The Ontology of the Analytic Tradition and Its Origins

summary, praise, and ordering information

Jan Dejnožka


While many books discuss the individual achievements of Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Quine, few books consider how the thought of all four thinkers bears on the fundamental questions of twentieth century philosophy. This book is about existence-identity connections in Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Quine. The thesis of the book is that there is a general form of ontology, modified realism, which these great analysts share not only with each other, but with most great philosophers in the Western tradition. Modified realism is the view that in some sense there are both real identities and conceptual (or linguistic) identities. In more familiar language, it is the view that there are both real distinctions and distinctions in reason (or in language). Thus in modified realism, there are some real beings (ontology) which can serve as a basis for accommodating possibly huge amounts of conceptual or linguistic relativity, or objectual identities' "shifting" as sortal concepts or sortal terms "shift" (ideology). Therefore, on the fundamental level of ontology, the linguistic turn was not a radical break from traditional substance theory. Dejnožka also holds that the conflict in all four analysts between private language arguments (which imply various kinds of realism) and conceptual "shifting" (which suggests conceptual relativism) is best resolved by, and is in fact implicitly resolved by, their respective kinds of modified realism. Frege and Russell, not Wittgenstein and Quine, emerge as the true analytic progenitors of "no entity without identity," offering between them at least twenty-nine private language arguments and fifty-eight "no entity without identity" theories.

The book's principal argument is that while in the analytic tradition, ontology and indeed all philosophy are held to be supervenient on language, and perhaps ultimately on logical and conceptual proposals, there is enough reformulation and presupposition of classical thought to allow analogies to basic concepts of the substance tradition. Dejnožka assimilates the analysts to Aristotle as the paradigm of modified realism, and briefly describes earlier origins in Plato and Parmenides.

Praise for The Ontology of the Analytic Tradition and Its Origins

"Jan Dejnožka is one of the leading figures in current discussions of the origin, development, and nature of analytic philosophy. His many works -- two books and numerous articles -- have received much attention. They are noteworthy for their depth and erudition. The Ontology of the Analytic Tradition has achieved, deservedly, the status of a classic in that area. I regard this book as a most important contribution to our understanding of the course of analytic philosophy from Frege to Quine, as well as to our philosophical understanding of the topics mentioned in its title. "

--Panayot Butchvarov

Panayot Butchvarov has been President of the Central Division, American Philosophical Association, and the editor of Journal for Philosophical Research. He is the author of Skepticism about the External World (Oxford University Press), Skepticism in Ethics (Indiana University Press), Being Qua Being: A Theory of Identity, Existence, and Predication (Indiana University Press), The Concept of Knowledge (Northwestern University Press), Resemblance and Identity: An Examination of the Problem of Universals (Indiana University Press), and Anthropocentrism in Philosophy (Walter de Gruyter). He was professor and chair of the philosophy department at The University of Iowa for many years.

"Dejnožka's account is at once comprehensive and detailed, historically accurate and philosophically acute, profound and clear. Those interested in the metaphysical foundations of analytic philosophy will find it very useful. So will ontologists generally."

--Stewart Umphrey

Stewart Umphrey was a professor of philosophy at St. John's College for many years. He is the author of Zetetic Skepticism (Longwood Academic) and Complexity and Analysis (Lexington Books).

"This work is simultaneously a scholarly investigation and interpretation of four of the most important thinkers in the analytic tradition, and a sustained critique of contemporary relativisms. Dejnožka argues that not only Frege and Russell, but such 'antimetaphysical' philosophers as Wittgenstein and Quine do in fact have metaphysical commitments which can be traced not only to Russell and Frege, but to a long and distinguished tradition within Western philosophy. This is a provocative and challenging reading of the analytic tradition."

--Evan Fales

Evan Fales is a professor of philosophy at The University of Iowa. He is the author of Causation and Universals (Routledge) and A Defense of the Given (Rowman & Littlefield).

"Dejnožka's superb expertise on Frege and Russell inevitably must be stressed. But his book is not 'mere history'; there are many sharp criticisms of major contemporaries."

--José Benardete

José Benardete was a professor of philosophy at Syracuse University for many years. He is the author of Metaphysics: The Logical Approach (Oxford) and Infinity (Clarendon).

Excerpts from Published Review:

"A desirable feature of the book is that the Preface and Introduction provide the reader with a clear statement of the overall plan of the work, together with the major concepts and distinctions which will be used throughout. Consequently the reader knows, at any point, exactly where he/she is in the development of the main argument. Combined with a precise, transparent style of writing, the book is a treat to read. Particularly impressive are the novel insights and deeper interpretations which the author gives of the four analysts....

"An extensive bibliography and reasonably comprehensive index round off a fine thought-provoking piece of research."

--Wayne A. Patterson, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 75/4, December 1997, 543-44.

Dr. Patterson teaches at National University of Singapore. He is the author of Bertrand Russell's Philosophy of Logical Atomism (Peter Lang).

Excerpts from Published Review:

"[W]hat is still rightly regarded as the analytic tradition has indeed not only turned back to more traditional metaphysical concerns..., but also taken an interest, self-reflectively, in its own historical roots, with the expectation of uncovering metaphysical conceptions at work....Jan Dejnožka's book is a fine example of this historically motivated return to metaphysics, offering a detailed and scholarly elucidation of the ontological views of Frege and Russell...."

--Michael Beaney, International Journal of Philosophical Studies 6/3, October 1998, 451-54.

Prof. Beaney teaches at the University of Manchester in England. He is the author of Frege: Making Sense (Duckworth) and Analysis (Acumen, forthcoming), and is the editor of The Frege Reader (Blackwell).

Excerpts from Published Review:

"Throughout the text, Dejnožka exhibits both a broad appreciation of ontological issues, and an even deeper appreciation of the primary and secondary literature....

"In conclusion, it is more than fair to say that Dejnožka offers a daring re-reading of the analytic tradition which, if it stands in the face of scholarly criticism, could force both a long overdue reassessment of how analytic philosophy since Frege relates to the historical and contemporary continental traditions, and a reconsideration of the prevailing analytic conception of metaphysics as dependent on semantics....

"[M]any challenging ideas and innovative interpretations await the earnest reader on each page."

--Bob Barnard, Bertrand Russell Society Quarterly 100, November 1998, 33-35.

Prof. Barnard teaches at the University of Memphis.

Excerpt from Published Review:

"This is a very ambitious book, executed with intelligence and argumentative skill."

--Arthur Falk, Russell n.s. 18, Winter 1998-99, 161-74.

Prof. Falk teaches at Western Michigan University.

Excerpts from Published Review:

"[S]cholarly and detailed....Analysts and relativists might very well use it to hone their own conceptions."

--Jack Kaminsky, International Studies in Philosophy 35/4, 2003, 221-22.

Prof. Kaminsky passed away in 2000 at the age of 73 after teaching for many years. He was professor of philosophy at SUNY at Binghamton, and was the author of Language and Ontology (Southern Illinois University Press), Essays in Linguistic Ontology (Southern Illinois University Press), and Hegel on Art (SUNY Press).

Excerpts from Published Review:

"There are surprisingly few books that would take a synthesizing view of analytical philosophy. However, it is also true that in the second half of our century the body of philosophers who either avow analytical philosophy or tend to be included in the number of its representatives exhibit a degree of heterogeneity which makes any synthesis problematic; indeed, there is also a surprising dearth of synthesizing studies of classical analytical philosophy, i.e., analytical philosophy covering the period from about the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. Dejnožka's book is one of the few that do venture a thing like that, and that is a welcome thing to do.

"Of course, Dejnožka is not out to present an all-round analysis of the views held by the classics of analytical philosophy; he will concentrate on only one aspect of their doctrine, namely their ontology....

"Dejnožka's book represents an imposing volume of factographic material, quite a few interesting interpretational hypotheses (relating to particular philosophers under study and to analytical philosophy as a whole) as well as detailed polemics with many authors, whose views might seem to question those hypotheses....

"To sum up, Dejnožka's book contains a wealth of remarkable material relative to the classical period of analytical philosophy (mainly Frege and Russell)...."

--Jaroslav Peregrin, Filosofický Casopis 49/4, 2001, 701-6. (translated from Czech)

Jaroslav Peregrin teaches at Charles University in Prague. He is the author of: Logika ve filosofii, filosofie v logice [Logic within Philosophy, Philosophy within Logic] (Herrmann a synové); Doing Worlds with Words (Kluwer), Úvod do teoretické sémantiky (Principy formálního modelování významu) [Introduction to Theoretical Semantics (Principles of formal modelling of meaning)] (Karolinum); Význam a struktura [Meaning and Structure] (Oikoymenh); Meaning and Structure (Ashgate), and of many papers. He is the editor of several books: Co je analytický výrok? [What is an analytic statement?] (Oikoymenh) (includes Peregrin's translations of Frege, Ayer, Wittgenstein, Malcolm, Grice and Strawson, and Putnam); O čem mluvíme? (Vybrané stati Pavla Tichého k logice a sémantice) [What do we talk about? (Pavel Tichý's Selected Papers on Logic and Semantics)] (Filosofia) (includes Peregrin's translations of Tichý's papers); The nature of truth (if any) (Proceedings of the 1996 Prague International Colloquium) (Filosofia); Co po metafyzice? [What after Metaphysics?] (Archa) (includes Peregrin's translations of Rorty and Putnam); Obrat k jazyku: druhé kolo [Linguistic Turn: Second Round] (Filosofia) (includes Peregrin's translations of Quine, Sellars, Davidson, Goodman, Rorty, and Putnam); Truth and its Nature (if any) [based on the above Proceedings] (Kluwer). He is also the translator of: W. V. O. Quine, Hledání pravdy [Pursuit of Truth] (Herrmann a synové); Daniel Dennett: Druhy myslí [Kinds of Minds] (Archa); and W. V. O. Quine: Od stimulu k vĕdĕ [From Stimulus to Science] (Filosofia).

Entire Published Review:

"Jan Dejnožka, The Ontology of the Analytic Tradition and Its Origins: Realism and Identity in Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein and Quine. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham (Md.), USA, 1996.

"A new book by the American philosopher Jan Dejnožka (*1951, Saratoga Springs, NY) approaches analytic philosophy from positions that the very same analytic philosophy attempted to – at least in its beginnings – vehemently refute and disprove; that is, from the positions of ontology and metaphysics. Dejnožka’s ontological thinking is based on traditional metaphysics; however, that thinking is enlightened by the analytic tradition. The result is a difficult, yet remarkable reading. The terms ‘ontology’ and ‘metaphysics’ appear in in a variety of meanings. Dejnožka does not consider them synonymous: ‘Ontology is a theory … of what it is to be’ (page xxv), whereas metaphysics is the ‘theory of the ultimate categories of things’ (page 7). Ontology is thus transcategorial.

"The fundamental thesis of the book is that a certain type of ontology is common to the analytic philosophy tradition represented by Bertrand Russell (from 1900 to 1948), Gottlob Frege, Ludwig Wittgenstein and W. V. O. Quine, and that the same type of ontology has also been foundational to substance metaphysics since its beginnings over two thousand years ago. This type is the so-called ‘no entity without identity’ ontology (hereinafter shortened to ‘NEWI’). Dejnožka gives this term, borrowed from Quine’s book Ontological Relativity, a rather more general meaning [than Quine does], namely, ‘any theory on which some expression, conception or property of existence is defined, understood or applied in terms of some expression, conception or property (or relation) of identity’. A more specific type of ontology, under which the authors of the analytic tradition considered by Dejnožka fall, is ‘modified realism’. This is defined as the view that there are ‘both real and rational (or linguistic) identities’ (albeit these rational or linguistic identities are ‘real in a muted sense’) (page 25). The alternatives are radical realism, which sharply dichotomizes real and unreal (fictitious) identities, and radical relativism, on which all identities are merely conceptual. Using the NEWI theory, he then classifies entities according to this identity classification.

"The actual content of the book is a detailed application of this conceptual apparatus to texts written by analytic philosophers, in particular Frege and Russell. Dejnožka’s analyses are extremely meticulous; for instance, at different stages of Russell’s intellectual development Dejnožka finds, documents and discusses forty-four versions of the NEWI ontology. All that is supplemented with comparisons and polemics with views of other interpreters of the classics of analytic philosophy.

"The passages dealing with Wittgenstein and Quine are more succinct. According to Dejnožka, even Quine is a modified realist, despite his thesis of translational indeterminacy (which concerns only rational, not real distinctions) (page 206). It is worth mentioning, on the other hand, that Dejnožka considers Quine’s mentor and inspiration Rudolf Carnap to be a ‘genuine radical relativist’: by rejecting external questions in the article Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology, Carnap commits himself to rejecting not only real but also conceptual and linguistic identities. Neither Carnap’s theses of methodological phenomenalism nor methodological physicalism are forms of modified realism (page 264).

"Dejnožka’s book is without doubt a profound and valuable contribution to an analysis of (not only) Frege’s and Russell’s philosophical points of view. At the same time, his conceptual apparatus enables him to bridge the chasm that was, at least seemingly, left by the philosophy of the linguistic turn between itself and the philosophical tradition; and in this way to demonstrate the evolutionary unity that remains hidden in the background."

--David Hollan, B Philosophica 44, 1997, 89-90. (translated from Czech)

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You can order the book at,, and many other Web sites. Please be sure you are getting the 2003 paperback reprint with further corrections. All other versions are superseded.

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