W.V.O. Quine in “Two Dogmas of Empericism” (1950) launched an attack upon the notion that there is a difference in kind between analytic and synthetic statements. He argued powerfully that the so-called difference is one of degree and that the sort of distinction intended by philosophers is impossible to draw.
In the course of his argument, a similar doubt was cast upon concepts traditional not only to philosophy but also to linguistics, in particular, the concept of synonymy or sameness of meaning. From here, he says that modern empiricism is founded on two dogmas; namely, the analytic/synthetic distinction and the reductionist thesis / verificationist theory of meaning.
Quine says that although the distinction between analytic truth and synthetic truth has a long history from Leibniz through Hume and to Kant; Kant’s distinction seems to be more explicit. An analytic definition could be more self-contradictory while a synthetic statement is not. Statements that are synthetic are matters of facts, which are informative and meaningful e.g. it is sunning. Quine rejects the notion of self-contradiction on the ground that analyticity presupposes contradiction; it really has nothing to do with self-contradictoriness by definition. He says that the notion of self-contradictoriness and analyticity is far from being clear.
The definition given by Kant is that an analytic statement is one in which the concept of the subject term contains or includes the concept of the predicate term. For example in the following statements, “a black bird is black” and “a triangle is a three-sided figure”. The concept, which is expressed in the predicate term, is supposed to be contained in the concept expressed in the subject term. According to Quine, this definition by Kant has two limitations:
It restricts itself to statements of the subject-predicate form only
It involves the metaphorical notion of containment and Quine says that Kant does not show us how one idea of concept could be contained or included in another.
It is from this point that he criticised the issue of analyticity.
Asked what are meanings? He examines it and agrees with Frege that meaning is from inference, that is, the meaning of a word is the object which it refers, for instance, that although morning star and evening star live the same object, the planet ‘Venus’, that they have different meanings. But to him, he says that meanings as obscured intermediary should be abandoned.
On this clarification, he goes through several proposals:
That there are those who think that analytic truths are reducible to logical truths by definition e.g. a bachelor is defined as unmarried man. How do we know this? By consulting the lexicon? He says no because the lexicographer’s report of an observed meaning cannot be taken as a ground of synonymy due to the fact that he is an empirical scientist whose business is the recording of facts about how people commonly use words
He considers “explication theory” of Rudolf Carnap, the purpose of which is not just to paraphrase that which is to be defined but to improve on the original meaning but rejected it that synonymy could be accounted for in terms of explication
He considers the use of conventional notations and the result to the principle of substitutivity in all contexts.
He rejects them and says that the latter, which is only workable depending on the strength of the language involved.
At this, therefore, he argues that analyticity gives way on refinement to the notion of synonymy/definition. And even as synonymy turns out to be elusive, it appears to be understandable in terms of necessity that proves to be an unclear notion.
He defines the second dogma as the belief that every meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical constructs upon terms that refer to immediate experience. His idea of reductionism is like the reductionist theory of verifiability, which simply says that the criterion that we use to test the genuineness of apparent statement or fact is that of verifiability. He rejects propositions that are neither tautologious nor could be verified in experience. Here, Ayer distinguishes between verifiability in principle; those propositions that could be verified in experience are said to be practically verifiable but those that cannot be verified in experience but are matters of fact could be verified by stating the theoretical way in which propositions could be verified e.g. “there are mountains at the other side of the moon”.
Then, the corollary is that synonymous statements are alike in point of empirical testing. Here, then, the two dogmas are thus ultimately connected because one supports the other. His position is that even if a distinction could be drawn between analytic and synthetic statements, it could be drawn only in a relative way because there is no sharp boundary between them. This is to say that there are no propositions that depend for their truth on the direct confrontation with experience.
Quine recommends that we may regard analytic statements as those wee would want to conserve in our belief system because they are truths that would be least willing to give up in the face of apparent falsifying circumstances. Quine’s attack has been a threat not only to some long-held doctrines of the analytic tradition but also to its conception of the nature of philosophy, which has generally depended upon contrasting it with the empirical sciences.