The Paradox of Analysis

Colin McGinn

in Truth by Analysis

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199856145
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919567 | DOI:
The Paradox of Analysis

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This chapter examines the paradox of analysis. The paradox of analysis purports to reduce the project of analysis to absurdity, not by questioning specific analyses, but by an abstract general argument whose conclusion is that any analysis must be simultaneously informative and uninformative—which is absurd. But once the scope of the alleged paradox is appreciated, and its potential destructive power reckoned, there is an absurdity to the paradox itself: How could such an argument have such momentous consequences? And isn't it simply true that we have many examples of successful analysis, which are both certifiably correct, judging by our intuitive understanding, and significantly informative? There has to be something wrong with the paradox, even if it is difficult to make out what it is. We can't just cease our analytic activities in the face of the paradox, or use it as a stick with which to beat philosophical approaches we don't like: it is just far too undiscriminating. We need to find out where it goes wrong, not wield it polemically. Conceptual analysis is an intricate interplay between theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge: both are essential. What is wrong with the paradox of analysis is that it equivocates on “know”.

Keywords: paradox; conceptual analysis; absurdity; knowledge

Chapter.  8525 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy

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