Wittgenstein, analytic philosophy, and academic success

Project coordinators: Guido Bonino and Paolo Tripodi

Our main aim is to check whether the application of distant reading methods can add new insights to the historical-philosophical understanding of the decline of the Wittgensteinian tradition in contemporary analytic philosophy. The corpus we analyse contains the metadata of the more than 20,000 PhD dissertations in philosophy discussed in the US from 1981 to 2010. Within this corpus, we select the metadata of the dissertations in which the name “Wittgenstein” occurs in the abstract. For each dissertation, we try to find out, with the aid of search engines, what kind of academic career (if any) the PhD candidates were able to pursue. We do the same operation with the names of other philosophers, and we find out that the “index of academic success” of those candidates who mention Wittgenstein in the abstract of their dissertation is significantly lower than the index of those who mention analytic philosophers such as Kripke, Dummett, Fodor, and David Lewis. To interpret this result, we use a visualization software that represents the more frequent words occurring in the 450 “Wittgensteinian” dissertations and in the 500 “analytic” ones, respectively, thus providing a key to a better understanding of the difference between the indexes of academic success: looking at the “analytic” visualization chart and considering the words that are more frequently used in the abstracts, we find the prevalence of terms such as “theory”, “argument”, “result”, “consequence”, problem”, “solution”, “account”, and so forth, whereas the “Wittgensteinian” visualization chart presents a different set of frequently used words. We would like to suggest that the presence (and the absence) of this semantic pattern refers to the presence (and the absence) of a science-oriented philosophical style and metaphilosophy, which may be regarded as part of a process of academic and scientific legitimation that, in turn, may have effects on the index of academic success.