• The Distinction
First published Thu Aug 14, 2003; substantive revision Thu Oct 12, 2017
'An "analytic" sentence, such as "Ophthalmologists are doctors," has historically been characterized as one whose truth depends upon the meanings of its constituent terms (and how they're combined) alone, as opposed to a more usual "synthetic" sentence, such as "Ophthalmologists are rich," whose truth depends also upon the facts about the world that the sentence represents, e.g.. that ophthalmologists are rich. This is sometimes called the "metaphysical" characterization of the distinction, concemed with the source of the truth of the sentences. A more cautious, epistemological characterization is that analytic sentences are those whose truth can be known merely by knowing the meanings of the constituent terms, as opposed to having also to know something about the represented world. Beginning with Frege, many philosophers hoped to show that the truths of logic and mathematics and other apparently a priori domains, such as much of philosophy and the foundations of science, could be shown to be at least epistemically analytic by careful "conceptual analysis." This project encountered a number of problems that have seemed so intractable as to lead some philosophers, particularly Quine, to doubt the reality of the distinction.
Surprisingly, this led him and others to doubt the reality and determinacy of psychological states.
There have been a number of interesting reactions to this scepticism, both in philosophy and in linguistics, but, while the reality of psychological states might be saved, it has yet to be shown that appeals to the analytic will ever be able to ground the a priori in the way that philosophers had
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