Scott Soames's philosophical analysis in the twentieth century

Abstract
Scott Soames’s two volume work Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century1 won the American 2003 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Philosophy. It has been said to be ‘a marvellous introduction to analytic philosophy’, to deliver much ‘solid information on this dense and difficult subject’, and it has been predicted to become the standard history of twentieth-century analytic philosophy.2 Professor Soames writes clearly and candidly. At the beginning of each volume he delineates his objectives and leitmotivs. He is concerned with the development of analytic philosophy from 1900 to 1975. He aims ‘to explain what the most important analytic philosophers thought and why they thought it’ (I, xi). His method is ‘to provide clear, focused and intense critical examinations of some of the most important and representative works of each major philosopher discussed. ... to provide enough detail to allow one to understand and properly evaluate the main philosophical developments of the period’ (I, xvii). A book with such laudable objectives, which holds out such high promises, and which is predicted to become the standard history of modern analytic philosophy merits careful study and considered judgement. The questions that I shall pose are dictated by the author’s aims and methods. (i) Does Soames provide an illuminating overview of analytic philosophy from 1900 to 1975? (ii) Does he correctly explain what the most important analytic philosophers thought and why they thought it? (iii) Does he select ‘some of the most important and representative works of each major philosopher discussed’? (iv) Does he properly evaluate the main developments of the period? II The broad picture Soames paints is as follows. Analytic philosophy commenced with Moore’s defence of common sense, and was continued by Russell, whose theory of descriptions, conception of analysis, logicism and logical atomism are recounted. He was followed by Wittgenstein, who argued in the Tractatus that philosophical problems arise solely from misunderstandings of language and defended the view that all necessary truths are a priori, analytic, and hence true in virtue of the meanings of words..
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