A Myth about Logical Necessity

Analysis 21 (3):59 - 63 (1961)
Abstract
In these few pages I shall try to demonstrate the emptiness of the most cumbersome piece of unexamined intellectual baggage at present being hauled about by English philosophers. I here cite one example to be going on with, at the end of the paper I shall give a handful more, and it would be easy to multiply the number by ten from the writings of reputable philosophers. The outstanding philosophical achievement of the ha1f-century which has just drawn to a close [i.e. the period 1900-1950] has been an appreciation of the peculiar status of a priori judgments and of logically necessary or formally true propositions. . . . Though many problems remain unsolved, the main outline is now clear: formally true statements assert nothing about the world; instead, their function is to state principles according to which empirical propositions are deduced from other empirical propositions . . . (R. B. Braithwaite, ‘Moral Principles and Inductive Policies’, Proceedings of the British Academy 1950). What is wrong with this passage and with the myth of which it is an expression is its assumption that we have clear notions of what it is for a proposition to be logically necessary and of what it is for a proposition to assert something about the world, these notions being such that it is plausible to say that it has recently been discovered that every proposition having the first of these properties lacks the second. This assumption is wrong: there is no body of published theory giving a clear account of such notions, and despite fairly diligent searching I have so far failed to find, among the many philosophers who accept the myth, one who is able when challenged to supplement the literature on this vital point. Let me make it clear at once that I am not going to defend synthetic a priori truths - I am going to attack a popular mishandling of the truth that all necessary truths are analytic, and through this attack to draw right-wing conclusions from left-wing premisses..
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