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Episteme

Abstract

The author of this paper argues that Searle’s introspective critique of Quine’s indeterminacy thesis is not a blow to Quine’s linguistic behaviorism. The paper begins with a general picture of Quine’s argument about the indeterminacy of language, as exhibited during radical translation but also in understanding one self. The author next pokes holes in the logic of Searle’s conclusion that Quine’s thesis is absurd and therefore incorrect. Searle, problematically, is too attached to his belief that there is such thing as determinate meaning. Instead, we must take up a contextualized understanding of meaning. Quine’s findings do not lead to the conclusion that Searle thinks they do. Rather, they teach us something about how language, a totally effective communication practice, can break-down. Because Quine’s main concern is effective language use, he does not err when he proposes face-value acceptance of the mother tongue—the indeterminate is often effective enough.

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