Idealized Definitions in Physics and Idealized Dispositions

  • Alan Berger
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 216)


Many philosophers attempt to give a naturalistic account, that is, an account that “legitimizes” any notion by defining or offering an extensional equivalence of any notion in the vocabulary of physics or some other “hard science.” Various “naturalistic” accounts make use of idealized notions, since idealized notions are used in physics. The most sophisticated use made of idealized notions in articulating a naturalistic philosophy is by W. V. Quine. In his famous dispositional account of logic, Quine must appeal to idealized dispositions that do not always manifest themselves.


Logical Truth Speech Community Dispositional Account Obvious Step Idealize Definition 
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  1. 1.
    In Roots of Reference, Quine modifies his view to apply to only intuitionist logical truths and contradictions. See my ‘Quine on “Alternative Logics” and Verdict Tables’ Journal of Philosophy, LXXVII, # 5 (May 1980) for detail.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Philosophy of Logic (Englewood Cliffs N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1970), pp. 82–83.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ibid, p. 83.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See my ‘Quine on “Alternative Logics” and Verdict Tables,’ op. cit., for detail.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    I owe this proposal to Gilbert Harman.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For deeper objections see my article ‘A Central Problem for a Speech Dispositional Account of Logic and Language,’ in Logic, Words and Objects: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Willard Quine, eds. Robert Barrett and Roger Gibson, Basil Blackwell, 1990.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See Ernest Nagel, The Structure of Science (Harcourt, Brace and World: 1961), pp. 131-133, for an exposition of this view.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    W. V. Quine, ‘Mind and Verbal Dispositions,’ edited in Guttenplan, Mind and Language (Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 93–95.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ernest Nagel, The Structure of Science, p. 508. See this book, especially pp. 508-509, for a more detailed account of this sense of idealization in science.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See Gilbert Harman, ‘Quine’s Grammar’ in L. Hahn and P. Shilpp (eds.), The Philosophy of W. V. Quine (Open Court, 1986), pp. 165-180. (Harman does not argue that Quine should endorse this constraint upon a grammar.)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    In his seminar, Kripke criticized the other horn of the dilemma for Quine: if validity is explicated in terms of a speech community’s inductively determinable verbal behavior, then we forfeit the ability to distinguish valid from invalid inferences. For, an entire speech community may exhibit and even be disposed to commit many fallacies.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan Berger
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBrandeis UniversityUSA

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