[hist-analytic] Analytic Philosophy: Oxonian Varieties

jlsperanza at aol.com jlsperanza at aol.com
Thu Aug 6 17:50:35 EDT 2009

In his interesting post on Carnap, R. B. Jones goes autobiographical
and writes:

"My own first introduction to this [logicist] conception of philosophy
was in "Language Truth and Logic" in which Ayer gives his
Oxonian interpretation of Logical Positivism."

and goes on to quote a vivid passage from Gollancz's vintage of 1946 
fresh from his tidily kept notes at



  "In other words, the propositions of philosophy are not factual,
   but linguistic in character - that is, they do not describe
   the behaviour of physical, or even mental, objects;
   they express definitions, or the formal consequences of definitions.
   Accordingly we may say that philosophy is a department of logic*2.
   For we will see that the characteristic mark of
   a purely logical enquiry, is that it is concerned with
   the formal consequences of our definitions and not with
   questions of empirical fact."

Jones comments:

"It was to Ayer's advantage as a propagandist that he was
not so interested as Carnap was in the technical details.
Consequently, he does make the plain statements (...)."

Exactly, It should perhaps, but not to nitpick, noted that by 1946 Ayer 
stopped being (cfr. beating one's wife) an Oxonian philosopher? 
(Interesting that his extremist views had been held while an undergrad 
at Oxon, but did he ever form a school?). Having
read his auto-bios I felt that he never perhaps fit in Oxford. He was a
Londoner born and bred and teaching at London by the time the Gollancz
book was published? (I have to review the dates, and this new mailer 
using make things all very clumsy to me!)

But back to the quote by Ayer. He is saying that propositions of 
philosophy are 'linguistic'. Seeing
that this is a rather clumsy thing to say -- try to express a
proposition that is NOT linguistic -- he feels the need to add that
they are 'logical'. The issue of 'logical construction' may be what he
is having in mind? As when Grice, in 1941, predating Ayer, defines "I"
as a logical construction (via Broad) in terms of mnemic states.

The issue of 'definition', that Ayer also plays with, would need a 
(before you can say Robinson) for Oxford to feel quaintly satisfied 
the notion (His classic for the Clarendon Press, Definition -- Robinson 
a fellow of Oriel). While Grice's "I" may be said to
define "I" (in terms of mnemic states), it may be argued that the
speech act, as it were, underlying the collective act of collective 
philosophers is not just
DEFINE. The philosophical gamut may cover: commend, show, testify, 
express, impress, or what
have you!

(In fact, in our best moments, philosophers just philosophize, which 
should be viewed, as SOMETHING indeed alla Ayer playing with 
definitions and logical entailments, where the focus is on the yielding 
of a conclusion analytically from its premises)

Jones is very right later on to distinguish the branches of philosophy.
Since Ayer was, after all, Oxonian in essentialist spirit or not, a 
Lit. Hum. (was he? His
tutors must have been overwhelmed, but then Ryle wanted a change), one
wonders what conception of philosophy as taught by the Lit. Hum.
programme Ayer was rejecting. Indeed psychologia rationalis, ontologia,
metaphysica, ontologia specialis, and the rest of it. And THEN there
was 'dialectica' or logic. This the Classics considered notably vis a
vis ethika. The logika propositions were later schematised by the
schoolers (as I prefer to spell the scholars) as 'trivial' (as in
trivial) pursuit -- along with Chomsky's grammar -- and this makes for 
a charming triviality in a dictum by Russell that Grice adored: grammar 
as a "pretty good guide to logical form". So all this must be 
resonating in Ayer's mind with a vengeance. Especially in validating 
the empiricist positions of Hume and Locke: with all the minutiae for 
impressions, ideas, etc. they were after all just defining terms and 
playing symbolically with them.

I still think that nobody can beat Grice ("Conceptual analysis and the
province of philosophy", delivered for, of all audience, the girls at
Wellesey), He is so clear as to what analytic philosophy, Oxonian 
did look like -- the fact that he kept files (Chapman tells us),
entitled, "Oxford philosophy" suggests that he was feeling the burden 
of responsibility
of a self-appointed annalist of Oxonian analyticity, as it were. 
(Recall the marketing thing too: he was lecturing mainly the USA as 
proponent of "Oxonian philosophy" and he had to keep the right tracks).

(What charms me about Grice on analysis -- vis a vis eg Hare or 
Hampshire -- is that he is never one for generalising, and speaks just 
for hisself (as it were) and the bite that the motivation of one 
conceptual issue in need for analysis would have for him)

Grice mentions Ayer's Language, truth and logic in his Prejudices and
predilections (the original title of his life and opinions) and his
sentiment seems to be that Ayer had gone too far? (He had, after all, 
blatanlty crossed the Channel and come back with an attitude after his 
sojourn at Vienna -- and not precisely humming The Merry Widow). Urmson 
analysis betweeen the wars) and Warnock (English philosophy since 1900)
have expressed similar views on what they felt was the 'crudity' of 
Ayer's approach (but then you HAVE to be an Oxon don in postwar Oxford 
to find that quaint book crude!).  As if Ayer's tenets were found too 
extreme for a
philosophy don to digest. True, Ayer concocted his views while still an
undergrad at Oxford, not a 'don' proper -- but, back to the Oxonianism 
of his views, can you claim to be truly
Oxonian when you've been appointed Grote prof. of philosophy of mind at
London? Can you have your cake and eat it, or hunt with the hounds and
run with the hare? (Perhaps Ayer finally gained Oxford status when 
rebuking the American boxer, "You may be an international boxing star, 
but I'm the former Wykeham professor of Logic"),

The topic of Oxonian analysis fascinates me and P. M. S. Hacker, who
succeeded Grice (in a second degree, after Baker) as tutor at St.
John's, I'm pleased to learn, has undertaken the description of Oxonian
and other varieties of analysis to a nice level of detail that should
prove useful to the historiographer of philosophy.

It would seem that, you count the members of the playgroup that Grice 
belonged to, and there are as many varieties of analysis as there were 
varieties of, say, taste for different blends of tobacco (not infinite, 


J. L. Speranza

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