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[Kyoto, 12 November 1996]
There surely was plenty of good philosophy, but most lay people left wondering what is so good about all that. Such was the case with "Language, Holism, and Naturalism," workshop held on occasion of W. V. O. Quine's visit to Japan to receive the 12th Kyoto Prize for Creative Arts and Moral Sciences, which took place on Tuesday afternoon at Kyoto International Conference Hall, located in the northern suburb of Japan's ancient capital. Some three hundred people gathered in a spacious room with futuristic interior typical of Japanese architecture in 1970s, to participate in a lively discussion of main themes of Quine's philosophy, or at least just to see what the celebrated philosopher and logician in his late eighties look like.
It is difficult to talk philosophy to a large and mixed audience. If you choose too elementary a subject, it will disappoint your fellow philosophers. If you talk about what you are really interested in, you can never be sure somebody will understand you. The speakers at the workshop all seemed to have decided bravely to grasp the second horn of the dilemma.
Quine's own commemorative lecture -- perhaps inevitably -- sounded much like a synopsis of his latest book, From Stimulus to Science (Harvard 1995). The arguments might have been predictable to those familiar with his ideas, but they seemed hardly accessible to undergraduates and interested lay persons that constituted about half of the audience.
Quine remained seated during his lecture, but he looked in a remarkably good shape for his age. He was quick enough in responding to questions and making comments to the papers presented following his lecture by four Japanese scholars.
The discussion, on the whole, was lively and well focused on specific points, but (or maybe for that very reason) it failed to give novices and amateurs a feeling that they are listening to something worth trying hard to understand. Many people left their seats during (or even before) the tea break and never came back. They must have had the impression that they were with creatures from a different planet. I hope this experience will not discourage them from doing philosophy in their own ways.
The following were the speakers and the titles of lectures:
W. V. O. Quine, "Instinct, Reification, and Extensionality"
Takashi Iida (Chiba University), "Number and Individuation"
Nobuharu Tanji (Tokyo Metropolitan University), "Theory-Ladenness of Observation Sentences"
Kenzo Hamano (Nagoya Institute of Technology), "Naturalism and Norms"
Yasuhiko Tomida (Kyoto University), "Reification and Naturalism"
Here is a website dedicated to Quine, maintained by his son, Dr. Douglas Boynton Quine.