During a large part of the twentieth century, the dominant philosophical movement in the English-speaking world was known as analytic philosophy . Analytic philosophers differed widely in their stands on traditional philosophical issues and also in their methods for addressing these issues. What unifies them, though, is their agreement concerning the central task of philosophy, namely, to clarify notions through an analysis of language. For example, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) said that “the object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts” so that “the result of philosophy is not a number of philosophical propositions, but to make propositions clear.” There is both a negative and positive side to this new approach to philosophy.

            On the negative side, to say that the philosopher does not formulate “philosophical propositions” meant for the early analysts that there must be a self-imposed limit on the scope of philosophical activity. Practitioners of nineteenth-century idealism, especially Hegelians, constructed complete systems of thought regarding the whole universe. Analytic philosophers now undertook the more modest task of working on individual problems. Not only would these problems be single and manageable, but they would all fit into a single class: They would all be problems revolving around the meanings and usages of language. For this reason it would no longer be the task of the philosopher to investigate the nature of reality, to build complete systems that seek to explain the universe, or to fashion moral, political, and religious philosophies of behavior. Philosophy, in this new vein, “is not a doctrine but an activity,” and as such, it can produce “no ethical propositions,” Wittgenstein said. Philosophers are no longer to consider themselves capable of discovering unique forms of information about the world and human nature. The discovery of facts is the task of the scientist. There are no facts left over for the philosophers after all the scientists have done their work.

            On the positive side, the new assumption was that philosophers can render a genuine service by carefully unraveling complex problems whose origin rests in the imprecise use of language. Scientists discussed their findings in language that was often misleading and in certain ways confusing. That is, scientific language contained ambiguities of logic, which required clarification. Analytic philosophers also assumed that rigorous linguistic analysis could prevent the use or abuse of language in ways that would cause us “to draw false inferences, or ask spurious questions, or make nonsensical assumptions,” as Alfred Jules Ayer (1910–1989) said. For example, we often use propositions about nations as though nations were people. We talk about material things as though we believed in a physical world “beneath” or “behind” visible phenomena. We use the word is in relation to things whose existence we could not possibly want to infer. And we call on philosophy to remove these dangers from our use of language, Ayer said. In this way analytic philosophy is closely related to the enterprises of science. It is not a rival discipline offering propositions of what reality is like. Instead, philosophy functions as the “proofreader” of the scientists’ expressions, checking the literature of science for its clarity and logical meaningfulness. It is not the philosopher’s function to either propound vast systems of thought after the manner of Plato, Aristotle, and Hegel or to tell people how they ought to behave. Instead, the philosopher analyzes statements or propositions to discover the causes of ambiguities and the foundations of meaning in language.




Russell’s Mission


What caused this dramatic shift in the enterprise of philosophy? In the early decades of the twentieth century, several Hegelian philosophers still engaged in the idealist task of system building—most notably F. H. Bradley (1846–1924), Bernard Bosanquet (1848–1923), and J. E. McTaggart (1866–1925). At Cambridge University, Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) and George Edward Moore (1873–1958) reacted against this idealist trend. They questioned the extravagance of the metaphysical language these Hegelians used and wondered just what could be meant by these interpretations of the whole universe. Although Moore did not necessarily want to give up metaphysics, he was especially disturbed by the contrast between metaphysical language and so-called common sense. For example, McTaggart’s famous notion, that “time is unreal,” seemed to Moore to be “perfectly monstrous.” This inspired Moore to analyze language—particularly to clarify ordinary language from a commonsense point of view. Bertrand Russell, on the other hand, was a brilliant mathematician, trained in precise thought, and in comparison with the language of mathematics, metaphysical language seemed to him loose and obscure. He did not want to reject metaphysics, any more than Moore did, but he did want to tighten up the language of metaphysics. While Moore set out to analyze commonsense language, Russell tried to analyze “facts” for the purpose of inventing a new language, namely, logical atomism . This would have the exactness and rigor of mathematics because this new language would be made to correspond exactly to the “facts.” Neither Moore nor Russell gave up the attempt to understand reality. Nevertheless, the way they went about their task emphasized the fact that philosophy is concerned not with discovery but with clarification and, therefore, in a sense, not with truth but with meaning.


Logical Atomism


Bertrand Russell’s point of departure in philosophy was his admiration for the precision of mathematics. Accordingly, he announced that “the kind of philosophy that I wish to advocate, which I call logical atomism, is one which has forced itself upon me in the course of thinking about the philosophy of mathematics.” He wanted to set forth “a certain kind of logical doctrine and on the basis of this a certain kind of metaphysics.” Russell thought that it was possible to construct a logic by which the whole of mathematics could be derived from a small number of logical axioms. He did this with Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) in their coauthored work Principia Mathematica (1910–1913). Russell also considered that logic could form the basis of a language that could accurately express everything that could be clearly stated. Through his logical atomism, then, the world would correspond to his specially constructed logical language. The vocabulary of the new logic would, for the most part, correspond to particular objects in the world. To accomplish this task of creating a new language, Russell set out first to analyze certain “facts,” which he differentiated from “things.”

             “The things in the world,” Russell says, “have various properties, and stand in various relations to each other. That they have these properties and relations are facts .” Facts constitute the complexity of the relations of things to each other, and therefore,” it is with the analysis of facts that one’s consideration of the problem of complexity must begin.” Russell’s basic assumption was that “facts, since they have components, must be in some sense complex, and hence must be susceptible to analysis.” The complexity of facts is matched by the complexity of language. For this reason the aim of analysis is to make sure that every statement represents an adequate picture of its corresponding reality.

            Language, according to Russell, consists of a unique arrangement of words, and the meaningfulness of language is determined by the accuracy with which these words represent facts. Words, in turn, are formulated into propositions. “In a logically perfect language,” Russell says, “the words in a proposition would correspond one by one with the components of the corresponding facts.” By analysis certain simple words are discovered. These are words that cannot be further analyzed into something more primary and, therefore, can be understood only by knowing what they symbolize. The word red, for example, is not capable of further analysis and so is understood as a simple predicate . Other words, similarly simple, refer to particular things, and as symbols of these things they are proper names . Language consists in part, then, of words, which in their simplest form refer to a particular thing and its predicate, as, for example, a red rose . A proposition states a fact. When a fact is of the simplest kind, it is called an atomic fact . Propositions that state atomic facts are called atomic propositions. If our language consisted only of such atomic propositions, it would amount only to a series of reports regarding atomic facts.

            The underlying logical structure of language becomes more apparent when we assign symbols to our atomic propositions. For example, I can use the letter p to stand for the atomic proposition “I am tired,” and the letter q to stand for “I am hungry.” I can then link these two atomic propositions together with logical connectives such as and or or . The result will be a molecular proposition, such as “I am tired and I am hungry,” which I can symbolize with the expression p and q . According to Russell, there is no single atomic fact corresponding to the entire proposition “I am tired and I am hungry.” How can we test the truth or falsity, then, of molecular propositions such as this? The truth of this statement rests on the truth of the component atomic propositions. For example, if it is true that I am tired and it is also true that I am hungry, then the molecular proposition is also true, that “I am tired and I am hungry.” In short, we make statements about the world in molecular propositions, which in turn are composed of atomic propositions, which in turn correspond to atomic facts. This ideal language expresses all there is to say about the world.


Problems with Logical Atomism


Russell’s theory has problems when we try to account for universal statements such as “All horses have hooves.” It is one thing to say, “This horse has hooves,” where we check truth or falsity by connecting the words “horse” and “hooves” with the atomic facts of this particular horse and these hooves. It is another thing to say, “All horses have hooves.” How would we test the truth or falsity of such a statement? According to logical atomism, we should analyze this statement into its atomic propositions and test their truth or falsity. However, there is no atomic fact corresponding to “all horses,” for this means more than just this horse and that horse; it means, all horses, and this is a general fact. Another problem with logical atomism is that it cannot adequately explain its own theory. Propositions can be stated meaningfully only when they are ultimately based, on some atomic fact. However, Russell did more than simply state atomic facts; he tried to say things about facts. That is, he attempted to describe the relation between words and facts, as though their description was somehow immune from logical atomist theory itself. If only propositions that state facts are meaningful, then language about facts is meaningless. This, then, would make logical atomism, and most of philosophy, meaningless. Wittgenstein recognized this problem in his own theory of logical atomism and concluded that  “my propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has used them to climb out beyond them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it).” What we need to throw away is the central assumption of logical atomism: that there really are atomic facts, and that these facts exist in some metaphysical way. The next movement in analytic philosophy—logical positivism—attempted to rid philosophy of metaphysical entities once and for all.




While Russell championed the cause of analytic philosophy in England, across the English Channel a handful of mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers formed a group in Vienna in the 1920s, known as the Vienna Circle. This group included, Rudolph Carnap, Herbert Feigl, Kurt Gödel, Otto Neurath, Moritz Schlick, and Friedrich Waismann. The Vienna Circle thought of themselves as the twentieth-century heirs to Hume’s empirical tradition and were inspired by Hume’s strict criterion of meaning that we find at the close of his Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748):

            When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc we must make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

            Also inspired by Comte and other nineteenth-century positivists, they were disposed to reject metaphysics as outdated by science. Unlike Hume and Comte, though, the Vienna Circle had a new weapon against metaphysics: the logical character of language. Members of the Vienna Circle called themselves logical positivists —or sometimes logical empiricists —to differentiate themselves from the earlier Comtean positivists and Humean empiricists. The Vienna Circle eventually dissolved in the 1930s when its members went off to teach at British and American universities. For the English-speaking world, A. J. Ayer’s book Language, Truth, and Logic (1936) did “something to popularize what may be called the classic position of the Vienna Circle,” as Ayer later said with considerable understatement.


The Principle of Verification


Logical positivists charged that metaphysical statements are meaningless. This charge, though, required some criterion to determine whether a given sentence did or did not express a genuine factual proposition. Accordingly, the logical positivists formulated the verification principle. If a statement passes the stringent requirements of the verification principle, then it is meaningful, and if a statement fails to do so, then it is meaningless. Ayer describes the verification principle as follows:


The principle of verification is supposed to furnish a criterion by which it can be determined whether or not a sentence is literally meaningful. A simple way to formulate it would be to say that a sentence had literal meaning if and only if the proposition it expressed was either analytic or empirically verifiable.


The verification principle offers a two-pronged test. A statement is meaningful only if it is either (1) analytic—that is, true by definition—or (2) empirically verifiable. Both of these points need some explanation. Many philosophers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries drew rigid distinctions between analytic and empirical statements. Analytic statements derive their meaningfulness from the definitions of their words or symbols. To say that “all bachelors are unmarried men” has literal significance because the word bachelor is defined in such a way as to include the idea of men . As Kant argued, in analytic statements the subject already contains the predicate, and if we deny the predicate, then we get a contradiction, such as “bachelors are married men.” The meaning of analytic statements depends not on experience but only on the consistent use of their clearly defined terms. Analytic statements, then, are necessarily true based on the definitions of the words in the statements. Thus, the first prong of the verification principle is that analytically true statements are meaningful. They have a formal meaning, since their meaning is derived not from empirical facts but from the logical implications of words and ideas, particularly in mathematics and logic.

            The second prong of the verification principle designates that empirically verifiable statements are also meaningful. An empirical statement is one whose truth rests on some kind of empirical observation, such as “The sun will rise tomorrow.” In this example the notion of “rising tomorrow” is not already contained in the notion of the “sun.” Further, we could deny the predicate of this statement and not have a contradiction, as in “The sun will not rise tomorrow.” We certainly expect the sun to rise tomorrow, but this expectation is not based on the definition of the word “sun.” Throughout our lives we see the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening, and this experience confirms or “verifies” the statement “The sun will rise tomorrow.” Logical positivists did not believe that we actually had to verify empirical statements before they would be meaningful. Instead, we only need to have a possible procedure by which we could empirically verify the truth or falsehood of a given statement. For example, the statement “There are flowers growing on Pluto” is empirically verifiable since we could in theory build a space ship to Pluto and then explore the planet for flowers. In this case we most likely would not find any flowers and would thus disconfirm the statement. Regardless of the statement’s actual truth or falsehood, it is still meaningful because it allows for some possible empirical inspection. The problem, then, with metaphysical statements is that they are not true by definition, nor do they allow for some possible empirical inspection.


Carnap’s Logical Analysis


Among the foremost members of the Vienna Circle was the eminent positivist Rudolph Carnap (1891–1970). Born in Germany in 1891, he taught in Vienna and Prague from 1926 to 1935. After arriving in the United States in 1936, he taught for many years at the University of Chicago, and from 1954 until his death in 1970 he was associated with the University of California at Los Angeles. “The only proper task of Philosophy,” Carnap writes in his Philosophy and Logical Syntax, “is Logical Analysis.” It is the function of logical analysis, he said, to analyze all knowledge, all assertions of science and of everyday life, in order to make clear the sense of each assertion and the connections between them. The purpose of logical analysis is to discover how we can become certain of the truth or falsehood of any proposition. One of the principal tasks of the logical analysis of a given proposition is, therefore, to discover the method of verification of that proposition.

            For Carnap the method of a proposition’s verification is either direct or indirect. If a proposition asserts something about a perception I am having—for example, that I see a house—this proposition is effectively tested or verified by my present perception. On the other hand, there are propositions that cannot be verified so directly. To say, for example, “This key is made of iron” requires an indirect method of verification. One way to verify the assertion that the key is made of iron is to place it near a magnet, which enables me to perceive that the key is attracted. It now becomes possible to arrange a series of propositions in a tight logical sequence leading to verification as follows: A verified physical law holds that “if an iron thing is placed near a magnet it is attracted”; another verified proposition asserts that “this metal bar is a magnet”; it is verified through direct observation that “the key is placed near the bar.” When the magnet finally attracts the key, the verification is complete. Thus, when we cannot directly verify a proposition, we must indirectly do so by verifying propositions deduced from the original one and linking these with more general propositions that have already been empirically verified. If a proposition is phrased as a prediction, as in the proposition “The magnet will attract the key,” its verification requires observation of the completed attraction. If the magnet attracts the key, there is a considerable degree of certainty about the truth of the description of the key. Statements of predictions, however, are only hypotheses since there is always the possibility of finding in the future a negative instance. For this reason, even though the degree of certainty is sufficient for most practical purposes, the original proposition will never be completely verified so as to produce absolute certainty.

            These two forms of verification—direct and indirect—are central to the scientific method. Carnap argues that in the field of science every proposition asserts something about either present perceptions or future perceptions. In both cases verification is either through direct perception or by the logical connection of already verified propositions. Thus, if a scientist made an assertion from which no proposition verified by perception could be deduced, it would be no assertion at all. For example, we could not verify the claim that there is a levitational force just as there is a gravitational force. While propositions concerning gravity can be verified by observing its effects on bodies, there are no observable effects or laws describing levitation. According to Carnap, assertions about levitation are no assertions at all because they do not speak about anything. They are nothing but a series of empty words—expressions with no sense.

            When logical analysis is applied to metaphysics, Carnap concludes that metaphysical propositions are not verifiable, or, if an attempt at verification is made, the results are always negative. Take, for example, the proposition propounded by Thales that “the principle of the World is Water.” We cannot deduce any propositions asserting any perceptions whatever that may be expected in the future. Such a proposition, therefore, asserts nothing at all. Metaphysicians cannot avoid making their propositions nonverifiable because if they made them verifiable they would belong to the realm of empirical science, since their truth or falsehood would depend on experience. Carnap therefore rejects metaphysics, as he writes in his Philosophy and Logical Syntax: Metaphysical propositions are neither true nor false, because they assert nothing, they contain neither knowledge nor error, they lie completely outside the field of knowledge, of theory, outside the discussion of truth or falsehood. But they are, like laughing, lyrics, and music, expressive. They express not so much temporary feelings as permanent emotional or volitional dispositions. . . . The danger lies in the deceptive character of metaphysics; it gives the illusion of knowledge without actually giving any knowledge. This is the reason why we reject it.

            According to Carnap, ethics and value judgments in general belong to the realm of metaphysics. When he applies his method of logical analysis to the propositions of ethics, these propositions predictably turn out to be meaningless. There can, he argues, be a science of ethics in the form of psychological or sociological or other empirical investigations into the actions of human beings and their effects on other people. But the philosophy of moral values does not rest on any facts since its purpose is to state norms for human action. The value statement “Killing is evil” has the grammatical form of an assertive proposition. But, Carnap says, “a value statement is nothing else than a command in a misleading grammatical form. It may have effects upon the actions of men, and these effects may be in accordance with our wishes or not; but it is neither true nor false. It does not assert anything and can neither be proved nor disproved.” Carnap held that the propositions of psychology belong to the region of empirical science in just the same way as do the propositions of biology and chemistry.

            He was aware that many people would consider it an offensive presumption to place psychology, “hitherto robed in majesty as the theory of spiritual events,” into the domain of the physical sciences. Yet that is what he proceeded to do. In his essay “Psychology and Physical Language,” he writes “Every sentence of psychology may be formulated in physical language.” What he meant by this was that “all sentences of psychology describe physical occurrences, namely, the physical behavior of humans and other animals.” This is part of the general theory of physicalism, which Carnap described as the view that “physical language is a universal language, that is, a language into which every sentence may be translated.” In effect, Carnap would make psychology an aspect of physics since all science would become physics and the various domains of science would become parts of a unified science. In this manner we are to test propositions in psychology by translating them into physical language. Thus, the statement “John is in pain” is translated into a statement describing the observable state S of John’s body. This process of translation requires only that there be a scientific law stating that someone is in pain if and only if his bodily condition is in a particular state S. It is then meaningful to say that “John is in pain” and “John’s body is in state S” since, while not equivalent, these are interchangeable translations. Only those statements that can be directly verified or translated into verifiable statements have meaning. Neither metaphysics, some aspects of psychology, theories of “reality,” nor the philosophy of normative values could satisfy the criterion of verifiability, and Carnap therefore rejected them as meaningless.

            In time there were objections to Carnap’s early formulation of the criterion of verifiability. In response, Carnap shifted his ground from verification to confirmation . He agreed that if verification is taken to mean a complete and definitive establishment of the truth, then the laws of science could never be verified. The number of instances to which the laws of biology or physics apply is infinite. If strict verification required personal observation of every instance, then obviously there could not be verification as so defined. Though we cannot verify the universal scientific law, we can nevertheless verify its universal application— that is, single instances in the form of particular sentences derived from the law and from other sentences previously established. In this manner verification in the strict sense gives way to the gradually increasing confirmation of scientific laws. As a further aid to logical clarity, in his book The Logical Syntax of Language, Carnap distinguished between what he called the material and the formal modes of language. He argued that the material mode, commonly used in philosophy, frequently leads to the ambiguities and errors of metaphysicians and in general is the source of meaningless philosophical controversy. To overcome these dangers, Carnap felt it was necessary to translate sentences from the material idiom into the more accurate formal idiom. He gives the following example: The sentence “The moon is a thing” is in the material mode. It can be translated into the formal mode in this sentence: “The word ‘moon’ is a thing-designation.”

            Every sentence that states, “Such and such is a thing,” belongs in the material mode. Carnap holds that many other words, such as quality, relation, number, and event, also function the same way as the word thing . As another example, the sentence “7 is not a thing but a number” is in the material mode; its formal mode translation is “The sign 7 is not a thing sign but a numerical sign.” The way to avoid the “dangerous material mode,” Carnap says, is to avoid the word thing and use instead the syntactical term thing-designation . Similarly, instead of using the word number, we should use the term numerical-designation; instead of quality, quality-designation; instead of event, event-designation; and so forth. Other examples would include “He lectured about Babylon” translated into “The word Babylon occurred in his lecture.”

            By this method of translating sentences into the formal mode, Carnap hoped that we would free “logical analysis from all reference to extra-linguistic objects themselves.” Analysis would then be concerned principally with the form of linguistic expressions—with syntax . In spite of this emphasis on syntactical form, Carnap believed that we must not forget the objects themselves to which our words refer. He writes, “There is no question of eliminating reference to objects themselves from object-sciences. On the contrary, these sciences are really concerned with objects themselves, with things, not merely with thing-designations.”


Problems with Logical Positivism


The theory of logical positivism was not warmly received by many philosophers. Some were appalled at the incredible claim that moral language is meaningless. Others noted inherent defects with the verification principle, which the logical positivists themselves soon recognized. Among the difficulties encountered was, first of all, that the verification principle was not itself verifiable. Consider this sentence: “Meaningful statements are either analytic or empirically verifiable.” But is this statement itself meaningful based on its own criteria? This sentence is not true by definition, nor can it be verified through experience. Thus, this statement of the verification principle fails its own test, and so is meaningless. Logical positivists recognized this problem and said that their principle was more like a recommendation than a meaningful scientific contention. The question still remains, though, why a metaphysician would want to adopt a recommendation like this if it rendered meaningless everything the metaphysician said.

            A second problem arose in the very area where this principle was presumed to have its greatest relevance, namely, the sciences. Scientific knowledge is frequently expressed in the form of universal laws. These “laws” are the basis for scientific prediction . But the problem the logical positivists faced was whether to consider scientific statements meaningful. How can a statement that makes a prediction be verified? Can my present experience, or experiment, tell me anything about the future? Obviously, literal significance or meaning is one thing when we verify the statement “There is a black cow in Smith’s barn.” It is quite another thing when the scientist says, for example, that “when a moving body is not acted on by external forces, its direction will remain constant.” The first case is specific and verifiable. The second involves an indefinite number of cases, and any single case in the future can falsify that statement. Since there is no single fact that can now verify the future truth of a general scientific statement, such a statement, by a rigorous application of the verification principle, would be meaningless. Logical positivists solved this problem by offering a weaker version of the verification principle: that a statement need only be “verifiable in principle,” or capable of verification, that is, confirmed in some degree by the observation of something physical.

            A third problem involves the crucial question of what constitutes verification . To answer “sense experience” raised the further question “Whose experience?” The problem begins with the central assumption behind the verification principle— that our empirical utterances need to be translated into more foundational statements. Scientific language would ultimately be reducible to observational statements . But what is the fact that an observation statement reports? Is it a subjective experience about a physical object, or is it a pure picture of that object? The technical problem concerns whether it is ever possible to translate a person’s internal experience into a statement about a physical object, or vice versa. This is the problem of solipsism, the view that the self is the only object of real knowledge and, therefore, that the experiences of one person cannot be the same as those of another. Each person’s experience is different, and all of our experiences are different from the objectively real world. If this is the case, what does the verification principle amount to in the end? Verification statements would mean one thing to one person and something else to others.

            A fourth and more general problem with the verification principle is why it places such a high premium on sense experience. That is, why rule out the meaningfulness of statements that are grounded only in our intuitions, hopes, or gut feelings? Logical positivists did not answer this question in any formal way. It may be that for them empirical verification was central to the distinction between scientific procedures, on the one hand, and metaphysical speculation, on the other. Being oriented chiefly toward science, the logical positivists assumed that only language that referred to physical objects and their interrelationships could have cognitive meaning. By coupling all statements to physical facts, they hoped to achieve the unity of science ; such a unified knowledge would give sciences a common language and tell us all there is to say.

            Because of all these problems, logical positivists toned down the intensity of their views. The blanket rejection of metaphysics and morals was reversed, and analysts began to focus on these traditional areas of philosophy. Ayer described this new temper by saying, “The metaphysician is treated no longer as a criminal but as a patient: there may be good reasons why he says the strange things he does.” Ethics, for example, is no longer nonsense but is a discipline whose language is analyzed both for its relation to fact and for its value in pointing to a problem. Although logical positivism in its classical form collapsed from the weight of its inner difficulties, its impact continues in the analytic movement, which is still concerned overwhelmingly with the usages and analysis of language.


Quine’s Critique of Empiricism


By the mid-twentieth century logical positivism as a movement was largely a thing of the past. Nevertheless, fears of violating the verification principle still lingered in the minds of metaphysicians and moralists, many of whom avoided straying too far from empirical facts. But logical positivism was only the most recent effort to put forth an empiricist agenda. The empirical trend in philosophy is much older, dating as far back as Francis Bacon, and for several centuries after was a driving force in philosophical discussions. In 1951 Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000) attempted to expose a more fundamental problem with empiricism that applied not only to logical positivism but to all traditional accounts of empiricism. He addresses this in his 1951 essay “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” The first dogma of empiricism is the long-standing assumption that statements neatly divide between those that are analytic and those that are synthetic (that is, empirical). He writes, “A boundary between analytic and synthetic statements simply has not been drawn. That there is such a distinction to be drawn at all is an unempirical dogma of empiricists, a metaphysical article of faith.” The other dogma is that of reductionism, which holds that every meaningful statement can be translated into a statement about immediate experience.

            Quine was aware that to reject these dogmas would mean abandoning, or at least “blurring[,] the supposed boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science.” Nevertheless, this is what he tries to do. As to the first dogma, he argues that the notion of “analyticity” is very difficult to clarify, apart from a few limited logical statements. Even logical statements, presumably true “no matter what,” can be altered in the interests of new conceptions of physics. Quine asks, “What difference is there in principle between such a shift [in logic] and the shift whereby Kepler superseded Ptolemy, or Einstein, Newton, or Darwin, Aristotle?” Synthetic statements, he argues, do not live up to their empirical verifiability as clearly as they are supposed to. Quine scrutinizes various ways that philosophers tried to establish the truth of both analytic and synthetic statements; he concludes that “no statement is immune to revision.” This would mean that both analytic and synthetic propositions contain only contingent truth and, to that extent, do not differ.

            What would science be like without the dogmas of empiricism? As an empiricist himself, Quine believed that science and logic are important conceptual schemes and useful tools. Indeed, the total range of our knowledge, he says, “is a man-made fabric which impinges upon experience only along the edges.” Any conflict between a statement that we hold to be true and a new experience at variance with it requires an adjustment. We must alter not only our initial statement but, ultimately, all the interconnected concepts. Certainty seems greatest in the physical realm, but Quine argues that physical bodies are themselves only a convenient conceptual tool. Indeed, he says that physical objects are simply “irreducible posits,” comparing them to the gods of Homer. As an empiricist he thinks that it would be erroneous to believe in Homer’s gods rather than physical objects. “But,” he says, “in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind.” To argue in this manner clearly undercuts the distinction both between analytic and synthetic statements and between metaphysics and science. In the end Quine settles for a strongly pragmatic conception of truth, saying, “Each man is given a scientific heritage plus a continuing barrage of sensory stimulation; and the considerations which guide him in warping his scientific heritage to fit his continuing sensory promptings are, where rational, pragmatic.”




Wittgenstein’s Road to Philosophy


Ludwig Wittgenstein was born on April 26, 1889, the youngest of eight children of one of the wealthiest and highest-placed families in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father, Karl Wittgenstein, built an immense fortune during the 1890s as a leader in the heavy metals industry. As he neared retirement, he understandably wanted his children to find their place in his vast company. But for the most part, his children followed their own interests. Under his sister Gretl’s influence, Ludwig read some philosophy, but at the same time he could not altogether turn a deaf ear to his father’s wishes for him to study engineering to prepare for his entry into the family’s company.

            Wittgenstein left Europe and went to Manchester to study aeronautics. But he could not deny the powerful inner drive to pursue his interest in philosophy. Even when he was involved in the problems of engineering, his great interest lay in the philosophy of mathematics. This caused him to suffer the strains of deciding between the two professions of philosophy and engineering. But he still needed some confirmation that he had sufficient talent in philosophy to pursue it as a career. He took a sample of his work to the eminent philosopher Gottlob Frege in Jena, author of The Foundation of Mathematics . Wittgenstein felt that his interview went well enough, since Frege encouraged him to travel to Cambridge to study under Bertrand Russell.

            After meeting Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell said that “my German friend threatens to be an infliction, he came back with me after my lecture and argued till dinner time—obstinate and perverse, but I think not stupid.” Again, “my German engineer very argumentative and tiresome. He would not admit that it was certain that there was not a rhinoceros in the room. . . . [He] came back and argued all the time I was dressing.” Finally, “my German engineer, I think, is a fool. He thinks nothing empirical is knowable—I asked him to admit that there was not a rhinoceros in the room, but he wouldn’t.” In time these conversations became more relaxed, so that Russell “learned more about Wittgenstein than his all-consuming interest in philosophical problems, as for example, that he was Austrian and not German, and also that he was very literary, very musical, pleasant mannered . . . and I think really intelligent.” When Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge in January 1912, he showed Russell a manuscript he had written during the vacation. This changed Russell’s opinion of Wittgenstein to a very positive appreciation of his abilities. Russell called the manuscript “very good, much better than my English pupils do,” adding, “I shall certainly encourage him. Perhaps he will do great things.” During the next term Wittgenstein worked so hard at mathematical logic that Russell believed that Wittgenstein had surpassed him, saying that he had learned all he had to teach and, indeed, had gone further. “Yes, Wittgenstein has been a great event in my life—whatever may become of it.” In fact, Russell now looked upon Wittgenstein as the one who could solve the problems that were raised by his own work. “I am too old” said Russell, “to solve all kinds of problems raised by my work, but want a fresh mind and the vigor of youth. He is the young man one hopes for.” As a matter of fact, Russell was so impressed with Wittgenstein’s abilities that he considered Wittgenstein his “protégé.”

            In addition, Wittgenstein developed a bond with G. E. Moore, whose lectures he began to attend. In spite of the praise of these philosophical leaders, Wittgenstein did not pursue a straight line in his philosophical development. There were certain peculiarities in his personality that deflected him from his course from time to time. His intense desire for solitude led him to withdraw to a rural setting in Norway, where he built a cottage and devoted himself entirely to his analysis of the problems of logic, which he thought would be his unique philosophical contribution. But he suffered from physical and emotional isolation.

            In time Wittgenstein inherited considerable wealth, which, without explanation, he gave away, leaving him without sufficient funds. With Europe drifting toward war, Wittgenstein enrolled in the Austrian army, taking with him his manuscript. By the time he completed his military duties, he was able to return to Cambridge with a virtually finished manuscript and a position as a lecturer at the university. But he was not happy in that teaching position, and, strangely enough, he urged the young scholars who were influenced by his teaching not to go into teaching themselves. Instead, he urged them to undertake some physical or manual work. Although his brilliance was recognized by his peers, Wittgenstein was not a happy scholar, and he made choices that undermined his clear commitment both to his work and to his friendships. In the end he lost the friendship and support of Bertrand Russell, who gave him such strong encouragement at the beginning of his career.

            The only book of Wittgenstein’s published during his lifetime is his early Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1919), which develops a theory of logical atomism similar to that of Russell’s. Although Wittgenstein was not a member of the Vienna Circle, he conversed with them, and they considered his Tractatus to express their philosophical point of view with great accuracy. Not only did Wittgenstein say that “whatever can be said at all can be said clearly,” he concluded his book by saying that “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” After Wittgenstein’s death in 1951, a number of books by him appeared based on manuscripts and lecture notes of students. Principal among these are his Philosophical Investigations (1953). These works reflect a completely different turn of thought from the Tractatus, and it is his later views that have brought him fame within the field of philosophy.


The New Wittgenstein


Shortly after his Tractatus appeared, Wittgenstein repudiated much of that work. He now believed that his former views were based on the erroneous assumption that language has only one function, namely, to state facts. The Tractatus further assumed that sentences for the most part derive their meanings from stating facts. Finally, Wittgenstein assumed, as did Carnap, that the skeleton behind all language is a logical one. What struck Wittgenstein now was the somewhat obvious point that language has many functions besides simply “picturing” objects. Language always functions in a context and, therefore, has as many purposes as there are contexts. Words, he said, are like “tools in a toolbox; there is a hammer, pliers, a saw, a screwdriver, a rule, a glue-pot, glue, nails, and screws. The function of words is as diverse as the functions of these objects.”

            What made Wittgenstein think initially that language had only one function? He says that he was held captive by the view that language gives names to things, just as Adam in the Bible gave names to animals. He writes that we are all the victims of “the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” Our incorrect picture of language is “produced by grammatical illusions.” Analyzing grammar might lead us to discover some logical structure of language. But would that justify the conclusion that all language has essentially the same rules, functions, and meanings? It occurred to Wittgenstein that the assumption that all language states facts and contains a logical skeleton was derived not from observation but from thought. We simply assume that all language, in spite of certain superficial differences, is alike. He uncovered the flaw in this analogy by taking the case of games and asking,


What is common to them all?—Don’t say: There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games’—but look and see whether there is anything common at all.—For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don’t think, but look.


            Wittgenstein therefore shifted his plan of analysis from a preoccupation with logic and the construction of a “perfect” language to the study of the ordinary usages of language. He moved away from what Russell and Carnap were doing and turned instead in the direction of G. E. Moore’s analysis of ordinary language, testing it by the criterion of common sense.

            Wittgenstein now felt that language does not contain one single pattern alone but is as variable as life itself. He writes, “To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.” Analysis, then, should consist not in the definition of language or its meanings but rather in a careful description of its uses: “We must do away with an explanation, and description alone must take its place.” We must, says Wittgenstein, “stick to the subjects of everyday thinking, and not go astray and imagine that we have to describe extreme subtleties.” Confusions arise not when our language is “doing work,” but only when it is “like an engine idling.”


Language Games and Following Rules


A central concept in Wittgenstein’s philosophy is the notion of rule-following. Throughout our daily routines we engage in a variety of tasks that involve rules of some kind. We often copy the behavior of other people when, for example, we try to learn a dance routine. We often participate in ceremonies such as graduation, in which we wear special clothes, walk in a line with fellow graduates, and receive a diploma. Similar rule-following underlies all language. We say certain things in certain contexts, and we follow specific grammatical rules when we organize our words. Not just our spoken words but our entire thinking activity involves rule-following. Wittgenstein suggests that the rules of language are like rules of different games—language games—that vary in different contexts. When a student asks questions in a biology class, she follows the rules of various language games, such as the language game of an inquiring student in a formal classroom and the language game of the discipline of biology. He writes, But how many kinds of sentence are there? Say assertion, question, and command?—There are countless kinds: countless different kinds of uses of what we call “symbols,” “words,” and “sentences.” And this multiplicity is not something fixed, given once for all; but new types of language, new language-games, as we may say, come into existence, and others become obsolete and get forgotten. . . . Here the term “language-game” is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life.

            Because philosophical problems grow out of language, it is necessary to acquire a basic familiarity with the uses of the language out of which each problem arises. As there are many kinds of games, there are many sets of rules of the games. Similarly, as there are many kinds of languages (that is, the many forms of ordinary language of work, play, worship, science, and so forth), there are many usages . Under these circumstances “the work of the philosopher consists of assembling reminders for a particular purpose.”


Clarifying Metaphysical Language


How does Wittgenstein deal with metaphysical language? Unlike the positivists he did not reject the statements of metaphysics outright. Instead, he considered the metaphysician as a patient instead of a criminal, and the function of philosophy as therapeutic. Metaphysical language can indeed create confusion, and the central concern of philosophy is to deal with problems that baffle and confuse us because of the lack of clarity. Philosophy is a “battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” Bewitchment causes confusion, and so “a philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about.’” Philosophy helps us to find our way, to survey the scene; it brings “words back from their metaphysical to their everyday usage.”

            Philosophy does not provide us with new or more information, but instead adds clarity by a careful description of language. It is as though I can see all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle but am baffled by how to put it together. I am actually looking at everything I need to solve the problem. Philosophical puzzlement is similar and can be removed by a careful description of language as we ordinarily use it. What confuses us is when language is used in new and unordinary ways. Hence, “the results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense.” If metaphysics displays resistance or a prejudice that obscures the ordinary usage of words, he concedes that this is “not a stupid prejudice.” The confusions of metaphysics is part of the human condition: The problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of language have the character of depth . They are deep disquietudes; their roots are as deep in us as the forms of our language and their significance is as great as the importance of our language.

            True philosophy does not consist in giving crisp, abstract answers to questions. A person who has lost his or her way wants a map of the terrain, and this is supplied by the selection and arrangement of concrete examples of the actual use of language in ordinary experience.

            But it is not enough simply to look at these examples of usage, any more than it is sufficient simply to look at the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. We frequently “fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.” The most important things are hidden “because of their simplicity and familiarity.” But what does it mean to “fail to be struck”? There is no sure method according to Wittgenstein to guarantee that we will “be struck” and thereby find our way. In any case what Wittgenstein sought to do was to shift philosophy’s concern away from meanings—from the assumption that words carry in them as so much freight “pictures” of objects in the world. Instead, he directed attention, through the assembling, selecting, and arranging of relevant examples, to the actual uses of words. Because most philosophical problems were assumed to arise from puzzlements about words, the scrupulous description of their ordinary uses would eliminate this puzzlement.




Austin’s Unique Approach


Another philosopher concerned with the ordinary use of language was Oxford scholar John Austin (1911–1960). He did not publish extensively, partly because of his untimely death at age 49. He once said that he had to decide early on whether he was going to write books or teach people to do philosophy in a way that he found so useful and satisfying in his own work and life. Austin had a unique approach to philosophy. In his essay “A Plea for Excuses,” he tells the reader that philosophy provided for him what it is so often lacking, namely, “the fun of discovery, the pleasure of cooperation and the satisfaction of reaching agreement.” With relief and humor, he tells how his research enabled him to consider various words and idioms “without remembering what Kant thought” and to move by degrees to discuss “deliberation without for once remembering Aristotle or self-control without Plato.” In contrast to heavy and grim philosophizing, Austin exhibited a deceptive simplicity. In the opening sentence of How to Do Things with Words, he writes, “What I shall have to say here is neither difficult nor contentious: the only merit I should like to claim for it is that of being true, at least in parts.”

            Austin was aware that the use of such phrases as “the analysis of language,” or “analytic philosophy,” or even “ordinary language” could lead to the misunderstanding that philosophical analysis was only and solely concerned with words. Austin was concerned not only with words but also with “the realities we use the words to talk about.” He writes, “We are using a sharpened awareness of words to sharpen our perception of, though not the final arbiter of, the phenomena.” He even wondered in passing whether his approach to philosophy might not more usefully be called “linguistic phenomenology,” a notion he gave up as being “rather a mouthful.” Austin had little interest in criticizing the methods of other philosophers or putting excessive emphasis on his own style. He developed a technique for studying the nature of language and found it successful in dealing with various philosophical problems.


The Notion of “Excuses”


In his essay “A Plea for Excuses,” we find some flavor of Austin’s fruitful analysis of ordinary language. He elaborates in some detail just how and why he philosophizes about words. For one thing, he felt that philosophy can be “done” in a wide variety of ways. Unlike any one of the sciences, whose subject matter and methods are highly organized, philosophy functions in those spheres where no one is sure just what is the best way to resolve a particular problem. He thus selects some area of discourse that he thinks is of interest to philosophers. For him the word excuses provided a rich field for the study of language and human behavior. Through the analysis of this word, Austin discovers distinctions of various degrees between words closely connected with excuses . Moreover, his analysis yields interesting insights into human behavior as suggested by the distinctions among a web of interrelated words.

            At the outset the word excuses turns out to be a term surrounded by other significant words, such as defiance, justification, or plea . It is necessary, Austin argues, to give a complete and clear account and to consider the largest possible number of cases of the use of the chosen word. In general, excuses involve a situation in which people are accused of having done something wrong, or “bad,” or “inept,” and either they try to defend their conduct or establish their innocence. They can admit that they did what they are accused of doing and then argue that under the prevailing circumstances it was either the right or the acceptable or at least the understandable thing to do. This would be to “justify” the action.

            A quite different way to proceed would be for the accused to admit that the act was a bad one but that it would be unfair to say without qualification that they did it. It could be that their action was unintentional or accidental or was precipitated by some other event. The word “responsibility” becomes signifi- cantly related to “they did it” and to “excuses.” And the distinction between an “excuse” for an action and a “justification” of it turns out to be an important one. Moreover, if the charge happens to be murder, a plea for the accused could rest on the justification of self-defense or be excused as accidental. Words with finer degrees of distinction could be employed here, including “mitigation” and “extenuation.” And what about the language of a defendant who says, “I didn’t do it—something in me made me do it.” An act can also be the result of a “fit of anger” as distinguished from a “deliberate act.”

            Why go through this analysis of “excuses” or any other term of discourse? Apart from the fact that the fashioning of excuses has occupied such an important role in human affairs and is on that account worthy of careful study, Austin believed that moral philosophy could benefit from this analysis for two reasons. First, such an analysis could facilitate development of a more accurate and up-to-date version of human conduct. Second, as a corollary, it could contribute toward the correction of older and prematurely settled theories. Since moral philosophy is the study of the rightness and wrongness of conduct or the doing of actions, it becomes crucial to understand what it means to “do something” before we can properly say about it that it is either right or wrong.

            “Doing an action,” Austin says, is a very abstract expression. Do we mean by it “to think something,” “to say something,” or “to try to do something”? It is just as inaccurate to think that all our actions are of the same nature as it is to think that all “things” are of the same kind—that winning a war, as an action, is the same as sneezing or that a horse as a thing is equal to a bed as a thing. Do we do an action when we breathe or see? For what, then, is the phrase “doing an action” an appropriate substitute? What rules are there for the proper word signifying “the” action for which a person is responsible or for which he or she manufactures excuses? Can human actions be divided in order to attribute one part to the actor and the remainder to someone or something else? Moreover, is an action a simple event? Austin emphasizes rather the complex nature of a human act. This even includes the mere motion of the body, which could involve intentions, motives, responses to information, the reflection upon rules, a studied control of the motion of a limb, or a shove from someone else.

            Austin believed that the questions just raised and the problems posed can be illuminated by an analysis of the word excuses . For one thing, an excuse implies that a certain type of behavior went wrong in some way. To determine the nature of the wrongness involves a clarification of the “right.” The abnormal frequently clarifies the normal. The careful study of excuses provides the opportunity to determine when excuses are appropriate, what actions can be classified as excusable, what particular abnormalities of behavior are truly “actions,” and, in a more intricate manner, what constitutes the very structure or mechanism of human behavior. The study of excuses can also resolve some traditional mistakes or inconclusive arguments in moral philosophy. High on the list is the problem of freedom. Here Austin compares the words freedom and truth, pointing out that just as “truth” is not a name characterizing assertions, neither is “freedom” a name characterizing actions. Freedom, Austin says, is “the name of the dimension in which action is assessed.” He then says, “In examining all the ways in which each action may not be ‘free’, i.e., the cases in which it will not do to say simply ‘X did A,’ we may hope to dispose of the problem of freedom.”


The Benefits of Ordinary Language


Besides throwing light on moral philosophy, the study of excuses provides Austin with a concrete application for his philosophical method. He begins with “ordinary language,” through which he expects to discover “what we should say when” and, therefore, “why and what we should mean by it.” This, he believed, can clear up the uses and misuses of words and in that manner avoid the traps in which we can be caught through imprecise language. The analysis of ordinary language also emphasizes the differences between words and things and enables us to remove the words from the realities we use words to talk about, and in that way get a fresh look at those realities. Most of all, Austin believed that “our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connections they have found worth making, in the lifetimes of many generations.” This stock of words in ordinary language must, he felt, be sounder and subtler than any we could think up for the purpose of philosophizing, for they have stood up to the test of time and the competition of other possible words. Moreover, ordinary language provides the philosopher “a good site for fieldwork.” It makes possible a different climate of philosophical discourse by disengaging individuals from frozen and rigid philosophical positions. How much easier it is to agree on the uses of words or even on how to reach agreement. Austin hoped that this method could someday be applied to the turbulent field of aesthetics, saying, “If only we could forget for awhile about the beautiful and get down to the dainty and the dumpy.”

            Austin was aware that ordinary language, as a basis for analysis, could present certain problems. For one thing, there is a certain “looseness” in ordinary language so that one person’s usage may not be the same as another’s. To this Austin replies that there is not as much disagreement in the use of words as we might think. Surface differences tend to disappear when, through analysis, we discover that it was not really the same situation about which different people have been speaking: “The more we imagine the situation in detail,” says Austin, “the less we find we disagree about what we should say.” Sometimes, however, there are disagreements in the use of words. But even here, he says, “we can find why we disagree,” and “the explanation can hardly fail to be illuminating.” Besides its looseness, another question about ordinary language is whether it should be construed as the “last word” on matters. While ordinary language does not claim to be the last word, it is significant that it embodies the inherited experience and insights of many generations. And although these insights have been focused particularly on the practical affairs of people, that fact further strengthens the claim for its accuracy. For if the distinctions of words work well in ordinary life, “then there is something in it.” Scholars may well have interests other than those whose language pertains to ordinary life. And there is no reason to believe that error and superstition cannot survive for long periods of time in a language. To this extent, he readily concedes that “ordinary language is not the last word: in principle it can everywhere be supplemented and improved upon and even superseded.” But, he believed, it is the first word in his plan of analysis.

            Austin recommended three resources that we can use in undertaking a full-scale analysis of the word excuses . Similar resources and methods would presumably be available for the analysis of other words as well. First, he advocated using the dictionary. A concise one would do, and he suggested reading through it entirely and listing all relevant words, remarking that it would not take as long as we might suppose. Or we could make a list of obviously relevant words first and consult the dictionary to discover their various meanings—a process that would then lead to other germane words until the relevant list was complete. A second source for this purpose is the law. Here we would be provided with a vast number of cases along with a wide variety of pleas for excuses and many analyses of the circumstances of the particular conduct in question. The third source is psychology. The use of psychology is an interesting example of how ordinary language is supplemented and even superseded. For psychology classifies some varieties of behavior or gives explanations of ways of acting that may not have been noticed by laypeople or captured by ordinary language. Given these resources, “and with the aid of imagination,” Austin was confident that the meanings of a vast number of expressions would emerge and that a large number of human actions could be understood and classified, thereby achieving one of the central purposes of this whole process, namely, “explanatory definition.”




Contemporary analytic philosophy holds that the central task of philosophy is to clarify notions through an analysis of language. Russell rejected the unintelligible claims of idealist metaphysicians and, inspired instead by the precision of mathematics, he developed the theory of logical atomism. On this view, all meaningful verbal statements can be analyzed into simple atomic propositions, which refer directly to simple atomic facts in the real world. For example, the proposition “the rose is red” is true because it accurately depicts a fact about the real world consisting of a particular rose being red. Even the most complex verbal statements, such as the entire text of a history book, can be broken down and analyzed in terms of its atomic propositions and corresponding atomic facts. Logical positivists continued the attack on metaphysics by proposing a principle of verification: a statement is meaningful only if it is either analytically true by definition (such as “all bachelors are unmarried men”) or empirically verifiable (such as “the sun will rise tomorrow” ). For Carnap, we can empirically verify propositions in two ways: directly (such as “I see a house”) or indirectly by some test (such as with “This key is made of iron”). The task of philosophy, according to Carnap, is logical analysis, which uses the verification principle to clarify all assertions in science and everyday life. The scientific claim that “there is a levitational force” does not pass this test as it is neither true by definition nor does it allow for empirical inspection; it is thereby a meaningless statement. Metaphysical statements such as “substance underlies all attributes” are similarly meaningless, as are ethical statements such as “killing is evil.” Many statements in psychology pass the test since they describe physical occurrences, such as observable states of someone’s body. The theory of logical positivism faced four specific criticisms: (1) the verification principle was not itself verifiable, (2) general scientific statements about the future are not verifiable, (3) verification can differ from one observer to another, and (4) it arbitrarily grounds meaning in sense experience, overlooking other standards such as intuition.

            Quine argued that empirical philosophical approaches, such as logical positivism, have two basic assumptions, or “dogmas”: (1) statements divide between those that are analytic and those that are synthetic, and (2) every meaningful statement can be translated into a statement about immediate experience. Quine rejected both of these assumptions. Without these empirical assumptions, he maintained, the scientific concept of physical bodies should be seen as only as a convenient conceptual tool.

            Wittgenstein in his early life developed a theory of logical atomism similar to that of Russell’s. He later rejected it, though, on the grounds that language does not contain one single pattern of analysis but is instead infinitely varied and needs to be understood within larger contexts of ordinary usage. Just as there are different rules for different games, such as chess and checkers, there are different rules for how we think and use words in different settings. That is, we think and speak in a wide variety of “language games” in the context of how we work, play, worship, or do science. Most philosophical problems, he argued, arise from puzzlements about words, and metaphysics in particular often obscures the ordinary usage of words. But philosophy can solve these puzzles by carefully describing such language as we ordinarily use it. Austin also explored ordinary language as a tool for clarifying philosophical problems. The technique that he developed, called “linguistic phenomenology,” involved taking a particular expression (such as that of an “excuse”) and looking at its synonyms and related concepts (such as defiance, justification, or plea), considering some situations and scenarios in which the expression occurs, and considering our linguistic reactions in those situations.


Study Questions


            1. Explain Russell’s theory of logical atomism, and use it to analyze these two statements: “The dog chased the cat” and “The world is only a thought within the divine mind.”

            2. Discuss the two problems with logical atomism.

            3. Explain logical positivism’s principle of verification, and use it to analyze these two statements: “The refrigerator is cold” and “Substance is the reality that is spread beneath all attributes of a thing.”

            4. Using an example of your own, explain how, according to Carnap, statements in psychology pass the test of empirical verifiability.

            5. Carnap argued that ethical statements do not pass the test of the verification principle and thus are meaningless statements. Using an example of your own, explain Carnap’s reasoning and say whether you agree.

            6. Pick one of the four criticisms of logical positivism, and defend logical positivism against it.

            7. Explain Quine’s two dogmas of empiricism, and speculate about how an empiricist such as Locke or Carnap might respond.

            8. Explain Wittgenstein’s notion of language games and rule following, and discuss how the word consciousness might be used in different language games.

            9. Explain Austin’s conception of linguistic phenomenology, and use it to analyze the word promise.

            10. Much of analytic philosophy was driven by an attempt to address (and sometimes dismiss) metaphysical claims. Compare and contrast the different ways that analytic philosophers have analyzed metaphysical statements.