Indeterminacy Translation Thesis

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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.

The natural response, from an intuitive standpoint, might seem to be that of course the native speaker means one determinate thing by gavagai, whatever he in fact has in mind, and that the translator is merely unable to tell what that is.

Quines conclusion, however, is much more radical and intuitively paradoxical: insofar as such indeterminacy of translation exists, he claims, there is simply no right answer, no fact of the matter as to what the native speaker really means [WO 26-27, 73].

Each argument is central to the views of the philosopher in question, and each leads to sweeping and, to my mind, highly implausible conclusions concerning the content of our thoughts about the world.

The philosophers in question claim, of course, that these implications should be accepted, but few others have been willing to follow them in this.At the same time, however, there has been no very widespread agreement on where and how the arguments go wrong.My view is that they are best viewed as reductions to absurdity of their premises and of one underlying premise in particular.Consider once more the gavagai example, but now imagine that we are the native speakers, and that someone else is trying to decide between analogous choices in his language for the translation of our locution rabbit.Quine argues that just as we cannot determine on an empirical basis whether gavagai means rabbit, rabbit-stage, undetached rabbit-part, rabbit fusion, or rabbithood, so also the radical translator of our language will be unable to decide in a non-arbitrary way between an analogous set of alternatives.I begin with Quines argument for the famous thesis of the indeterminacy of translation.Though it has, as we shall shortly see, an enormously wider application, the indeterminacy thesis is first developed by Quine in application to the situation of radical translation: the situation in which a linguist is attempting to translate a completely unknown language, unrelated to his own, and is therefore forced to rely solely on the observed behavior of its speakers in relation to their environment.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.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.

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Comments Indeterminacy Translation Thesis

  • Quine on the Indeterminacy of Translation A Dilemma for.
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    For Quine, the indeterminacy of translation has considerable ontological consequences, construed as leading to a sceptical conclusion regarding the existence of fine‐grained meaning facts. Davidson's suggested reading of Quine's indeterminacy arguments seems to be intended to block any such sceptical consequences.…

  • The Indeterminacy of Translation - Bibliography - PhilPapers
    Reply

    SummaryIt is a mistake to think that Quine's thesis of the indeterminacy of translation reduces to the claim that théories are under‐determined by evidence. The theory of meaning is subject to an indeterminacy that is qualitatively different from the under‐determination of scientific théories.…

  • Indeterminacy of translation - Oxford Reference
    Reply

    The doctrine of the indeterminacy of translation has, however, been widely influential. It is the focus of many debates about the reality of psychological states, and may be said to represent the analytic tradition's version of the general mistrust of determinate meaning that is characteristic of postmodernism.…

  • Indeterminacy and the Data of Introspection
    Reply

    Which create dispositions to verbal behavior. The indeterminacy thesis, a result of this linguistic behaviorism, states that there is no fact ofthe m alter which determines the correct translation of any term of a language into another language. That is, there will be a number ofcoherent yet mutually…

  • Can Theoretical Underdetermination support the Indeterminacy.
    Reply

    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.…

  • Indeterminacy of Translation--Theory and Practice Dorit Bar.
    Reply

    Which originally led Quine to the indeterminacy thesis. My purpose in the paper is twofold. First, I want to show that the propo- nent of Quinean. indeterminacy is in a serious bind accepting indeterminacy INDETERMINACY OF TRANSLATION-THEORY AND PRACTICE 781…

  • What is meant by Quine's 'interdeterminacy of translation.
    Reply

    Interdeterminacy of translation" means that the translation you come up with depends on the process of translation, as well as the intended underlying semantics of the speaker.…

  • On How to Avoid the Indeterminacy of Translation
    Reply

    Quine’s thesis of the indeterminacy of translation has puzzled the philosophical community for several decades. It is unquestionably among the best known and most disputed theses in contemporary philosophy. Quine’s classical argument for the indeterminacy thesis, in his seminal work Word and…

  • Philosophy of science - Differences and similarities between.
    Reply

    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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