Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Word and Object is W. V. O. Quine’s magnum opus, the most complete expression of his views in a single place. It was written when he was at the height of his philosophical powers, roughly between 1955 and 1959, and continues the themes of his earlier articles in From a Logical Point of View (1953), of which the two most famous are “On What There Is,” which discusses criteria for ontological commitment, and “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” The first dogma is that there is a clear distinction between analytic sentences (which are true by virtue of their meanings) and synthetic truths (which are made true by facts). The second dogma is that each meaningful sentence is reducible to an equivalent sentence, all the terms of which refer to immediate experience.

As these two articles make clear, Quine is equally interested in the problems of ontology and language, problems that he thinks are intertwined. Quine elaborated and refined the views of Word and Object in Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (1969). In the title essay of the latter book, which constitutes the first of the John Dewey lectures given at Columbia University in 1968, Quine admits his debt to Dewey. In Word and Object and other essays, he expresses his debt to Charles S. Peirce and his commitment to a kind of pragmatism. By his own admission, then, Quine is in the mainstream of traditional American philosophy.