The Illusion of Analyticity Part 3: Grice and Strawson’s Objections

Attacking Quine’s collapse of analyticity

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 three of my final paper from an Epistemology course this past semester.

Part One, Part Two

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.


Quine’s radical view collapsing the widely recognized distinction between analytic and synthetic truths is not without objections, and Grice and Strawson’s paper In Defense of a Dogma refutes Quine’s demands for a satisfactory explanation of analyticity. Their objections are twofold:

GS1. analyticity is both philosophically and practically useful

GS2. Quine’s demands for a satisfactory explanation are too high

Through these two objections, Grice and Strawson attempt to weaken Quine’s impact on analyticity and prove the existence and need for a distinction between analytic and synthetic truths.

With GS1, Grice and Strawson highlight potentially absurd conclusions when denying the existence of analyticity as well as the distinction’s philosophical usefulness. The practically absurd conclusions when denying analyticity occur when trying to evaluate statements of meaning against each other. Consider the following:

5. unmarried man means the same as bachelor

5a. unmarried man does not mean the same as unhappy

Intuitively, (5) and (5a) do not seem to be the same kind of statement. (5) seems to be true without further explanation while (5a) demands further proof. However, GS1 argues that without the concept of analyticity both (5) and (5a) require the same sort of justification. In practical matters, this seems to put one at a disadvantage when evaluating these statements. It seems to leave one in the absurd position of trying to find justification for (5), where no justification exists other than the words involved. GS1 highlights that Quine’s denial of analyticity disregards the notion of meaning in the first place, implying that statements of meaning lack any explanatory value over any other belief. This leads one to absurd consequences of denying any distinction between “means the same as” and “does not mean the same as” (Grice and Strawson 145).

In addition to the practical absurdity highlighted in GS1, Grice and Strawson also provide a demonstrative defense of analyticity. Many epistemological theories draw at least in part from the intuitive distinction between analytic and synthetic truths. Considering Feldman’s Modest Foundationalism (MF) as one example, all individual beliefs rely at some point on either direct response to experience or analytic truths. MF handles classical problems in epistemology and provides an account for knowledge that’s at least worthy of strong consideration. It also relies on analyticity as a source of basic beliefs that provide justification for other beliefs. Yet Quine completely denies the existence of analyticity, which functions critically in MF’s description of knowledge. Outright denying analyticity presumptuously denies MF by undercutting it without confronting its demonstrated usefulness as an epistemological theory. Other accounts of knowledge also rely on analytic truths to explain at least a portion of one’s justification, but Quine’s denial ignores the appeal and intuitive sense of these accounts simply undercutting them instead of confronting their epistemological merits.

Analyticity’s philosophical usefulness leads right into GS2, a criticism of Quine’s high standards for a satisfactory explanation. Grice and Strawson argue that it’s unclear from Two Dogmas that any explanation could possibly satisfy Quine’s steep requirements for a satisfactory explanation. In addition, it seems that the existing, unsatisfactory explanation provides sufficient clarity for wide consensus among philosophers. While analyticity might not be perfectly explicated, according to Grice and Strawson, it is defined clearly enough for wide use among philosophers. Many epistemological theories use the analytic distinction consistently, showing very little of the illusory quality Quine identifies.

GS2 also criticises Quine on the grounds that his inability to find a satisfactory explanation does not imply that one does not exist. Ruling out definition, interchangeability, and semantic rules as explanations for analyticity does not logically entail that no other potential satisfactory explanation exists. Quine ruled out three potential explanations for analyticity, but did not imply that analyticity itself does not exist. Critically, this shifts even the most generous consequences of Quine from collapsing analyticity to merely calling it into question. Combined with analyticity’s practical and philosophical usefulness, Grice and Strawson’s criticism seems to seriously call into question whether Quine in fact accomplishes anything in terms of analyticity.

Part 4: Defense of Quine


Feldman, Richard. Epistemology. 2003. Print.

Grice, H.P and Strawson, P. F. “In Defense of a Dogma.” Philosophical Review, vol 65 (2), p. 141–158. 1956. Print.

Quine, Willard V. O. Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” Philosophical Review , vol 60 (1), p. 20–43. 1951.