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Rives Discusses “Can the Analytic Data Be Explained Away?”

At the American Philosophical Association Central Division meeting (February 20, 2009, Chicago, Ill.), Dr. Brad Rives from the Department of Philosophy will give a talk entitled “Can the Analytic Data Be Explained Away?”


Quine famously argued against the existence of an “analytic/synthetic” distinction, which is (roughly) the distinction between statements that we can know simply by understanding their meaning, and statements that we can know only because we know something about the world. To deny this distinction is to deny that there’s a principled distinction between specifications of the meanings of expressions, and specifications of what speakers believe about the referents of expressions. In this paper, I take a look at what I take to be one of the most important arguments in favor of positing the existence of an analytic/synthetic distinction, namely, that it’s the best explanation of our semantic/conceptual intuitions. Contemporary Quineans in philosophy and cognitive science argue that there are alternative explanations of these intuitions that do not involve positing any analyticities. I consider the most recent Quinean attempt to explain away such intuitions, put forward by Eric Margolis and Stephen Laurence, and argue that it fails. I suggest that part of the reason for this is that they fail to recognize an important implication of the explanatory case of analyticity, namely, that analyticity must be divorced from truth.

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