Two Dogmas of Empiricism

Science and philosophy are twin sisters like the sun and the moon. Both are sources of knowledge and outshine the other depending on the time of day. At times, it even comes to a point where the light of one completely outshines the other. Yet there are also exciting points in our calendar when both light mingle and produce a splendid array of colors. It will lead ones thoughts hanging on a pendulum swing weighing whether the two are allies or foes.

In the words of Rosenberg, he stated that science deals with descriptive questions while philosophy deals with the normative questions. Thus there are questions that science cannot answer now and perhaps may never be able to answer which philosophy can moreover provide reasons for the cause of this inability to find answers. One of these questions rests on the foundation and nature of scientific facts which Quine extensively discusses in his paper, Two Dogmas of Empiricism. Here Quine wittily dissects the validity of two major claims of science namely the analytic synthetic distinction and reductionism which serves as the foundation of scientific thoughts.

The first dogma argues that there is a clear distinction between analytic or empirical statements and synthetic statements on the following grounds firstly, it is analytic if the denial statement will provide a contradiction but such a claim is only applicable to the form S is P which further falls prey to the problem of meaning and definitions. Secondly, analytic statements suggest synonymy which implies interchangeablity in all contexts without change of truth value also known as the Liebnizs principle of salva veritate. But this will not always apply to all analytic statements. This particular principle traces its power on the use of language in a particular culture or generation and does not entirely rest on analyticity. Apparently, there is no cognitive synonymy between analytic statements as philosopher of old tried to prove.

The second dogma rests on the verification principle. Analytic statements are considered meaningful simply based on its definition while the meaningfulness of empirical statements is based on its relationship with the world of experience. Quine argues that it is false to believe that analytic statements find its meaningfulness based on its conceptual meaning because synonymity alone find its meaning through verification of the closeness of nature of the words used by a particular thinker. There is no difference in terms of verification for analytic and synthetic statements. Both use sensory experience to judge the meaningfulness of statements which ultimately makes 1every meaningful statement reducible to a statement about immediate experience.

Nevertheless, Quine does not fully agree with this form of reductionism. Radical reductionism implies the translatability of statements about the physical world into statements about immediate experience. But that is not the case, Godels argument against the incompleteness of mathematics proves this matter. Mathematics as a branch of science uses a lot of abstract concepts like lines, point and planes, rational and irrational numbers, which are not translatable to experience since they refer to infinity. So is science analytic or synthetic It is true that it is based on experience and can prove so by providing tangible evidences

Empiricism has always been associated with scientific inquiry because of its methodology. It makes it inevitable for Quine to relate his conclusion regarding the nature of empiricism with science. His conclusion is very similar to Kuhns theory about scientific paradigms. Kuhns theory states that there are no truths because of the incommensurablity which exists among scientific principles as exemplified in Newtons Law of Motion and Einsteins Law of Motion. Both are accepted as true by scientists although it forms contradictions between one another if you will not separate them on a different plane. Quine on the other hand suggests that science is like web. It has a lot of empirical data which connects with one another and at times forms a knot yet continuously supports the rest of the web. One cannot simply cut a string because it will mean the destruction of the entire web but one can carefully loosen one string to lessen the knots which it has formed. Thus a conflict with experience at the periphery occasions means a redistribution of truth value over some scientific statements. It involves constant re-evaluation of data gathered without fully disposing the entire system. Thus any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments, elsewhere in the system. Science is a human construct which aims at predicting future experience. Laws of motions are accepted in the scientific world because it is beneficial for man to calculate speed and velocity which are both important in the invention of machines. Descriptions and hypothetical discussions regarding sub-atomic particles and even DNA structures are pursued as the continuation of common sense to simplify theories. Science wishes to unravel the mysteries of the universe which includes the farthest galaxy and the minutest universe revolving within our body to produce discoveries which will make our lives simpler and better. Man is still the master of everything in this world and holds control over everything which he has created, that includes sciences.

Empiricism as a school of thought for theories of knowledge still stands tall. But Quine managed to revolutionize it by clarifying its purpose and nature in relation to the world of analytic statements. It is not error free because its very child, science, uses abstract concepts in describing a part of experience which is very difficult to define. Empiricism in the end became a hybrid of traditional analytic definition used by philosophers and pragmatists conception of science.


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