Near the close of “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” after saying once more that he rejects the distinction between the analytic and the synthetic, Quine enters a footnote directing the reader to a paper by Morton White “for an effective expression of further misgivings over this distinction” (1953, 46). That paper is “The Analytic and the Synthetic: An Untenable Dualism” (UD). It appeared originally in Hook 1950, then again, in Linsky 1952. My page references are from the latter.
Morton White noted two kinds of statements that had lately been regarded as analytic. The first are purely formal logical truths such as “A is A” and “A or not-A.” The second are cases of “what is traditionally known as essential predication” (UD 318). He ponders especially the example “All men are rational animals.” That statement is logically the same as “Any man is a rational animal” or “A man is a rational animal.” This last expression of the proposition is one of Leonard Peikoff’s examples of a purportedly analytic statement in “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy” ([A-S] 1967, 90).
White did not pursue in this paper whether it is correct to characterize logical truths as analytic (UD 318–19). It will be recalled that Peikoff held forth Rand’s conception of logical truth against that of A. J. Ayer, who had maintained: “The principles of logic and mathematics are true universally simply because we never allow them to be anything else. . . . In other words, the truths of logic and mathematics are analytic propositions or tautologies” (1946, 77; Branden 1963, 7; A-S 94, 101, 111–18).
As with Quine’s “Two Dogmas,” White undermined the distinction between the analytic and the synthetic by finding fault with various explications of what analyticity amount to. They concluded there is no durable articulate way of classifying propositions and truths as analytic in sharp contrast to synthetic.
One way of conceiving an analytic statement is as expressing a proposition deducible from a logical truth by substitution of a synonym of one of its terms. (i) Every A is A. Therefore, (ii) Every man is a man. With rational animal as synonym for man, we obtain (iii) Every man is a rational animal (UD 319).
Thence analyticity is explicated in terms of logical truth and synonymy. White rejects the view that whether man and rational animal are synonymous is a matter of arbitrarily selected convention. Similarly, that man and featherless biped are not synonymous is not a matter of arbitrarily selected convention. Natural language is not like an artificial logical language in which meanings of terms are set entirely by stipulation (UD 321–24).
White allows we certainly have some sort of working distinction between propositions such as, on the one hand, “Man is an animal” and “Man is a rational animal” and, on the other hand, “Man is a featherless biped” and “Man has two eyes” (Peikoff’s example, A-S 90). White concludes that distinction between those two classes of statement is not that statements in the first class are analytic, the latter not, where the analytic is defined as consequence of a logical truth under substitution of a synonym and we are given no objective criterion for synonymy (UD 318–24).
Could analytic statements be defined instead as those whose denials are self-contradictory? White queries how it is that “Man is not a rational animal” leads to “Man is not man,” yet “Man is a quadruped” does not lead to “Man is not man.” He again notes that appealing to synonymies in the language is not illuminating in the absence of objective criteria for synonymy (UD 324). If it is said that one’s sense of wrongness in “Man is not a rational animal” differs from one’s sense of wrongness in “Man is a quadruped,” White replies that that is surely only a matter of degree, not a sharp difference in kind. Between one’s response to contradiction of “Man is a rational animal” and contradiction of “Man is a biped,” there is not a sharp difference in kind. If self-contradiction upon denial of a proposition is the criterion for analyticity of the proposition, then there is no sharp divide between the analytic and the synthetic (UD 325–26).
Suppose we adopt the following criterion for analyticity. Were we to come across an animal we determine to be not a rational animal, we would dismiss it instantly as being a man. By contrast, were we to come across an animal we see is not a featherless biped (it is, say, a quadruped), but whose rationality is not yet confirmed or disconfirmed, we hesitate over whether this animal is a man. We know that we might give up the proposition “All men are featherless bipeds” if we learn this animal is rational (UD 326–28). White responds: “Now I suspect that this criterion will be workable but it will not allow us to distinguish what we think in advance are the analytic equivalences. It will result in our finding that many firmly believed ‘synthetic’ equivalences are analytic on this criterion” (UD 328).
White gives no example, but I think his point is illustrated by an analytic-synthetic pair of judgments, favorites with Kant: “All bodies are extended” (analytic) and “All bodies have weight” (synthetic). By the latter, given his knowledge of Newtonian physics, I think Kant rightly understands “All bodies not in gravitational orbit have weight.” Be that as it may, Kant and his contemporaneous intellectuals would dismiss as body just as quickly an entity lacking weight (in the appropriate setting) as they would dismiss as body an entity lacking extension. The criterion of speed of dismissal upon counterfactual encounter fails to always sort what is taken for analytic from what is taken for synthetic.
White observes that the obscurity of proposed criteria for distinguishing analytic from synthetic statements, propositions, and judgments, is not fixed by incorporating the sound Millian point that what is synonymous with man, for example, varies with discursive context. In a biological discourse, “mammiferous animal having two hands” (Mill’s example) might be synonym for man. It remains that analyticity is not illuminated by proposing logical truth and synonymy as its base, not illuminated so as to yield a sharp divide, rather than a gradual divide, between the analytic and the synthetic. The arguments run against such an explication of the analyticity of “Man is a rational animal” will rerun for “Man is a mammiferous animal with two hands” (UD 329–30).
White saw the myth of a sharp divide between the analytic and the synthetic as affiliate of an older mythically sharp division: the Aristotelian division between essential and accidental predication (UD 319, 325, 330). This kinship was also recognized in Peikoff 1967 (A-S 95).
1. Nelson Goodman writes in a 1953 footnote: “Perhaps I should explain for the sake of some unusually sheltered reader that the notion of a necessary connection of ideas, or of an absolutely analytic statement, is no longer sacrosanct. Some, like Quine and White, have forthrightly attacked the notion; others, like myself, have simply discarded it; and still others have begun to feel acutely uncomfortable about it” (60).
2. Notice also that in modern physics of elementary particles, we take electrons and the other leptons to be bodies (matter) because they have weight (because of nonzero rest mass), yet they have no extension. The feature Kant took for analytic, we eventually took as dispensable, whereas the feature he took for synthetic, we have retained.
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