Margaret MacDonald’s scientific common-sense philosophy

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30 (2):267-287 (2022)
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Margaret MacDonald (1907–56) was a central figure in the history of early analytic philosophy in Britain due to both her editorial work as well as her own writings. While her later work on aesthetics and political philosophy has recently received attention, her early writings in the 1930s present a coherent and, for its time, strikingly original blend of common-sense and scientific philosophy. In these papers, MacDonald tackles the central problems of philosophy of her day: verification, the problem of induction, and the relationship between philosophical and scientific method. MacDonald’s philosophy of science starts from the principle that we should carefully analyse the elements of scientific practice (particularly its temporal features) and the ways that scientists describe that practice. That is, she applies the techniques of ordinary language philosophy to actual scientific language. MacDonald shows how ‘scientific common-sense’ is inconsistent with both of the dominant schools of philosophy of her day. Bringing MacDonald back into the story of analytic philosophy corrects the impression that in early analytic philosophy, there are fundamental dichotomies between the style of Moore and Wittgenstein, on the one hand, and the Vienna Circle on the other.

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Justin Vlasits
University of Illinois, Chicago


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