Analytic vs. Synthetic Statements

Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant. anonymous/wikimedia commons/public domain

Definition

Analytic and synthetic are distinctions between types of statements which was first described by Immanuel Kant in his work Critique of Pure Reason as part of his effort to find some sound basis for human knowledge.

According to Kant, if a statement is analytic, then it is true by definition. Another way to look at it is to say that if the negation of a statement results in a contradiction or inconsistency, then the original statement must be an analytic truth.

Examples include:

Bachelors are unmarried.
Daisies are flowers.

In both of the above statements, the information is the predicates (unmarried, flowers) is already contained in the subjects (bachelors, daisies). Because of this, analytic statements are essentially uninformative tautologies.

If a statement is synthetic, its truth value can only be determined by relying on observation and experience. Its truth value cannot be determined by relying solely upon logic or examining the meaning of the words involved.

Examples include:

All men are arrogant.
The president is dishonest.

Unlike analytic statements, in the above examples the information in the predicates (arrogant, dishonest) are not contained already in the subjects (all men, the president). In addition, negating either of the above would not result in a contradiction.

Kant's distinction between analytic and synthetic statements has been criticized on a couple of levels.

Some have argued that this distinction is indeterminate because it isn't clear enough what should or should not be counted in either category. Others have argued that the categories are too psychological in nature, meaning that different people might put the same proposition into different categories.

Finally, it has been pointed out that the distinction relies on the assumption that every proposition must take on the subject- predicate form. Thus, some philosophers, including Quine, have argued that this distinction should simply be dropped.

Also Known As: none

Alternate Spellings: none

Common Misspellings: none