PHIL 332 Selected Topics: Origins of Contemporary Analytic Philosophy

Summer Semester 2011 | DAY


INSTRUCTOR: Kent Schmor, WMX 5605


  • Rudolf Carnap, The Logical Structure Of the World and Pseudoproblems in Philosophy, 1928, translated by Rolf A. George, 2003.
  • Rudolf Carnap, The Logical Syntax of Language, 1934, translated by Amethe Smeaton, 2002.
  • Quintessence: Basic Readings from the Philosophy of W. V. Quine, edited by Roger F. Gibson Jr.
  • The remainder of the readings for the course will be made available online


The twentieth century was an exciting time for philosophy. Revolutionary developments in physics, logic and mathematics paved the way for a new “scientific” approach to philosophy. The movement began in Central Europe, but it quickly spread to England and then North America. Much of contemporary philosophy has roots in the philosophical developments of this time period —especially current philosophy of language, philosophy of science, metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind.

We will focus on four central figures in this movement: Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Rudolf Carnap and W.V.O. Quine (with an emphasis on the latter two). We will be particularly concerned with how they attempted to transform various traditional metaphysical and epistemological issues, and re-orient philosophy in a more “scientific” direction.

Frege (1848-1925) and Russell (1872-1970) are perhaps best known for their revolutionary work in mathematical logic. Both believed that these technical achievements had far-reaching philosophical implications. Indeed, in 1914, Russell delivered a lecture entitled "Logic as the Essence of Philosophy," in which here declared: "every philosophical problem… is found either to be not really philosophical at all, or else to be, in the sense in which we are using the word, logical" (1914, p. 33).

Carnap (1891-1970) studied both Frege and Russell, and was deeply influenced by their work in mathematical logic. He also immersed himself in a number of other important intellectual developments going on at the time, including the revolution in physics resulting from Einstein’s theory of general relativity. His attempt to synthesize these developments eventually led him to declare that epistemology, as it had been practiced by philosophers, was no longer tenable and needed to be replaced by what he called “the logic of science.” From within this radically new perspective, Carnap believed that philosophers could – once and for all – set aside fruitless metaphysical disputes and make genuine scientific progress.

Quine (1908-2000), like Carnap, was well-versed in developments in mathematical logic. He also attempted to re-orient philosophy in a more “scientific” direction, but in a very different way. Quine’s fundamental philosophical doctrine is what he calls naturalism, the view that it is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophical perspective, that all reality is to be understood. This view led Quine to break sharply not only from the way in which much philosophy had been done, but also from many of the most influential tenets of Carnap’s philosophy. In particular, Quine denied there is a principled distinction between science and metaphysics.

In this course, we will look more closely at these authors to gain a better appreciation of what they were attempting to achieve. Our goal is partly historical, in that we will be concerned to understand them on their own terms. But we will also have the goal of assessing the ongoing philosophical relevance of many of the issues they raised.

Topics will include the nature of logic and mathematics, the existence of a priori knowledge, the role of sense experience in our knowledge of the physical world, the relationship between philosophy and the empirical sciences, the existence of universals, and the distinction between genuine philosophical inquiries and fruitless metaphysical disputes.

Our investigations will require that we put ourselves in a position to appreciate certain background developments in mathematical logic. To this end, a basic knowledge of predicate logic would be an asset, but is not required.


  • Attendance & Participation: 15% (includes weekly 1-page responses to readings)
  • Midterm exam: 35%
  • Paper proposal & draft: 5%
  • Paper: 45

PREREQUISITES: PHIL 100 and (PHIL 201 or PHIL 203), or permission from the Instructor