Steve Cooke

measuring the boundaries of our nation by the sun

First Steps…

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For my first reading I’ve selected the preface and Chapter 1 of Peter Strawson’s Analysis and Metaphysics: An Introduction to Philosophy. It seems appropriate to begin my journey by getting to know my own approach to philosophy a little better.

The stated aim of the book is to provide an introduction to analytic philosophy. In Chapter 1, ‘Analytical Philosophy: Two Analogies’, Strawson sets out, fittingly enough, to conceptualise analytical philosophy using two analogies.

The two analogies referred to are of the philosopher as ‘a kind of therapist’, and the philosopher as grammarian.

The philosopher as therapist (a conception he links with Wittgenstein) seeks to apply philosophical methods to cure confusion and replace muddled thinking with clarity.1

This second analogy proceeds from the observation that natural speakers of a language can quite capably master that language without being able to list and explain the formal rules of that language. This is the difference between implicit and explicit mastery. One can learn how to work within the rules without being able to say what they are. The philosopher as grammarian ‘labours to produce a systemic account of the general conceptual structure of which our daily practice shows us to have a tacit and unconscious mastery’.2

Later, Strawson illustrates how the same observations may also be made of users of specialist, technical forms of language. Thus, the ‘historian may produce brilliant historical explanations without being able to say, in general, what counts as a historical explanation…a mathematician may discover and prove new mathematical truths without being able to say what are the distinctive characteristics of mathematical truth or of mathematical proof’.3 These facts create the space for philosophical approaches to disciplines such as mathematics, history, and so forth.

Strawson’s writing is engaging – I enjoyed reading the chapter. Thanks to him, I’m left hopeful that my exercise in philosophical thrift and exploration will prove a more pleasure than chore.

  1. P. F. Strawson, Analysis and metaphysics: an introduction to philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1992), 2–4.
  2. Ibid., 7.
  3. Ibid., 13.

Author: Steve C

I work in normative ethics, specialising in animal and ethics and political philosophy.

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