Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy

Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy

Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy

Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy

Synopsis

Analytic philosophy is difficult to define since it is not so much a specific doctrine as a loose concatenation of approaches to problems. As well as having strong ties to scientism -the notion that only the methods of the natural sciences give rise to knowledge -it also has humanistic ties to the great thinkers and philosophical problems of the past. Moreover, no single feature characterizes the activities of analytic philosophers. Undaunted by these difficulties, Avrum Stroll investigates the "family resemblances" between that impressive breed of thinkers known as analytic philosophers. In so doing, he grapples with the point and purpose of doing philosophy: What is philosophy? What are its tasks? What kind of information, illumination, and understanding is it supposed to provide if it is not one of the natural sciences? Imbued with clarity, liveliness, and philosophical sophistication, Stroll´s book presents a synoptic picture of the main developments in logic, philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics in the past century. It does this by concentrating on the individual thinkers whose ideas have been most influential. Major themes in Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy include: · the innovation of mathematical logic by Gottlob Frege at the close of the nineteenth century and its independent development by Bertrand Russell; · the impact of advancements in science on the world of philosophy and its importance for understanding such doctrines as logical positivism, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and eliminative materialism; · the refusal by such thinkers as Wittgenstein, Moore, and Austin to treat logic as an ideal language superior to natural languages; and · a conjecture about which, if any, of the philosophers discussed in the book will enter the pantheon of philosophical gods. Along the way, Stroll also covers the theories of Rudolf Carnap, W. V. O. Quine, Gilbert Ryle, J. L. Austin, Hilary Putnam, Saul Kripke, John Searle, Ruth Marcus, and Patricia and Paul Churchland. Stroll´s approach to his subject treats the critical movements in analytic philosophy in terms of the philosophers who defined them. The notoriously complex realm of analytic philosophy emerges less as an abstract enterprise than as a domain of personalities and their competing methods and arguments. The book´s inventive presentations of complex logical doctrines relate them to the traditional problems of philosophy, seeking the continuity between them rather than polemical distinctions so as to bring the true differences of their respective achievements into sharper focus. -- Journal of the History of Philosophy

Excerpt

The rapidity with which major movements suddenly appear, flourish, lose their momentum, become senescent, and eventually vanish marks the history of twentieth-century analytic philosophy. Examples include idealism in its absolutist and subjectivist variants, sense-data theory, logical atomism, neutral monism, and logical positivism. These defunct “isms,” and their living congeners, such as “reductionism,” “pragmatism,” and “naturalism,” form the subject matter of this study and will be explained for the general reader in due course. There are, of course, exceptions to the pattern of birth, flowering, and decline. In ontology various forms of materialism continue to enjoy widespread support, and naturalized epistemology—developed by W. V. O. Quine and expanded by his followers — shows no signs of abatement.

Indeed, if anything, the prestige of science has intensified in the twentieth century. Scientism, the doctrine that only the methods of the natural sciences give rise to knowledge, is today widely espoused in epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind. In 1918 in Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre Moritz Schlick, the founder of the Vienna Circle, formulated the doctrine in this way: “Since science in principle can say all that can be said there is no unanswerable question left.” Patricia S. Churchland's Neurophilosophy (1986) contains a later expression of the same position: “In the idealized long run, the completed science is a true description of reality: there is no other Truth and no other Reality.”

Contemporary philosophers have reacted to the impact of science in three different ways, two of which are forms of scientism. The more radical of the two asserts that if philosophy has a function it must be something other than trying to give a true account of the world, because science preempts that prerogative. In the Tractatus, for example, Ludwig Wittgenstein writes: “Philosophy is not one of the natural sciences.… The result of phi-

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