Crítica, Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Volume 9, number 27, December 1977
Brentano y Quine: modalidades psicológicas de re e indeterminación de la traducción
[Brentano and Quine: De Re Psychological Modalities and the Indeterminacy of Translation]
Thomas M. Simpson
Centro de Altos Estudios en Ciencias Exactas, Argentina

Abstract: In § 45 of Word and Object, Quine deals with Brentano’s intentionalist thesis in an ingenious way. He adopts Chisholm’s version of Brentano’s thesis: “There is no breaking out of the intentional vocabulary by explaining its members in other terms” (p. 220). As was to be expected, the usual behavioristic-minded reaction was a blatant rejection of the claim and a strenuous effort to “translate” mentalistic language into a physicalist one. But the behavioristic-minded Quine says: “Our present reflections are favorable to this thesis” (pp. 220–221). This is the first (and unexpected) step of his move.
The second step is to admit that the use of the intentional vocabulary would “represent” translation as determined:





For using the international words "believe” and "ascribe” one could say that a speaker’s term is to be construed as "rabbit” if and only if the speaker is disposed to ascribe it to all and only the objects that he believes to be rabbits (pp. 220–221; my italics).

What then of the indeterminacy doctrine? We learn again that “Brentano’s thesis (…) is of a piece with the thesis of indeterminacy of translation” (p. 221). But the upshot of this mischievous strategy is a dramatic dilemma (third step): “One may accept Brentano’s thesis either as showing the indispensability of intentional idioms and the importance of an autonomous science of intention, or as showing the baselessness of intentional idioms and the emptiness of a science of intention” (p. 221). Fourth (and final step): “My attitude,* unlike Brentano’s, is the second” (p. 221).
Of course, we can still “tolerate” the use of these idioms in the canonical notation of WO if the aim is “to dissolve verbal perplexities or facilitate logical deduction”; but “if we are limming the true and ultimate structure of reality the canonical scheme for us is the austere scheme that knows no quotation but direct quotation and no propositional attitudes but only the physical constitution and behavior of organisms” (p. 221, my italics).
Now, we may ask whether “believe” is used in (A) above in the transparent or the opaque sense. It seems clear that we should interpret it in the transparent one, for the italicized part could be fairly rephrased as “if and only if the speaker is disposed to ascribe it to all and only objects x such that the speaker believes x to be a rabbit”.
This rephrasal does not imply any special ontology, either of intensions or sentences, as it is framed in the neutral style of WO’s § 31. Furthermore, we have here a quantification into the belief context, and then, according to Quine’s doctrine, if Quine’s text makes sense at all it must be given a de re interpretation. We may conclude, then, that determinacy of translation is guaranteed if the home language is well equipped for the expression of de re belief, whose salvation was considered by Quine a vital task in other (less “deep”) contexts.
But as Wesley C. Salmon wittingly says, “one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens”; and Quine’s attitude is to reject in toto the intentional idioms (including the de re employment of them) on the ground that “to accept intentional usage at face value is [...] to postulate translation relations as somehow objectively valid though indeterminate in principle relative to the totality of speech dispositions” (WO, p. 221).
This final rejection of the de re attitudes may seem in some sense an odd result if we remember the serious motivations which prompted Quine’s attempt to rescue the logical respectability of the de re attitudes: “Surely [...] the transparent sense of belief is not to be slightly dismissed” (WO, p. 148): the de re statements of belief are indeed “indispensable” (“Quantifiers…”, p. 189) and “we scarcely prepared to sacrifice [them]” (Qunatifiers, p. 186). But it throws a retrospective light on Quine’s treatment of attitudes in Quantifiers..” and WO. After considering the proposal of distinguishing two senses of belief (the opaque and the transparent one) he says: “But there is a more suggestive treatment...”: “to adhere uniformly to [the opaque] sense of belief” (“Qunatifiers”, pp. 186–187). In this “uniform sense”, Quine obtains the effect of selective transparence by writing, for example:

(1) Ralph believes z (z hates John) of Ortcutt;

and the prohibition to quantify into psychological contexts takes the form “of a rule against quantifying into names of intensions” (“Quantifiers”, p. 187).
A reference to Robert Kirk may prove useful here. For Quine admits Kirk’s argument to the effect that “there is no indeterminacy if the home language is well equipped for indirect quotation” (Quine’s words: Synthese, p. 267; my italics); but applying again Salmon’s principle he replies that “Kirk’s observation can be seen as challenging not the indeterminacy of translation but the determinacy of indirect quotation” (Synthese, p. 267), this latter consisting in the fact that “there is nothing approaching a fixed standard of how far an indirect quotation may deviate from the direct” (WO, p. 216); and it is this that prevents us from making “scientific sense” of it, and, by similar considerations, of propositional attitudes generally.
Consider now the de reattitudes, including also the de re counterpart of indirect quotation, which has as much a right to existence as the indirect version; indeed, the de re interpretation could be represented according to the pattern of (1), as follows:

(2) Ralph says z (z hates John of Ortcutt.

Looking at (1) and (2) we may see that the charge of indeterminacy is also applicable to the de re attitudes, even if we reformulate them in an ontologically neutral style. In order to get a uniform reformulation I will extend to the de re use of “indirect quotation” a suggestion credited to Davidson (WO, p. 150, footnote 2); the resulting sentences are:

(1′) By Ralph, Ortcutt is believed to hate John.
(2′) By Ralph, Ortcutt is said to hate John.

Now we can say once again: “There is nothing approaching a fixed standard of how far an indirect de re quotation may deviate from the direct”, that is, how far the expression after “said to” in (2′) may deviate from the liberal quotation of the predicate actually ascribed by Ralph to Ortcutt, and how far we can change the expression after “believed to” and still refer to Ralph’s belief about Ortcutt. So Quine has reasons for maintaining that, when all is said and done, the de dicto and de re attitudes are in the same boat. But in a certain sense this should have been clear from the outset, for Quine’s main proposal was not to distinguish two senses of the idioms of propositional attitudes, but a theory of grades of opacity; and the crucial point is that opacity can never be fully eliminated, because it is inevitably attached to the predicates involved in the de re intentional sentences.

Notas a pie de página

* Propositional attitude?

(Thomas M. Simpson)

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