analytic and synthetic

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analytic and synthetic

(PHILOSOPHY) the distinction drawn between two types of statement or propositions:
  1. those which are true by virtue of the meanings of the terms they contain (e.g. ‘all clergymen are male’) – analytic, or logically necessary truths;
  2. those which are true or false only by virtue of their empirical content, and not logically implied by the meanings of the terms the statement contains (e.g. the statement which may or may not be true: that ‘50% of clergymen like ice-cream’) -synthetic, contingent, or purely ‘empirical’ statements.

Often the distinction between the two kinds of statement has been regarded as one that admits of no exceptions. Some philosophers, however, notably Quine, have challenged this assumption, suggesting among other things that the distinction rests on unwarranted assumptions about consistency in the meanings of terms (see also DUHEM-QUINE THESIS).

In practice, in sociology, as in physical science, the production of knowledge involves both the formal definition of concepts, and statements of the logical relation between these, as well as the empirical testing of these relations. Theory and research in sociology moves between one and the other, with concepts being restated as the result of‘empirical’ evidence, and the framing and interpretation of empirical evidence being altered as the outcome of changes in conceptualizations. It remains important to try to be clear when any additions to knowledge proposed depend mainly on the logical extension of an established conceptual scheme, or when these arise more from new empirical evidence. But that both of these processes can be important in the development of knowledge must be recognized, and a hard-and-fast distinction between the two realms is not one that can be sustained.


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