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Author's Introduction

Once a standard tool in the epistemologist's kit, the analytic/synthetic distinction was challenged by Quine and others in the mid-twentieth century and remains controversial today. But although the work of a lot contemporary philosophers touches on this distinction – in the sense that it either has consequences for it, or it assumes results about it – few have really focussed on it recently. This has the consequence that a lot has happened that should affect our view of the analytic/synthetic distinction, while little has been done to work out exactly what the effects are. All these features together make the topic ideal for either a survey or research seminar at the graduate level: it can provide an organising theme which justifies a spectrum of classic readings from Locke to Williamson, passing though Kant, Frege, Carnap, Quine and Kripke on the way, but it could also provide an excuse for a much more narrowly construed research seminar which studies the consequences of really contemporary philosophy of language and linguistics for the distinction.

Author Recommends

1. Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason [A7-10/B11-14] trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood (Cambridge: (Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Kant defined analyticity in three different ways (see the Jäshe Logic and Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics for the other two) but here in the First Critique, as he sets up the task of explaining how synthetic a priori judgements are possible, we find the famous definition of analyticity in terms of the predicate-concept belonging to the subject-concept, as well as his account of the modal and epistemic status of analytic judgements in terms of the principle of non-contradiction.

2. Gottlob Frege, The Foundations of Arithmetic, trans. J. L. Austin, 2nd ed (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1980), especially sections 3, 87–91.

Frege's hedged criticisms of Kant's definition of analyticity and his revision of that definition to appeal to proofs and definitions.

3. Rudolf Carnap, ‘Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology’, reprinted in Meaning and Necessity, 2nd ed (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 205–21.

Carnap has much technical work on analyticity, especially in The Logical Syntax of Language and Meaning and Necessity, but in this short paper he presents his philosophical views on the matter in an accessible style.

4. Willard van Orman Quine, ‘Truth by Convention’, reprinted in The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays, (New York, NY: Random House, 1965), 77–106.

A long, difficult paper presenting some of Quine's views on definitions as conventions of notational abbreviation and the infamous Regress Argument against the idea that the basic logical symbols are introduced by implicit definition. This is essential reading for anyone serious about engaging with Quine's views on the analytic/synthetic distinction.

5. Willard van Orman Quine, ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’, Philosophical Review, 60 (1951): 20–43.

Quine's two-fold attack on the positivist's views on analyticity.

6. Paul Grice and Peter Strawson, ‘In Defence of a Dogma’, The Philosophical Review, 65 (1956): 144–58.

Grice and Strawson's popular response to the arguments from ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’.

7. David Kaplan, ‘Demonstratives: An Essay on the Semantics, Logic, Metaphysics and Epistemology of Demonstratives’, Themes from Kaplan, eds. J. Almog, J. Perry and H. Wettstein (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1989), 481–614.

A longish monograph which includes a good introduction to direct reference and the contingent analytic.

8. Paul Boghossian, ‘Analyticity Reconsidered?’, Nous, 30.3 (1996): 360–91.

In this paper Boghossian distinguishes two different kinds of analyticity – metaphysical and epistemic – and argues that only the metaphysical notion falls to Quine's critique.

9. Gilbert Harman, Reasoning, Meaning and Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), chs 5, 7.

Harman's extremely helpful presentation of Quine's arguments on the topics of meaning and analyticity with responses to popular objections, including those from Grice, Strawson and Boghossian.

10. Timothy Williamson, The Philosophy of Philosophy (Blackwell, forthcoming), chs 3, 4.

Not-so Quinean scepticism about the role of analyticity in philosophy.

Online Resources

Sample Syllabus for a Graduate Survey Seminar

Week I: Historical Introduction & Overview

John Locke, ‘On Trifling Propositions’, [IV.8]An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. P. Nidditch, Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1979), 292–302.

Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason [A7-10/B11-14], trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Gottlob Frege, The Foundations of Arithmetic, trans. J. L. Austin, 2nd ed (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1980), section 3, 87–91.

Week II: Logical Positivisim I

Rudolf Carnap, ‘Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology’, reprinted in Meaning and Necessity, 2nd ed (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 205–21.

Alfred Jules Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (London: Penguin Books, 1936), chs 3, 4.

Week III: Logical Positivism II

Carl G. Hempel, ‘On the Nature of Mathematical Truth’, The American Mathematical Monthly 52 (1945): 543–56.

Rudolf Carnap, ‘Meaning Postulates’, in Meaning and Necessity: A Study in Semantics and Modal Logic, 2nd ed (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 222–32.

Optional Reading:

Rudolf Carnap, The Logical Syntax of Language (New York, NY: Routldege & Kegan Paul, 1951), section 14.

Rudolf Carnap, Meaning and Necessity: A Study in Semantics and Modal Logic, 2nd ed (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 1–16.

Week IV: Quine's Objections I

Willard van Orman Quine, ‘Truth by Convention’, reprinted in The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays (New York, NY: Random House, 1965), 77–106.

Week V: Quine's Objections II

Willard van Orman Quine, ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’, Philosophical Review 60 (1951): 20–43.

Paul Grice and Peter Strawson, ‘In Defence of a Dogma’, Philosophical Review 65 (1956): 144–58.

Week VI: Quine's Objections III

Rudolf Carnap, ‘Meaning and Synonymy in Natural Languages’, Philosophical Studies 6.3 (1955): 33–47, reprinted in the appendix to the 2nd edition of Meaning and Necessity.

Willard van Orman Quine, ‘Translation and Meaning’, Word and Object (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1960), 26–79.

Week VII: Harman and Katz

Jerrold Katz, ‘Where Things Stand Now with the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 28 (1974): 287–394.

Gilbert Harman, ‘Katz’ Credo’, Synthese 32 (1976): 387–94.

Week VIII: Some Further Problems

Keith S. Donnellan, ‘Necessity and Criteria’, The Journal of Philosophy 59.22 (1973): 647–58.

Hilary Putnam, ‘It Ain't Necessarily So’, The Journal of Philosophy 53 (1962): 658–71.

Week IX: Semantic Externalism

Hilary Putnam, ‘Meaning and Reference’, The Philosophy of Language, ed. A. P. Martinich, 4th ed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 288–95.

Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980), Lectures 1, 2.

Week X: Direct Reference and the Contingent Analytic

David Kaplan, ‘Demonstratives: An Essay on the Semantics, Logic, Metaphysics and Epistemology of Demonstratives’, Themes from Kaplan, eds. J. Almog, J. Perry and H. Wettstein (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1989), 481–614.

Week XI: Semantic Externalism and Analyticity I

Paul Boghossian, ‘Analyticity Reconsidered?’, Nous 30.3 (1996): 360–91.

Gilbert Harman, Reasoning, Meaning and Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), chs 5, 7.

Week XII: Semantic Externalism and Analyticity II

Nathan Salmon, ‘Analyticity and a Priority’, Philosophical Perspectives 7 (1993): 125–33.

Tim Williamson, The Philosophy of Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, forthcoming), chs 3, 4.

Recommended Additional Reading:

Gillian Russell, Truth in Virtue of Meaning: A Defence of the Analytic/Synthetic Distinction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Focus Questions

  • 1
    Which of the following sentences is analytic? Why?
    • a)
      All red books are red.
    • b)
      All bachelors are unmarried.
    • b)
      Hesperus is Hesperus.
    • c)
      Hesperus is Phosphorus.
    • d)
      The actual writer of this sentence wrote this sentence.
    • e)
      All cats are animals.
    • f)
      ‘Hesperus’ means Venus.
    • g)
      5 + 7 = 12
  • 2
    What is a necessary truth? What is an a priori truth? What is a logical truth? How is analyticity related to any of these things?
  • 3
    What kind of thing can be analytic? Sentences? Propositions? Rules of implication?
  • 4
    What should a semantic externalist think about analyticity?
  • 5
    Can analytic sentences contain vague expressions?
  • 6
    ‘If there is no such thing as a priori knowledge, then analyticity looses its philosophical interest’ (E. Sober). Why?