pp 1–20 | Cite as

Quine’s Intuition: Why Quine’s Early Nominalism is Naturalistic

  • James Andrew SmithJr.Email author
Original Research


According to a growing consensus in the secondary literature on Quine, the judgment Quine makes in favor of the nominalism outlined in “Steps Toward a Constructive Nominalism” (Goodman and Quine (1947)) is in tension with the naturalism he later adopts. In this paper, I show the consensus view is mistaken by showing that Quine’s judgment is rooted in a naturalistic standard of clarity. Moreover, I argue that Quine late in his career is committed to accepting one plausible reading of his judgment in 1947. In making these arguments, I draw attention to a version of naturalism that misreadings of Quine have prevented philosophers from appreciating, and thereby articulate and clarify a version of naturalism I recommend philosophers investigate today.



An early version of this paper was presented at the 2017 Society for the Study of the History of Analytical Philosophy conference in Calgary, Alberta. I thank Vera Flocke, Peter Hylton, and Sander Verhaegh for their comments. I also thank David Fisher, Timothy Perrine, Joan Weiner, and anonymous referees for their comments on drafts of this paper. Special thanks go to Gary Ebbs, whose advice on drafts of this paper and encouragement during the writing process were invaluable.


  1. Burgess, J. (2008). Cats, Dogs, and so on. (In Zimmerman (Ed.) 2008, pp. 56–78).Google Scholar
  2. Burgess, J., & Rosen, G. (1997). A subject with no object. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Carnap, R. (1937). The logical syntax of language. Originally published in 1934. Translated by A. Smeaton. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.Google Scholar
  4. Ebbs, G. (2016). Quine’s ‘Predilection’ for finitism. Metascience, 25, 31–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Frost-Arnold, G. (2013). Carnap, Tarski, and Quine at Harvard: Conversations on logic, mathematics, and science. Chicago, Illinois: Open Court Press.Google Scholar
  6. Goodman, N., & Quine, W. V. (1947). Steps Toward a Constructive Nominalism. The Journal for Symbolic Logic, 12(4), 105–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Hylton, P. (2014). Significance in Quine. Grazer Philosophische Studien, 89, 113–133.Google Scholar
  8. Mancosu, P. (2008). Quine and Tarski on Nominalism. (In Zimmerman (Ed.), pp. 22–55).Google Scholar
  9. Parsons, C. (2014). Quine’s Nominalism. Philosophy of mathematics in the twentieth century (pp. 199–219). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Paseau, A. (2013). Naturalism and the Philosophy of Mathematics. In Zalta, E. N (Ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition). Retrieved February 15, 2018, from
  11. Quine, W. V. (1939a). Designation and existence. Journal of Philosophy, 36(26), 701–709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Quine, W. V. (1939b). A logistical approach to the ontological problem. (In Quine 1976, pp. 197–202).Google Scholar
  13. Quine, W. V. (1946). Nominalism. In (Zimmerman (ed.) pp. 3–21).Google Scholar
  14. Quine, W. V. (1948). On What There Is. (In Quine 1980, pp. 1–19).Google Scholar
  15. Quine, W. V. (1953). Two Dogmas of Empiricism. (In Quine 1980, pp. 20–46).Google Scholar
  16. Quine, W. V. (1955). Posits and Reality. (In Quine 1976, pp. 246–254).Google Scholar
  17. Quine, W. V. (1960). Word and object. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  18. Quine, W. V. (1976). The Ways of Paradox. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Revised and enlarged edition, 1976).Google Scholar
  19. Quine, W. V. (1977). Facts of the Matter. (In Quine 2008b, pp. 271–286).Google Scholar
  20. Quine, W. V. (1980). From a Logical Point of View (Rev 2 ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Quine, W. V. (1981a). Things and Their Place in Theories. (In Quine 1981c, pp. 1–23).Google Scholar
  22. Quine, W. V. (1981b). Five Milestones of Empiricism. (In Quine 1981c, pp. 67–72).Google Scholar
  23. Quine, W. V. (1981c). Theories and Things. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Quine, W. V. (1986). Autobiography of W.V. Quine. In L. E. Hahn & P. A. Schilpp (Eds.), The Philosophy of W.V. Quine (pp. 2–48). LaSalle, IL: Open Court Press.Google Scholar
  25. Quine, W. V. (1992). Pursuit of truth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Revised edition).Google Scholar
  26. Quine, W. V., & Carnap, R. (1990). Dear Carnap, Dear Van: The Quine-Carnap correspondence and later work. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. (Edited by R. Creath).Google Scholar
  27. Strawson, P. F. (1959). Individuals: An essay in descriptive metaphysics. London: Methuen & Co., Ltd.Google Scholar
  28. Verhaegh, S. (2017). Boarding Neurath’s Boat: The Early Development of Quine’s Naturalism. Journal of the History of Philosophy, 55(2), 317–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Zimmerman, D. (Ed.). (2008). Oxford studies in metaphysics (Vol. 4). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Indiana University, BloomingtonBloomingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations