run the risk, of creating oversimplifications and distortions.
  • Just as the scientist focusses on empirical data gathered from observation, so-too must we focus on the ordinary ubiquitous-contexts in which language is used; only then can we gain a richer and more natural understanding of language, our concepts, and reality.
  • From an Austinian perspective: generally, arguments that introduce dichotomies amount to misconceptions, which introduce spurious alternatives. Not only, should language be understood in terms of sophisticated science, but also in terms of the commonsense world of "medium sized dry goods" wherein we use ordinary language: in both cases, the facts of language are diverse and complicated; and we must understand sentences in their context of use, in order to make the subtle distinctions that actually occur.

Alfred Tarski[edit]

Research notes from[7][edit]

Alfred Tarski's (Tarski hereafter) opposition to sharp epistemic-distinctions and in particular the analytic-synthetic distinction, are particularly apparent during his visit to Harvard (1940-1941), where he took part mainly with Quine, Carnap, and Russell in a discussion group. For instance, in his autobiography, Carnap reflects "I discovered that in these questions, even though my thinking on semantics had originally started from Tarski’s ideas, a clear discrepancy existed between my position and that of Tarski and Quine, who rejected the sharp distinction I wished to make between logical and factual truth." [note 4] [8] Indeed, Tarksi's doubts about the analytic/synthetic distinction were a long standing worry. In a note of Carnap's diary (dated Feb 22, 1930) we read:

"8–11 with Tarski at a Café. About monomorphism, tautology, he will not grant that it says nothing about the world; he claims that between tautological and empirical statements there is only a mere gradual and subjective distinction." sic.
quoted in Haller 1992, p. 5.[9]

Tarski's objection is raised once again, during discussion of his paper "On the concept of logical consequence", which he presented to the Paris Congress (1935):

"In the discussions the ‘analytic’ vs. ‘synthetic’ opposition came to the fore repeatedly. In reply to comments by Tarski to the effect that one could not formulate the distinction sharply..."(my emphasis)
Neurath 1936, pp. 388–389)[10][note 5]

However, Tarski is more explicit in his 1936 paper on 'logical consequence', where he mentions the fact that there is no criterion known for distinguishing logical from non-logical constants. Additionally, in a correspondence with Neurath, Tarski states:

"I have questioned there [in my lecture on logical consequence] the absolute character of the partition of concepts into logical and descriptive as well as that of sentences into analytic and synthetic. I have endeavoured to show that the partition of the concepts is quite arbitrary and the partition of sentences should be relativized to that of the concepts." sic.
Tarski to Neurath, 7.IX.36

Tarski didn't change his mind on these issues, e.g., 5 years later we have Carnap's typescript 'Gespräch mit Tarski' (which took place in Chicago, 1940) where Tarski is reiterating his views (from 1935), in response to Carnap's example of "temperature" i.e. it being a factual sign:

Taski:"he (Tarski) has no such intuition; one could just as well consider ‘temperature’ as a logical sign.

Carnap: "Then it is a mathematical function and a logical sign and not the physical temperature function. In the case of a full sentence of the physical temperature function, one cannot find the truth value by mere computation."

Tarski: "This proves nothing, for also in the case of mathematical functions this is often also not possible, for there are undecidable sentences; no fundamental distinction between mathematical sentences, but undecidable sentences and factual sentences."(my emphasis)
6 March 1940, Chicago, Conversation with Tarski [4 pp.][11]

Tarski's position on the analytic/synthetic distinction leads him to the claim that if we treat certain physical constants as logical, then certain statements about temperature might become unrevisable, despite all observations! However, this is just the other side of the coin of claiming that logical statements might be just as revisable as physical ones. Tarski defended the revisability of logic. For instance, see Tarski's letter to Morton White[12]In point of fact, during a discussion with the Vienna circle in 1935, Tarski is quoted (by Heinrich Neider) as saying "he had never uttered a sentence which he had not considered to be revisable", this demonstrates Tarski's commitment to fallibilism and a thorough-going scepticism i.e., one that extends to mathematics and logic.[note 6] In addition, in the preface to the publication of Tarski's letter, Morton White (White henceforth) hints at the fact that Tarski's views had an obvious, and considerable, influence on Quine and himself. White drew attention to two aspects contained in Tarski's 1944 letter: (1) the revisability of logic and mathematics as being on a par with the revisability of physical theories (2) the distinction between the analytic/synthetic and the distinction between truth by convention and factual truth.
It is pertinent to note, that the with the publication of Truth by Convention (1936), Quine was already providing an explicit rejection of the analytic/synthetic distinction, or at least, a basis for his "Two Dogmas of Empiricism"; this is implied in a passage from a letter to Woodger in 1942, whereby he relates-back some of the discussions that occurred between himself, Tarski, Carnap, and Russell. This passage will also be useful for reconnecting with some of Tarski's views. Quine writes:

"...Mostly it was a matter of Tarski and me against Carnap, to this effect:

(a) Carnap's professedly fundamental cleavage between the analytic and the synthetic is an empty phrase (cf. my ‘Truth by convention’)
(b) consequently the concepts of logic and mathematics are as deserving of an empiricist or positivistic critique as are those of physics...
Other points on which we took Carnap to task are (c) his attempt to make a general semantics rather than sticking to a convenient canonical form for object languages and studying the semantics thereof more simply and briefly and yet more in detail.
(d) his resuscitation of intensional functions..."
Quine to Woodger, 2 May 1942, Woodger papers

The Continuum Fallacy[edit]

  • I know that it I may appear to be guilty of the 'Continuum fallacy'.
  • I will argue that this is not the case....despite appearances.
  • For Quine, Tarski, and Austin — distinctions between most concepts are a matter of degree, and there is a difference between these "positions". The distinctions between two binary, black and white, positions are distinctions between shades of grey. Positions nearer to the "black" pole are very dark shades of grey. Positions nearer the white pole are very light shades of grey. N.B. The arguments against the 'analytic/synthetic' and the a 'priori/a posteriori' distinctions, are that there has been no — criteria or good arguments — for a sharp distinction between said them.

Fun: The Quine-Putnam-Leucippus Indispensability Argument[edit]

  1. P:We ought to have ontological commitments to all and only those entities (sentences and snark) that are indispensable to our best articles (Gold and Silver articles).
  2. P:Gold and Silver article sentences and snark are indispensable to our best articles
  3. C: Therefore, we ought to have ontological commitments to Gold and Silver article sentences and snark.


  1. See my section on 'semantic holism' for the analogous "web".
  2. I'm aware that not all spiders form the typical orb-web.
  3. The loci classici for these arguments are the works of J.L. Austin, W.V. Quine and A. Tarski
  4. Fortunately, due to Carnap's meticulous notetaking, we have a record of these discussions: "We formed a group for the discussion of logical problems; Russell, Tarski, Quine and I were its most active members."
  5. Neurath quoted above reproduces some of the discussions that took place after Tarski's presentation.
  6. This quotation was recounted in a letter from Heinrich Neider to Neurath (dated 29 june 1935), where a summary is provided of a discussion led by Moritz Schlick, and in which Tarski participated, on Hempel's 1935 article on truth, wherein Tarski is quoted by Neider as saying: "Ich habe noch nie einen Satz gesprochen, dessen Korrigierbarkeit ich ausgeschlossen habe."


  1. Quine, W.V. and Quine, W.V.O., 1995. From stimulus to science, p.22, Harvard University Press.
  2. Quine, W.V. and Quine, W.V.O., 1995. From stimulus to science, p.25, Harvard University Press.
  3. Quine, W.V. and Quine, W.V.O., 1995. From stimulus to science, p. 53, Harvard University Press.
  4. Working From Within: The Nature and Development of Quine's Naturalism (2018), §1 chapter 4, p.58. Verhaegh, Sanders
  5. Working From Within: The Nature and Development of Quine's Naturalism (2018), §1 chapter 4, p. 58-59. Verhaegh, Sanders
  6. Hertz. H., The principles of mechanics : presented in a new form. Macmillian and Company, Limited, 1899.
  7. Mancosu, P., 2005. Harvard 1940–1941: Tarski, Carnap and Quine on a finitistic language of mathematics for science. History and Philosophy of Logic, 26(4), pp.327-357.
  8. Carnap, R. 1963, pp. 35-36, 64-65 ‘Intellectual autobiography’, in P. A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap (Library of Living Philosophers), vol. 11, LaSalle, IL: Open Court
  9. Haller, R. 1992, ‘Alfred Tarski: Drei Briefe an Otto Neurath’, Grazer Philosophische Studien 43, 1–32
  10. Neurath, O. 1936. ‘Erster Internationaler Kongress für Einheit der Wissenschaft in Paris 1935’, Erkenntnis 5, 377–406.
  11. 090-16-09 Dated 6 March 1940, Chicago, Gespräch mit Tarski [4 pp.], University of Pittsburgh archives
  12. Tarski, A. 1944. ‘‘‘A philosophical letter of Alfred Tarski’’ with a prefatory note by Morton White’, Journal of Philosophy 84(1987), 28–32.