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Conceptual analysis

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-U033-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

A distinction must be made between the philosophical theory of conceptual analysis and the historical philosophical movement of Conceptual Analysis.

The theory of conceptual analysis holds that concepts – general meanings of linguistic predicates – are the fundamental objects of philosophical inquiry, and that insights into conceptual contents are expressed in necessary ’conceptual truths’ (analytic propositions). There are two methods for obtaining these truths:

  1. direct a priori definition of concepts;

  2. indirect ’transcendental’ argumentation.

The movement of Conceptual Analysis arose at Cambridge during the first half of the twentieth century, and flourished at Oxford and many American departments of philosophy in the 1950s and early 1960s. In the USA its doctrines came under heavy criticism, and its proponents were not able to respond effectively; by the end of the 1970s the movement was widely regarded as defunct. This reversal of fortunes can be traced primarily to the conjunction of several powerful objections: the attack on intensions and on the analytic/synthetic distinction; the paradox of analysis; the ‘scientific essentialist’ theory of propositions; and the critique of transcendental arguments. Nevertheless a closer examination indicates that each of these objections presupposes a covert appeal to concepts and conceptual truths. In the light of this dissonance between the conventional wisdom of the critics on the one hand, and the implicit commitments of their arguments on the other, there is a manifest need for a careful re-examination of conceptual analysis.

Citing this article:
Hanna, Robert. Conceptual analysis, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-U033-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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