Quiddities / Edition 1

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Overview

The appellation "polymath" is often lightly bestowed, but it can be applied with confidence to the celebrated philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine. Quine's areas of interest are panoramic, as this lively book amply demonstrates.

Moving from A (alphabet) to Z (zero), Quiddities roams through more than eighty topics, each providing a full measure of piquant thought, wordplay, and wisdom, couched in easy and elegant prose--"Quine at his unbuttoned best," in Donald Davidson's words. Philosophy, language, and mathematics are the subjects most fully represented; tides of entries include belief, communication, free will, idiotisms, longitude and latitude, marks, prizes, Latin pronunciation, tolerance, trinity. Even the more technical entries are larded with homely lore, anecdote, and whimsical humor.

Quiddities will be a treat for admirers of Quine and for others who like to think, who care about language, and who enjoy the free play of intellect on topics large and small. For this select audience, it is an ideal book for browsing.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times

[Quiddities] is infused with a deadpan humor that can lighten up even the most austere subjects...At almost every turn there are cheerful ripples of wordplay...These pieces are distinguished by good sense and, at many points, sardonic wit.
— John Gross

Wall Street Journal

Mr. Quine is an intellectual—high, wide and handsome—opening his mind to the rest of us here in a way that exemplifies the best of what a first-rate mind can do when aiming to explain himself to non specialists in mostly nontechinical language...Every phrase in this book is a condensation of ideas usually stated at greater length, but Mr. Quine has the gift of turning the complex into the conversational without sanding off the edges. Often he sounds like the world's most intelligent stand-up comic...It is impossible in this space to exhibit the full Quinian magic, the magnificent command of reasoning, pace, rhetoric and humor—how in two pages he considers the traditional arguments justifying altruism as self-interest and finds them wanting.
— Raymond Sokolov

Nature

Quiddities is the work of an author who has faith in his own idiosyncratic enthusiasms. Ranging from lucid expositions of philosophical topics that are central to the fields that have intrigued him throughout his career—particularly logic and the philosophy of mathematics...Quiddities will serve as a superb introduction to central issues in contemporary thinking about logic, mathematics, language and science, an introduction that may lead [one] on to appreciation of Quine's half century of seminal writings. Aficionados will enjoy the witty reformulations of familiar themes and find a bonus in learning about the quintessential quirkiness of natural language.
— Philip Kitcher

The Economist
A chief pleasure of reading these essays lies in their unexpected connections. A path through the side-alleys of cross-reference in Quiddities draws a revealing map of Mr. Quine's interests...Few people apart from Mr. Quine could write a sensible and informative essay on Things in two-and-a-half pages.
London Review of Books

Quine is not only a great philosopher, but also a master of the English language and a genuine polymath...Anyone who wants to encounter a great philosophical mind in a less technical mood, and to get some feeling for Quine as a peerless companion, raconteur, and amused commentator on the passing show...cannot do better than to read this book.
— Hilary Putnam

Boston Globe

Quiddities, according to Western, are the essential qualities of things: or, trifling distinctions, quibbles. Quiddities also is the playful title of a book of essays by W.V. Quine, the eminent analytical philosopher and emeritus professor at Harvard...But now, in this 80th year, he has produced a small entertainment—he calls it 'frivolous'—that represents a departure from his customary highly specialized books...Quine writes with grace, wit and precision, and for those who enjoy word play and mind stretching, much of [the book] is intellectual fun. [It] is organized alphabetically from Alphabet to Zero, and contains essays, besides the previously mentioned two, on such other diverse subjects as freedom, gambling and truth.
— Charles E. Claffey

New York Times Book Review
The book is infused with a deadpan humor that can light up even the most austere subjects...At almost every turn there are cheerful ripples of wordplay, as in the title, which at various times has meant essence, a subtle distinction and a quibble.
New York Times - John Gross
[Quiddities] is infused with a deadpan humor that can lighten up even the most austere subjects...At almost every turn there are cheerful ripples of wordplay...These pieces are distinguished by good sense and, at many points, sardonic wit.
Wall Street Journal - Raymond Sokolov
Mr. Quine is an intellectual--high, wide and handsome--opening his mind to the rest of us here in a way that exemplifies the best of what a first-rate mind can do when aiming to explain himself to non specialists in mostly nontechinical language...Every phrase in this book is a condensation of ideas usually stated at greater length, but Mr. Quine has the gift of turning the complex into the conversational without sanding off the edges. Often he sounds like the world's most intelligent stand-up comic...It is impossible in this space to exhibit the full Quinian magic, the magnificent command of reasoning, pace, rhetoric and humor--how in two pages he considers the traditional arguments justifying altruism as self-interest and finds them wanting.
Boston Globe - Charles E. Claffey
Quiddities, according to Western, are the essential qualities of things: or, trifling distinctions, quibbles. Quiddities also is the playful title of a book of essays by W.V. Quine, the eminent analytical philosopher and emeritus professor at Harvard...But now, in this 80th year, he has produced a small entertainment--he calls it 'frivolous'--that represents a departure from his customary highly specialized books...Quine writes with grace, wit and precision, and for those who enjoy word play and mind stretching, much of [the book] is intellectual fun. [It] is organized alphabetically from Alphabet to Zero, and contains essays, besides the previously mentioned two, on such other diverse subjects as freedom, gambling and truth.
London Review of Books - Hilary Putnam
Quine is not only a great philosopher, but also a master of the English language and a genuine polymath...Anyone who wants to encounter a great philosophical mind in a less technical mood, and to get some feeling for Quine as a peerless companion, raconteur, and amused commentator on the passing show...cannot do better than to read this book.
Arthur C. Danto
This is Quine distilled. There is the marvelously elegant style, the effortless wit, the philosophical authority, and the gleeful display of a quirky and exact learning...Quine expresses himself through smart obiter dicta on philosophical topics seldom addressed in his more austere texts. This could be a cult book for a very sophisticated audience, the kind that reads Fowler for pleasure and Dr. Johnson's dictionary for brilliance.
Nature - Philip Kitcher
Quiddities is the work of an author who has faith in his own idiosyncratic enthusiasms. Ranging from lucid expositions of philosophical topics that are central to the fields that have intrigued him throughout his career--particularly logic and the philosophy of mathematics...Quiddities will serve as a superb introduction to central issues in contemporary thinking about logic, mathematics, language and science, an introduction that may lead [one] on to appreciation of Quine's half century of seminal writings. Aficionados will enjoy the witty reformulations of familiar themes and find a bonus in learning about the quintessential quirkiness of natural language.
New York Times
[Quiddities] is infused with a deadpan humor that can lighten up even the most austere subjects...At almost every turn there are cheerful ripples of wordplay...These pieces are distinguished by good sense and, at many points, sardonic wit.
— John Gross
Wall Street Journal
Mr. Quine is an intellectual--high, wide and handsome--opening his mind to the rest of us here in a way that exemplifies the best of what a first-rate mind can do when aiming to explain himself to non specialists in mostly nontechinical language...Every phrase in this book is a condensation of ideas usually stated at greater length, but Mr. Quine has the gift of turning the complex into the conversational without sanding off the edges. Often he sounds like the world's most intelligent stand-up comic...It is impossible in this space to exhibit the full Quinian magic, the magnificent command of reasoning, pace, rhetoric and humor--how in two pages he considers the traditional arguments justifying altruism as self-interest and finds them wanting.
— Raymond Sokolov
Nature
Quiddities is the work of an author who has faith in his own idiosyncratic enthusiasms. Ranging from lucid expositions of philosophical topics that are central to the fields that have intrigued him throughout his career--particularly logic and the philosophy of mathematics...Quiddities will serve as a superb introduction to central issues in contemporary thinking about logic, mathematics, language and science, an introduction that may lead [one] on to appreciation of Quine's half century of seminal writings. Aficionados will enjoy the witty reformulations of familiar themes and find a bonus in learning about the quintessential quirkiness of natural language.
— Philip Kitcher
London Review of Books
Quine is not only a great philosopher, but also a master of the English language and a genuine polymath...Anyone who wants to encounter a great philosophical mind in a less technical mood, and to get some feeling for Quine as a peerless companion, raconteur, and amused commentator on the passing show...cannot do better than to read this book.
— Hilary Putnam
Boston Globe
Quiddities, according to Western, are the essential qualities of things: or, trifling distinctions, quibbles. Quiddities also is the playful title of a book of essays by W.V. Quine, the eminent analytical philosopher and emeritus professor at Harvard...But now, in this 80th year, he has produced a small entertainment--he calls it 'frivolous'--that represents a departure from his customary highly specialized books...Quine writes with grace, wit and precision, and for those who enjoy word play and mind stretching, much of [the book] is intellectual fun. [It] is organized alphabetically from Alphabet to Zero, and contains essays, besides the previously mentioned two, on such other diverse subjects as freedom, gambling and truth.
— Charles E. Claffey
Library Journal
The playful nature of this book is evident not only in its subtitle but in its title as well: quiddities can be either essences or inessentials. The 80-odd entries (alphabet to zero) give us a relaxed, informal Quine speaking his mind unfettered by the exigencies of the active professoriat (he is professor emeritus, Harvard). For the most part, the entries deal with philosophical, linguistic, and mathematical issues ( altruism, beauty, freedom, identity, phonemes, real numbers), but there are also discussions of gambling, gender, and universal library and of neologisms (mathematosis, misling). This mixed bag will interest sophisticated readers; philosophers, while delighting in the free play of a fine intellect, may secretly wish for more depth. Leon H. Brody, U. S. Office of Personnel Management Lib., Washington, D.C.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674743526
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/7/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 262
  • Product dimensions: 0.59 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

W. V. Quine was Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University. He wrote twenty-one books, thirteen of them published by Harvard University Press.
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Table of Contents

Alphabet

Altruism

Anomaly

Artificial Languages

Atoms

Beauty

Belief

Classes versus Properties

Classes versus Sets

Communication

Complex Numbers

Consonant Clusters

Constructivism

Copula

Creation

Decimals and Dimidials

Definition

Discreteness

Etymology

Euphemism

Excluded Middle

Extravagance

Fermat's Last Theorem

Formalism

Freedom

Free Will

Functions

Future

Gambling

Gender

Godel's Theorem

Ideas

Identity

Idiotisms

Impredicativity

Infinite Numbers

Inflection

Information

Kinship of Words

Knowledge

Language Drift

Language Reform

Latin Pronunciation

Lines

Longitude and Latitude

Marks

Mathematosis

Meaning

Mind versus Body

Misling

Natural Numbers

Necessity

Negation

Paradoxes

Phonemes

Plurals

Predicate Logic

Prediction

Prefixes

Prizes

Pronunciation

Real Numbers

Recursion

Redundancy

Reference, Reification

Rhetoric

Semantic Switch

Senses of Words

Singular Terms

Space-Time

Syntax

Things

Tolerance

Trinity

Truth

Type versus Token

Units

Universal Library

Universals

Usage and Abusage

Use versus Mention

Variables

Zero

Index

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