Analytic philosophy is a broad movement or tradition within philosophy focused on analysis, which has been dominant within Western philosophy and especially anglophone philosophy since the latter half of the 20th century.[1][2][3] The proliferation of analysis in philosophy began around the turn of the 20th century in the contemporary era in Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Scandinavia.

Analytic philosophy is often contrasted with continental philosophy, coined as a catch-all term for other methods, prominent in continental Europe, most notably existentialism, phenomenology, and Hegelianism.[a][b][c][d]

Analytic philosophy is characterized by clarity of prose and rigor in arguments, making use of formal logic and mathematics, and, to a lesser degree, the natural sciences.[8][e][f] It is also characterized by the linguistic turn, or the notion that thought is only properly characterized by an appeal to language, with its focus on meaning, analysis, and formal logic. Analytic philosophy has developed several new branches of philosophy, notably philosophy of language, modern predicate logic, philosophy of mathematics and mathematical logic, and philosophy of science.[g][h][i][14]

Central figures in its historical development are Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Other important figures in its history include Franz Brentano, the logical positivists (particularly Rudolf Carnap), W. V. O. Quine, Karl Popper, and ordinary language philosophy (such as Gilbert Ryle or J. L. Austin). After the decline of logical positivism, Saul Kripke, David Lewis, and others led a revival in metaphysics.

Characterizing analytic philosophy

Steven D. Hales described analytic philosophy as one of three types of philosophical method practiced in the West: "[i]n roughly reverse order by number of proponents, they are phenomenology, ideological philosophy, and analytic philosophy".[15]

Michael Dummett characterizes analytic philosophy by the linguistic turn and the "extrusion of thoughts from the mind". The former is a belief that a proper understanding of thought can only come from language, and the latter is an anti-idealist stance coming with it.[16] Other definitions often emphasize conceptual analysis: A.P. Martinich draws an analogy between analytic philosophy and analytic chemistry, which aims to determine chemical compositions.[17]

Others still will note a dedication to clarity.[18] According to Scott Soames, "an implicit commitment—albeit faltering and imperfect—to the ideals of clarity, rigor and argumentation" and it "aims at truth and knowledge, as opposed to moral or spiritual improvement [...] the goal in analytic philosophy is to discover what is true, not to provide a useful recipe for living one's life". Soames also states that analytic philosophy is characterized by "a more piecemeal approach. There is, I think, a widespread presumption within the tradition that it is often possible to make philosophical progress by intensively investigating a small, circumscribed range of philosophical issues while holding broader, systematic questions in abeyance".[19]

The 1950s saw challenges to much which had been taken for granted, and roughly by 1960 anglophone philosophy began to incorporate a wider range of interests, opinions, and methods.[20] Despite this, most philosophers in Britain and America still consider themselves "analytic philosophers".[9][j] They have done so largely by expanding the notion of "analytic philosophy" from the specific programs that dominated anglophone philosophy before 1960 to a much more general notion of an "analytic" style,[9][20] characterized by mathematical precision and thoroughness about a specific topic, and resistance to "imprecise or cavalier discussions of broad topics".[20]


The tradition has also been criticized for excessive formalism, ahistoricism, and aloofness towards alternative disciplines and outsiders.[22][23][24] Some have tried to develop a postanalytic philosophy.

History of analytic philosophy


Austrian philosopher and psychologist Franz Brentano in Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874) through the subsequent influence of School of Brentano members such as Edmund Husserl and Alexius Meinong gave to analytic philosophy the "problem of intentionality" or of aboutness.[25] For Brentano, all mental events have a real, non-mental intentional object which the thinking is "about". Meinong is known for his unique ontology of real nonexistent objects. The Graz School followed Meinong. The Polish Lwów–Warsaw school grew as a further offshoot.


Gottlob Frege, the father of analytic philosophy.

Gottlob Frege (1848–1925) was a German geometry professor at the University of Jena who is understood as the father of analytic philosophy. Frege proved influential as a philosopher of mathematics in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. He advocated logicism, the project of reducing arithmetic to pure logic.


As a result of his logicist project, Frege developed predicate logic in the Begriffsschrift (English: Concept-script, 1879), which allowed a much greater range of sentences to be parsed into logical form than was possible using the ancient Aristotelian logic.[k] Some of these advances were foreshadowed by the likes of English mathematician George Boole and the American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce.


Neo-Kantianism dominated the late 19th century in German philosophy. Edmund Husserl's 1891 book Philosophie der Arithmetik argued that the concept of the cardinal number derived from psychical acts of grouping objects and counting them.[27]

In contrast to this "psychologism," Frege in The Foundations of Arithmetic (1884) and The Basic Laws of Arithmetic (German: Grundgesetze der Arithmetik, 1893–1903), argued similar to Plato or Bolzano that mathematics and logic have their own public objects, independent of the private judgments or mental states of individual mathematicians and logicians. Following Frege, the logicists tended to advocate a kind of mathematical platonism.


Frege also proved influential in the philosophy of language and analytic philosophy's interest in meaning. Michael Dummett traces the linguistic turn to Frege's Foundations of Arithmetic.[28]

Frege's paper On Sense and Reference (1892) is seminal, containing Frege's puzzles and providing a mediated reference theory. His paper Thought: A Logical Inquiry (1918) reflects both his anti-idealism or anti-psychologism and his interest in language. In the paper he argues for a platonist account of propositions or thoughts.


Russell in 1907.

Analytic philosophy in the narrower sense of 20th and 21st century anglophone philosophy is usually thought to begin with Cambridge philosophers Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore's "revolt against idealism" or the rejection of British idealism, a neo-Hegelian movement.[29] Moore and Russell rejected Hegelianism for being obscure—see for example Moore's "A Defence of Common Sense".[l] British idealism as taught by philosophers such as F. H. Bradley (1846–1924) and T. H. Green (1836–1882), dominated English philosophy in the late 19th century.


Bertrand Russell, during his early career, was much influenced by Frege. Russell famously discovered the paradox which undermined Frege's logicist project. However, like Frege, Russell argued that mathematics is reducible to logical fundamentals in The Principles of Mathematics (1903). He also argued for Meinongianism.

On Denoting

Russell sought to resolve various philosophical problems by applying Frege's new logical apparatus, most famously in his theory of definite descriptions in "On Denoting" (1905).[31] Russell here argues against Meinongianism. He argues all names (aside from demonstratives like "this" or "that") are disguised definite descriptions, using this to solve ascriptions of nonexistence. This position came to be called descriptivism.

Principia Mathematica

Later, his book written with Alfred North Whitehead, Principia Mathematica (1910–1913), the seminal text of the logicist project, encouraged many philosophers to renew their interest in the development of symbolic logic. The work uses a theory of types to avoid the pitfalls of Russell's paradox.

Ideal language

Main article: Ideal language philosophy

Additionally, Russell adopted Frege's predicate logic as his primary philosophical method, a method Russell thought could expose the underlying structure of philosophical problems. Logical form would be made clear by syntax. For example, the English word "is" has three distinct meanings which predicate logic can express as follows:

From about 1910 to 1930, analytic philosophers like Frege, Russell and Russell's student Ludwig Wittgenstein emphasized creating an ideal language for philosophical analysis, which would be free from the ambiguities of ordinary language that, in their opinion, often made philosophy invalid. During this phase, Russell and Wittgenstein sought to understand language (and hence philosophical problems) by using logic to formalize how philosophical statements are made.

Logical atomism

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Russell's criticized the Hegelian view of the doctrine of internal relations. An important aspect of British idealism was logical holism—the opinion that there are aspects of the world that can be known only by knowing the whole world. This is closely related to the opinion that relations between items are internal relations, that is, essential properties of the nature of those items. Russell, along with Wittgenstein, in response promulgated logical atomism and the doctrine of external relations—the belief that the world consists of independent facts.[32] Inspired by developments in modern formal logic, the early Russell claimed that the problems of philosophy can be solved by showing the simple constituents of complex notions.[18]

Early Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein developed a comprehensive system of logical atomism with a picture theory of meaning in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (German: Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung, 1921) sometimes known as simply the Tractatus. He claimed the universe is the totality of actual states of affairs and that these states of affairs can be expressed and mirrored by the language of first-order predicate logic. Thus a picture of the universe can be constructed by expressing facts in the form of atomic propositions and linking them using logical operators. The Tractatus further ultimately concludes all of its propositions are meaningless, illustrated with a ladder one must toss away after climbing up it.

Logical positivism

Members of the Vienna Circle. From left to right:
(1) Moritz Schlick
(2) Otto Neurath;
(3) Hans Hahn

Main article: Logical positivism

During the late 1920s to 1940s, a group of philosophers known as the Vienna Circle, and another one known as the Berlin Circle, developed Russell and Wittgenstein's philosophy into a doctrine known as "logical positivism" (or logical empiricism). The Vienna Circle was led by Moritz Schlick and included the likes of Rudolf Carnap and Otto Neurath.[33] Logical positivists used formal logical methods to develop an empiricist account of knowledge.[34]

The logical positivists adopted the verification principle, according to which every meaningful statement is either analytic or synthetic. They claimed the truths of logic and mathematics were tautologies, and those of science were verifiable empirical claims. These two constituted the entire universe of meaningful judgments; anything else was nonsense. Therefore the logical positivists to reject many traditional problems of philosophy, especially those of metaphysics or ontology, as meaningless.

Logical positivists therefore typically considered philosophy as having a minimal function. For them, philosophy concerned the clarification of thoughts, rather than having a distinct subject matter of its own.

Kurt Gödel, himself a platonist, but a student of Hans Hahn of the Vienna Circle, produced his incompleteness theorems showing Principia Mathematica also failed to reduce arithmetic to logic.

Several members of the Vienna Circle were Jewish such as Neurath, Hahn, Philipp Frank and Friedrich Waissmann. Others, like Carnap, were gentiles but socialists or pacifists. With the coming to power of Adolf Hitler and Nazism in 1933, many members of the Vienna and Berlin Circles fled to Britain and the US, which helped to reinforce the dominance of logical positivism and analytic philosophy in anglophone countries.

In 1936, Schlick was murdered in Vienna by his former student Hans Nelböck. The same year, A. J. Ayer's work Language Truth and Logic introduced the English speaking world to logical positivism.[m]

Ordinary language

Main article: Ordinary language philosophy

After World War II, during the late 1940s and 1950s, analytic philosophy became involved with ordinary-language analysis. This resulted in two main trends.

Later Wittgenstein

One strain continued Wittgenstein's later philosophy from the Philosophical Investigations, which differed dramatically from his early work of the Tractatus.[n] The criticisms of Frank P. Ramsey on color and logical form in the Tractatus led to some of Wittgenstein's first doubts with his early philosophy. Philosophers refer to them like two different philosophers: "early Wittgenstein" and "later Wittgenstein". In his later philosophy, Wittgenstein develops the concept of a "language-game" and rather than his prior picture theory of meaning, advocates a theory of meaning as use. It also contains the private language argument and the notion of family resemblance.

Oxford philosophy

Portrait of Gilbert Ryle

The other trend, known as "Oxford philosophy" in contrast to earlier analytic Cambridge philosophers (including the early Wittgenstein) who thought philosophers should avoid the deceptive trappings of natural language by constructing ideal languages. Influence by what they perceived as Wittgenstein's quietism, the Oxford philosophers claimed that ordinary language already represents many subtle distinctions not recognized in the formulation of traditional philosophical theories or problems.

While schools such as logical positivism emphasize logical terms, supposed to be universal and separate from contingent factors (such as culture, language, historical conditions), ordinary-language philosophy emphasizes the use of language by ordinary people. The most prominent ordinary-language philosophers during the 1950s were P. F. Strawson, J. L. Austin and Gilbert Ryle.[36]

Ordinary-language philosophers often sought to dissolve philosophical problems by showing them to be the result of ordinary misunderstanding language. Austin emphasized the theory of speech acts and the ability of words to do things (e. g. "I promise") and not just say things. Ryle in The Concept of Mind criticized dualism, arguing in favor of disposing "Descartes' myth" via recognizing "category errors". Strawson first became well known with his article "On Referring" (1950), a criticism of Russell's theory of descriptions explained in the famous "On Denoting" article.

Contemporary analytic philosophy


Main article: Metaphysics

One striking difference with respect to early analytic philosophy was the revival of metaphysical theorizing during the second half of the 20th century. Philosophers such as David Kellogg Lewis[37] and David Armstrong[38] developed elaborate theories on a range of topics such as universals,[39][40] causation,[41] possibility and necessity,[42] and abstract objects.[43]

W. V. O. Quine challenged logical positivism.

Metaphysics remains a fertile topic of research. Although many discussions are continuations of old ones from previous decades and centuries, the debate remains active. The philosophy of fiction, the problem of empty names, and the debate over existence's status as a property have all become major concerns, while perennial issues such as free will, possible worlds, and the philosophy of time have been revived.[44][45]

Decline of logical positivism

Logical positivism was challenged by the later Wittgenstein and Wilfred Sellars's "Myth of the Given" in Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, which argued against sense-data theories.


Among the developments that resulted in the decline of logical positivism and the revival of metaphysical theorizing was Harvard philosopher W. V. O. Quine's attack on the analytic–synthetic distinction in "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", a paper "sometimes regarded as the most important in all of twentieth-century philosophy".[46][47] Quine's ontological relativity explained that every term in any statement has its meaning contingent on a vast network of knowledge and belief, the speaker's conception of the entire world.

Saul Kripke helped to revive interest in metaphysics among analytic philosophers.

Important also for the revival of metaphysics was the further development of modal logic, first introduced by C. I. Lewis, especially the work of Saul Kripke and his Naming and Necessity.[o]

Kripke is widely regarded as reviving theories of essence and identity as respectable topics of philosophical discussion.[48] He argued influentially that flaws in common theories of descriptions and proper names are indicative of larger misunderstandings of the metaphysics of necessity and possibility. Kripke and Hilary Putnam argued for realism about natural kinds.


David Lewis in works like On the Plurality of Worlds argued for modal realism and counterpart theory – the belief in real, concrete possible worlds. According to Lewis, "actual" is merely an indexical label we give a world when we are in it.

Logical pluralism

Many valued logics have been popular since Polish logician Jan Lukasiewicz. Graham Priest is a dialetheist. JC Beall, together with Greg Restall, is a pioneer of a widely discussed version of logical pluralism.[49]

Free will and determinism

Peter van Inwagen's 1983 monograph An Essay on Free Will[50] played an important role in rehabilitating libertarianism with respect to free will in mainstream analytical philosophy.[51] In the book, he introduces the term incompatibilism about free will and determinism, to stand in contrast to compatibilism—the view that free will is compatible with determinism.


Stanisław Leśniewski coined the term mereology meaning the study of parts and wholes. David Lewis believed in perdurantism and introduced the term gunk. Van Inwagen believes in mereological nihilism except for living beings, a view called organicism.

Personal identity

On the issue of personal identity, Derek Parfit in Reasons and Persons defends mental continuity or a kind of bundle theory, while David Lewis again defends perdurantism.


Main article: Epistemology


Edmund Gettier helped to revitalize analytic epistemology.

Owing largely to Edmund Gettier's 1963 paper "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?",[52] and so called Gettier problem, epistemology resurged as a topic of analytic philosophy during the last 50 years. A large portion of current epistemological research is intended to resolve the problems that Gettier's examples presented to the traditional "justified true belief" model of knowledge found as early as Plato's dialogue Theaetetus. These include developing theories of justification to deal with Gettier's examples, or giving alternatives to the justified true belief model.

Problem of the Criterion

While a problem since antiquity, American philosopher Roderick Chisholm in his Theory of Knowledge details the problem of the criterion with two sets of questions:

  1. What do we know? or What is the extent of our knowledge?
  2. How do we know? or What is the criterion for deciding whether we have knowledge in any particular case?

An answer to either set of questions will allow us to devise a means of answering the other. Answering the former question set first is called particularism, whereas answering the latter set first is called methodism. A third solution is skepticism, or doubting there is such a thing as knowledge.


Chisholm defended foundationalism. Quine defended coherentism, a "web of belief." Quine proposed naturalized epistemology.

Internalism and externalism

The debate between internalism and externalism still exists in analytic philosophy.[53] Alvin Goldman is an externalist known for developing a popular form of externalism called reliabilism. Most externalists reject the KK thesis.


Frege questioned standard theories of truth, and sometimes advocated a redundancy theory of truth. Frank Ramsey also advocated a redundancy theory. Alfred Tarski put forward a semantic theory of truth. Frege and Tarski have been ranked as two of the four greatest logicians of all time, along with Aristotle and Gödel.[54][55][56]


"Here is one hand"

Epistemic closure is a property or the principle that if a subject knows , and knows that entails , then can thereby come to know .[57] Most epistemological theories involve a closure principle and many skeptical arguments assume a closure principle. G. E. Moore's famous anti-skeptical "Here is one hand" argument uses closure. Shortly before his death, Wittgenstein wrote On Certainty in response to Moore.

While the principle of epistemic closure is generally regarded as intuitive,[58] philosophers such as Fred Dretske and Robert Nozick in Philosophical Explanations have argued against it.

A priori and a posteriori

Kripke in Naming and Necessity and elsewhere necessity is a metaphysical notion distinct from the epistemic notion of a priori, and that there are necessary truths that are known a posteriori, such as that water is H2O.[48]


In his book Fact, Fiction, and Forecast, Nelson Goodman introduced the "new riddle of induction", so-called by analogy with Hume's classical problem of induction. Goodman's famous example was to introduce the predicate grue, which applies to all things before a certain time t just in case they are green, but also just in case they are blue after time t.

Other topics

Other and related topics of contemporary research include debates between basic knowledge, the nature of evidence, the value of knowledge, epistemic luck, virtue epistemology, the role of intuitions in justification, and treating knowledge as a primitive concept.


Due to the commitments to empiricism and symbolic logic in the early analytic period, early analytic philosophers often thought that inquiry in the ethical domain could not be made rigorous enough to merit any attention.[59] It was only with the emergence of ordinary language philosophers that ethics started to become an acceptable area of inquiry for analytic philosophers.[59] Philosophers working with the analytic tradition have gradually come to distinguish three major types of moral philosophy.


As well as Hume's famous is/ought distinction, twentieth-century meta-ethics has two original strains.

Principia Ethica
G. E. Moore was an ethical non-naturalist.

The first is G.E. Moore's investigation into the nature of ethical terms (e.g., good) in his Principia Ethica (1903), which advances a kind of moral realism called ethical non naturalism and is known for the open question argument and identifying the naturalistic fallacy, a major topic of investigation for analytical philosophers. According to G. E. Moore, "Goodness is a simple, undefinable, non-natural property."

Contemporary philosophers like Russ Shafer-Landau in Moral Realism: A Defence defend ethical non naturalism.


The second is in logical positivism and its attitude that unverifiable statements are meaningless, best exemplified in English by A. J. Ayer's Language Truth, And Logic. Although the logical positivist attitude was adopted originally to promote scientific investigation by rejecting grand metaphysical systems, it had the additional effect of making (ethical and aesthetic) value judgments (as well as religious statements and beliefs) meaningless. As a result, they avoided normative ethics and instead began meta-ethical investigations into the nature of moral terms, statements, and judgments.

The logical positivists opined that statements about value—including all ethical and aesthetic judgments—are non-cognitive; that is, they cannot be objectively verified or falsified. Instead, the logical positivists adopted an emotivist theory, which was that value judgments expressed the attitude of the speaker. It is also known as the boo/hurrah theory. For example, in this view, saying, "Murder is wrong", is equivalent to saying, "Boo to murder", or saying the word "murder" with a particular tone of disapproval.

While analytic philosophers generally accepted non-cognitivism, emotivism had many deficiencies. It evolved into more sophisticated non-cognitivist theories such as the expressivism of Charles Stevenson, and the universal prescriptivism of R.M. Hare, which was based on J. L. Austin's philosophy of speech acts.

Philippa Foot

As non-cognitivism, the is/ought distinction, and the naturalistic fallacy were questioned, analytic philosophers showed a renewed interest in the traditional questions of moral philosophy. Philippa Foot defended naturalist moral realism and contributed several essays attacking all other theories. Foot introduced the famous "trolley problem" into the ethical discourse. Others like J. L. Mackie in Ethics: Inventing Right And Wrong defended anti-realist error theory.

Perhaps the most influential critic was Elizabeth Anscombe, whose monograph Intention was called by Donald Davidson "the most important treatment of action since Aristotle".[61] A favorite student and friend of Ludwig Wittgenstein, her 1958 article "Modern Moral Philosophy" declared the "is-ought" impasse to be unproductive. J.O. Urmson's article "On Grading" also called the is/ought distinction into question.

Normative ethics

The first half of the 20th century was marked by skepticism toward and neglect of normative ethics. Related subjects, such as social and political philosophy, aesthetics, and philosophy of history, became only marginal topics of English-language philosophy during this period. However today, contemporary normative ethics is dominated by three schools: consequentialism, virtue ethics, and deontology.


During the early 20th century, utilitarianism was the only non-skeptical type of ethics to remain popular among analytic philosophers. However, as the influence of logical positivism declined mid-century, analytic philosophers had a renewed interest in ethics.

Virtue ethics

Anscombe, Foot, and Alasdaire Macintyre's After Virtue sparked a revival of Aristotle's virtue ethical approach.[p] This increased interest in virtue ethics has been dubbed the "aretaic turn" mimicking the linguistic turn.


John Rawls's 1971 A Theory of Justice restored interest in Kantian ethical philosophy.

Applied ethics

A significant feature of analytic philosophy since approximately 1970 has been the emergence of applied ethics—an interest in the application of moral principles to specific practical issues. The philosophers following this orientation view ethics as involving humanistic values, which involve practical implications and applications in the way people interact and lead their lives socially.[62]

Topics of special interest for applied ethics include environmental issues, animal rights, and the many challenges created by advancing medical science.[63][64][65] In education, applied ethics addressed themes such as punishment in schools, equality of educational opportunity, and education for democracy.[66]

Political philosophy


John Rawls

Isaiah Berlin had a lasting influence on both analytic political philosophy and liberalism with his lecture "Two Concepts of Liberty."[citation needed] Berlin defined 'negative liberty' as absence of coercion or interference in private actions. 'Positive liberty' Berlin maintained, could be thought of as self-mastery, which asks not what we are free from, but what we are free to do.

Current analytic political philosophy owes much to John Rawls, who in a series of papers from the 1950s onward (most notably "Two Concepts of Rules" and "Justice as Fairness") and his 1971 book A Theory of Justice, produced a sophisticated defense of a generally liberal egalitarian account of distributive justice. Rawls introduced the term the veil of ignorance.

This was followed soon by Rawls's colleague Robert Nozick's book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, a defense of free-market libertarianism. Consequentialist libertarianism also derives from the analytic tradition [citation needed].

During recent decades there have also been several critics of liberalism, including the feminist critiques of Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, the multiculturalist critiques of Amy Gutmann and Charles Taylor, and the communitarian critiques of Michael Sandel and Alasdair MacIntyre (although neither of them endorses the term).

Analytical Marxism

Another development of political philosophy was the emergence of the school of analytical Marxism. Members of this school seek to apply techniques of analytic philosophy and modern social science such as rational choice theory to clarify the theories of Karl Marx and his successors. The best-known member of this school is G. A. Cohen, whose 1978 work, Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence, is generally considered to represent the genesis of this school. In that book, Cohen used logical and linguistic analysis to clarify and defend Marx's materialist conception of history. Other prominent analytical Marxists include the economist John Roemer, the social scientist Jon Elster, and the sociologist Erik Olin Wright. The work of these later philosophers have furthered Cohen's work by bringing to bear modern social science methods, such as rational choice theory, to supplement Cohen's use of analytic philosophical techniques in the interpretation of Marxian theory.

Cohen himself would later engage directly with Rawlsian political philosophy to advance a socialist theory of justice that contrasts with both traditional Marxism and the theories advanced by Rawls and Nozick. In particular, he indicates Marx's principle of from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

Although not an analytic philosopher, Jürgen Habermas is another influential—if controversial—author in contemporary analytic political philosophy, whose social theory is a blend of social science, Marxism, neo-Kantianism, and American pragmatism.[citation needed]


Alasdair MacIntyre

Communitarians such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Michael Walzer, and Michael Sandel advance a critique of liberalism that uses analytic techniques to isolate the main assumptions of liberal individualists, such as Rawls, and then challenges these assumptions. In particular, communitarians challenge the liberal assumption that the individual can be considered as fully autonomous from the community in which he lives and is brought up. Instead, they argue for a conception of the individual that emphasizes the role that the community plays in forming his or her values, thought processes and opinions. Communitarianism has a complex relationship with the analytic tradition, as its major exponents often also engage at length with figures generally considered continental, notably G. W. F. Hegel and Friedrich Nietzsche.


Main article: Aesthetics

As a result of logical positivism as well as what seemed like rejections of the traditional aesthetic notions of beauty and sublimity from post-modern thinkers, analytic philosophers were slow to consider art and aesthetic judgment. Susanne Langer[67] and Nelson Goodman[68] addressed these problems in an analytic style during the 1950s and 1960s. Since Goodman, aesthetics as a discipline for analytic philosophers has flourished.[69]

Arthur Danto argued for a "institutional definition of art" in the 1964 essay "The Artworld" in which Danto coined the term “artworld” (as opposed to the existing "art world", though they mean the same), by which he meant cultural context or “an atmosphere of art theory”,[70]

Rigorous efforts to pursue analyses of traditional aesthetic concepts were performed by Guy Sircello in the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in new analytic theories of love,[71] sublimity,[72] and beauty.[73] In the opinion of Władysław Tatarkiewicz, there are six conditions for the presentation of art: beauty, form, representation, reproduction of reality, artistic expression and innovation. However, one may not be able to pin down these qualities in a work of art.[74]

George Dickie was an influential philosopher of art. Dickie's student Noël Carroll is a leading philosopher of art.

Philosophy of language

Main article: Philosophy of language

Given the linguistic turn, it can be hard to separate logic, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language in analytic philosophy. Philosophy of language is a topic that has decreased in activity during the last four decades, as evidenced by the fact that few major philosophers today treat it as a primary research topic. While the debate remains fierce, it is still strongly influenced by those authors from the first half of the century e. g. Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Austin, Tarski, and Quine.


Kripke provided a semantics for modal logic. In Saul Kripke's publication Naming and Necessity, Kripke challenges the descriptivist theory with a causal theory of reference. In it he introduced the term rigid designator. Ruth Barcan Marcus also challenged descriptivism. So did Keith Donnellan.

Hilary Putnam used the Twin Earth thought experiment to argue for semantic externalism, or the view that the meanings of words are not psychological. Donald Davidson uses the thought experiment of Swampman to advocate semantic externalism.

Kripke in Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language also provides a rule-following paradox that undermines the possibility of our ever following rules in our use of language.

Another influential philosopher, Pavel Tichý initiated Transparent Intensional Logic, an original theory of the logical analysis of natural languages—the theory is devoted to the problem of saying exactly what it is that we learn, know and can communicate when we come to understand what a sentence means.


Paul Grice and his maxims and theory of implicature established the discipline of pragmatics.

Philosophy of mind and cognitive science

John Searle

John Searle suggests that the obsession with the philosophy of language during the 20th century has been superseded by an emphasis on the philosophy of mind.[75]


Motivated by the logical positivists' interest in verificationism, logical behaviorism was the most prominent theory of mind of analytic philosophy for the first half of the 20th century.[76] Behaviorism later became much less popular, in favor of either type physicalism or functionalism. During this period, topics of the philosophy of mind were often related strongly to topics of cognitive science such as modularity or innateness.


Behaviorists like B. F. Skinner tended to opine either that statements about the mind were equivalent to statements about behavior and dispositions to behave in particular ways or that mental states were directly equivalent to behavior and dispositions to behave.

Hilary Putnam

Hilary Putnam criticized behaviorism by arguing that it confuses the symptoms of mental states with the mental states themselves, positing "super Spartans" who never display signs of pain.[77]

Type Identity

Type physicalism or type identity theory identified mental states with brain states. J. J. C. Smart argued for type physicalism.


Functionalism remains the dominant theory. Type identity was criticized using multiple realizability.

Searle's Chinese room argument criticized functionalism and holds that while a computer can understand syntax, it could never understand semantics.


David Chalmers

Finally, analytic philosophy has featured a certain number of philosophers who were dualists, and recently forms of property dualism have had a resurgence; the most prominent representative is David Chalmers.[78]

Thomas Nagel's "What is it like to be a bat?" challenged a physicalist account of mind. So did Frank Jackson's Knowledge Argument, which argues for qualia.

Theories of consciousness

In recent years, a central focus of research in the philosophy of mind has been consciousness. While there is a general consensus for the global neuronal workspace model of consciousness,[79] there are many opinions as to the specifics. The best known theories are Daniel Dennett's heterophenomenology, Fred Dretske and Michael Tye's representationalism, and the higher-order theories of either David M. Rosenthal—who advocates a higher-order thought (HOT) model—or David Armstrong and William Lycan—who advocate a higher-order perception (HOP) model. An alternative higher-order theory, the higher-order global states (HOGS) model, is offered by Robert van Gulick.[80]

Philosophy of mathematics

Since the beginning, analytic philosophy has had an interest in the philosophy of mathematics. Gödel's work ultimately led to Ernst Zermelo making Zermelo Fraenkel Set Theory. Eugene Wigner's seminal paper the Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences poses the question why a formal pursuit like mathematics can have real utility.

Akin to the medieval debate on universals between realists, idealists and nominalists; philosophy of mathematics has the debate between logicists or platonists, conceptualists or intuitionists, and formalists.[81]


Quine and Putnam argued for platonism with the indispensability argument. Crispin Wright led a Neo-Fregean revival with his work Frege's Conception of Numbers as Objects.


Paul Benacerraf gives an epistemological objection to mathematical platonism. Benacerraf is a structuralist.


The intuitionists were led by L. E. J. Brouwer, a constructivist school of mathematics which argues that math is a cognitive construct rather than a type of objective truth.


The formalists were best exemplified by David Hilbert and considered mathematics to be merely the investigation of formal axiom systems. Hartry Field defended mathematical fictionalism.

Philosophy of religion

Alvin Plantinga

In Analytic Philosophy of Religion, James Franklin Harris noted that

analytic philosophy has been a very heterogeneous 'movement'.... some forms of analytic philosophy have proven very sympathetic to the philosophy of religion and have provided a philosophical mechanism for responding to other more radical and hostile forms of analytic philosophy.[82]: 3 

As with the study of ethics, early analytic philosophy tended to avoid the study of philosophy of religion, largely dismissing (as per the logical positivists) the subject as part of metaphysics and therefore meaningless.[q] The demise of logical positivism renewed interest in philosophy of religion, prompting philosophers not only to introduce new problems, but to re-study classical topics such as the existence of God, the nature of miracles, the problem of evil, the rationality of belief in God, concepts of the nature of God, and several others.[83] The Society of Christian Philosophers was established in 1978.

Reformed epistemology

Analytic epistemology and metaphysics has formed the basis for some philosophically sophisticated theistic arguments, such as those of the reformed epistemologists like Alvin Plantinga, William Alston, William Lane Craig, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Plantinga's seminal work God and Other Minds (1967) argues that belief in God is a properly basic belief akin to the belief in other minds. Plantinga, J. L. Mackie and Antony Flew debated the use of the free will defense as a way to solve the problem of evil.[84] Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism contends a skeptical problem with asserting both evolution and naturalism.

Alston, grappling with the consequences of analytic philosophy of language, worked on the nature of religious language. Craig defends the Kalam cosmological argument in the book of the same name. Robert Merrihew Adams defends divine command theory and worked on the relationship of faith and morality.[85]

Analytic Thomism

Catholic philosophers in the analytic tradition such as Elizabeth Anscombe, Peter Geach, Anthony Kenny, and others developed an analytic approach to Thomism.


Richard Swinburne wrote a trilogy of books arguing for God consisting of The Coherence of Theism, The Existence of God, and Faith and Reason.

Wittgenstein and religion

Analytic philosophy of religion has been preoccupied with Wittgenstein, as well as his interpretation of Søren Kierkegaard's philosophy of religion.[86] Wittgenstein fought for the Austrian army in the First World War and came upon a copy of Leo Tolstoy's Gospel In Brief. At this time, he underwent some kind of religious conversion.[87]

Using first-hand remarks (which was later published in Philosophical Investigations, Culture and Value, and other works), philosophers such as Peter Winch and Norman Malcolm developed what has come to be known as contemplative philosophy, a Wittgensteinian school of thought rooted in the "Swansea school", and which includes Wittgensteinians such as Rush Rhees, Peter Winch, and D.Z. Phillips, among others.

The name "contemplative philosophy" was coined by D.Z. Phillips in Philosophy's Cool Place, which rests on an interpretation of a passage from Wittgenstein's Culture and Value.[88] This interpretation was first labeled "Wittgensteinian Fideism" by Kai Nielsen, but those who consider themselves members of the Swansea school have relentlessly and repeatedly rejected this construal as a caricature of Wittgenstein's position; this is especially true of D.Z. Phillips.[89] Responding to this interpretation, Kai Nielsen and D.Z. Phillips became two of the most prominent philosophers on Wittgenstein's philosophy of religion.[90]

Philosophy of science

Main article: Philosophy of science

Science and the philosophy of science has also had an increasingly significant role in analytic metaphysics. The theory of special relativity has had a profound effect on the philosophy of time, and quantum physics is routinely discussed in the free will debate.[45] The weight given to scientific evidence is largely due to commitments among philosophers to scientific realism and naturalism. Others will see a commitment to using science in philosophy as scientism.


Karl Popper

In reaction to what he considered excesses of logical positivism, Karl Popper in The Logic of Scientific Discovery insisted on the role of falsification in the philosophy of science, using it to solve the demarcation problem.[91]

Confirmation holism

The Duhem-Quine thesis posits no scientific hypothesis can be understood in isolation, a viewpoint called confirmation holism.


In reaction to both the logical positivists and Popper, discussions of philosophy of science during the last 40 years were dominated by social constructivist and cognitive relativist theories of science. Following Quine and Duhem, subsequent theories emphasized theory-ladenness. Thomas Samuel Kuhn with his formulation of paradigm shifts and Paul Feyerabend with his epistemological anarchism are significant for these discussions.[92]


The philosophy of biology has also undergone considerable growth, particularly due to the considerable debate in recent years over the nature of evolution, particularly natural selection.[93] Daniel Dennett and his 1995 book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, which defends Neo-Darwinism, stand at the foreground of this debate.[94] Jerry Fodor criticizes natural selection.

Philosophy of time

Main article: Philosophy of time

Analytic philosophy of time traces its roots to the British idealist JME McTaggart's work The Unreality of Time. In it, McTaggart distinguishes between the dynamic, A theory of time (past, present, future) and the static, B theory of time (earlier than, simultaneous with, later than). The theory of special relativity seems to advocate a B theory of time. David Lewis's perdurantism or four-dimensionalism requires a B theory of time.[95] A. N. Prior, who invented tense logic, advocated the A-theory of time.


  1. ^ The distinction rests upon a confusion of geographical and methodological terms, as if one were to classify cars into front-wheel drive and Japanese. [...] the distinction between analytic and Continental philosophy rests upon a confused comparison of methodological and geographical categories.[4]
  2. ^ "Analytic philosophy is mainly associated with the contemporary English-speaking world, but it is by no means the only important philosophical tradition. In this volume two other immensely rich and important such traditions are introduced: Indian philosophy, and philosophical thought in Europe from the time of Hegel."[5]
  3. ^ "So, despite a few overlaps, analytical philosophy is not difficult to distinguish broadly [...] from other modern movements, like phenomenology, say, or existentialism, or from the large amount of philosophizing that has also gone on in the present century within frameworks deriving from other influential thinkers like Aquinas, Hegel, or Marx."[6]
  4. ^ "Most non-analytic philosophers of the twentieth century do not belong to continental philosophy."[7]
  5. ^ Quote on the definition: "'Analytic' philosophy today names a style of doing philosophy, not a philosophical program or a set of substantive views. Analytic philosophers, crudely speaking, aim for argumentative clarity and precision; draw freely on the tools of logic; and often identify, professionally and intellectually, more closely with the sciences and mathematics, than with the humanities."[9]
  6. ^ "analytical philosophy [is] too narrow a label, since [it] is not generally a matter of taking a word or concept and analyzing it (whatever exactly that might be). [...] This tradition emphasizes clarity, rigor, argument, theory, truth. It is not a tradition that aims primarily for inspiration or consolation or ideology. Nor is it particularly concerned with 'philosophy of life', though parts of it are. This kind of philosophy is more like science than religion, more like mathematics than poetry—though it is neither science nor mathematics."[10]
  7. ^ "[I]t is difficult to give a precise definition of 'analytic philosophy' since it is not so much a specific doctrine as a loose concatenation of approaches to problems."[11]
  8. ^ "I think Sluga is right in saying 'it may be hopeless to try to determine the essence of analytic philosophy.' Nearly every proposed definition has been challenged by some scholar. [...] [W]e are dealing with a family resemblance concept."[12]
  9. ^ "The answer to the title question, then, is that analytic philosophy is a tradition held together both by ties of mutual influence and by family resemblances."[13]
  10. ^ "Without exception, the best philosophy departments in the United States are dominated by analytic philosophy, and among the leading philosophers in the United States, all but a tiny handful would be classified as analytic philosophers. Practitioners of types of philosophizing that are not in the analytic tradition—such as phenomenology, classical pragmatism, existentialism, or Marxism—feel it necessary to define their position in relation to analytic philosophy."[21]
  11. ^ It has recently been argued Frege plagiarized Stoic logic.[26]
  12. ^ "Analytic philosophy opposed right from its beginning English neo-Hegelianism of Bradley's sort and similar ones. It did not only criticize the latter's denial of the existence of an external world (anyway an unjust criticism), but also the bombastic, obscure style of Hegel's writings."[30]
  13. ^ Named in reference to Waismann's Logik, Sprache, Philosophie
  14. ^ A survey among American university and college teachers ranked the Investigations as the most important philosophical book of the 20th century.[35]
  15. ^ Named in reference to Carnap's Meaning and Necessity.
  16. ^ Anscombe introduced the term "consequentialism" into the philosophical lexicon.
  17. ^ A notable exception is the series of Michael B. Foster's 1934–36 Mind articles involving the Christian doctrine of creation and the rise of modern science.


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Books and articles

Further reading