Article: Sophie R. Allen, Can Theoretical Underdetermination support the Indeterminacy of Translation?

Can Theoretical Underdetermination support the Indeterminacy of Translation?
Revisiting Quine’s ‘Real Ground’

It is commonly believed that Quine’s principal argument for the Indeterminacy of
Translation requires an untenably strong account of the underdetermination of theories
by evidence, namely that that two theories may be compatible with all possible
evidence for them and yet incompatible with each other. In this article, I argue that
Quine’s conclusion that translation is indeterminate can be based upon the weaker,
uncontroversial conception of theoretical underdetermination, in conjunction with
a weak reading of the ‘Gavagai’ argument which establishes the underdetermination
of the sense and reference of subsentential terms. If underdetermination is considered
to be a widespread phenomenon in science, or in inductive reasoning more
generally, then the Indeterminacy of Translation will be widespread too. Finally, I
briefly consider two issues concerning the scope of this conclusion about the
Indeterminacy of Translation: first, whether the argument presupposes behaviourism;
and second, whether indeterminacy is restricted to the case of radical translation.
I argue that the answer to both these questions is negative, and thus that the thesis of
semantic indeterminacy remains relevant to those who disagree with Quine about
some issues concerning the nature of mind and language.