, Volume 193, Issue 2, pp 605–636 | Cite as

Quine on matters of fact

  • David E. TaylorEmail author


The idea of there being “no fact of the matter” (NFM) features centrally in Quine’s indeterminacy theses. Yet there has been little discussion of how exactly Quine understands this idea. In this paper I identify, develop and then critically evaluate Quine’s conception of NFM. In Sects. 34 I consider a handful of intuitive semantic and ontological conceptions of NFM and argue that none is workable from within Quine’s philosophy. I conclude that the failure of each of these proposals is due to the immanent status of truth and existence for Quine. In Sect. 5 I then present Quine’s official conception of NFM. Briefly, Quine’s idea is that there is NFM between two theories of (say) translation iff those theories are physically equivalent. I develop this idea in detail. Finally, I raise two independent problems for this conception of NFM. In Sect. 6 I argue that Quine’s definition is too strong: given what he means by NFM, his arguments for indeterminacy—even granting all their premises and internal reasoning—simply cannot support his claim that there is NFM regarding translation; instead they establish a strictly weaker conclusion. In Sect. 7 I argue that Quine’s conception of NFM is in significant tension with his thesis of physicalism, and that he must give up one or the other.


Quine Indeterminacy Factuality Translation Physicalism 



I’d like to thank the following people for helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this paper: Alexi Burgess, Rahul Chaudhri, Marcello Di Bello, Dagfinn Føllesdal, Peter Hanks, David Hills, Pedro Jimenez, Ken Taylor and three anonymous referees. Thanks also to the participants of the Philosophy Department Weekly Meetings at the University of Minnesota, where some of this material was presented in the fall of 2012. Finally, I owe a special debt to Mark Crimmins, who provided me with invaluable comments and advice on a number of earlier drafts.

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Minnesota Center for Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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