Quine’s Rejection of A Priori Knowledge

Philosophy of Science Central Issues

Given the complexity and abstractness of Quine’s paper, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that Quine’s primary interest is epistemological. Quine wants to deny that there is any such thing as a priori knowledge. He spends so much time attacking the doctrine of analyticity because of his opponents (such as the logical positivists) had argued that we know some statements (such as logical and mathematical truths) to be true independently of experience because they have the special semantical property of being analytic. If Quine can show that analyticity is a myth (an unsupported “dogma”), then one of the main supports of the epistemological thesis that we have a priori knowledge will have been destroyed…

…Because Quine denies that any statement, even those in mathematics and logic, are a priori, he concludes that any of our beliefs could, in principle, be revised or abandoned in light of experience. Similarly, he contends here than any belief, even those traditionally regarded as synthetic, could be retained regardless of the outcome of observations and experiment. It is this aspect of Quine’s position that calls to mind Duhem’s holism and which has been the subject of considerable scrutiny by philosophers of science.


1. Curd, Martin, and J. A. Cover. Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Print. 373-374.


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