Subscribe to Elucidations:

This month, we talk analytic philosophy with James Conant (Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities and Philosophy at the University of Chicago) and Jay Elliott (Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Classical Studies at Bard College). Click here to listen our conversation.

A lot of us learned a certain story about what analytic philosophy is when we were in college. Some versions of the story attribute to analytic philosophy some sort of characteristic method: they tell us that analytic philosophy is the kind of philosophy based on analyzing concepts, or perhaps that it’s the kind of philosophy where you formalize arguments using the tools of modern logic. Some versions of the story define analytic philosophy in terms of a thematic reorientation: they tell us that whereas pre-20th century philosophy studied topics like the nature of subjectivity, the possibility of free will, or whether we can be certain that there is an external world, analytic philosophy turned its attention to matters like whether the theorems of mathematics are justified, how a word can refer to an object, or how to precisely define the meaning of the word ‘every.’

In this episode, our guests try to bring out some complexities in the tradition that simple definitions like the above gloss over. For instance, these days we tend to think of 1950s Oxford and Cambridge as belonging to a single school of thought. But at the time, the faculty in those two departments would have seen themselves as exemplifying vastly different approaches. Thinking of them as belonging to the same tradition requires a further development, where later authors retrospectively draw equally on both and forge commonalities between them.

Join us as we walk through a number of similar complexities with our two distinguished guests!

Matt Teichman