The roots of reference: the paul carus lectures
How much do our children have to learn of our language before we can reasonably interpret them as making objective reference as we do to different colors, bodies, and so forth, whether or not we could also interpret them in other ways? Quine presents his answer to this question in three chapters. In the first, he presents a behavioristic account of ‘the learning process at its simplest. In the second chapter he applies the account to language learning in order to show how a child might come to use language to discriminate colors, bodies, different kinds of bodies, and so forth. Then, in a third chapter he considers what more must be learned before it will be clear that the child is referring to bodies, colors, and so forth.
– GiLBeRt HARMAN
The Roots of Reference… proceeds in three stages, offering answers to three questions how, given the evidence of our senses, do we acquire our theory of the world? how, given that evidence, do we acquire mastery of ‘cognitive language’, observation sentences, predication, the categorical, the truthfunctions? and how, more specifically, do we acquire mastery of the linguistic apparatus of reference?
Quine regards the first of the questions, however unfamiliar, as the legitimate heir of the traditional epistemological problem of scepticism, which he sees as having challenged science by pointing to the limitations of the evidence on which it rests…. To account for mastery of scientific theory, Quine argues, one needs to account for mastery of scientific language. When he turns to the question of the learning of scientific language, Quine maintains what he calls his ‘continuing adherence to externals’,
W. V. Quine