The History of the Past 40 Years of Analytic Philosophy

The History of the Past 40 Years of Analytic Philosophy


A new call for papers has been circulating, soliciting work on the history of “Late Analytic Philosophy.” From the CFP:

In the last 25 to 30 years historical attention has been directed toward analytic philosophy: some analytic philosophers have begun reflecting on the philosophical tradition they belong to, while many other scholars have been working on what is by now become a well-established discipline known as “history of analytic philosophy”. Yet this historiographical perspective mainly focuses on early analytic philosophy (Frege, Russell, Moore, the early Wittgenstein…), or on middle analytic philosophy (Carnap, Ryle, the later Wittgenstein, Quine…), whereas – by contrast – proper historical investigations of late analytic philosophy are still greatly needed. By “late” we mean analytic philosophy approximately in the last 40 years, which is a long enough period to deserve a separate investigation. Furthermore, we surmise that the development of this philosophical tradition in such a time span has some distinctive features, which could be profitably studied from different perspectives: philosophical, metaphilosophical, historical, sociological… In fact, such a multifaceted approach is in a sense required by the huge and increasing volume of philosophical production (due to processes of professionalization and specialization), which can hardly be dealt with satisfactorily if one takes the narrow point of view of a single discipline.

The CFP was brought to my attention by Eric Schliesser’s commentary on it at his Digressions & Impressions.

We might ask how we’re supposed to know that we’re in analytic philosophy’s “late” period. I would like to think, rather, that analytic philosophy is just now undergoing a kind of enlightenment phase—an emergence from its self-imposed immaturity, to borrow from Kant—and so is rather closer to its beginning than its end, but of course it is too early to tell. Analytic philosophy could get hit by a bus today, in which case the past forty years would indeed be its late period. You never know. I suppose analytic philosophy should live each day as if it were its last.

Whether we’re at the beginning or the end (and the CFP quotes Williamson’s channeling of Churchill on that point), the CFP contains a number of great questions, and there’s no reason we can’t take some of them up here. We can start with a few related ones, and perhaps we’ll take up others in subsequent posts. For now, how about these:

  1. What are the main metaphilosophical and methodological features of late analytic philosophy?
  2. What are the main philosophical and metaphilosophical similarities and differences between early and middle analytic philosophy on the one hand and late analytic philosophy on the other?
  3. Who are the main figures of late analytic philosophy?
  4. What is the geography of late analytic philosophy?

Discussion welcome.

Bridget Riley, "Aurum" (1976)

Bridget Riley, “Aurum” (1976)

 

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