Quine criticizes analyticity for presupposing another notion, that of synonymy, which for Quine either must be explained in terms of analyticity or synonymy itself.

But what exactly does Quine think needs to be clarified as regards to analyticity and synonymy?

By what standard does Quine judge analyticity/synonymy to be unclear to begin with?


1 Answer 1


It may help to look at this issue as part of the reasoning behind Quine's holism thesis. Imagine Quine considering to give up the special status of even logical and mathematical truths, and make them susceptible to revision, if needed, in order to accommodate sense experience. The only obstacle could be if a source of truth other than experience could be clearly isolated.

But hey, analytic statements do exemplify, apparently, another source of truth. What source? Well, analytic statements have been said to be true in virtue of meanings. Well, is there something substantial behind these words, or are they mostly façon de parler? This is the "unclarity" that Quine is pursuing in Two Dogmas of Empiricism. And when Quine proves that notions like "meaning" and "synonym" are not more basic than "analytic", and therefore cannot explain it, the whole chain falls out like dry leaves. Analytic truth can be explained as an instance of truth about meanings, no more than truth about meanings can be explained as an instance of analytic truth. The truth of (so called) analytic statements remains firm, of course, but its source remains obscure. And so Quine can safely proceed with his bold empiricist holism thesis.

  • Only problem is this faces exegetical issues in my opinion. Quine's arguments against analyticity aren't necesarrily sourcing from his holism. Indeed, in the Two Dogmas Quine offers his holism only after his criticism of analyticity. I suppose I'm asking what Quine is looking for in his criticism of analyticty, i.e what his criterion is for judging analyticity to be unclear or unfounded. One might wonder why we shouldn't think syntheticity is in just as much need of clarification (and just as unfounded given the circularity that ensues in accounting for syntheticity).
    – Mos
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 15:33
  • @mos I don't see how your comment engages with my answer. I did answer about Quine's criterion/standard. It is about the clarify regarding the source of truths (not the clarity of the truths themselves). Second, I never suggested that Quine's arguments against analyticity are "sourced" (based) on his holism - of course not - this would be absurd! Holism is Quine's motivation, not his ground (=source). Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 18:00
  • Fair enough. My point was that there seems to be another criterion employed by Quine that needs explication. Quine might be seeking a source of analytic truths (which shall undoubtedly be influenced by his holism), but there is also a conclusion Quine draws about analytic truths themselves from this analysis. Quine then is either conflating two things (a prioricity and analyticity) or else he has to account for what criterion he is using to go from points about the source of analyticity to points about analyticity itself.
    – Mos
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 20:10
  • @Mos "but there is also a conclusion Quine draws about analytic truths themselves from this analysis". Quine's only conclusion about analytic truths themselves is that they are, in principle, susceptible to be retracted, in order to accommodate sense experience. This is not a deductive conclusion, but an abductive one. It is made plausible by Quine's conclusion about the obscure source of analytic truths. So, I don't see the problem Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 20:32

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