What is analytic philosophy?



  • Started with Frege (1848-1925), Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
  • Gradually developed in Britain and America.

@The foundational figures of this tradition are philosophers like Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, the young Ludwig Wittgenstein and G.E. Moore; other canonical figures include Carnap, Quine, Davidson, Kripke, Rawls, Dummett, and Strawson.@

Analytic vs continental:

@"Continental" philosophy, by contrast, demarcates a group of French and German philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries. The geographical label is misleading: Carnap, Frege, and Wittgenstein were all products of the European Continent, but are not "Continental" philosophers. The foundational figure of this tradition is Hegel; other canonical figures include the other post-Kantian German Idealists (e.g., Fichte, Schelling), Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Gadamer, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Habermas, and Foucault. Continental philosophy is sometimes distinguished by its style (more literary, less analytical, less reliance on formal logic), its concerns (more interested in actual political and cultural issues and, loosely speaking, the human situation and its "meaning"), and some of its substantive commitments (more self-conscious about the relation of philosophy to its historical situation).@

Various conceptions of analytic philosophy

AP as "Anglo-American" philosophy

  • Plenty of continental philosophy in UK and US.
  • AP also flourishing in Australia and NZ.
  • Carnap, Hempel, Tarski, Reichenbach originally from Europe.

Dummett's conception of AP

See Michael Dummett (1994) Origins of Analytic Philosophy Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

@the belief, first, that a philosophical account of thought can be attained through a philosophical account of language, and, secondly, that a comprehensive account can only be so attained.@

  • Compare: the "linguistic turn", "semantic ascent".
  • Many who consider themselves to be analytic philosophers do not share this belief.

AP as conceptual analysis

  • Analytic philosophy provides conceptual analysis = necessary and sufficient conditions for concepts, e.g.
    • knowledge = justified true beliefs
    • truth = correspondence to reality
  • What do all cases of X have in common in virtue of which they are cases of X?
  • Objections to conceptual analysis
    • Most of our concepts do not seem to have necessary and sufficient conditions. (Re: Wittgenstein's remarks about family resemblance)
    • Conceptual analysis has a dismal track record.
    • Many analytic philosophers do not think that conceptual analysis is a fruitful methodology.

AP as conceptual reflection emphasizing on clarity, language and logic

Scott Soames (forthcoming) "Analytic Philosophy in America" to appear in Cheryl Misak (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of American Philosophy, OUP. link

@... it is important to remember that analytic philosophy is neither a fixed body of substantive doctrine, a precise methodology, nor a radical break with most traditional philosophy of the past ... . Instead, it is a discrete historical tradition stemming from Frege, Moore, Russell, Wittgenstein, and the logical positivists, characterized by respect for science and common sense, belief in the relevance of logic and language for philosophy, emphasis on precision and clarity of argumentation, suspicion of a priori metaphysics, and elevation of the goals of truth and knowledge over inspiration, moral uplift, and spiritual comfort -- plus a dose of professional specialization.@

  1. respect for science and common sense
  2. belief in the relevance of logic and language for philosophy
  3. emphasis on precision and clarity of argumentation
  4. suspicion of a priori metaphysics
  5. elevation of the goals of truth and knowledge over inspiration, moral uplift, and spiritual comfort
  6. professional specialization

Some popular criticisms of AP

  • AP is old-fashioned.
  • AP does not address issues of popular concern.