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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Am 2587

W. V. Quine papers


Papers of Willard Van Orman Quine (1908-2000), mathematician and philosopher, who was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University from 1956 until his retirement in 1978.


  • 1908-2020

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English, German, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, and Italian.

Conditions Governing Access

A portion of this collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.

There are also a number of permanent restrictions that apply to portions of these papers as follows:
  1. The entire "Recommendations series" is restricted for 80 years (until the year 2068).
  2. Student files are restricted for 80 years from date of creation.
  3. Some Harvard University departmental files are restricted and fall under the Harvard University records 50-year restriction rule.
  4. Some outside agency files are restricted due to privacy concerns, and are restricted for 50 years from date of creation.
  5. Original audio materials and computer floppy disks are restricted until surrogates are produced for general use.


86 linear feet (154 boxes)
Papers include: professional correspondence and topical files; crank letters; requests for permission to publish Quine writings; declined invitations sent to Quine to lecture, referee, serve on a board, and write; editorial correspondence between Quine and publishers; Quine's notes and compositions for lectures, books, articles, teaching and work from his own student years; collected compositions written by others, most with annotations by Quine; biographical miscellany; card files; and ephemera, clippings, and photographs.

Also includes restricted files including: Quine's recommendations written for others along with resumes and correspondence; files about students; correspondence concerning the recommending and selection of candidates for teaching positions, awards, etc...; and some Harvard University departmental files.

Series I, the large, general correspondence series, includes many prominent correspondents in the world of 20th-century philosophy, and much conversation about departments at Harvard University and various philosophical societies and journals. Also, mixed within this series, are topical folders including letters and information about the main entry. It should be noted that Quine's correspondence often contained philosophical proofs, logical and mathematical symbols, and other philosophical expressions that appear more like working papers for his writings than simple letters. Many of the names featured in this correspondence series, also have entries in Series III, Compositons by others.

A few of the correspondents included in series I are: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Association, Association for Symbolic Logic, A. J. (Alfred Jules) Ayer, Rudolf Carnap, Noam Chomsky, Alonzo Church, Donald Davidson, Burton Dreben, Herbert Feigl, Dagfinn Føllesdal, Philipp Frank, P. T. (Peter Thomas) Geach, Roger F. Gibson, Nelson Goodman, Carl Gustav Hempel, Saul A. Kripke, Ernest LePore, Bryan Magee, Ruth Barcan Marcus, Charles W. (Charles William) Morris, Ernest Nagel, Jean Piaget, Charles Parsons, Michael Polanyi, Sir Karl Raimond Popper, Hilary Putnam, John Rawls, Richard Rorty, Bertrand Russell, Gilbert Ryle, B. F. (Burrhus Frederic) Skinner, J. J. C. (John Jamieson Carswell) Smart, P. F. Strawson, Alfred Tarski, Jean Van Heijenoort, Hao Wang, Alfred North Whitehead, J. O. (John Oulton) Wisdom, and many, many others.

Quine's compositions include: his own early course work and notes on classes taken at Oberlin College and at Harvard University; notes from later years; teaching materials, especially lectures materials for courses at Harvard; lecture materials for occasional lectures; and appointment calendars, clippings on his life, and a few other personal or family related items. There is very little personal correspondence, photographs or papers, as these were retained by the Quine family.

Series VIII, papers found with Quine books, includes: papers primarily concerning or related to Quine's trip to Japan in December 1996 to receive the Kyoto Prize for lifetime achievement in creative arts and moral sciences. Also included are: a printed book of poems kept and annotated by Quine from 1913-1922 and other personal items. Series X, additions to collection, includes material that corresponds to preceding series but has not been incorporated into them.

Biographical / Historical

W. V. (Willard Van Orman) Quine (1908-2000) was an American mathematician, logician, and philosopher, widely considered one of the dominant figures in Anglo-American philosophy in the last half of the 20th century.

Quine was born in Akron, Ohio on June 25, 1908 and attended Oberlin College where he received the B.A. in mathematics in 1930. He came to Harvard University as a graduate student in 1930 and remained affiliated with Harvard for the rest of his life. He completed his Ph.D. under Alfred North Whitehead in 1932 and spent 1932-1933 in Europe as a Sheldon Fellow. In 1933 he was elected to the first group of Junior Fellows of the Harvard Society of Fellows, was an instructor in philosophy from 1936 to 1941, associate professor from 1941-1948, and professor beginning in 1948. In 1956 he became the Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy at Harvard, a position he held until his retirement in 1978. He married his first wife in 1930, Naomi Clayton Quine, later divorced, and in 1948 married Marjorie Boynton Quine, who died in 1998. Quine died on December 25, 2000 and was survived by four children: Elizabeth Quine Roberts, Norma Quine, Douglas Quine, and Margaret Quine McGovern.

Quine's early research and writing mainly concerned logic; his efforts to simplify Bertrand Russell's theory of types probably led to his most important contribution to mathematical logic and culminated in his 1940 book Mathematical logic. During World War II, Quine worked in a U. S. Navy unit that decoded, translated, and analyzed coded messages from the German submarine fleet. After the war, he returned to teaching the Harvard introductory logic course Philosophy 140. This eventually led to his writing of the 1950 classic text book, Methods of logic.

His major contribution to the philosophical world begins with "his criticism of the distinction between analytic and synthetic truths" in his 1951 Two dogmas of empiricism. This early work was summarized in his 1953 collection From a logical point of view. Quine's thought throughout the 1950s "worked toward a more systematic view," best presented in his 1960 Word and object , dealing with the "meaning, knowledge of meaning, and reference from a naturalistic point of view...a treatise on the philosophy of language, epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of science..."

Quine produced much work throughout the 1960s through the 1980s and even into the 1990s when he was in his ninetieth year. Some of his more important titles were: Ontological relativity and other essays (1969), The roots of reference (1974), Theories and things (1981), Pursuit of truth (1990), and Stimulus to science (1995).

He was briefly the chairman of his department at Harvard, president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in 1957, and president of the Association for Symbolic Logic from 1953-1955. He was a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows from 1948-1978, received seventeen honorary degrees, the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy in 1993, and the Kyoto Prize in 1996.

Source: Willard van Orman Quine. Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Science Memorial Minute, 2002.


Organized into the following series:
  1. I. General correspondence with Quine
  2. II. Other correspondence with Quine
  3. A. Correspondence concerning requests for permission to publish or for copies
  4. B. Invitations to lecture, declined
  5. C. Invitations to referee or serve on board, declined
  6. D. Invitations to write, declined
  7. E. Crank letters sent to Quine
  8. F. Editorial correspondence with publishers and editors regarding Quine publications
  9. G. Recommendations [Restricted until 2068]
  10. III. Compositions by others
  11. IV. Compositions by Quine
  12. A. Articles and other short texts
  13. B. Books and other long texts
  14. C. Occasional lectures
  15. D. Harvard lectures and other teaching materials
  16. E. Abortive writings and miscellaneous notes
  17. F. Computer floppy disks
  18. G. Unidentified compositions by Quine
  19. V. Quine student papers
  20. A. Oberlin College
  21. B. Harvard University
  22. C. Miscellaneous early papers
  23. VI. Biographical materials
  24. VII. Card files
  25. A. 3 x 5 inch card files
  26. 1. Harvard University lectures
  27. 2. Other note cards
  28. B. 4 x 6 inch card files files
  29. 2. Other note cards
  30. VIII. Papers found with books
  31. IX. Framed map
  32. X. Additions to collection

Physical Location

Harvard Depository, pf, Vault

Other Finding Aids

See itemized list on paper for Addition to collection, Accession 2021M-34, created by W. V. Quine's son, Douglas B. Quine, in the curatorial file; consult Public Services staff for access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

91M-68, 91M-69, 91M-70, 94M-35. Gift of W. V. (Willard Van Orman) Quine; received: 1991 November 25 and December; 1992 January; and 1994 November 2.

93M-157. Transferred from the Harvard University Archives; originally gift to HUA from W. V. (Willard Van Orman) Quine; received in Houghton: 1993 December 14.

2001M-7, 2002M-5. Gift of the Quine family (via Douglas B. Quine, 59 Taylor Road, Bethel, Connecticut 06801); received: 2001 July 23; and 2002 August 6 and December 24.

2005M-43. Item (674) gift of Ruth Barcan Marcus, Department of Philosophy, Yale University, P.O. Box 208306, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8306; received: 2006 March 9.

2012M-100. Gift of the Quine family (via Douglas B. Quine, 59 Taylor Road, Bethel, Connecticut 06801); received: 2001 July 23. These items were uncovered in January of 2013, during the full cataloging of the Quine books donated to the Houghton library. 2021M-34. Gift of Douglas B. Quine, Ph.D., 2020 October.

Related Materials

Readers should note that some manuscript material and most of the family archives have been retained by the Quine family.

For additional information concerning Quine see: Quine, W. V. (Willard Van Orman). The time of my life : an autobiography. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985. Home page for Willard Van Orman Quine , maintained by his son, Douglas Boynton Quine.
  • Quine, W. V. (Willard Van Orman). The time of my life : an autobiography. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985.
  • Home page for Willard Van Orman Quine , maintained by his son, Douglas Boynton Quine.

Processing Information

Processed by: Bonnie B. Salt and Peter K. Steinberg.

Quine's papers arrived at the repository in excellent order and, for the most part, his original series and folder titles have been retained.

Link to catalog
Quine, W. V. (Willard Van Orman). W. V. Quine papers, circa 1908-2020: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Description rules
Cataloging partially funded by the Francis P. Scully and Robert G. Scully Class of 1951 Fund.

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library's holdings of primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars, students and the public in the reading room.

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