When did 'analytic philosophy' become an actor's category?

The title question is better phrased as: when did 'analytic philosophy,' with something very close to its current meaning, become an actor's category?

I started thinking about this after reading Ryle's 1929 review of Heidegger's Being and Time in Mind; interestingly, it did not really contain any of the things so-called 'analytic' philosophers are 'supposed to' say about so-called 'continental philosophers.' Ryle does not treat Heidegger as somehow alien, or as engaged in a fundamentally different pursuit.

Anyway, here's a google books ngram, from 1900 to 2000, with 'analytic philosophy' in blue and 'continental philosophy' in red.

Here's a bigger version of the graph. You'll see that there's no real significant appearance of 'analytic philosophy' until the early 1940s, and that 'contintental philosophy' doesn't appear with much frequency until much later.

With a little bit of googling, I found John Wisdom's 1934 Problems of Mind and Matter referring to analytic philosophy as a definite type of philosophy. However, 'analytic philosophy' in that book appears to be more narrowly confined to something like G.E. Moore's analysis. For example, Wisdom says in the introduction: "Speculating and analyzing are operations which differ in kind: the object of the one is the truth; the object of the other is clarity. It is with the latter that we shall be concerned. ... [T]he analytic philosopher... is not one who learns new truths, but one who gains new insight into old truths" (1-2). Although this characterization does capture an important part of analytic philosophy, I think it leaves out a large amount of what we today think of as analytic philosophy. I have not read through the whole book yet, so I could be wrong about Wisdom restricting his meaning to Moorean analysis. I also found a 1935 Analysis article by A.C. Ewing, "Two Kinds of Analysis," in which the phrases "the analytic school" and "analytic philosophy" apparently apply to Moorean analysis and its adherents (Russell's analysis of descriptions is also mentioned as an example).

In a 2-part 1936 Journal of Philosophy essay, Ernest Nagel reports on a Bildungsreise he took in Europe. The title of the essay is "Impressions and Appraisals of Analytic Philosophy in Europe (I, II)." Here Nagel unites under the heading of 'analytic philosophy' Moorean analysis, early and middle Wittgenstein, the Vienna Circle and their intellectual allies, and the Polish logicians and nominalists. This is the first instance I could find via quick googling of 'analytic philosophy' meaning roughly what it does for us today. But my search has been very casual and cursory; I expect a more careful and thorough investigation will turn up earlier uses of 'analytic philosophy' in roughly our sense. If you find one, please post it in the comments.


At 27/5/11, Blogger Chris Pincock said...

Greg, Definitely a good topic to think about. Russell might be a good candidate for popularizing the idea that philosophy has "analytic" and "synthetic" approaches. An early statement comes from "Analytic Realism" (1911, in French, but translated in the collected papers here):

The philosophy which seems to me closest to the truth can be called "analytic realism" ... It is analytic, because it claims that the existence of the complex depends on the existence of the simple, and not vice versa, and that the constituent of a complex, taken as a constituent, is absolutely identical with itself as it is when we do not consider its relations.

At 27/5/11, Blogger Gabriele Contessa said...

Wow! 'Wisdom' is a pretty cool last name for a philosopher!!!

(I suspect this the stupidest comment you ever got on your blog. Isn't it, Greg?)

At 27/5/11, Blogger Aaron Boyden said...

The rise of the Nazis seems to have been the real turning point. For whatever reason, analytic philosophers (notably the Logical Positivists) largely fled the European continent, while other philosophers mostly stayed. The war prevented contact between the European continent and the English-speaking world, and the influx of heavily analytic immigrants shifted the English-speaking world more sharply in the direction of what we now call analytic philosophy. By the time the war ended, both groups had gotten used to not talking to one another, and so they continued to evolve largely independently afterward.

At 27/5/11, Blogger P.D. Magnus said...

John McCumber argues that the disciplinary identity of philosophers as apolitical, scientistic analytic philosophers (in the US, anyway) was a response to McCarthyism. It allowed them to avoid political entanglements.

Another factor is the professionalization of philosophy, as there were more and larger philosophy departments. Analytic philosophy offered a way for specialists to write papers in response to one another that was special to the philosophy department.

At 27/5/11, Blogger Aaron Boyden said...

Yes, didn't think to mention that, but I do think McCumber's right. McCarthyism seems to be a factor in how philosophy evolved in the U.S., and no doubt a contributor to how it continued to evolve in different directions than Continental philosophy. One of the interesting things I noticed the recent Cambridge Companion to Carnap is that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI apparently felt Carnap was worth keeping a substantial file on.

At 28/5/11, Blogger Greg Frost-Arnold said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Chris, that is an extremely interesting quotation, for it seems to pinpoint an absolutely fundamental presupposition of analytic philosophy that I didn't even notice -- like a fish doesn't notice the water. That said, 1. it seems a little too narrow/ specific to characterize analytic philosophy entirely (though a good argument could convince me otherwise), and 2. the contrast between 'analytic' and 'synthetic' modes of philosophizing appears well before Russell. That was one of the usages of 'analytic' I was trying to bracket when I said '...with something very close to its current meaning' in the original post.

Aaron and P.D.: I also strongly suspect that patterns of immigration, and their immediate effects, play a large role in the formation of the identity of analytic philosophy.

That said, I think I was not particularly clear (even in my own head) in the original post about what exactly the question here should be. Here's another way of thinking about it:

Go back to Europe in 1932. We have the following 3 intellectual groups: the phenomenologists (esp. Husserl and Heidegger), the folks dedicated to (something like) Moorean analysis, and the Vienna Circle and their intellectual allies (perhaps we include here the Lvov-Warsaw school). The participants in 1932 could and did draw these distinctions (let's bracket the question of 'On what basis did they draw these distinctions?'). Now, we can ask the following questions:
1. How did the phenomenological tradition come to be seen as importantly different/ distinct from the Moorean and Vienna Circle traditions?
This question is what, I think, Aaron and P.D.'s points answer (in a partial but significant way.)

2. How did the project of Moorean analysis come to be seen as importantly similar to the Vienna Circle projects?
I think Aaron and P.D.'s points do not address this directly. And the answer cannot be merely that this combination of two traditions under the banner of 'analytic philosophy' simply reflected the allies combining against the axis powers (post-emigration), because Ernest Nagel made this combination in an article published in January 1936.

At 28/5/11, Anonymous marginal notes said...

not only ryle reviews heidegger's "sein und zeit", but even heidegger himself dedicated one of his early published writings (1912) to the "new researchs or investigations on logic", where he highlighted and emphasized the work of frege (gesamtausgabe, vol. 1, p. 20).

just a few marginal notes more: going back to the 18th century, the precritical kant conceived philosophy as analysis of concepts... this is perhaps archaeology, but shows something about that distinction: "continental phil." is, or can be, in some sense as analytical as "analytical"... equally: wittgenstein, frege, the wiener positivists, etc., were "continental"...

in the 19th century we have in germany a multiplicity of approaches to logic problems, mathematical and epistemological (lotze, erdmann, and all the literature cited by husserl in the vol.I of the logical investigations, for example). in these discussions, the "continental" are working with the german translation of mill's system of logic and hardly drawing any substantive difference between currents.

this goes on during the 19th onwards: we have discussions between husserl and frege, frege and russell, etc. frege published in the same journal as n. hartmann, o. neurath in the journal of the "frankfurter schule", etc.

this continuity was enforced also in relation to the history of philosophy as a whole (cf. the manifests of the wiener kreis)...

some documents: ayer, for example, writes in 1935 about the "analytic movement in britisch philosohy":

maybe one of the most clear outlines or profiles of "analytic philosophy" as being already stablished as a distinct philosophical current is the article of max horkheimer: "der neueste angriff auf die metaphysik" (zeitschift für sozialforschung, vol. 6, 1937)

At 28/5/11, Blogger Greg Frost-Arnold said...

Thanks, marginal notes. That short Ayer article looks very promising. And it apparently suggests that perhaps what unites the Moorean and Logical Empiricist projects is that Russell was a significant player in both. (That's very speculative.)

And I'll definitely need to look up that Horkheimer piece if I ever bother to do real work on this topic. And Heidegger on Frege just sounds interesting for its own sake. (Note for future self: the article is in Becoming Heidegger, "Recent Research in Logic.")

At 28/5/11, Blogger Greg Frost-Arnold said...

And one more note to my future self. The journal Analysis was founded in 1933, and the first page of the first issue has the following "Statement of Policy":

"the contributions to be published will be concerned, as a rule, with the elucidation or explanation of facts, ... the general nature of which is, by common consent, already known; rather than with attempts to establish new kinds of fact" (p.1).

And this is clearly a very Moorean conception of analysis (or of Analysis).

At 29/5/11, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may not necessarily be a topically relevant question, but why are philosophers so keen to spend time and energy on what seem to me to be primarily historical questions, even when the philosophical insight gained by answering those questions is peripheral or utterly non-existent?

At 29/5/11, Blogger Daniel Lindquist said...

@Anonymous: How can you know what insight is to be gained by trying to answer the question, if it hasn't been answered yet? Any number of interesting things might get uncovered while trying to answer what look like purely "historical" questions. It's a way of orienting your research which regularly leads to finding interesting things that could have otherwise gone unnoticed.

And history of philosophy is fun in its own right.

At 30/5/11, Blogger Catarina said...

This is all super-duper interesting. I've just written a post myself inspired by this discussion:



They also offer a response, I think, to anonymous' concerns regarding the relevance of the history of philosophy for current philosophical practices.

At 2/6/11, Anonymous Michael Thompson said...

I don't see where this contrast "Mooreanism" v "logical positivism" is coming from. Isn't what one means by 'analytic philosophy' something like: Russellianism, and through it, Fregeanism? (Moore and Frege alike were leading influences on him of course.) Is Frege a common sense philosopher?

Here by the way is a typical passage from circa 1914, the opening lines of *Our Knowledge of the External World*. He is well aware that he is in possession of a method of recent origin and unusual power:

The following lectures are an attempt to show, by means of examples, the nature, capacity, and limitations of the logical-analytic method in philosophy. This method, of which the first complete example is to be found in the writings of Frege, has gradually, in the course of actual research, increasingly forced itself upon me as something perfectly definite, capable of embodiment in maxims, and adequate, in all branches of philosophy, to yield whatever objective scientific knowledge it is possible to obtain. Most of the methods hitherto practised have professed to lead to more ambitious results than any that logical analysis can claim to reach, but unfortunately these results have always been such as many competent philosophers considered inadmissible. Regarded merely as hypotheses and as aids to imagination, the great systems of the past serve a very useful purpose, and are abundantly worthy of study. But something different is required if philosophy is to become a science, and to aim at results independent of the tastes and temperament of the philosopher who advocates them. In what follows, I have endeavoured to show, however imperfectly, the way by which I believe that this desideratum is to be found.

At 5/6/11, Blogger Ben said...

Is there anywhere Moore writes about his "Moorean analysis" where the goal is new thinking about old facts rather than coming up with new facts?

At 8/6/11, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Analytic philosophy: easy pseudophilosophy for people who cannot understand or produce genuine philosophy but must be used to staff philosophy departments

At 20/7/11, Anonymous Aaron Preston said...


I posted this at APPs, but then found your original post and so re-posted to increase the chances that you'll see it:

I’m not so sure you can make a clean separation between Wisdom’s 1934 use of “analytic philosophy” and later uses where it’s clearly referring to a fusion – or, as I would argue, a confusion - of Moorean analysis and Logical Positivism. Although you’re quite right that Wisdom’s book is Moorean in practice, there’s reason to think that he would not have distinguished between Moorean “conceptual analysis” and the Positivists’ “logical analysis of language” in principle. Already in 1931 Wisdom had written of “the analytic philosophers”, whom he also calls “the logico-analytic philosophers”. The “logico” part fits the Russell of the Principia, On Denoting, and Logical Atomism, and the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus better than it does Moore, and of course there is an important line of development from Russell/Wittgenstein to the Vienna Circle.

What I’m suggesting, then, is that you already have a (con)fusion of the sort you’re talking about in Wisdom’s 1931 talk of “the logico-analytic”, or just “analytic”, philosophers. Not, of course, a (con)fusion of Mooreanism and Logical Positivism, but of ordinary language and ideal language philosophy, held together as species of the same genus, so to speak. From this perspective, when Logical Positivism became the leading representative of ideal language philosophy, this was not adding something new to a category which previously had covered only Moorean analysis. Rather, it was a minor modification to something that had already been present in the category, namely ideal language philosophy.

This is consistent with other early uses of “analytic philosophy” and its rough equivalents (“the analytic school”, “the analytic method”, etc.). For instance, in 1932, Stebbing identifies Moore, Russell, Broad, Wittgenstein, and – tentatively - the logical positivists of Vienna and Berlin as proponents of “the analytic method” (‘The Method of Analysis in Metaphysics’. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 33 (1932-33) 65-94).

Likewise, R.G. Collingwood’s _An Essay on Philosophical Method_ and W.P. Montague’s ‘Philosophy as Vision’ (International Journal of Ethics. 44:1, 1-22). Both date from 1933, and both conceive of analytic philosophy in terms that enable it to include Moore and Russell/Wittgenstein. Collingwood also includes Stebbing. Montague also includes Whitehead ‘in his pre-cosmological period’—i.e., the period dominated by his collaboration with Russell on Principia Mathematica, as well as Stebbing ‘and other members of the Aristotelian Society’. It may be significant that Montague was working in the U.S. and Collingwood in Britain - this may suggest something of the scope of the community that would have understood what they were talking about in the terms "analytic philosophy/philosopher/method/" etc.

For more on all this see ch. 3.4 of (warning: shameless self-promotion!) my book _Analytic Philosophy: the History of an Illusion_.

Whether any of this is relevant to “analytic philosopher” becoming an “actor’s category”, I don’t know. If being an “actor’s category” requires anything like “common usage”, it seems to me that you’re going to run into something like the “problem of the heap”. But if just one “actor” is sufficient, I think you can take it all the way back to Wisdom in 1931, or Stebbing in 1932, or Collingwood and Montague in 1933.

At 21/7/11, Blogger Greg Frost-Arnold said...

Hi Aaron --

Thanks very much for that excellent comment! What you say makes a lot of sense; I definitely need to think it over. I wonder: can/should we see Russell and/or Frege as doing both ordinary and ideal language philosophy? (This gets to Michael Thompson's question too.)

I have been meaning to read your book for a while now ... now I really need to get to it!

Thanks again!

And also, on Michael Thompson's very good question (which I didn't see until now, unfortunately) about whether there is a real, substantive difference between Mooreanism and Logical Positivism: there may not be one. But I can at least say what prompted me to post this first stab: Ryle's review of Heidegger's _Being and Time_ is *much* more positive than his review of Carnap's _Meaning and Necessity_. And it's not just the particular, substantive content in M&N that Ryle disparages -- it's Carnap's whole way of doing philosophy. So a leading 'ordinary language philosopher'/ Moorean saw himself as engaged in a project very different from Carnapian language analysis.

At 22/9/11, Anonymous Colin said...

This is a bit late to the discussion, but I've just found the post and discussion through New Apps. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I think Tom Akehurst's book The Cultural Politics of Analytic Philosophy (Continuum, 2010) is helpful in answering these kinds of questions, because it addresses the development and institutionalization of analytic philosophy in Britain and the way the idea changes between the 30's and the 60's. It also shows how, early on, analysis is defined in largely negative terms ("Not like the idealists, not like those terrible Nazi Germans")

At 23/9/11, Blogger Tom said...

Just to add to what Colin said, (and with thanks for the mention of my book!) I do think that exclusion was very important in the emergence and self identification of British analytic philosophy in particular. If you read the types of comments the analysts made about their forebears, the idealists, it’s clear that one of the important characteristics of analysis is its Britishness:

G. J. Warnock: “idealism appeared suddenly and violently in this country”

Russell: “When I was young the British universities had been invaded by German Idealism, but when the Germans invaded Belgium it was decided that German philosophy must be bad. And so I came into my own, because I was against German philosophy anyhow.”

The political dimensions of this are pretty clear and the examples are fairly readily found if you go looking for them.

On the original point about Ryle and Heidegger / phenomenology, I always wonder whether his (Ryle's) tolerance isn’t overstated. Two choice Rylean remarks on the subject

“[i]n short Phenomenology was from its birth, a bore. Its over-solemnity of manner more than its equivocal lineage will secure that its lofty claims are ignored”

Here he is writing about the virtues of doing philosophy at Oxford:

“[c]laims to Führership vanish when postprandial joking begins. Husserl wrote as if he had never met a scientist – or a joke”.

At 27/10/11, Blogger Greg Frost-Arnold said...

Thanks for the tip about _The Cultural Politics of Analytic Philosophy_; I've started reading it and it looks fascinating and bang-on.

And one more self-note for future reference: as late as Ammerman's 1965 anthology _Classics of Analytic Phil_, the contrast class for analytic philosophy is speculative philosophy.

At 22/11/11, Blogger skipper386 said...

In a 2-part 1936 Journal of Philosophy Essay, Ernest Nagel reports on a Bildungsreise he took in Europe. The title of the essay is "Impressions and Appraisals of Analytic Philosophy in Europe (I, II)." Here Nagel unites under the heading of 'analytic philosophy' Moorean analysis, early and middle Wittgenstein, the Vienna Circle and their intellectual allies, and the Polish logicians and nominalists.


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