Russell, Idealism, and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy

Russell, Idealism, and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy

Russell, Idealism, and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy

Russell, Idealism, and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy

Synopsis

This book deals with a crucial period in the formation of twentieth-century analytic philosophy. It discusses the tradition of British Idealism, and the rejection of that tradition by Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore at the beginning of this century. It goes on to examine the veryinfluential work of Russell in the period up to the First World War, and addresses the question of what we can learn about the nature of analytic philosophy through a close examination of its origins.

Excerpt

This book arises out of an interest in the origins of analytic philosophy—that is, roughly, of the philosophical tradition which has been dominant in English-speaking countries for most of this century. My interest in the origins of this tradition arises, in turn, from the twofold reaction which I had to philosophy, beginning almost as early as my first serious study of the subject. On the one hand, it completely absorbed me. On the other hand, its inconclusiveness frustrated me: I was only too well aware of the vulnerability of any philosophical claim, and could not convince myself that my own views might somehow be exempt. During my second and third years of graduate study I began to work my way towards an escape from this intellectual impasse. I ceased to take the subject simply at (what seemed to me to be) its face value, as consisting of well-defined problems and attempts to solve them. I began, rather, to take seriously the fact that the formulation of a philosophical problem arises out of a particular historical context. So, gradually, I developed the idea of trying to understand analytic philosophy in this way, as an historically conditioned phenomenon. I hoped that such an approach might enable me to situate myself relative to the tradition. More ambitiously, I hoped that work of this sort might help the tradition to come to terms with its past, and thereby to achieve a new understanding of itself.

For one trained within the analytic tradition to study the history of that tradition might seem to be a small step. And so, in one sense, it is; certainly part of its attraction for me was precisely that the project did not involve a complete repudiation of what I had been taught. But in another sense it is a revolutionary move. Analytic philosophy has largely rejected historical modes of understanding. Attempts to apply that mode of understanding to analytic philosophy itself are so rare as to be almost non-existent. It struck me as strange that the period I write about, which was crucial to the formation of the analytic tradition, had been largely neglected. This neglect, however, is not accidental: it is the result of the general repudiation of the historical mode of understanding within analytic philosophy. In particular, analytic philosophy seems to think of itself as taking place within a single timeless moment. While this way of thinking may have its place, and may lead to interesting work, I want to insist that it is not the only way to think about philosophy. The experience of writing this book has

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