The basic conception of philosophy and philosophical practice that informs his discussion of science is commonly know as naturalism, a view that recommends the “abandonment of the goal of a first philosophy prior to natural science” (1981, 67), which further involves a “readiness to see philosophy as natural science trained upon itself and permitted free use of scientific findings” (1981, 85) and lastly, recognizes that “…it is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is to be identified and described” (1981, 21).
Quine’s philosophy should then be seen as a systematic attempt to understand science from within the resources of science itself.
This project investigates both the epistemological and ontological dimensions of scientific theorizing.
Analytic statements do not then make any claims about the world, but are the product of the specific way we construct a language.
With the a priori (now thought of as analytic) character of logic and mathematics depicted in such terms, it does not constitute a separate type of knowledge, and does then conflict with the empiricist commitment that all knowledge has its source in experience.
This is because, in part, his use of the term "science" applies quite broadly referring not simply to the ‘hard’ or natural sciences, but also including psychology, economics, sociology, and even history (Quine 1995, 19; also see Quine 1997).
But a more substantive reason centers on his view that all knowledge strives to provide a true understanding of the world and is then responsive to observation as the ultimate test of its claims.Quine’s view of philosophical inquiry breaks decisively with the conception of philosophy’s relation to science as seen in Plato, Descartes and Kant.Although he finds himself more in sympathy with the empiricist tradition (this is especially true with regard to both Russell’s and Carnap’s distinctive attempts to make philosophy more scientific), he also rejects what he sees as its attempt to preserve the a priori status of logic and mathematics through the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements (1981, 67-72).Quine’s epistemological concern is to examine our successful acquisition of scientific theories, while his ontological interests focus on the further logical regimentation of that theory.He thus advocates what is more famously known as ‘naturalized epistemology’, which consists of his attempt to provide an improved scientific explanation of how we have developed elaborate scientific theories on the basis of meager sensory input.On this general picture, philosophy is not conceived as a science, but as distinct from experience and experiment and further providing resources that constitute a secure foundation for scientific claims.The empiricist tradition in philosophy, stretching from Locke to Russell, with its view that all substantial knowledge finds its source in experience, provides a useful contrast to this conception of philosophy.Quine further argues that the most general features of reality can be examined through the use of formal logic by clarifying what objects we must acknowledge as real given our acceptance of an overarching systematic view of the world.In pursuing these issues, Quine reformulates and thus transforms these philosophical concerns according to those standards of clarity, empirical adequacy, and utility that he takes as central to the explanatory power of empirical science.Empiricists have been more sympathetic with the idea of aligning philosophy more closely to science, but there remained a problem concerning the nature of logical and mathematical knowledge, which did not appear to depend on experience.Rudolf Carnap’s logical empiricism with its use of the analytic-synthetic distinction is often presented as responding to this specific epistemological challenge (see Quine 1995a; for dissenting views see Richardson 1998, Friedman 2006).