Analytic philosophy

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During the first quarter of the 20th century, some of the most eminent practitioners of such philosophy, such as Bertrand Russell, his sometime student Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gottlob Frege, and G.E. Moore reacted against the metaphysical preoccupations of the previous century. They were inspried by the critiques of 'meaningless questions' made by members of the so-called Vienna Circle, the group of European philosophers centred around Moritz Schlick of Vienna University. The result was to reactivate the empiricist tradition in British philosophy, but to add to it the element of analysis and an interest in language.

Analytic philosophy attempts to perform linguistic analysis on concepts. Before analytic philosophy came about, idealism was the influential philosophical school in British universities with philosophers like Bernard Bosanquet and F. H. Bradley claiming that the world is a single unified, spiritual Ideal. Following the Vienna Circle's lead, Moore, Russell and others instead now stressed the need to use "ordinary language" and "common sense" in order to understand the world.

The movement had its heyday in the inter-war period, centred in the traditionally conservative academic centres of Britain and the United States. Its stated aim was to promote the breaking down or 'analysis' of statements into a form in which they were considered to more philosophically rigorous. None of its practitioners were minded to trace their approach back, but they all shared a similarity of approach to Leibniz, with his search for a way of computing the answers to philosophical questions, and indeed the Ancient Greeks with their attempts to treat philosophy as a kind of linguistic geometry.

By the end of the Second World War, philosophers had moved on slightly and Wittgenstein drolly parodied his own position on the nature of language as over-simplistic. Gilbert Ryle disputed the idea that the so-called simple atomic propositions philosophers sought in language could reflect 'facts', when reality itself is not composed of bits like this. According to such as Willard Quine, the attempt was doomed from the start as language has no defining structure.

These days Analytic philosophy refers to the type of English-language philosophy predominantly taught and practised in the universities of the United States, the United Kingdom and Austalasia.