I have done some reading around Kant's idea of splitting knowledge into synthetic and analytic. I don't understand why does this split matter, knowledge could be split in other way by different criteria - not only by channel of acquisition and its check for truthfulness in statement itself.

Why split it like that, what benefit does it bring if you split this way? Why does it matter?

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    I'm not sure there is a good answer to this, but I just wanted to say that you are not alone in your perplexion. Freidrich Heinrich Jacobi, in fact, very early on, criticized Kant exactly on this point, that he introduces a bunch of "vicious dualisms": form and content, sensibility and understanding, reason and experience etc. etc. Hamann, another Kant's contemporary, further pointed out that language, inasmuch as thought depends on it, is both synthetic and analytic - a problematic that will be raised with a new force by poststructuralists in the 20th c. Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 19:15

1 Answer 1


The issue has a long and debated tradition in modern philosophy since Kant; see The Analytic/Synthetic Distinction.

Against it, see at least the position of Willard van Orman Quine and his famous rejection of the distinction in “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (1951).

The distinction is related to :

The problem of accounting for mathematical knowledge [...] one of the oldest and hardest problems in Western philosophy. It is easy enough to understand: ordinarily we acquire knowledge about the world by our senses. [...] mathematics does not seem to be known on the basis of experience.

Mathematicians don't do experiments in the way that chemists, biologists or other “natural scientists” do. They seem simply to think, at most with pencil and paper as an aid to memory. In any case, they don't try to justify their claims by reference to experiments: “Twice two is four” is not justified by observing that pairs of pairs tend in all cases observed so far to be quadruples.

But how could mere processes of thought issue in any knowledge about the independently existing external world? [...] Here's where the analytic seemed to many to offer a more promising alternative.

But the "proposed" solution it's far from being definitive...

  • Does Quine argue why "mathematics does not seem to be known on the basis of experience"?
    – Geremia
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 2:34
  • We can refute Quine by defining the synonymity of Bachelor(x) relative to ~Married(x) by stipulating that Bachelor(x) is defined in terms of ~Married(x) ------Bachelor(x) ≡ (~Married(x) ∧ Male(x) ∧ Human(x) ∧ Adult(x)). This converts what Quine perceived as circularity into an inheritance hierarchy.
    – polcott
    Commented May 25, 2020 at 18:46

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