The Illusion of Analyticity Part 1: Introduction

Explaining a tough argument in Epistemology.

All too often high quality assignments from coursework ends up gathering dust on shelves or in forgotten folders. In an effort to publicize some of my work, this is part one of my final paper from an Epistemology course this past semester.

While this is primarily meant for an audience with a working understanding of epistemology, I’ll provide relevant links to explain common terms. The paper primarily deals with the distinction between analytic and synthetic truths, so skimming through that explanation will be useful.

Enjoy.


W. V. O. Quine, in Two Dogmas of Empiricism, attacked two widely accepted concepts in epistemology: analyticity and reductionism. While reductionism focused specifically on an empiricist method of justifying beliefs, Quine’s attack on analyticity had wide reaching epistemological consequences. Quine’s thesis on analyticity claims to collapse the widely assumed distinction between analytic and synthetic truths. While Quine himself spends very little time on the implications of removing the analytic-synthetic distinction from one’s epistemological toolbox, if one grant’s Quine’s argument wholly or even partially, the effects ripple throughout foundationalist views of epistemology. In fact, this attack on analyticity strongly motivates a Coherentist epistemological view. Quine’s alternative, while not deeply explicated, avoids the problems associated with his own attack on analyticity, but was not without it’s own problems.

H. P. Grice and P.F. Strawson point out these objections in their 1956 paper, In Defense of a Dogma, highlighting the usefulness of distinguishing between analytic and synthetic truths and criticizing the high standards Quine requires to explain analyticity. Though Defense of a Dogma raises strong objections to Quine’s supposed collapse of analyticity, I claim that Quine’s original thesis still strongly motivates his holistic alternative epistemology. Analyticity warrants Quine’s criticism because analytic truths are problematic for philosophy, not epistemically useful, and illusory under the slightest scrutiny. As a result, an epistemological view without analytic truths has more potential than one that relies on them.

Part 2: Quines Collapse of Analyticity.