A traditional empiricist dogma: there exist theory-independent standards
" In which respects is Quine's philosophy a continuation of orthodox empiricism, and in which respects is it something different?
In this paper I isolate an idea in Quine which continues an old line of empiricist thought, and I argue against this idea. The idea is as follows:

  • D: Thought and theory aim to accommodate experience. There is a single goal, "accommodating experience," which is independent of the actual content of the theories by which the accommodation is done. So very different theories of the world can be assessed according to the same standard, with respect to whether they succeed in accommodating experience or not.
This idea is a traditional assumption for empiricism, especially in its 20th century forms. It often goes unexamined, or is considered a fairly minor premise in empiricist argument. But it is a hard idea to defend, once it is explicitly challenged. So it would be fair to call this a "dogma" of empiricism.
It is a dogma that some empiricists, such as Quine, retain, even when other dogmas are given up. "

An alternative: theory-bound standards
" An alternative to D is the view that theories do function to make sense of experience, but the standards for successful accommodation, or "making  sense," of experience are theory-bound. A view of the world will often carry with it a set of standards and goals, a set of criteria for when the phenomena have been "saved." One way to deny D is to hold that theories of the world carry with them their own standards for the proper relation between theory and experience.
The close connection between theories of the world's contents and views about what relation theories should have to experience is one famous theme in Kuhn's
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970).
Kuhn uses scientific examples (such as the debates about the non-mechanical nature of
Newton's theory of gravity). "

The relation between experience and theory.
" One part of Quine's overall view which depends on D is his "global structuralism." According to global structuralism, scientific theories describe the structure of experience. What might lie behind this structure is irrelevant to the operation of science. Consequently, although a scientific theory might appear to make essential reference to external physical objects, or to some other particular ontology, this apparent reference is not relevant to what the theory does qua scientific theory. We could reinterpret the theory, substituting another ontology, and the evidential support for the theory would be unaltered. Save the structure and you save all. [ ] Quine's structuralism requires that one particular relation between theory and experience is characteristic of science. [ ] The relation between experience and theory that Quine makes use of is a fairly traditional empiricist or positivist one. On this view, the function of theory is to generalize about patterns in experience. The aim is to subsume particular experienced events into patterns; to unify many aspects of experience under a few abstract principles and laws. This is a view in which prediction is central. [ ] In strong forms, this view holds claims that explanation in science is structurally iden tical with prediction; it is simply the deduction of particular phenomena from statements of initial conditions and laws. "

Relations and ontologies
" My argument is not that Quine has a mistaken view of "the" important relation between theory and experience. The point is that there is not a single such relation, but rather a multiplicity. Further, conceptions of
how theory relates to experience are associated with theories of the world itself. What you think theories should do can depend, in part, on what you think the world contains. "


I]f we transform the range of objects of our science in any one-to-one fashion, by reinterpreting our terms and predicates as applying to the new objects instead of the old ones, the entire evidential support for our science will remain undisturbed. The conclusion is that there can be no evidence for one ontology as over against another, so long anyway as we can express a one-to- one correlation between them. Save the structure and you save all.

Quine, "
Structure and  Nature" , Journal of Philosophy 89, 5-9.

Can Quine justify structuralism ?