The Politics of Analytic Philosophy
A considerations of the dark irrational side of Analytic Philosophy.
Western philosophy, that tradition beginning in Ancient Greece and leading to the 20th Century phenomenon known as "analytic philosophy" has been repeatedly criticised over that period of about 2500 years for its failure to establish any definite results. Though ostensibly using reason in much the same manner as do mathematicians, it has proven at an opposite pole in relation to the reliability of its conclusions.
Though there is evidently no reliable way of determining whether a philosophical proposition is true, it remains the case that at all stages in the history of philosophy, many propositions are widely regarded as well established or effectively refuted. Exactly what propositions are so regarded changes frequently, but not quite often enough to prevent each generation of philosophers from imagining that they have escaped from the eternal philosophical wheel on which every established proposition is eventually refuted.
It is presumed that the basis for the acceptance of a philosophical proposition is the sound arguments which are offered in its favour, but it is evident that this is not an effective determinant, and we may ask what the true determinant is.

For a first guess I suggest two possibilities.
  • That philosophy is a rhetorical jousting match, in which the views defended by the most talented are incorporated into conventional philosophical wisdom.
  • That received philosophy is determined by a kind of political process controlled by the institutions of academic philosophy.
These and variations upon them will be discussed.
(temporary resting place while I decide what to do with this)
A Personal View
(temporary resting place while I decide what to do with this)
The purpose of this discussion is not to give an account of the nature or origin of analytic philosophy, but to position myself relative to analytic philosphy as practiced, for which some historical discussion will be helpful, insofar as it figures in my own sense of position.

My own formal philosophical education consists in four years study and the University of Keele, England, culminating in the award of a BA with joint honours in Mathematics and Philosophy. This was preceded and followed with a certain amount of philosophical reading, and a great deal of philosophical thinking, on my own account.

I have never been an attentive listener or an effective reader of philosophy. My attention is rarely held by a lecture, I read very slowly indeed and am incapable of reading a work of philosophy once it has declared (or otherwise adopted) a sufficient number of false assumptions to make the sequel not only uncertain but uninteresting. This flaw I find in most works of philosophy, and am therefore left having dismissed a great many respected works without having read enough of them to say much about their contents.

One such author is Dummett, whose work I have found to be almost entirely indigestible.

Nevertheless, I spend much time in deliberation on matters which at least to the layman will be thought philosophical. That they may not be thought so by professional philosophers was made clear to me toward the end of my third year at Keele, where an essay which I offered, ostensibly as political philosophy, was rejected by Dr. Rogers as not fitting the bill. In vain did I point out that it was my objective to do as much as could be done using the methods professed by Hobbes in his "Leviathan".
Hobbes was one of a long line of philosophers who have taken deductive reasoning as the essence of their method, but who, lacking the understanding of logic which has been available only since Frege, have failed to conduct their philosophy in a manner consistent with that ideal.

Analytic philosophy emerged from, or at least, in the same period as, the revolution in logic which took place around the end of the 19th Century. Since that time philosophers have had available to them the techniques which would enable them, if deductive reasoning were their model, to place their discipline on a firm and certain foundation.

Since that time we may consider analytic philosophy as consisting of two opposing tendencies. One which broadly accepts and one which seeks to evade the consequences of these developments in logic (as I will present them). The rejection of my attempt to apply deductive methods to philosophical problems, partly by sidestepping the analysis of ordinary language, was an indicator that in the latter part of the twentieth century the tendency which I have libelled as evasive had the upper hand.

It is interesting to contrast the development of philosophy in the 20th century with the "soft sciences", which have embraced mathematical methods. For philosophy, formal logic provides the same kind of precision which mathematics has provided for the physical sciences. Analytic philosophy has evaded the adoption of formal techniques by positioning itself in an area which is little assisted by deductive reasoning, and which is properly considered an empirical science, the study of the English language. While adopting a subject matter which is not properly addressed by merely deductive means, analytic philosophy has concocted methods which remain, insofar as they are rational at all, deductive, but whose character is dominated by the nature of the premises on which the reasonings are based. By reasoning deductively, if informally, from premises for the consistency (let alone the truth) of which no adequate precautions are taken, analytic philosophy of the evasive kind guarantees itself perpetual fruitless debate.

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