The politics of logic

Alexander Klein in Aeon:

In November 1914, Bernard Bosanquet delivered the inaugural address to the Aristotelian Society’s 36th session. An ageing titan of British idealism, Bosanquet called his talk ‘Science and Philosophy’. It was a broadside on Bertrand Russell’s now-legendary book Our Knowledge of the External World (1914) in which Russell sought to model a new ‘scientific’ method for doing philosophy that made the logical analysis of propositions fundamental. This logic-centric style would come to define what we now know as analytic philosophy.

Bosanquet’s opening complaint about Russell’s methodology was, surprisingly, political. He argued that the ‘scientific’ methodology would inevitably make philosophy ‘cosmopolitan in character and free from special national qualities’. Since logic, and science more generally, respects no political or cultural boundaries, Russell’s philosophy could never function as a distinctive expression of a people. This was a problem for Bosanquet. He held ‘that philosophy, being, like language, art, and poetry, a product of the whole man, is a thing which would forfeit some of its essence if it were to lose its national quality’. British idealism for Britons, and German idealism for Germans.

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