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analytic and synthetic statements

Analytic sentences are true by definition, and are generally self-explanatory. Additionally, they often have little to no informative value. Examples of analytic sentences include:
  • Frozen water is ice.
  • Bachelors are unmarried men.
  • Two halves make up a whole.
No additional meaning or knowledge is contained in the predicate that is not already given in the subject. Analytic sentences are redundant statements whose clarification relies entirely on definition. Analytic sentences tell us about logic and about language use. They do not give meaningful information about the world.

Synthetic statements, on the other hand, are based on our sensory data and experience. The truth-value of a synthetic statements cannot be figured out based solely on logic. If one had had no sensory input from the world, then studying the statement would not yield the meaning of the sentence, as it would for an analytic sentence. Examples of synthetic sentences are:
  • Children wear hats.
  • The table in the kitchen is round.
  • My computer is on.
Synthetic sentences are descriptions of the world that cannot be taken for granted. Sentences that are possibly true but not necessarily true are synthetic.

W.V. Quine argues in "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" that there is no clear argument supporting this distinction between analytic and synthetic sentences. That is, although some sentences appear to rely on nothing but logic and the meaning of language for their truth-value, no philosopher has been able to give a criterion which would clearly distinguish analytic from synthetic sentences. Quine suggests that this is because sentences have meaning only in reference to a larger body of knowledge. Thus, the first example above which states "Frozen water is ice" has been taken by philosophers to be analytic, but it actually derives its meaning from a wider body of knowledge about what it is to be frozen and what something is like in order for it to be classified as water. According to Quine, even a statement like this one, which seems to be true solely in virtue of the meanings of the words, relies on there having been some experience of the world in order for it to be meaningful.

--Michael Vacca


Austin Cline, "Analytic vs. Synthetic Statements," URL = http://atheism.about.com/library/glossary/general/bldef_analytic.htm

"The verifiability theory of meaning," Wikipedia. URL = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_verifiability_theory_of_meaning

W.V.O. Quine, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" in From a Logical Point of View. Harvard University Press, 1953.