Che cos’è?

Che cos’è la filosofia analitica?

Che cos’è la filosofia analitica? E’ quello stile di filosofia che nasce nel ‘900 sotto la spinta della riflessione sulla logica e si rifĂ  ai grandi classici come Frege, Moore, Russell e Wittgenstein.

Caratterizzata dal rigore argomentativo e dalla vicinanza al pensiero scientifico, la filosofia analitica è in Italia un richiamo a impostare un dibattito aperto sui problemi della filosofia, e a non ridurre la filosofia a storia della filosofia o a interpretazione dei testi. Diverse societĂ  filosofiche, a partire dalla ESAP, si richiamano alla filosofia analitica e promuovono dibattiti in tal senso (vedi ad es. – anche se datati – gli interventi pubblicati da Informazione Filosofica n.32, luglio 1997).
Il primo Convegno della SocietĂ  Italiana di Filosofia Analitica è stato dedicato alla riflessione sulle Origini della filosofia analitica. Si parla di “filosofia analitica” spesso in contrapposizione alla “filosofia continentale”; nonostante la distinzione sia piuttosto arbitraria, essa ha dato origine a diversi dibattiti, anche in Italia, specie dopo il libro di F. D’Agostini, Analitici e continentali. Un intervento “leggero” sul tema e’ stato riproposto da Eva Picardi con lo stesso titolo di “analitici e continentali”. Storia della filosofia analitica a cura di F. D’Agostini e N. Vassallo (Einaudi, Torino, 2000). La SIFA contribuisce ad alcune pubblicazioni di filosofia analitica. Prevalentemente di ispirazione analitica sono le linee di ricerca a cura dello SWIF, tra cui un intervento della stessa D’Agostini sul’identita’ della filosofia analitica

Riportiamo qui di seguito due definizioni dal Blackwell Companion to Philosophy e dall’ Oxford Companion to Philosophy.

Blackwell Companion to Philosophy:

“What, then, is analytic philosophy? The simplest way to describe it is to say that it is primarily concerned with the analysis of meaning. In order to explain this enterprise and its significance, we need first to say a little bit about its history. Though the United States now leads the world in analytic philosophy, the origins of this mode of philosophizing lie in Europe.
Specifically, analytic philosophy is based on the work of Gottlob Frege, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore, as well as the work done by the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle in the 1920s and 1930s. Going further back in history, one can also see analytic philosophy as a natural descendent of the empiricism of the great British Philosophers Locke, Berkeley and Hume, and of the transcendental philosophy of Kant. In the works of philosophers as far back as Plato and Aristotle, one can see many of the themes and presuppositions of the methods of analytic philosophy. (…) Frege invented symbolic logic in its modern form and developed a comprehensive and profound philosophy of language. Though many of the details of his views on language and mathematics have been superseeded, Frege’s work is crucial for at least two reason: Firstly, by inventing modern logic, specifically the predicate calculus, he gave us a primary tool of philosophical analysis; and, secondly, he made the philosophy of language central to the entire philosophical enterprise. From the point of view of analytic philosophy Frege’s work is the greatest single philosophical achievement of the nineteenth century. Fregean techniques of logical analysis were later augmented by the ordinary analysis inspired by the work of Moore and Wittgenstein and are best exemplified by the school of linguistic philosophy that flourished in Oxford in the 1950s. In short, analytic philosophy attempts to combine certain traditional philosophical themes with modern techniques.

Analytic philosophy has never been fixed or stable, because it is intrinsically self-critical and its pratictioners are always challenging their own presuppositions and conclusions. However it is possible to locate a central period in analytic philosophy – the period comprising, roughly speaking, the logical positivist phase immediately prior to the 1939-45 war and the post was phase of linguistic analysis. (…) In the central period analytic philosophy was defined by a belief in two linguistic distinctions, combined with a research programme. The two distinctions are, firstly, that between analytic and synthetic propositions, and, secondly, that between descriptive and evaluative utterances. The research programme is the traditional philsophical research programme of attempting to find foundations for such philosophically problematic phenomena as language, knowledge, meaning, truth, mathematics and so on. One way to see the development of analytic philosophy over the past thirty years is to regard it as the gradual rejection of these two distinctions, and a corresponding rejection of foundationalism as the crucial enterprise of philosophy.”

(John Searle,”Contemporary philosophy n the United States” in Nicholas Bumin and E.P. Tsui-James (editors) The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy, Blackwell, 1996)

Oxford Companion to Philosophy:

“Analytic Philosophy began with the arrival of Wittgenstein in Cambridge in 1912 to study with Russell and, as it turned out, significantly to influence him. Between the wars, through the influence of Russell’s writings and Wittgenstein’s own Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), analytic philosophy came to dominate British philosophy. In the 1930s the ideas of Russell and Wittgenstein were taken up and put forward more radically and systemtically by the Logical Positivists of the Vienna Circle and Reichenbach’s circle in Berlin. There were sympatetic groups in Poland and Scandinavia and some scattered but distinguished adherents in the United States (to which many of the European Positivists fled from Hitler), such as Nagel and Quine. The very different ideas of the later Wittgenstein, who came back to Cambridge in 1929, closer to those of Russell’s original ally G.E. Moore, became increasingly influential and, under the label ‘linguistic philosophy’, prevailed in most of the English-speaking world from 1945 until about 1960. In the post-Positivist era from then until the present English-speaking philosophy has been mainly analytic in the older, prelinguistic sense, but with large variations of method and doctrine. Russell and Moore emerged as original thinkers in the first decade of the century when they broke demonstratively away from the kind of Braidleian idealism which they had been taught. They argued against the view that reality is both an undissectable unity and spiritual in nature, that is a plurality made up of an indefinite multiplicity of things, and that these things are of fundamentally different kinds -material and abstract as well as mental. They fatally undermined the idealist theory that all relations are internal or essential to the things they relate and, less persuasively, than the direct objects of perception are subjective contents of consciosuness. During this decade Russell’s main work was in logic. He defined the basic concepts of mathematics in purely logical terms and attempted, less succesfully as it turned out, to deduce the fundamental principle of mathematics from purely logical laws. In his theory of descriptions he provided a new kind of definition a definition in use or contextual definition, which did not equate synonym with synonym but gave a rule for replacing sentences in which the word to be defined occurred in sentences in which it did not. This was described by Frank Plumpton Ramsey as the “paradigm of philosophy”. Working in conjunction with Wittgenstein between 1912 and 1914, Russell elaborated the logical atomism set out rather casually in his Our Knowledge of the External World (1914) and Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918) and, more systematically, but obscurely, in Wittegenstein’s Tractatus. All our significant thought and discourse, they held, can be analysed into elementary propositions which directly picture states of affairs, the complexes analysed being composed by the reklations symbolized by the logical terms ‘not’, ‘and’, ‘or’ ‘if’ and, perhaps, ‘all’ (Russell thought it irreducible, Wittgentein did not). The truth, or falsity, of complex propositions was unequivocally determined by the way in which truth and falsity were distributed among their elementary components. Some complexes were true whatever the truth-value of their elementary components. These were the truths of logic and mathematics. Both believed that the true logical content of complex propositions is concealed by ordinary language and can be made clear only by their kind of reductive analysis. Propositions which cannot be analysed into elementary statements of fact are ‘metaphysical’, for example those of morals and religion. They also held that elementary propositions represented the world as it really is. But the ontological conclusions they drew from this were different. Wittgenstein took it to reveal the general form of the world. Russell, giving elementary propositions an empiricist interpretation as the immediate deliverances of sense, arrived at the neutral monist conclusion that only experiential events really exist; the mind which have the experiences and the physical things to which the experiences attest are merely constructions out of the experience, not independently existent things. He drew here on the analyses of material particles, points in space, and instants of time, put forward in the early 1920s by A.N. Whitehead, the collaborator in his early logico-mathematical work. The Vienna Circle, led by Carnap and Schlick, took over the conception of philosophy as reductive logical analysis and the doctrine of analytic (purely formal, factually empty) character of logic and mathematics. They followed Russell in taking elementary propositions to be reports of immediate experience and developed from this the principle that verifiability in experience is the criterion of meaningfulness. Deprived of significance by this criterion, judgements of value are imperatives (or expressions of emotion) not statements and the affirmations of the metaphysician or theologian are at best kind of poetry. But they rejected the analytic ontologies of their predecessors. Against Wittgenstein they contended that language is conventional, not pictorial. Against Russell they maintained that bodies and minds are no less really existent than events, despite being constructions rather than elements.

Logical Positivism was memorably introduced to the English-speaking world in A.J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic (1936). But as it became the height of philosophical fashion a new tendency was in the making in Wittgenstein’s fairly esoteric circle. Language, he came to hold, in his new philosophical incarnation, is not simply descriptive or fact-stating, it has a multiplicity of uses and its meaning consists in the way it is used. It does not have a logical essence which it is the business of analysis to reveal; it has, rather, a natural history which it is the therapeutic, puzzlement-alleviating task of philosophy to describe. Our beliefs, about the mental states of other people for example, cannot be analysed into the evidence we have for them; that evidence is more loosely related to the beliefs as ‘criteria’ of their truth. This mood of acceptance, rather than large-scale reconstruction of reinterpretation, of ordinary discourse, has some affinity with the resolute pedestrianism about common sense and ordinary language which Moore had been practising for a long time. It took a different form in post-war Oxford: breezily definite with Ryle, scrupolously lexicographic with J.L. Austin. This is the linguistic philosophy which, centered at Oxford, was dominant in the English-speaking world from 1945 to about 1960, when it disappeared in its original form almost without trace.

Philosophical analysis, in a more or less Russellian spirit, but in a considerable variety of forms, has continued from its revival around 1960 to the present day. W.V. Quine has been its most important developer and enlarger. Early in his career he rejected the idea of a clear distinction between analytic and non analytic truths. That put the activity of the analysis itself in question and assimilated logic, mathematics and rational philosophy to the empirical residue of science. The verificationist theory of meaning was widely criticized, for the most part as self-refuting, , by no one more effectively, perhaps, than by Popper, who based a new account of the nature of science on the thesis that falsifiability is a criterion, not of meaning, but of scientific status. The two most notable of specimens of reductive analysis (the phenomenalist conception of material things as systems of appearances, actaula nd possible, and the behaviourist theory of states of mind as dispositions of human bodies to behave in certain ways in particularly circumstances) were generally discarded, most thorougly in the work of various Australian materialists, for instance D.M. Armstrong and J.J.C. Smart. They held that we have direct, if inherently fallible, awareness of material things and that the mental states of which we are aware in self-consciousness are in fact identical with brain-states which cause behaviour.

There is not much literal analysis in the work of the most up-to-date pratictioners of analytical philosophy such as Putnam and Nozick. But they think and write in the analytic spirit, respectful of science, both as a paradigm of reasonable belief and in conformity with its argumentative rigour, its clarity and its determination to be objective.

(Antony Quinton, “Analytic Philosophy” in Ted Honderich (editor) The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 1995).