The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy is Not Rational
Analytic propositions are true by virtue of their meaning, while synthetic propositions are true by how their meaning relates to the world.
No other terms will be predefined - the rest will be argued in the debate itself.
The BOP will be split - I will have to show that the dichotomy falls, while my opponent will have to refute my case and provide reasons why it stands.
You will have 72 hours to post a round, can use up to 10,000 characters per round, and the debate will be in the voting period for ten days.
I don't care much about voting, but please be fair.
An analytic proposition is defined as one which can be validated merely by an analysis of the meaning of its constituent concepts. The critical question is: What is included in "the meaning of a concept? Does a concept mean the existents which it subsumes, including all their characteristics? Or does it mean only certain aspects of these existents, designating some of their characteristics but excluding others?
The latter viewpoint is fundamental to every version of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. The advocates of this dichotomy divide the characteristics of the existents subsumed under a concept mto two groups: those which are included in the meaning of the concept, and those - the great majority - which, they claim, are excluded from its meaning. !he dichotomy among propositions follows directly. If a proposition links the "included" characteristics with the concept, it can be validated merely by an "analysis" of the concept; if it links the "excluded" characteristics with the concept, it represents an act of "synthesis."
For example: it is commonly held that, out of the vast number of man's characteristics (anatomical, physiological, psychological, etc.), two - "rationality" and "animality" - constitute the entire meaning of the concept "man." All the rest, it is held, are outside the concept's meaning. On this view, it is "analytic" to state that "A man is a rational animal" (the predicate is "included" in the subject-concept), but "synthetic" to state that "A man has only two eyes" (the predicate is "excluded").
The primary historical source of the theory that a concept includes some of an entity's characteristics, but excludes others, is the Platomc realist theory of universals. Platonism holds that concepts designate non-material essences (universals) subsisting in a supernatural dimension. Our world, Plato claimed, is only the reflection of these essences, in a material form. On this view, a physical entity possesses two very different types of characteristics: those which reflect its supernatural essence, and those which arise from the fact that, in this world, the essence is manifest in material form. The first are "essential" to the entity, and constitute its "real nature"; the second are matter-generated "accidents." Since concepts are said to designate essences, the concept of an entity includes its "essential" characteristics, but excludes its "accidents."
How does one differentiate "accidents" from "essential" characteristics in a particular case? [...] One is expected to analyze concepts, without a knowledge of their source and nature-to determine their meaning, while ignorant of their relationship to concretes. How? The answer implicit in contemporary philosophical practice is: "Since people have already given concepts their meanings, we need only study common usage." In other words, paraphrasing Galt: "The concepts are here. How did they get here? Somehow." (Atlas Shrugged.) Since concepts are complex products of man's consciousness, any theory or approach which implies that they are irreducible primaries, is invalidated by that fact alone. Without a theory of concepts as a foundation, one cannot, in reason, adopt any theory about the nature or kinds of propositions; propositions are only combinations of concepts.
The Objectivist theory of concepts undercuts the theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy at its root.
According to Objectivism, concepts "represent classifications of observed existents according to their relationships to other observed existents." (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology; all further quotations in this section, unless otherwise identified, are from this work.) To form a concept, one mentally isolates a group of concretes (of distinct perceptual units), on the basis of observed similarities which distinguish them from all other known concretes (similarity is "the relationship between two or more existents which possess the same characteristic(s) , but in different measure or degree"); then, by a process of omitting the particular measurements of these concretes, one integrates them into a single new mental unit: the concept, which subsumes all concretes of this kind (a potentially unlimited number). The integration is completed and retained by the selection of a perceptual symbol (a word) to designate it. "A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted."
By isolating and integrating perceived concretes, by reducing the number of mental units with which he has to deal, man is able to break up and organize his perceptual field, to engage in specialized study, and to retain an unlimited amount of information pertaining to ail unlimited number of concretes. Conceptualization is a method of acquiring and retaining knowledge of that which exists, on a scale inaccessible to the perceptual level of consciousness.
Since a word is a symbol for a concept, it has no meaning apart from the content of the concept it symbolizes. And since a concept is an integration of units, it has no content or meaning apart from its units. The meaning of a concept consists of the units - the existents - which it integrates, including all the characteristics of these units.
Observe that concepts mean existents, not arbitrarily selected portions of existents. There is no basis whatever - neither metaphysical nor epistemological, neither in the nature of reality nor of a conceptual consciousness - for a division of the characteristics of a concept's units into two groups, one of which is excluded from the concept's meaning.
Metaphysically, an entity is: all of the things which it is. Each of its characteristics has the same metaphysical status: each constitutes a part of the entity's identity.
Epistemologically, all the characteristics of the entities subsumed under a concept are discovered by the same basic method: by observation of these entities. The initial similarities, on the basis of which certain concretes were isolated and conceptually integrated, were grasped by a process of observation; all subsequently discovered characteristics of these concretes are discovered by the same method (no matter how complex the inductive procedures involved may become).
The fact that certain characteristics are, at a given time, unknown to man, does not indicate that these characteristics are excluded from the entity or from the concept. A is A; existents are what they are, independent of the state of human knowledge; and a concept means the existents which it integrates. Thus, a concept subsumes and includes all the characteristics of its referents, known and not-yet-known.
Every truth about a given existent(s) reduces, in basic pattern, to: "X is: one or more of the things which it is." The predicate in such a case states some characteristic(s) of the subject; but since it is a characteristic of the subject, the concept(s) designating the subject in fact includes the predicate from the outset. If one wishes to use the term "tautology" in this context, then all truths are "tautological." (And, by the same reasoning, all falsehoods are self-contradictions.)
In the realm of propositions, there is only one basic epistemological distinction: truth vs. falsehood, and only one fundamental issue: By what method is truth discovered and validated? To plant a dichotomy at the base of human knowledge-to claim that there are opposite methods of validation and opposite types of truth-is a procedure without grounds or justification.
In one sense, no truths are "analytic." No proposition can be validated merely by "conceptual analysis"; the content of the concept-Le., the characteristics of the existents it integrates-must be discovered and validated by observation, before any "analysis" is possible. In another sense, all truths are "analytic." When some characteristic of an entity has been discovered, the proposition ascribing it to the entity will be seen to be "logically true" (its opposite would contradict the meaning of the concept designating the entity). In either case, the analytic-logical-tautological vs. synthetic-factual dichotomy collapses.
The epistemological basis of this dichotomy is the view that a concept consists only of its definition. According to the dichotomy, it is logically impermissible to contradict the definition of a concept; what one asserts by this means is "logically" impossible. But to contradict any of the non-defining characteristics of a concept's referents, is regarded as logically permissible; what one asserts in such a case is merely "empirically" impossible.
Thus, a "married bachelor" contradicts the definition of "bachelor" and hence is regarded as "logically" impossible. But a "bachelor who can fly to the moon by means of flapping his arms" is regarded as "logically" possible, because the definition of "bachelor" ("an unmarried man") does not specify his means of locomotion. What is ignored here is the fact that the concept "bachelor" is a subcategory of the concept "man," that as such it includes all the characteristics of the entity "man," and that these exclude the ability to fly by flapping his arms. Only by reducing a concept to its definition and by evading all the other characteristics of its referents can one claim that such projections do not involve a self-contradiction.)
- Leonard Peikoff, The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology
An analytic proposition is essentially a tautology. For example, saying that a bachelor is unmarried is like saying an unmarried man is unmarried, because “bachelor” literally means “unmarried man”. An analytic proposition is thus in some sense unnecessary, because it says nothing that we didn’t already know. We don’t even need to look beyond the definition of bachelor to know that all bachelors are unmarried - we don’t even need to consider what actually exists - because in order for something to be called a bachelor in the first place, the man in question can’t be married.
On the other hand, a synthetic proposition is not a tautology. A synthetic proposition is basically a statement whose truth cannot be ascertained by only considering the statement. Rather, the truth value of a synthetic proposition can only be determined by looking at what actually exists, and seeing whether it corresponds to what the statement says. With an analytic proposition, this step is totally unnecessary because you already know what you’re going to find (or not find). For example, you know you’re not going to find a married bachelor even before you begin looking, because if you were to find it, it wouldn’t be an example of a bachelor in the first place. The proposition that all bachelors are messy, on the other hand, is not redundant or tautological, because nothing in the meaning of “bachelor” clarifies whether the man is messy or not, only whether he is married. You need to actually look and see if all bachelors are messy.
Saying that all bachelors are messy is necessarily not redundant, even if it happens to be true, because the issue of “messiness” has not already been covered in the notion of “bachelor”. You aren’t just repeating yourself by saying it. In order to falsify the statement, you must find an example of something that is at once a bachelor and neat. Since these characteristics can, in principle, apply to the same entity, you have to actually see whether a neat bachelor exists, because its existence would not be inconsistent and thus cannot be ruled out a priori.
If there is, in fact, no difference whatsoever between analytic propositions and synthetic propositions, then why are philosophers able to distinguish between them so reliably? It’s quite remarkable that two people who have never met can nevertheless produce lists of analytic propositions and synthetic propositions which they other can agree to. The obvious explanation is that there is, in fact, some fundamental difference between analytic propositions and synthetic propositions allowing philosophers to distinguish between them. In order for my opponent to plausibly maintain the proposition that the analytic-synthetic dichotomy is false, he must identify some other fundamental difference between propositions which everyone agrees are analytic and propositions which everyone agrees are synthetic. Otherwise, he has to adopt the ridiculous position that philosophers, despite being able to place propositions into two categories with great reliability, are actually just guessing.
I’ve come up with a functional definition for analytic/synthetic propositions:
“A proposition is analytic if we cannot even imagine a particular which would prove the proposition false were it to exist; a proposition is synthetic if we can.”
This simple formula correctly accounts for the choice of classification (analytic or synthetic) of every example I’ve ever come across used to explain the difference between analytic and synthetic propositions. Why should this work? My opponent must explain why either a) this formula is actually unusable or b) the propositions assigned to a certain category (e.g., analytic) in fact have nothing in common that the propositions in the other category (e.g., synthetic) do not also possess.
It’s self-evident that the formula works because some statements are true by virtue of their meaning (and thus preclude even imagining particulars to the contrary), while others require you to look at what exists and judge whether the statement is true on that basis (not only on the basis of the definitions used).
A concept is not equivalent to the particulars which happen to meet its definition. As Michael Huemer observes, “Objectivism's rejection of the analytic/synthetic distinction is based on the failure to distinguish the sense and the reference of a word.” A concept like “tree” or “circle”, is an abstract set of criteria which tells you if a concrete belongs to that class. This is true because the meaning of such concepts does not change even when you mess with (or eliminate altogether) the particulars to which the concepts apply. Concretes merely help us form concepts. Once formed, a concept is totally independent and unchanging. Concepts don’t exist (at least not in the physical sense). A physical manifestation of a concept embodies that concept’s criteria, but also has features which have no relevance whatsoever to the concept. This is why no general concept like tree or car can ever exist in isolation; they are always seen in conjunction with variables that don’t affect the concept. In other words, an example of a concept is only identical to the concept up to isomorphism (which leaves open the question of whether one is bigger than the other). I am a human, but not everything about me partakes of “humanness”. There are tons of variables which don’t affect the fact that I am human one way or the other.
If you are still unconvinced that concepts are independent of concretes, perhaps a little thought experiment will help.
Imagine a world in which a single, unmarried man exists. Both the concept “bachelor” and “human” now only apply to (are embodied by) a single particular. Since they both describe the same thing, are they therefore synonymous concepts? Obviously, they are not synonymous concepts by definition. Therefore, the meaning of those concepts is abstract and not dependent on the particular(s) to which they apply.
According to my opponent’s reasoning, it is actually contradictory to say “Fairies might exist”. For if fairies don’t in fact exist, then saying “Fairies might exist” would be like saying “That which doesn’t exist (fairies) might exist”. Or, if fairies do exist, it would be like saying “That which exists might not exist”. Either way, it would be contradictory (not just false, mind you) if concepts were actually synonymous with their concretes (or absence thereof).
My opponent argues that, since “bachelor” can be substituted for “unmarried man” in the proposition “a(n) bachelor is an unmarried man”, the proposition is true by definition, and, therefore, tautological. He then goes on to say that “all bachelors are messy” is not analytic because “bachelor” cannot be replaced with “messy person”. However, this distinction fails if this notion of symmetry is shown to be based on observation of existents – if it can be shown that the very justification for believing that “bachelor” is defined as “an unmarried man” is no different from the justification for believing that “bachelor” is equivalent to “messy person”, then the dichotomy between analytic and synthetic propositions falls.
To be able to claim that a statement is synonymous with another, it must be able to be substituted with the other in all propositions while maintaining the truth values of said propositions. To say otherwise is absurd – if “bachelor” = “unmarried man”, to say that “bachelor” couldn't be substituted for “unmarried man” in the proposition “an unmarried man is an unmarried man”, “bachelor” and “unmarried man” would, necessarily, not be synonymous.
How, then, do you determine synonymity? It is not merely enough to say that “bachelor” and “unmarried man” are synonymous because they are synonymous, even assuming that they are – that statement is meaningless and tells us nothing about the actual nature of synonymity. Why are they able to be substituted for each other? What makes “bachelor” necessarily equivalent to “unmarried man”?
The answer surely can't be “because people have said so” - that's a very unsatisfying answer, since it would be divorcing truth completely from reality (concepts must mean something for them to be true concepts) and making truth arbitrary. The only legitimate basis for a concept, something which describes reality, is in reality – anything else would be literally unintelligible (the unreal is not able to be described or conceptualized by virtue of the fact that it is unreal).
If one must look at reality to form any concept, then it follows that concepts are fundamentally dependent on existents and can do nothing but describe them. Nothing exists but existents – that is axiomatic. If this is so, and if concepts must describe reality for the notion of “symmetry”, and, thus, the notion of “analyticity”, to make sense, then all analytic statements must, to make any sense, describe existents. In this sense, the term “bachelor” is only reasonable because there exists existents which have the qualities that “bachelor” describes, or, in other words, only because bachelors exist. It is impossible to imagine a characteristic divorced from an existent - “red” must always be accompanied by “object”, since “red” is meaningless unless attached to something that is able to be red. As such, “bachelor” does not just describe qualities that exist in some abstract way – it describes qualities which exist in existents. These existents are the referents of the concept, and, if they did not exist, the concept would cease to be meaningful.
Existents are what they are. A is A. What is... is. To quote Peikoff, “In the present issue, the basic error […] is the view that facts, some or all, are contingent. As far as metaphysical reality is concerned (omitting human actions from consideration, for the moment), there are no "facts which happen to be but could have been otherwise as against "facts which must be." There are only facts which are.“  A fact is just the recognition of the identity of an entity. At the very basic level, the metaphysical level, existents are just what they are, regardless of anything else. For a fact to be contingent and not necessary is to say that A could possibly not be A, which is obviously absurd.
The “essential characteristics” of an existent do not erase all the others – the “accidental/essential” split is only valid epistemologically, when talking about particular concepts. Accidental qualities are no less real than essential qualities and a concept which subsumes an entity with “accidental qualities” does not escape from those being a part of it. The arbitrary selection of essentials cannot wash out anything else about the existents in question. To quote Quine, “it may indeed be conceded (if only for the sake of argument) that rationality is involved in the meaning of the word 'man' while two-leggedness is not; but two-leggedness may at the same time be viewed as involved in the meaning of 'biped' while rationality is not. Thus from the point of view of the doctrine of meaning it makes no sense to say of the actual individual, who is at once a man and a biped, that his rationality is essential and his two-leggedness accidental or vice versa.” “Essentials” are entirely relative based on epistemological concepts and do not actually exist apart from such concepts, so they cannot have any influence on what the existents actually are.
If this is so, then all things are themselves. If all concepts are based on these things, they are based on the tautological necessity of their referents – they are based on the fact that A = A. Therefore, all propositions made up of meaningful concepts must be analytic, since concepts describe and encompass existents which tautologically are – if they are, and if they have certain qualities, these qualities are necessary and immutable, and it follows that a statement like “some bachelors are messy” can logically be substituted for “'some existents that are subsumed by the concept “bachelors”' are 'some existents that are subsumed by the concept “messy'”, which is either tautologically true by the nature of those existents or entirely self-contradictory. Therefore, any statement can be reduced to tautologies, and, as such, all statements are either false or “true by definition”, making the distinction between analytic and syntethic statements absolutely meaningless.
My opponent says that adopting the “ridiculous position that philosophers […] are actually just guessing [if a proposition is analytic or synthetic]” hurts my case. This argument does nothing to further his BOP – no matter how many philosophers have said something, if it does not agree with reality, it is wrong. No matter how consistent they are, if there is no logical basis for what they're consistent about, then the consistency must have been the result of guesswork, no matter what. This point can only stand if the rest of my case falls, meaning that it's irrelevant to any judge, since it can only sway the debate to his favor if I've already lost.
I agree that it's contradictory to say “faeries might exist” if the proposition both means “faeries may exist” and “faeries may not exist”. Obviously faeries either exist or they do not – either one of these possibilities would contradict one of the meanings of the proposition. So what? My opponent has just offered this point with no explanation – he hasn't said why this is a problem, so I'm not quite sure what its purpose was.
 Leonard Peikoff, The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology
 Quine, The Two Dogmas of Empiricism [http://www.ditext.com...]
My opponent’s argument rests on the assumption that there is no difference between analytic and synthetic propositions. If I could come up with a way to systematically and objectively separate propositions into two categories, and if those categories perfectly matched the categories implicated in the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, it would prove that the analytic-synthetic dichotomy describes a real difference between propositions.
My method for distinguishing propositions is as follows:
A proposition is to be called synthetic if we can imagine a particular which would belong to the class of the subject were it to exist, and if said particular would falsify the predicate assigned to the subject were it to exist; a proposition is analytic if this cannot be done. This is somewhat confusing, so I’m going to illustrate what it means with an example.
Consider the statement “All flowers are red.” Since we can imagine something that is blue (i.e., not red) which would qualify as a flower were it to exist, the statement is synthetic.
Now consider the statement “All bachelors are unmarried”. Since we cannot even imagine an unmarried particular which would meet the definition of “bachelor” were it to exist, the statement is analytic.
1. It is not merely enough to say that “bachelor” and “unmarried man” are synonymous because they are synonymous, even assuming that they are.
What’s stopping us from ascribing the same meaning to two different linguistic expressions, and what problems can we expect to run into by doing it?
2. Why are they able to be substituted for each other? What makes “bachelor” necessarily equivalent to “unmarried man”?
The fact that “bachelor” is literally defined as “unmarried man”. It is simply is defined as such. There’s no discussion to be had beyond that.
3. If one must look at reality to form any concept, then it follows that concepts are fundamentally dependent on existents and can do nothing but describe them.
That simply doesn’t follow. Particulars only provide us with the material for abstraction. Once we have abstracted a set of criteria and formed a concept, the particulars are no longer relevant because we have our definition. In this sense, a concept could have been formed without exposure to particulars, it would just be more difficult. A definition is basically a cognitive process.
4. Nothing exists but existents – that is axiomatic.
If we define “existence” as “relevant to reality”, then I’d disagree. Time, space, causality and physical laws are all examples of abstract syntax which dictates how entities behave and interact with each other. Although they are defined with respect to entities, and although it is only through entities that we know of them, they are not reducible to the entities themselves. Such “rules” do in fact apply to reality and therefore exist. Is the concept of “infinity” physically embodied somewhere? No. But we still use the concept in mathematics.
5. The “essential characteristics” of an existent do not erase all the others – the “accidental/essential” split is only valid epistemologically, when talking about particular concepts. Accidental qualities are no less real than essential qualities and a concept which subsumes an entity with “accidental qualities” does not escape from those being a part of it. The arbitrary selection of essentials cannot wash out anything else about the existents in question.
The analytic-synthetic dichotomy only pertains to epistemology, so I’m not sure what my opponent is talking about. “Are some statements true by virtue of their meaning, while some aren’t?” That’s a question that has to do with the nature of knowledge. And no one’s saying that the other characteristics are erased, they just don’t have any relevance to the meaning of the concept. A concept such as “circle” only refers to a portion or aspect of an existent circle. The rest of the existent gets to be part of “the circle” but that’s really only out of linguistic convenience... not every part of the circle partakes of circleness - it’s merely seen in conjunction with those aspects that do partake of circleness. The non-essential aspects of a circle do not affect the meaning of “circle”. Instead of saying “hand me the plate” we could just as easily say “hand me the existent which has “plate” aspects, but which also has other characteristics that do not pertain to what I mean by plate”. There’s no reason whatsoever that the reference of a concept cannot be larger than the meaning of a concept. In other words, it's possible to call something an apple without assuming that all of the characteristics of the object pertain to what you mean by apple. Quite simply, "hand me the apple" is shorthand for "hand me the object with apple qualities".
6. In this sense, the term “bachelor” is only reasonable because there exists existents which have the qualities that “bachelor” describes, or, in other words, only because bachelors exist.
This would seem to imply that we can only talk about things which exist, which is ridiculous.
7. The thought experiment my opponent proposes to prove the independency of concepts from entities fails to recognize that, even if “bachelor” =/= “human” in terms of essentials, both groups do overlap and the existent man both lends the qualities of a “bachelor” to the concept of “human” and vis-versa. It can be said that a bachelor is human or that a human is a bachelor, which is the extent of what I am arguing. If no human nor bachelor existed, then both concepts would be entirely meaningless.
My opponent missed the point of the thought experiment. “Overlapping” is intentionally made irrelevant, because in the thought experiment there’s only a single entity that the concepts describe and thus no “overlapping” (only concurrence). Since both the concepts describe the same single entity, they would mean the same thing if concepts were actually equivalent to whatever particulars they apply to. The thought experiment demonstrates that the meaning of “human” and “bachelor” do not equal the entire referent, only those aspects of the referent which qualifies it as human/bachelor. Thus, even though they have the same referent, they mean different things.
A is A - ergo, I have fulfilled my BOP.
I extend all previous arguments.
I win the debate.
1. If our definitions of concepts were actually equivalent to whatever corresponding particulars we have happened to come across, no two definitions would be the same, making objective communication utterly impossible.
2. If, in response to the above argument, my opponent says that a concept like "cat" actually refers to all cats in existence (and is thus the same for everyone and thus objective), I'd point out that it is only by virtue of an abstract set of criteria that my opponent is able to refer to all the particulars of a concept en masse without tracking them down one by one.
3. My opponent's notion of "concept" makes no provision for uncertainty, and thus leaves no room for scientific inquiry, because science utterly depends on our ability to formulate and test hypothesis. Is asking "Might aliens exist" really contradictory, as my opponent explicitly states is the case, or has he made a mistake? I think the answer is clear.
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