[hist-analytic] RBJ's Proposal and and Hume's Fork

Bruce Aune aune at philos.umass.edu
Wed Feb 25 13:46:45 EST 2009

Hume’s Fork.”  RBJ’s description of his approach to the distinction  
seems very unpromising to me, and I’d like to say why.

RBJ proposed that a sentence appropriately disambiguated should be  
said to be analytic iff it expresses a necessary proposition, the  
latter being a proposition that is true is every possible world.  I  
think this is unpromising for the following reasons:

1.     1)  As Kripke pointed out, some propositions true in all  
possible worlds can be known to be true only by an inference from an  
empirically supported premise.  The prop expressed by “Cicero =  
Tully” is a familiar example.  Assuming that the names here are  
understood as rigid designators, we may say that the relevant  
proposition is necessary if it is true--and therefore necessary,  
bercause it is true-- but it is certainly not analytic.  Many  
necessary truths are therefor not analytic in a plausible sense of  

2.   2)  Many propositions claimed to be synthetic a priori truths by  
epistemological rationalists are generally acknowledged to be  
necessary, but anyone who thinks they are really analytic would  
generally be taken to have serious work to do.  One such proposition  
is expressed by “Nothing determinately blue on some region also has  
some other color there.”  I argue in my recent book that this should  
be considered analytic, but there is nothing trivial about the case I  
make for this claim.  I am convinced that I am right, but most  
rationalists would not share my conviction.

3.    3)   Useful conceptions of analytic truth purport to explain  
why analytic truths that are necessary have this further property.   
The statements (or “judgment”) covered by Kant’s conception give some  
indication of this.  If a predicate concept is contained in a subject  
concept in an affirmative way, anything in any world falling under  
the subject concept would be guaranteed to fall under the predicate  
concept because the latter is just one of the concepts it falls under  
if the subject is applicable to it.  This is why the statement is  
true in (or at) any possible world.

4.   4)  Hume’s epistemic fork was the doctrine that all truths  
concern either mere relations of ideas or matters of fact and  
existence.  The former are considered analytic by empiricists: their  
truth can be ascertained by “mere analysis” and does not, as Hume  
said, depend on anything that is anywhere existent in the universe  
(except the relevant ideas).  Matters of fact and existence are,  
empiricists emphasize, synthetic truths that can be known only by  
observation, memory, and “experimental” inference.  A conception of  
analytic truth can be considered plausible only if makes clear the  
kind of analysis that can plausibly show that a given analytic  
statement is indeed true and, if necessary as well, why it has this  
additional property.  I cannot see that the conception RBJ intends to  
develop has this plausibility.

Bruce Aune
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