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The Analytic Tradition by Daniel Bonevac

The Analytic Tradition

by Daniel Bonevac


Title Details

Running Time
29 Hrs.


This course introduces analytic philosophy, the primary style of doing philosophy since roughly 1900 in the English-speaking world. We will examine some of the key thinkers and texts in that tradition and evaluate their arguments and theories.

Analytic philosophy focuses on themes and methods with a long philosophical history: Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Hume, Bentham, and Mill are all in a sense analytic philosophers. But the contemporary analytic tradition began with a rebellion against the idealism of Kant, Hegel, and other thinkers, which had dominated the 19th century. Gottlob Frege, a German mathematician, began the attack, using logical tools to undermine idealist accounts of mathematics, language, and logic while posing new philosophical puzzles. G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, and Alfred North Whitehead soon joined the attack, as did Ludwig Wittgenstein and the philosophers of the Vienna and Berlin Circles. Moore and Russell defended realism, the view that some things are independent of mind, and developed comprehensive philosophical views. The Vienna Circle, in contrast, tended to think of philosophical problems as arising from misuses of language, and saw the analysis of language as the key to their solution. They took scientific language as their model. Hume was their hero. Metaphysics became a bad word, and epistemology became the philosophy of science. Ethics sank into disrepute.

Around mid-century, a group of philosophers centered at Oxford focused instead on natural language, and developed philosophical perspectives granting it center stage. Around the same time, Carl Hempel recounted the difficulties the philosophers of the Vienna Circle faced in making their ideas about meaningfulness precise. W. V. O. Quine began his attack on the central theses that Moore, Russell, and Vienna Circle thinkers shared. Wilfrid Sellars launched a more general assault against their atomism. Wittgenstein dramatically reshaped his earlier views on language.

Saul Kripke and David Lewis, finally, introduced ways of understanding necessity and normativity that brought basic questions of metaphysics back to the fore.

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