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Quine's notion of paraphrase and modest conceptual analysis



In From Metaphysics to Ethics, Jackson argues (44f.) that the modest role of conceptual analysis is analogous to what Quine had proposed about paraphrase replacing synonymy. Synonymy is a technical semantic variant of what Quine thought paraphrase was. Given that conceptual analysis involving folk intuitions eschews technical details in favour of common platitudes about concepts, we can think of conceptual analysis that makes room for folk intuitions as an exemplification of Quinean paraphrase.


Formulating a folk theory has served philosophers well but not determinate enough to think that it is exactly correct. Folk theories are modifiable (defeasible). What we want to accomplish is not synonymy with a folk theory but something like an approximate fulfillment.


Critics of conceptual analysis have assumed they have been seeking absolute certainty about folk concepts. We can never presume absolute certainty about folk concepts because intuitions are in constant flux. So, critics have begged the question against conceptual analysis.


I want to raise a different issue. By Jackson's own lights, I don't think we have a folk theory at all. An approximate fulfillment can be very far off indeed. One's intuitions about the folk may capture an "educated" person's view or an "uneducated" person's view (and perhaps something in between). If our view of folk intuitions fails to capture anything consistent with what the folk say, then it is not even remotely approximating a folk theory. There has to be some overlap between the philosopher's intuitions and the folks' intuitions for them to be compatible.


Nothing about my argument presumes any degree of certainty. Ultimately, if one avers that Quine's idea of paraphrase is analogous to formulating a folk theory, then that person has failed to articulate a folk theory. The folk theory is too far off.

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