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Analytical Philosophy

Moore, Russell, Frege, Wittgenstein, The Vienna Circle, Ordinary Language Philosophy, Quine

It was only in the 1960s that the phrase "analytical philosophy" came into frequent use as a way of describing the kind of philosophy characteristic of much English-language philosophy of the twentieth century. But occasional references to "analytical" (or "analytic") philosophy as a new kind of philosophy can be found much earlier, where it is primarily used to introduce a contrast with "speculative philosophy." The thought here is that whereas traditional philosophers have attempted by means of speculative arguments to provide knowledge of a kind that is not otherwise possible, "analytic" philosophers aim to use methods of philosophical analysis to deepen the understanding of things that are already known—for example, concerning the past or concerning mathematics. In doing so analytic philosophers will seek to clarify the significance of essentially uncontentious historical or mathematical truths and to explain the possibility of our knowledge of them. This program does not require that analytic philosophers deny the possibility of speculative philosophy; but many did so, most famously those associated with the Vienna Circle such as Rudolph Carnap (1891–1970), who held that "all statements whatever that assert something are of an empirical nature and belong to factual science" and went to claim that, for philosophy, "What remains is not statements, nor a theory, nor a system, but only a method: the method of logical analysis" (1932; 1959, p. 77).

Methods of philosophical analysis are in fact as old as philosophy, as in Socrates' dialectic. The method was especially prominent in the theory of ideas characteristic of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century philosophy, which involved the analysis of complex ideas into simple ones. One of Immanuel Kant's (1724–1804) insights was to recognize the priority of complete judgments over ideas, or concepts, and this led him to hold that analytic methods of inquiry were subordinate to the elucidation of synthetic unities, such as the unity of consciousness. Kant's successors in the tradition of German idealism took this subordination much further as they sought to articulate the internal relations that hold together ever more encompassing "organic wholes" such as the state and the universe. For them, analysis was only ever a preliminary stage of inquiry, a kind of falsification to be transcended once a relevant organic whole and its relationships had been identified.

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