Analytical philosophers and the witch-hunt
farmelantj at juno.com
Wed Apr 4 19:41:32 MDT 2001
It is undoubtedly the case that analytic philosophy was able to prosper
the 1950s due to its seemingly value-neutral apolitical character which
may well have well shielded its adherents from the scrutiny of
vigilantes. In reality the political commitments of American analytic
philosophers were quite varied with Quine having been pretty right-wing,
whereas Wilfrid Sellars was a leftist who admired Engels. However,
the writings of both men as professional philosophers were
in character and gave little indication of their respective political
And it is undoubtedly the case that academic McCarthyism went a long
way towards reinforcing this tendency among American analytic
as Justin Schwartz (who studied under some of the leading figures
at Princeton) has noted.
It is also interesting to note that in Europe similar types of philosophy
did not necessarily have the same sort of apolitical character. Thus
the logical positivism and logical empiricism of the Vienna Circle
arose out of the intellectual ferment of "red Vienna" and some of
its leading figures including especially Otto Neurath and Rudolf
Carnap were staunch Social Democrats, with Neurath describing
himself as a Marxist. When logical empiricism
was introduced to the US, however, the Vienna Circle's work
in logic and the philosophy of science was eagerly taken up whereas
the work of Circle members like Neurath on social philosophy
was largely ignored. In Britain, the leading analytic philosophers
including especially Bertrand Russell and A.J. Ayer were outspoken
social democrats. In the US most analytic philosphers were
dismissive of Marxism as being another variety of Hegelian
metaphysics tending to follow Karl Popper's opinions on this
matter. However, in Europe the attitudes of analytically oriented
philosophers was much more varied.
As far as McCumber's statement that C.L. Stevenson's emotivism
had reinforced the political status quo but "take ethical stands" but
merely to reflect
"on the meaning of ethical terms," I think that this is largely a
matter of context. Non-cognitivist meta-ethical views have been defended
by a variety of philosophical thinkers including some Marxists.
has been perceived by at least some writers as bearing a kinship with
existentialism. A.J. Ayer, a leading emotivist in the UK seems to
have thought this as did Iris Murdoch. And yet at least back in the
late 1940s, people seemed to think that holding existentialist views
was not incompatible with holding strong political commmitments.
Undoubtedly, in the US emotivism and non-cognitivism provided
philosophers with a convenient excuse for avoiding publicly avowed
political commitments but in other countries, similar views have been
defended by people who have not been the least bit shy about avowing
specific political views.
On Wed, 04 Apr 2001 18:09:19 -0400 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com> writes:
> [A long excerpt from another interesting article in the latest Lingua
> Franca that is unfortunately not on their website.]
> THE PARANOID STYLE IN AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY
> by James Ryerson
> MANY PEOPLE REGRET THAT THEY NEVER HAD a chance to debate W.V.O.
> Quine, who
> died last Christmas at the age of ninety-two. But surely John
> McCumber is
> Louis Proyect
> Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org/
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