Philosophy:20th-century philosophy

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Short description: Philosophy-related events during the 20th century

20th-century philosophy saw the development of a number of new philosophical schools—including logical positivism, analytic philosophy, phenomenology, existentialism, and poststructuralism. In terms of the eras of philosophy, it is usually labelled as contemporary philosophy (succeeding modern philosophy, which runs roughly from the time of René Descartes until the late 19th to early 20th centuries).

As with other academic disciplines, philosophy increasingly became professionalized in the twentieth century, and a split emerged between philosophers who considered themselves part of either the "analytic" or "Continental" traditions. However, there have been disputes regarding both the terminology and the reasons behind the divide, as well as philosophers who see themselves as bridging the divide, such as process philosophy advocates[1] and neopragmatists.[2] In addition, philosophy in the twentieth century became increasingly technical and harder for lay people to read.

The publication of Edmund Husserl's Logical Investigations (1900–1) and Bertrand Russell's The Principles of Mathematics (1903) is considered to mark the beginning of 20th-century philosophy.[3]

Analytic philosophy

Main page: Philosophy:Analytic philosophy

Analytic philosophy is a generic term for a style of philosophy that came to dominate English-speaking countries in the 20th century. In the United States , United Kingdom , Canada , Scandinavia, Australia , and New Zealand, the overwhelming majority of university philosophy departments identify themselves as "analytic" departments.[4]


Main page: Philosophy:Epistemology

Epistemology in the Anglo-American tradition was radically shaken up by the publication of Edmund Gettier's 1963 paper "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?" This paper provided counter-examples to the traditional formulation of knowledge going back to Plato. A huge number of responses to the Gettier problem were formulated, generally falling into internalist and externalist camps, the latter including work by philosophers like Alvin Goldman, Fred Dretske, David Malet Armstrong, and Alvin Plantinga.

Logical positivism

Main page: Philosophy:Logical positivism

Logical positivism (also known as logical empiricism, scientific philosophy, and neo-positivism) is a philosophy that combines empiricism—the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge—with a version of rationalism that incorporates mathematical and logico-linguistic constructs and deductions of epistemology. The Vienna Circle was a group that promoted this philosophy.[5]


Main page: Neopragmatism

Neopragmatism, sometimes called linguistic pragmatism is a recent philosophical term for philosophy that reintroduces many concepts from pragmatism. The Blackwell dictionary of Western philosophy (2004) defines "Neo-pragmatism" as follows: "A postmodern version of pragmatism developed by the American philosopher Richard Rorty and drawing inspiration from authors such as John Dewey, Martin Heidegger, Wilfrid Sellars, W.V.O. Quine, and Jacques Derrida. It repudiates the notion of universal truth, epistemological foundationalism, representationalism, and the notion of epistemic objectivity. It is a nominalist approach that denies that natural kinds and linguistic entities have substantive ontological implications.

Ordinary language philosophy

Main page: Philosophy:Ordinary language philosophy

Ordinary language philosophy is a philosophical school that approaches traditional philosophical problems as rooted in misunderstandings philosophers develop by distorting or forgetting what words actually mean in everyday use. This approach typically involves eschewing philosophical "theories" in favour of close attention to the details of the use of everyday, "ordinary" language. Sometimes called "Oxford philosophy", it is generally associated with the work of a number of mid-century Oxford professors: mainly J. L. Austin, but also Gilbert Ryle, H. L. A. Hart, and Peter Strawson. The later Ludwig Wittgenstein is ordinary language philosophy's most celebrated proponent outside the Oxford circle. Second generation figures include Stanley Cavell and John Searle.

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein: Ludwig Wittgenstein was a philosopher of language accredited with a number of works, including Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Philosophical Investigations, and On Certainty. These texts explored notions of meaning, language, and epistemology. It was in his Philosophical Investigations that Wittgenstein introduced his language-game theory, which was one of Wittgenstein’s most significant philosophical contributions. According to this philosophy, language functions similar to any given game where there are rules that guide the game and teach the players how to play. However, the rules of Language, for Wittgenstein, are much less explicit and most commonly unnamable.[6]
  • Saul Kripke: Saul A. Kripke is a philosopher of language who wrote texts such as Naming and Necessity, as well as others. This text introduces Kripke's possible worlds theory and how he understands that which is necessary to the actual world in terms of identification and naming.[7][8] He also authored Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language, which introduced a new reading of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. This reading elaborated on the Skeptic's Paradox, which asks about the warrant and reason that people interpret the rules of any given language game. Kripke famously identified this problem by asking why one might interpret '68+57' as a problem requiring the function 'plus' rather than the made-up function of 'quus' which says: x⊕y=xty, if x, y<57       = 5  otherwise[9]
  • Willard Van Quine: Willard Van Orman Quine was a philosopher of language who contributed significantly to the concepts of naming and the relationships between name, property, and that which is being named. He famously provided the example of “gavagai” in order to illustrate the ambiguity of naming; if one says “gavagai!”, it is not clear that another person who is unfamiliar with a rabbit will know what the first person is naming. Even with the assistance of ostension, the person who is unfamiliar with the rabbit may think that “gavagai!” is pointing out the rabbits paws, ears, etc. He makes this argument to say that there is no unambiguous naming or way to translate accurately from one language to another. Quine also presents us with his concept of a Museum of Ideas, which is to say that each person has access to a collection of concepts that contributes to the process of naming and the truth relations that we have determined about the world. His two dogmas of empiricism, Analytic and Synthetic, are presented by Quine only for his relativism to undercut ideas of empiricism.[10]

Continental philosophy

Main page: Philosophy:Continental philosophy

Continental philosophy, in contemporary usage, refers to a set of traditions of 19th and 20th century philosophy from mainland Europe.[11] This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and traditions outside the analytic movement. Continental philosophy includes the following movements: German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism (and its antecedents, such as the thought of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, French feminism, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and related branches of Western Marxism, and psychoanalytic theory.[12]


Main page: Philosophy:Existentialism

Existentialism is generally considered a philosophical and cultural movement that holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the individual and the experiences of the individual. For Existentialists, religious and ethical imperatives may not satisfy the desire for individual identity, and both theistic and atheistic existentialism tend to resist mainstream religious movements. Sometimes coined the Father of existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard introduced the concerns of the existentialist from a theistic perspective as a Christian philosopher concerned with the individual's understanding of God and the resulting implications for the human condition. The individual's life gains significance only in relation to the love of God.[13] Common themes are the primacy of experience, Angst, the Absurd, and authenticity.


Western Marxism, in terms of 20th-century philosophy, generally describes the writings of Marxist theoreticians, mainly based in Western and Central Europe; this stands in contrast with the Marxist philosophy in the Soviet Union. While György Lukács's History and Class Consciousness and Karl Korsch's Marxism and Philosophy, first published in 1923, are often seen as the works that inaugurated this current. Maurice Merleau-Ponty coined the phrase Western Marxism much later.


Main page: Philosophy:Phenomenology

Phenomenology is the study of the phenomena of experience. It is a broad philosophical movement founded in the early years of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl. Phenomenology, in Husserl's conception, is primarily concerned with the systematic reflection on, and study of, the structures of consciousness and the phenomena that appear in acts of consciousness. This phenomenological ontology can be differentiated from the Cartesian method of analysis, which sees the world as objects, sets of objects, and objects that act and react upon one another.[citation needed]

  • Martin Heidegger: Martin Heidegger was a continental philosopher who is accredited with Being and Time which explores the concept of being itself (partly in contrast to questions being asked about beings). He introduces his dasein to discuss being as deeply rooted in the world and to deny any claims of metaphysical dualism. He is known for his ideas about particularity and existential claims about human nature in terms of dasein being with other dasien.[14]


Main page: Philosophy:Post-structuralism

Post-structuralism is a label formulated by American academics to denote the heterogeneous works of a series of French intellectuals who came to international prominence in the 1960s and '70s.[15][16] The label primarily encompasses the intellectual developments of prominent mid-20th-century French and Continental philosophers and theorists.[17]

  • Michel Foucault was a philosopher whose work spanned a number of fields including the philosophy of science and history. Some of his most well-known works are The History of Sexuality, The Birth of the Clinic, and Madness and Civilization. His philosophy concerning power structures is one of his greatest contributions to post-structuralist philosophy. In his The Subject and Power, Foucault asserts that power is a structure that commonly manifests itself in discourse and happens at the site of the human body. He explains that humans do not wield power but, instead, mediate power. Power is something that happens in action and, while we cannot escape the structure of power, we can choose to deny particular ways that it might manifest itself.[18]


Main page: Structuralism

Structuralism is a theoretical paradigm that emphasizes that elements of culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or "structure." Alternately, as summarized by philosopher Simon Blackburn, Structuralism is "the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract culture".[19]

See also

  • List of philosophers born in the nineteenth century
  • List of philosophers born in the twentieth century
  • Twentieth-century French philosophy
  • List of centuries in philosophy


  1. Seibt, Johanna. "Process Philosophy". in Zalta, Edward N.. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
  2. William Egginton/Mike Sandbothe (eds.). The Pragmatic Turn in Philosophy. Contemporary Engagement between Analytic and Continental Thought. SUNY Press. 2004. Back cover.
  3. Spindel Conference 2002 – 100 Years of Metaethics. The Legacy of G. E. Moore, University of Memphis, 2003, p. 165.
  4. "Without exception, the best philosophy departments in the United States are dominated by analytic philosophy, and among the leading philosophers in the United States, all but a tiny handful would be classified as analytic philosophers. Practitioners of types of philosophizing that are not in the analytic tradition—such as phenomenology, classical pragmatism, existentialism, or Marxism—feel it necessary to define their position in relation to analytic philosophy." John Searle (2003) Contemporary Philosophy in the United States in N. Bunnin and E. P. Tsui-James (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy, 2nd ed., (Blackwell, 2003), p. 1.
  5. Uebel, Thomas (17 February 2016). "Vienna Circle". in Zalta, Edward N.. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 ed.). Stanford University: The Metaphysics Research Lab. Introduction. Retrieved 31 May 2018. "While the Vienna Circle's early form of logical empiricism (or logical positivism or neopositivism: these labels will be used interchangeably here) no longer represents an active research program, recent history of philosophy of science has unearthed much previously neglected variety and depth in the doctrines of the Circle's protagonists, some of whose positions retain relevance for contemporary analytical philosophy.". 
  6. Wittgenstein, Ludwig (2008). Preliminary studies for the Philosophical investigations : generally known as the blue and brown books. Blackwell. ISBN 978-0631118909. OCLC 1043085455. 
  7. Kripke, Saul A. (2011-12-07). Philosophical troubles. New York. ISBN 9780199730155. OCLC 689858530. 
  8. Kripke, Saul A. (1980). Naming and necessity (Rev. and enl. ed.). Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0631101512. OCLC 16496363. 
  9. Kripke, Saul A. (2007). Wittgenstein on rules and private language : an elementary exposition. Blackwell. ISBN 978-0631135210. OCLC 635194672. 
  10. Quine, W. V. (Willard Van Orman) (1977). Ontological relativity, and other essays. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231083577. OCLC 16363327. 
  11. Critchley, Simon (1998), "Introduction: what is continental philosophy?", in Critchley, Simon; Schroder, William, A Companion to Continental Philosophy, Blackwell Companions to Philosophy, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, p. 4 .
  12. The above list includes only those movements common to both lists compiled by Critchley 2001, p. 13 and Glendinning 2006, pp. 58–65
  13. Crowell, Steven (2017), Zalta, Edward N., ed., "Existentialism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University),, retrieved 2019-01-31 
  14. Heidegger, Martin. Being and time. ISBN 9788087888278. OCLC 870161677. 
  15. Bensmaïa, Réda Poststructuralism, article published in Kritzman, Lawrence (ed.) The Columbia History of Twentieth-Century French Thought, Columbia University Press, 2005, pp. 92–93
  16. Mark Poster (1988) Critical theory and poststructuralism: in search of a context, section Introduction: Theory and the problem of Context, pp. 5–6
  17. Merquior, J.G. (1987). Foucault (Fontana Modern Masters series), University of California Press, ISBN:0-520-06062-8.
  18. Foucault, Michel (1982). "The Subject and Power". Critical Inquiry 8 (4): 777–795. doi:10.1086/448181. ISSN 0093-1896. 
  19. Blackburn, Simon (2008). Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, second edition revised. Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN:978-0-19-954143-0


  • Critchley, Simon (2001). Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-285359-2. 
  • Glendinning, Simon (2006). The idea of continental philosophy: a philosophical chronicle. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd. 

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