After World War II, Anglo-American analytic philosophy and epistemology were strongly influenced by logical positivism. But already critics had emerged. First, at Oxford university, John Austin and Gilbert Ryle were developing their “ordinary language” philosophy which followed in the tradition of George E. Moore (1873–1958) and the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) (Schwartz 2012: 77).
Very quickly, it came to be seen that the verifiability principle was too extreme and its own epistemological status was unclear (i.e., was it analytic or empirical?) (Schwartz 2012: 80).
Karl Popper, a critic of logical positivism, proposed an alternative epistemological system called critical rationalism to defend scientific knowledge, which nevertheless has been widely criticised in modern analytic philosophy (Musgrave 2004: 16–17). Popper argued that science uses the hypothetico-deductive method, with falsification (not verification) of hypotheses by empirical evidence the key to knowledge. In hypothetico-deduction, hypotheses are formed, predictions or conclusions are derived from hypotheses, and are then empirically tested, so that hypotheses can be falsified. Only hypotheses falsifiable in principle have a claim to be scientific (Schwartz 2012: 81).
In contrast to the logical positivists, however, Popper did not make his falsifiability principle a criterion for meaningfulness: what the falsifiability principle does is to demarcate scientific claims from metaphysical ones (and the latter may still be meaningful, but not scientific) (Schwartz 2012: 82).
Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000), an empiricist and broadly influenced by the American pragmatist tradition in philosophy (Schwartz 2012: 95), attacked the epistemological foundations of logical positivism. The paradox here is that Quine himself was an empiricist (Schwartz 2012: 95) – perhaps even a radical empiricist (Schwartz 2012: 95) – but he attacked logical positivism (which at the time was considered the most extreme “no nonsense” form of empiricist philosophy) as being contaminated by apriorist rationalism and metaphysics (Schwartz 2012: 77–78), most notably in its continuing adherence to a strict analytic versus synthetic distinction in epistemology.
The attack on analyticity was made in Quine’s famous article “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (1951) and later work. “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” is often understood to have argued that the idea of analyticity (or the analytic nature of a proposition) cannot be made clear, and that definition of the term falls back on “synonymy” which in turn falls back on “analyticity,” and so is ultimately circular (Schwartz 2012: 84–85).
Nevertheless, I think Quine’s argument is unconvincing, not least of all because it is committed to an untenable verbal behaviourism. Schwartz (2012: 86) concludes that modern analytic philosophers continue to use the analytic versus synthetic distinction, but that they cannot do so with a “clear conscience,” a view which I think is unwarranted, since Quine never successfully overthrew the distinction nor the meaningful concept of analyticity.
Quine’s broader philosophy was a type of radical empiricism (Schwartz 2012: 95) or, as some have called it, a “hyperempiricism.” In brief, Quine’s view of philosophy can be summarised as follows:
(1) rejection of the strict analytic–synthetic distinction;Quine sees all knowledge as in principle capable of revision, even logic and mathematics (Schwartz 2012: 88).
(2) an epistemological holism, or the view that totality of knowledge is a web of belief;
(3) a naturalised epistemology, or the view that the theory of knowledge is part of science and the question of how human beings form their beliefs is an issue for psychology (Schwartz 2012: 99–100);
(4) the Duhem–Quine thesis and the view that science is underdetermined (Schwartz 2012: 88–89);
(5) a view of the natural sciences as a useful tool for prediction;
(6) the idea of indeterminacy of radical translation, and
(7) the idea that philosophy is continuous with natural science, in the sense that even speculative metaphysics is part of the human web of belief, but it is ultimately an empirical question for science (Schwartz 2012: 96–99).
Many also think that Quine’s epistemological holism and his use of the Duhem–Quine thesis have been confirmed by Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) (Schwartz 2012: 91).
Quine’s version of pragmatism inspired a number of later American philosophers, including the neo-pragmatists Nelson Goodman, Richard Rorty and Hilary Putnam (Schwartz 2012: 101).
“Willard van Orman Quine,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2010 (rev. 2010)
Robert Sinclair, “Quine’s Philosophy of Science,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2009
Chase B. Wrenn, “Naturalistic Epistemology,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2005
Stefanie Rocknak, “Quine on the Analytic/Synthetic Distinction,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2013
“Naturalized Epistemology,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2001
“Underdetermination of Scientific Theory,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2009
“Karl Popper,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1997 (rev. 2013)
John R. Wettersten, “Karl Popper and Critical Rationalism,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007
Musgrave, A. E. 2004. “How Popper (might have) Solved the Problem of Induction,” in P. Catton and G. Macdonald (eds), Karl Popper: Critical Appraisals. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon, England. 16–27.
Schwartz, Stephen P. 2012. A Brief History of Analytic Philosophy: From Russell to Rawls. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, UK.