Analytic Philosophy

Brian Leiter has an interesting (but I think wrongheaded) discussion of analytic philosophy on his blog. I think he confuses a particular program or conception of analytic philosophy with analytic philosophy itself. I’m an analytic philosopher. This means that, unlike certain other philosophers, I care about clarifying (rather than obscuring) concepts, arguments, and methods. Philosophy is a second-order discipline, a discipline about disciplines (as well as practices, professions, and institutions). Philosophy is not science. Nor is it continuous with science. It occupies a different logical order from science. Analytic philosophers, to use John Locke’s quaint terms, are Under-Labourers, not Master Builders.

I, for one, am not committed to the idea that there are necessary and sufficient conditions for every concept. Some concepts succumb to this type of treatment; some don’t. The analytic philosopher examines the concept in question to see how it behaves. He or she comes to the task with no preconceptions or assumptions about what will be discovered. For Leiter to say (or imply) that analytic philosophy is “defunct” is to mischaracterize the field and, I am afraid, marginalize those of us who consider ourselves analytic philosophers but do not buy into particular (defunct?) research programs.

For those who wish to understand analytic philosophy, read the following essay by one of its ablest practitioners: Alan R. White, “Conceptual Analysis,” chap. 5 in The Owl of Minerva: Philosophers on Philosophy, ed. Charles J. Bontempo and S. Jack Odell (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975), 103-17. Some of the material in this essay appears in Alan R. White, Grounds of Liability: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985).