By Robert Hanna

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


APP Editor’s Note:

You can download or read a complete .pdf of the basic working draft of this philosophical lexicon HERE.

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

I think that conceptual analysis is a legitimate philosophical method provided that (i) it fully acknowledges that conceptual analysis is not the only philosophical method that is deployed or deployable by the philosopher, and more specifically, that there are also two other irreducibly distinct philosophical methods that complement and supplement conceptual analysis, namely, phenomenological description and transcendental argumentation for the purposes of real metaphysics,[i] (ii) it fully recognizes and resolutely avoids what I have called The New Poverty of Philosophy, and (iii) it creates and draws on what I call a philosophical lexicon. The purpose of this essay is to do (iii).

II. What is Conceptual Analysis?

By 1950, Quine’s devastating critique of the analytic-synthetic distinction in “Truth by Convention,” “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” “Carnap and Logical Truth,” and Word and Object effectively ended the research program of classical Analytic philosophy and initiated post-classical Analytic philosophy. In the early-to mid-1950s, post-classical Analytic philosophy produced a Wittgenstein-inspired language-driven alternative to Logical Empiricism/Positivism, ordinary language philosophy. In the late 1950s and 1960s, powered by the work of H. P. Grice and Peter Strawson, ordinary language philosophy became conceptual analysis.[ii] In turn, during that same period, Strawson created a new “connective” — that is, holistic — version of conceptual analysis, that also constituted a “descriptive metaphysics.”[iii] In the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, Strawson’s connective version of conceptual analysis gradually fused with Donald Davidson’s non-reductive naturalism about language, mind, and action (sometimes rather misleadingly called semantics of natural language), John Rawls’s holistic method of “reflective equilibrium,” and Noam Chomsky’s psycholinguistic appeals to intuitions-as-evidence, and ultimately became what can be called The Standard Model of mainstream post-classical Analytic philosophical methodology, by the end of the 20th century.[iv]

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

Conceptual analysis in the sense I am talking about also draws on a further resource: a philosophical lexicon, consisting of a working list of basic philosophical terms, concepts, and conceptual distinctions. Following somewhat in the universalist footsteps of Leibniz, Frege, and Russell, but also and above all heeding what C.S. Peirce called “the ethics of terminology,”[viii] the purpose of such a lexicon is to provide a set of basic, clearly and distinctly defined ideas for the purposes of philosophical discussion and inquiry — a lingua franca or common language for philosophical dialogue. To be sure, the construction of a philosophical lexicon for conceptual analysis is a work-in-progress, forever open to critical examination, revision, and updating. Nevertheless, insofar as we are, as Heideggerian philosophers like to say, “always already” (immer schon) existentially, practically, essentially non-conceptually, linguistically, conceptually, and philosophically embarked, and forever in the very thick of things, then we just cannot go back to presuppositionless, pure or unadulterated beginnings here, even in principle, so we must perforce speak our philosophical lingua franca even as we construct it.

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.


[i] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Life-Changing Metaphysics: Rational Anthropology and its Kantian Methodology,” in G. D’Oro and S. Overgaard (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2017), pp. 201–226, also available online HERE.

[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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