Analytical philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD091-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 20, 2022, from

1. The method of analysis

The term ‘analysis’ has its origins in a classical Greek word denoting the activity of taking something apart; and the thought that such an activity might be a model for explanations of complex structures by reference to their simpler parts is itself a Greek thought, exemplified by Socrates’ dream in Plato’s Theaetetus (see Plato §15). In the early modern period, the idea of analysis reappears in Descartes’ injunction that one should identify the ‘simple natures’ characteristic of one’s subject-matter, which Arnauld explicitly describes in La logique, ou l’art de penser (The Art of Thinking) (1662) as the adoption of a ‘method of analysis’ (see Arnauld, A.; Descartes, R.). This method then can be found in much of the philosophy of the period, as in Locke’s account of ‘complex ideas’ in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), which is conducted in terms of an analysis of them into their constituent ‘simple ideas’ (see Locke, J. §4).

Kant’s ‘Transcendental Analytic’ in his Critique of Pure Reason moves away from the Cartesian analysis of ‘ideas’ to the analysis of our capacities for understanding and judgment (see Kant, I. §§6–7); and as the idealist tradition develops, especially in the work of Hegel, there is a further shift away from the method of analysis to the ‘method of dialectic’. Hence one aspect of the break with idealism initiated by G.E Moore (§2) is a call for a return to the method of analysis: thus in the course of arguing against idealist accounts of judgment, he maintained that ‘a thing becomes intelligible first when it is analysed into its constituent concepts’ (Moore 1899: 182). As Russell always acknowledged, it was this Moorean conception of analysis which initially inspired his own analytical programme, although in also accepting that there is a sense in which ‘analysis is falsification’ (Russell 1903: 141), he equally recognized its limitations.

Although Russell had a decisive role in the emergence of the self-consciously ‘analytical’ conception of philosophy, many other philosophers at the end of the nineteenth century sought to return to a method of analysis. Brentano’s approach to psychology was explicitly analytical, and there is a direct route from Brentano’s analytical psychology to Husserl’s programme of phenomenological analysis (see Brentano, F.; Husserl, E.; Phenomenology, epistemic issues in). Similarly, from among the American pragmatists, C.S. Peirce wrote that that ‘the only thing I have striven to do in philosophy has been to analyse sundry concepts with exactitude’ (Passmore [1957] 1968: 104).

Citing this article:
Baldwin, Thomas. The method of 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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