In 1951, W.V. Quine published the essay “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” in which he argued that the analytic–synthetic distinction is untenable.
In the first paragraph, Quine takes the distinction to be the following:
– analytic propositions – propositions grounded in meanings, independent of matters of fact.
– synthetic propositions – propositions grounded in fact.
In short, Quine argues that the notion of an analytic proposition requires a notion of synonymy, but these notions are parasitic on one another.
Thus, there is no non-circular (and so no tenable) way to ground the notion of analytic propositions.
Paul Grice and P. F. Strawson criticized “Two Dogmas” in their (1956) article “In Defense of a Dogma”.
Among other things, they argue that Quine’s skepticism about synonyms leads to a skepticism about meaning.
If statements can have meanings, then it would make sense to ask “What does it mean?”.
If it makes sense to ask “What does it mean?”, then synonymy can be defined as follows: Two sentences are synonymous if and only if the true answer of the question “What does it mean?” asked of one of them is the true answer to the same question asked of the other.
They also draw the conclusion that discussion about correct or incorrect translations would be impossible given Quine’s argument. Four years after Grice and Strawson published their paper, Quine’s book Word and Object was released. In the book Quine presented his theory of indeterminacy of translation.
In “Speech acts”, John R. Searle argues that from the difficulties encountered in trying to explicate analyticity by appeal to specific criteria, it does not follow that the notion itself is void.
Considering the way which we would test any proposed list of criteria, which is by comparing their extension to the set of analytic statements, it would follow that any explication of what analyticity means presupposes that we already have at our disposal a working notion of analyticity.
In “‘Two Dogmas’ revisited”, Hilary Putnam argues that Quine is attacking two different notions.
Analytic truth defined as a true statement derivable from a tautology by putting synonyms for synonyms is near Kant’s account of analytic truth as a truth whose negation is a contradiction.
Analytic truth defined as a truth confirmed no matter what, however, is closer to one of the traditional accounts of a priori.
While the first four sections of Quine’s paper concern analyticity, the last two concern a priority.
Putnam considers the argument in the two last sections as independent of the first four, and at the same time as Putnam criticizes Quine, he also emphasizes his historical importance as the first top rank philosopher to both reject the notion of a priority and sketch a methodology without it.
Jerrold Katz, a onetime associate of Noam Chomsky’s, countered the arguments of Two Dogmas directly by trying to define analyticity non-circularly on the syntactical features of sentences.
In his book Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, Volume 1 : The Dawn of Analysis, Scott Soames (pp 360–361) has pointed out that Quine’s circularity argument needs two of the logical positivists’ central theses to be effective:
– All necessary (and all a priori) truths are analytic
– Analyticity is needed to explain and legitimate necessity.
It is only when these two theses are accepted that Quine’s argument holds. It is not a problem that the notion of necessity is presupposed by the notion of analyticity if necessity can be explained without analyticity. According to Soames, both theses were accepted by most philosophers when Quine published Two Dogmas. Today however, Soames holds both statements to be antiquated.