Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy

The assault on man’s conceptual faculty has been accelerating since Kant, widening the breach between man’s mind and reality. The cognitive function of concepts was undercut by a series of grotesque devices—such, for instance, as the “analytic-synthetic” dichotomy which, by a route of tortuous circumlocutions and equivocations, leads to the dogma that a “necessarily” true proposition cannot be factual, and a factual proposition cannot be “necessarily” true.

Objectivism rejects the theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy as false—in principle, at root, and in every one of its variants. . . .

An analytic proposition is defined as one which can be validated merely by an analysis of the meaning of its constituent concepts. The critical question is: What is included in “the meaning of a concept”? Does a concept mean the existents which it subsumes, including all their characteristics? Or does it mean only certain aspects of these existents, designating some of their characteristics but excluding others?

The latter viewpoint is fundamental to every version of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. The advocates of this dichotomy divide the characteristics of the existents subsumed under a concept into two groups: those which are included in the meaning of the concept, and those—the great majority—which, they claim, are excluded from its meaning. The dichotomy among propositions follows directly. If a proposition links the “included” characteristics with the concept, it can be validated merely by an “analysis” of the concept; if it links the “excluded” characteristics with the concept, it represents an act of “synthesis.”

The Objectivist theory of concepts undercuts the theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy at its root. . . . Since a concept is an integration of units, it has no content or meaning apart from its units. The meaning of a concept consists of the units—the existents—which it integrates, including all the characteristics of these units.

Observe that concepts mean existents, not arbitrarily selected portions of existents. There is no basis whatever—neither metaphysical nor epistemological, neither in the nature of reality nor of a conceptual consciousness—for a division of the characteristics of a concept’s units into two groups, one of which is excluded from the concept’s meaning. . . .

The fact that certain characteristics are, at a given time, unknown to man, does not indicate that these characteristics are excluded from the entity—or from the concept. A is A; existents are what they are, independent of the state of human knowledge; and a concept means the existents which it integrates. Thus, a concept subsumes and includes all the characteristics of its referents, known and not-yet-known.

The theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy has its roots in two types of error: one epistemological, the other metaphysical. The epistemological error, as I have discussed, is an incorrect view of the nature of concepts. The metaphysical error is: the dichotomy between necessary and contingent facts.

Only in regard to the man-made is it valid to claim: “It happens to be, but it could have been otherwise.” Even here, the term “contingent” is highly misleading. Historically, that term has been used to designate a metaphysical category of much wider scope than the realm of human action; and it has always been associated with a metaphysics which, in one form or another, denies the facts of Identity and Causality. The “necessary-contingent” terminology serves only to introduce confusion, and should be abandoned. What is required in this context is the distinction between the “metaphysical” and the “man-made.” . . . Truths about metaphysical and about man-made facts are learned and validated by the same process: by observation; and, qua truths, both are equally necessary. Some facts are not necessary, but all truths are.

The failure to recognize that logic is man’s method of cognition, has produced a brood of artificial splits and dichotomies which represent restatements of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy from various aspects. Three in particular are prevalent today: logical truth vs. factual truth; the logically possible vs. the empirically possible; and the a priori vs. the a posteriori.

The theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy presents men with the following choice: If your statement is proved, it says nothing about that which exists; if it is about existents, it cannot be proved. If it is demonstrated by logical argument, it represents a subjective convention; if it asserts a fact, logic cannot establish it. If you validate it by an appeal to the meanings of your concepts, then it is cut off from reality; if you validate it by an appeal to your percepts, then you cannot be certain of it.

Copyright © 1986 by Harry Binswanger. Introduction copyright © 1986 by Leonard Peikoff. All rights reserved. For information address New American Library.


Excerpts from The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted with permission of Stein and Day Publishers. Excerpts from The Romantic Manifesto, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1971, by The Objectivist. Reprinted with permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Excerpts from Atlas Shrugged, copyright © 1957 by Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, copyright © 1943 by Ayn Rand, and For the New Intellectual, copyright © 1961 by Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from Philosophy: Who Needs It, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff, Executor, Estate of Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from “The Philosophy of Objectivism” lecture series. Copyright © 1976 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from Alvin Toffler’s interview with Ayn Rand, which first appeared in Playboy magazine. Copyright © 1964. Reprinted by permission of Alvin Toffler. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.