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demographic transition modelWhat is happiness? Can you have happiness without sadness? Are some actions always right or always wrong? Is there a situation where it is okay to steal? Are miracles possible? What is truth? Why do I do the things I do?

If you have ever asked yourself questions like these you have entered the world of philosophy. Philosophy aims to consider the deeper questions about life and the world that we live in by thinking through the possibilities, the repercussions, the facts, and the experiences that people have in order to define knowledge, reality and existence. Since philosophy came on the scene, we have seen many changes in the way we analyze and think about meaning from the thinkers of ancient Greece and up until modern thought. Analytic philosophy represents one of those changes. The discipline of analytic philosophy focuses on logic and an evaluation of language to attempt to define questions, analyze definitions and determine what is true about the world.

What is Analytic Philosophy?

Gottlob Frege is most commonly associated with the founding of analytic philosophy in the late 19th century. Other notable philosophers include G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell as early proponents of this form of thought and philosophers that paved the way for the evolution of analytic philosophy to develop.  Over time different subcategories of analytic philosophy have been created and the theory refined and tested.

Each of the men mentioned above believed that language, phrases and truth could be boiled down to the specific parts that made up that truth and, as such, used arguments based on their understanding of words, terms and phrases in order to debate meanings and consider realities. This is what sets analytic philosophy apart from other forms of philosophy that may focus on how a question affects the greater good, or how it may be perceived in different cultures. Instead of analyzing big picture concepts, analytic philosophy divides every concept up into the specialized parts that make up the whole and attempts to understand and explain theories based on these smaller details.

Because analytic philosophy so closely analyzes word use and meaning, it is often used in defining and redefining common language. One of the steps in the evolution of analytic philosophy was the concept of ideal language. In this concept one would seek to explain something in the ideal language – using the most exact terms possible – in order to limit possible misunderstanding or misinterpretation. This can be made possible by choosing the most exact word available for a situation. This focus on linguistics created a separation of the types of analytic philosophy in the 1960s and also created a foundation for new forms of philosophy to branch forward.

It may be easier to think of it like this: The analytical philosopher (more exactly those practicing linguistic analysis) would be delighted that the Persian language has 80 different words for love. These different words help to differentiate between intimate relationships, familial relationships, affections for pets, affections for possessions, preferences, opinions and all of the other ways one can love someone or something. These 80 words make it possible to use ideal language for a situation and be as exact as possible in meaning. Additionally, analytic philosophy would focus on arguing the differences between these 80 words and clarifying people’s understanding of them, versus if it was spiritual or morally appropriate to love your pet, love your car or love money, etc. For this reason analytic philosophy is commonly understood as focusing on truth and knowledge over moral or spiritual debate, which is another way that it is set apart from other forms of philosophy.

Let’s look a little closer at how analytic philosophy would argue thoughts by breaking down larger meanings and sentences into smaller meanings. Instead of arguing the phrase “All things good are moral.” Analytic philosophy would argue what each of the terms meant – what does ‘all’ mean, what are ‘things’, what is ‘good’, what is ‘moral’, etc. Some philosophers may argue if good and moral should be categorized together at all and debate the relationships between the words that are used in the sentence instead of the overall meaning of the sentence. Linguistic analysis would lead to asking if the words good and morale were the best words to use for your intended meaning.

G.E. Moore, one of the early proponents of analytic philosophy, argued that only things which could be broken down into these smaller, component parts could actually be defined.  If it was found that the component could not be broken down, it could not be defined. For instance, you could define a horse to someone that has never experienced one by describing its many parts, look, feel, mannerism, variations, etc, but you could not define the color yellow to someone who has never seen color as there would be no component parts to base your argument off of. In this way analytic philosophy focuses on what is definable because it has a complexity that would allow an analytic philosopher to break it down definable terms and work towards an understood and accepted meaning based on these smaller pieces.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

This approach to breaking down concepts and analyzing each component part in order to get a fuller understanding of the concept is an example of how you can think critically and problem solve. People who are really good at critical thinking often have to ask themselves questions about situations and how items relate to each other.  They also have to focus on how to be best understood and what words and concepts will be best received by those listening.

Also, problem solving, especially in the case of complex situations, requires breaking down the problem into all of its component parts and analyzing them for information that will help solve that problem. In these ways the elements of analytic philosophy can help you think through the situations and problems that you face in a clear, logical and rational way.

You can develop your critical thinking skills and improve your ability to think logically and rationally. These improvement will help you communicate better, problem solve, persuade and set you up for more success in a variety of situations. Developing these skills can lead to a better understanding of complex concepts which will help you identify strengths, weaknesses and areas of improvement in nearly any situation in encounter.

Along with developing your critical thinking skills, it is beneficial to develop your problem solving abilities by learning to conceptualize creative solutions to any problem you face. The creative solution can be more rewarding for you and all the people involved as it focuses on out-of-the-box thinking, approaches logic in a new way and opens the door for innovation and greater success. If you want to see things change in your situation or life, develop a creative problem solving strategy.

By changing the way you think about situations and concepts you can improve your relationship with these situations and concepts. Sometimes all you need is a different way of thinking about something – a new philosophy.

Have you ever thought about the way you think and how you can use that understanding to think differently and improve the way you understand yourself? Perhaps the first step in applying the benefits of analytic philosophy to your life is to understand the thoughts that you have and why you make the decisions you do so you can experience a new outcome. 

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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