Jim Holt in the New York Times:
Now let me narrow my query: Does anybody read analyticphilosophy for pleasure? Is this kind of philosophy literature? Here you might say, “Certainly not!” Or you might say, “What the heck is analytic philosophy?”
Allow me to address the latter reply first. “Analytic” philosophy is the kind that is practiced these days by the vast majority of professors in philosophy departments throughout the English-speaking world. It’s reputed to be rather dry and technical — long on logical rigor, short on lyrical profundity. Analytic philosophy got its start in Cambridge in the first decade of the 20th century, when Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore revolted against the rather foggy continental idealism prevailing among English philosophers at the time. Under their influence, and that of Ludwig Wittgenstein (who arrived in Cambridge in 1912 to study with Russell), philosophers came to see their task as consisting not in grand metaphysical system-building, but in the painstaking analysis of language. This, they thought, would enable them to lay bare the logical structure of reality and to put all the old philosophical perplexities to rest.
Today, analytic philosophy has a broader scope than it used to. (Many of its qualities were examined in a previous post in this series by Gary Gutting, “Bridging the Analytic-Continental Divide.”) It’s less obsessed with dissecting language; it’s more continuous with the sciences. (This is partly due to the American philosopher Willard Quine, who argued that language really has no fixed system of meanings for philosophers to analyze.) Yet whether they are concerned with the nature of consciousness, of space-time or of the good life, analytic philosophers continue to lay heavy stress on logical rigor in their writings.