An inconsistency in Quine



In a recent paper, Gustavo Picazo identifies four inconsistencies in Quine’s work. Below I present the first of these inconsistencies.


Quine says that the notion of two words or expressions being synonymous is best understood in terms of some claims being analytic truths, that is to say, some claims being true in virtue of meaning alone. If we say that two words or expressions are synonymous, that they have the same meaning, we are committing ourselves to analytic truths. For example, if we say that the expression “a bachelor” and the expression “an unmarried man” are synonymous in conventional English today, we are committed to the following being true in virtue of meaning alone: a bachelor is an unmarried man. But Quine also denies that there are any analytic truths, because he cannot find a defensible way of making sense of the distinction between analytic truths and non-analytic truths. So Quine denies that two words or expressions are or could ever be synonymous.


But in another passage Quine says the following:

It is obvious that truth in general depends on both language and extra-linguistic fact. The statement ‘Brutus killed Caesar’ would be false if the world had been different in certain ways, but it would also be false if the word ‘killed’ happened rather to have the sense of ‘begat’. (Quine, quoted in Picazo 2015: 166-167)


Picazo points out that Quine is inconsistent here, because what he says here commits him to the possibility that the word ‘killed’ and the word ‘begat’ have the same meaning. Quine denies that there are or could be synonymous words yet also entails the possibility that there are synonymous words.



Picazo, G. 2015. Four Quine’s Inconsistencies. Organon F 22: 163-177. Link.