Large Selection of Quine’s Correspondence Now Available Online


A large selection of W. V. O. Quine’s correspondence—4495 pages of communication between Quine and 153 other philosophers—has been made online available at the Virtual Archive of Logical Empiricism (VALEP), a digital humanities initiative based at the Institute Vienna Circle (IVC) which provides an open-source database of digitized materials from and on the history of logical empiricism.

The collection is the result of a collaboration between Christian Damböck (Vienna), who founded VALEP, and Sander Verhaegh (Tilburg), who scanned the documents when doing research for his book Working from Within: The Nature and Development of Quine’s Naturalism (2018).

Screenshot of the VALEP interface

They provide some details about it:

The collection comprises 4495 pages of correspondence between Quine and 153 philosophers and institutions, including J. L. Austin, A. J. Ayer, Isaiah Berlin, Max Black, R. M. Chisholm, Noam Chomsky, Alonzo Church, James B. Conant, Donald Davidson, Grace De Laguna, Umberto Eco, Herbert Feigl, Philipp Frank, Kurt Gödel, C. G. Hempel, Roman Jakobson, David Kaplan, Saul Kripke, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos, C. I. Lewis, Jan Lukasiewicz, Ruth Barcan Marcus, Joe Margolis, Charles Morris, Ernest Nagel, Robert Nozick, Paul Oppenheim, R. B. Perry, Michael Polanyi, Karl Popper, Hilary Putnam, John Rawls, Hans Reichenbach, Richard Rorty, Bertrand Russell, Gilbert Ryle, Wesley Salmon, Herbert Simon, B. F. Skinner, J. J. C. Smart, P. F. Strawson, Paul Weiss, and A. N. Whitehead. The collection is made available with kind permission of Douglas B. Quine and Houghton Library.

The database contains a large number of letters that illuminate Quine’s philosophy and development, including almost 150 pages of correspondence between Quine and Donald Davidson; one of the only surviving letters from March 1933, when the young Harvard logician spent a month in Prague to visit Carnap; and a voluminous correspondence on set theory and (modal) logic with Alonzo Church.

Quine sketches his plans for a talk on trends in recent philosophy (later published as “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”) in a letter to Grace de Laguna.

They add: “In addition to Quine’s correspondence, the VALEP database contains over 120,000 documents, including large collections of the papers of Rudolf Carnap, Carl Gustav Hempel, Richard Jeffrey, Frank P. Ramsey, Rose Rand, Hans Reichenbach, Wilfrid Sellars, and Wolfgang Stegmüller.”

As I noted in an earlier post about VALEP, its interface takes a little getting used to, and it can take a few moments for results to appear. There are some tips for first-time users here. There is also a video, which is findable by clicking on the arrow next to “Filter”, selecting “Video,” and waiting for links to the videos to appear in the window below.

If you have questions about VALEP and its materials, get in touch with either Professor Damböck or Professor Verhaegh.

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Margaret Atherton
1 month ago

I was startled that among the list of names of philosophers included that Nelson Goodman was not listed. I assume that this is because those who made up that list didn’t consider Goodman an interesting philosopher to list, for surely Quine did correspond with Goodman.Report

Taddeo
Taddeo
Reply to  Margaret Atherton
1 month ago

There is an entire folder on the Goodman Quine correspondence. The list in the post is partial.Report

Margaret Atherton
Reply to  Taddeo
1 month ago

Thanks. So I surmised.Report

Louis F. Cooper
1 month ago

I’m speculating a bit here, but from the standpoint of appealing to the widest possible number of people, it’s probably a good idea that VALEP decided not to limit this to Quine’s correspondence with philosophers.

Of the names listed in the OP that I recognize (and I don’t recognize every single name), Chomsky, Conant, Skinner, Jakobson, and Herbert Simon were not philosophers (Conant and Skinner were definitely not, though the other three perhaps someone could quibble about if they wanted to).Report

Louis F. Cooper
1 month ago

P.s. Kuhn wasn’t either, though maybe he’s labeled a philosopher of science?Report

Last edited 1 month ago by Louis F. Cooper
Charles Pigden
1 month ago

Are Quine’s letters as good as (that is as fun to read and as rich in philosophical content) those of David Lewis? (I reckon a graduate reading class featuring one or two of DKL’s letters per session would be a very valuable. Students could pick a letter investigate the intellectual context, and give a presentation explaining David’s arguments and concluding comments of their own. They would learn a lot.) If Quine’s letters are as good as Lewis’s , something along the lines of the two-volume Letters of David Lewis (though perhaps featuring talk-back from Quine’s corespondents) would be a worthwhile publication. I am pretty sure that I would buy it.Report

Creature of Darkness
Creature of Darkness
Reply to  Charles Pigden
1 month ago

For what it’s worth (and for those reading this thread who are unaware), the Quine-Carnap correspondence is already published, edited by Richard Creath as Dear Carnap, Dear Van, published in 1990 with University of California Press. I cannot say it is as fun as it is rich in philosophical content, but it is rich in philosophical content, including in addition to the correspondence Quine’s lectures on Carnap at Harvard in 1934 and an unpublished reply by Carnap to Quine’s “Two Dogmas.”Report

jake s.
1 month ago

Whenever I click a file, an error comes up which says:
“Could not load file
Sorry! You do not have access to this file”
I am unable to access any of Quine’s correspondences. I double click the files from the left hand side and it comes up in the pdf/image viewer, but can’t show me anything. Anyone know how to fix this?Report

Michael Kates
Michael Kates
Reply to  jake s.
1 month ago

I have the exact same problem.Report

Scholar
Reply to  Michael Kates
1 month ago

I am having the same problem. This is a truly dreadful set up. It is so user-unfriendly. Have the creator of it never met a human being before?Report

Seth C.
Seth C.
Reply to  jake s.
1 month ago

You need a (free) account to access the material. You can request a login by sending an email to prof. DamböckReport

Margaret Atherton
1 month ago

I’m assuming that the correspondence with Grace De Laguna concerned a special issue of Phil Review, of January 1951, which included a series of articles outlining the current state of things in Philosophy. There was a piece by Frankena, for example, about Moral Philosophy at MidCentury, as well as De Laguna’s on Main Trends in Speculative Philosophy. Quine’s contribution was “Two Dogmas” but perhaps it was intended as a summary of main trends in Analytic Philosophy. De Laguna might have been concerned about the potential for overlap between her contribution and Quine’s.Report