This question is asked out of a relative ignorance of "analytic" or "Anglo-American" proceedings, so broad, simplified answers are quite welcome.

A slew of terms may be used to characterize the approaches of individual philosophers as, say, realists, cognitivists, constructivists, naturalists, evolutionary epistemologists, and so forth. Stances with respect to reductionism, AI, metaphysics, relativism, skepticism, and also "fence in" various debates.

Can the field today be roughly divided into broad, contending positions? Perhaps ten or so. I do not mean topics or areas of study, but arguments and beliefs that are typically incompatible and can be identified by commonly used terms.... somewhat in the manner of Bacon or Kant's rough division of "rationalists" and "empiricists."

I'm looking for the sort of overview of contemporary positions that is hard to sift out of indexes or sources like SEP.... and, it must be added, that individual philosophers themselves are usually quick to deny.


2 Answers 2


The short answer to your question is “probably not.” And this primarily because “analytic philosophy” is probably best conceived as a [group of] method[s] -- rather than a school of thought with competing “contentions”, whose practitioners tend to define “philosophy” narrowly, and seem to focus on logic and the philosophies of science, language and mind. Nevertheless, the question of what “analytic philosophy “is” turns out to be rather complex. If you decide that Scott Soames's 2 volume Philosophical Analysis in the 20th Century is more than you want to bite off, check out Hans-Johann Glock's What is Analytic Philosophy? (2008), where the author answers the question by addressing it from various angles: historical, methodological, topical, ideological, ethical/political and geographical, and comes in under 300 pages. A good read.

To round out your understanding in this area, you will also want to have a look at pragmatism, since its influence on 20th Century analytic philosophy has been substantial (probably most prominent in Quine, Davidson, Sellars and Putnam and their followers, but if you look closely, and define pragmatism, as a method, broadly, you’d be hard pressed to find an analytic not influenced by pragmatic notions). From the classic American pragmatists (Pierce, James, Dewey, Mead), who influenced the early analytics, to the so called “new pragmatists”, and the “neo-pragmatists” (primarily Richard Rorty), who criticize the analytics, in order to properly understand what you have called “anglo-american” philosophy, you will want to survey pragmatism as well. Glock does not really go there. Check out, for instance, Diggens’ The Promise of Pragmatism, Thayer’s Meaning and Action: A Critical History of Pragmatism, or Menaund’s The Metaphysical Club.

  • Thanks, I have Glock sitting right there on my shelf unread and forgot all about it. Will blow off the dust... Dec 6, 2015 at 22:00
  • Your welcome. Please see edit.
    – gonzo
    Dec 6, 2015 at 23:28
  • Thanks again, yes, I've actually gotten pretty familiar with pragmatism, but am less clear about what an "anti-pragmatic" position would be these days. Dec 7, 2015 at 0:20

Just to complement gonzo's answer, as an illustration of analytic philosophy being more of a method and not really a school of thought with any number of basic positions.

Look no further than the fact that Alvin Plantinga, a Christian apologist, and Roger Scruton, whose main work is a defense of the political right, see themselves as analytic descendants of Russell and the LPs, while at the same time there are things such as Analytic Marxism and Analytic Feminism.

  • Not to mention psycho-analysis. So many interesting ways to parse and reduce, while negotiating the shoals of both triviality and the "paradox" of non-trivial analysis.
    – gonzo
    Dec 7, 2015 at 21:22
  • Without changing the subject.
    – gonzo
    Dec 7, 2015 at 22:02

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