ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY: AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY
Analytic philosophy is the name by which one major brand of twentieth-century, and now twenty-first century, philosophy is known.
My intent here is to provide an introductory account of what sort of creature analytic philosophy is. What I shall not do by way of providing that account is to set forth a formula which defines the tradition, a memorable line which captures the essence of this type of philosophy. Instead I will produce a set of discussions which, taken together, provide a complex (introductory) map of the territory. These discussions shall come in three different units. In the first part, I have tried to indicate the general contours of the subject. The discussions comprising that part could be ordered in different ways and there is no definite number of them - more can be added as I learn more and as I am moved. Moreover, each individual one is inadequate because too brief. The second part shall consist of a historical introduction to the subject area. Lastly, I shall be writing a sequence of essays on the major figures and developments in analytic philosophy over the course of the twentieth century. This part shall be by far the longest and the most developed in terms of ideas: and thus the most likely not to be completed any time soon.
The entire package is intended to be an introduction. It may be useful as the beginning of a course on analytic philosophy - or in some even more restricted venue. A more full understanding of the nature of analytic philosophy would require working through in greatly expanded detail major figures and developments within the tradition.
PART ONE: ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY IN BRIEF
1. Analysis: A Method and a Name
The name of this major brand of philosophy was derived from the fact that it featured a certain philosophical activity which its practitioners called analysis.
Notice that I put the above in the past tense. I did not mean by that that analytic philosophy existed only in the past - rather the point of the tense is to suggest that the analytic tradition, over the course of the twentieth century, came to be less characterized by the practice of analysis, at least by the model of analysis which marked its beginnings. In short, you could not, at present, find the defining character (if there is one) of analytic philosophy to be adherence to the activity of analysis as that activity was originally conceived. The activity has become less definitive of analytic philosophy - a topic for later discussion. Precisely what analysis involved is best left to be part of the detailed story about analytic philosophy. To satisfy the urge for some guidance, however, I will produce a preliminary account here.
Perhaps surprisingly, I will start with Socrates and Plato. As we all know, Socrates wandered Athens asking people he encountered questions of the form 'What is X?', e.g. 'What is justice?', 'What is beauty?'. We also know that he did not receive answers which he thought were defensible. In the Meno, a dialogue in which Plato reflects on what Socrates was up to (rather than more or less simply displaying what he was up to), Plato asks, in effect, 'What kind of answer would have satisfied Socrates?' What he recommends is that to the (philosophically unimportant) question 'What is mud?' an answer which would have satisfied Socrates would be 'Mud is dirt plus water'. Generalizing that particular answer produces the thesis that, to a 'What is X?' question, the correct form of answer is 'X is (i) & (ii) & ...n.' For example, later in the Meno, and again in the Theatetus, to the question 'What is knowledge?' Plato argues that the correct answer is (more or less) 'Knowledge is a belief which is true plus an account (a logos)'. A version of that answer concerning knowledge has become a standard (even if criticized) philosophical result in this century. Informally, philosophers in the analytic tradition claim that 'Knowledge is true justified belief' - a more formal version of which is 'S knows that p if and only if (i) p is true, (ii) S believes that p, and (iii) S is justified in believing that p'.
Analytic philosophy, in its original version at least, held that in asking questions such as 'What is X?', philosophers, from Plato to today, are asking for an analysis of X. And what they are seeking when seeking an analysis is a formula of the form 'X is (i) & (ii) ... n', a formula which breaks the concept down into its elements, in the end to its ultimate elements. That model of analysis has not been the only one found in the practice of analytic philosophy over the century, but it was the one which got the project underway and which is most appropriate to the name given this branch of philosophy.
Analytic philosophy, then, is a main current of twentieth century philosophical thought in which the aim is (or at least has been) to produce analyses of philosophically significant concepts where an analysis is roughly what I have exhibited above. Such a description leaves a lot of questions: for instance, Why should one want to produce analyses? and What else might philosophy do than produce analyses? Those and other questions, however, need to be addressed as we proceed through a more detailed investigation of analytic philosophy.
Although analytic philosophy came about because of its emphasis upon analysis, it must not be thought that analysis was something invented at the turn of the twentieth century. As a reminder of that I used the examples from Plato: from the analytic point of view the giving of analyses is something (though by no means everything) philosophers throughout history have done. So in some quite important respect, the aim of giving analyses is not what makes analytic philosophy a specific philosophical tradition even though it explains its name and what was its characteristic practice.
Thus the name for this huge branch of twentieth century philosophy derived from a devotion, or at least from the devotion of its philosophical founders, to the technique(s) of logical analysis. Nonetheless, the name was not quickly bestowed. Although analytic philosophy came into being around 1900, the movement was not given its now widely recognized name until the century was half over. Peter Hacker has recently noted, drawing upon the work of G.H. von Wright, "Although the terms 'analysis', 'logical analysis' and 'conceptual analysis' were widely used more or less from the inception of the analytic movement to characterize the methods of philosophy advocated, the name 'analytic philosophy' ... entered currency as the name of a philosophical movement surprisingly late.... It was used during the 1930's ... but does not seem to have caught on. Von Wright conjectures that when it did catch on, it did so partly through the post-war writings of Arthur Pap who published his Elements of Analytic Philosophy ... in 1949. By the late 1950's the name had taken root." (Hacker, Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth Century Analytic Philosophy, pp. 274.)
What was the movement called before the title 'Analytic Philosophy' took root? So far as I can tell, there was no common preceding name. Perhaps the philosophers whom we now think of as 'analytic philosophers' thought of themselves, and others thought of them, as (philosophical) analysts. But there seems to have been no name for the type of philosophy they practiced. It is most likely a quite important fact about post-World War II philosophy, and about the intellectual world as then constituted, that it was only at the time that a particular name was given to that style of philosophizing. I don't believe that any historian of philosophical thought has examined these issues yet.
2. Styles of Thought
So, analytic philosophy came to be so called because analytic philosophers, from early in the twentieth-century, engaged in a philosophical practice they called 'analysis', although it took over half a century for the name derived from that practice to be widely employed as the name of the tradition.
As the next stage in elucidating analytic philosophy, I will step back from that phenomenon and examine some very general features of patterns of thought.
There is a good deal of plausibility, initial plausibility at least, to the following view. In philosophy, in human thought generally, there are two recurring tendencies. On the one hand, there are those thinkers and philosophers whose minds soar, who attempt to get the big picture, who attempt to include everything in one comprehensive system. On the other hand, there are, and have always been, thinkers with much more modest ambitions and motives, who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, whose thought is concerned with details, often in all their variety.
While there is surely something to that picture, in the end there is no such simple distinction. Once actual cases of individual thinkers are examined, patterns of thought are much more complex than what is expressed by that simple dichotomy. Actual individuals do not go neatly into those two boxes.
Still, since there is some gold in them thar hills, it is worth examining the initial division of human thought into two types in more detail.
There is no one set of accepted names to label those two manners of intellectual practice. There are, however, several different sets of terms which very roughly mark out the same two general categories.
(1). One contrast, used in connection with Pre-Socratic philosophers, is between Ionian and Pythagorean. In my own book on the Pre-Socratics I say the following while discussing Pythagoras: "Although Pythagoras was, in part, a continuation of the intellectual tradition begun in Miletus, he also and more importantly brought radically new interests and new ideas into philosophy. His concern with cosmological and other scientific problems was harnessed to his religious concerns. His predecessors had not started from a fundamentally religious outlook and interest. The chief motive for the Ionians' philosophizing had been curiosity about the universe and its workings, coupled with a dissatisfaction with the existing mythological mode of representing nature. They thought that understanding the universe correctly is something desirable in itself. Pythagoras, however, sought to understand the world in order to get in harmony with it. Out of those differences grew the two main traditions in Greek philosophical thought. The 'Ionian' outlook derives from Thales and Anaximander, while the 'Italian' side of Greek philosophy began with Pythagoras. The fundamental difference involved differing conceptions of what someone is doing when engaging in inquiry, of whether philosophy is a religious activity or not." (Ring, Beginning With The Pre-Socratics, page 43)
(2). The terminology of 'Italian' ('Pythagorean') and 'Ionian' can be modernized into a contrast between religious and scientific modes of thought, though there is something to be said for thinking more specifically of mystical thought rather than religious thinking generally.
(3). Closely connected with both those sets of terms is another which refers to a Platonic as contrasted with an Aristotelian outlook about the nature of things. One can see Plato as the arch-Pythagorean, one whose philosophical activity was motivated by a passionate religiosity, and similarly Aristotle can be seen as the continuator of the Ionian, and so of the curiosity motivated and scientific tradition. Sorting those two great philosophers out in that contrasting manner was for a long time a staple of philosophical classification. Terry Irwin says "A popular contrast opposes the other-worldly Plato to the hard-headed but rather boring Aristotle. As Yeats says
Plato thought nature but a spume that plays
Upon a ghostly paradigm of things.
Soldier Aristotle played the taws
Upon the bottom of a king of kings."
"This contrast began among the Platonists of later antiquity; while some fused Platonic and Aristotelian views, others reacted, opposing mundane Aristotelianism to high-minded Platonism." (Irwin, Classical Thought, p. 142) Irwin goes on to warn that there are reasons for rejecting all of that, especially the sharpness of the contrast between Plato and Aristotle. But it is a set of terminology, however inapplicable in detail to the actual figures Plato and Aristotle, which has come to be used to mark out those two distinct styles of thought. Hence, putting Irwin's (and others) qualms aside, instead of talking of Platonic and Aristotelian minds, one might then talk about this-worldly in contrast with other-worldly thinkers and philosophers.
(4). Irwin's reference above to "hard-headed" is a reminder of another set of terms which loiter around the distinction we are considering: William James once classified philosophers, thinkers, into the tough-minded and the tender-minded (see James, Pragmatism, Lecture I: 'The Present Dilemma in Philosophy'.)
(5). The British literary critic Cyril Connelly said that there are two different styles of criticism as there are two different styles of hunting: eagles fly high above the earth spotting prey from afar, while the basset hound tracks very close to the ground. One might generalize this contrast of eagles and bassets from literary critics to styles of thought in general.
(6). Sir Isaiah Berlin famously developed a contrast between hedgehogs and foxes, another way of labeling the(!) distinction we are looking into.
"There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing'. Scholars have differed about the correct interpretation of these dark words, which may mean no more than the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog's one defence. But, taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and it may be, human beings in general. For there exists a great chasm between those, on the one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel - a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance - and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle; these last lead lives, perform acts, and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal, their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without, consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision. The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes; and without insisting on a rigid classification, we may, without too much fear of contradiction, say that, in this sense, Dante belongs to the first category, Shakespeare to the second; Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust are, in varying degrees, hedgehogs; Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Moliere, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce are foxes.
"Of course like all over-simple classifications of this type, the dichotomy becomes, if pressed, artificial, scholastic, and ultimately absurd. But if it is not an aid to serious criticism, neither should it be rejected as being merely superficial or frivolous; like all distinctions which embody any degree of truth, it offers a point of view from which to look and compare, a starting-point for genuine investigation." (Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox, pp.1-2)
(7). Lastly, let me offer a much less ambitious set of terms with which to label this (?) distinction, terms which more obviously have to do with the ultimate point of this discussion: one can contrast speculative thinkers with analytic thinkers.
Now, using those non-synonymous sets of terms, let me characterize analytic philosophy:
Analytic philosophy is the twentieth-century version of Ionian, Aristotelian, worldly, tough-minded, basset-style, foxy, anti-speculative philosophy.
Having provided that 'definition', it is also necessary to point out yet again the serious and extensive qualifications which are to be placed on it. The categories I employ do not, in the end, all amount to the same thing; any given individual may thus be classifiable in opposing groups given the different sets of terminology. Moreover, the entire scheme is very rough and ready and can be (and perhaps is) misleading.
But also remember that, as Berlin says, there may be some value in using such a messy scheme to locate the manner of philosophy and the philosophers who can be characterized as analytic.
That value, however, would be slight unless further ways of characterizing analytic philosophy can be produced. It is to those that we must now turn.
3. The Geography of Analytic Philosophy
Characterizing analytic philosophy in terms of sets of contrasts between different styles of thought is one modestly helpful manner of initially locating it on an intellectual map. That same subject matter can also be represented geographically. Here too, the best that can be accomplished is some set of very rough and ready geographical directions.
Analytic philosophy has been centrally connected with English speaking philosophers, and thus with countries where English is a dominant language. However, German speaking philosophers hold an important place in the origins and history of analytic philosophy. In fact, the most recent scholarly trend in writing the history of the analytic movement has been to emphasize its Germanic sources much more than has been done in earlier accounts.
The present account will be conservative and treat the origins of analytic philosophy from an English language perspective.
From that point of view, with the highly significant exception of Gottlob Frege, the major initial developments took place in England. As the twentieth century moved on, English and then British philosophers, by head count, were overwhelmingly analytic philosophers. In other words, they had that particular philosophical heritage and outlook. By mid-century something very like that situation had come to be in the United States also, so much so that analytic philosophy is often referred to as Anglo-American philosophy. Further, philosophy in other countries where English is the/a major language fell into the analytic camp as that style of philosophy became dominant in Britain: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa. In India, too, much of academic philosophy is analytical.
However, analytic philosophy is not confined to a connection with the English language. The most significant non-English-language region of analytic philosophy has been Germany and Austria. In fact a recent book by Michael Dummett on the origins of analytic philosophy has (controversially - more on that later) proposed that it be regarded as Anglo-Austrian philosophy, rather than Anglo-American. On the other hand, one cannot say of Germany (or Austria), as I said about Britain and the U.S., that during the twentieth century philosophers there were overwhelmingly, or even mostly, analytic.
There is a great deal of analytic philosophy in Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. There were also significant outposts in Poland and (the former) Czechoslovakia until Marxism-Leninism became the official philosophical view in eastern Europe; with the disappearance of that official support, there is a resurgence of analytically inclined philosophical thinking in those countries.
It is very important also to look at the other side of the ledger. In some countries there has been very little, if any, twentieth-century philosophy which fits comfortably into the analytic tradition: one must mention as major European countries with no significant investment in analytic philosophy France, Italy, Spain, Russia.
4. Analytic Philosophy's Competitors
In the second of these essays I characterized analytic philosophy as a twentieth-century application to philosophy of a certain style of mind which shows up across history. It should then be expected that analytic philosophy has not been the only twentieth-century philosophical movement, that other style(s) of philosophical thought have also existed in this, as in other centuries. To further develop an initial understanding of the nature and place of analytic philosophy, it is important to notice its competitors.
First, it must be realized that analytic philosophy only started coming to be around the turn of the twentieth century. In order for it to achieve a position of dominance (dominance at least in the philosophical world of English speakers), it had to displace some other philosophical tradition. As we shall see, in Britain and the United States, it was idealism which analytic philosophy replaced as the major philosophical outlook. That change did not take place overnight. In fact, it is often forgotten that a major figure of late idealism, R.G. Collingwood, was a significant philosopher in Oxford until his death in 1943; there were idealists in the U.S., even if not as important as Collingwood, e.g. Brand Blanshard, until late in the century.
The story of how analytic philosophy came to occupy an important place in German philosophy is more complicated, requiring a longer story about the development of philosophy in Germany and Austria in the nineteenth century. In a later section, I will offer a very abbreviated account of those developments.
If one looks at twentieth-century philosophy as an international phenomenon, it also becomes apparent that two of the major traditions are frequently not mentioned in standard accounts of recent philosophy, especially when those histories are executed from an analytic point of view. Catholic philosophy, while having important connections with other twentieth-century philosophical developments (including at times and places with analytic philosophy), nonetheless represents a major and independent philosophical position in the century. Moreover, Marxism, thanks to its official role in the bloc dominated by the Soviet Union and also thanks to its challenge to the powers that be elsewhere was (no longer is) a major alternative to analytic philosophy in the world as a whole.
The reason that these other forms of philosophy (Catholic, Marxist) are so often overlooked in standard accounts of analytic philosophy is that they have not struck the majority of analytic philosophers as the significant competition. For most analytic philosophers, especially in the heyday of their dominance, there was only one interesting philosophical competitor: what they called 'continental philosophy'. In that tradition the chief figures were French and German (though no doubt Austrians were swept into the German speaking branch.) Philosophers such as Husserl, Bergson, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Heidegger, perhaps also Meinong and Brentano, were the opposition. Movements such as Phenomenology and Existentialism, and later Structuralism and Deconstruction, were 'the other' for analytic philosophers. A decent introductory grasp of the nature of analytic philosophy requires some understanding of its major competitor.
5. Continental Philosophy
Since I have characterized the main style of philosophy with which analytic philosophy has stood in contrast 'continental philosophy', it will be of use to provide, from the point of view of analytic philosophy, some introductory account of that quite different mode, or modes, of philosophical thought.
Just as analytic philosophy is a twentieth century phenomenon, beginning near the turn of the century, so too is its continental counterpart. "It is often suggested that the nineteenth century did not truly end until 1918. Politically, socially and economically, that may be so, but in philosophy - as in literature and painting - several of the figures who were to lend European [continental] culture its modern shape were already producing influential work before 1914." (David E. Cooper,. 'Modern European Philosophy', The Blackwell's Companion to Philosophy, ed. N. Bunnin and E.P. Tsui-James, p. 703)
The name applied by analytic philosophers to this other kind of philosophy is inept in two ways. As Bernard Williams noticed, it is logically odd to describe the contrast as between 'analytic' and 'Continental' (or 'European') philosophy. "It is absurd to mark philosophical differences with these two labels. [That labeling involves] a strange cross-classification - rather as though one divided cars into front-wheel drive and Japanese". (Williams, 'Contemporary Philosophy: A Second Look', in The Blackwell's Companion to Philosophy, p.25). Calling one tradition 'analytic' is to classify it in terms of the nature of a characteristic philosophical activity, while to call the other 'continental' is to classify it in terms of its geographical location.
Had I, then, some enlightening term with which to rename the 'continental' grouping I would do so. However, I do not have a handy replacement which would parallel the adjective 'analytic' nor have I seen any alternative seriously proposed. So we shall plow ahead, living with the awkward situation.
Moreover, even the geographical name 'continental' is highly misleading. As we have seen analytic philosophy is not confined to Britain or even the English speaking world. Conversely, continental philosophy is not confined to the continent.
Here is an excellent account by Cooper: "'Continental' should not be understood in strictly geographical terms, for there are, for instance, French, German or Spanish philosophers who do not count as 'continental', and British or American ones who do. A student signing up [for] a course called 'Continental Philosophy' would encounter only some of the movements and authors that have flourished in mainland Europe in recent times. [Note: there would not be Catholic and Marxist movements and authors, as well as those Cooper mentions.] The list would certainly include such movements as phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, critical theory, structuralism and deconstruction, and would just as certainly exclude Polish logic and the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle. Our student would be disappointed not to hear about Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Foucault, Derrida and Habermas, and surprised to study Frege, Popper or Tarski instead. These three are Europeans, but not 'continentals'. There are, to be sure, important figures whose status is more ambiguous - most notably Wittgenstein, some aspects of whose later work are as congenial to admirers of 'continental philosophy' as other aspects are to its detractors. But enough has been said to establish that 'continental philosophy' must be delineated, not in geographical terms, but in ones of characteristic concerns and trends." (Cooper, 'Modern European Philosophy', op. cit., p.703.)
Hence, 'continental' is a doubly misleading word for the style of philosophy which analytic philosophers stood (or stand) opposed to. Let me try another means of contrast. I offered one characterization of analytic philosophy by means of a set of terms designating styles of thought or casts of mind. Perhaps that ought to done for continental philosophy also. Since analytic and continental philosophy took themselves to be opposites, then let me use the opposed list of terms to describe continental philosophy: it would be the twentieth century version of Italian, Platonic, other-worldly, tender-minded, eagle-visioned, hedgehogish, speculative philosophy.
Having offered that description, it strikes me that it is highly inappropriate to the phenomenon. Less (though not nothing) is learned from that manner of characterization than is learned from the application to analytic philosophy of the contrasting list of terms. There are at least two reasons for that shortcoming. First, too many of the pairs of terms on my list are oriented toward a religious distinction, a pro- or anti- religious emphasis, and that distinction is not especially appropriate to the analytic/continental divide: western thought generally has become secular over the course of the century. Secondly, my pairs of terms do not mark out distinctions concerning the nature of culture: and differing ideas about the relation of concepts and culture are one of the major sorting features between continental thought and analytic.
Let me go about this differently still. Let us look at the criticism of continental philosophy offered by an analytic philosopher when relations between the two tribes was especially bad and thereby learn how the contrast was then perceived. John Passmore, a very good Australian philosopher and historian of philosophy, published a major work in the history of philosophy in 1957 entitled A Hundred Years of Philosophy. Passmore points out in his Preface that the title is too broad - the book is really about British philosophy in the hundred year period 1843 to, say, 1955 and furthermore is done from an British point of view. However, the book contains a final chapter: 'A Postscript on Existentialism'. The first few paragraphs of that Postscript provide a succinct picture of the relations in mid-century between Anglo-American philosophy, to use its other and geographical name, and continental philosophy, at least as those relations were seen from the English language side.
"If, working within my self-imposed limitations, I were to make no reference whatsoever to existentialism, I could not justly be rebuked. For one thing, it has been quite without influence on the main trends in contemporary British philosophy; for another thing, in so far as it has been discussed, existentialism has been taken seriously as a stimulus to ethico-religious thinking, rather than as a metaphysics. Professional philosophers, for the most part, dismiss it with a contemptuous shrug.
"Yet there would be a certain cowardice in ignoring it completely, welcome, in some respects, as that decision would be. Existentialism lies on the periphery of British philosophical consciousness; it stands, to British philosophers, for Continental excess and rankness. To sketch its ramifications, then - all that can be attempted in anything less than a large and intricate book - may at least bring into sharper focus that fundamental opposition between British and Latin-Teutonic philosophy on which I have several times insisted, but in somewhat general terms.
"At this point, one may be tempted to preach a sermon on British insularity; certainly the attitude of contemporary British philosophers to their Continental colleagues is sometimes reminiscent of the famous newspaper poster announcing a fog in the British Channel: 'Continent Isolated.' Yet, in the sphere of logic and epistemology at least, the British philosopher may well object that it is his Continental colleague, not he, who is insular; for whereas the British philosopher knows his Descartes, his Leibniz, his Kant, the Continental philosopher is likely to be almost wholly ignorant of Berkeley, Hume, and Russell. If it is difficult for a British-trained philosopher to read with patience the new Continental ontologies, that is because they simply ignore, do not even attempt to answer, empiricist criticisms of Cartesian rationalism and German Idealism.....
"The fact we have to live with, then, is that if most British philosophers are convinced that continental metaphysics is arbitrary, pretentious, and mind-destroying, Continental philosophers are no less confident that British empiricism is philistine, pedestrian, and soul-destroying." (Passmore, pp. 459-460)
There are several themes in these paragraphs from Passmore. Some of them are:
1. The lack of effect on British philosophy, and he means thereby on analytic philosophy, by continental philosophical thought. "[Continental philosophy] has been quite without influence on the main trends in contemporary British philosophy"; "Existentialism lies on the periphery of British philosophical consciousness".
2. One reason for analytic philosophy not being influenced by developments on the continent is that the characteristic concerns of the two groups are radically different. "In so far as it has been discussed, existentialism has been taken seriously as a stimulus to ethico-religious thinking, rather than as a metaphysics."
3. But that difference in interests is not the only explanation for analytic philosophers ignoring continental philosophy. The most striking note in Passmore is that analytic philosophers find continental philosophy offensive. "Professional philosophers, for the most part, dismiss it with a contemptuous shrug." "...it stands, to British philosophers, for Continental excess and rankness." "...most British philosophers are convinced that Continental metaphysics is arbitrary, pretentious and mind-destroying."
4. Passmore has no doubt that the dislike is completely reciprocated - although it must be noticed how different the charges by each camp were. "Continental philosophers are no less confident that British empiricism is philistine, pedestrian, and soul-destroying."
5. Passmore takes it that the British philosopher knows the historically important continentals but the British past is ignored on the continent. "Yet, in the sphere of logic and epistemology at least, the British philosopher may well object that it is his Continental colleague, not he, who is insular; for whereas the British philosopher knows his Descartes, his Leibniz, his Kant, the Continental philosopher is likely to be almost wholly ignorant of Berkeley, Hume and Russell."
A few other things should be noticed: Passmore's identification of current British/analytic philosophy with empiricism; his identification of continental philosophy with existentialism; his allowing that on the continent there is some metaphysics and ontology.
It should be pointed out that Passmore wrote at one of the high points of the 20th century distaste of the two traditions for each other.
For present purposes, the practical upshot of the relations between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy over most of the twentieth-century (the end of the century somewhat excepted) is that one can examine either brand without paying significant attention to the other. At bottom, the conceptions of philosophy and its problems as well as the styles of philosophical thought and writing were so different within the two traditions that the practitioners of each ignored the other, the occasional trading of insults aside.
By the end of the twentieth-century, there had been some rapprochement between the two major philosophical camps. Analytic philosophers, at least some of them, were making some attempts to take seriously and learn about (and perhaps from) continental thinkers past and present. And it is rumored that French philosophy had become somewhat interested in analytic epistemology. However, all that is mostly very hard going: the long-standing historical split, the contrasting views of the nature of philosophical problems, the strongly differing styles of expression, make it difficult to achieve too much in the way of common understanding and purposes in the short run.
6. Note on Pragmatism
In the previous essays concerning analytic philosophy, along with the many small omissions, there was a large one: nothing was said there about pragmatism and the pragmatists.
In the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, as it was in Britain, idealism was the central philosophical outlook. As we shall later see, in Britain the philosophical reaction to the idealist orthodoxy, a reaction which began around 1900, was labeled 'realism'. In the United States, the parallel reaction to idealism, which occurred at the same time as that in England, was split into two camps. On the one hand, there were the (American) realists - but they were confronted by a different anti-idealist movement, namely pragmatism. The American realist movement, over the course of the century, tended to turn away from its American roots and merged with the British realists, that is to say with analytic philosophy. But the pragmatist movement never took strong root in Britain (or elsewhere) but remained an almost entirely American branch of philosophy. It produced three major philosophers: Charles Peirce, William James and John Dewey.
For complicated reasons, not here relevant, pragmatism, after World War II and within the American philosophical community, became totally swamped by the anglicized realist strain. Among professional philosophers, pragmatism virtually vanished. On the other hand, pragmatism did not sort conveniently with the continental philosophers, who formed the chief opposition to analytic philosophy after mid-century. So in the standard analytic lists of both saints and wrong-doers drawn from those years, pragmatists simply do not appear: not on either list. They were neither friend nor foe - they were missing in action.
I shall have a brief discussion of pragmatism after talking about idealism. It is beyond the scope of this introductory essay to do anything more than note that pragmatism is making a come-back at the end of the century.
7. Characterizing Analytic Philosophy: Science and Style
One thing which helps make analytic philosophy a distinct philosophical tradition is its adherence to, or at least connection with, a certain philosophical activity called 'analysis'. Of course, putting it that way admits some variation in views as to what constitutes analysis - and I have already said that those views shifted over the years. Are there any other common features?
Michael Dummett has alleged that the defining characteristic of analytic philosophy is its attitude toward the place of language in understanding the nature of human thought. That thesis needs to be examined, something to be done later. I think that Dummett is seriously wrong, although attention to language did become, at a later stage, central to analytic philosophy.
Another attempt to find an organizing principle for analytic philosophy occurs in David Cooper's 'Modern European Philosophy' (referred to earlier.) Cooper makes the attitude toward science (more or less) the defining difference between analytic and continental philosophy. He says that "the salient mood of the movements in European [i.e. continental] philosophy] which concern us [is]: a mood of hostility, if not towards science itself, then towards some large claims made on behalf of it." (p 703) In contrast, Cooper says, "Anglo-American (or 'analytic') philosophy has tended, over the last 90 years, to be much more 'science-friendly' than European philosophy." (p 704)
Now there certainly is truth in that last claim about analytic philosophy: there is such a "tendency". However there were (and are) also philosophers and movements in analytic philosophy which, while they do not display hostility to science, are vaguely indifferent about the philosophical importance of science and may well display hostility toward scientism (roughly the glorification of scientific method), that is, toward the same large claims made on the behalf of science which Cooper says the main European tradition have characteristically opposed. I have in mind as indifferent and/or critical of scientism G.E. Moore, the ordinary language philosophers and most specifically the later Wittgenstein. Cooper's contrast turns out to be a contrast between a single strain of European thought, one which is typically thought of as paradigmatically 'continental' by analytic philosophers, and again a single strain of analytic philosophy, one which is typically thought of as constituting the entire analytic tradition by current continental philosophers.
For a completely different account of how one might distinguish analytic and continental philosophy, I would like to suggest that, at least from the analytic camp's perspective, a crucial difference, though not the sole difference, is the style of writing. Analytic philosophy has prided itself on the clarity of its writing: and its practitioners have looked at the continentals as either not caring about achieving precision and clarity in thought and language or else as positively inclined toward obscure prose. (And of course the desire to emulate the sparseness and simplicity of scientific writing has been, in part, a source of the analytic drive toward clarity. But only part: understanding the demands of democracy and egalitarianism has also been a stimulant to the analytic writing style.)
I certainly do not wish to suggest that all the writing in the analytic movement has met its stylistic ideal. Far from it. There is much mind numbing analytic writing. But even then I suspect that an acute critic could find some way of positively distinguishing the styles of bad writing in both philosophical movements.
8. Distinctions within Analytic Philosophy
Although analytic philosophy constitutes a philosophical tradition, nonetheless it incorporates different groups of philosophers and views. It is a philosophical family not all of whose members are on the best of terms - but who can still (normally) discern their kinship when confronted with philosophical 'outlanders'.
Probably the best model of the unity of analytic philosophy is that of Wittgenstein's notion of family resemblance. There is no one characteristic which must be shared by each member of a family. Rather there is a set of features of which some members have some and lack others and thus display resemblance and also difference.
Being decently positive toward science and a science dominated culture is a family trait of analytic philosophy, as is regarding language as philosophically significant. Neither, however, are necessary conditions of being an analytic philosopher. Moreover, knowing only the attitude toward science, or language, does not help understand so many features of the practice of analytic philosophy.
While I spoke of "a set of features" above, no one has, and probably never will, state for the analytic family precisely what the members of that set are. That enterprise becomes uninteresting after but a small effort.
Notice that a religion such as Christianity is also a family of differing views - and in that case the search for who and what really is a Christian frequently becomes a pressing issue, leading often enough to violence. Despite their differences, analytic philosophers are unlikely to seek to establish heresy and punish it.
Within that family of views which constitutes analytic philosophy, it is important to insist upon and to recognize two sub-families. One is derived from Bertrand Russell, and from Frege before him, and has come down through the early Wittgenstein and the Logical Positivists. This branch treats the mathematical logic invented by Frege and Russell as central to philosophical thought and thinks of science as the height of human rationality. The second analytic sub-family has its roots in G.E. Moore, was given its chief development by the later Wittgenstein, and moved on through the ordinary language philosophers. It does not see formal logic as central to philosophical work and regards more ordinary, non-scientific, patterns of thought as crucial to successful philosophical understanding. The divergence between these two versions of analytic philosophy is quite marked. (One might think here of the split within western Christianity between Catholicism and Protestantism.)
The above distinction of two large sub-families within analytic philosophy must be strongly emphasized for it is frequently ignored both by opponents of analytic philosophy and also by those within the Fregean-Russellian wing of the tradition. Notice that Cooper says above that the attitude toward science is the distinguishing difference between analytic and continental philosophy, that analytic philosophy is characterized by a pro-science attitude. But to see things that way is, as I objected, to identify analytic philosophy with the Fregean-Russellian branch of the tradition.
Similar failures to note that analytic philosophy includes also the family which derives from Moore and passes down through the later work of Wittgenstein and the ordinary language philosophers comes out in writers whose views are shaped by the logically oriented Frege-Russell sub-group. "In speaking of analytic philosophy here I have in mind that tradition which looks for inspiration to the works of Frege, of Russell, and of Carnap. Salient features of this tradition are its employment of mathematic logic as a tool, or method, of philosophy; its emphasis on language and meaning; its generally atomistic and empiricist assumptions; and the fact that many of its practitioners have viewed science, especially physics, as a paradigm of human knowledge (and, like many earlier philosophers, have taken knowledge rather than, say, art or human relations or politics to be the paradigmatic field for the exercise of human reason.)" (Peter Hylton, Russell, Idealism, and the Emergence of the Analytic Tradition, p. 14.) To so explain analytic philosophy is to identify it with only one of, no doubt its largest, sub-sets. The view is rather in the spirit of the contemporary (fundamentalist Protestant) move which divides religions into (among others) Christianity and Catholicism.
9. Analytic Philosophy and History
One irony should be noticed here. I have not proposed, nor supported, any formula which defines analytic philosophy, which specifies what philosophy is from an analytic point of view. On the other hand, I have characterized analytic philosophy as a style of philosophy concerned to find formulae in response to philosophical questions about what something (say knowledge) is. Since I am presumably an analytic philosopher, this divergence between title and practice is striking.
On the other hand, I have already said that one of the changes which has come over analytic philosophy in the course of the century is that there is much less concern to provide those rigorous little specifications of such philosophically interesting concepts as truth, love, justice, time, knowledge, etc. So all that I have done in not providing a simple and straight-forward (analytic) answer to the question 'What is philosophy?' is exhibit that change in program and reveal that I am a analytic philosopher practicing at the end of the twentieth-century and into the next.
In order to point out another irony, I want to quote from Hans-Johann Glock. "Finally, analytic philosophy can be understood genetically, as a historical sequence of individuals and schools that influenced, and engaged in debate with each other, without sharing any single doctrine, problem or method. This is the approach taken by Peter Hacker and Hans Sluga. Thus Sluga writes: 'Following common practice, I take analytic philosophy here as originating in the work of Frege, Russell, Moore, and Wittgenstein, as encompassing the logical empiricism of the Vienna Circle, English ordinary language philosophy of the post-war period, American mainstream philosophy of recent decades, as well as their worldwide affiliates and descendents.' I am sympathetic to this historical conception of analytic philosophy. Moreover, I think that Sluga's list indeed conforms to common practice. But I am keen to add to it those Germanophone influences on Frege, Wittgenstein, and the Vienna Circle which have contributed, however indirectly, to the distinctive analytic tradition that I detect in German philosophy." ('Vorsprung durch Logik: The German Analytic Tradition', in German Philosophy Since Kant, ed. A. O'Hear, p. 139)
I join Glock in recommending that historical conception of analytic philosophy, as contrasted with the attempt to define it. But doing so again puts me (as well as Glock, Hacker and Sluga) at odds with one of the chief tendencies of analytic philosophy: its anti-historical orientation.
Anti-historical attitudes come in various forms. I once had a colleague who said 'Philosophy began with Frege' and would not think of paying any attention to any philosopher writing before 1875. That is a very idiosyncratic view. Nonetheless it is a recognizable, though highly exaggerated, result of a characteristic tendency of analytic philosophy, a tendency which can be brought out in the following way.
Analytic philosophers (and not they alone) have thought that the aim of philosophy is to discern and to state the logical, i.e. conceptual, pre-conditions of philosophically interesting things. For instance, to take the example of knowledge I used earlier: in answer to the question of what is it to know something (where the knowledge in question is propositional, i.e. where we are ignoring knowing how to do something and ignoring knowing (being acquainted with) someone), part of the answer to 'What is it to know that p?' is that it, p, must be true. That is, the truth of the proposition is a (though surely not the only) conceptual pre-condition for knowledge.
Now 'Knowledge requires truth' is conceived of in analytic philosophy as not relativistic, as not requiring for proper completion a relativizing clause such as 'in the twentieth century' or 'in modern western civilization'. It is allowed that there may be historical or cultural pre-conditions of knowledge (and also of many other philosophically interesting things), but uncovering these other pre-conditions are not part of the aim of philosophy.
Such a view, characteristic of analytic philosophy, tends to preclude any interest in what is historically variable.
On the other hand, what is historically variable in our conceptual life has been of central concern to continental philosophy. That differing attitude to the historical is one of the substantial issues which has set the two groups far apart.
It has also to be said that that interest in the non-historical has been central to the main stream of philosophy from Socrates and Plato onward. Analytic philosophy, in that respect, is an extension of the central philosophical tradition into the twentieth century, while one could make out a strong case that concern with the historical (or, more strongly, denial that there is anything other than historical conditions) began with Hegel (with Vico an interesting predecessor.)
That lack of interest in matters historical within the analytic tradition is what produces the irony that by the end of the century various analytic philosophers, myself included, tend to look upon the unity of analytic philosophy as, at least in significant respects, a historical matter.
PART II: HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY
1. The Historical Background
How did this twentieth-century philosophical movement arise?
Here it is necessary to make a distinction. The above question concerns the explanation of the beginning of a historical phenomenon, the origin of a certain philosophical tradition at a certain time. Historians of ideas make a distinction, when asked how a set of ideas came about, a distinction between what they call 'internal' and 'external' factors. On the one hand, intellectual constructions grow out of preceding sets of intellectual constructions in complicated ways. Those are the internal factors in the explanation of the origins and development of ideas. But intellectual constructions are also located in a non-intellectual social field and features of that social world in which such groups of ideas arise also need to be cited in offering an explanation of how the ideas came to be. Those are the external factors in historical explanation.
Philosophers, being intellectuals, when asked about how a philosophical construction arose and developed, have a strong and natural temptation to tell the story solely or overwhelmingly in terms of internal factors, that is by reference to other ideas. But in any well told explanatory story of this sort, even about philosophy, external factors need to be cited as well, even if we have to step outside the intellectual story to find and express them.
There are both sorts of factors operative in the rise of analytic philosophy. Further, there are several different external items which need to be mentioned in that story.
First, the rise of analytic philosophy is tied up with the professionalization of philosophy. Until Kant, philosophy in the modern world was not done by university professors. Kant was the first, and was the model for what was to follow. In Britain, that pattern did not catch on immediately: most nineteenth century philosophy there was done outside the university. That situation changed around 1900. About then philosophy everywhere was coming to be something done by professionals, by intellectuals paid to do philosophy and to teach it.
Note: in the U.S. the American Philosophical Association, the professional organization of philosophers, was founded in 1901. The journal Mind, the first professional philosophical journal, was founded in 1890 in England.
A second important external factor in the rise of analytic philosophy was that, in England and also in the U.S., part of the professionalization of philosophers (indeed part of the development of universities) involved their secularization. The consequence of philosophers no longer having formal ties to religious institutions was that secular problems, rather than theological issues, became the center of philosophical interest. (The best thing to examine here is the early pages of a paper by Gilbert Ryle in The Revolution in Philosophy.)
If one were to do a thorough job with this matter of the external factors behind the origin of analytic philosophy, one would have to go so far back as to mention the Industrial Revolution (begun in Britain about 1785), the major scientific accomplishment of Darwin's evolutionary theory (1859), the ensuing 'war' of science and religion. The immediate intellectual background was the rise of materialism in Victorian Britain. (Clearly some of those matters are borderline between external and internal explanatory factors.) In this very short account, those brief and simple mentions will have to do. No one, so far as I know, has made a sustained attempt to set out the external factors which played a role in the rise of analytic philosophy.
2. A Brief History of British Philosophy
Since this historical introduction to analytic philosophy is being done from a perspective which makes the English language developments central, and since the story is intended to be introductory, it will probably be useful to insert a very brief reminder of British philosophical history from the time the medieval Christian culture was separating into distinct national intellectual traditions.
Roughly, a distinctly British philosophical tradition began with Francis Bacon (1565-1626). Some of the features of that tradition can be traced back into medieval philosophy, but Bacon was the major figure in producing a modern version of those tendencies. Bacon was not a great philosopher. He was a propagandist for the development of science and the great proponent of empirical research and of the desirability of a culture based on science.
The giants of British philosophy from 1640 to 1840 were Hobbes, Locke, Hume, and J.S. Mill. There were other substantial philosophers - Berkeley, Bentham and Reid to name three important ones - but those four were the monumental figures.
While there were huge differences between those men's thought, they do share common philosophical tendencies. That is, they more or less share them: there is deviation by one or another on many points. Some of those (more or less) common features that are relevant to our story were:
(a) They were empiricists: they are the central representatives of the empiricist tradition in the modern world. To call them 'empiricists' is to hold that they denied that there are a priori concepts (or innate ideas) and denied that there is a priori knowledge. In their view (empiricism) all our concepts and all our knowledge come from experience and is to be resolved into experience. (Note: British empiricism was not just a philosophical phenomenon. All levels of British thought and life in the 16th and 17th centuries were 'empiricist' in a broad sense. See Christopher Hill, The Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution.)
(b) They wrote and thought as if the perspective from which the world is to be seen is the individual mind.
(c) Given first that they denied the a priori and insisted that all our intellectual furniture comes from our experiences and given secondly the assumption that individual minds are the fundamental units of the human world, they tried to account for how individual minds come to have the concepts and knowledge they do have. Offering a satisfactory account of that matter was their central project.
(d) That project had two consequences.
(i) Their interest was epistemology, the study of questions about knowledge, rather than questions about how the world is. Because they begin their epistemological searches from experience, sense-perception becomes the dominant concern. And because they have already taken the individual mind as the starting place, the problem of objectivity inevitably arises. The tendency was to become a kind of epistemological idealist - the objective external world cannot be reached directly or else it is to be thought of as constructed out of mental furniture, namely ideas.
(ii) Because they held that knowledge is gained only from experience, they tended to think formal logic pointless. They tried to interpret and explain logic in terms of the workings of the mind - a project which later opponents called 'psychologism'.
(e) Though they had a distaste for metaphysics, they nonetheless had one - for them the world consists of bits and pieces, of objects perhaps, of minds and sensations certainly.
(f) There was a general tendency toward skepticism - and even if they were not philosophical skeptics, they were cautious, opposed to enthusiasms, wanted limited pretensions in philosophy.
(g) All this was expressed in a writing style. They all disliked muddled, unclear jargon and tried to write clearly, simply, straight-forwardly.
One final item needs to be noted at the end of this rapid tour through British philosophical history prior to the rise of analytic philosophy. In the middle years of the 19th century (in Germany as well as Britain) materialism became a popular view. This was due, in important part, to the development and success of science. None of the materialists (in either country) were great philosophers - what philosophical strength they had was derived from their use of past philosophers. But they were up to date in their science and insisted that the success of science showed that the mind was not fundamental in the constitution of the world. Such a view ran head-on into the entire tendency of modern philosophy from Descartes through the British empiricists and the Continental Rationalists (as well as both Kant and Hegel.) For that entire, though divided tradition, had held that the mind is at the root of the intelligibility of the world.
3. Continental Philosophy: to 1850
If we are to understand the rise of analytic philosophy in Britain about 1900, it is necessary to have not just the brief tour through British philosophical history above, but an even more brief look at the history of continental philosophy.
First, philosophy on the continent in the 17th and 18th century contrasted in important respects with traditional British philosophy as I have characterized it above. There the dominant tradition was rationalism - a defense of a priori concepts and of a priori knowledge, along with a greater interest in matters exhibiting those features, mathematics especially. The continentals did not, however, differ from their British counterparts in one respect: they took the individual human mind to be the starting place for philosophical reflection. That assumption was the common heritage from Descartes. The two parties disagreed only on how that individual mind came to be stocked with the wherewithal for knowledge: was it solely by experience or were some ideas built in?
Late in the 18th century along came Kant who aimed at uniting, in a sense, the two traditions, British empiricism and Continental rationalism. He attempted to defend the a priori, and so rationalism, by talking about how some concepts are part of the built in equipment of the individual human mind. Kant's Copernican Revolution was that the mind structures experiences rather than the mind being, as the empiricists would have it, the largely passive recipient of experiences. This view is a form of epistemological idealism since what we can know of the world is given by our mental equipment, though he allowed that there is a reality independent of our minds. However, Kant also came down in a large respect on the side of the empiricists: he attempted to restrain the metaphysical use of a priori notions, a procedure which characterized rationalism and which was opposed by the British tradition, by arguing that the a priori is applicable only in experience and not to Things in Themselves.
Kant was displaced in German philosophy in the early decades of the 19th century by Hegel. To put it very crudely, Hegel argued that the attempt to talk, as Kant had, of the Thing in Itself, namely the world outside of our experience, was impossible to justify. There is nothing outside our human experience. Though he did not mean that in the way that, say, Berkeley did, the Hegalian position is idealist: mind is fully constitutive of reality. A second major thesis of Hegel's was that Kant was mistaken in his idea that the basic categories by which we understand our experience are built into us, that they are non-historical features of the human mind. Hegel, and what became the 'continental' tradition, held that all features of our conceptual scheme are produced by history and not by human nature and so are subject to historical variation.
4. Late Nineteenth Century British (and American) Idealism
Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, British philosophy underwent a surprising change. German idealism, that is to say Hegelianism, sifted across the channel and took hold in Britain.
Why? Hegel's philosophy had been the chief philosophical system in Germany until his death in 1831 (see the next essay for more detail), but had diminished in importance thereafter. The chief cause of the decline was that Hegelianism set itself up as a rational interpretation of the world in opposition to empirical science. The 19th century, however, saw an enormous advance in science, progress which doomed idealism. On the heels of that great growth in scientific understanding came a wave of intellectual materialism.
In mid-19th century England the recognition that science was advancing rapidly in its understanding of large new domains of phenomena, taken in conjunction with massive industrialization, produced a homegrown materialism, a turn toward naturalism and agnosticism.
It was precisely to combat that materialist and naturalist movement that idealism was imported into England. Idealism there developed rather quickly into the Establishment philosophy, quite in opposition to the normal British empiricism. It has been said that Hegelianism had failed to halt science and materialism in Germany, but it was brought into England to do just that.
Actually, there was also a broader motive for the British idealist turn. "T[he] desire to be 'at home in the Universe', to be able to feel that the Universe is the kind of thing one might, with greater power, have created for oneself" was a powerful motive for idealism. (John Passmore) Obviously, if so motivated to turn to idealism, the British must have been feeling particularly out of place by the middle of the 19th century.
The first wave of English enthusiasm for German idealism came from 'literary philosophers': Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin. It was afterward that idealism was brought to England not as a 'popular philosophy', but as a complete intellectual system. That development can be dated: J.H. Stirling's The Secret of Hegel was published in 1865. (The witticism later was that Stirling's book successfully kept the secret!) From then on, idealism caught hold in academic philosophical circles. In the 1870's, emphasis was on translation and commentary. After that it developed into a powerful home-grown philosophical system and dominated Oxford and Cambridge for some decades.
What was that type of idealism as a philosophical position? It is, at bottom, any one of several views that Reality is Spiritual, that reality is an expression of mind. (It should be perfectly clear from that brief description how it was imagined that idealism would block materialism.) G.H. Howison, an important American idealist, said: "... the only absolutely real thing is mind; ... all material and all temporal existences take their being from a Consciousness that thinks and experiences; ... out of consciousness they all issue, to consciousness they are presented, and that presence to consciousness constitutes their entire reality." (As quoted by David Depew, 'Philosophy' in Encyclopedia of The United States in the Twentieth Century, p. 1635)
There are many versions of idealism, many variations on the theme of the mind dependence of reality. There were two such general idealist schemes available in England after 1865, but what held sway there (and in the United States) and what analytic philosophy chiefly was a reaction against was a system known as Absolute Idealism.
"Absolute idealism: 19th century version of idealism in which the world is equated with objective or absolute thought, rather than with the personal flux of experience, as in subjective idealism.... Talk of the Absolute first appears in [Schelling in 1800]. The idea of a Spirit sweeping through all things was by then an integral part of the Romantic movement.... Hegel complained that Schelling's Absolute was ... unknowable, and in his [Hegel's] hands the Absolute became that being which is progressively manifested in the progress of human history." (Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy)
Someone has said that Absolute Idealism in England was 'Hegelianism modified by Anglo-Saxon caution.'
More specifically, there are four features of British Absolute Idealism which need to be mentioned here.
(a) It was not epistemological, as was traditional British philosophy. It was openly and pointedly metaphysical. Idealism made an attempt to establish important conclusions about the universe as a whole, not about this or that aspect of reality (the sciences were held to do that.) It was about Reality as such. In that aim, idealism ran counter to not only the epistemological orientation of the British tradition and its opposition to speculative metaphysics, but also to the caution of British philosophy, the tendency to skepticism and the absence of pretension.
(b) Both 'common sense' and the British empiricist tradition say that the universe consists of a number of things. The core of Absolute Idealist metaphysics is the thesis that to be real is to be a member of a 'rational system', a system so constructed that the nature of its members is intelligible only in so far as the system as a whole is understood. The system is conceived as ideal and spiritual. Thus a thing is real in so far as it participates in the Ideal and in so far as it is a manifestation of spirit.
(c) Its chief opponent was the very much alive major figure of traditional British philosophy: John Stuart Mill. British Idealism's main opponent was empiricist philosophy, represented in person by Mill.
(d) The Idealist philosophy was expressed in a very non-British language: rhetoric, splendor, bombast, dark, intimating, high-flown.
Although Absolute Idealism captured British philosophy, there were two individuals who need to be mentioned specifically. The most important of the early generation of British Idealist philosophers was T.H. Green (1836 -1882), who was 30 when Stirling's book appeared and who went on to make Idealism into the dominant philosophical view at Oxford. The tradition then spawned a great, if idiosyncratic, Idealist philosopher: F(rancis) H(erbert) Bradley (1846-1924) who carried on the tradition at Oxford. His major work appeared in 1893: Appearance and Reality.
Bradley detested John Stuart Mill. He detested the idea that the universe is "a mere plurality of items" - a fragmented, disjointed and thus, to him, irrational place. Bradley set out to show that everything which on that view is taken to be real or true is contradictory and is (therefore) mere appearance. Reality is the Absolute which neither is nor consists of a number of things. Bradleian idealism was a monism: reality is an individual whole.
He was more opposed to the empiricist tradition than he was a full fledged member of the Hegelian tradition.
There was another main theme in Bradley: the separation of logic and philosophy from psychology.
England developed a second Idealist tradition, one opposed to the monism of Absolute Idealism. This is often called 'Personal Idealism'. It represented reality as a collection of finite, personal selves and not as one Great Spirit. It too produced an outstanding philosopher: J.M.E. McTaggart (1865-1928), a Cambridge philosopher, whose masterpiece was The Nature of Existence (2 volumes, 1921 and 1927). Notice that McTaggart was considerably younger than Bradley - he in fact marked the end of the line for British idealism as the major force in British philosophy.
Thus the British idealist movement began roughly in 1865, was at its height in 1893 and slowly began decaying, living perhaps until 1915-1930 (with one final significant figure in R.G. Collingwood coming slightly later.)
Something should be said here about idealism in the United States. Why did Hegelianism catch on in the US in the late 19th century? Basically for the same reasons it did in Britain. "In America, the religiously oriented philosophers of a largely religious nation were explicitly responding to a wave of materialism that had been stimulated by industrialization and the diffusion of Darwinism by inflating, rather than trimming back, claims that the world must be essentially spiritual if it is to be meaningful at all. If evolution takes place, idealists assured genteel Americans, surely it must be the unfolding of a grand plan rather than the meaningless slaughter of natural selection." (Depew, p. 1635)
The most important of the American Idealists was Josiah Royce (1855 - 1916), a Californian who ended up as a professor of philosophy at Harvard. It must be kept in mind, however, that Idealism was intellectually dominant in American philosophy at the end of the 19th century: there was even a significant group called 'the St. Louis Hegelians'.
5. From Idealism to Objectivity
Idealism began declining as the major philosophical outlook in both Britain and the U.S. just before 1900. (That was the start of the decline: the end was not for another 30 years or so.) The more detailed story of what replaced it is the topic of Part III of these essays. However, it is worth discussing in a preliminary way the questions 'What brought about the decline of Idealism?' and 'What was the philosophical outlook which replaced it?'
First, in explanation of the changes I should like to remind you of the previously mentioned professionalizing and secularizing of philosophy in response to larger changes in the intellectual world and the social life of western civilization.
Secondly, the attempt to employ idealist philosophy as a means of halting materialism and religious secularization in both the British and American social worlds failed. The long term cultural trends in both places ran counter to the idea that reality is spiritual.
But what should be most focused upon in this philosophical story are not those external explanations of the demise of idealism and the rise of analytic philosophy but rather is a very general intellectual movement toward 'objectivity'. "The main tendency of 19th century thought was towards the conclusion that both things and facts about things are dependent for their existence and their nature upon the operations of a mind.... They [in the 19th century] all agreed that if there were no mind there would be no facts, although they disputed about what there would be.... none of these writers ... was prepared explicitly and consistently to assert that facts are merely recognized by a mind, not made by it." (Passmore, p. 175)
At about the beginning of the twentieth century there came to be a broad movement rejecting those views, a turn toward objectivity, a defense of the idea that facts are only recognized by minds, not made by them. That development occurred not just in Britain in the persons of Moore and Russell: one also finds it in the Austrians Brentano, Meinong and Husserl, Frege in Germany and in C.S. Peirce and R.W Sellars in the United States.
6. History of Nineteenth Century Austrian and German Philosophy
The usual story (at least as told in English language philosophy) of the origins of analytic philosophy focuses solely upon Britain, although Frege has more recently come to seen the fountainhead of the tradition. More recently, Michael Dummett has urged that Austria was a crucial place of origin of analytic philosophy. That thesis is generating a good deal of controversy. (See Dummett's Origins of Analytic Philosophy and the critical discussions of it in The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, edited by Hans-Johann Glock.) I don't think that Dummett is correct - the criterion he uses for what counts as analytic philosophy is mistaken.
Nonetheless, the thesis can be put this way: some philosophy done in the German language undeniably has an important place in any story relating the origins of analytic philosophy. Since that is true, it would be very appropriate in these introductory historical essays to produce a brief account of relevant features of both Austrian and German philosophy in the nineteenth century.
Let us start with Germany. Classical German philosophy covers the years (roughly) 1780 to 1830. Kant was the instigator of the central German philosophical tradition. What we think of today as Kant's philosophy begins with the publication in 1781 of the Critique of Pure Reason. That was followed in the next twenty years, before his death in 1804, by all the other major works (the other two Critiques, the Prolegomena, the Foundations of Morality and more.)
In the many small states then comprising Germany, Kant was quickly recognized to be a great philosopher and future philosophical developments were tied to responses to his views. His transcendental idealism was a chief sore point and in response to it, and to other prevailing external conditions, a new form of idealism arose: absolute idealism, whose chief developers were Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. At Hegel's death in 1831, absolute idealism had won the day - and was already in decline.
In the United States, philosophy courses concerned with nineteenth century German philosophy tend to move from Hegel to Schopenhauer (usually given too short shrift), Kierkegaard and Marx - and then proceed to Nietzsche. But those philosophers, no matter how outstanding, were outsiders, that is they were not part of the continuing central German philosophical tradition which was, by then, deeply ensconced in the universities. Hegel and absolute idealism were not done in by Kierkegaard or any of those others.
Rather, it was the continuing impressive development of the natural sciences which furnished the ground for the next major development of the central line of German philosophical thought. The idealist attempt to ground all of human thought in philosophy and all reality in the mind was set aside in favor of a view which elevated the sciences and the material world to the dominant role in intellectual and human life. This naturalism was dominant in Germany over the middle years of the century.
From about 1865 on (i.e. just as Hegelianism landed in England), German philosophy was dominated by a movement which had as its slogan 'Back to Kant'. The Kant who was rehabilitated was not, however, the transcendental idealist metaphysician but the critical epistemologist.
This extended period of neo-Kantianism in all its variety is largely forgotten in English language accounts of German philosophy. Yet it was the orthodox view, very widely subscribed to in philosophy departments in Germany, and was the view which Frege would have most closely and naturally encountered in the course of his philosophical learning.
Austria is a different story from Germany though English language accounts tend to lump them together.
The big difference is that Hegalianism and the other idealisms which briefly took over in Germany following Kant did not take root in Austria. The Austrian tradition throughout the nineteenth century was stoutly realist. It produced three important philosophers: Bernard Bolzano (1781 - 1848) about whom it has been said "Taken all together Bolzano's achievements mark him in my view as the greatest philosopher of the nineteenth century, bar none....it is nothing less than a scandal that he and his work are still regularly omitted from university courses teaching nineteenth-century philosophy." (Peter Simons, "Bolzano, Brentano and Meinong: Three Austrian Realists", in German Philosophy Since Kant, ed. A. O'Hear, p.115.) He was followed by Franz Brentano (1838 - 1917) and Alexius Meinong (1853 - 1920) who did have an impact on the mainstream of analytic philosophy, both at the turn of the twentieth century and also towards its end.
It was because of these philosophers (as well as Husserl, a Prussian who was a naturalized Austrian, who studied with Brentano and Meinong) that Dummett has referred to analytic philosophy as 'Anglo-Austrian philosophy. In these introductory essays I have so far provided a variety of ideas about the the nature of analytic philosophy and, in the second part, some remarks about the philosophical background to analytic philosophy. The time has come to turn to a more detailed examination of the development of analytic philosophy.
1. The Origins of Analytic Philosophy.
It is important to preface that account with a warning. I have previously intimated that the study of the origins of analytic philosophy is presently, i.e. at roughly the end of a century of its existence, undergoing a significant reexamination by philosophers. I expect that in some not too distant time I myself, as a result of that deeper inquiry into the origins of a major branch of twentieth-century philosophy, would tell the story I am going to sketch here differently. so the warning to current students is to not become too enamored of some of the structural features of the following account.
There are three assumptions that I shall make here which importantly affect the organization I shall impose on the material. First, I shall be telling the story from a decidedly English language point of view. That is the standard assumption made by English language writers on the subject.
Secondly, and this is a less standard assumption today, I shall discuss both Moore and Russell before Frege. I do not thereby deny that Frege temporally preceded Moore and Russell. Rather, I do it in that order because within the broad analytic tradition Frege's major influence on the tradition came much later in the century, after World War II. What I shall do is compromise: I shall discuss Moore and Russell first, insert a modest appreciation of Frege in connection with Russell, and then return to Wittgenstein as the inheritor of Russell and Frege.
Thirdly, within the discussions of the English origins of analytic philosophy I shall discuss Moore first and then Russell. Everyone agrees, since Russell said so, that Moore influenced Russell deeply at the turn of the century. By starting with Moore I wish to do more than merely nod at Moore as the origin. I said in Part I of these notes that it is often forgotten that Moore also came to represent a quite different wing of the analytic tradition, one that tends to be ignored by those within the Russellian line. I intend not to let that other form of analytic philosophy be ignored in this story.
2. Cambridge University and Analytic Philosophy
In the story of twentieth century philosophy (under the assumptions made above), Cambridge University, especially in the early years of the century, is the major locus of the action. For at Cambridge around the turn of the century, three of the important figures of twentieth century philosophy were students, (sometimes) colleagues and (sometimes) friends. In fact, it has been often held that it was at Cambridge with those philosophers analytic philosophy, was created.
The three players were Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Russell arrived there as a student in 1890 and did his most important work at Cambridge before he was removed from the faculty during the First World War for his anti-war sentiments and activities. Moore came as a student in 1892 and, with only a very few years elsewhere, was at Cambridge until his retirement in 1939 (and largely until his death in 1958.) Wittgenstein had a more checkered career at Cambridge. He enrolled as a student in 1911, became a recognized genius before World War I interrupted his residency, returned to Cambridge in 1929 (and received his PhD), was appointed Professor to replace Moore in 1939, was away during part of World War II making his contribution to the war effort, but took up his professoriate again for a brief while after 1945 before quitting academic life.
It is easy to forget that these were not the only significant thinkers at Cambridge in those early years: J.M.E. McTaggart, although in a quite different philosophical tradition, was just a few years older than Russell and Moore and was their teacher and friend. A.N. Whitehead, though officially a mathematician, was enlisted by Russell to assist in the production of Principia Mathematica and later went on to be reckoned a significant philosophical figure in his own right. John Maynard Keynes, the great economist, was intellectually somewhere in between philosophy and economics. And the lesser figures on the philosophy faculty at Cambridge, Stout, Ward, Johnson, were good solid philosophers.
It was out of that mix, though with substantial additions from outside, with Frege in Germany the major figure, that what is now known as analytic philosophy was created.
In many (though not the most recent) discussions of the development of the analytic branch of twentieth century philosophy, Moore and Russell are mentioned together as the source of the new philosophical orientation. When it comes to treating of them in detail, some writers choose to first discuss Moore, others choose to start with Russell. Although Russell is slightly older and in the long run the more significant philosopher of the two, there are good reasons for starting the story with Moore.
There is as yet no historical work focusing upon philosophical thought in Cambridge during the period, say, 1890 to 1914. The nearest is both more broad (covering England) and narrower (specializing in Russell), namely Peter Hylton's, Russell, Idealism, and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy (1990)
There is, of course, much biographical material on Moore, Russell and Wittgenstein and, since they were interconnected, they all turn up significantly in each other's stories.
Perhaps the most interesting item currently available on these philosophical developments is a historical novel: The World As I Found It by Bruce Duffy. While Wittgenstein is the central figure, Moore and Russell are the important supporting characters. As with any historical novel, the author freely takes some historical liberties, especially filling in psychological blank spaces in the record.