Analytical philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD091-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 18, 2022, from

2. From philosophical analysis to analytical philosophy

The core thought behind this conception of analysis is that of the explanation of a whole by reference to its parts. But since philosophical analysis involves no physical decomposition of a whole into its parts, it needs to be made clear how this talk of ‘analysis’ makes sense.

In the case of logical analysis the basic idea is that one can explain the inferential significance of a statement through an account of its ‘logical form’, which, by identifying the presence of certain simple ‘logical constants’ in the statement, enables one to fit it into a general logical theory that shows how to argue for it and from it. In Russell’s writings the scope of this idea was much extended by allowing that the logical analysis of a statement can lead one to an account of its logical form which discerns the presence of logical constants that were certainly not apparent in the surface structure of the statement. His theory of descriptions, which assigns to the statement ‘The present King of France is bald’ the logical form ‘(∃x) (Fx & (∀y) (Fy→y=x) & Bx)’ is a classic case of a logical analysis of this kind (see Descriptions). Russell further enhanced the significance of logical analysis by taking it that a statement’s logical analysis revealed the ‘constituents’ of the proposition expressed by the statement. Thus he took it that his theory of descriptions showed that it was a mistake to regard the phrase ‘The present King of France’ as identifying a constituent of the propositions expressed by statements in which it occurs, even when they are true, since the description is eliminated by the logical analysis (see Logical constants; Logical form).

In the case of epistemological analysis, the guiding assumption is that complex claims to knowledge are justified by reference to simpler items of evidence, typically observations concerning which a high degree of certainty can be accepted. Hence the classic context for epistemological analysis is the empiricist theory that all evidence is, in one way or another, perceptual evidence and many empiricists have held that, in so far as beliefs about the world are warranted at all, it should be possible to provide an epistemological analysis of them which shows just how they can be supported by perceptual evidence (see Empiricism).

Both logical and epistemological analyses are normative, and for this reason can also be subversive. Russell develops his theory of descriptions into a theory of ‘logical fictions’ which implies that our ontological commitments are less extensive than we might at first suppose. Likewise, epistemological analyses imply that where a putative belief (a belief in immortality, perhaps) is one for which analysis reveals no satisfactory evidence, the credentials of the belief are called into question. This normativity is an aspect of all properly philosophical analyses: phenomenological analyses, properly understood, are not just introspective descriptions of appearances; they are supposed to elucidate the priorities within different modes of consciousness.

I shall not attempt to characterize here all the different kinds of analysis that are properly philosophical. For ‘analytical philosophy’ can be provisionally defined by the priority it assigns to logical and epistemological analysis. I have already mentioned the work of Moore and Russell, though neither of them held that philosophy is just analysis. Their most famous pupil was Wittgenstein, whose Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922) is a paradigmatic exercise in logical analysis, resting on the assumption that ‘A proposition has one and only one complete analysis’ (1922: 3.25) (see Logical atomism). A little later, the members of the Vienna Circle sought to develop the analyses of Russell and Wittgenstein within the context of their positivist programme (see Vienna Circle). Despite their many disagreements, one common feature of their programme was the belief that ‘what is left over for philosophy… is only a method: the method of logical analysis’ (Carnap 1932: 77). They held that the only proper task for the philosopher is to engage in logico-epistemological analysis which clarifies the sense of questions about the world in such a way that they can be answered on the basis of scientific observation and experiment. It is, then, in the explicitly anti-metaphysical context of logical positivism that there occurs the transition from ‘philosophical analysis’, conceived of as an important method of inquiry, to ‘analytical philosophy’, which restricts genuine philosophy to analysis (as in Bergmann (1945: 194), which is, I think, the first explicit use of the term ‘analytical philosophy’).

Citing this article:
Baldwin, Thomas. From philosophical analysis to analytical philosophy. Analytical philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD091-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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