From Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defence of Conceptual Analysis

From Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defence of Conceptual Analysis

From Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defence of Conceptual Analysis

From Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defence of Conceptual Analysis

Excerpt

I have for many years championed the cause of conceptual analysis. When the very welcome invitation to give the John Locke lectures at Oxford arrived, I decided to use the occasion to articulate the important place I see for conceptual analysis in philosophical inquiry.

Conceptual analysis is currently out of favour, especially in North America. This is partly through misunderstanding its nature. Properly understood, conceptual analysis is not a mysterious activity discredited by Quine that seeks after the a priori in some hard-to-understand sense. It is, rather, something familiar to everyone, philosophers and non-philosophers alike—or so I argue. Another reason for its unpopularity is a failure to appreciate the need for conceptual analysis. The cost of repudiating it has not been sufficiently appreciated; without it, we cannot address a whole raft of important questions. And, as you might expect if I am right about our need for it, conceptual analysis is very widely practised—though not under the name of conceptual analysis. There is a lot of 'closet' conceptual analysis going on.

The book is concerned to put flesh on these roughly sketched bones. I see it as primarily addressed to sceptics about conceptual analysis, but I seek also to clarify matters for believers. Some practitioners of conceptual analysis at times give the impression that they are doing it in the spirit of, 'Well, I'm a philosopher, after all.' But, in fact, there is a perfectly straightforward 'external' justification for conceptual analysis. True, it's fun; true, it is what philosophers have traditionally spent a good deal of time doing; but the case for it can be grasped without initiation into the philosophical fellowship; there is, as we might put it, a folk case for it.

I have always been suspicious of excessively abstract theorizing in philosophy. I think that an important test of metaphilosophical claims is whether they make good sense in the context of particular problems. The discussion in the book is, accordingly, anchored in particular philosophical debates. The basic framework is

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