April 2015: Periodisation, Relevance and Method in the History of Analytical Philosophy

Periodisation, Relevance and Method in the History of Analytical Philosophy

Workshop @ McMaster University

16 April 2015

University Hall 316, 9:30-17:00



Gilbert Ryle’s Fregean Inheritance

Michael Kremer, University of Chicago

Frege is rightly recognized as one of the founders of modern formal logic. Directly (as teacher of Carnap) and indirectly (through Russell and Wittgenstein) Frege exerted important influence on the logical positivist tradition. Less appreciated is his importance for ordinary language philosophers such as Austin and Ryle. Yet Austin translated Frege’s Grundlagen into English, and Ryle sporadically engaged with Frege’s thought, which played a role in shaping his philosophical methodology of “conceptual cartography” and his focus on nonsense or absurdity. In this talk I will examine Ryle’s methodology and its roots in Frege’s thought, focusing especially on Frege’s “Context Principle” and Ryle’s reflections on this theme. I will consider whether Ryle’s famous notion of a category mistake is fully compatible with the Context Principle, especially as it has been understood by readers of Frege and Wittgenstein who espouse an “austere” reading of nonsense. I intend to argue that Ryle’s thought develops on this point through his engagement with Frege, moving in the direction of a more austere understanding of philosophical nonsense.


Crossing the Fregean Divide? Metaphilosophy and Purpose in the History of Analytic Philosophy

Aaron Preston, Valparaiso University

What is the best way to conceive of the relationship between pre- and post-Fregean thought (especially theories of mind, language and cognition) in writing the history of analytic philosophy? I explore several options and argue that different answers are possible depending on one’s metaphilosophical views (broadly construed) and one’s purpose in writing history. I then argue for my preferred option, which attempts preserve the traditionally-perceived discontinuity between pre- and post-Fregean thought , while acknowledging the very real continuities between them and allowing some scope for making use of them in the history of analytic philosophy.




When and Why Did People Begin Calling Themselves ‘Analytic Philosophers’?

Greg Frost-Arnold, Hobart and William Smith

Many people have addressed the difficult question ‘What is analytic philosophy?’  I will not attempt to answer this vexed question here.  Rather, I will tackle a smaller, more manageable set of interrelated questions: first, when and how did people begin attaching the label ‘analytic philosophy’ to philosophical work? Second, how did those who used this label understand it? Third, why did many philosophers we today classify as analytic initially resist being grouped together with other members of the class of (what we consider) analytic philosophers?  Finally, for these first philosophers who consciously thought of themselves as analytic philosophers, what was their intended contrast class?  Specifically, when did ‘continental philosophy’ become the standard opposition?  Some of the evidence I present justifies extant, received answers to these questions; other evidence supports surprising and unorthodox answers to these questions.



Periodization, Relevance and the Traditionalist Approach in the History of Analytical Philosophy

Sandra Lapointe, McMaster University

When it comes to defining the scope of their investigation and, in particular, answering questions concerning periodization and relevance, historians of analytical philosophy are, as a group, eminently unresolved. When does the analytical tradition start? Who were the main protagonists? Is the analytical tradition (mainly) Anglo-American? Is it not rather, at least initially, Austro-German? Should Frege be included in this tradition? Should the Brentano School? In the course of the last three decades, attempts to come to terms with what this tradition may have been (or still is) have multiplied. Assuredly, these alternative narratives have opened up new research avenues that considerably enrich our understanding of the complexity and the multifaceted character of the period under study. But it is eminently difficult to see how these narratives converge. It is natural to assume that part of the differences reside in the fact that what ‘The Analytical Tradition’ picks out, assuming that there is such a thing, is itself elusive and controversial. One might assume that a good definition of what the analytical tradition is would automatically provide historians with clear criteria when it comes to defining the chronological and intellectual boundaries of their narrative. This seems reasonable. But why is the definition of “Analytical Philosophy” so much more elusive than the definition of, say, “Modern Philosophy” or “German Philosophy”? In recent years, attempts to define analytical philosophy and, with it, the analytical tradition have multiplied: is it a common set of methods (Beaney 2001)? It is merely a style (Leiter 2004)? Should it rather be defined in terms of family resemblances (Glock 2008)? Is it in fact merely an illusion (Preston 2006)? That so much attention should be paid to defining what historians of analytical philosophy are doing the history of is disquieting. My paper is an attempt to make explicit and to do away with the methodological assumptions in which these problems are rooted.

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