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A Summary of Quine’s Problems with Carnap’s Philosophy Essay

In his Two Dogmas of Empiricism, Quine addresses what he views as problematic claims made by Carnap. The first problem Quine has with Carnap’s epistemology is about his definition of state-descriptions. The problem is in two parts: first Quine says that Carnap’s version of analyticity is conditional, because it requires atomic sentences in a language to be mutually independent. The second part of the problem is that, Carnap’s attempt to explore analyticity by way of his state-descriptions results in a problematic definition of analyticity, which ends up being more indicative of logical truth.

In conclusion, Quine presents a solution to his problems with Carnap positing that the boundary between synthetic and analytic is imagined. In his attempt to define analyticity Quine encounters a problematic attempt at defining the term, by Carnap. Carnap “has tended to explain analyticity by appeal to what he calls state-descriptions”(195). Carnap’s state-descriptions are problematic for two reasons; one reason is that “a statement is …

explained as analytic when it comes out true under every state description”(195), this necessitates every atomic sentence to be mutually independent- meaning that two statements that mean the same thing are supposed to exist as two completely separate meanings. However, as Quine points out this would mean “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”(195).

This truth gives rise to the second problem of Carnap’s state-descriptions, that analyticity as it refers to state-descriptions only works for languages that do not contain synonymous words such as bachelor and unmarried. So, Quine submits that Carnap’s state-descriptions are indicative of logical truth, not of analyticity. To generalize, these problems that Quine has with Carnap’s philosophical system equate to a single point of disagreement, that there is an absolute distinction between analytic and synthetic.

Quine points to our “pragmatic inclinations to adjust one strand of the fabric of science rather an another in accommodating some particular recalcitrant experience”(207). Quine believes that Carnap’s drawing a distinction between analytic and synthetic points to our quest for simplicity in science, possibly deriving from a deconstructionist belief that everything can be equated to simplified smaller elements that make up a whole.

Quine challenges Carnap’s methodology as well as his philosophical system. To conclude, Quine notes that he understands the philosophical approach attempted by philosophers like Lewis, and Carnap, but does not think that it is a beneficial one. “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”(207).

Carnap’s constructed language is a scientific one, and since science is based on our experience, when Carnap attempts to encompass our world using his language with strict rules, he does an injustice to science’s close relationship to experience, making his language based on the rules of arithmetic instead. Finally, Quine points to Carnap’s employment of pragmatism as one that comes up short, and does not justify the strict division between synthetic and analytic. “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”(207). Quine feels that the division between synthetic and analytic has been too hastily assumed, and that a more thorough approach to the relationship would be helpful. He believes that the boundary between analytic and synthetic is too harshly drawn, and that the difference is only in degrees. He asks Carnap to suppress his foundations in our traditional scientific method and suggests that sometimes it is not always pragmatism that shapes our perception.


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