Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wee Teas and Analytic Philosophy

In the mid-1920s, a group of Junior Fellows in philosophy formed a philosophical discussion group called the Wee Teas. The name was put forward in order to distinguish it from the Philosophical Teas, a philosophical discussion group already in existence, which was dominated by senior members of the faculty (e.g., Prichard and Joseph). The following were at various points members of the group:

Gilbert Ryle
H.H. Price
W.F. Hardie
J.D. Mabbott
T. D. Weldon
W. C. Kneale
C. S. Lewis

Quite a group. Ryle and Price are, of course, well-known to those familiar with twentieth-century philosophy. Price was also the president of the Society for Psychical Research from 1939-1941. You can read an interesting article by Price arguing that telepathy proves both materialism and Cartesian dualism wrong at the International Survivalist Society. Mabbott did political philosophy, and became a significant Locke scholar. Weldon also did political philosophy, and did some work on Kant. Kneale later did work on logic. Lewis, of course, needs no introduction; although people forget that Lewis originally went into philosophy, and only ended up in English because of the job market.

The Wee Teas formed the core of what later became recognized as the second major generation of the Oxford Realists, who were key to making analytic philosophy such a big item after the Second World War. This is especially true of Ryle, Price, and Kneale. Analytic philosophy as we know it is in part an outgrowth of a very particular school of thought, that of Cook Wilson, who is in a sense the patriarch of Oxford Realism; and, indeed, the common theme of early Anglo-American analytic philosophy is rebellion against British Idealism. The Cantabrigian rebellion is well-known (the major figures involved Russell and Moore). The equally important Oxonian rebellion (which was more linguistic and less logical in its approach) is not so well known.

Mathieu Marion has a lovely pair of articles in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy (2000) on the role of the Oxford Realists in the rise of analytic philosophy.

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