Indeterminacy of translation  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The indeterminacy of translation is a thesis propounded by 20th-century American analytic philosopher W. V. Quine. The classic statement of this thesis can be found in his 1960 book Word and Object, which gathered together and refined much of Quine's previous work on subjects other than formal logic and set theory. The indeterminacy of translation is also discussed at length in his Ontological Relativity. Wright suggests that this "has been among the most widely discussed and controversial theses in modern analytical philosophy". This view is endorsed by Putman who states that it is "the most fascinating and the most discussed philosophical argument since Kant’s Transcendental Deduction of the Categories”.

Three aspects of indeterminacy arise, of which two relate to indeterminacy of translation. The three indeterminacies are (i) inscrutability of reference, and (ii) holophrastic indeterminacy, and (iii) the underdetermination of scientific theory. The last of these, not discussed here, refers to Quine's assessment that evidence alone does not dictate the choice of a scientific theory. The first refers to indeterminacy in interpreting individual words or sub-sentences. The second refers to indeterminacy in entire sentences or more extensive portions of discourse.


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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Indeterminacy of translation" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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