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DONALD DAVIDSON AND THE ANALYTIC REVOLUTION IN AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY, 1940–1970*

  • JOEL ISAAC (a1)
Abstract
ABSTRACT

Histories of analytic philosophy in the United States have typically focused on the reception of logical positivism, and especially on responses to the work of the Vienna Circle. Such accounts often call attention to the purportedly positivist-inspired marginalization of normative concerns in American philosophy: according to this story, the overweening positivist concern for logic and physics as paradigms of knowledge displaced questions of value and social relations. This article argues that the reception framework encourages us to mistake the real sources of the analytic revolution in post-war philosophy. These are to be found in debates about intentional action and practical reasoning – debates in which ‘normative’ questions of value and social action were in fact central. Discussion of these topics took place within a transatlantic community of Wittgensteinians, ordinary languages philosophers, logical empiricists, and decision theorists. These different strands of ‘analytical’ thinking were bound together into a new philosophical mainstream not by a positivist alliance with logic and physics, but by the rapid development of the mathematical and behavioural sciences during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. An illustrative application of this new framework for interpreting the analytic revolution is found in the early career and writings of Donald Davidson.

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Christ's College, Cambridge, CB2 3BUjti20@cam.ac.uk
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This article is based on my 2011 Balzan-Skinner lecture, delivered at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH) in the University of Cambridge. I should like to express my gratitude to Mary Jacobus, the director of CRASSH during my tenure there, for helping me settle into a term of research as the 2011 Balzan-Skinner fellow. My thanks also to CRASSH's administrative staff, which carried out the hard work of organizing and promoting the Balzan-Skinner lecture and colloquium. My fellow participants in the colloquium – Thomas Akehurst, Andrew Jewett, Edmund Neill, and Bjørn Ramberg – gave me valuable feedback on the first draft of this article. Finally, I owe special thanks to Quentin Skinner, both for establishing the fellowship I held at CRASSH, and for his suggestions for improvement to the argument presented in the lecture.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
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