"Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why." - Bernard Baruch

Tag: empiricism

Argument Analysis & Evaluation #4: Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”

Question(s):
a) What is the analytic/synthetic distinction? Explain Quine’s criticism of it. What, precisely, is Quine’s conclusion about the distinction?
b) Consider the consequences of Quine’s argument. One of his key claims is that no clear, satisfactory sense can be made of “cognitive synonymy.” If this is true, it would seem that no sense can be made of the expression “P means the same as Q.” Do you buy this? Press Quine on this point.

The rise of empiricism began in the early 1920’s, as logical positivists, particularly those in the Vienna Circle, sought out to formulate a criterion that would determine the meaningfulness of expressions via empirical verification. With verificationism being the central thesis of logical positivism, the project suffered a rapid decline soon after the publication of Willard Van Orman Quine’s paper Two Dogmas of Empiricism in 1951​, which rendered it untenable. One of Quine’s main purposes for writing this piece was to attack the belief of a distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, the first of the two dogmas. In this essay, I shall outline Quine’s conclusions about this distinction and elaborate on his criticism of it. Furthermore, I shall argue Quine’s claim that; no clear, satisfactory sense can be made of “cognitive synonymy.”

Quine’s begins his work with the claim that the first dogma is ill-founded. He further suggests that to successfully establish a cleavage between analytic and synthetic statements, one must first be able to define analyticity. He elaborates on Kant’s views of analyticity which after revision, regards a statement as being analytic when it is true in virtue of meaning alone and is independent of fact. Quine states that to pursue this notion of analyticity, it must first be clarified what is meant by “meaning”, which must not be confused with naming. He makes this clarification by introducing the terms intension and extension. He states that the extension of a singular term is the object it names and of a general term or predicate, the set of objects of which they are true. To show this, he uses the example of the general terms “creature with a heart” and “creature with a kidney”, which are true of the same object, that is, they share an extension, but are unlike in meaning which Quine regards as the intension. In making this clear distinction between reference and meaning, he suggests that this “theory of meaning” which is of interest when giving an account for analyticity, can be explained by the synonymy of linguistic forms. For this reason, intensions need not be defined so long as an account for synonymy can be given. He clarifies further that there are two classes of analyticity. The first class being “logical truths”, or statements that are true in virtue of the meaning of their terms, and are independent of fact. For example, statements like “no unmarried man is married”, is true simply in virtue of the logical particles occurring in it, and need no further explanation. The second class of analyticity however, turns statements into logical truths by replacing synonyms for synonyms, and is one that needs further explanation as it demands a notion of synonymy, not previously understood. For this reason, Quine devotes the majority of his piece to trying to give an account for synonymy, which if done successfully, would be sufficient for solidifying the notion of analyticity. He begins the process of defining synonymy with looking at three different definitions of it; lexicographical (dictionary), explication (contextual), both of which are descriptive and hinge on prior relationships of synonymy, and stipulation (logical operators), which is dependent on formulating artificial languages and can only deliver analyticity in a logical sense. He quickly discards this idea of definition, and turns to interchangeability (intersubstitutivity), to provide a sufficient account for synonymy. It is a natural thought to regard the synonymy of two terms as their ability to substitute one another in a sentence while preserving truth value, otherwise known as ​salva veritate. F​ or example, the terms “bachelor” and “unmarried man” are interchangeable in that if they were to substitute one another in any sentence, the truth value of the expression would not change. However, the question of whether interchangeability salva veritate is a strong enough condition for synonymy still remains, as there may still be a possibility that some non-synonymous expressions may be interchangeable. For this reason, Quine clarifies that the synonymy which is of interest when trying to define analyticity is not “synonymy in the sense of complete identity in psychological associations or poetic quality”, but rather what he calls “cognitive synonymy”. He states that what is needed for successfully defining analyticity is an account of cognitive synonymy not presupposing analyticity, which he attempts to give in two ways. The first is with necessity; he derives that using words like necessarily in statements does capture cognitive synonymy, as statements of the form “Necessarily all and only Fs are Gs”, makes F and G cognitively synonymous. However, a statement like this just says that “All and only Fs are Gs”, which in turn is analytic. For this reason an account of analyticity in terms of necessity is circular. A language containing intensional adverbs such as “necessarily”, supports interchangeability salva veritate and is sufficient for defining cognitive synonymy, but such a language is only intelligible if the notion of analyticity is understood in advance. Therefore, interchangeability salva veritate is only meaningful, when applied to an extensional language, where any two predicates agree extensionally, that is, are true of the same objects. With this in mind, the second way Quine attempts to give an account of cognitive synonymy not presupposing analyticity is with extensional equivalence. To say that “F and G are extensionally equivalent”, is to say that “All and only Fs are Gs”. Although it is a fact that all and only creatures with hearts are creatures with kidneys, the terms “creature with a heart” and “creature with kidneys” aren’t cognitively synonymous. For this reason, extensional equivalence doesn’t capture the notion of cognitive synonymy, or “sameness of meaning” that is required for explaining analyticity. Thus, a language in which interchangeability salva veritate is sufficient for cognitive synonymy must be even “richer” than a purely extensional language. As mentioned previously, such language must include words like “necessarily” which can’t be clearly understood without a predetermined sense of analyticity. Conclusively, the entire project of attempting to define analyticity in terms of cognitive synonymy is circular. In having derived this, Quine takes a final approach at defining analyticity in terms of semantical rules, which proves to be insufficient as appealing to semantical rules of a language (logic), like mentioned previously, only explains analyticity in a logical sense, and fails to do so for any other language. Having proven unsuccessful in providing a notion for analyticity, Quine makes the claim that; “A boundary between analytic and synthetic statements simply has not been drawn. That there is such a distinction to be drawn at all is an unempirical dogma of empiricists, a metaphysical article of faith”. His argument here, is that the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements does not exist and that the notion of analyticity should entirely be rejected.

Quine’s argument regarding the first dogma of empiricism, despite having made remarkable contributions to analytic philosophy, appears somewhat unstable and contains implications that generate large amounts of uncertainty. Mainly, it conflicts greatly with what is widely accepted as rational. One of Quine’s key claims is that no clear, satisfactory sense can be made of “cognitive synonymy” due to his failed attempt to define it, which lead him to the rejection of analyticity as a whole. However, this skepticism about synonymy leads to an overall skepticism about meaning. That is, claiming that there is no satisfactory sense of cognitive synonymy, precedes that no sense can be made of expressions that take the form; “P means the same as Q”. Although Quine’s argument does not claim that cognitive synonymy does not exist, it does abandon it, and determines that expressions which entail cognitive synonymy, that is, meaning, are entirely senseless, simply because he could not successfully come up with a concrete, non-circular definition for it. This results in a very weak claim, as it is irrational to assume that a necessary condition for some notion’s having sense be the ability to understand it. Quine’s failure lies in this unreasonable criterion for determining cognitive synonymy as having sense, and belief of a circular definition being insufficient and unreliable. Quine chooses to reject this circular account for cognitive synonymy, because it disagrees with his idea of a proper definition. Ultimately, despite having made accurate and respectable inferences about the notion of cognitive synonymy, his overall conclusion about what those inferences entail is faulty and could have been more credible had he abandoned the need to obtain a non-circular definition and further explored his findings.

Based on: Van Orman Quine, Willard. Two Dogmas of Empiricism, 1951.

Argument Analysis & Evaluation #3: Ayer’s “Language, Truth, and Logic”

Question(s):
a)  What is the principle of verification according to Ayer? What does Ayer mean by “the elimination of metaphysics”? How does the principle of verification support this elimination?
b) In the appendix to LTL, Ayer considers and responds to several objections to hisformulation of he principle of verification. Pick one objection. Explain and evaluate Ayer’s response.

The verifiability principle is a philosophical ideology holding that a statement is meaningful only if it is either empirically verifiable or tautological. In Ayer’s ​Language, Truth, and Logic (LTL)​, he adopts a “modified principle of verification”, to test whether a sentence expresses a genuine empirical hypothesis by requiring that some possible sense-experience be relevant to the determination of its truth or falsehood. With the exception of tautologies, propositio​ns that are true in virtue of the meaning of their terms, if a proposition fails to satisfy this principle, Ayer holds that it must be metaphysical. In being so, he claims that it is then neither true or false, but rather literally senseless. As an empiricist, Ayer believes that propositions which cannot be derived from observations or sense-experiences, such as many non-tautological philosophical propositions, ​ethical, aesthetic, and religious statements are linguistically necessary, and so analytic, but not in fact meaningful​. Such propositions are asserted to be emotionally significant in that they influence feelings and beliefs, but not in virtue of granting any knowledge or having any meaning.

In his first chapter of LTL, “The Elimination of Metaphysics”, he elaborates on the Kantian views of metaphysics, which like Ayer’s, claims that metaphysicians cannot be justified in asserting that things exist beyond ourselves, or in defining the boundaries of human understanding, if it is only possible to know what lies within the bounds of sense-experience. However, he states that the true problem in metaphysics is not that it attempts to overstep an impossible barrier, but rather that it produces sentences which fail to be literally significant. For this reason, he establishes the criterion of verifiability, to test the genuineness of statements. He states that a sentence is factually significant if, and only if, the proposition it claims to express can be verified through observations. That is, observations must lead one to accept the proposition as being true, or reject it as being false. However, if a non-tautological proposition truth or falsehood is determined by an assumption regarding the nature of future experience, it is considered to be a pseudo-proposition, and the sentence expressing it, although emotionally significant, is not literally significant. Similarly, questions that cannot be answered with observations, are not genuine questions despite having strong grammatical foundations. Ayer clarifies that due to the inability to establish with certainty the truth of general propositions of law by any finite series of observations, he chooses to fall back on the “weaker sense of verification”, meaning that instead of demanding observations to be the only determinant of a statement’s truth or falsehood, he deems that they merely be relevant to this determination. A statement then is considered nonsensical if it fails to comply with this standard of relevance. In having created this criterion for verification, Ayer derives that all propositions which have factual content are empirical hypotheses, that provide a rule for the anticipation of experience. In this way, if a statement is not relevant to some actual, or possible experience, it has no factual content and cannot then be considered an empirical hypothesis. For this reason, Ayer claims that metaphysical sentences are nonsensical in that they not only lack factual content, but they are not a priori propositions, all of which are tautologies. Such sentences aim to express genuine propositions but fail to do so as they are neither tautologies or empirical hypotheses. Having determined that, Ayer’s attack on metaphysics is that it unintentionally formulates nonsensical sentences in being deceived by grammar. The principle of verification supports Ayer’s “Elimination of Metaphysics”, that is, his belief that there is no reason for it, in that despite being held to have moral or aesthetic value, it is entirely senseless.

Despite the intent of Ayer’s “revised” principle of verification to offer a criterion to determine whether a sentence has literal meaning based on the analyticity or empirical verifiability of it’s expressed proposition, this principle has suffered some objections which are touched upon in his work’s appendix. The main objection Ayer addresses is that the principle of verification appears to be incomplete as a criterion of meaning because it disregards cases where sentences do not express any propositions. According to the principle, unless a sentence is determined to be literally meaningful, it does not express an analytic or empirically verifiable proposition, and assuming that every proposition has a definite truth value, there would appear to be nothing that the sentence could properly be said to express. Therefore, to say that a meaningless sentence doesn’t express anything, while establishing that what it expresses is empirically unverifiable, is self-contradictory in that it implies that something is being expressed. Ayer states that his way of trying to avoid this difficulty, by speaking of “putative propositions” and propositions which a sentence “purports to express”, is unsatisfactory as it is terminologically unclear. For this reason, he introduces several ways to eliminate this confusion. His prefered solution to the problem however, is with the introduction of the technical term “statement”, whose usage will slightly differ from the traditional one. He proposes that every indicative sentence despite being literally meaningful or not, shall be regarded as expressing a statement, and that any set of mutually translatable sentences will be said to express the same statement. Moreover, he states that sentences will express “propositions” only if they are literally meaningful, making “propositions” a subclass of “statements”. In having established this, Ayer’s revised principle of verification can, in addition to ​testing whether a sentence expresses a genuine empirical hypothesis​, provide a means of determining whether an indicative sentence expresses a proposition, or a mere statement.

Based on: Ayer, A.J. Language, Truth, and Logic, 1936.

Argument Analysis & Evaluation #2: ​Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus​”

Question(s):
a) Explain Wittgenstein’s “picture theory.” Why does he think that some things can only be shown and not said.
b) Critically consider his view that this theory itself can only be shown. Doesn’t he, after all, seem to say the things that he says can only be shown? Why does he believe he cannot “say” these things, why do you think he is right/wrong here?

Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian-British philosopher, made his remark in the world of analytic philosophy in the early 20th century with his unique and somewhat controversial perspectives on reality, language, and philosophy’s role in the world, which in addition to bringing about a connection between modern logic and metaphysics, greatly influenced the empiricist group, known as the Vienna Circle. Wittgenstein’s early work primarily emphasized logical atomism, and the relationship between the world, language and thought. His most famous piece and only book, ​Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus​, recognized by many as one of the most important philosophical works of the 20th century, captures a large part of his logical positivist and metaphysical views, as well as what he believes to be the solution to all philosophical problems. His main goal in writing this piece, was to address and attempt to cease these central problems of philosophy by utilizing modern logic to structure language in a way that it corresponds to reality, setting the “limits” to language and thought, and providing insight on what can be regarded as meaningful. Particularly, he derives a theory of language that embodies metaphysics, and distinguishes what can be “said” from what can only be “shown”, known as the “picture theory”, one of the most impactful ideas credited to his work. In this essay, I shall explain the aspects of ​Wittgenstein’s picture theory ​and provide an interpretation of the belief attributed to it, that distinguishes “saying” from “showing”​. Furthermore, I shall apply this belief to the picture theory itself, and explain why he claims that it is something that can only be “shown”.

Wittgenstein begins his piece with the claim that “​the world is everything that is the case”, the world being “the totality of facts, not of things”. This idea that fact is the center of everything that exists, fosters Wittgenstein’s perspective on truth, which he regards as coming from ​an accord with reality, that is, the way things are in the world. Similarly, he derives falsity as coming from representing the nonexistent, that is, things that are not the case. Moreover, he regards the vehicles of expressing these facts, of expressing reality, as taking the form of spoken/written language, namely sentences, visual representations, such as photographs and drawings/paintings, and even more abstract entities, such as thoughts, and propositions. He calls this family of expressive mediums “pictures”. ​That being said, the picture theory, can be taken simply to be the idea of conveying truth, sense and meaningfulness by creating models of reality, that express, in some way or another, facts about the world. ​Further, he claims that for these “pictures” to be considered as such, they must have something in common with what they depict, that is, they must possess elements of fact and share a connection with reality, precisely, a logical one.

A recurring theme throughout this piece is the idea that some things cannot be “said”, and must rather be “shown”. This claim in particular, being the prime thesis of the picture theory, is not explicitly defined. ​Wittgenstein​ is somewhat vague and rather cryptic about the precise distinction between “saying” and “showing”. However, he hints at the idea that factual claims, that is, claims about the way the world is, are the only things that can be “said”. Respectively, claims that do not express in some way or another facts about the world, are “unsayable”. They are considered senseless and should be “passed over in silence”, as they say nothing that corresponds to reality. “Pictures” then, fall under the category of what can be “said”, as they correspond with the way things actually are, or “what is the case”. The only aspect of pictures that must be “shown”, does not exist within the pictures, it is beyond them. ​As mentioned previously, pictures closely resemble reality in that they posses elements that correspond to fact. What distinguishes them from reality however, is simply their pictorial form, which is specifically what allows them to be expressions of the world. This particular element that characterizes a picture, is something that cannot be part of the picture. It is something that must be shown. Wittgenstein explicitly points out that “a ​picture cannot depict its pictorial form: it displays it”. The reason for this, being that it cannot “place itself outside its representational form”. ​For example, a sentence of the form “A and B” when referencing some fact, can merely say things about the way the world is, but that it is takes a logical “pictorial” form is something that can only be shown. ​If a picture were to possess and exhibit such a characteristic, that is, the ability to depict its own pictorial form, then this element would no longer represent the form of the picture it intended, but that of some other, namely, the one it would have represented without it as part of the picture. This picture then, having as part of it the ability to recognize its own pictorial form, would have a new form outside of itself, that too, could only be shown. Falling under the same category of things that can only be “shown”, according to ​Wittgenstein, are philosophical propositions, including,​ metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical propositions, which he states as things that “cannot be put into words”, rather they “make themselves manifest”. For this reason, he concludes that the picture theory itself, being part of this philosophical category, is not “sayable”, as it does not express anything factual about the world, rather it is shown through the grammatical and logical uses of language.

In deriving this theory, that distinguishes what can be “said” from what must otherwise be “shown”, ​Wittgenstein claims that he ​has solved the problems of philosophy, which he regards as stemming from the “attempt to say the unsayable”. Moreover, he establishes the “limits” of language/expression and thought, that determine what can be meaningfully said and thought, allowing for a more clear understanding of the world.

Based on: Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921. 

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