The Two Dogmas of Empiricism

The Two Dogmas of Empiricism

June 28, 2021 Off By Felso

The key role in Quine’s critique of the dominant philosophical style was played by the article “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”. In this article, Quine claimed that both empiricism and logical positivists, who are close to empiricist philosophy in certain aspects, defend two interrelated dogmas.

The first of these dogmas is that there is a sharp distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions; The second is the dogma that meaningful statements can be resolved into simple propositions that can be compared directly to immediate experience. Quine also calls this second dogma the dogma of reductionism. For ultimately a talk about objects is reduced to simple contents present in sense experience.

The first of these dogmas entails a division of labor between scientists and philosophers. While scientists pursue synthetic truths, philosophers clarify existing terms through analytical definitions, revealing the forms of logical inferences and revealing the means of correct thinking. The second dogma can be based both on Hume’s idea that experience begins with sensory impressions, and on the verifiability principle of the logical positivists. The two dogmas are interrelated because the presence of analytic propositions represents a limit situation for synthetic propositions, furthermore, analytic propositions can be resolved into elements of complex synthetic propositions to yield simple propositions comparable to sense experience.

According to Quine, both these dogmas are dogmas, and their advocates adhere to them with an unfounded belief. Quine tries to demonstrate with evidence why both dogmas are untenable.

Consequently, both dogmas must be abandoned. However, abandoning these dogmas leads to very radical consequences. According to Quine, when these dogmas disappear, the boundaries that we are accustomed to draw between philosophy and science, and therefore between speculative metaphysics and natural sciences, will lose their sharpness and become blurred. On the other hand, it will no longer be possible to talk about the structural differences between common sense-based general thinking and scientific thinking. So there will be a general shift towards pragmatism.