Quine is a representative of the analytic philosophy, a naturalist, a materialist, a robust realist, an empiricist, and a behaviourist.

Additionnally, Quine is often regarded as a pragmatist (Godfrey‐Smith, 2014):

W.V. Quine is often regarded as a pragmatist philosopher1.

Note 1: See, for example, Richard Creath's introduction to Dear Carnap, Dear Van (1990): "There are three other themes in Quine's work that should be highlighted: pragmatism, holism, and naturalism, of which the most basic is the first." See also Haack (2006) and Murphy (1990) for discussions of his affinities with the pragmatist tradition. For a summary of how he has been categorized, see Koskinen and Pihlström (2006).

Here a simple definition of pragmatism, to be sure the discussion is surrouding the same concept:

Pragmatism: an approach that evaluates theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.

(from Oxford Languages - Google Search)

Two questions:

(1) It can be said that Quine "stood in the pragmatist tradition in some respects" (Geoffrey Thomas, in SE). In which respects does Quine is a pragmatist, and in which respects is he not a pragmatist?

(2) In particular, would Quine disagree with this statement from Bertrand Russell "...it seems to me a fundamental dishonesty to hold a belief because is useful and not because is true." (cited by PunkZebra)


Godfrey‐Smith, P. (2014). Quine and pragmatism. A companion to WVO Quine, 54-68.

  • 2
    I see a lot of questions about categorizing this or that philosopher, or applying this or that label to him or her, but I was wondering if it is so useful. They all probably have nuanced thoughts that are hard to classify and can evolve with time. I find ti more profitable to work with their texts and ideas directly rather than trying to classify them with soundbite labels.
    – Frank
    Feb 6 at 14:55
  • Even supplying a definition for "pragmatism" is not so helpful, I think: it feels normative, but philosophers are going to deploy their thought systems regardless of how any dictionary defines this or that.
    – Frank
    Feb 6 at 14:56
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    @Frank Please don't take the following comment personnally. Categorization has existed for a lot of good reasons for a very long time, since Aristotle, and is used in many fields. In linguistics, one could argue that categorization is the kenet activity of researchers. One will always finds people to oppose to categorization as if they were on the "human", the "nuanced" side, etc. But science and knowledge is very about synthesizing, indentifying, labeling, etc. and categorization is all that.
    – Starckman
    Feb 6 at 15:23
  • Categorization doesn't impede the researcher to being nuanced. See Mauro's answer below, we can not say that it is not nuanced.
    – Starckman
    Feb 6 at 15:23
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    Pretty much every pragmatist will agree with Russell's statement. It was a reaction to James's rather inartful motto of "truth is what works", for which he was excoriated by Peirce and others. If this is meant as giving the idea of what pragmatism is it is entirely out of place.
    – Conifold
    Feb 6 at 21:59

1 Answer 1


Quine was not a member of some "official pragmatist school", but here are some references supporting the consonance of Quine's thought with pragmatism.

C.I. Lewis was one of Quine’s teachers at Harvard (see Murray Murphey, The Development of Quine's Philosophy (Springer, 2012), page xiii).

And see Quine's 1950 Harvard conference The Entangled Philosophies of Mathematics (reprinted in Quine, Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionalist and Other Essays (2008), page 157):

Certainly pragmatism does seem to be our method in foundations of set theory. [...] What is the pragmatic justification of mathematical principles? Utility of mathematics is as auxiliary to empirical science. From a pragmatist’s point of view mathematics is neither more nor less right than it is convenient as an adjunct of science. The function of science as a whole may be taken to be prediction of experience.

In general, Quine's naturalism is quite similar to e.g. James' pragmatism:

Quine does not see scientific knowledge as different in kind from our ordinary knowledge; he sees it, rather, as the result of attempts to improve our ordinary knowledge of the world: “Science is not a substitute for common sense but an extension of it.” (1957, 229). The scientist, he says, “is indistinguishable from the common man in his sense of evidence, except that the scientist is more careful.” (1957, 233). We might add that the scientist is more narrowly focused on issues of truth and objectivity and, in the hope of contributing to these goals, clearer and more systematic.

See also Robert Sinclair, On Quine’s Debt to Pragmatism: C.I. Lewis and the Pragmatic A Priori as well as Quine, Conceptual Pragmatism, and the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction (20229.

  • Thank you very much. I added the definition of pragmatism to my post
    – Starckman
    Feb 6 at 13:42
  • Quine, in Two Dogmas of Empiricism, pointed out that NO language is capable of supporting the absolutes needed for analyticity. He concluded that analyticity is refuted by its own tenets. He tried to argue that all analytic knowledge is in stead synthetic. But this argument is itself ANALYTIC, and relies upon absolutes. IE "truth" is not possible outside of "useful". A more thoroughgoing pragmatism on Quine's part would have shown him that the analytic/synthetic division is USEFUL, even if not ALWAYS true, hence his final conclusion (no difference) was not pragmatically valid.
    – Dcleve
    Feb 6 at 20:10

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