Stop Your Quining!!!

The Philosophical Lexicon defines the verb ‘to quine’ as follows

quine, v. (1) To deny resolutely the existence o[r] importance of something real or significant. “Some philosophers have quined classes, and some have even quined physical objects.” Occasionally used intr., e.g., “You think I quine, sir. I assure you I do not!”

The joke, of course, is that Quine denied the existence of the analytic/synthetic distinction which is both real and important. So is there any reason to think that there is something wrong with this distinction?

Examples of analytic truths are things like ‘bachlors are unmarried males’ and ‘an aniverssary is one year after an event’. Now there are alleged to be counter-examples to these kinds of claims and this is taken to be evidence that there are no alalytic truths. So, to take an excellent example of David Rosenthal’s, consider the following case.

Suppose that I am married (I am not) and that my wife and I decide to get a divorce. We get lawyers and hold meetings and hammer out an agreement. The lawyers draw up the papers and my (soon to be) ex-wife signs the papers on Friday afternoon. I can’t come in on Friday and so arrange with the lawyers to come in first thing Monday morning and sign the papers. Now let us suppose that I go out on Sunday night and meet another woman and let’s further suppose that I somehow get lucky and we end up sleeping together. Now it seems that I cannot be accused of commiting adultry and since only married people can commit adultry there is a sense in which I am not married (and so a bachlor). But technically I am still married (I have not finalized the divorce). So it looks like on Sunday night I am a married bachlor.

Now, people usually resist the conclusion of this scenerio, but let us suppose that it is accurate. Is it a counter-example to the alleged analytic truth that bachlors are unmarried males? I don’t think so. Rather what is at issue here is what counts as being married. Once we settle whether I am really married or not then we will settle whether or not I am a bachlor.

Similarly, consider an alleged counter-example to the anniversay business. Suppose that I get married on Leap year. Then my anniversery will not occur one year later, right? Again, I do not think that this is a counter-example. What is at issue here is ‘what counts as one year?’

So it seems to me that these kinds of cases are not serious threats to the analytic/syntetic distinction and so y’all should stop your quining! 

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16 thoughts on “Stop Your Quining!!!

  1. I agree, and would go further: even if there is a counterexample along these lines to the claim ‘bachelors are unmarried males’, that still is not evidence against the analytic/synthetic distinction. After all, the very method used in suggesting the counterexample is classic armchair analysis: imagine a scenario, and elicit linguistic intuitions about how our concepts apply to it! This yields conditional claims (about what is true in some hypothetical scenario) that are presumably themselves analytic.

  2. I’m of opinion that for notion like ‘bachelor’, there are no analytical truths.

    That for the reason that the notion of bachelor is related to some context in which it appears. The context of that notion is that we live in societies in which men when they grow up to certain age, are expected to get married, and which in that period before they get married are e.g. partying etc…

    But this is a general case, and abstracts from lot of possible complications of the context. If we change little the context, we may end up with a cases where it is hard to say if a person is a bachelor or not. For example what to say about a muslim who has one wife. Is he a bachelor? Because of changing the context, we can’t now apply some standard (i.e. “unmarried male”) which worked in our context. How about the Pope? (again, the case introduces some more complex context, something which is not usual in the society). How about a female that feels like a male, and wants to get married?
    All those are complications that are enriching somehow that basic model in which bachelorhood appears. For those reasons, while I do think that we have a *grasp* of the notion (basically by being aware that in our societies large part of men are getting married after they reach certain age, etc..), I don’t think there are analytical truths for ‘bachelor’

    But I also agree with Richard’s (RC) point, and I would say that even there are no analytical truths, still in figuring out in those complex cases if someone is bachelor or not we are not doing empirical research, but consult our intuition… Probably on the edge cases, what we would see is what parts of the usual phenomenon of bachelorhood we take as more central, and which ones as less central (essential?) for the phenomenon.

  3. Tanasije, I am glad to see that you have turned to the Dark Side 🙂

    But seriously though, the Pope is a bachelor, he is not an eligable bachlor, but he is nonetheless a bachlor…Again, with respect to all the other counter-examples…the issue seems to me to be one of what counts as ‘male’…

  4. Richard,

    Well, he is a bachelor if you think that all that makes a bachelor is for someone to be male and unmarried. But I think that lots of people would disagree that the Pope is a bachelor, having in mind what they mean by bachelor. Of course, I don’t have data to back up this claim :-/

  5. I have been puzzled enough by Quine’s article to re-read it again and again, particularly when he discusses the idea of analyticity-as-definition. I can’t get over the feeling that he spectacularly misses his own point!

    His argument about definitions is:

    1. We can look for analyticity in the true-by-definition
    2. But lexicographers do not create definitions, they record ones that are already there. Philosophers, similarly, do not create definitions but analyse definitions.

    To which I think: “eh?” To record a definition or analyse a definition it has to be there. There are rules we follow about language and it strikes me as a simple thing to take analyticity to be the effects of the rules of the language, non-analyticity to involve reference to other things.

    It strikes me that the analyticy of “batchelor” is just a case of how you analyse how the word is used, or how you’re using it when your out living it up when the ink on your divorce papers isn’t even dry. Are you a batchelor when you slip upstairs with your new girlfriend? That rather depends on your attitude to the word batchelor rather than any state of the world.

  6. I think that Quine’s argument in Two Dogmas (and later in Word and Object) against analyticity highlights the distinction between epistemological and semantic claims of analyticity.

    It may be that there are no facts about definitions (no universal forms or inherent species), but once the range of a definition is fixed by a speaker then there will be strict facts of the matter as to whether or not things fall within that range (leaving vagueness aside as a special case). I have in mind something like Searle’s conceptual relativism.

    Given that, you might say that there is semantic analyticity when the way one combines concepts in a proposition has the same definitional range as those in another proposition, i.e. the claims are synonymous and thus the assertion of one (P) makes the truth of the other (Q) analytic. Definitional range might also be called intension, but ‘range’ preserves the net-like metaphor of covering a certain array of possible things.

    We can maintain such a view whilst holding that, because definitions are relative to a speaker and speakers don’t have absolute Cartesian grasp of their own mental states, it does not follow that one will have epistemic justification or warrant to believe Q when one believes P. That is, because a speaker cannot specify the observable/measurable conditions in which such analyticity will occur without circularity, there is still some a posteriori work to be done in finding analytic truths, so analyticity should not be accorded a unique status in philosophy.

    I think there is something to this epistemological claim, which I attribute to Quine. Yet, I would not go so far as to say that analytic truths provide no epistemological leverage at all.

  7. “Rather what is at issue here is what counts as being married. Once we settle whether I am really married or not then we will settle whether or not I am a bachlor.”

    Reads to me like “once we do some empirical investigation to define the terms, the sentence becomes purely analytic”, which is, of course, nonsense.

    Settling this issue requires investigation of some sort. And even if that investigation is based on our intuitions, our intuitions are, in turn, based on empirical knowledge of what it is to be a bachelor.

    The problem with these cases of apparent identity in terms is that the words are only equivilent due to our knowledge of the world.

    For example, words do not have meanings like “the opposite of whatever everyone thinks the word ‘X’ means”. Words always have meaning based on their interpretation and extension, not based on their logical relationship with other words. I can’t think of a single counter-example to this.

  8. Hi everyone, thanks for the comments!

    Sidd, you say “Reads to me like “once we do some empirical investigation to define the terms, the sentence becomes purely analytic”, which is, of course, nonsense.”

    Why is that nonsense?

    You also say “Words always have meaning based on their interpretation and extension, not based on their logical relationship with other words. I can’t think of a single counter-example to this.”

    This is just question beging….the counter-example, is of course, ‘bachlor’

    David, I think I agree with you and the distinction between semantics and epistemology (though I don’t agree with Searle about conceptual relativism…). So, the claim that some truths are analytic does not entail (nor did I mean it to) the claim that these analytic truths are knowable a priori…(in fact I am no fan of the a priori, see here, and here, and here)

    Tony, you say “Are you a batchelor when you slip upstairs with your new girlfriend? That rather depends on your attitude to the word batchelor rather than any state of the world.”

    Can you explain this a bit? What do you mean when you say it depends on my attitude about the word?

  9. Richard,

    I have to apologize, of course it isn’t “nonsense”. I should have elaborated on that point, but rhetoric got the better of me.

    The point that I was trying to make is: if a so-called analytic statement requires empirical investigation in order to resolve its truth value, then it is, by definition, synthetic.

    The case of bachelor is a good example of this. Its definition is not simply a relationship with the terms “marriage” and “man”, but rather it refers to a very fuzzy concept which can be only defined as “bachelor”. In different contexts the word has a very different meaning. (“bachelor party”, “bachelor pad”, “eligible bachelor”).

    To check the truth value of the term “All bachelors are unmarried males” you need to investigate the dynamic usages of the term “bachelor”. This, on my understanding, is enough to make the statement synthetic.

  10. […] Carnival #53, and in particular, Richard Brown’s post and discussion on Quine’s analytic/synthetic distinction.  The joke, of course, is that Quine denied the existence of the analytic/synthetic distinction […]

  11. Hey Sidd,

    Thanks for the response.

    You say “if a so-called analytic statement requires empirical investigation in order to resolve its truth value, then it is, by definition, synthetic.”

    Well, that is one definition of analytic, which I suppose is something like Kant’s view of it as conceptual containment or a priori, but that is not the only definition. Kripke is thought to have shown that some analytic statements can be a posteriori (water=H20 is his example)…so what you need is an argument to the effect that your way of understanding analytic is the correct way.

    Also you say ” In different contexts the word has a very different meaning. (”bachelor party”, “bachelor pad”, “eligible bachelor”).”

    Really? It seems to me that bachelor has the same meaning in all of those expressions. What makes you say that it has very different meanings?

  12. Hi everyone

    Sorry to be so late replying (I’m new to this blog-commenting thing).

    Richard, I think I meant that the synonymity, or otherwise, of the term batchelor depends on how you (in fact) use it to describe the world rather than how the world is. If you can distinguish between “married man” and “batchelor” then it is clearly not synonymous. This creates, at least, two “batchelor” terms:

    1. Batchelor-1. If I slip up the stairs with my new girlfriend I am a batchelor.
    2. Batchelor-2. Slipping up the stairs with my new girlfriend does not make me a batchelor.

    I am married. So if I use Batchelor-1 the term is not synonymous. If I use Batchelor-2 then, in this particular circumstance, it is synonymous. Now whether I use batchelor-1 or batchelor-2 depends on me, not on the state of the world.

    Maybe it’s better with ravens. I use “all ravens are black” as an analytic statement. My next door neighbour (a biologist) uses it as a synthetic statement. If we are presented with the same bird which has all the attributes of a member of the species Corvus Corvax we are likely to say:

    Me (analytic): Its not black. All ravens are black so this is not a raven. Could be a badly deformed parrot.

    Next door neighbour (synthetic): Bugger me! A green raven.

    This is the same bird (so no variation in empirical data) but different use.

    I don’t think sidd is quite there on “if a so-called analytic statement requires empirical investigation in order to resolve its truth value, then it is, by definition, synthetic”. This is fine, but it refers to the wrong statement! Say “X” is analytic. The empirical investigation is not there to investigate the truth value of “X” but the truth value of the statement “X is analytic”. “X” is analytic, “X is analytic” is synthetic.

    BTW. I am an accountant. I assure you (please check with other accoutants that you know) that “Every debit has a credit” is ALWAYS, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, true. It might be the only analytic statement that there is but, there exists at least one!

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