The literature in analytical philosophy is vast and often quite technical. It is not generally dominated by such "Continental" masterworks as Critique of Pure Reason, Phenomenology or Spirit, or Being and Time. Certain central works, such as The Tractatus or Principia Mathematica are simply inaccessible without a considerable study of logic.

To state the question for factual response: If some "hypothetical" layperson were to ask you which three relatively brief, accessible works in the analytic canon are illuminating "must-reads" what would your answer be? And why? I am thinking of works along the lines of Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic or Kripke's Naming and Necessity. I'm not sure if Quine has one "synoptic" work.

  • Yes, those are "Continental" counter-examples, maybe I should clarify. – Nelson Alexander Oct 27 '15 at 16:58
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    Although I personally think the question is perfectly valid, the way you phrased it makes it sound very subjective. I would rephrase it as "Which major works in analytical philosophy are accessible to people without training in logic or mathematics?" or something similar. – Alexander S King Oct 27 '15 at 17:18
  • I wouldn't assign works. People need to direct their own learning and read things they are interested in. I'd only make suggestions (e.g. that you read Popper and Rand). – curi Jun 11 '16 at 10:25
  • @curi. I used the word "assign" because the site protocol discourages "opinions," such as, which texts do you "like." Hence..."if you were teaching, which would you assign." Purely a formality. While I have read some Popper and even some Rand, the latter especially is not generally considered an analytical philosopher and by many people, myself included, not really a philosopher in the contemporary sense. She did not comment on other other philosophers and does not seem to have been widely read in philosophy, apart from some Aristotle, Smith, and Nietzsche. – Nelson Alexander Jun 13 '16 at 20:57

Kripke's Naming and Necessity, definitely. If any of Quine's books counts as a magnum opus, it would probably be Word and Object. Other seminal works in analytical philosophy include Austin's How to Do Things with Words; Gilbert Ryle's Concept of Mind; Strawson's Bounds of Sense. I'd like to include David Lewis' Plurality of Worlds too, but I find his modal realism weird.


For Quine a good case could be made for: "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" and "On What There Is".

For Putnam, "The Meaning of 'Meaning'"

Kripke's "Identity and Necessity" also comes to mind.

I'd say those four are pretty important, but the difficulty with an "article" field like analytic philosophy is that it's much harder to get a basic fix on the shape of the current terrain just by reading a few pieces. Still those would be good starts.

If those four capture the reader's attention, I'd recommend the Blackwell Analytic Philosophy reader as a great collection to try to work through systematically.

  • Thanks. I didn't know which of Putnam's to try. And though I've already sent way too much money to Blackwell, I guess I should get that reader. – Nelson Alexander Oct 27 '15 at 17:02
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    That's a great article by Putnam, and it's not overly technical. The reader is very good as well. Blackwell really does make great readers. They've got top notch folks who have put together a bunch of very nice, beginner-friendly texts. – shane Oct 27 '15 at 17:05

I don't know exactly what is considered Canon and what isn't. I would mention Russell's "Mysticism and Logic", "Analysis of Mind" and most of Karl Popper's work is very accessible.

  • Thanks, Popper is accessible and I have read some of him, but not really illuminating to me about the issues that trail analytical branch down to the present. As to your comment above, that's a good suggestion. But I am not looking just for "most accessible" and, anyway, seems to have passed the stack police, so I guess I'll leave it. – Nelson Alexander Oct 28 '15 at 0:29

Below is a list to choose from, selection depends on one's interests. If I had to select three overall by depth/influence it would be Tractatus, From a Logical Point of View and Structure of Scientific Revolutions. With restriction to after 1970: Mental Events, Naming and Necessity and Logical Basis of Metaphysics.


Quine From a Logical Point of View: Critique of analytic/synthetic distinction, quantified modal logic, etc.

Epistemology Naturalized: that

Popper Conjectures and Refutations: Falsificationism

Kuhn Structure of Scientific Revolutions: Scientific paradigms

Feyerabend Against Method: Critique of Scientific method

Lakatos Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes: Mollified falsificationism

Dummett: Logical Basis of Metaphysics: defense of intuitionism and scientific anti-realism


Russell On Denoting: Theory of names as definite descriptions

Wittgenstein Tractatus: linguistic atomism

Quine Word and Object: Inscrutability of reference, indeterminacy of translation

Strawson Individuals: Linguistic metaphysics

Kripke Naming and Necessity: Causal theory of reference, defense of metaphysical modality

Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: skeptical argument against objective semantics

Grice: Logic and Conversation: Pragmatic turn on language

Fodor: Propositional Attitudes: Language of thought

Putnam: Threefold Cord: Mind, Body and World: Critique of functionalism, linguistic externalism


Davidson: Mental Events: Mental is physical, but no law relates mental to physical

Dennett: Consciousness Explained: Explained away some say

Searle: Rediscovery of the Mind: Intentionality, qualia

Chalmers: Conscious Mind: Hard problem of consciousness

  • Thanks so much, this is very helpful to nonacademics with limited time! But, from the "editorial" standpoint, slightly overloaded. I am reading,reading,and reading on my own (marxist) agenda. And I am old. I will only have time for three. – Nelson Alexander Oct 28 '15 at 1:36
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    @Nelson Alexander I started with choosing three, but got drawn into reliving the strands of thought to feel the major knots along the way, and then it split into three major themes and two major periods, and... one thing led to another. I could have left the top paragraph and deleted the work process, but it's done and might be helpful to somebody for other reasons, so I left it. – Conifold Oct 28 '15 at 2:10

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