(Gasp, who could have imagined I'd ever do something that approximates real philosophy on this blog?)
Quine's paper on the analytic/synthetic divide, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", has always bugged me--chiefly because it feels very important to me, yet I have a bloody devil of a time understanding it. And it certainly is a seminal work for the twentieth century, so it can't hurt to improve my understanding of it a little.
To that end, I'm making a rough outline for what I understand Quine to be doing in the darned piece. That is, I'm going to peruse "Two Dogmas" on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis and try to give a feel for how the pieces fit together in his overall argument. It seems to me that the hardest parts of this essay are keeping track of where you are and identifying how his specific strategies function, so I'll endeavor to make that clear. Critiquing may also occur at a few points.
Anyway, tally ho! Onward!
Here, Quine paints a basic backdrop for the concept "analytic" and "synthetic": Kant's characterization, the Humean and Aristotelian precursors, intension/extension, Carnap's take on analyticity, blah blah blah. As I see it, a lot of this may be dismissed as irrelevant to his actual argument except insofar as it makes sure we're all on the same page when he uses these terms. (Much like the beginning of any other philosophical paper). Quine considers a few different interpretations or conceptions of these things I don't care to describe, then rejects a few for reasons I don't care to get into. The important points to take away from this section are
- Analytic statements are true either by virtue of their being simple logical truths or by virtue of their using synonyms. (Example of logical truth: "All unmarried men are unmarried"; example of synonymous truth: "All bachelors are unmarried").
- Logical analytic truths are unproblematic; Quine's got no beef with them. This "synonymy" business, however, needs further explication.
- Synonymy cannot be explained away by referring to analogous logically true analytic statements, because any such account presupposes the notion of synonymy itself.
An obvious reply might be, "What if we add a premise which states that "Bx <-> (Ux & Mx)"? Quine seems to think that this move presupposes synonymy itself, and thus we cannot use it. I'm a bit skeptical about that response, and I wish he would give more argument against it, but we'll see what he says in later sections.
Anyway, Quine's basic strategy from now 'till §5 is to investigate possible explanations for synonymy, but then to reject each, more or less because they always rely on an unclear or circular definition.
§§2, 3, AND 4 TO COME LATER. ...Possibly in separate posts.
Quine, W.V.O. 1961. "Two dogmas of empiricism". In From A Logical Point of View, 20-46. New York: Harper Torchbooks.
(Also available online for free.)