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Tag: Quine

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.

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