Crítica, Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Volume 7, number 21, December 1975
Análisis y eliminación: una módica defensa de Quine
[Analysis and Elimination: A Mild Defense of Quine]
Thomas M. Simpson
Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas de la Argentina


In this paper I intend to appraise Quine’s dictum: “Explication is Elimination” and to defend it from Coffa’s attack (cf. this issue, pp. 43–67, for Coffa’s position).

With respect to Coffa’s characterization of explication (cf. Coffa’s characterization of the Tarski-Kreisel conception of explication, which I take him as accepting, on pp. 48–54), I want to hold in the first place that the explicandum is not simply an expression which does not exhibit in daylight the conceptual components which the explicatum makes evident; strictly speaking the problem of philosophical analysis is that the explicandum possesses varying degrees of vagueness and there’s no way of establishing the exact limits of its correct application; even if the adequacy criteria —when true— are useful to make the identifiable nucleus of its intuitive meaning explicit, a shady part remains which the explication has to complete somehow.

What I hold is that to clarify a concept is to build up a new one, with a certain margin of arbitrariness, since the explicatum clearly has to allow or to exclude its application to those cases about which the original term said nothing. Coffa himself observes, in commenting on the Tarskian process of explication, that by the end of it “the explicatum has been clarified, made more rigorous and it may also have been expanded” (the emphasis is mine). But if the extension of a concept —the explicatum— is larger and in an arbitrary way differs from that of another concept —the explicandum—, then we are not dealing with the same concept since the extension of a term is univocally determined by its meaning (i.e. by the concept it expresses).

Coffa says against Quine that in this author’s conception of philosophical analysis “there’s no common object of reference for those expressions used before and after the explication”; and if I take him right, that common object can be no other than the explicated concept. But in fact, as we have just seen, that common object does not exist. So, strictly speaking, what we do in explicating a term is not to apprehend its “real meaning” but rather to replace one concept for another: “Explication is elimination”. Now, so as not to take Quine’s dictum in a wrong way, one has to be clear against whom this formula is directed. It can be taken as a polemic invective against the traditional conception of analysis which gives rise to the paradox by the same name. Carnap rejected the paradox by modifying the notion of philosophical analysis; to distinguish it from the traditional one he called his “explication”. It is at this point that Quine and Carnap do coincide.

As to Coffa’s reading of Carnap as a Tarskian, I must say that Coffa selected a very curious passage in which Carnap adopted the traditional conception of analysis in the most candid way imaginable. And it is against this candid Carnap that Carnap himself and Quine jointly maintain a view of philosophical analysis in which it is only possible to accept a partial agreement between the explicandum and the explicatum. Carnap, in Meaning and Necessity (p. 8), says that in an explication “it is not required that an explicatum have, as nearly as possible, the same meaning as the explicandum”. And Quine, as a faithful echo, says (W & O, p. 258): “We do not claim synonymy. We do not claim to make clear and explicit what the users of the unclear expression had unconsciously in mind all along. We do not expose hidden meanings as the words ‘analysis’ and ‘explication’ would suggest…”. These are all negative points. Which are the positive ones for Quine?

I want to emphasize the following points in a most compact way:

1. Concerning the adequacy criteria, one can say that in a sense, they are precisely those contexts which, according to Quine, are “worth saving” and which he qualifies as clear and useful. So it may not be too fair to state —as Coffa does— that within the Quinean conception the explicatum is related to the explicandum “in a way difficult to explain”.

2. It could be fair to distinguish two aspects in Quine:

a) His thesis that “explication is elimination”, which can be defended in the above-mentioned way. But one can also make the point that for Quine an explication not only eliminates but also preserves those distinguished contexts “worth saving”.

b) His generalization of the vague criteria of “usefulness”, “fulfillment of same purposes”, etc., starting from relatively simple specific cases to more complex philosophical situations, as the explication of knowledge or induction.

At this point I feel I agree with Coffa. With respect to concepts as “truth” and “knowledge” which are no part of a defined theoretical system, the Quinean criteria of ‘use’ and ‘function’ have a dubious value: the only thinkable utility of an adequate explication of “knowledge” is to help us understand what it is.

c) Quine’s philosophical practice itself does not live up lo his explicit rules. For example, his rejection of intentional entities because of a lack of clear identity conditions is based on a philosophical criterion about the reliability of an ontology which cannot be reduced to mere utility. Otherwise he ought to accept the Frege-Church semantics which lets him have the general validity of Leibniz law: but Quine rejects it due to his metaphysical keenness.

[José A. Robles]

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