Peirce’s relativization of the analytic vs. synthetic dichotomy

  • Jean-Marie C. Chevalier UPEC, Paris
Keywords: analytic, synthetic, Peirce, proposition, judgement, dogma of empiricism


Kant introduced the (in)famous analytic-synthetic distinction in philosophy. Among other definitions, an analytic proposition is said to be a proposition whose predicate is “covertly contained” in its subject. C.S. Peirce repeatedly examined this distinction with critical interest, and recognized both the usefulness and the limitations of classifying all propositions into these two types. Long before Quine’s attacks on this so-called dogma, he suggested the need to strongly relativize the dichotomy. The article is an attempt to list Peirce’s major arguments against considering all propositions as either analytic or synthetic and against the general relevance of the dichotomy. Without pre- tensions of being exhaustive, the main arguments are: the fact that non-ampliative judgments may also produce an increase in knowledge; that the logic of relatives proves the distinction to be irrelevant; that the Existential Graphs also reshape the line between the analytic and the synthetic; that a proposition may be indifferently analytic or synthetic depending on what universe of discourse it refers to; that analytic truths are no more necessary than synthetic truths; and that the purely given on which synthetic propositions are based is a myth.