Philosophical analysis

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Philosophical analysis is the techniques typically used by philosophers in the analytic tradition that involve "breaking down" (i.e. analyzing) philosophical issues. Arguably the most prominent of these techniques is the analysis of concepts (known as conceptual analysis).

Philosopher person with an extensive knowledge of philosophy

A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term "philosopher" comes from the Ancient Greek, φιλόσοφος (philosophos), meaning "lover of wisdom". The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.

Analytic philosophy style of philosophy

Analytic philosophy is a style of philosophy that became dominant in the Western world at the beginning of the 20th century. The term can refer to one of several things:

Concept Mental representation or an abstract object

Concepts are defined as abstract ideas or general notions that occur in the mind, in speech, or in thought. They are understood to be the fundamental building blocks of thoughts and beliefs. They play an important role in all aspects of cognition. As such, concepts are studied by several disciplines, such as linguistics, psychology, and philosophy, and these disciplines are interested in the logical and psychological structure of concepts, and how they are put together to form thoughts and sentences. The study of concepts has served as an important flagship of an emerging interdisciplinary approach called cognitive science.

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Method of analysis

While analysis is characteristic of the analytic tradition in philosophy, what is to be analyzed (the analysandum) often varies. Some philosophers focus on analyzing linguistic phenomena, such as sentences, while others focus on psychological phenomena, such as sense data. However, arguably the most prominent analyses are of concepts or propositions, which is known as conceptual analysis (Foley 1996).

In non-functional linguistics, a sentence is a textual unit consisting of one or more words that are grammatically linked. In functional linguistics, a sentence is a unit of written texts delimited by graphological features such as upper case letters and markers such as periods, question marks, and exclamation marks. This notion contrasts with a curve, which is delimited by phonologic features such as pitch and loudness and markers such as pauses; and with a clause, which is a sequence of words that represents some process going on throughout time. This entry is mainly about sentence in its non-functional sense, though much work in functional linguistics is indirectly cited or considered such as the categories of Speech Act Theory.

In the philosophy of perception, the theory of sense data was a popular view held in the early 20th century by philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, C. D. Broad, H. H. Price, A. J. Ayer, and G. E. Moore. Sense data are taken to be mind-dependent objects whose existence and properties are known directly to us in perception. These objects are unanalyzed experiences inside the mind, which appear to subsequent more advanced mental operations exactly as they are.

The term proposition has a broad use in contemporary analytic philosophy. It is used to refer to some or all of the following: the primary bearers of truth-value, the objects of belief and other "propositional attitudes", the referents of that-clauses, and the meanings of declarative sentences. Propositions are the sharable objects of attitudes and the primary bearers of truth and falsity. This stipulation rules out certain candidates for propositions, including thought- and utterance-tokens which are not sharable, and concrete events or facts, which cannot be false.

Conceptual analysis consists primarily in breaking down or analyzing concepts into their constituent parts in order to gain knowledge or a better understanding of a particular philosophical issue in which the concept is involved (Beaney 2003). For example, the problem of free will in philosophy involves various key concepts, including the concepts of freedom, moral responsibility, determinism, ability, etc. The method of conceptual analysis tends to approach such a problem by breaking down the key concepts pertaining to the problem and seeing how they interact. Thus, in the long-standing debate on whether free will is compatible with the doctrine of determinism, several philosophers have proposed analyses of the relevant concepts to argue for either compatibilism or incompatibilism.

Free will Ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints

Free will is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded.

Determinism is the philosophical belief that all events are determined completely by previously existing causes. Deterministic theories throughout the history of philosophy have sprung from diverse and sometimes overlapping motives and considerations. The opposite of determinism is some kind of indeterminism or randomness. Determinism is often contrasted with free will.

Compatibilism is the belief that free will and determinism are mutually compatible and that it is possible to believe in both without being logically inconsistent. Compatibilists believe freedom can be present or absent in situations for reasons that have nothing to do with metaphysics. They define free will as freedom to act according to one's motives.

A famous author of conceptual analysis at its best is Bertrand Russell's theory of descriptions. Russell attempted to analyze propositions that involved definite descriptions (such as "The tallest spy"), which pick out a unique individual, and indefinite descriptions (such as "a spy"), which pick out a set of individuals. Take Russell's analysis of definite descriptions as an example. [1] Superficially, definite descriptions have the standard subject-predicate form of a proposition. For example, "The present king of France is bald" appears to be predicating "baldness" of the subject "the present king of France". However, Russell noted that this is problematic, because there is no present king of France (France is no longer a monarchy). Normally, to decide whether a proposition of the standard subject-predicate form is true or false, one checks whether the subject is in the extension of the predicate. The proposition is then true if and only if the subject is in the extension of the predicate. The problem is that there is no present king of France, so the present king of France cannot be found on the list of bald things or non-bald things. So, it would appear that the proposition expressed by "The present king of France is bald" is neither true nor false. However, analyzing the relevant concepts and propositions, Russell proposed that what definite descriptions really express are not propositions of the subject-predicate form, but rather they express existentially quantified propositions. Thus, "The present king of France" is analyzed, according to Russell's theory of descriptions, as "There exists an individual who is currently the king of France, there is only one such individual, and that individual is bald." Now one can determine the truth value of the proposition. Indeed, it is false, because it is not the case that there exists a unique individual who is currently the king of France and is bald—since there is no present king of France (Bertolet 1999).

Theory of descriptions

The theory of descriptions is the philosopher Bertrand Russell's most significant contribution to the philosophy of language. It is also known as Russell's theory of descriptions. In short, Russell argued that the syntactic form of descriptions is misleading, as it does not correlate their logical and/or semantic architecture. While descriptions may seem fairly uncontroversial phrases, Russell argued that providing a satisfactory analysis of the linguistic and logical properties of a description is vital to clarity in important philosophical debates, particularly in semantic arguments, epistemology and metaphysics.

In logic and mathematics, a truth value, sometimes called a logical value, is a value indicating the relation of a proposition to truth.

Controversy

While the method of analysis is characteristic of contemporary analytic philosophy, its status continues to be a source of great controversy even among analytic philosophers. Several current criticisms of the analytic method derive from W.V. Quine's famous rejection of the analytic–synthetic distinction. While Quine's critique is well-known, it is highly controversial.

The analytic–synthetic distinction is a semantic distinction, used primarily in philosophy to distinguish propositions into two types: analytic propositions and synthetic propositions. Analytic propositions are true by virtue of their meaning, while synthetic propositions are true by how their meaning relates to the world. However, philosophers have used the terms in very different ways. Furthermore, philosophers have debated whether there is a legitimate distinction.

Further, the analytic method seems to rely on some sort of definitional structure of concepts, so that one can give necessary and sufficient conditions for the application of the concept. For example, the concept "bachelor" is often analyzed as having the concepts "unmarried" and "male" as its components. Thus, the definition or analysis of "bachelor" is thought to be an unmarried male. But one might worry that these so-called necessary and sufficient conditions do not apply in every case. Wittgenstein, for instance, argues that language (e.g., the word 'bachelor') is used for various purposes and in an indefinite number of ways. Wittgenstein's famous thesis states that meaning is determined by use. This means that, in each case, the meaning of 'bachelor' is determined by its use in a context. So if it can be shown that the word means different things across different contexts of use, then cases where its meaning cannot be essentially defined as 'married bachelor' seem to constitute counterexamples to this method of analysis. This is just one example of a critique of the analytic method derived from a critique of definitions. There are several other such critiques (Margolis & Laurence 2006). This criticism is often said to have originated primarily with Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations.

A third critique of the method of analysis derives primarily from psychological critiques of intuition. A key part of the analytic method involves analyzing concepts via "intuition tests". Philosophers tend to motivate various conceptual analyses by appeal to their intuitions about thought experiments. (See DePaul and Ramsey (1998) for a collection of current essays on the controversy over analysis as it relates to intuition and reflective equilibrium.)

Reflective equilibrium is a state of balance or coherence among a set of beliefs arrived at by a process of deliberative mutual adjustment among general principles and particular judgments. Although he did not use the term, philosopher Nelson Goodman introduced the method of reflective equilibrium as an approach to justifying the principles of inductive logic. The term 'reflective equilibrium' was coined by John Rawls and popularized in his A Theory of Justice as a method for arriving at the content of the principles of justice.

In short, some philosophers feel strongly that the analytic method (especially conceptual analysis) is essential to and defines philosophy—e.g. Jackson (1998), Chalmers (1996), and Bealer (1998). Yet, some philosophers argue that the method of analysis is problematic—e.g. Stich (1998) and Ramsey (1998). Some, however, take the middle ground and argue that while analysis is largely a fruitful method of inquiry, philosophers should not limit themselves to only using the method of analysis.

See also

Notes

  1. Note that this explication is only of a part of Russell's theory of descriptions and is quite brief and oversimplified.

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