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also called Linguistic philosophy, a movement, dominant in Anglo-U.S. philosophy in the 20th century, distinguished by its method, which has focused upon language and the analysis of the concepts expressed by it.
The methods that have dominated British philosophy for most of the 20th
century and American philosophy since somewhat more recently have been called
Linguistic and Analytic because language and the analysis of the concepts
expressed by language have been a central concern. Though
Moreover, the aims assigned to the philosophical study of language have often been different. Some philosophers, among them Bertrand Russell and the early Wittgenstein, have thought that the underlying structure of language mirrors that of the world - that from an analysis of language a philosopher can grasp important truths about reality. This so-called picture theory of language, though influential, is generally repudiated by current Analytic philosophers. Another important dispute concerns whether everyday language is defective, vague, misleading, and even, at times, contradictory. Some Analytic philosophers have thus proposed the construction of an “ideal” language: precise, free of ambiguity, and clear in structure. The general model for such a language has been symbolic logic, the growth of which in the 20th century has played a central role in Analytic philosophy. An ideal language, it was thought, would resolve many traditional philosophical disputes that have arisen from the misleading structure of natural languages. At the other pole, some philosophers have thought that many philosophic problems have come from paying too little attention to what men say in everyday language about various situations.
Despite such disagreements, Analytic philosophers have much in common. Most of them, for example, have concentrated on particular philosophical problems, such as that of induction, or have examined specific concepts, such as those of memory or of personal identity, without attempting to construct any grand metaphysical schemes - an attitude that has roots as ancient as those of the Socratic method exemplified in Plato's dialogues. Almost invariably Plato began with specific questions such as “What is knowledge?” or “What is justice?” and pursued them in a way that can be viewed, without undue strain, as philosophical analysis in the modern sense.
Ideally, a philosophical analysis illuminates some important concept
and helps to answer philosophical questions involving the concept. A famous example of such analysis is contained
in Bertrand Russell's theory of definite descriptions. In a simple subject–predicate statement such
as “Socrates is wise,” he said, there seems to be something referred to
(Socrates) and something said about it (that he is wise). If, instead of a proper name, however, a
“definite description” is substituted, as in the statement “The president of
In Russell's view, philosophers such as Meinong
were misled by surface grammatical form into thinking that such statements are
simple subject–predicate statements. In
reality they are complex; in fact, an analysis of the foregoing example shows
that the definite description, “the present king of
Analytic philosophy is concerned with the close and careful examination of concepts.
In spirit and style Analytic philosophy has strong ties with the
Empiricist tradition, which stresses the data received through the senses and
which, except for brief periods, has characterized British philosophy for some
centuries, distinguishing it from the more Rationalistic trends of continental
European philosophy. It is not surprising, therefore, that Analytic philosophy should find
its home mainly in the Anglo-Saxon countries. In fact, the beginning of modern Analytic
philosophy is generally dated from the time when two of its major figures,
Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore, both
Most Empiricists, though admitting that the senses fail to yield the certainty requisite for knowledge, hold nonetheless that it is only through observation and experimentation that justified beliefs about the world can be gained; i.e., a priori reasoning from self-evident premises cannot reveal how the world is. This view has resulted in a sharp dichotomy among the sciences: between the physical sciences, which ultimately must verify their theories by observation, and the deductive or a priori sciences - e.g., mathematics and logic - the method of which is the deduction of theorems from given axioms. Thus, the deductive sciences cannot give justified beliefs, much less knowledge, of the world. This consequence was one of the cornerstones of two important movements within Analytic philosophy, logical atomism and Logical Positivism. In the Positivist's view, for example, the theorems of mathematics are merely the result of working out the consequences of the conventions that have been adopted for the use of its symbols.
The question then arises whether philosophy itself is to be assimilated to empirical or to a priori sciences. Early Empiricists assimilated philosophy to the Empirical sciences. They were less self-reflective about its methods than contemporary Analytic philosophers are. Being preoccupied with epistemology (theory of knowledge) and the philosophy of mind, and holding that fundamental facts can be learned about these subjects from individual introspection, they took their work to be a kind of introspective psychology. Analytic philosophers in the 20th century, on the other hand, have been less inclined to appeal ultimately to direct introspection. Moreover, the development of rigorous methods in formal logic seemed to promise help in solving philosophical problems - and logic is as a priori as a science can be. It seemed, then, that philosophy must be classed with mathematics and logic.
The question remained, however, what philosophy's function and methodology are. For
a great many Analytic philosophers who do philosophy in the minute and
meticulous manner of G.E. Moore and, in particular, for those who have made
Philosophy can be seen either as conceptual or as linguistic analysis. In the analysis of the concept of seeing, for example, the philosopher is not expressing purely linguistic concerns - with, say, the English verb “to see” - though an investigation of what can be said using that verb may be relevant to his conclusions. For a concept is independent of any particular languages; a concept is something that all languages, insofar as they are capable of expressing the concept, have in common. Thus, philosophers who stress that it is concepts that they analyze attempt to rebut the charge that their problems and solutions are merely verbal.
In contrast, other Analytic philosophers have been concerned with how expressions are used in a particular, nontechnical, everyday language. Thus, the term ordinary language philosophy has been applied by critics as a term of opprobrium to such philosophers. An influential study, The Concept of Mind (1949), by Gilbert Ryle, a prominent Oxford Analyst, is an example of a work that some critics took to depend in large part on a trivial appeal to how English speakers talk; but many of Ryle's arguments could equally well have been given by Analytic philosophers who would look upon the term ordinary language with horror.
The problem of perception illustrates how Analytic philosophers who do conceptual analysis think of the goal of philosophy as both different from and complementary to science. Physiologists, psychologists, and physicists - through experiments, observations, and testable theories - have also contributed to man's understanding of perception. There is in the sciences, however, a strong tendency to advance beyond earlier positions, which seems to be absent from philosophy. In philosophy, for example, the account of perception given by such 20th-century Analytic philosophers as G.E. Moore and the Positivist A.J. Ayer has a close connection with that of Locke in the 17th century.
The difference between philosophy and science is that, whereas the scientist investigates an actual occurrence, such as seeing, the philosopher investigates a concept that he already possesses quite independently of what he might discover through the occurrence. Whereas the scientist begins by supposing that he can recognize examples of seeing and is already exercising the concept, the philosopher wants to know what is involved in seeing in the sense of what conditions one can use to classify cases as examples of seeing. He may want to know, for example, whether certain conditions are necessary or sufficient. In testing the philosophical theory that, for an observer to see an object, the object must cause a visual experience in him (the causal theory of perception), one does not set up a scientific experiment. It would be of no use to set up situations in which various physical objects are not causing any visual experiences in order to see whether they still can be seen. For if the theory is correct, no such experimental situation will be an instance of seeing; and if it is wrong, merely describing a hypothetical situation would suffice. The question is one about how situations are classified, and for that purpose hypothetical situations are as good as real ones.
For some philosophers in the Analytic tradition, especially those influenced by Wittgenstein, the analysis of concepts has therapeutic value beyond the intrinsic enjoyment of doing it. Even scientists and laymen in their philosophical moments generate problems by not understanding the proper analyses of the concepts that they employ. They are then tempted to formulate theories to explain these difficulties, when instead they should be sorting out the roles of the concepts, which would show them that there was no problem to begin with. Thus, the failure to see how psychological concepts - sensations, emotions, and desires - are employed has led philosophers to such problems as how one can know what is going on in another's mind or how desires and emotions can produce physical changes in the body, and vice versa. Analysis of the concepts involved would, in this way of looking at philosophy, “dissolve” rather than solve the problems, for philosophers would come to see that their formulations of the problem rest on mistakes about the concepts involved.
This way of looking at philosophy has often been criticized as making it merely a clearing up of the confusions of other philosophers and therefore a sterile enterprise. The confusions, however, need not be only those of other philosophers. Scientists, for example, can also generate philosophical theories that affect how they design their experiments, which may, thus, be subjects for philosophical therapeutics. Behaviorism in psychology - which views emotions, desires, and attitudes as being dispositions to behave in certain ways - seems to be a philosophical theory and perhaps to be based on a confusion about the analysis of psychological concepts. Yet Behaviorism has influenced psychologists in their approach to the science. Thus, in this view, philosophy can have a therapeutic value beyond the sphere of philosophical games.
Philosophy, in spite of its abstractness, has traditionally been concerned with human needs, and the therapeutic model may even fulfill this ideal. Laymen, as well as philosophers, for example, are bothered by the thought that their actions are determined not by themselves but by prior conditions. This is a problem that, if the therapeutic view is correct, rests on the misunderstanding of such concepts as causation, responsibility, and action, which need clarification.
The role of language as a central concern of Analytic philosophers is the dimension most involved in disputes about the methodology employed. Philosophers outside the Analytic movement tend to think that its preoccupation with language is a departure from philosophy as classically conceived. Yet Plato and Aristotle, medieval philosophers, the Empiricists - and, in fact, most of the philosophers whose works have been considered important - have found it essential to talk about language. There are serious differences, however, about what role language should play. One such difference concerns the importance of formal languages (in the sense employed in symbolic logic) for philosophical problems.
Since the time of Aristotle, logic has been allied to philosophy. Until the late 19th century, however, logic was largely confined to formulating elaborate rules for one fairly simple form of argument - the syllogism; and there was a lack of systematic development of the subject along lines that had been taken in mathematics since early times.
Almost from the beginning, mathematicians had rigorously exploited two important techniques: (1) the use of the axiomatic method (as in Euclid's geometry) in developing the subject; and (2) the use of schematic letters or variables for stating general truths in the subject (thus, one can write “A + B = B + A”, in which any names or numbers whatsoever can be substituted for A and B, and the result will still be true).
It is surprising that logicians through the ages failed to grasp the power of the use of schematic letters. When they finally began to employ these and other mathematical techniques, they made great contributions to man's understanding of the subject.
Among the developments that occurred in the 19th century, primarily through the work of mathematicians, those of the Englishman George Boole, creator of Boolean algebra, and of Georg Cantor, the Russian-born creator of set theory, are especially important inasmuch as they gave promise of bringing logic and mathematics closer together. The one figure who was both a mathematician and a philosopher and so might be credited with the marriage of logic as a philosophical subject with the techniques of mathematics was Gottlob Frege (died 1925), of the University of Jena in Germany. Historically, Frege, whose works are now appreciated in their own right, was important principally for his influence on Bertrand Russell, whose monumental work, Principia Mathematica (1910–13), written in collaboration with Alfred North Whitehead, together with Russell's earlier Principles of Mathematics (1903), awakened philosophers to the fact that the use of mathematical techniques in logic might prove to be of great importance for philosophy. Its symbolism had the advantage of being closely connected with ordinary language, whereas its rules can be precisely formulated. Moreover, work in symbolic logic has produced many distinctions and techniques that can be applied to ordinary language.
Ordinary language, however, seems to differ from the artificial language of symbolic logic in more respects than its lack of precisely stated rules. On the surface, it often appears to violate the rules of symbolic logic. In the English statement “If this is gold [symbolized by p], then this will dissolve in aqua regia [symbolized by q],” for example, which in symbolic logic is expressed in a form known as the material conditional, p ⊃ q (in which ⊃ means “If . . . then . . . ”), one of the rules is that the statement is true whenever “This is gold” is false. In ordinary language, on the contrary, one would not count the statement as true merely on formal logical grounds but only if there were some real connection in the world of chemical reactions between being gold and dissolving in aqua regia - a connection that plays no role in symbolic logic.
Among Analytic philosophers the existence of many such apparent divergences between symbolic logic and ordinary language has generated attitudes ranging from complete mistrust of symbolic logic as relevant to non-artificial languages to the position that ordinary language is not a proper vehicle for the rigorous statement of scientific truths.
Symbolic logic has been viewed by many Analytic philosophers as providing the framework for an ideal or perfect language. This statement can be taken in two ways:
1. Russell and the early Wittgenstein thought of logic as revealing, in a precise fashion, the real structure of any language. Any seeming departure from this structure in ordinary language must therefore be attributed to the fact that its surface grammar fails to reveal its real structure and is apt to be misleading. As a corollary, philosophers who have held this view have often explained philosophical problems as arising from being taken in by the surface features of the language. Because of the similarity of sentences such as “Tigers bite” and “Tigers exist,” for example, the verb “to exist” may seem to function, as other verbs do, to predicate something of the subject. It may seem, then, that existence is a property of tigers just as their biting is. In symbolic logic, however, the symbolic equivalent of the two sentences would be quite different; existence would not be represented by a symbol for a predicate but by what is called the existential quantifier, (∃ x), which means “There exists at least one x such that...”
2. The other sense in which symbolic logic has been seen as the framework of an ideal language is exemplified in the work of Rudolf Carnap, a 20th-century semanticist, who was concerned with what the best language - especially the best for the purposes of science - is.
One distinctive feature of the formal language of Principia Mathematica is that it becomes, when interpreted, a language of true-or-false statements. In ordinary language, on the contrary, one is not restricted to statements of truths; in it one can also issue commands, ask questions, make promises, express beliefs, give permission, and assert necessities and possibilities. Consequently, many philosophers have developed nonstandard logics that incorporate the non-assertoric features of language. Thus, various systems of logic have been formulated and studied (see logic).
On the other side of the coin, many philosophers - most notably the later Wittgenstein and those influenced by him - have thought that attempting to put language into the straitjacket of a formal system is to falsify the way that language works. Language performs a multitude of tasks, and even among expressions that seem to be alike in the way they function - those sentences, for example, that one might think are used simply for expressing facts - examination of their actual use reveals many differences: differences, for instance, in what is counted as showing them to be true or false and in their relationships to other parts of language. Formal systems, according to this view, at best oversimplify and at worst can lead to philosophical problems generated by supposing that all language operates strictly according to a simple set of rules. Accordingly, far from settling philosophical disputes by getting underneath the misleading exterior of ordinary language, formal systems add their own share of confusion.
During the last decades of the 19th century, English philosophy was dominated by an absolute Idealism that stemmed from the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel. For English philosophy this represented a break in an almost solid tradition of Empiricism. The seeds of modern Analytic philosophy were sown when two of the most important figures in its history, Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore, broke with Idealism at the turn of the 20th century.
Absolute Idealism was avowedly metaphysical in the sense that its adherents thought of themselves as describing, in a way not open to scientists, certain very fundamental truths about the world. Indeed, what pass for truths in the sciences, were, in their view, not really truths at all; for the scientist must, perforce, treat the world as composed of distinct objects and can only describe and state the relationships supposedly holding among them. But the Idealists held that to talk about reality as if it were a multiplicity of objects is to falsify it; in the end only the whole, the absolute, has reality.
In their conclusions and, most importantly, in their methodology, the
Idealists were decidedly not on the side of commonsense intuition. Thus, a
One can hardly claim that Analytic philosophers have universally thought of themselves as on the side of common sense and much less that metaphysical conclusions (on the ultimate nature of reality) are absent from their writings. But there is in the history of the Analytic movement a strong anti-metaphysical strain, and its exponents have generally assumed that the methods of science and of everyday life are the authentic ways of finding out the truth.
The first break from the Idealist view that the physical world is really only a world of appearances occurred when Moore, in a paper, “The Nature of Judgment” (1899), argued for a theory of truth that implies that the physical world has the independent existence that, apart from philosophical theories, it is naively supposed to have. Though the theory was soon abandoned, it did represent a return to common sense.
The influences on Russell and
Russell was a major influence on those who approached philosophical problems armed with the technical equipment of formal logic, who saw the physical sciences as the only means of gaining knowledge of the world, and who regarded philosophy - if a science at all - as a deductive and a priori enterprise on a par with mathematics. Russell's contributions to this side of the Analytic tradition have been important and, in great part, lasting.
Because of these two themes,
The Idealists were given to arguing for what, in
Although some commentators have seen
One of the recurring themes in philosophy is the idea that the subject
needs to be given a new methodology. Among
Empiricists this has often meant making it more scientific. From an early date, Russell enunciated this
viewpoint (which was not shared by
The question then arises of how philosophical analysis, which is concerned with how men talk about the world, can presume to give any answers about how the world is. The search for an answer begins with the above-mentioned theory of descriptions - a theory that seems to be closely tied to linguistic concerns. It will be recalled that Russell considered that such definite descriptions as “the author of ‘On Denoting’” are not really expressions used to refer to things in the world but that, instead, they make the statements in which they occur into quite general propositions about the world, to the effect that one and only one thing of a certain sort exists and that it has a certain property. Because there must be some way, however, of directly speaking of the things in the world, Russell turned his attention to proper names. The name Aristotle, for example, does not seem to carry any descriptive content. But Russell argues, on the contrary, that ordinary names are really concealed definite descriptions (“Aristotle” may simply mean “The student of Plato who taught Alexander, wrote the Metaphysics, etc.”). If a name had no descriptive content, one could not sensibly ask about the existence of its bearer, for one could then not understand what is expressed by a statement involving it. If “Bosco” were a name in this sense (without any descriptive content), then merely to understand the statement that Bosco exists or the statement that Bosco does not exist presupposes that one already knows what the name Bosco refers to. But then there cannot be any genuine question about Bosco's existence, for just to understand the question one must know the thing to which the name refers. Ordinary proper names, however - Russell, Homer, Aristotle, and Santa Claus - as Russell pointed out, are such that it makes sense to question the existence of their bearers. Thus, ordinary names must be concealed descriptions and cannot be the means of directly referring to the particular things in the world.
Names in the strict logical sense, then, are very rare; Russell, in fact, suggests that in English the only possible candidates are the demonstrative pronouns, this and that. Yet, if men are ever to talk about the actual things in the world directly, there must be the possibility of such demonstrative expressions underlying their language - in their private thoughts about the world if not in their public language.
To this point, Russell had concluded that things in the world can be talked about only through the medium of a special kind of name; in particular, one about which no question can arise whether it names something or not. At this point there was a transition from questions about the nature of language to results about the nature of the world. Russell asked what sort of thing it is that can be named in the strict logical sense, that can be known and talked about, and that can tell a man something about the world. The important restriction is that no question can arise about whether it exists or not. Ordinary physical objects and other people seem not to fit this requirement.
In his search for something whose existence cannot be questioned, Russell hit upon present experience and, in particular, upon sense data: one can question whether he is really seeing some physical object - whether, for example, there is a desk before him - but a person cannot question that he has had visual impressions or sense data; thus, what a man can name in the strict logical sense and what things he can actually talk about turn out to be the elements of his present experience. Russell therefore made a distinction between what can be known by acquaintance and what can be known only by description; i.e., between those things the existence of which cannot be doubted and those about which, at least theoretically, doubt can be raised. What is novel about Russell's conclusion is that it was arrived at from a fairly technical analysis of language: to be directly acquainted with something is to be in a position to give it a name in the strict logical sense, and to know something only by description is to know only that something uniquely fits the description.
Russell was not constant in his view about physical objects. At one point he thought that the observer must infer their existence as the best hypothesis to explain his experience. Later he argued that they could be taken as logical constructions out of sense data.
The next important development in Analytic philosophy was initiated when Russell published a series of articles entitled “Philosophy of Logical Atomism” (1918–19), in which he acknowledged a debt to Wittgenstein, who had studied with Russell before the war. Wittgenstein's own work, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), which can also justly be said to present a logical atomism, turned out to be not only tremendously influential on developments in Analytic philosophy but also such a deep and difficult text that it has generated a growing body of scholarly interpretation.
Russell's choice of the words logical atomism to describe this viewpoint was, in fact, particularly apt. By using the word logical Russell meant to sustain the position, described earlier, that through analysis - particularly with the aid of the ideal structure provided by symbolic logic - the fundamental truths about how any language functions can be revealed and that this disclosure, in turn, would show the fundamental structure of that which the language is used to describe. And by using the word atomism Russell highlighted the particulate nature of the results that his analyses and those of Wittgenstein seemed to yield.
On the linguistic level, the atoms in question are atomic propositions, the simplest statements that it is possible to make about the world; and on the level of what language talks about, the atoms are the simplest atomic facts, those expressible by atomic propositions. More complex propositions, called molecular propositions, can then be built up out of atomic propositions via logical connectives such as “either... or...,” “both... and...,” and “not...” - the truth-value of the molecular proposition being in each case a function of the truth values of its component atomic propositions.
Language, then, must break down, upon analysis, into ultimate elements that cannot be analyzed into any other component propositions; and, insofar as language mirrors reality, the world must then be composed of facts that are utterly simple. Atomic propositions are composed, however, of strings of names understood, as Russell had explained it, in the strict logical sense; and atomic facts are composed of simple objects, the things that could be thus named.
The details of the Russell–Wittgenstein view have fascinated philosophers by the way in which they not only formed a coherent view but also seemed to follow inexorably from the central assumptions. There are close connections between this period, which was perhaps the most metaphysical in contemporary Analytic philosophy, and traditional Empiricism. The breakdown of language and the world into atomic elements had been one of the prominent features in the classical Empiricists, John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume. There was also a view of the connection between language and the world - adumbrated in Russell but fully evident in the Tractatus - which has been important and influential, viz., the picture theory, which holds that the structure of language mirrors that of the world. Analysis is important because ordinary language does not show immediately, for example, that it is founded on the atomic-molecular proposition model. Another theme is that the deductive sciences - mathematics and logic - are based solely on the way that language operates and cannot reveal any truths about the world, not even about a world of entities called numbers. Finally, logical atomism, in Wittgenstein's thought as opposed to Russell's, was at one and the same time metaphysical - in the sense of conveying via pure reasoning something about how the world is - and anti-metaphysical. Wittgenstein's Tractatus is unique in the history of Empiricism in its acceptance of the fact that it is itself a metaphysic and that part of its metaphysics is that metaphysics is impossible: the Tractatus says of itself that what it says cannot be coherently said. Only empirical science can tell a man anything about the world as it is. Yet the Tractatus apparently tells him, for example, about the relationship between language and the facts of the world. For Wittgenstein, the solution of this seeming paradox lies in his distinction between what can be said and what can only be shown. There are certain things that can somehow be seen to be so - in particular, the ways in which language is connected with the world. The Tractatus could not straightforwardly tell its readers about these matters - metaphysics cannot be a body of facts expressible in any language - but the attempt to say these things, done in the right way, can show them what it cannot coherently express.
Wittgenstein's Tractatus was both a landmark in the history of contemporary Analytic philosophy and perhaps its most aberrant example. It not only contained the most highly sophisticated metaphysics but also was an important influence on the most anti-metaphysical of the positions taken by Analytic philosophers, viz., that of Logical Positivism, which was mainly developed by a group of philosophers, scientists, and logicians who were centred in Vienna and came to be known as the Vienna Circle. Among these, Rudolf Carnap and Moritz Schlick have perhaps had the most influence on Anglo-American philosophy, although it was an English philosopher, A.J. Ayer - whose Language, Truth and Logic (1936) is still the most widely read work of the movement in America and England - who introduced the ideas of Logical Positivism to English philosophy. Its main tenets have struck sympathetic chords in the Analytic philosophers and are still important today, even if in repudiation.
Above all else, Logical Positivism was anti-metaphysical; nothing can be learned about the world, it held, except through the methods of the empirical sciences. The Positivists sought a method for showing both (1) when a theory that seemed to be about the world was really metaphysical and (2) that such a theory was, in fact, meaningless, and this they found in the principle of verification. In its positive form, the principle said that the meaning of any statement that is really about the world is given by the methods employed for verifying its truth or falsity - the only allowable methods being, ultimately, those of observation and experiment. In its negative form, the principle said that no statement could both be a statement about the world and have no method of verification attached to it. Its negative form was the weapon used against metaphysics and for the vindication of science as the only possible source of knowledge about the world. The principle would, thus, class as meaningless many philosophical and religious theories that purport to say something about the world but provide no way of testing the truth of the statements; for example, in religion it would render suspect the statement that God exists, which, being metaphysical, would be, strictly speaking, meaningless.
The principle of verification ran almost immediately into difficulties, most of which were first raised by the Positivists themselves. The attempt to work out these difficulties belongs to a more detailed study of the movement. It is sufficient to note here that these problems were sufficient to make most subsequent Analytic philosophers wary of appealing directly to the principle. It has, however, influenced philosophical work in more subtle ways.
With the principle of verification in hand, the Positivists thought that they could show a great many theories to be nonsense. There were several areas of discourse, however, which failed the test of the principle but which were simply impossible to rule out as concealed nonsense. Foremost among these disciplines were mathematics and ethics. Mathematics (and logic) could hardly be written off as nonsense. Yet their theorems are not verifiable by observation and experiment; they are known, in fact, by pure a priori reasoning alone. The answer seemed to be provided in Wittgenstein's Tractatus, which held that the propositions of mathematics and logic are, in Kantian terms, analytic; i.e., true-like the statement “All bachelors are unmarried” - in virtue of the conventions that lie behind the use of the symbols involved.
About ethics or, more precisely, about any statements involving value judgments, the Positivist view was different, yet still of lasting importance. In this view, value judgments are not, like mathematical truths, necessary adjuncts to science. But they cannot be put off as nonsense; nor, obviously, are they true by definition or linguistic convention. The usual view of the Positivists, called emotivism, is that what look like statements of fact (e.g., that one should not tell lies) are really expressions of one's feelings toward a certain action; thus, value judgments are not really true or false. The Positivist's position was that neither mathematical nor ethical statements could be dismissed, as were metaphysical propositions. Both had then to be exempted from the principle of verification; and this was done by arguing that their statements are not really about the world: mathematical truths are conventions, and ethical statements are merely expressions of feelings. The divorce of ethics from science, once again, reflects an old Empiricist theme, to be seen, for example, in David Hume's dictum that from matters of fact one cannot derive a conclusion about what ought to be nor vice versa.
A crucial turn that initiated developments that were destined to have a
lasting and profound effect on much of contemporary Analytic philosophy
occurred in 1929, when Wittgenstein, after some years in Austria during which
he was not philosophically very active, returned to England and established his
residence at Cambridge. There, the
direction of his thought soon shifted radically away from his Tractatus, and
his views became in many ways diametrically opposed to those of logical
atomism. Because he published none of
the materials of this period, his influence on other English philosophers - and
ultimately on those in all of the countries associated with Analytic philosophy
- spread by way of his students and those who heard him in the small groups to
whom he spoke at
Although Wittgenstein's thoughts ranged over almost the entire field of philosophy, from the philosophy of mathematics to ethics and aesthetics, their impact has been felt most, perhaps, where it has concerned the nature of language and the relationship between the mental and the physical.
In logical atomism, as shown above, language was conceived as having a certain necessary and fairly simple underlying structure that it was the job of philosophy to expose. Wittgenstein began to tear away at this assumption. Language, he now thought, is like an instrument that can be used for an indefinite number of purposes. Hence, any effort to codify how it must operate by giving some small set of rules would be like supposing that there is some rigid necessity that a screwdriver (for instance) can be used only to drive screws and forgetting that screwdrivers are also, quite successfully, used to open jars and to jimmy windows. Language is a human institution that is not bound by an outside set of rules - only by what men consider to be correct and incorrect. And that, in turn, is not really a matter for a priori theories to consider.
The notion of a rule and what it means to follow a rule was especially prominent in his writings. Several concerns made this point of particular interest to Wittgenstein. In mathematics and logic, emphasis was being placed on the rules for manipulating the symbolism. As has been seen, symbolic logic has also been a model for the underlying structure of language. If this fact is coupled with the fact that Russell and the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus saw language as reflecting these rules and with the general Empiricist tradition that explains how language operates by each person following internal rules and standards for the use of his words, the picture of the system that Wittgenstein thought mistaken then emerges, and it becomes clear why he placed the notion of a rule so centrally.
Natural languages, however, are significantly different in that one does not first learn the rules and then use the language; indeed, prior to learning the language, one would not know what to do with rules. Mathematics and logic are, in this sense, bad models for language because they aim at setting out beforehand the rules and principles that are subsequently to be used. They encourage the belief that language must have a rigid structure and that, without rules, no language would be possible. The “rules” that one might plausibly discern in the language that one speaks are not, as rules, already there, in a ghostly way, guiding what one says; they are either generalizations from the finite data of what is counted as correct or incorrect, or they are rules that, as Wittgenstein metaphorically expressed it, one puts away in the archives - one adopts the rule but only after the fact.
Following a rule, however, was a concept that Wittgenstein saw as wrongly analyzed in many classical views about language. Thus, he cast irrevocable doubt on the prevalent theory - typified best, perhaps, in John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) - that to use an expression meaningfully is to have in one's mind a standard or a rule for applying it correctly. Against this theme, Wittgenstein's point was that a rule by itself is dead - it is like a ruler in the hands of someone who has never learned to use it, a mere stick of wood. Rules cannot compel nor even guide a person unless he knows how to use them; and the same is true about mental images, which have often been thought to provide the standard for using linguistic expressions. But if rules themselves do not give life to words but require a similar explanation for what gives them life, then there is a useless regress and no (philosophical) explanatory value in the whole apparatus of internal rules and standards.
In some respects, Wittgenstein made some significant breaks with the Empiricist tradition - in his views about language and the explanation of the rigour of the deductive sciences. His treatment of the relationship between mental events and physical events also represents an important departure. Empiricists generally have started from the important assumption that what a person is immediately acquainted with is his own sensations, ideas, and volitions, and that these are mental and not physical; and, most importantly, that the things he knows immediately are essentially private and inaccessible to others. For both Moore and Russell there then arose the problem of how, in view of the privacy stressed by the sense-datum theory, the world of physical objects could be known. Wittgenstein's attack on this viewpoint, which has come to be known as “the private language” argument, has become well known, partly because it was in this area that Wittgenstein presented what could most easily be picked out as a more or less formal argument - one that could then be analyzed and criticized in an analytic manner. Even in this case, however, his style of writing was such that his precise formulation of the argument has become a main source of controversy. Wittgenstein argued that the notion of an utterly private experience would imply: (1) that what goes on in the mental life of a person could be talked about only in a language that that person alone whose mental life it was could understand; (2) that such a private language would be no language at all (this has been the main source of controversy); and (3) that the widely held doctrine that there are absolutely private mental events cannot be intelligibly stated, because to do so would be to suppose that one can publicly say something about what the doctrine itself says cannot be mentioned in a language accessible to more than one person.
The fact that Wittgenstein's argument against private language depends essentially on the question, “What is it to follow a rule?” illustrates a common characteristic of his writings, viz., that themes developed in one area of philosophy continually emerge in apparently quite divorced areas. His extraordinary ability to see a common source of difficulty in philosophical problems that seem to be unrelated helps to explain his style of writing, which seems at first sight to be a somewhat chaotic arrangement of ideas.
Analytic philosophy has also been attracted to a behaviouristic view of mental phenomena that holds that such apparently private events as the feeling of fear are not only not really private but also that they can be identified with publicly observable patterns of behaviour. The disposition toward empirical science, with observation as its foundation, united with the observation that the evidence men have of what goes on in the mental lives of other people must come from what they see of their behaviour, has often warred against the other inclination of Empiricism to regard the starting point of all knowledge of the world, for each person, as being essentially private sense experience. Wittgenstein has had tremendous influence, however, in suggesting that these two extremes are not the only alternatives. Yet attempts to state how Wittgenstein could deny the privacy of experience without espousing some form of behaviourism have not been very successful. Sympathetic interpreters have taken up the notion of “criteria,” used, but not developed in any detail, by Wittgenstein. For mental states such as fear, outward behaviour (e.g., running away, blanching, or cringing) does not constitute what it is to be in that state, as behaviourism would have it, but neither is it merely evidence of some completely private event. The problem has been to characterize the relation between behaviour and mental states so that the two are neither identical nor evidence one for the other, while still acknowledging that a knowledge of the person's characteristic behaviour is essential to understanding the notion of a certain mental state.
Those philosophers who might fairly be labelled “Wittgensteinians,” who follow the methods that Wittgenstein employed in his later period, should be distinguished from those who have been influenced more indirectly by the general trends and philosophical atmosphere that arose in large part from Wittgenstein's work.
Close students of his ideas have tended to work chiefly on particular
concepts that lie at the core of traditional philosophical problems. As an example of such an investigation, a
monograph entitled Intention (1957),
by G.E.M. Anscombe, an editor of Wittgenstein's
posthumous works, may be cited as an extended study of what it is for a person
to intend to do something and of what the relationship is between his intention
and the actions that he performs. This
work has occupied a central place in a growing literature about human actions,
which in turn has influenced views about the nature of psychology, of the
social sciences, and of ethics. And, as
an extension of this British influence into the
After World War II,
It is true that Ryle did ask, in pursuit of his method, some fairly detailed questions about when a person would say, for example, that someone had been imagining something; but it is by no means clear that he was appealing to ordinary language in the sense that his was an investigation into how, say, speakers of English use certain expressions. In any case, the charge, often voiced by critics, that this style of philosophizing trivializes and perverts philosophy from its traditional function would probably also have to be levelled against Aristotle, who frequently appealed to “what we would say.”
A powerful philosophical figure among postwar
Among those philosophers for whom symbolic logic occupies a central
position, W.V.O. Quine, Pierce professor of
The second important departure of Quine's philosophy has been his attempt to show that science can be successfully conducted without what he calls “intentional entities.” In contrast to “extensional,” used above as an essential feature of standard symbolic logic, intentional entities include many of the common items that Analytic philosophers often assume that they can talk about without difficulty, such as the meanings of expressions, propositions, or the property of certain statements (such as those of mathematics) of being necessarily true. Quine's program - as exemplified by Word and Object (1960) - is intended in part to show that science can say everything that it needs to say without using concepts that cannot be expressed in the extensional language of standard logic. Quine's work, though by no means widely accepted, has made Analytic philosophers at least wary of uncritically accepting certain of their standard distinctions.
Since the mid-20th century, there has been an interaction between the
science of linguistics and Analytic philosophy. This did not occur before because Analytic
philosophers had almost always considered their study of language to be a priori and unconcerned with empirical
facts about particular languages. However,
a book by Noam Chomsky, a
It is not possible to forecast in any detail the future trends of Analytic philosophy in Anglo-American and Scandinavian countries. It seems relatively certain, however, that the two conceptions of the subject that stem from Moore and Russell will both continue.
Analytic philosophers, mainly influenced by
Keith S. Donnellan
Professor of Philosophy,
Author of articles in various philosophical journals,
particularly on the theory of reference.