[hist-analytic] Analytic Philosophy: Oxonian Varieties

Roger Bishop Jones rbj at rbjones.com
Sat Aug 8 15:52:14 EDT 2009

On Thursday 06 August 2009 22:50:35 jlsperanza at aol.com wrote:

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

I think my web site is a bit confusing about this, but,
the first edition was 1936, and I think the quotes probably
all come from that edition.

>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!)

Until I came across you JL, I was sufficiently ignorant of
Oxford philosophy to think Ayer the only logical positivist
(empiricist) there.
Only after your talk of all these playgroups and things did
I get any sense that Ayer was not a complete loner.
"Language Truth and Logic" does feel completely at odds with
the general tenor of Oxford philosophy.

>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.

My guess is that he was not thinking of logical constructions.
A good description of how analytic propositions may be
construed as "linguistic" may be found in Quine's "Two Dogmas".

    "It is obvious that truth in general depends
     on both language and extra-linguistic fact.
     The statement 'Brutus killed Caesar' would be false
     if the world had been different in certain ways,
     but it would also be false if the word 'killed'
     happened rather to have the sense of 'begat'.
     Thus one is tempted to suppose in general that
     the truth of a statement is somehow analysable
     into a linguistic component and a factual component.

     Given this supposition it next seems reasonable that
     in some statements the factual component should be null;
     and that these are the analytic statements."

I think this kind of consideration, principally the lack
of empirical content leaving nothing but language to be
considered, is probably what was driving Ayer.
(logic is not considered a factor, perhaps
because it is logic we are trying to explain)

>(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)

Just philosophising could get a pass, if when we do this we
are not making definite claims.  If we just opine, or muse.

On the question of what part of Oxonian philosophy Ayer
thought himself to be rejecting, I can offer a bizarre
kind of answer to what he should have been rejecting of
the Oxonian philosophy which followed him, using your
beloved Grice for fodder.

Quoting from my own precis of Grice's account of his
own variant of analysis:


   "It is an important part of the philosopher's task
    to analyze, describe or characterize the ordinary
    uses of certain expressions. Grice particularly
    mentions that questions of linguisitic propriety
    may be of philosophical importance."

Describing ordinary usage consists in the making of
contingent claims, and belongs therefore from the point
of view of the logical positivists, in the empirical
sciences, linguistics possibly.
Matters of propriety, may be even further from analyticity.

For my own part, I make no contribution to the discussion
of what should or should not count as philosophy, but I
make prescriptions about what deductive reasoning should
count as rigorous and conclusive.
So long as Grice only _describes_, then my prescriptions are
As soon as he makes a purported deduction, my prescriptions
become applicable, and to meet my proposed standards of rigour
he needs to be so precise about the premises from which
his deductions proceed, and so careful to establish that
his premises are logically consistent, that he would in
effect (even if not formally) have constructed an abstract
model of his subject matter (if he were close to compliance).
His reasoning is then properly construed as about an
abstract model, not about natural language, and its
relevance to natural language will be moot.

>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.

I searched in Google books for something like this but failed.
Do you have a reference.

Hackers "Wittgenstein's Place in 20th Century Analytic Philosophy"
is an interesting source of info about varieties of analysis.
(I shall soon have to rewrite my very lightweight page on that

>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,

From which we should perhaps conclude that the real contrast
between Viennese and Oxonian philosophy is that the former
aspires to be like science and the latter like art.


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