McGinn, Colin. Truth by Analysis: Games, Names, and Philosophy

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MCGINN, Colin. Truth by Analysis: Games, Names, and Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. ix + 189 pp. Cloth, $65.00--McGinn's volume is concerned with what he perceives to be philosophy's "struggle to redefine itself, to gain a new self-conception.... IT]he discipline seems to have reached a rocky point in its history." According to McGinn, such an identity crisis has arisen because conceptual analysis has fallen out of favor, due to a motley range of assaults, and a unified replacement conception has yet to fill the void. McGinn prescribes what he admits is a "resolutely old-fashioned" conception: philosophy is the a priori armchair pursuit of the correct analysis of essences or concepts (not words). Although pitched at the metaphilosophical level, the book seeks its conclusions by way of arguments for contentious positions in metaphysics, semantics, and epistemology. Furthermore, McGinn mostly neglects current metaphilosophical disputes concerning naturalism, experimental philosophy, or the resurgence of metaphysics. Instead, McGinn seeks to argue for his position directly, more often than not relegating discussion of current issues to footnotes, at best. Abetted by its blithe and often abrasive style, the work comes over as opinionated, angry reflections rather than a properly formulated and defended contemporary position, which is not to suggest that what McGinn has to say is uniformly uninteresting, let alone false. The tone is tiresome, though, especially when sincerely held positions are described as "ideological." So, the book has grand designs, but it is difficult to think who the appreciative audience might be. The professional reader will be irritated, I think, and unsatisfied by the succinctness of the discussion. The student or novice will not gain much, I fear, for the exegesis offered is patchy, and the style of argument is far too doctrinaire. As for the interested lay reader, I can scarcely imagine him being concerned with metaphilosophy done in this manner.

The book divides into twelve brief chapters. After an introduction, McGinn begins in earnest by arguing, after Bernard Suits, that, pace Wittgenstein, game does have an analysis. The short form is that "playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles." McGinn treats this as something of a revelation, which convinced him that analysis is possible after all. McGinn does not do much, though, to defend the analysis beyond advising us to read Suits himself. For what it is worth, I think it is plain that the analysis fails. A child kicking a ball against a wall is playing a game, by my lights, but I am unsure of what the "unnecessary obstacles" are in such a case. Besides, game and all other (non-stipulated) concepts are diachronically open-ended. Any putative analysis appears to be a decision more than a discovery. …