[hist-analytic] From BRUCE AUNE: Quine and "the" a/s distinction

steve bayne baynesrb at yahoo.com
Mon Feb 2 17:27:15 EST 2009

Steve, Recent discussion among your group on "the" A/S distintion and Quine have prompted the following remarks.  Can you make them available to your group?Best, Bruce
seems to me that the contributors in your recent exchanges on
analyticity miss key points in Quine’s thought, early and late, about
analyticity.  I offer some comments of my own.As
I see it, Quine’s negative attitude toward an analytic/synthetic
distinction rested on two basis sorts of considerations, (1) the
inadequacy of known attempts to draw such a distinction, and (2)
general considerations about meaning and what it is reasonable to
accept as true.  Re (1).  Quine
thought that, for philosophical purpose, a conception of analytic truth
as truth by virtue of meaning was too vague to be taken seriously.  In
“Two Dogmas” (1953) he criticized three post-Kantian definitions of
analytic truth that purport to be reasonably precise. The first one he
criticized was essentially Frege’s, though he did not identify it as
such. (Frege claimed in his Foundations of Arithmetic
that his conception was an attempt to update Kant’s and to make an a/s
distinction applicable to complex statements having the logical
structures that can be specified by means of his new mathematical logic.)
Quine’s criticism was focused on the class of supposed analytic truths
that, like “No bachelor is married,” are not logically true.  According
to Frege, statements of this kind are analytic just when they can be
proved to be true by general logical laws and definitions.  Quine
described these statements a little differently, saying that they can
be turned into logical truths by “putting synonyms for synonyms,” the
synonyms being expressions (words, phrases) appearing in the definiens and definiendum of the relevant definitions.  If the definitions are acceptable, these expressions must
be “cognitively synonymous”: with the exception of poetic quality and
psychological associations, their meaning must be the same.  Quine’s criticism of this means of drawing an a/s distinction is based essentially on what he said about synonymy.
Quine considered two further definitions, or groups of them, but
neither, as he understood them, appeared to work for all cases or
provide the desired understanding.  One definition was Carnap’s, which Carnap explicitly applied to artificial, formal languages,
the idea being that a statement of such a language is analytic if its
truth is a consequence of the semantical rules laid down for that
language.  The other definition was based on the notion of empirical confirmation, although Quine related it to the Verification Theory of Meaning: An analytic statement is one that is “confirmed no matter what.”The
philosopher Quine admired most and took most seriously at the time of
Two Dogmas was Carnap; he made this clear later in the memorial remarks
he made about Carnap on the occasion of Carnap’s death and published in
the 1970 Proceedings of the AAPS.  As I explain
in my chapter on analyticity in my recent book, Carnap agreed with
Quine that a worthwhile a/s distinction could not be drawn for a
natural language.Forty years after he published “Two Dogmas..,” Quine published “Two
Dogmas in Retrospect.” In this later paper he summarized the more
generous attitude toward analyticity that he had expressed in some of
his later work.  According to this more generous attitude, “analyticity undeniably has a place at a common-sense level…  It
is intelligible and often useful in discussions,” he said, “to point
out that some disagreement is purely a matter of words rather than of
fact.”  A paraphrase that avoids a troublesome word can often resolve the disagreement.  Also, in talking with a foreigner we can sometimes recognize “some impasse
as due to his having mislearned an English word rather than to his
having a bizarre view of the subject matter.” To deal with such cases,
Quine offered what he called a “rough definition of analyticity.”  According
to this rough definition, a sentence is analytic for a native speaker
if he learned its truth by “learning the use of one or more of its
words.”  He improved on this rough definition by
“providing,” he said, “for deductive closure, so that truths deducible
from analytic ones by analytic steps would count as analytic in turn.”Quine
claimed that the augmented definition accommodates such sentences as
“No bachelor is married” and also the basic laws of logic.  “Anyone
who goes counter to modus ponens,” he said, or anyone “who affirms a
conjunction and denies one of its components, is simply flouting what
he learned in learning to use ‘if’ and ‘and.’”  (He limits this to native speakers, he said, because a foreigner could have learned our words indirectly by translation.)  Given the deductive closure qualification, he concluded that all logical truths in his sense—“that is, the logic of truth functions, quantification, and identity—would then perhaps qualify as analytic, in view of Gödel’s completeness proof.”A
little later in “Two Dogmas in Retrospect,” after expressing his
generous attitude toward analyticity, Quine becomes more negative,
saying “In fact my reservations over analyticity are the same as ever,
and they concern the tracing of any demarcation, even a vague and
approximate one, across the domain of sentences in general.”  By
“sentences in general” he means all sentences, not just the ones
expressing logical laws and truths such as “No bachelors are married.”
He supports this generally negative attitude with two reasons.  The first is that “we don’t in general know how we learned a word, nor what truths were learned in the process.”  The second is that we have no reason to expect uniformity in this matter of learning from speaker to speaker” (p. 271).If
the only truths we can reasonably claim to be analytic are those of
elementary logic and trivialities such as “Bachelors are unmarried
males,” then the concept of analytic truth does not have the importance
that empiricists take it to have.  This is Quine’s position, and of course it is right. Re (2).  In
“Two Dogmas” Quine claimed that empirical considerations might require
us to “give up” any statement, even a supposed logical truth such as
excluded middle.  But as he acknowledged in “Two Dogmas in
Retrospect,” giving up a statement may amount to changing its meaning
rather than a falsifying it.  (The learned community “gave
up” talking about lunatics as people suffering from lunar madness not
because they encountered counter instances but because they became
convinced that the term “lunatic” didn’t apply to anything: it became
useless for scientific purposes.)  In view of this I find
it very doubtful that by the time of “Two Dogmas in Retrospect (1991),”
Quine's continued opposition to a useful a/s distinction had anything
to do with his holism.  I believe that his attitude rested
mostly on the idea that the notion of cognitive meaning was inherently
unclear and that he could think of no promising way of drawing a
philosophically useful distinction.  In opposition to him, I try to draw one myself in my book, An Empiricist Theory of Knowledge.  As
I see it, the worthwhile questions to discuss in relation to an a/s
distinction are: "How, in detail, is it to be drawn?" and "Can it be
  Bruce Aune      
        hasEML = false;

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