How is it that analytic philosophy came to be the dominant philosophical style in the 20th Century in the United States? From inside the practice, the answer seems to be, “because it is a particularly good way of doing philosophy.” But “that it seemed good to them at the time” is not much of an historical explanation. For any other historical development, we’d want to know more, at least why its practitioners deemed it good—and not merely their justifications, but the cultural, social, economic, environmental, and professional factors that played a causal role.
We’re now getting some temporal distance on the emergence of analytic philosophy in the U.S., which is allowing for a broader view of these factors. Among the contributions to this history is “On the Emergence of American Analytic Philosophy,” by Joel Katzav (Queensland) and Krist Vaesen (Eindhoven) in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy (ungated version here). The article was brought to my attention by Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam), who discusses it in a post at Digressions & Impressions.
Katzav and Vaesen describe their project like so:
The present paper contributes to what can be called the external history of twentieth-century philosophy. Rather than focusing on how the push and pull of argumentation affects the spread of philosophical ideas,and without denying that this push and pull has a role to play in explaining the spread of such ideas, we consider the influence of journal capture by proponents of specific approaches to philosophy on journal contents.
Katzav and Vaesen look at the influential journal, The Philosophical Review (PR). They write:
What we found is a journal that published work exhibiting a wide variety of approaches to philosophy (e.g., classical pragmatism, process philosophy, idealism, non-Western philosophy) andthat did so until about 1948, when mid-century analytic philosophy comes to dominate the journal.
As Professor Schliesser notes, Mind, an influential and traditionally analytic philosophy journal, announced last year that from now on, “no area of philosophy, no style of philosophy, and no school of philosophy is to be excluded.” The journal Analysis made a similar announcement last year, as well. These announcements indicate some movement towards a less narrow view of what counts as worthwhile philosophy. It will be interesting to see what further effects these changes have.
UPDATE (1/25/17): Professor Katzav discusses the disappearance of modern Indian philosophy from Mind and Phil Review here .