Phil. 176


20th Century

Anglo-American Philosophy


Philosophy 176

Spring Semester 2014

Prof. Dowden







Catalog description:

The rise of the analytic tradition in contemporary Anglo-American philosophy represents a turn toward common sense, science, language, logic and rigor. Readings will cover the philosophical movements of common sense, logical atomism, logical positivism, ordinary language philosophy and more recent analytical philosophy. 3 units.


There are no prerequisite courses, although it is recommended that this not be your first course in philosophy. The Modern Philosophy course is the best course to already have taken.


Contemporary Analytic and Linguistic Philosophies, Second Edition, edited by E. D. Klemke, Prometheus Books, 2000.


Your grade will be determined by a class presentation, three essays, and a final exam. Your presentation to the class counts for 15%. Each of the first two essays is a set of about three or four essay questions (15% each set). The third is a seven-page essay (25%). The two-hour comprehensive final exam is worth 30%. Depth of philosophical insight and quality of argumentation are the paramount factors in the grades, but English writing skill is also a significant factor.

  • Essay 1 due Thursday Feb. 13 (week 3).
  • Essay 2 due Thursday, Apr. 10 (week 10)
  • Essay 3 due Thursday, May 1 (week 13)
  • Final exam (week 16)
    The final exam is open book and open notes, but you may not use a computer or cell phone.

On the day of your class presentation, you will give a 15 minute presentation on that day's class material, respond to student questions, propose one or more questions for group discussion, and facilitate this discussion for a few minutes. The presentation should be an introduction that explains some of the main points made in one or more of the required readings or viewings for that day. Before 7:00 pm on the night before your presentation, you must email your professor at with a brief outline of your presentation. The outline should list at least six (preferably more) separate phrases or sentences, followed by at least one discussion question that is related to the philosophical material in your presentation and that you plan to ask the class. A sample outline is available in SacCT. Coordinate your presentation with the other student who is speaking during your week so that you don't have too much overlap. Here is the sign-up list that will be distributed on the first day of class. There will be no class on Tuesday April 15 because of the Nammour Symposium.

It is recommended for the essay that you follow the Department's writing guidelines posted at

List of weekly topics and reading assignments:

See the list.

Class attendance:

Class attendance is optional, but you are responsible for material covered in class that is not in the readings.



My office is in Mendocino Hall, room 3022, and my weekly office hours for spring 2014 are Tu & Th: 11:45-12:30 and online every Wednesday in SacCT from 8-10 p.m. If those times are inconvenient for you, then I can arrange an appointment for an alternative time. You may send me e-mail at or call my office at 278-7384 or the Philosophy Department Office at 278-6424. The fastest way to contact me is usually by email. My personal web page is at


Student outcome goals:

The hope is that by the end of the semester you will have achieved the following goals:

  • acquired an overview of the problems and positions taken by the major philosophers and philosophical movements in 20th century analytic philosophy.
  • developed your skill at doing philosophical analysis in the analytic style on the topics that were of interest to analytic philosophers in the 20th century.
  • be able to tell whether passages were written in the style of analytic philosophy and be able to say why you were able to tell.
  • improved your skill at writing a persuasive essay that does not commit the fallacy of confirmation bias.


To add the course, if the course is full, then send me an email about signing up on the waiting list. To drop the course during the first two weeks, do it online; no paperwork is required. After the first two weeks, it is harder to drop, and a departmental paper form is required, the "Petition to Add/Drop After Deadline." As with any university course, make sure you are dropped officially (by the university computer system, or by the instructor, or by the Philosophy Department secretary); don't simply walk away into the ozone or else you will get a "WU" grade for the course, which is counted as an "F" in computing your GPA (grade point average).

Late assignments, and make-up assignments:

I realize that during your college career you occasionally may be unable to complete an assignment on time. If this happens in our course, contact me as soon as you are able. If you provide a good reason for missing a test or homework assignment (illness, accident, and so forth), then I'll use your grade on the final exam as your missing grade. There will be no make-up tests nor make-up homework.

I do accept late assignments with a grade penalty of one-third of a letter grade per 24-hour period beginning at the class time the assignment is due. Examples.  If you turn in the assignment three hours after it is due, then your A becomes an A-. Instead, if you turn in the same assignment 30 hours late, then your A becomes a B+.  Weekends count, so turn in your late work by email if possible (no need to follow up with a paper copy).  No late work will be accepted after the answer sheet has been handed out (often this will be at the next class meeting) nor after the answers are discussed in class, even if you weren't in class that day.

Laptops and cell phones:

Turn off your cell phones. Laptops may be used during class for note taking but not for reading email or other non-class activities. No photographing or recording during class is allowed without permission of the instructor. If you use a computer, please sit in the back or side of the room in order to minimize the distraction for others.


If you have a documented disability and require accommodation or assistance with assignments, tests, attendance, note taking, etc., please see me early in the semester so that appropriate arrangements can be made to ensure your full participation in class. Also, you are encouraged to contact the Services for Students with Disabilities (Lassen Hall) for additional information regarding services that might be available to you.


See the University's policy on honesty and cheating. A student tutorial on how not to plagiarize is available online from our library.


Please do not eat and drink (except water) during class. You are welcome to leave class anytime if the need arises.


If the University has a long-term emergency, for example, an influenza health emergency, then class meetings might be terminated and our course might continue by email and the Internet. You'll be contacted at your university email address if something like this happens, which is very unlikely. 

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Course Description:

This course will highlight what the Anglo-American analytic philosophers consider to be their central issues and how they went about resolving the issues, but our class sessions will also discuss how those issues should be settled. 

Our course will survey the major movements of 20th century analytic philosophy. In that century, analytic philosophy became the dominant way that philosophy was done in English-speaking countries, and it remains so today. You are probably already familiar with that style of philosophy even if you weren't told that it is called "analytic." Depending on which instructors you've had in your other courses, it's even possible that you've never seen any 20th or 21st century philosophy that was not analytic.

[You are not required to read any of the following articles that are hyperlinked in this section of the syllabus that is called "Course Description"; the links are there just in case you are curious.]

Analytic philosophy was born out of revolt against what the analytic philosophers considered to be the harmful influence of the 19th century philosophers Hegel and Nietzsche and their opaque, bizarre, vague, and speculative methods of doing philosophy. The revolutionaries turned toward common sense, science, language, logic, and rigor. This turn away from the influence of Hegel and Nietzsche would have been somewhat attractive to the earlier British empiricists Locke, Berkeley and Hume.

The term "analytic philosophy" has no precise definition, but analytic philosophers are primarily distinguished because they emphasize careful arguing and justifying when approaching any philosophical problem. The analytic philosopher is quick to ask "What do you mean by that claim?" and to demand reasons for accepting or rejecting the claim. They emphasize knowing what the claim logically implies, and what noteworthy positions imply the claim. They ask, "What would strengthen the claim?" and "What would count as refuting it?" and "Isn't this a difficulty?" Non-analytic philosophers are less apt to do this. On the point about careful arguing, the analytic philosopher would be opposed to the metaphysical work of the 20th century philosopher Alfred North Whitehead who does metaphysics by using the "I'm telling you" method in which he reveals his insights rather than argues for them.

Analytic philosophy has no agreed upon specific doctrines (example: be an empiricist) or problems (example: decide whether God exists) or even methods (example: apply symbolic logic where possible). Instead, the analytic tradition shows itself in the tendencies of its practitioners. Analytic philosophy tends to aim at truth and knowledge rather than moral or spiritual improvement. Most analytic philosophers like to investigate language (John Rawls being a noteworthy exception), and most emphasize the analysis of concepts and of statements in order to remove ambiguity and vagueness so that the claim of interest can be understood well enough to be accepted or rejected. Analytic philosophy does not reject work on the big, perrenial questions of philosophy, but it is more accepting of the value of careful, small-scale philosophical investigations, without exaggerating one's claims.

Analytic philosophers have a style of doing philosophy that is often marked by relative clarity, terseness, respect for the findings of empirical science, attention to detail, frequent use of symbolic logic, and valuing the study of the meaning of key concepts, words and sentences. The methods and aims of many analytic philosophers give a higher priority to logical and epistemological analysis than is given by the opposing camps of non-analytic philosophers.

The opposing camps are phenomenology, deconstructivism, existentialism, [To give you a sense of the tension in the opposition, here is an anonymous American analytic philosopher's joke about existentialism: How many existentialists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Two. One to change the light bulb and one to observe how the light bulb symbolizes an incandescent beacon of subjectivity in a netherworld of Cosmic Nothingness.] hermeneutics, postmodernism, structuralism, German idealism, absolute idealism, dialectical materialism, neo-Thomism, neo-Kantianism, and neo-Marxism. The group of all these philosophical camps is loosely described as continental philosophy.

Contemporary Western philosophy notoriously contains an analytic/continental division, with the analytic side dominating among Anglo-American philosophers and increasing in popularity, but not dominating, in Germany in the 21st century.

But the division is not sharp. It is possible to pursue, say hermeneutics, in an analytic style even though the vast majority of hermeneuticists do not. Husserl, the father of pheneomenology, is more analytic than his followers, such as Heidegger.

The analytic/continental divide is reflected in two writing styles. Analytic philosophers emphasize economical expression of thought. They would not be expected to use monstrously long sentences the way Kant did or the way the German philosopher Habermas does. Nor would they use rhetorical flourishes and plays on words, like those used by the French postmodernist Deleuze. Then there are what analytic philosophers call the excesses of purposefully trying to be obscure, a sin that seems to be committed by the French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida and the contemporary French feminists Luce Irigaray and Julie Kristeva. Postmodernist prose is eclectic, ironic, and hostile to linear narrative.

So, here's what we will be doing:

  • We will begin our course by briefly examining absolute idealism, which is committed to the belief that reality is basically spiritual or mental. Its style of doing philosophy was heavily influenced by Hegel.
  • Then we will investigate the British revolt against absolute idealism by Moore and Russell that is called common sense philosophy.
  • We will consider the "linguistic turn" that started with Frege and Russell.
  • This is followed by Russell's and Wittgenstein's metaphysics of logical atomism.
  • We will turn next to the logical positivist movement and its assault on ethics, metaphysics, theology and aesthetics.
  • Taking a turn away from logical positivism, the later Wittgenstein developed a revolutionary way of doing philosophy via conceptual analysis [in order to let the philosophical fly out of the fly-bottle, so to speak]. This technique came to be called ordinary language philosophy, and it emphasized the study of the way non-philosophers speak.
  • Then we will investigate more recent analytical philosophy.

Because pragmatism is considered to be a pre-analytic tradition it will receive only minor attention in our course. Formal logic (aka symbolic logic) is frequently used by analytic philosophers to clarify philosophical positions, but it, too, will not get much attention in our course.

A final thought from Albert Einstein in 1934: "Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children."


Contact me at if you would like more information about the course.


The web address of this file is

updated: August 28, 2014