Sunday, March 23, 2008

A note on analyticity

This week in the Quine and Carnap class we're talking about the analyticity debate. I've read most of the Carnap pieces for it and wanted to write a short note on them. It is a rough note. One thing that surprised me in Carnap's response to Quine's "Carnap on Logical Truth" was how little weight he seems to place on analyticity. Carnap says that if there is a change of meaning of a term along the lines that Quine discusses, then the analytic truths change as well. They change because we have changed languages, from Ln to Ln+1. I had thought that there would be more stability in languages and analytic truths. Rather than switching the whole language and with it the analytic truths, one would just change part of the language, leaving the analytic truths as is.

I'm not sure if I think this is a good response. It trades a difference in meanings for a difference in languages. it makes it hard to see what the the distinction is between speaking a language in which the meanings change and switching between speaking different languages. This seems reasonable enough. I'm not sure what sort of pragmatic ground one could supply for opting for the one rather than the other. I had thought that analytic truth supported the former but Carnap seems to say no.

The relativization to a language prompted the question, legitimately or not: What is the difference between the predicates 'analytic sentence', 'true' and 'logically true'? In a way they are similar; they are relativized to a language. Truth doesn't have a lot of weight put on it by Quine. (I might be wrong here. I'm going to talk to someone about that tomorrow.) He mentions the use of it to generalize about linguistic items. Analytic sentences are a genus of the species of truth, as Quine says, as are logical truths. Logical truths are true in virtue of logical form though. Analytic truths are true in virtue of meaning, which surely means that they are true in virtue of the meanings in that structural configuration. Not all sentences with those meanings are true nor are all sentences with that structure true.

What extra do we signify when calling a sentence analytic? It isn't a greater commitment to its truth. That can be abandoned readily. Carnap says the analytic sentences aren't ones that must be held come what may. If there is recalcitrant experience we can always switch our language to a similar one in which certain sentences are no longer analytic. A change in analytic sentences is a change in meaning though, so it doesn't seem like much can be made of truth in virtue of those meanings; they are too fluid.

At this point I'm a little confused about what Carnap is maintaining in opposition to Quine. In "Carnap, Quine and Logical Truth," Isaacson gives an interpretation of the analyticity debate that puts little distance between Quine and Carnap's ultimate positions. When I read it, this seemed rather surprising. After reading Quine and Carnap's contributions, it seems pretty close to the truth.

5 comments:

Greg said...

"... I'm a little confused about what Carnap is maintaining in opposition to Quine."
Welcome to my life. Here's a couple of things (which you may have heard already) that make sense to me on this matter:
(1) [often heard] Carnap, unlike Quine, thinks there is a difference between change in language and change in belief/ acceptance. (I'm curious who first put it this way; maybe C. himself?) This is sometimes put as 'Carnap has a two-tiered epistemology; Quine, onle one.'
(2) [my hobby-horse] For a sentence of the form
(A) 'p is analytic',
Carnap thinks that (A) is itself analytic, while Quine thinks it has to be synthetic/ empirical (if it is not to be so much metaphysics).

Jeremy said...

You write "it makes it hard to see what the the distinction is between speaking a language in which the meanings change and switching between speaking different languages." I agree and would go farther. It's hard to see when there's a change of meaning/language rather than evidence that the supposed analytic sentence wasn't, in fact, analytic. This point comes out even more clearly if we emphasize the perspective of the linguist undertaking radical translation. Suppose the linguist has concluded that some sentence S is "analytic". Then one of the native speakers utters something that entails not-S. What should the linguist conclude? Meanings have changed? The native is speaking a new language? That he was wrong about the analyticity of S? I take one of Quine's points to be that the answer is underdetermined.

I'm making a connection between radical translation and the argument of Two Dogma's that isn't emphasized in the text, but I think that the connection is supported by some things that Quine says in Two Dogma's in Retrospect, citing his Roots of Reference, where he acknowledges a sense of "analytic for a native speaker":

"A sentence is analytic for a native speaker, I suggested, if he learned the truth of the sentence by learning the use of one or more of its words. This obviously works for 'No bachelor is married' and the like, and it also works for the basic laws of logic."

Later Quine, however, says that this sense of anlyticity won't do what Carnap wants in grounding mathematical truth:

"The crude criterion in Roots of Reference, based on word learning, is no help; we don't in general know how we learned a word, nor what truths we learned in the process. Nor do we have any reason to expect uniformity in this regard from speaker to speaker."

Shawn said...

Greg,
I think I've heard something like that distinction somewhere. Prawitz, in commenting on one of Quine's arguments, says that a good philosophy of language must be able to make that distinction. I'm still sorting out why he says that though.

Regarding (2), it hadn't occurred to me that Carnap would hold that view about (A) but it seems right from what I've gotten of Carnap. Quine's view seems in a way right. Do you like that way of characterizing it? I thought part of the end of "Carnap and Logical Truth" was Quine's rejection of the categories of analytic/synthetic and empirical/a priori. I'm not sure what a good replacement is for a label though.

Jeremy,
That's sort of the sense I get from reading Quine. He acknowledges these weaker notions of synonymy and analyticity, e.g. stimulus synonymy, but they won't do the sort of work that Carnap wanted analyticity to do. Although, as I was trying to indicate in the post, I'm not really sure what work analytic truth was doing as a category for Carnap in light of his responses to Quine.

Greg said...

You wrote:
"I thought part of the end of "Carnap and Logical Truth" was Quine's rejection of the categories of analytic/synthetic and empirical/a priori. I'm not sure what a good replacement is for a label though."

Good point. What Quine actually says (in conversation with Carnap ~1940, but there's a hint of it in 1936's "Truth by Convention") is that determining which sentences of a language get the label 'analytic' is a "behavioristic" undertaking: you go into the lab and watch what the physicists do. And Carnap denies this.

p.s. - If you're interested in this issue, perhaps the next thing you might want to check out is Alexander George's "Washing the Fur Without Wetting It", Mind, 2000. His view is I think similar to the sentiment you close your post with, though I think he might prefer to phrase it as "I'm a little confused about what Quine is maintaining in opposition to Carnap" [order of names reversed from your original post]: George argues that, by Quine's own lights, the difference between C and Q amounts to literally nothing.

Shawn said...

Greg,
I believe we are supposed to read the article you recommend this week for the Quine class. I'll put something up with my thoughts on that once I read it. The order of the names in my post was reversed on purpose, because it was in puzzlement about figuring out what Carnap's replies to Quine were. In the broader context of the debate, considering the Quine articles and Carnap's original stuff, it would work equally the other way.