Analytical philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD091-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 17, 2022, from

3. Linguistic analysis

In the early post-1945 period this positivist conception of analytical philosophy was regarded as unnecessarily restrictive by many philosophers, especially those not enamoured of the scientific context of the positivist programme. Not wanting to return directly to old-fashioned metaphysics, they sought instead to extend the range of analytical techniques to cover a general concern with the normative aspects of language, while shedding a commitment to the identification of simple meanings or basic certainties. In Wittgenstein’s writings of this period the underlying hope was the ‘therapeutic’ aspiration that philosophical perplexities would thereby be set to rest; whereas in the writings of Ryle, Austin, Strawson and other ‘ordinary language’ philosophers there was still the presumption that answers to old metaphysical questions such as those concerning the status of the mind (Ryle), appearances (Austin) and universals (Strawson) could be extracted from these inquiries (see Ordinary language philosophy, school of).

This broader conception of ‘analytical philosophy’ came to self-consciousness in the 1961 Anglo-French conference at Royaumont (Montefiore and Williams 1966), and it is, I think, only after this conference that use of the term ‘analytical philosophy’ became widespread (as in the title of the characteristic collections Analytical Philosophy, edited by R.J. Butler – Butler 1962, 1965). The sense of the term was, therefore, no longer confined to the logico-epistemological analyses of Russell and the logical positivists; instead it embraced a much broader critical concern with language, still resting on the presumption that this concern could somehow be put to work to solve, or dissolve, important philosophical problems.

This conception of analytical philosophy has been further refined by Michael Dummett, who has maintained that its distinctive feature is the priority it assigns within philosophy to the philosophy of language and that the founder of analytical philosophy, so conceived, is not Russell, but Frege (Dummett 1993). Both these claims, however, need some qualification.

As Dummett acknowledges, his emphasis on Frege’s work is in part a retrospective re-evaluation. For although familiarity with Frege’s work in logic and mathematics played an essential part in the development of Russell’s work, Russell took his basic philosophical assumptions from Moore. Doubtless it would have been better if Russell had appreciated the significance of Frege’s sense/reference distinction, but in fact he famously thought that his theory of descriptions rendered it unnecessary (Russell 1905). However, Rudolf Carnap – who, as we have seen, is one of the first to propound the thesis that philosophy can only be analytical – explicitly acknowledges his indebtedness to Frege, whose lectures he had attended (Carnap 1937: xvi); and it was, therefore, through Carnap’s writings that Frege’s philosophy of language was brought into the mainstream of analytical philosophy. Carnap also here acknowledges his debt to the great Polish logicians Ajdukiewicz, Leśniewski, Łukasiewicz and Tarski, whose works constitute in their own right major contributions to analytical philosophy, though ones that there is no space to describe here in detail (a full account should also include an account of the work of Hägerström and the other members of the early Swedish school of analytical philosophers) (see Polish logic; Scandinavia, philosophy in).

Although Dummett’s claim that the distinctive feature of analytical philosophy is the priority it assigns to the philosophy of language fits well the conception of analytical philosophy that emerged from the early work of Wittgenstein and Carnap, it is certainly not a feature of Russell’s early work nor, in fact, a self-conscious feature of Frege’s writings, which famously include instead the thesis that sentences are true only in virtue of the nonlinguistic thoughts they express. Further, although Dummett’s explanation of this priority in terms of the basic role within philosophy of a ‘theory of meaning’ fits his own writings and some of those of Donald Davidson, one has only to think of the hostility to ‘theorizing’ that is characteristic of Wittgenstein’s later writings to see that Dummett’s account is distinctly tendentious. Indeed, recent work in the philosophy of language and of mind increasingly calls into doubt Dummett’s priority thesis (Stalnaker 1984) (see Evans, G.). Yet since those who argue for the alternative priority of mind over language employ the methods of logical and epistemological analysis characteristic of previous analytical philosophers – though applied now to the structure of mental, rather than just linguistic, representations – it would be quite inappropriate to locate here a movement that threatens to bring about the ‘end of analytical philosophy’. That threat certainly exists, but it comes from another direction.

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

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