Comments on Scott Soames, Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, volume I

Scott Soames has given us a clear, engaging but ultimately unsatisfying introduction to the history of analytic philosophy. Based on Soames’ impressive work in the philosophy of language, when these two volumes appeared I had high hopes that he would be successful. There is certainly a need for an introductory survey of the history of analytic philosophy. Currently, there is no resource for the beginning student or the amateur historian that will summarize our current understanding of the origins and development of analytic philosophy. In what respects, then, do I find Soames’ attempt to fill this gap to be unsuccessful? The fundamental problem is that he has not succeeded in presenting what we now know about analytic philosophy and its history. Instead of drawing on the work of specialists in the field, it seems that he simply read the most famous works of the most famous philosophers and tried to figure out for himself what these philosophers were up to. Readers of Soames’ papers and other books will not be surprised to hear that this always ends in a carefully presented argument for a clearly articulated conclusion. Still, at least for the major figures considered in volume one, the interpretations offered fly in face of contemporary scholarship. I will try to justify these charges shortly by considering a few specific cases, but before I get to that, it is worth emphasizing why such an approach to the history of analytic philosophy is flawed, and why it is especially inappropriate in an introductory work
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