|Ok. Here is one of the best summaries I've found of Quine's Two Dogmas. The summary could use some more examples and still gets a bit opaque, but it's way better than wading through Quine's essay, which I find incredibly challenging. The intro and the first section are, I think, most useful.|
Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism"
Curtis BrownQuine's "Two Dogmas" is a concerted attack on the analytic/synthetic distinction. At first this might seem to be a fairly easily dispensable part of the positivist picture. But Quine shows that it is in fact crucial to the positivist view that theoretical sentences are definable in terms of observation sentences, and thus also to their defense of reductionism and foundationalism.
Philosophy of Language
Criticism of specific accounts of analyticityQuine's attack consists of two main components. There is, first of all, his discussion of various attempts to characterize the distinction precisely. (This occupies sections 2-5 of the article.) Here are a few of the twists and turns of this discussion. Which sentences are analytic? Perhaps:
(1) those which can be transformed into logical truths by substituting synonyms for synonyms.
But this simply presupposes the notion of synonymy, which is just as much in need of explanation as the notion of analyticity it is supposed to explain. So we might try:
(2) those which are true by definition (= those which can be turned into logical truths by substitution of definitions for the terms they define).
But now we need to know what constitutes a definition. If we want our definitions to accurately reflect actual usage, then we will need to make sure that the definitions only define words in other terms with which they are synonymous: but in that case we are presupposing the notion of synonymy. (Incidentally, Gilbert Harman has used an analogy which is useful in understanding this part of Quine's argument. We may see Quine as arguing that there is no sure-fire way of distinguishing those linguistic regularities that are due to the meanings of our terms and those that are due to our beliefs. We all believe very firmly that cats are animals. But there may be no criterion by means of which to determine whether this is because we think being an animal is part of the meaning of 'cat', or whether whether it is just because the fact that cats are animals is a particularly obvious empirical truth. As Harman puts it, there is no distinction between our mental dictionary and our mental encyclopedia: we just have a bunch of beliefs about cats, with no sharp line between those true in virtue of meaning and those true because of the facts.) Of course, we can simply choose to use one expression as an abbreviation for a longer and more cumbersome one, as we use 'NOW' to abbreviate 'The National Organization for Women'. Even Quine might concede that it is analytic that NOW is a national organization, for instance. But (a) we very rarely use expressions explicitly and exclusively as abbreviations, so this phenomenon certainly cannot provide a general account of analyticity; (b) even in such seemingly obvious cases, it is not entirely clear that there are any analytic truths; for instance, NOW might go international, or perhaps shrink to a single state, without changing its name; again, it might decide its goals are to avoid any sort of discriminatory treatment, whether of women, of men, of racial minorities, or whatever; in such a case it would no longer be an organization specifically for women, but for purposes of recognition it might still retain its familiar name. Thus, even in cases where a certain expression begins as a mere abbreviation, it is likely to take on a life of its own.
General argument against analyticityThe second component of Quine's critique, found in sections 5 and 6 of "Two Dogmas," consists of a general argument against the possibility of analyticity. We may perhaps distinguish in these sections two related lines of argument.
Now, if we accept Quine's first point, then we can no longer speak of a particular sentence being confirmed or disconfirmed taken by itself. But we
- First, Quine makes the point that evidence confirms or disconfirms not particular sentences, taken by themselves, but rather collections of sentences; to put it another way, evidence confirms or disconfirms not just a specific hypothesis, but a whole theory. It takes a good many sentences together to generate any specific predictions about observations; consequently, if a prediction is not borne out, this may be because the hypothesis is false, but it may also be because one of the auxiliary assumptions needed to generate the prediction is false.
Now, on the positivist account, meaning is a matter of observational consequences. If sentences do not have observational consequences individually, then they do not have meanings individually either. In that case the notion of an analytic sentence, a sentence true solely by virtue of its meaning, simply does not make sense.
- The second line of thought is this. According to the positivist view, an analytic sentence is one which is confirmed by anything. It is, we might say, vacuously confirmed.
might still understand an analytic sentence as one immune from disconfirmation: we could say that a sentence is analytic if we would continue to
regard it as true regardless of the evidence.
But Quine's response to this is that there is no special class of sentences which we will hold true come what may. We could hold any sentence to be
true regardless of the evidence, if we changed our views about enough other sentences; on the other hand, we do not, or should not, regard any
sentence as "immune from revision," since there may be circumstances in which the best way to revise our overall theory is to give up some sentence
which had previously seemed unshakeable--even "definitions."
[remaining portion of this essay is omitted] (http://www.trinity.edu/cbrown/language/quine_two_dogmas.html)