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Won't Get Fooled Again: The Dogma of Quine's “Two Dogmas”

1 May 2011


[From the Introduction]

In the 1950’s, W.V.O. Quine published what he thought was a crippling blow to the analytic/synthetic distinction. Hailed as one of the most important philosophical articles in the 20th century, the “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” sought to demonstrate how the concept of analyticity is circular in nature. The conclusions that Quine drew from this argument envisioned the collapse of reductionism and, subsequently, the verification theory. Both were theories central to the logical positivists whose hard-nosed doctrine dominated Anglo-American philosophy for much of early 20th Century. Although it has attracted criticism and praise, the article has held a profound influence in Western philosophy.

Unfortunately, the article is flawed in the same manner the author critiques analyticity and the two doctrines following in its wake: the “Two Dogmas” is dogmatic itself. Quine’s essay strictly holds to ideas and claims that are clearly not true, highly contested, or preposterous. This article’s first critique exposes two major dogmatisms cleverly embedded under the superficial and swift analysis. Readers are required to agree with Quine on the assertion that all definitions are synonyms. This ignores axiological components of the relationship between them as well as demand agreement with the Cluster theory of naming. The second dogmatism is the blatant ignorance of two extremely conflicting theories of meaning (logical positivist and ordinary language philosophy) that is embodied in his dual categories of analyticity. For Quine to bridge the gap between the theories and ground analyticity, what he really did was set up an impossible task of needing to conform one theory of meaning to another. The third dogmatism that Quine, his followers and his critics are guilty of is the avoidance of syntheticity, thereby leaving the other half of the analytic/synthetic dichotomy untouched.


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