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Analytic Philosophy in America

W.V.O. Quine

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. . "Two Dogmas"
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The foremost American philosopher of the twentieth century is Willard Van Orman Quine of Harvard. Respected for his mastery of the technical apparatus of symbolic logic, Quine employs logical analysis together with semantics derived from Alfred Tarski to great effect. Quine's work represents a synthesis of British analytic philosophy with the traditions of American pragmatism, combining careful attention to the logical structure of our language with an emphasis on seeking convergent views of the world derived from individual experience.

Quine's influential paper "Two Dogmas of Empricism" (1951) challenges the foundations of logical positivism by raising significant doubts about its project of constructing reliable knowledge out of the data of human experience. The traditional distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, on Quine's view, depends more nearly on a conventional decision than on any bright line between distinct types of judgment. The content of our experiences counts for or against the entire body of beliefs we hold, and our efforts to reconcile them may require the modification or abandonment of any of those beliefs, no matter what their status. No statement (or, perhaps, none but the pure tautologies of logic) is forever secure from revision in the face of future evidence, and any statement can be retained if suitable changes are made in the rest of the system.

Moreover, Quine pointed out that the attempt to ground knowledge on experience invariably founders on the difficulty of establishing genuine synonymy of terms. Since there are indefinitely many possible translations for any statement within a language, it is impossible to establish meaning objectively. Our uses of language are nothing more than dispositions to verbal behavior, and meaning is radically indeterminate. We are left with little basis for the construction of a body of knowledge, then, and must often be content with nothing more than careful analysis of the implications of our language.

Saul Kripke

Saul Kripke

Richard Rorty

Richard Rorty

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