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Quine on Objects: Realism or Anti-Realism?



W. V. Quine describes himself as a “robust realist” about physical objects in the external world. This realism about objects is due to Quine's naturalism. On the other hand, Quine's naturalistic epistemology involves a conception of objects as posits that we introduce in our theories about the world. This conception of objects can be seen as anti-realist rather than realist. In this article, I discuss the questions whether there is a tension between Quine's realism and his epistemological conception of objects, and how Quine's conception of objects should be understood if he is also to be regarded as a realist. I also address the question whether Quine should be placed on the realist or the anti-realist side of the current realism debate. I argue that Quine's conception of objects as posits is a general account of the nature of objects, and that this account does not conflict with Quine's realism as long as this realism is properly understood. I also argue that Quine cannot be placed on either side of the contemporary realism debate, since his realism is not metaphysical realism and his conception of objects is not an anti-realist doctrine according to which objects would be less than real.