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What sort of philosophical outlook is "able rationally to deal with choice between philosophical approaches"? (In other words: were the logical positivists, Cambridge analysts, and Oxford ordinary-language groups substantially worse off in this regard than e.g. the Neoplatonists, Cartesians, or British Idealists?)

A smaller point, directed at Randall: flipping through the bibliography of Carnap's Aufbau for 30 seconds would completely disabuse anyone of the view that in Logical Positivists only cited other members of their group. Randall's complaint became better justified later --- but is really is true that some of the Logical Postivist et al's projects had not really been attempted earlier. E.g. Tar skis work on truth, and the subsequent work by others in logical semantics, was not really re-inventing the wheel. (Yes, medieval logicians did interesting and precise work on semantics, but what Carnap and Tarski and their collaborators were doing couldn't really be described as reinventing the semantic wheel.)

Mark Eli Kalderon

"With far greater suavity than the Viennese, the Oxford dons did not brush off what failed to interest them as "meaningless." It was just not "doing philosophy," that was all."

This is a caricature. Seriously, which Oxford dons? Collingwood? Berlin? MacIntyre?

Perhaps the Oxford realists are being gestured at. But Cook Wilson was hesitant to distribute his manuscript criticising Bradley's theory of judgment lest it give undue offence to his respected predecessor.

Or perhaps Ryle's alleged response to Merleau-Ponty's plea at the Royaumont conference, "Notre programme, n'est-il pas même?": :J'espėre que non". But of course, this is a notorious misattribution. Ryle was answering, instead, the question whether he was in strict agreement with Russell and Wittgenstein.

Ayer, because of his heritage, was regularly called upon to lecture on French philosophy. He plainly stated his disagreements, and did not dismiss them as doing something other than philosophy.

Randall's claim is bullshit.

Joel Katzav


I think that, in the present context, what mostly matters is that the emergence of analytic philosophy in America did involve marginalizing non-analytic approaches to philosophy at a time when American philosophy was increasingly pluralistic. There was an openness to, and familiarity with, alternative approaches to philosophy; many were trying to figure out how to deal with diverse approaches to philosophy (e.g., were trying to figure out how to handle the differences between classical pragmatism, idealism, process philosophy, new realism and, at the same time, trying to take into account insights from critical philosophy). So, yes, there were contexts in which philosophy was better placed to handle choosing between approaches to philosophy.

About your second point, I do not think that Randall’s claim is that the logical positivists reinvented the wheel, at least not in all respects. I think his point is, rather, that they were not the first who tried to be scientific.

Joel Katzav


Randall’s piece is polemical, so it is no surprise that he exaggerates. That said, he is thinking about what we would call ordinary language philosophers when he is referring to Oxford Dons. Further, Ryle is a nice example of someone he would be thinking of. Ryle’s sectarian approach to philosophy is amply evident in Mind of the 1950s; by and large his journal was an analytic philosophy only journal. And Ryle’s narrow view of what amounts to philosophy is on display in his ‘Taking Sides in Philosophy’.

By the way, it is interesting that you mention Collingwood, as he is one of those who suffered from the sectarian attitude of people like Moore and Ryle. Cook Wilson is also an interesting case. The last period of his career was a period when British philosophy was open to diverse approaches to philosophy in a way that it ceased to be later on, but this is not a period Randall is talking about.

Anil Gomes

Joel –

Perhaps then Randall is referring to Mary Warnock’s book on Existentialism, or Iris Murdoch’s book on Sartre, or Stuart Hampshire’s work on Spinoza, or Austin’s translation of Frege, or Charles Taylor’s work on Marx… As Wiggins puts it in his Festschrift – and I presume he would know – ‘Some day someone must also set the record straight about the marvellous diversity of the Oxford philosophy scene around 1960’.

Joel Katzav


Randall does not claim, and does not need to claim, that ordinary language philosophers were never interested in the work of others. On the contrary, the interests and views of those in your list who were ordinary language philosophers can be used to illustrate the sectarian nature of analytic philosophy at the time. Thus, for example, Austin’s work on Frege was part of Frege’s canonisation in the early 1950s, something that was part and parcel of the boundary making and marginalisation of non-analytic approaches in a variety of journals. Hampshire is contemptuous of the bulk of what came to be called continental philosophy and, at the same time, draws on Merleau-Ponty; interestingly, contempt for much of phenomenology alongside engagement with it was then a feature of a number of philosophers working in the Western, English speaking world.

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