By Robert Hanna

“Young Woman With a Book,” by Alexander Deineka (1934)
“A Philosopher Reading” (Wellcome Collection)


APP Editor’s Note:

But since it is a work-in-progress, this does not preclude ongoing elaborations or revisions of this draft that appear only in the online installments.

After the series is finished, then a complete revised-and-updated version of the basic working draft will be made available for universal sharing.


I. Introduction

II. What is Conceptual Analysis?

In sharp contrast to The Standard Model, conceptual analysis in the sense I am talking about is critical, creative reasoning using concepts, when this reasoning is specifically addressed to classical or typical philosophical problems. In turn a classical or typical philosophical problem has a three-part structure: (i) there is an “explanatory gap” between some set of basic facts and another set of basic facts, (ii) there is a conceptual knot, or theoretical puzzle, that needs to be untangled before there can be any significant progress in philosophical understanding, and (iii) there is a critically-unexamined presupposition, or set of critically-unexamined presuppositions, being made by all participants in the existing debate. Significant progress on a philosophical problem can then be made only by (i*) identifying the explanatory gaps, conceptual knots, and critically-unexamined presuppositions, (ii*) critically questioning the presuppositions, and then (iii*) proposing a creative, original way of looking at the basic facts.

Now the gappiest of all explanatory gaps, the knottiest of all conceptual knots, and the most-critically-unexamined of all critically-unexamined presuppositions are what are sometimes called hard problems of philosophy, as in: the mind-body problem, the free will problem, the problem of knowledge, the problem of universals, the moral problem, the problem of political authority, the problem of God’s existence or non-existence, etc., etc.[v] But the later Wittgenstein had a more illuminating and vivid way of describing such problems, by using the analogy or metaphor of a fly trapped in a bottle:

What is your aim in philosophy? — To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.[vi]

There are two important features of Wittgenstein’s analogy or metaphor. First, the fly is trapped in transparent bottle that is simply invisible to it, or at least almost impossible for it to detect, as a bottle: so too, the philosopher who is encountering a hard problem of philosophy finds the deeply gappy and knotty conceptual structure of the problem hey are encountering to be either simply invisible or at least almost impossible to detect. Second, like a fish surrounded by water, the fly is completely unaware of the transparent medium it is buzzing around in, the air: so too, the philosopher who is encountering a hard problem of philosophy is completely unaware of the unexamined presuppositions of the conceptual gaps and knots of the problem.

Where do all the philosophical fly-bottles come from? My thesis, which I call The New Poverty of Philosophy, is that, to the extent that these are hard problems of recent and contemporary philosophy, they all flow ultimately from the social-institutional structure of recent and contemporary professional academic philosophy. I have spelled out that thesis and defended it in “Thinking Inside and Outside the Fly-Bottle: The New Poverty of Philosophy and Its Second Copernican Revolution,” so I will not do that again here.[vii]

Nevertheless, fully fully recognizing and resolutely avoiding The New Poverty of Philosophy is a necessary part of what I mean by “conceptual analysis.”

III. A Philosophical Lexicon

Here are four preliminaries, followed [in the next installment, and in subsequent installments] by the lexicon itself. First, all terms in boldface have a definition or explication somewhere on the list. Second, all of these definitions are, to some extent, controversial, precisely because they imply a certain philosophical point of view, or set of presuppositions, that not all philosophers share. Third, entries marked with an asterisk* indicate a particularly controversial definition, and also include a brief description of the controversy, in italics. Fourth, some entries also include a philosopher’s name in parenthesis, if that definition is closely historically associated with a formulation that was original to that philosopher.


[ii] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Conceptual Analysis,” in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 10 vols., ed. E. Craig (London: Routledge, 1998), vol. 2, pp. 518–522, available online at URL = <https://www.academia.edu/11279103/Conceptual_Analysis>.

[iii] See P.F. Strawson, Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (London: Methuen, 1959); and P.F. Strawson, Analysis and Metaphysics: An Introduction to Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992).

[iv] See, e.g., F. Jackson, From Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defense of Conceptual Analysis (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998).

[v] See, e.g., B. Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Indianapolis IN: Hackett, 1999), a reprint of the 1912 edition in the Home Unversity Library, Oxford University Press.

[vi] L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe [New York: Macmillan, 1953], para. §309, p. 103e, translation slightly modified.

[vii] See R. Hanna, ““Thinking Inside and Outside the Fly-Bottle: The New Poverty of Philosophy and Its Second Copernican Revolution” (July 2020 version), available online at URL = <https://www.academia.edu/43732077/Thinking_Inside_and_Outside_the_Fly-Bottle_The_New_Poverty_of_Philosophy_and_Its_Second_Copernican_Revolution_July_2020_version_>.

[viii] See, e.g., S. Haack, “The Meaning of Pragmatism: The Ethics of Terminology and the Language of Philosophy,” Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 28 (2009): 9–29.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Thursday 20 August 2020

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Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.