philosophy, analytic philosophy, history of philosophy


In 1956, a series of BBC radio talks was published in London under the title The Revolution in Philosophy (Ayer et al. 1956). This short book included papers by prominent British philosophers of the day, such as Sir Alfred Ayer and Sir Peter Strawson, with an introduction by Gilbert Ryle. Although there is precious little in it concerning the precise nature of the ‘revolution’ alluded to in the title, it is quite clear that these lectures were meant to celebrate in an insular manner the birth of ‘analytic philosophy’ at the hands of Moore, Russell, and Wittgenstein. The use of the word ‘revolution’ to describe the birth of ‘analytical philosophy’ and its rise to near complete dominance in the British universities thus carries with it connotations of a forcible substitution of one philosophical order by a new one that itself owed nothing to the past. To me, however, this talk of ‘revolution’ carries with it a false view of the history of British philosophy: it isn’t ‘historical’ at all, just ideological; it was introduced for a strategic purpose, namely that of encouraging new generations of students to avoid reading the work of earlier philosophers or becoming interested in the problems that concerned them. I shall sketch the broad outlines of a landscape that involves, when limited to the specific topic of the theory of knowledge, no radical break, where no entirely new order replaces an older one: the options, so to speak, and even some of the arguments are the same before and after the soi-disant ‘revolution’.

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