James F. Conant

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James Ferguson Conant (born June 10, 1958) is an American philosopher who has written extensively on topics in philosophy of language, ethics, and metaphilosophy. He is perhaps best known for his writings on Wittgenstein, and his association with the New Wittgenstein school of Wittgenstein interpretation initiated by Cora Diamond.[1] He is currently Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities, Professor of Philosophy, and Professor in the College at the University of Chicago as well as director of the Chicago Center for German Philosophy (CCGP),[2] he is Humboldt Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Analytic German Idealism (FAGI) at the University of Leipzig.[3]


Conant was born in Kyoto, Japan to American parents. He is the grandson of former Harvard University president James Bryant Conant. At 14, he attended Phillips Exeter Academy. He received his A.B. in Philosophy and History of Science from Harvard College in 1982, and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard University in 1990. He joined the philosophy faculty at the University of Pittsburgh from 1990-1999, and then became Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. In December, 2012, he became co-director of the Center for Analytic German Idealism[3] at Leipzig University, and in July, 2017 he was appointed Humboldt Professor of Philosophy[4] at Leipzig University.[5]

Philosophical work[edit]

Since the mid 1990s Conant, together with Cora Diamond has advanced a “resolute reading” of Wittgenstein's early work which seeks to expose neglected underlying continuities between the philosopher's early and later approaches to philosophy, especially between his early Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and his later Philosophical Investigations. This resolute reading is meant to show that even in the Tractatus, the purpose of philosophy is the clarification of philosophical problems, aimed at the elucidation of the sentences of the language through which we express ourselves rather than at propounding philosophical theses.[6] This reading subjects the traditional interpretations of Wittgenstein, particularly that of Peter Hacker and Gordon Baker, to severe criticism. Hacker, as well as others like Ian Proops and Michael Forster have in turn criticized Conant's representation of them.[7]
Conant has contributed to other areas in the history of analytic philosophy, writing particularly about the work of Gottlob Frege, of Rudolf Carnap, as well as about the relation between the views of both of these figures and those of Wittgenstein. A related theme running throughout Conant's work is the relation between the ideas of Immanuel Kant, and the Kantian tradition more broadly, and the analytic tradition.[8]
Although his philosophical orientation is largely that of someone trained in the analytic tradition, Conant has also written a series of essays on various so-called “Continental" Philosophers, most notably on Kierkegaard and on Nietzsche. In his readings of specific texts by Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, he explores the theme of how the literary form of a philosophical text is intertwined with its philosophical content.[9] Relatedly, Conant has written a number of essays exploring the treatment of philosophical ideas in literary texts, ranging from the short stories of Franz Kafka to the novels of George Orwell.[10]
A recurring topic throughout Conant’s work is that of philosophical skepticism. In this connection, he has drawn a distinction between two varieties of skepticism, which he calls “Cartesian skepticism” and “Kantian skepticism” respectively.[11]

Another major research area of Conant’s is the history of analytic philosophy. In 2017, together with Jay Elliott, he brought out a comprehensive volume in the Norton Anthologies series, titled After Kant: The Analytic Tradition,[12] covering the entire range of the analytic tradition in philosophy from its beginnings to the present.


In 2016, Conant was one of three academics from abroad selected to receive Germany’s top international research award, the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship Research Prize.[5]

In 2012 James Conant received the Humboldt Foundation Anneliese Maier Research Award, a five-year award to promote the internationalisation of the humanities and social sciences in Germany.
In summer 2011, the Institute of Philosophy of the University of Porto in Portugal hosted a conference titled The Logical Alien at 20, dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the publication of James Conant's paper "The Search for Logically Alien Thought".


  • The Norton Anthology of Western Philosophy: After Kant, WW Norton & Co, 2017
  • Friedrich Nietzsche: Perfektionismus & Perspektivismus tr. by Joachim Schulte, Konstanz University Press, 2014.
  • Varieties of Skepticism: Essays after Kant, Wittgenstein, and Cavell (co-edited with Andrea Kern), Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2014.
  • Orwell ou le Pouvoir de la Verite (Agone, 2011)
  • Rileggere Wittgenstein (co-author with Cora Diamond), with a Foreword by Piergiorgio Donatelli and an Afterword by Silver Bronzo, Carocci, Rome, 2010
  • Pragmatism and Realism (co-editor), Routledge, London, 2002
  • "The Method of the Tractatus", in From Frege to Wittgenstein: Perspectives on Early Analytic Philosophy, edited by Erich H. Reck, Oxford University Press, 2002
  • Thomas Kuhn: The Road Since Structure (co-editor with John Haugeland), University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 2000
  • Hilary Putnam: Words and Life (editor), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1994
  • "The Search for Logically Alien Thought: Descartes, Kant, Frege and the Tractatus" in The Philosophy of Hilary Putnam, Philosophical Topics, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1991), pp. 115–180.
  • Hilary Putnam: Realism with a Human Face (editor), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1990

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The New Wittgenstein. Alice Crary and Rupert Read (eds.). Routledge, 2000
  2. ^ "Executive Board | Center for German Philosophy". centerforgermanphilosophy.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2018-09-24.
  3. ^ a b "Directors | FAGI Leipzig". www.fagi.uni-leipzig.de. Retrieved 2018-09-24.
  4. ^ "Prof. Dr. James Ferguson Conant | Philosophie". www.sozphil.uni-leipzig.de (in German). Retrieved 2018-09-24.
  5. ^ a b "Press release of 27.10.2016". Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  6. ^ Conant, James and Diamond, Cora "On reading the Tractatus Resolutely", in The Lasting Significance of Wittgenstein's Philosophy, edited by Max Kölbel and Bernhard Weiss, Routledge, 2004. [1]
  7. ^ The controversy has been pursued especially in the form of contributions to a series of collections of essays devoted to the topic, the most influential of these is probably The New Wittgenstein (op. cit.), and more recently Beyond the Tractatus Wars (ed. Rupert Read and Matthew Lavery, Routledge, 2011)
  8. ^ See James Conant (ed.) Analytic Kantianism, Philosophical Topics, Vol. 34, Nos. 1 & 2
  9. ^ See, for example, "Putting Two and Two Together: Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein and the Point of View for Their Work as Authors", in The Grammar of Religious Belief, edited by D.Z. Phillips, St. Martins Press, NY: 1996; "Must We Show What We Cannot Say?" in The Senses of Stanley Cavell, edited by R. Fleming and M. Payne, Bucknell University Press, 1989; "Nietzsche's Perfectionism: A Reading of Schopenhauer as Educator," in Nietzsche's Postmoralism, edited by Richard Schacht, CUP, 2000; "The Dialectic of Perspectivism" in Sats - Nordic Journal of Philosophy, Vol 6, No 2 (2005) and Vol 7, No 1 (2006).
  10. ^ "In the Electoral Colony: Kafka in Florida," in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Summer, 2001), pp. 662-702; "Freedom, Cruelty and Truth: Rorty versus Orwell," in Richard Rorty and His Critics, edited by Robert Brandom, Blackwell, 2000
  11. ^ "Varieties of Skepticism," in Wittgenstein and Skepticism, ed. by Denis McManus, (Routledge Press, 2004)
  12. ^ The Norton anthology of western philosophy : after Kant. Schacht, Richard, 1941-, Rukgaber, Mathew,, Conant, James,, Elliott, Jay, (First ed.). New York. ISBN 9780393929072. OCLC 914594581.

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