I first encountered Quine's argument for the indeterminacy of translation in a class at Berkeley last year on the theory of meaning. I feel somewhat more confident in tackling this problem after having read Kripke's Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language, which presents a similarly sceptical argument in the guise of a novel re-working of Wittgenstein's rule-following considerations from the Philosophical Investigations. In particular, I have a firmer understanding of precisely why Searle's response to Quine doesn't quite work.
Searle's response is in the time-honoured tradition of philosophical foot-stamping, which is in itself not a bad thing - much of the best philosophy involves reminding ourselves of the bleeding obvious in interesting and nuanced ways. Searle's strategy is to remind ourselves that we obviously know what we mean from the first-person perspective - that is, when we loosen Quine's artificially behaviouristic constraints on the thought experiment. Now I think that Searle is entirely right about this. Surely nothing could be more certain than the fact that when I say 'rabbit' I mean 'rabbit', not 'rabbit stage' or 'undetached rabbit part'. The tricky part is trying to work out from whence this certainty derives. We can look in one of two places: 'inside' the head, for some kind of self-interpreting mental fact that fixes meaning; or 'outside' the head, in normatively structured social and linguistic practices. Searle opts for the former, but Kripke's WRPL brilliantly shows such an attempt to ground meaning in mental states are doomed to fail.
More on this in a follow-up post.