Analytic philosophy and techniques, in which philosophy is approached as a primarily linguistic and logic exercise, has been the dominant mode of philosophy in the Anglo-American world for most of the last century, and is subscribed to by 80% of the responders on the PhilSurvey.

I am surprized by this, as Quine, in Two Dogma's of Empiricism, appears to have decisively shown that analyticy is impossible to practice per its own standards!

For those who are not familar with the paper, here is a link: https://www.theologie.uzh.ch/dam/jcr:ffffffff-fbd6-1538-0000-000070cf64bc/Quine51.pdf

A few key passages first defining analytics:

a statement is analytic when it is true by virtue of meanings and independently of fact.

Then discussing how neither definition nor synonym give analytic justification to definitions

In formal and informal work alike, thus, we find that definition -- except in the extreme case of the explicitly conventional introduction of new notation -- hinges on prior relationships of synonymy.

In an extensional language, therefore, interchangeability salva veritate is no assurance of cognitive synonymy of the desired type. That 'bachelor' and 'unmarried man' are interchangeable salva veritate in an extensional language assures us of no more than that (3) is true. There is no assurance here that the extensional agreement of 'bachelor' and 'unmarried man' rests on meaning rather than merely on accidental matters of fact

And analyticity cannot even be supported by switching to "formal" languages:

It is often hinted that the difficulty in separating analytic statements from synthetic ones in ordinary language is due to the vagueness of ordinary language and that the distinction is clear when we have a precise artificial language with explicit "semantical rules." This, however, as I shall now attempt to show, is a confusion. The notion of analyticity about which we are worrying is a purported relation between statements and languages: a statement S is said to be analytic for a language L, and the problem is to make sense of this relation generally, for example, for variable 'S' and 'L.' The point that I want to make is that the gravity of this problem is not perceptibly less for artificial languages than for natural ones.

Quine goes on to conclude that he has eliminated the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, but many philosophers disagree. the most noteworthy response I found was from Grice and Strawson: https://sites.ualberta.ca/~francisp/NewPhil448/GriceStrawsonDogmaDefense56.pdf

They argue that there is important and useful practical difference between analytic and synthetic, and that much useful philosophy can be done based on that difference. This response strikes me at least as convincing, BUT, I note it is a PRAGMATIC rebuttal. Analyticity is a logic-based approach to philosophy, and it depends on precise terms, and absolutes. This rebuttal holds that analytic philosophy is PRAGMATICALLY useful, but analytic philosophy is not valid under its own terms!

This should, I think, lead analytics to be seen as at best a useful supplement to pragmatism. But with ~80% of philosophers self-identifying as analytic, and only 1.2% as pragmatic -- my understanding of the consequences of Quine's attack on analyticity has not been realized.

My question is, how has analytic philosophy justified itself, and maintained its dominant popularity, in the face of this critique?

  • 3
    I doubt the 80% of respondents meant that they conceive of themselves doing analytic philosophy of the sort Quine was criticizing. Probably what they meant was something like "not Continental" or "not phenomenological." There is no grand project of analytic philosophy among philosophers in the US and Britain today. Feb 22, 2020 at 22:05
  • Quine's paper was targeted specifically at Carnap's "logical empiricism" version of logical positivism, but the specific critique of analyticity applies to all of the analytic/linguistic heirs of Russell and Frege. If you think it is not a problem for anyone but Carnap or other logical positivists, an explanation of why would answer the question.
    – Dcleve
    Feb 22, 2020 at 22:32
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    You are confusing logical empiricism and analytic philosophy. Logical empiricism has not survived Quine's attack. Analytic philosophy, which is a much broader school of thought, was never a target. Quine himself was an analytic philosopher.
    – E...
    Feb 22, 2020 at 23:00
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    @Dcleve I'd advise you to stop thinking with such a wide-tooth comb. Hardly anything is generalizable to "all analytic philosophy" today. Again, "analytic philosophy" today just means "not Continental." Hardly anyone in US and British universities today engages in philosophy as a "primarily linguistic and logic exercise" whatever that really means. I'd be interested in knowing, in detail, how you take it that Quine in one fell swoop refutes Rawls, Brandom, Korsgaard, Wittgensteinian epistemologists, analytic Aristotelians, panpsychists, philosophers of quantum physics etc Feb 23, 2020 at 2:18
  • 2
    "Analytic" in "analytic philosophy" derives from (conceptual) "analysis", not "analyticity". The irony is that Quine's analysis showed that the concept of analyticity lacks exactly "the precision needed to do analytics". Regardless of which versions of "analyticity" it applies to, it was a success of analytic philosophy, not a threat it needed to survive.
    – Conifold
    Feb 23, 2020 at 10:44

1 Answer 1


You seem to be conflating all of analytic philosophy with philosophy that somehow depends upon the analytic/synthetic distinction, or somehow derives from a set of standards that depends upon that distinction, which is an error.

Most academic philosophers today--and I assume the survey you refer to targeted mostly them--while influenced by philosophers such as Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Carnap, Quine, Lewis, Davidson, and many besides, aren't beholden to any particular philosophical position they held. There is a lot out there nowadays, and it's quite sophisticated. I suggest engaging with some more recent philosophy.

Further, most academic philosophers are very well-versed in Quine's philosophy. You really can't make it through graduate school in the English speaking world without reading "The Two Dogmas of Empiricism", if not Quine's other major works. Some people accept Quine's critique, and some do not--and you found just one particular rejection of Quine's critique; there are others.

I suggest checking out the SEP article "Conceptions of Analysis in Analytic Philosophy". It might clear some of this up for you:


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