Thursday, June 30, 2005

Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism

Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism appears on my reading list about once every 6 months. I admit to my dilettante status in regards to these matters, but Quine seems so concerned with semantic issues that he overlooks other analytical issues. Those regular consumers of Contingencies who care about such things might recall that the analytic/synthetic divide originates with Kant:

"Either (1) the predicate B belongs to the subject A as something that is (covertly) contained in this concept A; or (2) B lies entirely outside the concept A, though to be sure it stands in connection with it. In the first case, I call the judgment analytic, in the second synthetic."

Two examples which show the difference to some degree:

"Lawyers are attorneys" is 1 (analytic--synonymous in broad sense)
"Lawyers are professionals" is 2 (synthetic--or empirical in broad sense)

Quine denied the distinction. But there's more to it, it would seem. For instance, are logical connectives to be defined synthetically--Is the premise of an argument no different than the conclusion? Obviously the end result of a derivation or deductive argument is not the same as confirming a premise: and defining a variable is not the same as say putting some variable into a function and getting a result. Is the answer to a calculus problem done the way one traces the presence of toxins out in a grove of pine trees above LA? I think not.

As I am not a mystic or idealist, I agree with "physicalism" (and with Quine's arguments in TDOE for most part) usually, yet I do think there is a difference between truth via equations and functions and truth via empirical confirmation. But specifying the cash value of analyticity is not so easy; however, even a hard-core materialist or behaviorist, say like Skinner, needs to establish his own ontology, and thus needs to know what he is attacking. If you do deny analyticity and really platonic realism and "mind" it does seem that a Darwinian meat popsicle view of human nature follows, or at least is much more plausible.

So, in effect, I am not completely sure what Quine's removal of the analytical/syntheic divide "entails" as the good Panglosses say. Is it just semantic and linguistic--that "meaning" (or reference) must proceed by synthetic means? I follow his linguistics to a degree: the definitions of words are always changing (if not ostensible in many cases), thus it is not impossible that "lawyers are attorneys" may be, eventually, as synthetic as say a "lawyers are corrupt."

Additionally, given the Quinean emphasis on variables, predication, and statements instead of ordinary language--"to be is to be the value of a variable"--the move away from analytical statements might be read as affirming a view of nouns and names as variables. At least he's suggesting that--the language (any language) may evolve to where "oh X, he's a married bachelor" is acceptable semantically; though "oh X, he's a bachelor and he's not a bachelor" will not likely be acceptable. The claim that terms and thus sentences have no inherent or stable meaning also seems a bit Wittgensteinian--a sort of colder version of the language game.

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