The Illusion of Analyticity Part 4: Defense of Quine
Analyticity’s Illusory Nature
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 four 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.
First, recall Grice and Strawson’s two arguments against Quine:
GS1. analyticity is both philosophically and practically useful
GS2. Quine’s demands for a satisfactory explanation are too high
While Grice and Strawson cast doubt on Quine’s collapse of analyticity, their criticisms fall short of removing the concerns Quine raises. Consider again GS1, that analyticity is philosophically and practically useful. Grice and Strawson attempt to explain GS1 by demonstrating the absurd practical consequences of denying analyticity as well as the philosophical usefulness of the concept in explaining epistemological theories. However, they ignore the philosophically problematic positions analyticity allows and fail to distinguish between practical and epistemological usefulness.
To illustrate the philosophically problematic consequences of analyticity, consider the philosophical proposition:
PFR. Knowing that things have been a certain way in the past gives you a good reason to believe that they will be that way in the future (Feldman 137).
Feldman claims that PFR is an analytic, a priori, and necessary truth, and his Modest Foundationalism relies on it to answer the problem of induction. Feldman then provides no more explanation for PFR because, according to his argument, it’s true by the very meaning of “good reasons,” the same as all unmarried men are bachelors. According to Feldman, PFR needs no other explanation or supporting argument because it is simply true, necessarily. PFR’s analyticity justifies its use as a solution to the problem of induction, because by definition, analytic truths don’t rely on any other beliefs for their justification. Potential objections to PFR’s analyticity provide no more relief because in a framework that includes analyticity, no further explanation can exist for analytic truths. Feldman’s abuse of analyticity in PFR is no isolated incident, with many epistemological claims eventually resting on these claimed truths veiled in analyticity.
Hiding a unsatisfactory explanations behind analyticity seems to surreptitiously avoid potential areas of philosophical inquiry and create dead ends where rich discussion could otherwise exist. Analyticity’s bad company creates vicious problems that prohibit further discussion. However, if one abandons a commitment to analyticity, even concepts like PFR or other bad company are at least open for debate since no simple matters of fact exist and every concept deserves some explanation, especially those central to one’s justification.
As an additional shortcoming of GS1, Grice and Strawson fail to distinguish between practical and epistemological usefulness when claiming that abandoning analyticity leads to absurd conclusions. Abandoning analyticity in epistemology does not entail that statements of meaning lose their significance in everyday life. Consider the following example to illustrate the difference:
6. unmarried man means the same as bachelor
(6) and other statements of meaning are practically useful to make claims about the relation between two concepts, and one can coherently use them without relying on analyticity. When one states (6), in fact, one takes a doxastic attitude towards (6), indicating belief. No matter how strongly one believes (6), even considering a lifetime of validation that unmarried men are indeed bachelors, (6) still indicates a belief. Without analyticity, (6) has no special quality giving it truth, but it can still be a justified true belief. Applying this concept more broadly, removing analyticity doesn’t also defeat statements of meaning, it merely moves them from a privileged evidential state to one on par with the rest of one’s beliefs.
In a final objection against Grice and Strawson’s thesis, I claim that their proposition GS2 is mistaken. Quine’s demand for a satisfactory explanation highlights analyticity’s illusory nature. Rather than being a high bar, Quine asks merely for any explanation other than a circular one. When investigating analyticity as Quine does in Two Dogmas, it seems that explanations for analyticity rely on the meaning of analyticity itself. Any offered explanation only creates a layer of indirection in front of analyticity. For a trivial matter this illusory quality might be less problematic, but something as foundational as analyticity ought to stand against a bit of scrutiny rather than disappearing under similarly cryptic terms. A satisfactory definition, for Quine, would instill at least some strength into analyticity; however, the concept itself has not been explained.
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.