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

Rogério Passos Severo rpsevero at gmail.com
Fri Feb 6 06:12:24 EST 2009


Dear Bruce,

Thank you for your interesting message! Near the end of your comments
you wrote: "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."

But in that essay, Quine wrote: "In short, I recognize the notion of
analyticity in its obvious and useful but epistemologically
insignificant applications. The needs that Carnap felt for the notion
in connection with mathematical truth are better met through
holism..." (p. 271)

So I'm afraid I have to take exception to what you wrote in your
message. In 1991 Quine presents holism as an alternative to
analyticity. If known attempts at drawing the a/s distinction are
inadequate, then one has two choices: (1) to keep on searching for an
adequate distinction, or (2) to ditch the distinction and find an
alternative. Quine's negative attitude toward analyticity stem not
only from the fact that he thought known attempts at drawing the
distinction were inadequate ("epistemologically insignificant"), but
also from the fact that he thought he had a better alternative, which
is holism. If he had no alternative, do you think his attitude toward
the a/s distinction would be as negative as they are?

Best wishes,
--Rogério


> 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 defended?"
>
> Bruce Aune



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