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The Cahiers pour l’Analyse were largely devoted to the presentation of texts that touched on the ‘sciences of analysis’, notably logic, psychoanalysis and linguistics.

The use of the term ‘analysis’ by the Cercle d’Épistémologie in the title of their journal (which can be translated as Notebooks for Analysis) allows for the convergence of several disparate fields in twentieth-century thought. There are five primary uses of the concept ‘analysis’ that one finds across the Cahiers pour l’Analyse:

1. The Cercle presents a series of renewed analyses of epistemology which pay particular attention to the role of logic, formalisation and metalanguage in the construction of theory. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Czech mathematician and philosopher Bernard Bolzano called for the development of a mode of ‘purely conceptual analysis’ that would result in a complete ‘arithmetisation of analysis’ rendering all appeals to intuition (e.g., intuitive ideas of space or size) in mathematics superfluous.1 The predominant concept of mathematical analysis that one finds in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse is firmly inscribed in this lineage.

2. Structural analysis. The Cahiers pour l’Analyse take up the structuralist project of analysing structures as differential combinatories of elements.

3. Discourse analysis. In America, the discipline of discourse analysis emerged from the analysis of linguistics and transformational grammar. Zellig Harris’s 1952 paper ‘Discourse Analysis’ attempted to identify relations of equivalence and transformation across the utterances of particular types of discourse. In France, discourse analysis emerged as a complement to linguistics, focussing on larger units than the sentence. In his paper ‘Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives’ (1968) (cited by Jean-Claude Milner in CpA 7.Introduction:4), Roland Barthes noted that while ‘linguistics stops at the sentence, the last unit which it considers to fall within its scope’, it is nevertheless evident ‘that discourse itself, as set of sentences, is organized and that, through this organization, it can be seen as the message of another language, one operating at a higher level than the language of the linguists’.2 ‘Discourse’, Barthes argues, ‘has its units, its rules, its “grammar”’, and semiology provides the means for the construction of a higher level structural analysis of discourse. Louis Althusser’s interest in the theory of discourse in the mid-60s (most notably in his programmatic ‘Three Notes on the Theory of Discourses’) abstracted the notion of discourse from linguistics and semiology, positing a general structural theory of discourse that would encompass both historical and dialectical materialism, and the logic of the signifier. For Althusser, discourse is a ‘system of signifiers’, and the theory of discourse is a ‘general theory of the signifier’.3 In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, the Cercle d’Épistémologie saw the space for a theory of discourse that would provide a unified theory of linguistic and social structures.

4. Analytical philosophy, specifically the analysis of logic and language. The first conference on analytical philosophy in France was held at Royaumont in 1962, where Émile Benveniste discussed J. L. Austin’s work on performatives.

5. Psychoanalysis. Since the early 1960s, Jacques Lacan had been developing a theory of the relation between the limits of logical and mathematical formalisation and the concept of the subject. Lacanian psychoanalysis at this point acted as a space for the convergence of the previous types of analysis with the theory of psychoanalysis. During this period, Lacan developed his claim that ‘the unconscious is structured like a language’ by means of a renewed analysis of the differences between logic and linguistics, and their respective claims upon the project of formalisation.

In its most basic sense, analysis is a term that is usefully opposed to synthesis. Whereas synthetic operations unite a field, ‘synthesizing’ new results out of a set of givens, analytic operations are geared toward breaking something up into its component parts to be ‘analysed’ in turn. This distinction is clear whenever a student is asked first to ‘analyse a problem’ and then to ‘synthesise the results’. The difference between analysis and synthesis as processes is also legible in Kant’s famous distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions. For Kant, an analytic proposition is one where the predicate concept is contained in its subject concept (e.g., ‘all bachelors are unmarried’). By contrast, a synthetic proposition is one where the predicate concept is not contained in its subject concept (e.g., ‘all bachelors are happy’). The difference is that a synthetic proposition requires an appeal to something extrinsic to the initial subject concept, whereas an analytic proposition is in effect a closed loop. All that is needed to determine the ‘truth’ of an analytic proposition is a proper grasp of the meaning or function of its terms and their relation to one another.

The notion that analysis breaks up a given domain into its component parts in order to see how they function is a consistent theme in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, just as it is a common element in the five kinds of ‘analysis’ that converged in the project as a whole. In Jean-Claude Milner’s recollection, although psychoanalysis was itself a primary influence on the project, it was but ‘one of the forms of analysis. The hypothesis of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse was that you found with Freud exactly the same analysis that you found with, let’s say, Spinoza, and that you found with Marx’.4

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

1. In their renewal of epistemology, members of the Cercle d’Épistémologie (particularly Jacques-Alain Miller and Alain Badiou) work with the reflections on formalisation and metalanguage developed by Bertrand Russell (whose ‘Theory of Logical Types’ is translated as CpA 10.5) and Kurt Gödel (CpA 10.5). Jacques-Alain Miller’s aim in ‘Action de la structure’ (CpA 9.6) is to provide the tools for a general theory of discourse that would allow for the analysis and transformation of economic, linguistic and social structures. Alain Badiou takes up the formal analysis of logic in order to clarify the nature of epistemological breaks in logic and mathematics (CpA 10.8).

2. Structural analysis. The first statement of the editorial board of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse asserts that ‘analysis strictly speaking is the theory that treats the concepts of element and combinatory’. Analysis is performed on structures or combinations. ‘We name analytic any discourse that limits itself to allocating places to units that are self-producing and self-repeating, whatever the principle assigned to the transformations at play in its system’ (CpA 1.Introduction:2).

3. Michel Pêcheux, who published his early work under the pseudonym Thomas Herbert in CpA 2.6 and CpA 9.5, went on to be one of the main proponents of discourse analysis in France. According to his Marxist conception, first spelled out in the Cahiers, ‘the instrument of transformation in political practice is discourse, as an articulated system relating to the complex of social practice […]. Every decision, every “measure” in the political sense takes place in practical politics in the same fashion as a phrase in a discourse’ (CpA 9.6).

4. The presentation of key texts from analytical philosophy in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse was groundbreaking within the context of French philosophy at the time. The first major problematic in the Cahiers emerges from readings by Yves Duroux and Jacques-Alain Miller of Frege’s Foundations of Arithmetic (1884). Frege’s rejection of psychology and philosophical idealism paved the way for the emergence of analytical philosophy in the early twentieth century. However, the interpretations by Duroux (CpA 1.2) and Miller (CpA 1.3) take up Frege for specific ends that are foreign to analytical philosophy. They see in Frege the blueprint for a theory of subjectivity compatible with Lacanian psychoanalysis. Alain Badiou (CpA 10.8) and Jacques Bouveresse (CpA 10.9) will reject these extrapolations, and attempt to reinforce the connections between analytical philosophy and the theory of science. In the final volume, on ‘Formalisation’, key texts from the tradition of analytical philosophy, such as George Boole’s ‘The Mathematical Analysis of Logic’ (CpA 10.2), and Bertrand Russell’s ‘The Theory of Logical Types’ are presented in French for the first time. A French proponent of the philosophy of logic, Robert Blanché, presents an analysis of propositional logic (CpA 10.7).

5. For some of the psychoanalytic contributors to the Cahiers, the term ‘analysis’ is identical to ‘psychoanalysis’. Serge Leclaire’s ‘L’Analyste à sa place’ (CpA 1.4; cf. also CpA 1.5, CpA 3.6, CpA 8.6) is not so much concerned with the foundations of psychoanalysis itself, as with theorising the position of the analyst. Leclaire questions whether formalising psychoanalysis along the lines suggested by Miller and Miller might not vitiate the openness to meaning required by psychoanalytic listening.

Select bibliography

  • Althusser, Louis. ‘Trois Notes sur la théorie des discours’. In Écrits sur la psychanalyse. Paris: IMEC, 1995. ‘Three Notes on the Theory of Discourses’. In The Humanist Controversy and Other Writings (1966-1967), ed. François Matheron, trans. G.M. Goshgarian. London: Verso, 2003.
  • Barthes, Roland. ‘Introduction à l’analyse structurale des récits’. Communications 8 (1968). ‘Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives’, trans. Stephen Heath. In Image Music Text. London: Fontana, 1977.
  • Benveniste, Émile. ‘La Philosophie analytique et le langage’. Études Philosophiques 18 (1963): 3-11.
  • Bouveresse, Jacques. Wittgenstein: La rime et la raison. Paris: Minuit, 1973.
  • Coulthard, Malcolm. Introduction to Discourse Analysis. London: Harlow, 1977.
  • Dosse, François. History of Structuralism [1991], vol. 1, trans. Deborah Glassman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
  • Harris, Zellig. ‘Discourse Analysis’. Language, 28:1 (1952).
  • Pêcheux, Michel. Les Vérités de la Palice: linguistique, sémantique, philosophie. Paris: Maspero, 1975. Language, Semantics, and Ideology, trans. H.C. Nagpal. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982.


1. Jocelyn Benoist, ‘Bolzano et l’idée de Wissenschaftslehre’ in Les Philosophes et la science, ed. Pierre Wagner (Paris: Gallimard, 2002), 660-661.

2. Roland Barthes, ‘Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives’, 83.

3. Louis Althusser, ‘Three Notes on the Theory of Discourse’, 48.

4. Interview with Jean-Claude Milner by Knox Peden.