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What is Quine's critique of the analytic/synthetic distinction?


An ‘analytic’ statement is one that, if true, is true entirely in virtue of its meaning.

A ‘synthetic’ statement is one that is not analytic.

Quine argues that analytic truths do not exist.

His argument is that there is no non-circular definition of ‘analytic.’

His reasoning is as follows.

Analyticity’ is to be defined in terms of ‘synonymy.’ (To use Quine’s own example, ‘bachelors are unmarried males’ is analytic because ‘bachelors’ and ‘unmarried males’ are synonymous.)

At the same time, ‘synonymy’ is to be defined in terms of ‘analyticity.’ (To use Quine’s own example, to say that ‘bachelor’ and ‘unmarried male’ are ‘synonymous’ is to say that replacing the one term with the other preserves the host-sentence’s entailment relations. Thus ‘George is a bachelor’ entails, and is entailed by, the very same sentences as ‘George is an unmarried male.’)

Quine is wrong and the flaws in his argument are easily identified.

‘Circles are closed figures’, ‘anything that is literate is sentient’, ‘nothing spatiotemporal is devoid of causal properties’ are purely conceptual—that is to say, analytic—-truths.

Also, if there are no analytic truths, then nothing follows from anything, and“Jim has more than two cars” is therefore not a logical consequence of “Jim has five cars”, which is absurd.

More generally, if there are no analytic truths, nothing follows from anything, in which case, no argument goes through, including Quine’s own argument for the non-existence of analytic truths.

The problem with Quine’s argument is that, contrary to what he says, ‘analyticity’ is not to be defined in terms of ‘synonymy.’

‘There is no largest number’ is an analytic truth, i.e. it is a non-empirical truth, but it doesn’t hold in virtue of some synonymy relation. It holds in virtue of its meaning.

Quine starts off his paper by saying, without argument, that meanings don’t exist and that, for this reason, the concept of anayticity must be understood in terms of relations between linguistic expressions, as opposed to in terms of relations between linguistic expressions and their non-linguistic referents. But in making this assumption, Quine is, in effect, simply assuming the non-existence of meaning-based truths, i.e. of analytic truths, and he is therefore simply begging the question.

Quine’s ‘reframing’ or ‘reformulating’ of the ‘analytic-synthetic’ distinction is nothing more than a failed, and self-defeating, argument for a false, and self-refuting, conclusion; and that argument is really more about Quine’s limited intellectual ability than it is about anything else.

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