Philosophy Word of the Day – The Analytic/Synthetic Distinction

“Analytic” sentences, such as “Ophthalmologists are doctors,” are those whose truth seems to be knowable by knowing the meanings of the constituent words alone, unlike the more usual “synthetic” ones, such as “Ophthalmologists are ill-humored,” whose truth is knowable by both knowing the meaning of the words and something about the world.

Beginning with Frege, many philosophers hoped to show that knowledge 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 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. There have been a number of interesting reactions to this scepticism, both in philosophy and in linguistics, but it has yet to be shown that the distinction will ever be able to ground the a priori in the way that philosophers had hoped.

(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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