Gains in Clarity

P.F. Strawson

  • Philosophy in the 20th Century by A.J. Ayer
    Weidenfeld, 283 pp, £12.50, September 1982, ISBN 0 297 78179 0

‘Philosophy in the 20th century’ or ‘Analytical philosophy in the 20th century’? Ayer is well aware that the two descriptions are not co-extensive. He marks his recognition of the fact by devoting one chapter of his history to Collingwood and another to selected representatives of phenomenology and existentialism. But the rest of his 20th-century pundits are analytical philosophers, and few professionals in the English-speaking world would quarrel with this choice. It is true that Ayer himself speaks of the greater part of his book as devoted to two main schools: he distinguishes American pragmatism from ‘the analytic movement’ and assigns Goodman and Quine as well as James and Lewis to the former, while the coverage of the latter runs from Russell to Dummett via the members of the Vienna Circle and a number of familiar English and American names. But if Lewis, Quine and Goodman were, or are, content to call themselves pragmatists, one suspects that it is more from local piety than from any sense of belonging to a different ‘school’ from that which accommodates the representatives of the ‘analytic movement’. Quine owes more to Russell and Carnap than he does to William James. James is really the odd man out. Apart from Ayer himself, who has devoted some sympathetic pages, here and elsewhere, to his work, James has not received much attention from philosophers in the last fifty years.

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