Two Dogmas of Empiricism

Two Dogmas of Empiricism - TWO DOGMAS OF EMPIRICISM Modem...

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TWO DOGMAS OF EMPIRICISM Modem empiricism has been conditioned in large part by two dogmss. One is a belief in some fundamental cleavage between truths which are adytic, 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 ideaa and matters of fact, and in Leibniz's distinction between truths of reaaon 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. The two notions are the two sides of a single dubious coin. Kant conceived of an analytic statement as one that attrib- utes to its subject no more than is already conceptually contained 20
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TWO DOGMAS OF EMPIRICISM 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. Meaning, let us remember, is not to be identified with naming.' Frege's example of 'Evening Star' and 'Morning Star', and Russell's of 'Scott' and 'the author of Waverley', illustrate that terms can name the same thing but differ in meaning. The distinction between meaning and naming is no less impor- tant at the level of abstract terms. The terms '9' and 'the number of the planets' name one and the same abstract entity but presumably must be regarded as unlike in meaning; for astro- nomical observation was needed, and not mere reflection on meanings, to determine the sameness of the entity in question.
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