Philosophy

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Is Philosophy Possible? A Study of Logical Positivism1

Professor Winston H. F. Barnes

The present situation in philosophy is paradoxical. On the one hand, thinking men and women all over the world are exclaiming that, while science has made sufficient advance to satisfy all our material needs, what we most need, and must find if we are not to suffer shipwreck, is a new sense of values, a new religious awakening and a new orientation towards life, in short a new philosophy. On the other hand, many professional philosophers are coming to hold the view that philosophy has had its day, or rather that it never in any proper sense had its day, because it is not a rational enterprise but a mistake, an illusion, a farrago of nonsense, “a muddle arising out of the complexities of language.” A new inquiry which goes by the name of Analysis and resembles logic more closely than any other existing discipline is at once to give the quietus to philosophy and to reign in its stead. The modern philosopher cries, with Faustus, “Sweet Analytickes! 'tis thou hast ravished me.” I will not prejudice your minds at the outset by recalling where the study of analysis led the Doctor of Wurtemburg.

Those who are thus forthrightly sceptical about philosophy and group themselves under the aegis of analysis are themselves divided into a number of sects. One and all, however, are relentless in exposing the weaknesses of philosophy, zealous in proselytizing and deadly in expounding their new technique which combines scholastic subtlety with modern scientific realism. They represent in fact a modern scholasticism loosely grouped round the dogma: “We pursue logical analysis, but not philosophy,” though, by a curious paradox which demands scrutiny, some of them say: “Philosophy is analysis.”

Footnotes

1 An Inaugural Lecture delivered on April 30th, 1946, under the title “Scepticism and Analysis,” from the Chair of Philosophy in the Durham Division of the University of Durham.