where's the dog ma?
March 17, 2009 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism.

I Have a good grasp of what the dogmas are, the difference between analytic and synthetic statements. I have a decent grasp of why he thinks analyticity can't be defined. I understand his beef with reductionism. I don't quite grasp how he's saying that there isn't much difference between analytic and synthetic statements. I'm also not quite clear on why he thinks the two dogmas are identical. I understand that it revolves around definitions and meaning, but I could really use some help following his chain of thought.
posted by tylerfulltilt to Religion & Philosophy (3 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a good starting place for your philosophical questions. (And you can cite it as a source in your paper.) Also, if you're having trouble with a reading for your class, talk to the professor or TAs or fellow students, since working this stuff through benefits from longer-form answers than we can give here.

SEP on the analytic synthetic distinction

It might also help to get up to speed on some of the views he's responding to, if you don't already have a clear sense of those. For example:
SEP on the Vienna Circle - this includes a section on Quine's critiques of them

A good search term for what you're asking about is "holism."
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:46 PM on March 17, 2009

For the moment, there is no-one for me talk this through with.

Let me ask a more specific question, because my first one may be entirely too general.

At the moment I'm grappling with Quine means when he tries to explain synonymy as cognitive synyonmy. He introduces the term, doesn't strictly define it, and then goes through a proof that dismisses it.

he says that the statement "All and only bachelors are unmarried men," is analytic because it is cognitively synonymous.

posted by tylerfulltilt at 6:02 PM on March 17, 2009

"Cognitive synonymy" is a term to suggest that two statements or two terms would have the same "cognitive significance." That is, whatever thinking one of them would do, the other one would have exactly the same effect. I'm leaving the notion of "effect" very broad here because there are lots of different accounts of what cognitive significance would be. But just for instance, if you grasped a concept (which would be something of cognitive significance), then you would expect to be able to discern things in your experience that would fall under that concept, e.g. pick out all the red things that appeared before you under normal perceptual conditions. If two terms had the same cognitive significance, exactly the same set of things should get picked out in every possible set of circumstances. (That's not *all* synonymy would require by anyone's estimation, but moving on...)

In a nutshell, Quine's worry is that appealing to cognitive synonymy doesn't solve anything because it's not evident where it would come from or how we could determine it any more easily than we could determine analyticity. When is a statement analytic? When it involves pairs of cognitively synonymous terms. When are terms cognitively synonymous? Well, we kind of have to figure that out by elaborating what each of the terms involves. How do we do that? Well, we kind of have to spell that out against a further background of assumptions, theories and so forth. How do we decide what all that stuff should be? Well, it all has to hang together and make it through "the tribunal of experience." In deciding what does that best, Quine figures that everything is up for grabs, at least in principle, so no facts about meaning can be fixed, either.

Analytic sentences, if there were any, were supposed to be unchanging facts about meaning that you could use as starting points while you go figure out what experience tells you about the rest. This is why the Two Dogmas rise or fall together. Analytic sentences would fix the meanings for you (be "true in virtue of their meanings") while all the others would have some bunch of experiences that would confirm them (be "true in virtue of the facts"). But if there's no clear answer to where those meaning facts come from, then nothing gets to have that special analytical status. Without that, it doesn't make sense to think that each sentence gets its own empirical content, because they're ALL going to have to work together to deal with what experience hands us. It's not that Quine thinks there are married bachelors, it's that there's no Magic Source of Meaning Facts that somehow makes "All bachelors are unmarried eligible men" true, no matter what.
posted by el_lupino at 9:54 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

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