The Meaning of Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 697

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What is really involved in this disclosure of “structure” can be understood only by an examination of what Wisdom means by analysis as the method of all philosophy. Because his use of this word is somewhat technical, the way may be prepared by an examination of the conception of the world that, according to Wisdom, is held by all metaphysicians. They believe, in his words, “that the actual world is made up solely of positive, specific, determinate, concrete, contingent, individual, sensory facts.” They also believe, however, in an apparent “penumbra of fictional, negative, general, indeterminate, abstract, necessary, super-individual, physical facts.” This penumbra is apparent only because observers have not penetrated deeply enough. Philosophers believe that there are not two ways of knowing—one for the nonpenumbral facts and another for the penumbral—yet they also believe that because the nonpenumbral and the penumbral are not identical, there must be two ways of knowing. This produces philosophical perplexity. In the following examples, what is given first may be designated as the penumbral fact, and what is given second as the nonpenumbral fact.The height of the average man is simply the sum of the heights of the individual men divided by their number. A chair is simply a collection of sense-data. A person’s mind is nothing more than his behavior. The state is something over and above the individuals who make it up. The statement “Not three people are interested in mathematical logic” may be expressed in this form: “If x is interested in mathematical logic, and y also is interested, and z also is interested, then x is identical with y, or y is identical with z, or x is identical with z.” “All men are mortal” can be reduced to “John is mortal, and George is mortal, and James is mortal, and so on.” “Time” means (G. E. Moore) that lunch is over, supper is to come, Smith’s anger is past, and so on. Analytic propositions are merely verbal propositions.

In these examples, average men, physical objects, minds, states, numerical statements, general statements, time, and analytic propositions are all penumbral. Actual men, sense-data, behavior, individual citizens, the identity of x’s and y’s, John and George being mortal, supper following lunch, and verbal propositions are nonpenumbral. Call the former “X facts” and the latter “Y facts.” Then the question becomes simply this: Are X facts ultimate, or are they reducible to Y facts? If they are reducible, are they completely reducible? That is, are X facts equivalent to Y facts? If they are not completely reducible, are X facts something over and above Y facts?

Wisdom believes that it is misleading to formulate the problem in terms of facts, because that would suggest that the issue can be decided simply by examining the world, either the logical world or the natural world. This is not the case. The question should therefore be expressed in terms of propositions or sentences: Do X sentences stand for the same proposition as any combination of Y sentences? Are X sentences used in the same way as some combination of Y sentences? For a given X sentence, is there a Y sentence that serves the same purpose?

This approach suggests examining the sentences to see under what circumstances one would be inclined to answer the question with a “Yes” and under what circumstances with a “No.” There is no right or wrong answer to these questions; however, dispute can be resolved by explaining what induces each disputant to claim what he or she does. Thus, statements that are metaphysical paradoxes and statements that are metaphysical platitudes are revealed to be not simply false statements and true statements, but penetrating suggestions as to how language might be used to reveal what is completely hidden by its actual use. “Thus it appears how it is that, to give metaphysicians what they want, we have to do little more than remove the spectacles through which they look at their own work. Then they see how those hidden identities and diversities which lead to the insoluble’ reduction questions about forms, categories and predicates, have already been revealed, though in a hidden way.”


Philosophy in Relation to Psychoanalysis