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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: June 2012

6 - Method and style


In the last chapter we considered the most straightforward way of defining a philosophical movement, material definitions in terms of shared doctrines or interests. We found that this is not a viable option in the case of analytic philosophy. To some commentators, this negative result casts doubt on the very idea that analytic philosophy is a distinctive phenomenon. Thus Aaron Preston insists that analytic philosophy must be definable by adherence to a certain doctrine or ‘theory’, or else relinquish its claim to count among the ‘philosophical groups (“schools,” “movements,” or whatever)’ (2004: 445–6; see also Preston 2007; de Gaynesford 2006: 21). Preston concedes that there is an ‘ordinary’, ‘precritical, or unprecisified concept of analytic philosophy’, according to which it is first, ‘a school of philosophy that now exists’, and, secondly, one that originated around the turn of the twentieth century. He thinks, however, that this ordinary concept is just as vacuous as that of a witch. Since there is no common doctrine uniting the people normally classified as analytic philosophers, ‘there is no such thing as analytic philosophy is ordinarily conceived to be’, and it makes scant sense to continue to talk about analytic philosophy (2004: 453–9).

A different reaction is more plausible: if our concept of analytic philosophy does not capture a single set of doctrines, perhaps it captures something else. Preston rejects this option ab initio.