Two Dogmas of Empiricism1a
Willard Van Orman
Modern empiricism has been conditioned in large part by two dogmas. One is a belief in some
fundamental cleavage between truths which are analytic, or grounded in meanings
independently of matters of fact and truths which are synthetic, or grounded in fact. The other dogma is reductionism: the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical
construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience. Both dogmas, I shall argue, are ill founded.
One effect of abandoning them is, as we shall see, a blurring of the supposed boundary between
speculative metaphysics and natural science. Another effect is a shift toward pragmatism.
1. BACKGROUND FOR ANALYTICITY
Kant’s cleavage between analytic and synthetic truths was foreshadowed in Hume’s distinction between
relations of ideas and matters of fact, and in Leibniz’s distinction between truths of reason and truths
of fact. Leibniz spoke of the truths of reason as true in all possible worlds. Picturesqueness aside, this
is to say that the truths of reason are those which could not possibly be false. In the same vein we hear
analytic statements defined as statements whose denials are self-contradictory. But this definition has
small explanatory value; for the notion of self-contradictoriness, in the quite broad sense needed for
this definition of analyticity, stands in exactly the same need of clarification as does the notion of
analyticity itself.2a The two notions are the two sides of a single dubious coin.
Kant conceived of an analytic statement as one that attributes to its subject no more than is already
conceptually contained in the subject. This formulation has two shortcomings: it limits itself to
statements of subject-predicate form, and it appeals to a notion of containment which is left at a
metaphorical level. But Kant’s intent, evident more from the use he makes of the notion of analyticity
than from his definition of it, can be restated thus: a statement is analytic when it is true by virtue of
meanings and independently of fact. Pursuing this line, let us examine the concept of meaning
which is presupposed.
We must observe to begin with that meaning is not to be identified with naming or reference. Consider Frege’s example of ‘Evening Star’ and ‘Morning Star.’ Understood not merely as a recurrent evening apparition but as a body, the Evening Star is the planet Venus, and the Morning Star is the same. The two singular terms name the same thing. But the meanings must be treated as distinct, since the identity ‘Evening Star = Morning Star’ is a statement of fact established by astronomical observation. If ‘Evening Star’ and ‘Morning Star’ were alike in meaning, the identity ‘Evening Star = Morning Star’
Again there is Russell’s example of ‘Scott’ and ‘the author of Waverly.’ Analysis of the meanings of words was by no means sufficient to reveal to George IV that the person named by these two singular terms was one and the same.
The distinction between meaning and naming is no less important at the level of abstract terms. The terms ‘9’ and ‘the number of planets’ name one and the same abstract entity but presumably must be
Thus far we have been considering singular terms.
Meaning, let us remember, is not to be identified with naming.1b Frege’s example of ‘Evening Star’ and ‘Morning Star’ and Russell’s of ‘Scott’ and ‘the author of Waverly‘, illustrate that terms
The above examples consist of singular terms, concrete and abstract.
With general terms, or predicates, the situation is
somewhat different but parallel. Whereas a singular term purports to name an entity, abstract or
concrete, a general term does not; but a general term is true of an entity, or of each of many,
or of none.2b The class of all entities of which a general term is true is called the extension of
the term. Now paralleling the contrast between the meaning of a singular term and the entity named,
we must distinguish equally between the meaning of a general term and its extension. The general
terms ‘creature with a heart’ and ‘creature with a kidney,’ e.g., are perhaps alike in extension but unlike
Confusion of meaning with extension, in the case of general terms, is less common than confusion of
meaning with naming in the case of singular terms. It is indeed a commonplace in philosophy to
oppose intension (or meaning) to extension, or, in a variant vocabulary, connotation to denotation.
The Aristotelian notion of essence was the forerunner, no doubt, of the modern notion of intension or
meaning. For Aristotle it was essential in men to be rational, accidental to be two-legged. But there is
an important difference between this attitude and the doctrine of meaning. From the latter point of view
it may indeed be conceded (if only for the sake of argument) that rationality is involved in the meaning
of the word ‘man’ while two-leggedness is not; but two-leggedness may at the same time be viewed
as involved in the meaning of ‘biped’ while rationality is not. Thus from the point of view of the doctrine
of meaning it makes no sense to say of the actual individual, who is at once a man and a biped, that
his rationality is essential and his two-leggedness accidental or vice versa. Things had essences, for
Aristotle, but only linguistic forms have meanings. Meaning is what essence becomes when it is
divorced from the object of reference and wedded to the word.
For the theory of meaning the most conspicuous question is as to the nature of its objects: what sort
of things are meanings?
They are evidently intended to be ideas, somehow — mental ideas for some
semanticists, Platonic ideas for others. Objects of either sort are so elusive, not to say debatable, that
there seems little hope of erecting a fruitful science about them. It is not even clear, granted meanings,
when we have two and when we have one; it is not clear when linguistic forms should be regarded as
synonymous, or alike in meaning, and when they should not. If a standard of synonymy
should be arrived at, we may reasonably expect that the appeal to meanings as entities will not have
played a very useful part in the enterprise.
A felt need for meant entities may derive from an earlier failure to appreciate that meaning and reference
are distinct. Once the theory of meaning is sharply separated from the theory of reference, it is a short
step to recognizing as the business of the theory of meaning simply the synonymy of linguistic forms
and the analyticity of statements; meanings themselves, as obscure intermediary entities, may well be
The description of analyticity as truth by virtue of meanings started us off in pursuit of a concept of
The problem of analyticity confronts us anew.
Statements which are analytic by general philosophical acclaim are not, indeed, far to seek. They fall
into two classes. Those of the first class, which may be called logically true, are typified by:
The relevant feature of this example is that it is
not merely true as it stands, but remains true under any and all reinterpretations of ‘man’ and ‘married.’
If we suppose a prior inventory of logical particles, comprising ‘no,’ ‘un-‘ ‘if,’ ‘then,’ ‘and,’ etc.,
then in general a logical truth is a statement which is true and remains true under all reinterpretations
of its components other than the logical particles.
But there is also a second class of analytic statements, typified by:
The characteristic of such a statement is that it can be turned into a logical truth
by putting synonyms for synonyms; thus (2) can be turned into (1) by putting ‘unmarried man’ for its
synonym ‘bachelor.’ We still lack a proper characterization of this second class of analytic statements,
and therewith of analyticity generally, inasmuch as we have had in the above description to lean on a
notion of ‘synonymy’ which is no less in need of clarification than analyticity itself.
In recent years Carnap has tended to explain analyticity by appeal to what he calls state-descriptions.3a A state-description is any exhaustive
assignment of truth values to the atomic, or noncompound, statements of the language. All other
statements of the language are, Carnap assumes, built up of their component clauses by means of the
familiar logical devices, in such a way that the truth value of any complex statement is fixed for each
state-description by specifiable logical laws. A statement is then explained as analytic when it comes
out true under every state-description. This account is an adaptation of Leibniz’s “true in all
possible worlds.” But note that this version of analyticity serves its purpose only if the atomic
statements of the language are, unlike ‘John is a bachelor’ and ‘John is married,’ mutually independent.
Otherwise there would be a state-description which assigned truth to ‘John is a bachelor’ and falsity
to ‘John is married,’ and consequently ‘All bachelors are married’ would turn out synthetic rather than
analytic under the proposed criterion. Thus the criterion of analyticity in terms of state-descriptions
serves only for languages devoid of extralogical synonym-pairs, such as ‘bachelor’ and ‘unmarried
man’: synonym-pairs of the type which give rise to the “second class” of analytic
statements. The criterion in terms of state-descriptions is a reconstruction at best of logical truth.
I do not mean to suggest that Carnap is under any illusions on this point. His simplified model language
with its state-descriptions is aimed primarily not at the general problem of analyticity but at another
purpose, the clarification of probability and induction. Our problem, however, is analyticity; and here
the major difficulty lies not in the first class of analytic statements, the logical truths, but rather in the
second class, which depends on the notion of synonymy.
There are those who find it soothing to say that the analytic statements of the second class reduce to
those of the first class, the logical truths, by definition; ‘bachelor,’ for example, is
defined as ‘unmarried man.’ But how do we find that ‘bachelor’ is defined as ‘unmarried man’?
Who defined it thus, and when? Are we to appeal to the nearest dictionary, and accept the
lexicographer’s formulation as law? Clearly this would be to put the cart before the horse. The
lexicographer is an empirical scientist, whose business is the recording of antecedent facts; and if he
glosses ‘bachelor’ as ‘unmarried man’ it is because of his belief that there is a relation of synonymy
between these forms, implicit in general or preferred usage prior to his own work. The notion of
synonymy presupposed here has still to be clarified, presumably in terms relating to linguistic behavior.
Certainly the “definition” which is the lexicographer’s report of an observed synonymy
cannot be taken as the ground of the synonymy.
Definition is not, indeed, an activity exclusively of philologists. Philosophers and scientists frequently
have occasions to “define” a recondite term by paraphrasing it into terms of a more familiar
vocabulary. But ordinarily such a definition, like the philologist’s, is pure lexicography, affirming a
relationship of synonymy antecedent to the exposition in hand.
Just what it means to affirm synonymy, just what the interconnections may be which are necessary and
sufficient in order that two linguistic forms be properly describable as synonymous, is far from clear;
but, whatever these interconnections may be, ordinarily they are grounded in usage. Definitions
reporting selected instances of synonymy come then as reports upon usage.
There is also, however, a variant type of definitional activity which does not limit itself to the reporting
of pre-existing synonymies. I have in mind what Carnap calls explication — an activity to which
philosophers are given, and scientists also in their more philosophical moments. In explication the
purpose is not merely to paraphrase the definiendum into an outright synonym, but actually to improve
upon the definiendum by refining or supplementing its meaning. But even explication, though not merely
reporting a pre-existing synonymy between definiendum and definiens, does rest nevertheless on
other pre-existing synonymies. The matter may bc viewed as follows. Any word worth
explicating has some contexts which, as wholes, are clear and precise enough to be useful; and the
purpose of explication is to preserve the usage of these favored contexts while sharpening the usage
of other contexts. In order that a given definition be suitable for purposes of explication, therefore, what
is required is not that the definiendum in its antecedent usage be synonymous with the definiens, but
just that each of these favored contexts of the definiendum taken as a whole in its antecedent usage,
be synonymous with the corresponding context of the definiens.
Two alternative definientia may be equally appropriate for the purposes of a given task of explication
and yet not be synonymous with each other; for they may serve interchangeably within the favored
contexts but diverge elsewhere. By cleaving to one of these definientia rather than the other, a definition
of explicative kind generates, by fiat, a relationship of synonymy between definiendum and definiens
which did not hold before. But such a definition still owes its explicative function, as seen, to pre-existing
There does, however, remain still an extreme sort of definition which does not hark back to prior
synonymies at all; namely, the explicitly conventional introduction of novel notations for purposes of
sheer abbreviation. Here the definiendum becomes synonymous with the definiens simply because it
has been created expressly for the purpose of being synonymous with the definiens. Here we have a
really transparent case of synonymy created by definition; would that all species of synonymy were as
intelligible. For the rest, definition rests on synonymy rather than explaining it.
The word “definition” has come to have a dangerously reassuring sound, due no doubt to
its frequent occurrence in logical and mathematical writings. We shall do well to digress now into a brief appraisal of the role of definition in formal work.
In logical and mathematical systems either of two mutually antagonistic types of economy may be
striven for, and each has its peculiar practical utility. On the one hand we may seek economy of
practical expression: ease and brevity in the statement of multifarious relationships. This sort of
economy calls usually for distinctive concise notations for a wealth of concepts. Second, however, and
oppositely, we may seek economy in grammar and vocabulary; we may try to find a minimum of basic
concepts such that, once a distinctive notation has been appropriated to each of them, it becomes
possible to express any desired further concept by mere combination and iteration of our basic
notations. This second sort of economy is impractical in one way, since a poverty in basic idioms tends to a necessary lengthening of discourse. But it is practical in another way: it greatly simplifies theoretical discourse about the language, through minimizing the terms and the forms of construction wherein the language consists.
Both sorts of economy, though prima facie incompatible, are valuable in their separate ways. The
custom has consequently arisen of combining both sorts of economy by forging in effect two
languages, the one a part of the other. The inclusive language, though redundant in grammar and
vocabulary, is economical in message lengths, while the part, called primitive notation, is
economical in grammar and vocabulary. Whole and part are correlated by rules of translation whereby
each idiom not in primitive notation is equated to some complex built up of primitive notation. These
rules of translation are the so-called definitions which appear in formalized systems. They are
best viewed not as adjuncts to one language but as correlations between two languages, the one a part
of the other.
But these correlations are not arbitrary. They are supposed to show how the primitive notations can
accomplish all purposes, save brevity and convenience, of the redundant language. Hence the
definiendum and its definiens may be expected, in each case, to bc related in one or another of the
three ways lately noted. The definiens may be a faithful paraphrase of the definiendum into the narrower
notation, preserving a direct synonymy5b as of antecedent usage; or the definiens may, in the spirit of
explication, improve upon the antecedent usage of the definiendum; or finally, the definiendum may be
a newly created notation, newly endowed with meaning here and now.
In formal and informal work alike, thus, we find that definition — except in the extreme case of the
explicitly conventional introduction of new notation — hinges on prior relationships of synonymy.
Recognizing then that the notation of definition does not hold the key to synonymy and analyticity, let
us look further into synonymy and say no more of definition.
A natural suggestion, deserving close examination, is that
the synonymy of two linguistic forms consists simply in their interchangeability in all contexts without
change of truth value; interchangeability, in Leibniz’s phrase, salva veritate.5 6b Note that
synonyms so conceived need not even be free from vagueness, as long as the vaguenesses match.
But it is not quite true that the synonyms ‘bachelor’ and ‘unmarried man’ are everywhere
interchangeable salva veritate. Truths which become false under substitution of ‘unmarried
man’ for ‘bachelor’ are easily constructed with help of ‘bachelor of arts’ or ‘bachelor’s buttons.’ Also
with help of quotation, thus:
‘Bachelor’ has less than ten letters.
Such counterinstances can, however, perhaps be set aside by treating the phrases ‘bachelor of arts’ and
‘bachelor’s buttons’ and the quotation “bachelor” each as a single indivisible word and then
stipulating that the interchangeability salva veritate which is to be the touchstone of synonymy
is not supposed to apply to fragmentary occurrences inside of a word. This account of synonymy,
supposing it acceptable on other counts, has indeed the drawback of appealing to a prior conception
of “word” which can be counted on to present difficulties of formulation in its turn.
Nevertheless some progress might be claimed in having reduced the problem of synonymy to a
problem of wordhood. Let us pursue this line a bit, taking “word” for granted.
The question remains whether interchangeability salva veritate (apart from occurrences within
words) is a strong enough condition for synonymy, or whether, on the contrary, some non-synonymous
expressions might be thus interchangeable. Now let us be clear that we are not concerned here with
synonymy in the sense of complete identity in psychological associations or poetic quality; indeed no
two expressions are synonymous in such a sense. We are concerned only with what may be called
cognitive synonymy. Just what this is cannot be said without successfully finishing the present study; but we know something about it from the need which arose for it in connection with analyticity in Section 1. The sort of synonymy needed there was merely such that any analytic statement could be
turned into a logical truth by putting synonyms for synonyms. Turning the tables and assuming
analyticity, indeed, we could explain cognitive synonymy of terms as follows (keeping to the familiar
example): to say that ‘bachelor’ and ‘unmarried man’ are cognitively synonymous is to say no more
nor less than that the statement:
What we need is an account of cognitive synonymy not presupposing analyticity — if we are to explain
analyticity conversely with help of cognitive synonymy as undertaken in Section 1. And indeed such an
independent account of cognitive synonymy is at present up for consideration, namely,
interchangeability salva veritate everywhere except within words. The question before us, to
resume the thread at last, is whether such interchangeability is a sufficient condition for cognitive
synonymy. We can quickly assure ourselves that it is, by examples of the following sort. The statement:
is evidently true, even supposing ‘necessarily’ so narrowly construed as to be truly applicable only to analytic statements. Then, if ‘bachelor’ and ‘unmarried man’ are interchangeable salva veritate, the result
of putting ‘unmarried man’ for an occurrence of ‘bachelor’ in (4) must, like (4), be true. But to say that (5) is true
is to say that (3) is analytic, and hence that ‘bachelor’ and ‘unmarried man’ are cognitively synonymous.
Let us see what there is about the above argument that gives it its air of hocus-pocus. The condition
of interchangeability salva veritate varies in its force with variations in the richness of the
language at hand. The above argument supposes we are working with a language rich enough to
contain the adverb ‘necessarily,’ this adverb being so construed as to yield truth when and only when
applied to an analytic statement. But can we condone a language which contains such an adverb?
Does the adverb really make sense? To suppose that it does is to suppose that we have already made
satisfactory sense of ‘analytic.’ Then what are we so hard at work on right now?
Our argument is not flatly circular, but something like it. It has the form, figuratively speaking, of a
closed curve in space.
Interchangeability salva veritate is meaningless until relativized to a language whose extent
is specified in relevant respects. Suppose now we consider a language containing just the following
materials. There is an indefinitely large stock of one- and many-place predicates,
|(1951)There is an indefinitely large stock of one- and many-place predicates,||(1961)There is an indefinitely large stock of one-place predicates,
(for example, ‘F’ where ‘Fx’ means that x is a man)
and many-placed predicates (for example, ‘G’ where ‘Gxy’ means that x loves y,
mostly having to do with extralogical subject matter.
The rest of the language is logical. The atomic sentences consist each
of a predicate followed by one or more variables ‘x’, ‘y’, etc.; and the complex sentences are built up of atomic ones by truth functions (‘not’, ‘and’, ‘or’, etc.) and quantification.8b
In effect such a language enjoys the benefits also of
descriptions and class names and indeed singular terms generally, these being contextually definable
in known ways.5a 9b
|(1961)Even abstract singular terms naming classes, classes of classes, etc., are contextually definable in case the assumed stock of predicates includes the two-place predicate of class membership.10b|
Such a language can be adequate to
classical mathematics and indeed to scientific discourse generally, except in so far as the latter involves
debatable devices such as modal adverbs and contrary-to-fact conditionals.
Such a language can be adequate to
classical mathematics and indeed to scientific discourse generally, except in so far as the latter involves
debatable devices such as contrary-to-fact conditionals or modal adverbs like ‘necessarily’.11b
Now a language of this
type is extensional, in this sense: any two predicates which agree extensionally (i.e.,
are true of the same objects) are interchangeable salva veritate.12b
In an extensional language, therefore, interchangeability salva veritate is no assurance of
cognitive synonymy of the desired type. That ‘bachelor’ and ‘unmarried man’ are interchangeable
salva veritate in an extensional language assures us of no more than that (3) is true. There
is no assurance here that the extensional agreement of ‘bachelor’ and ‘unmarried man’ rests on
meaning rather than merely on accidental matters of fact, as does extensional agreement of ‘creature
with a heart’ and ‘creature with a kidney.’
For most purposes extensional agreement is the nearest approximation to synonymy we need care
about. But the fact remains that extensional agreement falls far short of cognitive synonymy of the type
required for explaining analyticity in the manner of Section I. The type of cognitive synonymy required
there is such as to equate the synonymy of ‘bachelor’ and ‘unmarried man’ with the analyticity of (3),
not merely with the truth of (3).
So we must recognize that interchangeability salva veritate, if construed in relation to an
extensional language, is not a sufficient condition of cognitive synonymy in the sense needed for
deriving analyticity in the manner of Section I. If a language contains an intensional adverb ‘necessarily’
in the sense lately noted, or other particles to the same effect, then interchangeability salva
veritate in such a language does afford a sufficient condition of cognitive synonymy; but such a
language is intelligible only if the notion of analyticity is already clearly understood in advance.
The effort to explain cognitive synonymy first, for the sake of deriving analyticity from it afterward as in
Section I, is perhaps the wrong approach. Instead we might try explaining analyticity somehow without
appeal to cognitive synonymy. Afterward we could doubtless derive cognitive synonymy from analyticity
satisfactorily enough if desired. We have seen that cognitive synonymy of ‘bachelor’ and ‘unmarried
man’ can be explained as analyticity of (3). The same explanation works for any pair of one-place
predicates, of course, and it can be extended in obvious fashion to many-place predicates. Other
syntactical categories can also he accommodated in fairly parallel fashion. Singular terms may be said
to be cognitively synonymous when the statement of identity formed by putting ‘=’ between them is
analytic. Statements may be said simply to be cognitively synonymous when their biconditional (the
result of joining them by ‘if and only if’) is analytic.6a 13b
we care to lump all categories into a single formulation, at the expense of assuming again the notion
of “word” which was appealed to early in this section, we can describe any two linguistic
forms as cognitively synonymous when the two forms are interchangeable (apart from occurrences
within “words”) salva (no longer veritate but) analyticitate.
Certain technical questions arise, indeed, over cases of ambiguity or homonymy; let us not pause for
them, however, for we are already digressing. Let us rather turn our backs on the problem of synonymy
and address ourselves anew to that of analyticity.
IV. SEMANTICAL RULES
Analyticity at first seemed most naturally definable by appeal to a realm of meanings. On refinement,
the appeal to meanings gave way to an appeal to synonymy or definition. But definition turned out to
be a will-o’-the-wisp, and synonymy turned out to be best understood only by dint of a prior appeal to
analyticity itself. So we are back at the problem of analyticity.
I do not know whether the statement ‘Everything green is extended’ is analytic. Now does my indecision
over this example really betray an incomplete understanding, an incomplete grasp of the
“meanings,” of ‘green’ and ‘extended’? I think not. The trouble is not with ‘green’ or
‘extended,’ but with ‘analytic.’
It is often hinted that the difficulty in separating analytic statements from synthetic ones in ordinary
language is due to the vagueness of ordinary language and that the distinction is clear when we have
a precise artificial language with explicit “semantical rules.” This, however, as I shall now
attempt to show, is a confusion.
The notion of analyticity about which we are worrying is a purported relation between statements and
languages: a statement S is said to be analytic for a language L, and the problem is to make
sense of this relation generally, for example, for variable ‘S’ and ‘L.’ The point that I want to make is
that the gravity of this problem is not perceptibly less for artificial languages than for natural ones. The
problem of making sense of the idiom ‘S is analytic for L,’ with variable ‘S’ and ‘L,’ retains its
stubbornness even if we limit the range of the variable ‘L’ to artificial languages. Let me now try to make
this point evident.
For artificial languages and semantical rules we look naturally to the writings of Carnap. His semantical
rules take various forms, and to make my point I shall have to distinguish certain of the forms. Let us
suppose, to begin with, an artificial language L0 whose semantical rules have the form
explicitly of a specification, by recursion or otherwise, of all the analytic statements of
L0. The rules tell us that such and such statements, and only those, are the analytic
statements of L0. Now here the difficulty is simply that the rules contain the word
‘analytic,’ which we do not understand! We understand what expressions the rules attribute analyticity
to, but we do not understand what the rules attribute to those expressions. In short, before we can
understand a rule which begins “A statement S is analytic for language L0 if and
only if . . . ,” we must understand the general relative term ‘analytic for’; we must understand ‘S
is analytic for L’ where ‘S’ and ‘L’ are variables.
Alternatively we may, indeed, view the so-called rule as a conventional definition of a new simple symbol
‘analytic-for-L0,’ which might better be written untendentiously as ‘K’ so as not to seem
to throw light on the interesting word “analytic.” Obviously any number of classes K, M, N,
etc., of statements of L0 can be specified for various purposes or for no purpose; what
does it mean to say that K, as against M, N, etc., is the class of the ‘analytic’ statements of
By saying what statements are analytic for L0 we explain ‘analytic-for L0
‘ but not ‘analytic for.’ We do not begin to explain the idiom ‘S is analytic for L’ with variable ‘S’ and ‘L,’
even though we be content to limit the range of ‘L’ to the realm of artificial languages.
Actually we do know enough about the intended significance of ‘analytic’ to know that analytic
statements are supposed to be true. Let us then turn to a second form of semantical rule, which says
not that such and such statements are analytic but simply that such and such statements are included
among the truths. Such a rule is not subject to the criticism of containing the un-understood word
‘analytic’; and we may grant for the sake of argument that there is no difficulty over the broader term
‘true.’ A semantical rule of this second type, a rule of truth, is not supposed to specify all the truths of
the language; it merely stipulates, recursively or otherwise, a certain multitude of statements which,
along with others unspecified, are to count as true. Such a rule may be conceded to be quite clear.
Derivatively, afterward, analyticity can be demarcated thus: a statement is analytic if it is (not merely true
but) true according to the semantical rule.
Still there is really no progress. Instead of appealing to an unexplained word ‘analytic,’ we are now
appealing to an unexplained phrase ‘semantical rule.’ Not every true statement which says that the
statements of some class are true can count as a semantical rule — otherwise all truths would be
“analytic” in the sense of being true according to semantical rules. Semantical rules are
distinguishable, apparently, only by the fact of appearing on a page under the heading ‘Semantical
Rules’; and this heading is itself then meaningless.
We can say indeed that a statement is analytic-for-L0 if and only if it is true
according to such and such specifically appended “semantical rules,” but then we find
ourselves back at essentially the same case which was originally discussed: ‘S is analytic-for-L0 if and only if. . . .’ Once we seek to explain ‘S is analytic for L’ generally for variable
‘L’ ( even allowing limitation of ‘L’ to artificial languages ), the explanation ‘true according to the
semantical rules of L’ is unavailing; for the relative term ‘semantical rule of’ is as much in need of
clarification, at least, as ‘analytic for.’
It may be instructive to compare the notion of semantical rule with that of postulate. Relative to the given set of postulates, it is easy to say that what a postulate is: it is a member of the set. Relative to a given set of semantical rules, it is equally easy to say what a semantical rule is. But given simply a notation, mathematical or otherwise, and indeed as thoroughly understood a notation as you please in point of the translation or truth conditions of its statements, who can say which of its true statements rank as postulates? Obviously the question is meaningless — as meaningless as asking which points in Ohio are starting points. Any finite (or effectively specifiable infinite) selection of statements (preferably true ones, perhaps) is as much a set of postulates as any other. The word ‘postulate’ is significant only relative to an act of inquiry; we apply the word to a set of statements just in so far as we happen, for the year or the argument, to be thinking of those statements which can be reached from them by some set of trasformations to which we have seen fit to direct our attention. Now the notion of semantical rule is as sensible and meaningful as that of postulate, if conceived in a similarly relative spirit — relative, this time, to one or another particular enterprise of schooling unconversant persons in sufficient conditions for truth of statements of some natural or artificial language L. But from this point of view no one signalization of a subclass of the truths of L is intrinsically more a semantical rule than another; and, if ‘analytic’ means ‘true by semantical rules’, no one truth of L is analytic to the exclusion of another. 14b
It might conceivably be protested that an artificial language L (unlike a natural one) is a language in the
ordinary sense plus a set of explicit semantical rules — the whole constituting, let us say, an
ordered pair; and that the semantical rules of L then are specifiable simply as the second component
of the pair L. But, by the same token and more simply, we might construe an artificial language L
outright as an ordered pair whose second component is the class of its analytic statements; and then
the analytic statements of L become specifiable simply as the statements in the second component of
L. Or better still, we might just stop tugging at our bootstraps altogether.
Not all the explanations of analyticity known to Carnap and his readers have been covered explicitly in
the above considerations, but the extension to other forms is not hard to see. Just one additional factor
should be mentioned which sometimes enters: sometimes the semantical rules are in effect rules of
translation into ordinary language, in which case the analytic statements of the artificial language are
in effect recognized as such from the analyticity of their specified translations in ordinary language. Here
certainly there can be no thought of an illumination of the problem of analyticity from the side of the
From the point of view of the problem of analyticity the notion of an artificial language with semantical
rules is a feu follet par ercellence. Semantical rules determining the analytic statements of an
artificial language are of interest only in so far as we already understand the notion of analyticity; they
are of no help in gaining this understanding.
Appeal to hypothetical languages of an artificially simple kind could conceivably bc useful in clarifying
analyticity, if the mental or behavioral or cultural factors relevant to analyticity — whatever they may be — were somehow sketched into the simplified model. But a model which takes analyticity merely as an
irreducible character is unlikely to throw light on the problem of explicating analyticity.
It is obvious that truth in general depends on both language and extra-linguistic fact. The statement
‘Brutus killed Caesar’ would be false if the world had been different in certain ways, but it would also
be false if the word ‘killed’ happened rather to have the sense of ‘begat.’ Hence the temptation to
suppose in general that the truth of a statement is somehow analyzable into a linguistic component and
a factual component. Given this supposition, it next seems reasonable that in some statements the
factual component should be null; and these are the analytic statements. But, for all its a priori
reasonableness, a boundary between analytic and synthetic statement simply has not been drawn. That
there is such a distinction to be drawn at all is an unempirical dogma of empiricists, a metaphysical
article of faith.
V. THE VERIFICATION THEORY AND REDUCTIONISM
In the course of these somber reflections we have taken a dim view first of the notion of meaning, then
of the notion of cognitive synonymy: and finally of the notion of analyticity. But what, it may be asked,
of the verification theory of meaning? This phrase has established itself so firmly as a catchword of
empiricism that we should be very unscientific indeed not to look beneath it for a possible key to the
problem of meaning and the associated problems.
The verification theory of meaning, which has been conspicuous in the literature from Peirce onward,
is that the meaning of a statement is the method of empirically confirming or infirming it. An analytic
statement is that limiting case which is confirmed no matter what.
As urged in Section I, we can as well pass over the question of meanings as entities and move straight
to sameness of meaning, or synonymy. Then what the verification theory says is that statements are
synonymous if and only if they are alike in point of method of empirical confirmation or infirmation.
This is an account of cognitive synonymy not of linguistic forms generally, but of statements.7a 15b
However, from the concept of synonymy of statements
we could derive the concept of synonymy for other linguistic forms, by considerations somewhat similar
to those at the end of Section III. Assuming the notion of “word,” indeed, we could explain
any two forms as synonymous when the putting of the one form for an occurrence of the other in any
statement (apart from occurrences within “words”) yields a synonymous statement. Finally,
given the concept of synonymy thus for linguistic forms generally, we could define analyticity in terms
of synonymy and logical truth as in Section I. For that matter, we could define analyticity more simply
in terms of just synonymy of statements together with logical truth; it is not necessary to appeal to
synonymy of linguistic forms other than statements. For a statement may be described as analytic
simply when it is synonymous with a logically true statement.
So, if the verification theory can be accepted as an adequate account of statement synonymy, the
notion of analyticity is saved after all. However, let us reflect. Statement synonymy is said to be likeness
of method of empirical confirmation or infirmation. Just what are these methods which are to be
compared for likeness? What, in other words, is the nature of the relationship between a statement and
the experiences which contribute to or detract from its confirmation?
The most naive view of the relationship is that it is one of direct report. This is radical
reductionism. Every meaningful statement is held to be translatable into a statement (true or false)
about immediate experience. Radical reductionism, in one form or another, well antedates the
verification theory of meaning explicitly so called. Thus Locke and Hume held that every idea must
either originate directly in sense experience or else be compounded of ideas thus originating; and
taking a hint from Tooke7a we might rephrase this
doctrine in semantical jargon by saying that a term, to be significant at all, must be either a name of
a sense datum or a compound of such names or an abbreviation of such a compound. So stated, the
doctrine remains ambiguous as between sense data as sensory events and sense data as sensory
qualities; and it remains vague as to the admissible ways of compounding. Moreover, the doctrine is
unnecessarily and intolerably restrictive in the term-by-term critique which it imposes. More reasonably,
and without yet exceeding the limits of what I have called radical reductionism, we may take full
statements as our significant units — thus demanding that our statements as wholes be translatable into
sense-datum language, but not that they be translatable term by term.
This emendation would unquestionably have been welcome to Locke and Hume and Tooke, but
This emendation would unquestionably have been welcome to Locke and Hume and Tooke, but
historically it had to await an important reorientation in semantics — the reorientation whereby the primary vehicle of meaning came to be seen no longer in the term but in the statement.
This reorientation, explicit in Frege (Gottlieb Frege, Foundations of Arithmetic (New York: Philosophical Library, 1950). Reprinted in Grundlagen der Arithmetik (Breslau, 1884) with English translations in parallel. Section 60), underlies Russell’a concept of incomplete symbols defined in use;16b
also it is implicit in the verification theory of meaning, since the objects of verification are statements.
Radical reductionism, conceived now with statements as units, sets itself the task of specifying a sense-datum language and showing how to translate the rest of significant discourse, statement by statement,
into it. Carnap embarked on this project in the Aufbau.9a
The language which Carnap adopted as his starting point was not a sense-datum language in the
narrowest conceivable sense, for it included also the notations of logic, up through higher set theory.
In effect it included the whole language of pure mathematics. The ontology implicit in it (i.e., the range
of values of its variables) embraced not only sensory events but classes, classes of classes, and so
on. Empiricists there are who would boggle at such prodigality. Carnap’s starting point is very
parsimonious, however, in its extralogical or sensory part. In a series of constructions in which he
exploits the resources of modern logic with much ingenuity, Carnap succeeds in defining a wide array of
important additional sensory concepts which, but for his constructions, one would not have dreamed
were definable on so slender a basis. Carnap was the first empiricist who, not content with asserting
the reducibility of science to terms of immediate experience, took serious steps toward carrying out the
Even supposing Carnap’s starting point satisfactory, his constructions were, as he himself stressed,
only a fragment of the full program. The construction of even the simplest statements about the physical
world was left in a sketchy state. Carnap’s suggestions on this subject were, despite their sketchiness,
very suggestive. He explained spatio-temporal point-instants as quadruples of real numbers and
envisaged assignment of sense qualities to point-instants according to certain canons. Roughly
summarized, the plan was that qualities should be assigned to point-instants in such a way as to
achieve the laziest world compatible with our experience. The principle of least action was to be our
guide in constructing a world from experience.
Carnap did not seem to recognize, however, that his treatment of physical objects fell short of reduction
not merely through sketchiness, but in principle. Statements of the form ‘Quality q is at point-instant x;
y; z; t’ were, according to his canons, to be apportioned truth values in such a way as to maximize and
minimize certain over-all features, and with growth of experience the truth values were to be
progressively revised in the same spirit. I think this is a good schematization (deliberately oversimplified,
to be sure) of what science really does; but it provides no indication, not even the sketchiest, of how
a statement of the form ‘Quality q is at x; y; z; t’ could ever be translated into Carnap’s initial language
of sense data and logic. The connective ‘is at’ remains an added undefined connective; the canons
counsel us in its use but not in its elimination.
Carnap seems to have appreciated this point afterward; for in his later writings he abandoned all notion
of the translatability of statements about the physical world into statements about immediate experience.
Reductionism in its radical form has long since ceased to figure in Carnap’s philosophy.
But the dogma of reductionism has, in a subtler and more tenuous form, continued to influence the
thought of empiricists. The notion lingers that to each statement, or each synthetic statement, there is
associated a unique range of possible sensory events such that the occurrence of any of them would
add to the likelihood of truth of the statement, and that there is associated also another unique range
of possible sensory events whose occurrence would detract from that likelihood. This notion is of
course implicit in the verification theory of meaning.
The dogma of reductionism survives in the supposition that each statement, taken in isolation from its
fellows, can admit of confirmation or infirmation at all. My countersuggestion, issuing essentially from
Carnap’s doctrine of the physical world in the Aufbau, is that our statements about the
external world face the tribunal of sense experience not individually but only as a corporate body.
The dogma of reductionism, even in its attenuated form, is intimately connected with the other dogma:
that there is a cleavage between the analytic and the synthetic. We have found ourselves led, indeed,
from the latter problem to the former through the verification theory of meaning. More directly, the one
dogma clearly supports the other in this way: as long as it is taken to be significant in general to speak
of the confirmation and infirmation of a statement, it seems significant to speak also of a limiting kind
of statement which is vacuously confirmed, ipso facto, come what may; and such a statement
The two dogmas are, indeed, at root identical. We lately reflected that in general the truth of statements
does obviously depend both upon extra-linguistic fact; and we noted that this obvious circumstance
carries in its train, not logically but all too naturally, a feeling that the truth of a statement is somehow
analyzable into a linguistic component and a factual component. The factual component must, if we are
empiricists, boil down to a range of confirmatory experiences. In the extreme case where the linguistic
component is all that matters, a true statement is analytic. But I hope we are now impressed with how
stubbornly the distinction between analytic and synthetic has resisted any straightforward drawing. I am
impressed also, apart from prefabricated examples of black and white balls in an urn, with how baffling
the problem has always been of arriving at any explicit theory of the empirical confirmation of a
synthetic statement. My present suggestion is that it is nonsense, and the root of much nonsense, to
speak of a linguistic component and a factual component in the truth of any individual statement. Taken
collectively, science has its double dependence upon language and experience; but this duality is not
significantly traceable into the statements of science taken one by one.
Russell’s concept of definition in use was, as remarked, an advance over the impossible term-by-term
The idea of defining a symbol in use was, as remarked, an advance over the impossible term-by-term
But what I am now urging is that even in taking the statement as unit we have drawn our grid too finely. The unit of empirical significance is the whole of science.
VI. EMPIRICISM WITHOUT THE DOGMAS
The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and
history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science
is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the
periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be redistributed over
some of our statements. Re-evaluation of some statements entails re-evaluation of others, because of
their logical interconnections — the logical laws being in turn simply certain further statements of the
system, certain further elements of the field. Having re-evaluated one statement we must re-evaluate
some others, whether they be statements logically connected with the first or whether they be the
statements of logical connections themselves. But the total field is so undetermined by its boundary
conditions, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to re-evaluate in the
light of any single contrary experience. No particular experiences are linked with any particular
statements in the interior of the field, except indirectly through considerations of equilibrium affecting
the field as a whole.
If this view is right, it is misleading to speak of the empirical content of an individual statement — especially if it be a statement at all remote from the experiential periphery of the field. Furthermore it
becomes folly to seek a boundary between synthetic statements, which hold contingently on
experience, and analytic statements which hold come what may. Any statement can be held true come
what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system. Even a statement very
close to the periphery can be held true in the face of recalcitrant experience by pleading hallucination
or by amending certain statements of the kind called logical laws. Conversely, by the same token, no
statement is immune to revision. Revision even of the logical law of the excluded middle has been
proposed as a means of simplifying quantum mechanics; and what difference is there in principle
between such a shift and the shift whereby Kepler superseded Ptolemy, or Einstein Newton, or Darwin
For vividness I have been speaking in terms of varying distances from a sensory periphery. Let me try
now to clarify this notion without metaphor. Certain statements, though about physical objects and not
sense experience, seem peculiarly germane to sense experience — and in a selective way: some
statements to some experiences, others to others. Such statements, especially germane to particular
experiences, I picture as near the periphery. But in this relation of “germaneness” I envisage
nothing more than a loose association reflecting the relative likelihood, in practice, of our choosing one
statement rather than another for revision in the event of recalcitrant experience. For example, we can
imagine recalcitrant experiences to which we would surely be inclined to accommodate our system by
re-evaluating just the statement that there are brick houses on Elm Street, together with related
statements on the same topic. We can imagine other recalcitrant experiences to which we would be
inclined to accommodate our system by re-evaluating just the statement that there are no centaurs,
along with kindred statements. A recalcitrant experience can, I have already urged, bc accommodated
by any of various alternative re-evaluations in various alternative quarters of the total system; but, in the
cases which we are now imagining, our natural tendency to disturb the total system as little as possible
would lead us to focus our revisions upon these specific statements concerning brick houses or
centaurs. These statements are felt, therefore, to have a sharper empirical reference than highly
theoretical statements of physics or logic or ontology. The latter statements may be thought of as
relatively centrally located within the total network, meaning merely that little preferential connection with
any particular sense data obtrudes itself.
As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for
predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported
into the situation as convenient intermediaries — not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as
comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer. Let me interject that for my part
I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience.
Imagine, for the sake of analogy, that we are given the rational numbers. We develop an algebraic
I think this a fair account of the introduction of irrational numbers and other extensions of the number
Now I suggest that experience is analogous to the rational numbers and that the physical objects, in
The salient differences between the positing of physical objects and the positing of irrational numbers
Positing does not stop with macroscopic physical objects. Objects at the atomic level and beyond are
posited to make the laws of macroscopic objects, and ultimately the laws of experience, simpler and
more manageable; and we need not expect or demand full definition of atomic and subatomic entities
in terms of macroscopic ones, any more than definition of macroscopic things in terms of sense data.
Science is a continuation of common sense, and it continues the common-sense expedient of swelling
ontology to simplify theory.
Physical objects, small and large, are not the only posits. Forces are another example; and indeed we
are told nowadays that the boundary between energy and matter is obsolete. Moreover, the abstract
entities which are the substance of mathematics — ultimately classes and classes of classes and so on
up — are another posit in the same spirit. Epistemologically these are myths on the same footing with
physical objects and gods, neither better nor worse except for differences in the degree to which they
expedite our dealings with sense experiences.
The over-all algebra of rational and irrational numbers is underdetermined by the algebra of rational
numbers, but is smoother and more convenient; and it includes the algebra of rational numbers as a jagged or gerrymandered part.19b
Total science, mathematical and natural and human, is similarly but more extremely underdetermined by experience. The edge of the system must be kept squared with experience; the rest, with all its elaborate myths or fictions, has as its objective the simplicity of laws.
Ontological questions, under this view, are on a par with questions of natural science.20b
question whether to countenance classes as entities. This, as I have argued elsewhere,10a21b
is the question whether to quantify with respect to variables which take classes as values. Now Carnap [“Empiricism, semantics, and ontology,” Revue internationale de philosophie 4 (1950), 20-40.] has maintained11a that this is a question not of matters of fact but of choosing a convenient language form, a convenient conceptual scheme or framework for science. With this I agree, but only on the proviso that the same be conceded regarding scientific hypotheses generally. Carnap has recognized12a that he is able to preserve a double standard for ontological questions and scientific hypotheses only by assuming an absolute distinction
between the analytic and the synthetic; and I need not say again that this is a distinction which I reject. 22b
Some issues do, I grant, seem more a question of convenient conceptual scheme and others more a question of brute fact.
The issue over there being classes seems more a question of convenient conceptual scheme; the issue over there being centaurs, or brick houses on Elm Street, seems more a question of fact. But I have been urging that this difference is only one of degree, and that it turns upon our vaguely pragmatic inclination to adjust one strand of the fabric of science rather than another in accommodating some particular recalcitrant experience. Conservatism figures in such choices, and so does the quest for simplicity.
Carnap, Lewis, and others take a pragmatic stand on the question of choosing between language forms, scientific frameworks; but their pragmatism leaves off at the imagined boundary between the analytic and the synthetic. In repudiating such a boundary I espouse a more thorough pragmatism.
Each man is given a scientific heritage plus a continuing barrage of sensory stimulation; and the considerations which guide him in warping his scientific heritage to fit his continuing sensory promptings are, where rational, pragmatic.
Much of this paper is devoted to a critique of analyticity which I have been urging orally and in correspondence for years past. My debt to the other participants in those discussions, notably Carnap, Church, Goodman, Tarski, and White, is large and indeterminate. White’s excellent essay “The Analytic and the Synthetic: An Untenable Dualism,” in John Dewey: Philosopher of Science and Freedom (New York, 1950), says much of what needed to be said on the topic; but in the present paper I touch on some further aspects of the problem. I am grateful to Dr. Donald L. Davidson for valuable criticism of the first draft.
4a. This is cognitive synonymy in a primary, broad sense. Carnap (Meaning and Necessity, pp. 56 ff.) and Lewis (Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation [La Salle, Ill., 1946], pp. 83 ff.) have suggested how, once this notion is at hand, a narrower sense of cognitive synonymy which is preferable for some purposes can in turn be derived. But this special ramification of concept-building lies aside from the present purposes and must not be confused with the broad sort of cognitive synonymy here concerned.
5b. According to an important variant sense of ‘definition’, the relation preserved may be the weaker relation of mere agreement in reference; see “Notes on the Theory of Reference,” p. 132. But, definition in this sense is better ignored in the present connection, being irrelevant to the question of synonymy.
7a. The doctrine can indeed be formulated with terms rather than
statements as the units. Thus C. I. Lewis describes the meaning of a term as “a criterion in mind, by reference to which one is able to apply or refuse to apply the expression in question in the case of presented, or imagined things or situations” (Carnap, Meaning and Necessity, p. 133.).
7b. This is cognitive synonymy in a primary, broad sense. Carnap (Meaning and Necessity, pp. 56 ff.) and Lewis (Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation [La Salle, Ill., 1946], pp. 83 ff.) have suggested how, once this notion is at hand, a narrower sense of cognitive synonymy which is preferable for some purposes can in turn be derived. But this special ramification of concept-building lies aside from the present purposes and must not be confused with the broad sort of cognitive synonymy here concerned.
15b. The doctrine can indeed be formulated with terms rather than statements as the units. Thus Lewis describes the meaning ot a term as “a criterion in mind bv reference to which one is able to apply or refuse to apply the expression in question in the case of presented, or imagined, things or situations” (, p. 133). — For an instructive account of the vicissitudes of the verification theory of meaning, centered however on the question of meaninfulness rather than synonymy and analyticity, see Hempel.
17b. This doctrine was well argued by Pierre Duhem, La Theorie physique: son objet et sa structure (Paris, 1906): 303-328. Or see Armand Lowinger, The Methodology of Pierre Duhem (New York: Columbia University Press, 1941): 132-140.