I'm trying to understand this paper. Seems to me like it all stems from a rejection of "meaning"... ie: Quine is saying statements don't mean anything. And this is what leads to the rejection of the analytic-synthetic distinction. But if meanings do exist, then there's a simple distinction between analytic and synthetic... analytic statements are true in virtue of the meanings of the words... Synthetic statements are not.

So if we don't agree with Quine's rejection of meaning, then we can't accept the rest of the paper. Is that right?

Here's a link to the paper:


  • I have not read the paper (a link would be nice), however from what you stated, I would suggest the following. Meaning is something that we choose to assign to words, symbols and statements. Without that assignment, they are just those things with no meaning. I do not believe it's intent is to self-propagate rejection, however if that is the meaning you give, then that is what it is. If you subtract 'meaning' and look at the letters and statements on the paper for what they are, you will find that communication breaks down, and you will also understand why there is no meaning. – Kraang Prime Mar 26 '16 at 4:09
  • @SanuelJackson, I've included a link. – Ameet Sharma Mar 26 '16 at 4:14
  • @SanuelJackson, I agree with you. Which is why the paper confuses me. – Ameet Sharma Mar 26 '16 at 4:18
  • Reading it now. – Kraang Prime Mar 26 '16 at 5:53
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    I think that's Quine's point, one learns to judge synonymy or analyticity in familiar languages just like one learns to recognize flowers or animals, but if we want a theory of analyticity (flowers, animals) then saying that we will know it when we see it isn't much help. Positivists, against whom Two Dogmas were written, talked of analyticity not in natural languages but in arbitrary formal languages that can potentially be used in science, and relied on the distinction to separate "empirical" from "theoretical". Quine showed that they literally could not explain what they were talking about. – Conifold Mar 27 '16 at 3:04

He is not rejecting meaning; what he says is:

My present suggestion is that it is nonsense, and the root of much nonsense, to speak of a linguistic component and a factual component in the truth of any individual statement. Taken collectively, science has its double dependence upon language and experience; but this duality is not significantly traceable into the statements of science taken one by one.

Thus, if we deny that:

the truth of a statement is somehow analyzable into a linguistic component and a factual component.

we have to reject the possibility of identifying a class of statements whose truth relies only on the "linguistic component", i.e. the class of analytic statements.

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    Ok. Then I'm missing something basic. Why can't I say, "a bachelor is an unmarried man." is an analytic statement because 'bachelor' means the same thing as 'unmarried man'. By virtue of meanings the statement is analytic. Why would Quine have a problem with this? Quine talks about how they come to mean the same thing... but I think this is irrelevant... somehow the two labels come to refer to the same meaning, and it is by virtue of this that we get that "a bachelor is an unmarried man." is analytic. That's to me the common-sensical view when one has meanings. – Ameet Sharma Mar 26 '16 at 12:23
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    @AmeetSharma - see The Analytic/Synthetic Distinction: the issue is clearly not conclusively settled... as usual in philosophy. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Mar 26 '16 at 13:11
  • It is not a linguistic component and a factual component so much as it is a purely semantic component expressed using language and a component expressed using language that cannot be verified as true without sense data from the sense organs. If it can be verified as true without sense data from the sense organs then it is analytic. – polcott May 1 '20 at 19:29
  • @polcott The kind of epistemological foundationalism you are suggesting there is philosophically dead since the 1960s at the latest. It had been killed by Quine, Sellars, Davidson, and Putnam, so repeatedly and in different ways. Semantic expressions are more than mere correlates to physical states. Also, the comment misses the point of the answer, which correctly states Quine's reasoning. Since the question is about Quine, your discussions are moot and misplaced here. – Philip Klöcking May 1 '20 at 20:54
  • @PhilipKlöcking You are probably correct that my answer does not focus on directly what Quine is saying. I have found that it is sometimes enormously more effective to find the simplest possible reasoning the refutes the conclusion than it is to go tit-for-tat, point-by-point through overly convoluted reasoning. Quine is basically concluding that there is no sharp line of demarcation between analytic and synthetic sufficient to determine that analytic separately exists. By simply drawing this line sharply such that the result matches conventional understandings Quine is refuted, – polcott May 1 '20 at 21:10

Quine doesn't hold that statements don't mean anything (that indeed would be quite an extreme form of skepticism), but rather that the meaningfulness of statements should be considered not in isolation but only as a part of a broader theory or language. This is of course of Quine's holism. You can read more here.


The problem with the conventional way distinguishing between analytic and synthetic is defining exactly what is meant by semantic meaning:

An “analytic” sentence ... has historically been characterized as one whose truth depends upon the meanings of its constituent terms (and how they’re combined) alone... https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/analytic-synthetic/

We can make the analysis much simpler by defining the analytic / synthetic distinction from the perspective of the synthetic side.

When we define synthetic knowledge as any expression of language that requires sense data from the sense organs (Eyesight, hearing, taste, touch, smell) to verify its truth, then we have a much simpler measure.

Then analytic knowledge is what is left over: any expression of language that has been verified as true without the need of any sense data from the sense organs.

Once we eliminate sense data from the sense organs the only other way that we verify the truth of an expression of language is the semantic meaning of this expression.

Now Quine's conclusion that there is no clear distinction between analytic and synthetic is refuted by this new criteria providing the clear distinction.

There may be boundary cases that are still a little difficult to decide. The conventional way of handling these boundary cases would be to maximize the conformance to the original notions of the terms synthetic and analytic.

If we say that a particular individual human is male: Is this a definition or based on prior observation? If this is a definition then it is analytic if it is based on prior observation then it is synthetic.

  • So my question is, even if I grant Quine is right about analytic/synthetic... Would he agree that human beings form a demaracation between the statements they call analytic and the statements they call synthetic? That is this a demarcation that somehow humans seem to agree upon even if we are unsure of what specifically the demaracation is? ie: The analytic/synthetic distinction at least meaningfully points out something about human behavior or thought? – Ameet Sharma May 1 '20 at 22:26
  • @AmeetSharma Quine basically went from the other end. He claimed that analytic could not be precisely defined so we can't know what things are analytic and what things are synthetic. I went from the other end and precisely defined synthetic, leaving everything else as analytic. With my precise definition of synthetic we can know what is synthetic, thus precisely defining the distinction between analytic and synthetic. – polcott May 1 '20 at 22:34
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    It is one thing to consider it, as either an absolute beginner or even a total layman in philosophy, a good idea to post on one of the most influential and discussed papers of the 20th century. It is another thing to think one can refute it on a few lines. This is like thinking Einstein's theory of relativity could be refuted on a beer mat by redefining what space and time is. Really, try to come around. – Mr. White May 2 '20 at 5:05
  • @user3451767 I have been focusing on the fundamental nature of truth itself for decades. This is my life's work. Although it may seem presumptuous of me to form a rebuttal of Quine in very few lines that it seems presumptuous is not at all the same as pointing out any error in the reasoning that I provided. – polcott May 2 '20 at 5:07
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    Decades invested without realising the semantic structures hidden in concepts like "sense data" and "physical states" themselves are decades wasted, sorry. This is a work on epistemology here, not formalism. I suggest reading this to catch up: hackettpublishing.com/knowledge-mind-and-the-given – Philip Klöcking May 2 '20 at 10:44

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