Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Synthetic propositions

core definition

Synthetic propositions are substantial and experiential statements verified by empirical observation.

explanatory context

Synthetic propositions are usually contrasted to analytic propositions, which are true by definition. For example, 'widows are women whose husband have died'.

Synthetic propositions, unlike analytic ones, are not logically 'necessary' but depended on experience. For example, 'Dobbin is a horse'.

analytical review

Mesa Community College (undated):

Any proposition whose truth is dependent on the relationship between the content of the proposition and the world is labeled Synthetic.

Analytic propositions are propositions that are true in virtue of the meaning of the proposition.


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2017) explains the analytic/synthetic distinction thus:

An "analytic" sentence, such as "Ophthalmologists are doctors," has historically been characterized as one whose truth depends upon the meanings of its constituent terms (and how they're combined) alone, as opposed to a more usual "synthetic" sentence, such as "Ophthalmologists are rich," whose truth depends also upon the facts about the world that the sentence represents, e.g., that ophthalmologists are rich. This is sometimes called the "metaphysical" characterization of the distinction, concerned with the source of the truth of the sentences. A more cautious,epistemological characterization is that analytic sentences are those whose truth can be knownmerely by knowing the meanings of the constituent terms, as opposed to having also to know something about the represented world. Beginning with Frege, many philosophers hoped to show that the truths of logic and mathematics and other apparently a priori domains, such as much of philosophy and the foundations of science, could be shown to be at least epistemically analytic by careful "conceptual analysis." This project encountered a number of problems that have seemed so intractable as to lead some philosophers, particularly Quine, to doubt the reality of the distinction. Surprisingly, this led him and others to doubt the reality and determinacy of psychological states. There have been a number of interesting reactions to this scepticism, both in philosophy and in linguistics, but, while the reality of psychological states might be saved, it has yet to be shown that appeals to the analytic will ever be able to ground the a priori in the way that philosophers had hoped.


associated issues


related areas

See also

analytic propositions



logical positivism


Mesa Community College, nd, 'Synthetic proposition', available at, accessed 15 June 2019.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2017, 'The analytic/synthetic distinction' first published 14 August 2003 with substanbtive revision 12 October 2017, available at, accessed 15 June 2014.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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