To give you some background details about myself: I have a deep interest in Quine's work and Naturalism in Philosophy; I have been independently studying and reading Quine's work and his relation to other philosophers, in particular the relation between Quine's work and Sellars's work: Quine's naturalized epistemology in relation to Sellars's naturalism.

For a while now, two questions have bothered me, both pertaining to the 'Myth of the Given': (1) does Quine's naturalized epistemology fall prey to the 'Myth of the Given'? and the related question (2) is the 'Third Dogma of Empiricism an issue for Quine's naturalized epistemology?

Here is some research I have done over time relevant to the content of these questions:

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find many sources where Quine explicitly comments on the "myth of the given" and I haven't been able to find many papers where this issue is discussed relative to Quine's philosophy. In particular, the issue that has troubled me is Quine's 'observation-sentences': Quine States that they are conditioned to certain neural events, my concern is whether this 'conditioning' violates the myth of the given by making a non-propositional item give support to a propositional item. Moreover, I am concerned that the observation sentence itself serves as a source of ultimate evidence, a foundation. My gut feeling is that Quine's work survives Sellars's criticisms and that Sellars's work has problems endemic to the "first-philosophy" short-comings that Quine rejected as per IEP: Willard Van Orman Quine: Philosophy of Science:

The basic conception of philosophy and philosophical practice that informs his discussion of science is commonly known 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).

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    Interesting question...OCR'ing my DeVries/Triplett commentary of EPM (Knowledge, Mind, and the Given) to find whether they have something to say about Quine - which I am sure of - and whether whatever they have to say is relevant to the question right now. I'd suggest you read it if you really want to understand EPM (plus Kukla's essay on myth and recognition). Your last sentence makes me think you have not really gotten the point.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Nov 16, 2020 at 20:13
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    Your feeling is right. Quine did not comment on the Myth of the given, but it does not even touch his confirmation holism. His "observation sentences" are purely pragmatic creatures. Quine discards any robust theory/observation distinction, so they play no special justificational role. Davidson is more explicit as to reality's relation to them: it is not justification or evidential support, but only causation, events cause us to form the observation sentences. Sellars's own position in EPM about perceptual reports is similar. McDowell criticized this solution to the Myth in Mind and World.
    – Conifold
    Nov 16, 2020 at 22:12
  • @PhilipKlöcking - Firstly, thanks for responding to my question. That would be very helpful if you could find anything of relevance in the "DeVries/Triplett commentary of EPM", and thanks for the reading-suggestion, I shall certainly look into it. Philip I find your last sentence particularly interesting, would you care to expand?
    – Leucippus
    Nov 17, 2020 at 16:21
  • @Conifold - Thanks for responding. Your explanation makes it clear to me that the so called "Third Dogma" and "Myth of the Given" are not issues for Quine's work. Also you have identified my pressing concern, a concern that I believe McDowell illustrates similarly: how can events cause us to form observation sentences? or how can the "the firing of neurons" collide somehow with a sentence? (I believe this is how McDowell phrased it).
    – Leucippus
    Nov 17, 2020 at 16:31
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    I do not think we can tell you what you should commit to, it is a personal decision, what style appeals to you more, practical considerations, etc. Quine is more analytic, mainstream and versatile, Sellars is more conceptual, narrowly focused, but digs deeper. If you can't choose or are attracted to both why not pursue both? Original thought benefits from mixing it up.
    – Conifold
    Nov 17, 2020 at 20:43

1 Answer 1


From what I understand, Quine's naturalized epistemology is based on the idea that epistemological questions should be approached from the perspective of empirical science, rather than from the perspective of a priori philosophical analysis. In this sense, Quine's approach could be seen as a rejection of the "Myth of the Given," which is the idea that there are certain self-evident truths or foundational knowledge that can serve as the basis for all other knowledge. Instead, Quine's approach is based on the idea that all knowledge is ultimately based on our sensory experience of the world, and that this sensory experience can be studied and understood using the methods of empirical science.

As for the "Third Dogma of Empiricism," this is the idea that there is a sharp distinction between the sensory experiences that we have of the world (the "given") and the concepts and judgments that we form based on these sensory experiences. Quine rejects this idea, arguing instead that our sensory experiences and our conceptual frameworks are deeply intertwined and cannot be cleanly separated. In this sense, Quine's naturalized epistemology could be seen as providing a response to the "Third Dogma of Empiricism," by rejecting the idea of a fundamental divide between sensory experience and conceptual understanding.

It is worth noting, however, that Quine's naturalized epistemology does not completely reject the idea of a "given" in the sense of sensory experience. Quine does believe that our sensory experiences play a fundamental role in shaping our knowledge and understanding of the world. However, Quine rejects the idea that these sensory experiences can be considered to be self-evident or foundational, and instead sees them as being open to empirical investigation and analysis. In this sense, Quine's approach could be seen as providing a more nuanced and balanced view of the role of sensory experience in knowledge and understanding, one that avoids the pitfalls of both the "Myth of the Given" and the "Third Dogma of Empiricism."

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