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Philosophy Analytic/Synthetic Distinction
by
Gillian Russell

Introduction

“The analytic/synthetic distinction” refers to a distinction between two kinds of truth. Synthetic truths are true both because of what they mean and because of the way the world is, whereas analytic truths are true in virtue of meaning alone. “Snow is white,” for example, is synthetic, because it is true partly because of what it means and partly because snow has a certain color. “All bachelors are unmarried,” by contrast, is often claimed to be true regardless of the way the world is; it is “true in virtue of meaning,” or analytic. The existence of analytic truths is controversial. Philosophers who have thought they exist include Immanuel Kant, Gottlob Frege, and Rudolf Carnap. The philosopher most famous for thinking that they do not is W. V.  V. O. Quine. Skeptics have sometimes argued that the idea of an analytic truth is incoherent, and they sometimes express this by denying the existence of the distinction. A related view is that there is a distinction but that it is trivial, since the class of analytic sentences is empty. A third kind of skeptic about analyticity questions its usefulness. It can be tempting to think that to defend analyticity one need only specify some paradigm cases and maintain that the analytic sentences are the ones like those. The use skeptic points out that analyticity is of interest only because it is thought to entail certain other features. One can define as many conceptions of analyticity as one likes, but none of them will do the work that analyticity has traditionally been expected to do. An analogy (due to Gilbert Harman) is with debates over the existence of witches. Someone might defend the claim that witches exist by pointing to the people who are taken to be paradigm cases of witches in their linguistic community (say, the people who have already been burned at the stake), claiming that “witch” properly applies to anyone who is like that. But a skeptic can argue that while one can define “witch” any way one likes, people have been burned at the stake because witches were thought to have certain salient features, such as having magical powers. The skeptic’s main point is that there is no person with those features—the features that justify the practice. Similarly, the skeptic about analyticity may allow that one can define some notions of analyticity while maintaining that there are no truths that will be useful to philosophers in the way analytic truths were supposed to be.

General Overviews

The literature on analyticity is vast. It encompasses work by and about important historical figures, such as Immanuel Kant, Gottlob Frege, and Rudolf Carnap; a prolific 20th-century debate spearheaded by Carnap and W. V.  V. O. Quine; a more recent debate arising from Paul A. Boghossian’s “Analyticity Reconsidered” (Boghossian 1996, cited under the Epistemology of Logic) and the extensive literature concerning applications of the distinction, especially in the foundations of mathematics, the epistemology of logic, and the methodology of philosophy. In addition, there is much work in philosophy of language—such as that on externalism, vagueness, and indexicality—that has important consequences for the distinction and should be read by anyone working in the area. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, no single text provides a complete survey. The introductory texts listed here were selected both for accessibility and for influence on the course of the debate. Broader works are listed under Surveys. Ayer 1990 is extremely readable and does a good job of motivating interest in the analytic/synthetic distinction. Carnap 1958 is a shorter work but equally intoxicating. Quine 1951 is by far the most widely read paper objecting to the analytic/synthetic distinction (though it is best read in conjunction with Harman 1999 and chapter 16 of Soames 2003, cited under Useful Background). Grice and Strawson 1956 is a well-known response to Quine. Gellner 2005 is a popular book attacking the linguistic approach to philosophy associated with Oxford University in the 1950s. It includes a foreword by a sympathetic Bertrand Russell.

Surveys

Harman 1999 is the first of three relevant essays in Gilbert Harman’s Reasoning, Meaning, and Mind, each of which is of interest to someone working on the analytic/synthetic distinction. It provides a sympathetic summary of Quine’s arguments against the analytic/synthetic distinction. Katz 1992, Rey 2003, and Russell 2007 are broader survey articles, and Juhl and Loomis 2010 provides a detailed and historically oriented introduction to the area. Chapter 1 of Williamson 2007 provides a quirky introduction to the role of analyticity in philosophy by tracing the views of the philosophers occupying the Wykeham Chair in Logic at Oxford University.

History

The history of the analytic/synthetic distinction before W. V. O. Quine can reasonably be arranged into four sections: Early History leading up to Immanuel Kant, Immanuel Kant, Gottlob Frege, and Rudolf Carnap and the Logical Positivists.

Early History

There are important precursors to Kant’s account of the distinction in Arnauld 1964 (also known as the Port Royal Logic), in Leibniz 1968, and in the work of some of the British empiricists, such as Locke 1993 and Hume 1975. John Locke, in particular, devotes a chapter to “trifling propositions,” which have a lot in common with Kant’s analytic judgments. Katz 1992 argues for the importance and correctness of Locke’s formulation, stating that accounts of the distinction took a wrong turn with Frege’s modifications to Kant.

  • Arnauld, Antoine. The Art of Thinking: Port Royal Logic. Translated by James Dickoff and Patricia James. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964.

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    Originally published in 1662. The Logic foreshadowed many themes that later became important in philosophy, and its distinction between “determinative” and “explicative” subordinate clauses is sometimes thought to be a prototype for the analytic/synthetic distinction.

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  • Hume, David. Enquiries concerning Human Understanding and concerning the Principles of Morals. 3d ed. Edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge. Revised by P. H. Nidditch. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975.

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    Hume divides truths into those that state matters of fact and those that state relations of ideas. First published in 1748.

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  • Katz, Jerrold. “Analyticity.” In A Companion to Epistemology. Edited by Jonathan Dancy and Ernest Sosa, 11–17. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.

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    Katz’s survey article makes a case for the importance of Locke’s approach to the distinction.

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  • Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm von. Monadology. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1968.

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    Leibniz speaks of truths of reasoning that are “necessary and their opposite is impossible. . . . When a truth is necessary its reason can be found by analysis, resolving it into more simple ideas and truths, until we come to those which are primary” (pp. 251–272). Originally published in 1714.

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  • Locke, John. An Essay concerning Human Understanding. London: Dent, 1993.

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    The chapter “Of Trifling Propositions” identifies two varieties of trifling proposition: identity propositions, such as “a centaur is a centaur,” and those in which a part of a complex idea is predicated of the whole complex, as in “a rose is a flower.”

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Immanuel Kant

The distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments is fundamental to the central project of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (Kant 1998). The goal is to show that there can be a priori synthetic judgments, which of course presupposes that there is a distinction to be drawn between the synthetic judgments and the analytic ones. Unfortunately, Kant defines analytic judgments in several different ways in 1787 (Kant 1998, Kant 1889), 1783 (Kant 1997, Kant 1965), and 1800 (Kant 1992). Proops 2005 considers which is the most fundamental. Beck 1967 considers the related issue of whether it is possible, on Kant’s conception, for synthetic judgments to become analytic later on. Kant’s metaphysics is often extremely opaque to those coming across it for the first time, and Allison 1983 provides an unusually lucid introduction. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant series is considered the best English translation, with the standard German edition being the Königlichen Preußischen (later Deutschen) Akademie der Wissenschaften, Kants gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1900–; later Walter de Gruyter).

  • Allison, Henry E. Kant’s Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.

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    A guide to Kant’s metaphysics by one of his clearest and most accessible commentators.

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  • Beck, Lewis White. “Can Kant’s Synthetic Judgments Be Made Analytic?” In Kant: Disputed Questions. Edited by Moltke S. Gram, 3–22. Chicago: Quadrangle, 1967.

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    One concern about Kant’s distinction is whether or not statements that were at one time synthetic might later be made analytic. Suppose it is a synthetic judgment that gold is a yellow metal. Might we later make it analytic by enriching the concept expressed by “gold” with the concepts of yellow and metal?

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  • Kant, Immanuel. Kritik der Reinen Vernunft. Hamburg, Germany: Voss, 1889.

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    The German text of The Critique of Pure Reason (Kant 1998).

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  • Kant, Immanuel. Prolegomena zu einer jeden kuenftigen Metaphysik, die als Wissenschaft wird auftreten koennen sections 266–267. Hamburg, West Germany: Verlag von Felix Meiner, 1965.

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    The German text of the Prolegomena.

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  • Kant, Immanuel. “Jäsche Logic.” In Lectures on Logic. Edited and translated by J. Michael Young, 520–640. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

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    Here analytic judgments are characterized as those in which the relation between the predicate concept and the subject concept is identity. Prepared in 1800 at Kant’s request by Benjamin Jäsche.

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  • Kant, Immanuel. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Translated by Gary Hatfield. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139164061Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    First published in 1783. Here Kant characterizes analytic judgments as those in which the predicate says nothing beyond what was already thought in the subject.

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  • Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason. Translated and edited by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    First published in 1787. Here Kant characterizes analytic judgment in terms of containment relations between concepts. See particularly A6/B9–A9/B13, A149/B189–A153/B193, and A721/B749–A732/B760.

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  • Proops, Ian. “Kant’s Conception of Analytic Judgment.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 70 (2005): 588–612.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2005.tb00416.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Kant’s characterization of analytic judgment in terms of identity is most fundamental.

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Gottlob Frege

Frege 1980 criticized Kant’s definition of analyticity and provided a replacement. Frege’s approach is discussed in Dummett 1981. Frege wanted to show that if analyticity was understood this way, then arithmetic could be shown to be analytic. This thesis is now known as “logicism.” The project ran into problems with Gillian Russell’s paradox, and Frege eventually came to believe that logicism had failed. Van Heijenoort 1999 reprints the correspondence between Frege and Russell, and Kenny 2000 provides details in an accessible fashion. Frege’s work was a source of inspiration to the logical positivists, as it has sometimes been thought to suggest that the epistemology of arithmetic requires no extravagant Kantian metaphysics. Yet whether or not Frege should really be regarded as disagreeing substantively with Kant over the nature of arithmetic (given that they seem to mean different things by “analytic”) is a substantial issue (see MacFarlane 2002), and Benacerraf 1981 cautions against reading Frege through a positivist lens. Katz 1992 argues that Frege’s account of analyticity was a mistake and encourages a return to the earlier Lockean approach.

Rudolf Carnap and Logical Positivism

Admiration for science and the rejection of metaphysics were hallmarks of logical positivism, the philosophical movement centered on a group of early-20th-century scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers known as the Vienna Circle. Though the members of the circle held various views, one of the best known is the verification theory of meaning, according to which statements that do not admit of empirical confirmation and disconfirmation—and the statements of metaphysics were thought to be in this class—are strictly meaningless. Such a combination of inclinations leads to the following problem: mathematical truths and logical truths do not appear to admit of empirical disconfirmation, nor, it seems, is our best justification for them based on experience; in fact many have thought that they are a priori. Worse still, logical and mathematical truths are thought to be necessary and known to be necessary, and it is hard to see how any such knowledge could be justified by empirical experience. Mathematics is, however, essential to science. Hence there is a problem of how we can adopt the verificationist approach to meaning and remain committed to mathematics and logic. Carnap 1958b contains a good statement of this problem. Some positivists (notably Carnap himself and Hans Hahn in Hahn 1959) thought that analyticity could provide a solution. The basic idea is to say that there are two kinds of truth: the analytic and the synthetic. Synthetic statements are meaningful if and only if they admit of empirical confirmation or disconfirmation. Analytic statements are true in virtue of their meanings, and any such truth will be true regardless of the state of the world (i.e., necessarily). Moreover, since the truth of the analytic sentence is determined by its meaning alone and speakers generally know what sentences mean, they have at their disposal the means to determine whether or not such a sentence is true (i.e., it is an a priori truth). Coffa 1991 provides detailed historical background to the positivist movement. Ayer 1990 is an accessible positivist manifesto. Carnap’s accounts of analyticity evolved over time, especially in response to work on logical truth and consequence. His early syntactic definitions can be found in Carnap 1937, and a more model-theoretic account can be found in Carnap 1958b. Carnap 1958a and Carnap 1958c provide nontechnical introductions to his views. (For subsequent developments of his view in response to Quine, see the Core Debate.)

  • Ayer, Alfred Jules. Language, Truth, and Logic. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1990.

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    Some caution is required here: Ayer’s book was not published until 1936, and Ayer was not a central figure in the Vienna Circle. Nonetheless, Language, Truth, and Logic presents a positivist’s approach to analyticity exceptionally clearly, and this work was important in bringing the ideas of the positivists to English-speaking philosophers.

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  • Carnap, Rudolf. The Logical Syntax of Language. London: Kegan Paul, 1937.

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    This book contains Carnap’s early proof-theoretic approaches to analyticity.

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  • Carnap, Rudolf. “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology.” In Meaning and Necessity. 2d ed. By Rudolf Carnap, 205–221. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958a.

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    A classic and accessible paper in which Carnap lays out his famous views about analyticity and linguistic frameworks in a nontechnical fashion. Ideal for undergraduate teaching.

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  • Carnap, Rudolf. Meaning and Necessity: A Study in Semantics and Modal Logic. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958b.

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    By this point Carnap had switched to a more familiar model-theoretic definition of analyticity, one that has much in common with Alfred Tarski’s conception of logical truth.

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  • Carnap, Rudolf. “Meaning Postulates.” In Meaning and Necessity. 2d ed. By Rudolf Carnap, 222–229. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958c.

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    A Carnapian response to Quine’s attacks.

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  • Coffa, Alberta J. The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap: To the Vienna Station. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139172240Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of the history of semantics from Kant until the logical positivists.

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  • Hahn, Hans. “Logic, Mathematics, and Knowledge of Nature.” In Logical Positivism. Edited by A. J. Ayer, 147–161. New York: Free Press, 1959.

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    A straightforward defense of truth by convention.

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  • Hempel, Carl G. “On the Nature of Mathematical Truth.” In Philosophy of Mathematics: Selected Readings. Edited by Paul Benacerraf and Hilary Putnam, 85–112. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964.

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    First published in 1945. A linguistic approach to mathematical truth (excluding truths of geometry).

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Quine versus Carnap

The logical positivists wanted analyticity to do a great deal of work, so perhaps it is not surprising that it was in response to positivism that doubts started to set in about the existence of a property that could do everything that was expected of analyticity.

The Core Debate

Analyticity’s most famous detractor is W. V. O. Quine, who presented many arguments against it over the course of his career. Quine 1951 and the second chapter of Quine 1960 are reasonable places to begin, but really appreciating Quine’s case against the analytic/synthetic distinction requires also reading at least Quine 1976a and Quine 1976b. Quine 1951 is probably the most widely read attack on the analytic/synthetic distinction, but Quine 1976a and Quine 1976b also contain extremely influential arguments. Quine 1976c adds some important views on definition. Carnap 1955 responds to some of the Quinean attacks. Rudolf Carnap argues that intensional properties, such as meaning and analyticity, are amenable to empirical testing. Chapter 2 of Quine 1960 responds in turn with a detailed examination of the testability of claims about translation. Creath 1990 prints Quine’s and Carnap’s letters to each other and several essays by them on analyticity.

Useful Background

The Quine-Carnap debate did not take place in isolation, and knowledge of some of the background against which it took place makes it easier to understand some aspects. Harman 1999 and Soames 2003 are extremely useful in understanding “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (Quine 1951, cited under General Overviews), and Harman 1999 here is a good overview of W. V. O. Quine’s arguments. Sober 2000 (cited under Context Sensitivity and Vagueness) contains much useful analysis, as does Fodor and Lepore 1992. Works by other opponents of analyticity writing around the same time as Quine include White 1952 and Naess 1966. Morton G. White also published a letter he received from Alfred Tarski (White and Tarski 1987) in which Tarski too casts doubt on the distinction. Feferman and Feferman 2004 provides many fascinating historical details concerning Quine and Rudolf Carnap’s relationship and the general reception of ideas in semantics in the wake of the Vienna Circle. See also Harman 1999 (cited under Recent Developments), which contains useful historical background to Quine 1951, and Sober 2000, which argues against Quine’s confirmation of holism.

Early Defenders of Analyticity

The best-known early defense of the analytic/synthetic distinction is Grice and Strawson 1956 (cited under General Overviews). There was also some early defense by linguists, including work by Jerrold Katz (Katz 1967, Katz 1974) and Noam Chomsky (Chomsky 1975), and Quine replied to both (Quine 1967, Quine 1975). Horwich 1992 provides insight into the Quine-Chomsky thread. Meanwhile, Harman 1976 takes up where W. V. O. Quine left off in the debate with Katz. Lewis 1969 defends the explication of “analytic” as “true by convention” against the accusation of emptiness by using game theory to develop an understanding of conventions.

Arguments concerning Individual Sentences

Some objections to the analytic/synthetic distinction proceed by arguing that particular sentences (usually sentences that have been assumed to be paradigm cases of analyticity) are not analytic. Such cases might seem puzzling. Why should the failure of one sentence to be analytic tell us anything about the analytic/synthetic distinction in general? Harman 1999 explains that the point is usually that if some property other than analyticity—such as centrality in the web of belief, or lack of imagination, or obviousness—can explain the appearance of analyticity in one case, then that other property could explain the appearance of analyticity in all cases, with the consequence that there is no need to posit any genuine analyticity. The arguments fall into two main kinds. The first proceeds by arguing that the claim in question is not necessary. For example, Kripke 1980 takes this line on “gold is a yellow metal,” Putnam 1962 uses “all cats are animals,” and Donnellan 1962 uses “all fish have gills.” The second kind of argument proceeds by arguing that competent speakers may deny the claim or accept its negation; for example, Winograd and Flores 1986 takes this approach to “all bachelors are unmarried.” Sometimes these claims—foreshadowing the contemporary interest in experimental philosophy—are supported with surveys of speakers, as in Naess 1966. An example of this kind of argument notable for its earliness is in Mill 1979, where John Stuart Mill argues that the truths of arithmetic are not necessary. More recently Williamson 2007 argues that truths of logic, such as “all vixens are vixens,” are not analytic on the grounds that competent speakers may deny them.

New Developments in the Philosophy of Language

Linguistics, logic, and cognitive science were all relatively young sciences in W. V. O. Quine’s day, and subsequent developments in both have inspired new research in the philosophy of language that has in turn had consequences for the analytic/synthetic distinction. Some of these post-Quinean developments were foreshadowed in Quine’s work, but subsequent research has done much to sharpen the issues.

Semantic Externalism and Direct Deference

Semantic externalism allows that meanings may be determined by facts external to and even unknown to speakers of a language. This undermines the theoretical reasons for thinking that analytic sentences are a priori, and it provides a new argument against the analytic/synthetic distinction, which started with consideration of sentences involving expressions that were plausibly externalist, such as “cats are animals” (Putnam 1962) and “gold is a yellow metal” (Kripke 1980). Saul A. Kripke’s work also provided a new difficulty for the analytic theory of necessity in the shape of the necessary a posteriori (and hence presumably necessary synthetic). Sidelle 1989 is an attempt to rescue that theory while still taking the necessary a posteriori seriously. Russell 2008 develops an account of analyticity specifically designed to be compatible with externalist theories of meaning and the necessary a posteriori. Putnam 1985 provides the classic introduction to semantic externalism, while Putnam 1962 and Putnam 1975 set out ideas on analyticity. Salmon 1993 provides one approach to analyticity that takes semantic externalism seriously, and Katz 1997 revises some of the author’s earlier views on analyticity to take account of the new developments.

Context Sensitivity and Vagueness

The vagueness and context sensitivity of natural languages have often been thought to present a problem for analyticity (e.g., Donnellan 1962, Sober 2000, and even Carnap 1970). The developments in Fine 1997 suggest and Sober 2000 explicitly argues that vagueness is no bar to analyticity. Meanwhile, Kaplan 1989 suggests, first, that the paradigm context-sensitive expressions (indexicals) can support analyticity and, second, that there can be contingent analytic truths. Russell 2010 develops the latter idea into an argument against the analytic theory of necessary truth.

  • Carnap, Rudolf. “Meaning and Synonymy in Natural Languages.” In Meaning and Necessity. 2d ed. By Rudolf Carnap, 233–247. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

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    Carnap outlines some of the differences between natural and artificial languages, in particular with respect to the assignment of intensional properties, such as intensions and analyticity. Originally published in 1958.

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  • Donnellan, Keith S. “Necessity and Criteria.” Journal of Philosophy 59.22 (1962): 647–658.

    DOI: 10.2307/2023595Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Donnellan argues that the phenomenon of vagueness means that many truths that philosophers have assumed to be analytic are unlikely to be.

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  • Fine, Kit. “Vagueness, Truth, and Logic.” In Vagueness: A Reader. Edited by Peter Smith and Rosanna Keefe, 119–150. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997.

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    Fine notes that there are often penumbral connections between vague expressions (e.g., though “red” and “orange” are both vague, “if that is red, then it is not orange” does not seem to inherit the same vagueness) and proposes a conception of logical truth that can cope with this.

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  • Kaplan, David. “Demonstratives: An Essay on the Semantics, Logic, Metaphysics, and Epistemology of Demonstratives and Other Indexicals.” In Themes from Kaplan. Edited by Joseph Almog, John Perry, and Howard Wettstein, 481–564. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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    The seminal monograph on indexicals and demonstratives. In passing Kaplan argues for the existence of the contingent analytic (which he sometimes calls “the contingent a priori”). This is perhaps the most exciting new development in the debate over the analytic/synthetic distinction in the latter half of the 20th century.

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  • Russell, Gillian. “A New Problem for the Linguistic Doctrine of Necessary Truth.” In New Waves in Truth. Edited by Cory D. Wright and Nikolaj J. Pedersen, 267–281. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

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    Another argument against the linguistic doctrine of necessary truth, this time based on the existence of context-sensitive expressions.

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  • Sober, Elliott. “Quine.” Aristotelian Society, supp. 74 (2000): 237–280.

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    This wide-ranging article on Quine contains an argument that vagueness is no bar to analyticity.

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Two Applications

Analyticity has been put to many uses. Two areas with the richest literature are the Epistemology of Logic and the Foundations of Mathematics.

The Epistemology of Logic

The difficulty of providing an empirical justification for the truths of logic has led many philosophers to suggest that they might be a priori, and the difficulty of showing how there is any other way of being a priori has led many to suggest that they might be analytic. A generalization of this thought suggests that not only the truths of logic but also logical rules of implication (such as universal instantiation or conjunction elimination) might be analytic in some extended sense (rules are not truth apt, so they are not appropriate objects for analyticity in the ordinary sense). Contemporary proponents of this view are often impressed by Gentzen 1964 on natural deduction systems, in which Gerhard Gentzen suggests that the elimination rules for the logical constants might be regarded as giving their meanings (Dummett 1991). One obstacle for such a view is Prior 1960, in which Arthur N. Prior introduces a puzzle concerning tonk, a connective whose rules trivialize any system to which they are added, thus allowing the derivation of falsehoods. Another key idea in the analytic epistemology of logic is that of implicit definition. It has frequently been suggested that the logical constants get their meanings through this process, making certain logical truths analytic. Late-20th- and early 21st-century proponents include Paul A. Boghossian (Boghossian 1996, Boghossian 2000) and Christopher Peacocke 1992. W. V. O. Quine’s well-known regress argument in “Truth by Convention” (Quine 1976) continues to be a major difficulty for this view. It is worth reading Quine’s paper in conjunction with Carroll 1895, the obscure but charming “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles.”

The Foundations of Mathematics

Frege 1980 attempts to show, pace Immanuel Kant, that the truths of arithmetic are analytic. Frege eventually came to regard this logicist project as a failure, but that did not stop the positivists or their followers from endorsing the view, and whether or not the core of Frege’s project can be rescued is controversial. Hempel 1964 endorses a linguistic account of mathematical truth (except for geometry), while Benacerraf 1981 cautions against interpreting Frege as doing work for the cause of logical positivism. Wright 1983 is a classic of the neologicist movement, and Hale and Wright 2001 is a compilation of more recent work on the logicist project. Burgess 2005 provides a summary and critical assessment of work in this area.

Recent Developments

Boghossian 1996 caused a resurgence of interest in the analytic/synthetic distinction. The article distinguishes two kinds of analyticity: a metaphysical kind (sometimes referred to as “truth in virtue of meaning”) and an epistemic one. According to Boghossian, W. V. O. Quine’s attacks against the metaphysical variety are largely successful, but the epistemic variety can be defended. The distinction between metaphysical and epistemic analyticity has been adopted widely, for example, in Williamson 2007, which devotes separate chapters to each. Among the critics of Boghossian’s article, Williamson 2007, Harman 1999, and Margolis and Laurence 2001 are particularly worth reading for attacks on epistemic analyticity, and there have been a number of works defending the metaphysical variety, including Sullivan 2008, Hofmann and Horvath 2008, and Russell 2008. One of the more intriguing applications of the epistemic approach is Eklund 2002, in which Eklund suggests that disassociating analyticity from truth in virtue of meaning allows us to disassociate analyticity from truth, so that there can be claims that are analytic but false. This goes a step further than the earlier Tappenden 1993, which argues that analytic sentences might sometimes fail to be true.

David Lewis and Kit Fine

Many philosophers have done innovative work that has consequences for the analytic/synthetic distinction, even if that has not been the work’s primary focus. Examples include Lewis 1976, where David Lewis suggests two definitions of analyticity; and Lewis 1983, on defining theoretical terms; and Kit Fine’s work on essence (Fine 1994, Fine 1995, Fine 2000), which also includes a novel account of analyticity in terms of essence. Since analyticity is not the primary focus of these philosophers, they do not usually spend a lot of time defending their conceptions or analyzing the arguments against the distinction, but the quality and influence of some of these contributions means that they are worth noting.

LAST MODIFIED: 11/21/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396577-0044

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