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2009-04-27
The analytic/continental divide
Some time ago in Melbourne there was a conference at which a number of philosophers from both analytic and continental backgrounds met together to try to identify key differences between the two schools of thought.  I wasn't there so I don't know how it went, or how many were present from each persuasion, but it occurrred to me recently that there might be some interest among philosophers on philpapers in discussing the same issue.

It always seems odd to me that there are these two schools of thought, both claiming to do philosophy, but which have so little to do with each other. They have separate conferences, separate journals and so on. A naive outsider might say 'Well, how odd! Philosophers claim to be clear thinkers yet here they are split into two camps and they can't even seem to work out why.'

I read a short book recently by Simon Critchley called 'Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction' in which he tries to identify the main differences. I thought the book quite interesting but I wasn't in the end convinced that he had put his finger of the root of the problem.  Perhaps there are other books on the topic that philpapers participants know about?

I myself don't claim to have the solution to the problem, I should hasten to add - though I do have one or two ideas I would be happy to share.

DA


2009-04-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
  1. The difference(s) between analytic and continental are to an extent geographical: some institutions are considered continental and others analytic. There is likely to be more cross-fertilization between people at the same institution than between people at different institutions, so very different sorts of philosophy (e.g. German Idealism and Deconstructivism) are likely to be considered part of the same tradition if people working together work on both.
  2. The difference(s) are also historical. Hegel was of more influence to Merleau-Ponty than he was to Quine. People taught/supervised by 'continental' philosophers' are more likely to be 'continental' themselves. Since it tends to take place within certain institutions, people are likely to be supervised by people at the same institution, and work in institutions that share their interests. Thus disparate groups of philosophers become related by shared influence.
  3. Historical and Geographical relationships get strengthened by differences in methodology. If you think that exploring one's phenomenology rather than deductive argument is a good way of doing philosophy you won't take to people who are simply trying to do something different. Unless, of course you have to see them every day, because you work with them. Thus there is a bias towards institutions being accepting of a certain group of methodologies, because they have become established there, but uninterested in other methodologies, because they think that is not what they are trying to do.
  4. There is a persistant ingroup bias. Once people are considered 'one of us' then there is more interest in there work and less interest in those who 'are not one of us'. Unless, of course, one of us does something typical of being 'one of them', in which case they are even worse, because they should have known better. So philosophers who cross the divide, like the more recent Hilary Putnam, are considered a bit suspect by both camps.
  5. Philosophers are being lazy. They like a nice dichotomy, when reality is a lot more complicated.Condisder some paradigm cases of analytic philosophy: Quine, Russell, Moore, Austen and Wittgenstein. You might think that rather than listing one group of philosophers, I have listed five different paradigm philosophers of five different traditions in philosophy, all of which in more or less fundamental disagreement with each other. Especally if we find a tradition that is diametrically opposed to our own view and label that the paradigjm case of the other view. I consider myself analytic when talking to friends that study Hegel, and wax lyrical about the contribution made to philosophy by Quine, David Lewis, Donald Davidson et al, but when someone starts talking about sense-data, I start thumbing through my copy of Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception.
  6. There is not such a divide as people think. A lot of people do cross the divide, making the edges blurry. Richard Rorty is, perhaps, the best example of this, though there are others. Also, there is a lot of anachronism. Is Aristotle Analytic or Continental? This question, clearly, relies on a category mistake. What about Frank Ramsey? Rudolf Carnap? John Dewey? Wittgenstein? Meinong? Trying to find principle reasons for the analytic/continental divide is a bit like trying to find ethnic differences between Asians (i.e. people from Asia) and Africans (i.e. people from Africa). We seem to be lumping Arabs and Zulus together against, Mongols and Tamils, and trying to say either that they are all the same, or that there is some principled different between this grouping and that grouping.

2009-04-28
The analytic/continental divide
Interesting post, Graeme.  I agree that the line of separation is sometimes blurry. But it seems to me, nonetheless, that there are real differences involved.  There are many continental philosophers who would not be seen dead at an analytic conference (or submitting to an analytic journal), and one has only to mention the name Derrida - or even Heidegger - to some 'analytics'  to get a reaction...

So I don't think we can dismiss it as a superficial problem. Question is: what are the fundamental points of differerence?

DA



2009-04-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Let me try to be a bit clearer about what I mean. It seems to me there is a real schism in modern philosophy between the between the analytic and the continental schools. But it is a schism with an intriguing difference. In Christianity, when the Roman and Byzantine churches split over questions of doctrine, each at least knew what they were arguing about (the 'filioque' clause or something of the kind). But here we have a schism where no one seems able to state clearly what the quarrel is *about* fundamentally. In addition, very few philosophers, to my knowledge, seem inclined even to *try* to identify the problem. Doesn't that seem odd?

2009-04-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
In the August 2007 issue of the Soochow Journal of Philosophical Studies, Nevia Dolcini in her article" The Analytic/Continental Divide: Entities and Being" attacks this very problem. According to the article (as far as I can remember), one of the major differences between Continental Philosophy and Analytic Philosophy is how they relate history to questions of ontology.  Analytic philosophy attempts to uncover ontological truths that are independent of the temporal landscape, the historical context is unimportant.  Ontology in the continental tradition is highly dependent on the historical context in which the philosophical problem emerges. 

2009-04-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hello Derek Allan. Thanks for the post and I am interested in the continental/analytic divide myself. However, i suspect most of this divide is less philosophical in nature and more cultural at the surface - we inherit the split in academic philosophy that dates from the 19th century (gottlob frege and edmund husserl) - but it may also come down to the differences between the natural and human sciences. Philosophy has for the most part of the past 300 years been formally an analysis of nature, but with the rise of the human sciences philosophy has split into two irreconcilable camps. Since the human sciences, i.e., psychology, anthropology, sociology, are barely a century old themselves, the analytics have had a head start (logic, mathematics, physical sciences, what have you) but I feel the more interesting and radical ideas are found within the so-called "soft" sciences. I myself have ideas that may reverse the traditional allegiance of philosophy to the "harder" sciences. 

2009-04-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
I didn't mean to dismiss it as a superficial problem, but rather as an artificial problem. I think it is now a very deeply engrained problem, but not one that can be supported by appeal to differences of principle, as there is a level of diversity within each camp that means they don't have enough in common to define them as groups.  The analogy with comparing africans and asians can be drawn out. No one claims there aren't deep-seated differences between this Cogonese tribesman and this New-Dehli busnissman, but to think there is some feature that unites the tribesman with all other Africans, the businesman with all other Asians and divides the two groups seems somewhat optimistic. it is not that the edges are blurry, but that we are trying to contrast two family resemblance concepts.
 
There are several significant differences between continental philosophers and analytic philosophers that are neither necessary or sufficient to explain the divide. Sociological forces make this seem like a more important divide than it is, and importantly, affect which philosophers people take seriously. This sets up a vicious circle where we further entrench the divide because we only have a superficial understanding of what the divide is about. It was pointed out to me recently that, in some respects, Quine and Neitzsche have more in common with each other than they do with Kant.
 
Here are some interesting differences, none of which explains the schism:
 Some, but not all, continental philosophers treat being a subject as a profoundly different thing from being an object.
 Some view the divide as being that Analytic Philosophy is Post-Humean and Continental as Post-Kantian.
 One distinction is that Continental philosophy has a maximal breadth of scope, while Analytic philosophy has maximal rigour.
 A further difference is that Analytic philosophy tends towards Empiricism, whereas Continental philosophy tends towards Historicism (this shows up with the tendency for Analytic philosophy to view itself as most similar to science, and continental philosophy to view itself as similar to literary theory).

As to the evidence of the divide, there are many analytic conferences I would not be seen dead at. Equally, you just have to mention the name Derrida to me to get a reaction. But equally you just have to mention the name Russell to me to get a reaction. (sense-data! Grr!) Try and convince an ordinary language philosopher that he is doing the same thing as a Platonist about numbers. I disagree vehemently with both sorts of analytic philosopher, and I wouldn't dream of submitting my work to anything but an analytic journal.  I do not deny that analytics and continentals are different, but the inter-group diversity is about as big as the intra-group diversity.

So, there are real differences involves, but the single divide idea, though it runs deep, is the product of sociology rather than principle. The interesting divides are mostly independent of the analytic/continental divide.

2009-04-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Thanks for posting everyone. I would agree with Graeme in that the divide is not as explicit as some might think. I do, however, believe that the lack of clarity on the divide would be enough reason for motivation to researching the topic.

M Heath

2009-04-30
The analytic/continental divide
Some interesting points in these posts. I'll just make a brief comment on one issue.

I agree that one notable difference between analytic and continental philosophy is that the former typically adopts an atemporal/ahistorical stance while the latter often seeks to integrate history and change into its thinking. That in turn suggests to me that one key difference between the two is their attitude to Hegel. Continental philosophy, it seems to me, takes Hegel seriously, even when - perhaps especially when - it disagrees with him. Analytic philosophy tends simply to ignore Hegel and jump over him straight into the (atemporal) eighteenth century.  If I had time (all this is off my beaten track) I would like to study this more closely.  Why exactly does analytic philosophy reject Hegel so comprehensively? Why has continental philosophy not done so, even when it disagrees with him?  Any thoughts anyone?

DA


2009-05-01
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
This is an interesting issue, especially the fact that no-one seems to be properly aware of the difference. I've never cared about the difference myself, even though I am aware that according to my fields of interest, the philosophers I read, etc., I would be continental. It just seems to me that the only thing the difference does is it makes people on either "side" feel good about themselves for either conforming to ideals of modern science or for seeing through the hidden power-structures or sedimentary meanings. At the same time, this implies that philosophers on either side are blissfully unaware of the large amount of actually important and interesting work done on "the other side." In any case, the question to ask wouldn't necessarily be "what is the difference?" as you could probably end up with a quite extensive list without knowing what to do with it, but rather "what does the difference mean?" a question that could shed some light on why we would want to give this particular distinction so much more power than any other arbitrary distinction between any other pair of philosophies.

2009-05-02
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Torbjorn

I was interested in your comment that " It just seems to me that the only thing the difference does is it makes people on either "side" feel good about themselves". 

I'm not so sure about that. I think the differences are real and substantial.  To attend a seminar or conference of analytic philosophers and then attend a continental event is like going from one world into another. The preoccupations are different, the philosophers discussed are often different (who talks about Derrida or Levinas eg to a group of analytics - or Russell or Strawson to a group of continentals?)  Even the language, concepts etc used in discussion are different.

Personally, I am not attached to either side but I do think it's high time philosophers faced up seriously to the task of working out exactly why there is this deep rift in their ranks. Intellectual curiosity alone should be a sufficient motivation.

DA , 

2009-05-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Yes, I didn't argue that the differences weren't real. I'm less sure that they are substantial however. My question (what does the difference mean?) was, more or less, meant to ask why we give these differences such a degree of importance as opposed to any other difference, for instance between Husserl and Wittgenstein, Husserl and Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Frege, Hegel and Kierkegaard, etc., etc. People are going to work in different fields, with different philosophers and different problems no matter what we do, but what I have a problem with is that pigeon-holing things, and especially the way the continental/analytic division does it, is both detrimental and unneccessary. If for instance political theorists from both sides would take each other into account, learn from each other, etc., they would probably increase both their critical potential and actual impact. Instead, they each dismiss each other by name-calling. Cooperation would probably be possible across almost all fields, and all fields could probably also benefit from such cooperation.

2009-05-05
The analytic/continental divide
In part I think we are in agreement, Torbjorn. I agree there is no future in both sides dismissing each other by name-calling, and it would be nice, as you say, if both would learn from each other.  But does it look like happening?  I see very little sign of it. 

Are the differences between the two camps substantial?  Until there's a more determined attempt at dialogue I guess we won't really know (though I suspect the answer is yes). The hard fact is that dialogue is almost non-existent. I mentioned the little book by Simon Critchley which was one attempt (though with limited success, I felt). How many others have tried?  It is passing strange, surely, that philosophers, who pride themselves on being able to solve intellectual problems, don't devote more time to one as conspicuous as this.



2009-05-06
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi all,

I have actually taken the divide as my central topic of my research.  My first book, A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism (Northwestern University Press, 2007/ http://www.amazon.com/Thing-This-World-Continental-Anti-Realism/dp/0810123800/ref=ed_oe_p) tries to create the foundation for dialogue by deriving a definition of realism from prominent analytic philosophers (Dummett, Putnam, Wittgenstein, Goodman, Davidson) and using it as a lens to trace the narrative of continental thought (Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida). 

I think the divide is real, but porous; the branches deal with overlapping topics but in different ways, so we can use subject matter to triangulate thinkers.  There are some significant differences--the treatment of history being a prominent one--but the main obstacle is the work involved.  All philosophers think from within a context largely determined by important figures, theses, and problems.  These form the tacit, taken-for-granted background for discussions, often alluded to by short-hand that other participants in the conversation immediately catch.  Reading a book well requires a grasp of quite considerable networks of ideas and figures and, lacking that, texts come off as jargony, intentionally obscure, generally unwelcoming.  This is why one of the traditional distinguishing marks--clarity--is a loaded term.  References to Gavagai (or twin earth, the present king of France, the morning star and the evening star) will generally strike some readers as familiar and all the related topics simply follow in its wake while allusions to broken hammers (or the face of the Other,  the Panopticon, Master and Slave) will hold little meaning, and the reverse applies to others.  It takes a decent amount of work to get to the point of reading even a single text well, and few are willing to do this.  And of course this divide perpetuates itself since any dabbling shows work not worth pursuing.  That's why I tried to do some of it for others, bringing people up to speed on some of the background conversation in terms and figures from the other tradition (I'm presently writing an in-depth study of Heidegger and Wittgenstein).

To address just one point mentioned above, Hegel can be seen as the splitting off point since Kant is extremely influential on continental thought and at a minimum, respected as a real thinker by most analytic philosophers (and some, like Rawls, Putnam, and Strawson, go much further than that).  The easiest explanation is that the self-conscious birth of analytic thought came in Russell and Moore's rejection of British Idealism.  Following Frege, they argued that logic could only have proper validity if it transcends all thinkers.  They then added in a healthy dose of Empiricism, singling out not just sense-data but even logical relationships as objects of direct perception (reminding one of Husserl's categorial intuition, ironically), creating an anti-historical beginning point.  Logic is the cornerstone of thought and it transcends time; we don't interpret or decide logical matters but simply look upon them.  Thus both the anti-idealist inspiration and the specific form it took discourage taking history seriously.  I talk about this in my first chapter, pp. 23-30.  One of the more interesting developments in recent years is the admission of Hegel into the ranks of genuine philosophers due to the "Pittsburgh School" of Brandom and McDowell (Sellars actually had some pretty negative things to say about Hegel).

2009-05-07
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
Hi Lee

Very interesting reply, especially your comment:

" The easiest explanation is that the self-conscious birth of analytic thought came in Russell and Moore's rejection of British Idealism.  Following Frege, they argued that logic could only have proper validity if it transcends all thinkers.  They then added in a healthy dose of Empiricism, singling out not just sense-data but even logical relationships as objects of direct perception (reminding one of Husserl's categorial intuition, ironically), creating an anti-historical beginning point.  Logic is the cornerstone of thought and it transcends time; we don't interpret or decide logical matters but simply look upon them.  Thus both the anti-idealist inspiration and the specific form it took discourage taking history seriously."

I have certainly noticed on my own field (philosophy of art) that the analytic approach does not take history seriously (the 'continentals' aren't really much better in this context but that's another story).  The result is a strangely rarefied approach focused on abstractions ("aesthetic experience" etc) in which actual works of art figure only episodically at best.

I guess the obvious question to raise re your comment - and it might don't take too long to answer, I realize - is why analytic philosophy should have chosen to equate philosophy with logic plus sense data. My own suspicion is that it is much more strongly influenced by science that it realizes - i.e. that its bedrock view of what is real or not is modeled essentially on scientific methods of verification.

I shall certainly try to get hold of a copy of your book.

DA


2009-05-07
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

The brief historical answer to why logic figured so prominently in early analytic philosophy comes from Frege.  He launched a fierce campaign against "psychologism" (including against one of Husserl's early works, criticisms which Husserl accepted) which argued that if logic is merely a matter of how human minds happen to think, it loses all normativity.  He created a logical Platonism, if you will, where thoughts exist in a separate timeless realm which is what allows them to rule our thinking.  If logic is descriptive, it can't be prescriptive, which it is and must be.  Moore's ethical intuition and Russell's empiricism both emerge from these ideas.

I certainly agree that analytic philosophy generally models itself on science (rigorous, essay format, widely dispersed narrowly focused tasks) and continental tends to think of itself as closer to art, literature, and the "soft" sciences like psychology and sociology (each thinker seeks insight into large deep issues, allusive and richly ambiguous writing, book format).  Heidegger frequently extols poetry as the activity closest to philosophy; Merleau-Ponty engaged in considerable psychological analysis; Sartre was a successful writer ("No Exit" and Nausea are pretty good); Foucault engages in a lot of quasi-psychological&-sociological analysis (while bashing psychology); Lacan and Derrida are pretty obvious.  Rorty made much of this distinction (though he also argued, from Deweyan principles, that there is no firm break between the 2 types of science).  In fact, after Quine, many analytic philosophers think of philosophy as continuous with science whereas I can't think of any philosophers who believe this (Husserl & Hegel wanted to make philosophy "wissenschaftlich" but they didn't mean the same thing).

Of course it's impossible to make any universal statements about either camp, as Glock demonstrates in great detail in his very thorough What is Analytic Philosophy?  But we can still make generalizations, salted with the proper degree of caveats.

Regarding art, I read the entire first section of Heidegger's "Origin of the Work of Art" as a reductio of trying to think about art with theories instead of going "to the artworks themselves."  If you're interested, I lay this out in my commentary on this essay in Heidegger's Later Writings: A Reader's Guide (http://www.amazon.com/Heideggers-Later-Writings-Readers-Guides/dp/0826439675/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1241702422&sr=8-1).

BTW, I use Steinberg's The Sexuality of Christ... in my "History of the Body" class--it really shakes the students up!

2009-05-09
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
Hi Lee

Your comment re the quarrel re the status of logic are interesting. I wonder why, though, logic assumed such major importance in philosophy at that time? Was that itself a reaction against something...? Was it a kind of anti-Hegelian 'back to basics'?

Thanks for the references.  I wonder if you have read Julian Young's book Heidegger's Philosophy of Art and if so what you think of it?

DA

 





2009-05-11
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Frege launched his attack against Kant; it was Russell&Moore who targeted Hegel and idealism in general (Moore made no distinctions among Berkeley, Hegel, and Bradley; they were all idealists and hence must be beaten back with extreme prejudice)  (I have to add that they did attack Kant, especially his view of math). As to why he took up this cause at this moment, I'm not sure.  I would guess that the dominance of neo-Kantianism spurred him on, as it did Husserl, as well as the work of other logicians like Peano and the Polish School.  Of course, any tracing of influence to previous thinkers or broad movements has to end at some point.  His or her background is necessary for understanding a thinker, but it also underdetermines reactions, and so can only serve as partial explanation.  At some point, as Hume says of natural laws, we have to just say, that's how this philosopher reacted to these ideas.  There may be another step or two in explaining this issue before we hit this spade-turning moment, but if so I don't know it.  If you're interested, I can point you to plenty of discussions; analytic philosophy has recently begun studying its own history & there is some excellent work in the field.

I can sketch the forward motion a bit.  Frege's great innovation, arguably the first major logical innovation since Aristotle, was to change logic analyses of propositions from the Subject-Predicate form ("S is P") to a form modeled on mathematical functions (S(x) or P(x)).  This changes the way logic is done & in particular makes universal & existential qualifications much clearer.  This change struck Russell in particular as earth-shattering, epoch-making, game-changing.  His view always reminds of Descartes' messianic claims for this new method he discovered: if we can just get philosophers (and scientists for Descartes) to think this way, nature will soon yield to us all of her secrets.

"The study of logic becomes the central study in philosophy: it gives the method of research in philosophy, just as mathematics gives the method in physics.  And as physics, which, from Plato to the Renaissance, was as unprogressive, dim, and superstitious as philosophy, became a science through Galileo's fresh observation of facts and subsequent mathematical manipulation, so philosophy, in our own day, is becoming scientific through the simultaneous acquisition of new facts and logical methods…. All this supposed knowledge in the traditional systems [of past philosophies—LB] must be swept away, and a new beginning must be made."

Since translating philosophical claims into this notation suddenly exposed fallacies invisible to generations of philosophers, Russell & co. felt that philosophy could finally make decisive progress, the way that the Scientific Revolution put our examination of nature on the right track to yield amazing results.  This is why he assumes an air of arrogant dismissal of the history of philosophy (does chemistry train its students by leading them through centuries of alchemy?) and contemporaries who have not mastered these new tools.  While logic is no longer obligatory, it is used much more in analytic than continental and many analytic philosophers have retained Russell's attitude, unfortunately. 

This outlook creates a mentality that is constitutionally incapable of taking the history of thought seriously, both because all predecessors were fumbling about in the dark and because logic allows us to achieve timeless truth.  Frege's Platonism states that true thoughts are out there & we, hopefully, latch onto them but, whether anyone thinks them or not is, ultimately, irrelevant.  Contra Kant, Frege told philosophers that they could use this method to escape all empirical, ephemeral, physical & psychological influences to gaze upon the face of Truth Itself, a dream that haunts most of analytic thought to this day.  Here's Russell:


"I think we can, however imperfectly, mirror the world, like Leibniz's monads; and I think it is the duty of the philosopher to make himself as undistorting a mirror as he can…. To achieve such impartiality [as a God might have—LB] is impossible for us, but we can travel a certain distance towards it.  To show the road to this end is the supreme duty of the philosopher."

Meanwhile, Hegel told philosophers that we cannot escape our situatedness (superficial interpretations of Absolute Knowing notwithstanding).  We are inescapably the children of our age and we can no more leap outside of that than out of our own skins.  Thought can only grow from its native habitat.  While not limited to simple repetition--it is growth, after all--it grows in and out of and is sustained by the conditions that make us who we are.  All continental thought is a matter of "becoming who we are" (a quote used by Hegel, Heidegger, and Nietzsche), to fully grasp the ramifications of being finite creatures.  This is the meaning of (existential) phenomenology, which Heidegger called "genuine philosophical empiricism:" we must start from where we are, from what we experience, and we can never get outside of that.

Thus there is a profound difference in ethos: is our goal to embrace our embeddedness in history, gender, class, body, society, etc., or to escape it as much as possible?  Logic seemed like the perfect tool to accomplish the later, much as math appealed to Plato & Descartes.  Phenomenological descriptions of experience and hermeneutic coming to terms with the history that lead up to my thinking the way I do seemed like the best way to achieve the former.  Like Kant said, philosophy's deep questions all come down to, "what are we?"

In my book's conclusion, I trace the ethos (not specific doctrines) of the former to the first Critique (these are the unjustifiable ways we do and have to understand the world and we cannot look behind them for reasons; this is just how our minds work) and the latter to the second Critique (sure we have lots of empirical influences on how we think & feel, but your duty is to transcend them for (ethical) truths that are accessible and apply to not just all of humanity, but to any rational creature whatsoever; it's no accident that the first & most famous version of the Categorical Imperative is based on the Law of Non-Contradiction).  I discuss all of this in more detail in my book, with the citations I'm not bothering with here.



As for Young, he has a good reputation & I liked his guide to Heidegger's later philosophy (even tho it is a rival for my own), but I haven't read that one.  Have you?  It is on my list!







2009-05-12
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

As others have mentioned, a major difference between the two schools of thought has been the ahistorical notions of "analytic" philosophy, whereas "continental" figures have tried to ground there work within a context, both historically and intellectually.  Heidegger's grounding of his philosophy in Dasein also has its consequences, as continental philosophy has generally been more concerned with the individual person among others, where analytic philosophy has (And this is my limited knowledge) sought those atemporal truths or substances.

I suppose it is proper to mention philosophy's fascination with dichotomies; now we have analytic and continental, where a few hundred years ago we have empiricism and rationalism, before that the scholastics reacting to Augustine's thought, all the way book to the philosophers' feuds with the poets in Ancient Greece.  In short, it seems this discipline likes divides.

P.S.  One thing analytic philosophy has generally escaped from is the shallow pillaging of it's intellectual resources to be used in other disciplines (I'm looking at English and Comp Lit).  Sadly, it seems that the employment of continental philosophy by those disciplines is the one that most are aware of, and not the truly serious work done BY actual philosophers.


2009-05-13
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
Hi Lee

Thank you for a most interesting post. Plenty of food for thought!  It does sound as if the way forward now (or at least the way somewhere) is for analytic and continental philosophy to examine their roots more carefully and it's encouraging to see that analytic philosophy at least now seems to be doing that. (A propos, yes, I would be grateful for one or two titles - especially if they are fairly objective in their approach - and not too heavily into technicalities. I confess I lose interest pretty quickly once philosophy turns mathematical etc and loses what I call the 'human element'. I have, for example, always avoided the study of formal logic like the plague).

It's interesting to me to see that the tendencies you describe in analytic and continental philosophy are mirrored exactly in the field I am interested in - the philosophy of art.  Analytic aesthetics treats art as a timeless phenomenon to which history is marginal at best. Continental philosophy has a strong tendency to see art as a product of history, or at least as enmeshed in history in some way. The two are poles apart.

Yes, I have read Young's book on Heidegger's philosophy of art. It seems a good exposition as far as I can tell - and especially given the obscurity of some of the texts he is discussing. I was interested to learn that the 'Origin', which is so often cited as Heidegger's main text on art, is in fact an early version of his thinking and that he had much more to say about art.

Talking titles, I wonder if you know Richard Campbell's "Truth and Historicity".  Among many other things, it covers a lot of the ground we have been discussing re analytic and continental philosophy. (Campbell is an Emeritus Prof here at ANU and for the brief period he taught me, I found him a wonderful teacher.)

DA

2009-05-16
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
It's been the guiding idea of my research as a mature philosopher that the most exciting work that can be done right now lies in cross-fertilization.  I wrote a paper on how Gadamer's views on understanding past texts--where their difference in perspective can illuminate the assumptions we've taken for granted and no longer see--can apply to conversations between contemporaneous schools that have developed independently of each other.  There's so much interesting stuff that could be happening but isn't.  Perhaps the main obstacle is the amount of work involved in getting up to speed on another long conversation; my first book (A Thing of This World) tried to do some of that work for people.

There was a good discussion a few weeks ago on suggested books for learning about the history of analytic philosophy, esp. its early phase:

http://drjon.typepad.com/jon_cogburns_blog/2009/04/suggested-books-to-get-acculturated-to-analytic-philosophy.html

I like almost all of those books.  I definitely recommend the Hanna&Hylton; Soames is good too.  I don't think there's any seriously technical stuff in those, except perhaps Soames, but it plays a relatively minor role there as I recall.

Heidegger took art very seriously, throughout his later work.  Poetry always enjoyed pride of place (he wrote a number of pieces that really can be categorized as literary criticism, studies of Holderlin, Georg, etc.), but he talks a lot about architecture and paintings.  Apparently, he was gaga over Klee, even considering rewriting "Origin" with Klee's work instead of Van Gogh's.  I can't imagine how one can study art without actual works and their history.  I think Danto might be an exception to this, tho I haven't read his stuff on art.  What is your approach?

I don't know that Campbell--but its price is eye-popping!  I'll have to get it thru my library.  Thanks for the suggestion.

2009-05-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
BTW, a reading group of my book is going to beginin about a month here:

http://drjon.typepad.com/jon_cogburns_blog/2009/05/buy-this-book-and-join-our-gang-also-read-the-string-of-posts-on-larvalsubjects.html

So check it out if you're interested.

2009-05-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
Dear Lee,

I'm intrigued by the way you say you trace the continental/analytic divide to the paradigms of Kant's first critique and his second critique, the latter advocating (you suggest) a more timeless/Platonistic approach than the former. But I have to question your characterization of Hegel as entirely on the former side of this issue:

"Hegel told philosophers that we cannot escape our situatedness (superficial interpretations of Absolute Knowing notwithstanding).  We are inescapably the children of our age and we can no more leap outside of that than out of our own skins.  Thought can only grow from its native habitat.  While not limited to simple repetition--it is growth, after all--it grows in and out of and is sustained by the conditions that make us who we are.  All continental thought is a matter of "becoming who we are" (a quote used by Hegel, Heidegger, and Nietzsche), to fully grasp the ramifications of being finite creatures."

Hegel in fact gives a key role to the Kantian "Ought" in his account of Reality in the Quality chapter of the _Science of Logic_. Having argued that the finite as such cannot be "real" (German _real_, by which he means being what it is by virtue of itself), Hegel suggests that consequently the finite can achieve Reality only by going beyond itself, via something like the Ought. This is the genesis of the "infinite." Hegel then of course distinguishes a spurious from a true infinity, and takes Kant's and Fichte's moral imperatives to be examples of the former; and no doubt he would criticize dualistic Platonism, as in the early pages of the Phaedo, as similarly a spurious infinity or spurious transcendence. Because in each case what's supposed to be infinite fails to be so, since it's defined in part through its contrast to or exclusion of the finite, and such a definition makes it, itself, finite.

But this doesn't alter the fact that Hegel is committed by his critique of the finite to the idea of going beyond it! He wants, precisely, a true _infinity_. Not merely "to fully grasp the ramifications of being finite creatures." His conclusion is that "The idealism of philosophy consists in nothing else than in recognizing that the finite has no veritable being" (Science of Logic, Miller trans., p. 154). Absolute Knowing (in the Phenomenology) and Absolute Spirit (in the Encyclopedia) both embody this principle.

It's certainly true that many later Continental thinkers appear to read Hegel in the way that you do, in terms of "situatedness." Some of his remarks about history encourage such a reading. But I don't believe that such a reading can make sense of the Science of Logic or the Encyclopedia, taken as a whole. Rather, we have to recognize that Hegel, like Aristotle and Kant (and unlike Edmund Burke, the German Romantics, and Dilthey: the true prophets of "situatedness"), belongs basically within the Platonic tradition. Hegel interprets the true infinite as the self-surpassing of the finite. This is his critique of Platonism (and of Kant's ethics). But like Aristotle, with his formal cause, Hegel continues to believe that the finite (matter) as such is un-"real." Thus it seems to me that Hegel is ideally situated to bridge the "continental/analytic" gap as you describe it. The infinite for him is the self-surpassing _of the finite_: that's the truth in Continental "situatedness." But it's the self-_surpassing_ of the finite: that's the truth in Analytic/"Platonic" timelessness.

I lay out this reading of Hegel's _Science of Logic_ and his system in my _Hegel's Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God_ (Cambridge U. Press, 2005). Chapter 3 of the book, the key chapter, can be downloaded from the "Writings" page of my website, www.robertmwallace.com

Best, Bob Wallace

2009-05-20
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Bob,

Yes, Hegel is very tricky and my message was way too brief to flesh out or substantiate my reading.  Also, I haven't read the Science of Logic so my knowledge of Hegel is limited; I mainly focus on the Phenomenology and the Encyclopedia Logic.

First, let me clear up an easy misunderstanding.  When I trace continental thought the the 1st Critique&analytic to the 2nd, I only mean the ethos informing these books, especially regarding the status of reason and our situatedness, not the particular topics.  In fact, analytic philosophers tend to be more interested in epistemology while some form of ethics infuses much of continental thought.

Fully explaining and justifying my classification of Hegel on the side of the finitude or immanence would take a lot more time than is feasible here--I do undertake this project in Chapter 3 of my book.  The main point, as I see it, is that Hegel rejected Kant's noumenon-phenomenon distinction, which utterly redefines how we think about the world we experience.  Without a separated Platonic realm of real reality, the world we experience and the knowledge we achieve become the highest forms of reality and truth we can intelligibly talk about.  This is why his words can often be read 2 ways--either as positing Truth and Reality which transcend human activity but which we can access, or as jettisoning any such notion and so awarding the status of Truth and Reality to what we experience and know, what analytic philosophers sometimes call an epistemic conception of truth.  In both cases he would say that we can know the world as it really is, but what this means differs considerably.  Obviously, I favor the latter position, which is why I take it seriously when he calls Absolute Knowing in the Phenomenology just the grasp of the process that has lead up to it, rather than a further discovery to be added onto it.

Does that make my reading any more plausible?

2009-05-21
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
Hi Lee

Thanks for all the useful references.  I will check out the online discussions you mention.

My own approach to the philosophy of art, which you asked about, is neither analytic nor continental, although I try to keep up with what's happening in both areas. I am a strong admirer of the much-neglected theory of art of the twentieth century French writer Andre Malraux. I won't attempt to describe his approach except to say that he views art, fundamentally, as a response to a metaphysical need. The effect of this on one's thinking is quite revolutionary.  Traditional notions like aesthetic pleasure, aesthetic judgment, beauty, taste, representation, etc take a back seat and a series of new and largely ignored issues - like the temporal nature of art, the creative process, the fact that so many cultures had no equivalent to our concept art, (and how we explain that), the emergence over the past century of what Malraux calls 'the first universal world of art'  - take centre stage, and become explicable.  I have written some short pieces on Malraux and fondly hope to get a book out one of these days...

DA.





2009-05-26
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
Hi Lee,

Sorry to take so long to get back to you on this interesting response. I'll certainly have to look up your book.

To respond to your sketch of Hegel's account of our relation to "Truth and Reality," let me briefly sum up what he does with "Reality" (_Realität_) in the Quality chapter of the Science of Logic. Hegel defines "Reality" as what is what it is by virtue of itself. And he shows that the finite can't be "real" in this sense, so if there is any Reality, it must be achieved by the infinite. But true infinity can't be the _opposite_ of the finite, since that relationship to the finite would make infinity itself finite. Rather, true infinity must be the finite's going beyond itself. But that's what _we_ are! The finite goes beyond itself through our freedom. So insofar as we're acquainted with our own freedom, by being acquainted with (for example) the process of moral inquiry and action that Kant describes, we're acquainted with the infinite. And thus we're acquainted with Reality.

Thus I think Hegel _neither_ embraces the idea of a Reality that "transcends human activity but which we can access," _nor_ "awards the status of Truth and Reality to what we experience and know." His account of Reality is quite distinct from both of these. Unlike them, Hegel's account of Reality makes no direct reference to knowledge or human activity. It isn't epistemological or anthropocentric. It certainly does have very important consequences for epistemology and "philosophical anthropology." But I don't think we'll understand those consequences if we start always from the modern and Kantian problematic of the relation of the knower to reality.

I suspect this is also true of Plato and Aristotle (and Whitehead). All  of these thinkers seem to me to avoid the modern/Kantian problematic in ways that are profoundly helpful. Whereas as far as I can tell, much of both the analytic "realism/anti-realism" discussion, and the Continental tradition from Schopenhauer onwards, remain mired in the modern/Kantian problematic.

Best, Bob

2009-09-05
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
The question has attracted quite a bit of interest in Britain. Two studies are by Simon Glendinning, who thinks continental philosophy (as a single tradition) exists only the imagination of analytic philosophy, and Michael Dummett, who sees the linguistic turn taken by Frege and not Husserl as a fundamental breakthrough but regrets that some yonger Anglo-Saxon philosophers are abandoning it.

I am currently writing something on this from the perspective of views of the human good and views of modernity. I believe that the Anglo-Saxon tradition is more hospitable to a progressive view of modernity and continental philosophy very receptive to critique. This goes back to centuries-old differerences in philosophical approach (Locke/Leibniz, even Occam) and also to the very specific historical experience of the second world war.

2009-09-08
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Some general thoughts pertaining to the divide:

The strangeness of the divide between Analytic (Anglo-Saxon) and Continental (mainland European) philosophy is marked by a lack of historical awareness in those who insist upon the difference (usually Analytic philosophers) and the lack of clarity to an understanding of what philosophy is and can be (Analytic philosophers insist upon such clarity, whilst Continental philosophers tend to revel in the lack of clarity).

Where would one place Plato or Aristotle and why?  Plato wrote dialogues and relied upon myths and yet still maintained a focus upon clarifying terms.  What we have of Aristotle’s works is his lecture notes not his dialogues which are said to have been better than Plato’s.

The origins of Analytic philosophy are clearly not Anglo-Saxon – the major influences are Frege’s mathematical logic (although many still credit Russell and Whitehead) and Carnap and the Vienna Circle’s Positivism (not Quine or Ayer).

The truth is that we are all doing philosophy and all doing it in different ways and that is by no means a negative situation.

Whether we are concerned with the relationship of philosophy and science or philosophy and literature, it is wise to remember that for the Ancient Greeks philosophy was the search for wisdom in all things and all areas – there was no separating of science and psychology or literature and rhetoric from philosophy.


2009-09-08
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
I tend to agree with Massimo in most part. Instead of saying something of my own, let me quote Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari on the beginnings of Greek philosophy from the chapter 'Geophilosophy' of their book, What is Philosophy? (1991/ Eng. Tr. H. Tomlinson and G. Burchill, Verso.1994, p. 87):
"Greece seems to have a fractal structure in so far as each point of the peninsula is close to the sea and its sides have great length....It is like an "international market" organized along the borders of the Orient between a multiplicity of independent cities or distinct societies that are nevertheless attached to one another and within which artisans and merchants find a freedom and mobility denied to to them by the empires. These types come from the borderlands of the Greek world, strangers in flight, breaking with empire and colonized peoples of Apollo--not only artisans and merchants but philosophers. As Faye says, it took a century for the name philosopher, no doubt invented by Heraclitus of Epheus, to find its correlate in the word philosophy, no doubt invented by Plato the Athenian: "Asia, Italy and Africa are the odyssean phases of the journey connecting philosophos to philosophy. Philosophers are foreigners (strangers), but philosophy is Greek."
Perhaps, it would be foolhardy to assume that philosophy has or can have a secure geographical or conceptual territory that remains unaffected by foreigners or foreignness.

2009-09-08
The analytic/continental divide
MB: "The truth is that we are all doing philosophy and all doing it in different ways and that is by no means a negative situation."

This is comforting, but I am not sure it does not gloss over something pretty fundamental. 

Because I am neither "analytic" nor "Continental" I tend at times to go to conferences of both stripes (which, incidentally, those who do belong to these groupings do not appear to do very often...) Every time I do this, I get the feeling I have entered a different world, a world in which nothing is the same as the other one - the basic assumptions, the methodology, the philosophers who are seen as important, even the very aim of philosophy.

I won't comment on Franson's comment because I am not sure I understand it properly (Perhaps I am not Continental enough?)

DA


2009-09-09
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Echoing Novalis ("Philosophy is really homesickness, an urge to be at home everywhere"), Wittgenstein proclaimed; "The philosopher is not a citizen of any community of ideas.  That is what makes him into a philosopher" (Zettel #455).  The quote from Deleuze and Guattari, in typical Gallic style, is ultimately saying something very similar (with more flourish and less clarity perhaps).

Something else to consider is Heidegger's abandonment of philosophy and turn to thinking (commemorative rather than calculative).  I have always felt that Heidegger was too quick to agree on the standard use of terms (philosophy just is metaphysics and leads naturally to its own demise in the sciences it spawns).

And then there is the debate between Derrida and Searle (see Limited Inc.), where Derrida accused Searle of being unethical.  Interestingly one of the first major works of analytic philosophy - Wittgenstein's Tractatus - was claimed by the author to be about "the Ethical".


2009-09-09
The analytic/continental divide
It's odd.  When I read comments of this kind I start to long for a bit of hard-edged analytic philosophy. (Though, regrettably, much of what I read in analytic philosophy turns out not to be very hard edged - or even 'analytical' - at all.)

DA" 

2009-09-09
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Here's what Wittgenstein said about the ethical.  The text is translated from German, but we can try and read these sentences as instances of 'Austro-English':

"The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world everything is as it is, and everything happens as it does happen: in it no value exists—and if it did exist, it would have no value.

            If there is any value that does have value, it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case. For all that happens and is the case is accidental.

            What makes it non-accidental cannot lie within the world, since it would itself be accidental.

            It must lie outside the world.

And so it is impossible for there to be propositions of ethics.

            Propositions can express nothing that is higher.

            It is clear that ethics cannot be put into word.

            Ethics is transcendental.

            (Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same.)"[1]



[1] L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, (Tr.) D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness. London: RKP, 145-46. (Italics added)   


2009-09-09
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Sorry I was trying to be suggestive and thus not elaborating.

This is what Wittgenstein said in a letter to his friend and potential publisher Ludwig von Ficker:
"The point of the book is ethical . . .
I wanted to write that my work consists of two parts: of the one which is here, and of everything which I have not written.  And precisely this second part is the important one.  For the Ethical is delimited from within, as it were, by my book; and I'm convinced that, strictly speaking, it can ONLY be delimited in this way.  In brief, I think: All of that which many are babbling today, I have defined in my book by remaining silent about it."

So what was I alluding to (without babbling)?  First, that although Wittgenstein is considered by many an Analytic philosopher, much of his thought fits better in the Continental camp.  That said, it would be better to just ignore the divide and focus upon what is of philosophic import.

Is this logic or ethics, science or literature?  It can be any of these in different contexts or even a combination of them.  If there is anything that marks philosophy as philosophy (and not as something else) it is the integrity in seeking a greater understanding and respecting the views of others (philia sophia).


2009-09-09
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Max

Yes I know Wittgenstein sounds a bit "Continental' at times. I also agree with you re respecting the views of others.  But I am really talking about the contemporary philosophical scene in academia. And it does seem to me that, due allowance made for various exceptions, there is a very marked split - "gulf" is perhaps a better description - between the two dominant schools, and that there is very little real dialogue between them. One has only to look at things like journals, conferences...

DA 

2009-09-09
The analytic/continental divide
I was in fact trying to corroborate your point(s), Massimo, about Wittgenstein, especially regarding his 'ethical,' and his otherness, or 'foreignness' within Analytical Philosophy. The 'ethical,' for Wittgenstein and for Levinas, has to do with otherness or the 'outside'. What interests me here -- and hence the initial reference to Deleuze -- is the inherent otherness or 'foreignness' of philosophy. Some of the major recent movements, be it in Analytical or Continental philosophy have been due to 'foreigners' or quasi-foreigners, like Frege, Wittgenstein and possibly Carnap, in contemporary British philosophy, and Nietzsche, Heidegger, Levinas and Derrida in contemporary French philosophy. Though, it is true that there are more 'Europeans' who have directly influenced Analytic Philosophy, than Anglo-Americans who have played a major role in Continental philosophy. But, we must note here that Austin's notion of the performative (speech acts) has deeply affected large sections of continental philosophy, particularly Habermas and Deleuze.
   

2009-09-09
The analytic/continental divide
FDM: "Some of the major recent movements, be it in Analytical or Continental philosophy have been due to 'foreigners' or quasi-foreigners, like Frege, Wittgenstein and possibly Carnap, in contemporary British philosophy, and Nietzsche, Heidegger, Levinas and Derrida in contemporary French philosophy."

"'foreigners' or quasi-foreigners" - from whose point of view?

DA


2009-09-09
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
I think I can best respond to the query by saying. from a philosophically dynamic point of view within a geographically or culturally identifiable context -- e.g., British, German, French --, that is able to welcome perspective/s of the outsiders (= 'foreigners' or 'quasi-foreigners') who or whose ideas come from a context that is geographically and/or culturally / linguistically identifiable as different. Evidently, the question itself leads us to further philosophical debates. Let me here refer to Paul Patton's response to Alan Saunders in an interview broadcast on ABC Radio National (Philosophy - the Great Divide - Continental / Analytic, 4 July 2009). This issue, according to Patton, "has a long history in continental political thought, from Kant through the phenomenological tradition, to 20th century thinkers... all of whom in different ways have discussed among other things what Kant calls the cosmopolitan right of individuals to land in a foreign country, to be received and treated with decency, without penalty." It is useful to consider the transformations and even upheavals brought into philosophical discourses and practices by "foreigners," or those who "cross boundaries." - FM.

2009-09-22
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Analytic and Continental appeal to me as systems. Analytic seeks to be more precise; continental wider in its investigations. So, the analytic philosopher will begin with atoms and the continental philosopher begins with the meat and potatoes of happenings. What does this mean? As far as I know of the analytic system, it really does not give much room for the philosophy of affectation, for example, as affectation. All the analytic philosopher is left with is a set of propositions keenly understood as a set of the best-ordered elements (best, as of up to now). The continental system attempts to find new languages in order to work with, say, the philosophy of affectation as affectation. It's akin to the science of philosophizing against the poetry of philosophizing, both equally as appropriate and relevant (as far as each has been confabulated and accepted). I don't believe in either as a finely demarcated camp.

2009-09-23
The analytic/continental divide
I'm sorry. I really don't see that the question of 'foreigners' has much to do with the topic at hand (the continental/analytic divide). Everyone is a 'foreigner" from some point of view.

The questions I am essentially interested in raising are: (a) why there is such a large gulf between these two philosophical schools? and (b) why is so little time spent by philosophers on both sides of the divide trying to answer that question? (Don't they think it matters?  Is it too hard? Is there no academic incentive to answer it? etc).

DA

2009-09-23
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Your questions are indeed genuine and I respect them. Perhaps, the answers are not easy to come by. I would also agree that your statement, "Everyone is a 'foreigner" from some point of view" has great philosophical significance, and there is no reason to doubt its relevance

2009-09-23
The analytic/continental divide
Actually I didn't intend my comment re foreignness to have any deep philosophical significance. It just strikes me as a simple fact of life.
But in any case I do not think it has any bearing on the questions I listed.  My concern is why the question of the analytic/continental divide is so frequently ignored in philosophy when, surely, it cries out for attention. 

DA 

2009-09-23
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

As abiding followers of Socrates, some of us at least, I think would like to pay serious attention to the simple facts of life. As we know, the earliest Aristotelian syllogism concludes on the simple fact of Socrates' mortality. Inexhaustibility of philosophical discussions does interest me. 


2009-09-23
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
"The questions I am essentially interested in raising are: (a) why there is such a large gulf between these two philosophical schools? and (b) why is so little time spent by philosophers on both sides of the divide trying to answer that question? (Don't they think it matters?  Is it too hard? Is there no academic incentive to answer it? etc)."

I would say that a) has a historical answer and b) has a sociological answer.

a) philosophy, like all human endeavors, takes place within a context--philosophical writings address problems and improve theories bequeathed to each generation by the previous one.  Analytic&continental philosophy diverged--with continental following Hegel and analytic following Frege, Russell, and Moore--and the topics considered interesting, the kinds of answers considered appropriate and worth studying, the proper tone of writings--all developed in the wake of their distinctive founding (even revolutions are deeply affected by what they're revolting against). 

b) Once split, these branches develop and extend their own distinct ideas and methods, becoming increasingly distant from the other, once related side.  By now, philosophers from one side often refuse to recognize work from the other as philosophy at all, much less good philosophy.  It takes a great deal of work to get up to speed with the other conversation and the appearance of tedium or willful nonsense that happens in the absence of this background reaffirms the initial decision not to pursue it.

It's a bit like the divergent evolution Darwin saw in the Galapagos Islands.  While various types of finches had once been united, once they start living & breeding apart from each other, they become different species, with no possibility of inter-breeding.

2009-09-23
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
That sounds quite plausible as an historical explanation.

But I still want to ask: Are philosophers happy with this situation? So little time and effort is spent trying to bridge the divide - or even understand it - one would think they must be. And that strikes me as simply amazing.  After all, we are talking about philosophers, not finches.

DA 

2009-09-27
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Philosophers are human and as such they are political animals, and the relevant philosophers' modern Western political instincts make them prefer this divide in Western thought to a monolithic state of affairs. (Philosophy on both sides of the analytic/Continental divide is obviously a part of modern Western civilization.) 


If you succeed in bridging this divide (you'll have to drag a lot of philosophers screaming in to the "bi-partisan talks" to do that), they'll find a new fundamental disagreement over which to divide anew. One major school of thought - that's boring and can feel despotic to free-thinking people. Two major schools, with their own subdivisions and minor periodic rebellions - that is probably a more appealing state of affairs to most people in the West. 

The "logic-is-the-gateway-to-eternal-truth-and-must-be-prescriptive-and-not-part-of-psychology" analytical dogma is in fundamental disagreement with the "all-truth-is-contextual-and-experienced-phenomena-precede-logic-as-the-gateway-to-truth" Continental dogma. Say somebody comes along and gets people to believe that this disagreement isn't the deepest, and the schools merge around something "deeper" (comparable to Kant's feet of disarming the empiricist-idealist divide, which lasted centuries...). How long will the peace last? Just until some Frege* revolts against the central Kantian* point, and a new split will emerge in the history of Western Thought...

And that's the way the cookie crumbles. 




2009-09-27
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Guy Schultz
GS: "Philosophers are human and as such they are political animals,.."

One would hope, though, that they would be able to rise above their political animality when they try to philosophize.

GS
: "If you succeed in bridging ... (expand) this divide (you'll have to drag a lot of philosophers screaming in to the "bi-partisan talks" to do that), they'll find a new fundamental disagreement over which to divide anew. One major school of thought - that's boring and can feel despotic to free-thinking people. Two major schools, with their own subdivisions and minor periodic rebellions - that is probably a more appealing state of affairs to most people in the West. "

Well, I don't really see boredom as a serious risk. Nor do I think the existence of the analytic/continental divide is doing much to counter any potential boredom anyway - because so little attention is paid to it. 

Also, I have no preconceived idea about what might result from a serious attempt to come to grips with the problem. Would there be just one school of thought?  Or a fragmentation into several?  If it were just one school of thought, would that situation be any more "despotic" than the present one - which, frankly, seems pretty despotic in its own way. (How much chance would one have getting a 'continental' paper accepted by an 'analytic' journal/conference? Or vice versa. Etc).

My plea, just to be clear, has not been that there should be just one school of philosophical thought. To my mind, the number of schools of thought is irrelevant. Indeed, maybe the more the merrier.  My complaint is that the two currently dominant schools seem to live in almost hermetically sealed worlds, and seem unable to talk to each other in any sensible and enlightening way. For a field such as philosophy which (presumably) prides itself on its intellectual curiosity, its capacity to think clearly and engage in fruitful dialogue with others, this is surely something of an indictment?

DA



2009-09-27
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
"But I still want to ask: Are philosophers happy with this situation? So little time and effort is spent trying to bridge the divide - or even understand it - one would think they must be. And that strikes me as simply amazing.  After all, we are talking about philosophers, not finches."

Well, to continue the finch metaphor just a bit further, once another group has deviated so far as to become a different species, the urge to (ahem) breed with them subsides.  If the other side "isn't really doing philosophy" or is engaged in "muddle-headed obscurantism" or "tedious dry logic-chopping," then why put in the effort to learn their lingo?  It's a great deal of work and, from the outside, it looks unpromising; that's part of what it means to be on the outside.  So I think many philosophers are unhappy with the fact that a bunch of imposters are soiling the good name of philosophy, but are quite happy knowing nothing about them.  I have made up my mind about Ayn Rand, for example, and have no interest in spending a lot of time perusing the secondary literature on her to make sure that I'm right in dismissing her.  It's too much work to spend on the chance, which I have estimated as negligible, that I may be wrong.  The fact that, without sufficient background, the other side looks deeply unappealing then gets reinforced by all the sociological factors: when you're looking for a dissertation chair, a job, tenure, invitations to speak, etc., do you want those in charge to scoff at your interests?  Why bother putting your reputation at risk when it already takes more time than your natural lifetime to master and keep up with the literature of your chosen area?

2009-09-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
I gather you are describing the general situation, Lee, rather than your own - since you have, I gather, made considerable efforts to understand the other side? (I have not got around to reading your book yet, I should explain.)

Just a little item of interest:  I recently went to a conference that addressed what the notion of "the human" might now mean (I forget the exact title). It was definitely "continental" in flavour as one could readily tell from the CFP.  Predictably, there was not an analytic philosopher in sight. But, really, that's quite odd, isn't it, when you think about it? After all, the "analytics" spend a lot of time talking about human consciousness, about ethics, and about various other issues that bear on what it might mean to be human.  But obviously they read the CFP and saw that it was "something for the continentals" - the other lot. So here we had a major topic in philosophy being discussed from just one point of view - in a wholly sectarian way, so to speak.

I realize that this kind of thing is by no means unusual.  On the contrary, it is the way the world is these days. Business as usual...

DA

2009-09-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
DA: "My complaint is that the two currently dominant schools seem to live in almost hermetically sealed worlds, and seem unable to talk to each other in any sensible and enlightening way. For a field such as philosophy which (presumably) prides itself on its intellectual curiosity, its capacity to think clearly and engage in fruitful dialogue with others, this is surely something of an indictment?"

It might be worthwhile to compare the schism in modern Western philosophy to the Great Schism in the Church. Where Catholics welcomed in Byzantium and vice versa? Wasn't Christendom divided into almost hermetically sealed worlds, unable to talk to each other? Now, where the theological differences really that unsurmountable, or perhaps the schism was due, at least partially, to clashes of vested interests which masked themselves as matters of faith? Since the clerics in each realm had enough authority to impose their theology on followers, and enough power to resist attempted invasions by the other side, the schism became the normal, taken-for-granted state of affairs.  


You speak of philosophy priding itself on its capacity to think clearly and engage in fruitful dialogue with others. But are the group dynamics among philosophers really different from the group dynamics in any other group where what you say and what you believe is what you are? Like in religion and politics, philosophers' self-identity is bound up with their particular alignment's basic creeds. Maybe they should be humble rather than proud. Maybe they are unable to rise above their political animality when they philosophize. Maybe their careers and legacies are more important to them than anything else, really, including the ideal of open dialogue. If analytic Professor X sees his students reading Heidegger and taking him seriously, isn't that threatening? 

Yes it's indictment-deserving, insofar as being driven by the same passions and falling victim to the same neuroses as any other people in similar modes of social organization, is indictment-deserving. (Perhaps that in itself is not indictment-deserving. Being that and not admitting it - that is probably much worse, especially for philosophers. But then again, many clerics and politicians and just plain ordinary people are hypocritical too, and won't admit it, so why should philosophers be different?).  


2009-09-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Guy Schultz
Guy

All of this may be very true. But it just sounds like an excuse. Can philosophers really content themselves with saying: "Oh well, other people hive themselves off into inward-looking groups, so why not us too?"

(I'm not sure, actually, from what you say, whether you are trying to defend this state of affairs or not.)

DA 

2009-09-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Yes, I've dedicated my career (so far) to examining and overcoming this division.  I just finished my 3rd book, all of which deal, either directly or indirectly, with this situation.

The conference you mention brings up one possible way to overcome it--by triangulating everyone around a common topic.  This is what my first book does with realism, reactions to which constitute the common inheritance from Kant.  But of course, how the topic is dealt with, which intellectual landmarks are assumed are used casually, what kinds of approaches are acceptable--these all differ.  These differences should be exciting and seen as an opportunity to revisit one's own prejudices and assumptions in a Gadamerian fashion, but this is rarely done.  It's a lot more comfortable, and profitable in the short run, to talk to people on your wavelength.  Some people have been able to translate successfully; in particular, Dreyfus&his students have done a great job showing the relevance of Heidegger & Merleu-Ponty to cognitive science and philosophy of mind.  Aside from the long-simmering hostilities, I think the main obstacle is just the sheer amount of effort it takes to get out of one's rut & grasp a whole other tradition.

Anyway, I'm fighting for it!  Jeff Malpas is another, who's from down under.  Do you know him or his work? (I don't mean to imply that Australia's so small that everyone knows everyone, but the philosophy community might be small enough)

2009-09-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
It's cheering to know there are some people such as yourself who are looking seriously at the problem. (I don't know Malpas but have heard of him. I should explain that I am something of an outsider in all this. My own major interest lies elsewhere and my observations about the analytic/continental divide are those of an interested observer rather than someone in the heat of the battle.)

A propos of conferences, I found this an amusing idea: Hold a conference on, say, 'What it means to be human." Say no more about the topic but invite (say) 5 mainstream analytic philosophers and 5 mainstream continentals. Then program them all alternately - one analytic, one continental - for maximum effect.  It would be philosophy's equivalent of the Tower of Babel.  (And how sad that would be, given the topic!)

DA
  

2009-10-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
There have been repeated attempts to bridge the gap, whatever it amounts to, tween Analytic and Continental, and none have worked.
In the 80s, John Searle said in lectures that Phenomenology is the part of Analytic philosophy that deals with intentionality,
and Analytic philosophy is the part of Phenomenology that deals with everything else. His book, Intentionality,
owed an explicit debt to Heidegger. This didn't do much to bridge the gap, in fact, nor has anything else,
and so I may be forgiven
the induction that odds are it won't be bridged any time soon.

I reckon the only way to bridge it is if a good number of analytic philosophers sit down for a couple of years
and study these people in depth. And I don't suppose that's going to happen.
Not that they aren't worth studying, but most of us have enough on our plate already.
Also the writing is occasionally very hard to follow, sometimes it seems a different
language with different (but unknown to me) goals. If I'm going to work that hard,
it might as well be on things I can write about myself. There is so much in my
own tradition I don't know.

Most of us know a fair amount about Sartre, because his ideas have been widely popular and because he wrote
with so much lucidity. But I don't suppose I can add anything to that discussion. Searle's channeling of Heidegger is very interesting
but I'm not inclined to learn Heidegger's terminology, so I'm not inclined to read him. Husserl, Meinong and
Brentano seem worth reading, certainly. My impression is that the stuff these people said that most interests me
has largely been introduced into analytic philosophy already (e.g. we speak in philosophy of mind of 'Brentano's Problem').
Unless I have specific research interests, e.g. non-existent objects, intentionality.


2009-10-05
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
JS: "I reckon the only way to bridge it is if a good number of analytic philosophers sit down for a couple of years
and study these people in depth. And I don't suppose that's going to happen.
Not that they aren't worth studying, but most of us have enough on our plate already.
Also the writing is occasionally very hard to follow, sometimes it seems a different
language with different (but unknown to me) goals. If I'm going to work that hard,
it might as well be on things I can write about myself. There is so much in my
own tradition I don't know."

And of course continental philosophers could try to bridge the divide also.

But the main point I would make in response to this comment is that it suggests how deeply entrenched institutionally the gap is.  We are talking about philosophers educated in a certain tradition having to make huge extra efforts even to look at the other tradition (and I guess many continentals might bridle at the thought that "a couple of years" would suffice to study their tradition "in depth".)

And this is all backed up by the paraphernalia of conferences, textbooks, journals, appointments etc. The institutional forces in favour of the status quo seem enormous...

Not a good look.

DA





2009-10-05
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
Another rather surprising gap-bridging event was John McDowell's announcing, in his _Mind and World_ (1994) that he regarded it as "a prolegomenon to a reading of [Hegel's] Phenomenology of Spirit." McDowell being the epitome of the Oxford-trained Wittgenstein- and Aristotle- analyst. Plus of course Robert Brandom's pretty extensive publications on Hegel in the succeeding decade. My own _Hegel's Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God_ (2005) is a contribution in a similar vein, interpreting Hegel as addressing issues in metaphysics, philosophical theology, ethics, and philosophy of the will that are recognizably the same as those addressed by the canonical authors of "analytic" philosophy.

Of course, "continental" philosophy doesn't necessarily continue in Hegel's footsteps. Much of it refuses to do so, just as much analytic philosophy refuses to do so. But present-day continentals commonly at least claim to be interested in Hegel.

Best, Bob Wallace

2009-10-05
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Well, the two years is what I think it would take to catch on to what these folks are talking about. I'm emeritus, I have no institutional impediments.
The divide is chiefly intellectual. Very different projects, very different ways of expressing themselves.Very hard to understand a lot of this stuff
and when I do, I'm not necessarily interested.
I work in Asian philosophy along with analytic stuff. No problems there. If I may say so, after repeated efforts to bridge the gap,
it's certainly thinkable that it isn't worth bridging. As mentioned, a number of the most interesting ideas in Continental philosophy
have already entered analytic philosophy. There may not be enough interest to folks on both sides to warrant the
effort.  Nothing prevents individual scholars from digging into Being and Time.
A serious effort at mass bridging is likely to bore all concerned, however..  People
may not have all that much to say to each other, even if they learn to speak each
other's language. My bet is that things are alright as they are.

No, it isn't going to come from the other side. I've taught in Europe. I think people in Continental there are less interested in talking to
Analytic philosophers than we are in talking to them, and learning analytic methods
is very hard to do. Very few people are going to spend years getting up to speed in another tradition that doesn't much interest them.

Best wishes, Jim


2009-10-05
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
JS:  "A serious effort at mass bridging is likely to bore all concerned, however..."

Rather makes it sound as if there's not much worth knowing about on either side...

But seriously, take my suggestion of the topic "What it means to be human." What the analytics would say about this would be worlds away from what continentals would say. Worse, although both would be claiming to do "philosophy", each would scarcely even understand what the other side was saying.

In a world in which such questions are rather important - to say the least of it - isn't this something of an indictment of the field of philosophy in general? I mean if, on questions like this, neither side can even understand what the other is saying, let alone discuss it...

My point is that if philosophy is a serious study, with a point - and not just a diverting intellectual game for those who can afford the time - isn't this the kind of thing that needs serious attention?

DA

2009-10-05
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
There are plenty of things worth knowing that don't interest me, especially relative to what does interest me. Learning Chinese, for instance.
As things now stand I would rather learn about mental causation than about  Hegel.   Only so many
years in a life. An en masse effort by analytic philosophers to become
genuinely conversant with the Continental tradition would be prudent only if there is good reason to believe it would
reward us in the research interests that concern most of us, or create new interests that we would value as much.

 It's possible that the break down is an indictment of philosophy, but only on the assumption
that the other side has something to offer that we ought to master to pursue our own research,
or that it includes research projects that we ought to adopt.  Many of us do know something about Continental philosophy, in fact (I went
to a grad school that emphasized it), and judge that it
isn't as worth pursuing as other things given our interests. My mind is open, and until I find
good reason to think the above assumption is true, I have no problem with the divide. Philosophy has many mansions and so can include
schools of thought that are seriously orthogonal to one another, both in their methodology and their concerns.
It isn't as though no one has tried to bridge the divide. I think many feel we've reached the point
of diminishing returns on such efforts. At a certain point it's not unfair to conclude
that many people on either side of the divide have different fish to fry. The people on the other side feel accordingly, as far as I
can tell, but probably more so.

Individual scholars may well wish to study Continental and particular research interests may well take
me into the Continental one day. Reading in other traditions is to be encouraged, no question,



2009-10-06
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
I fully accept that there are limits to what any individual philosopher can hope to cover in their study and research. I also accept that philosophy may have many mansions and I'm not suggesting there should be one orthodox line. (Perish the thought!)

What strikes me as so regrettable in the present situation is the pronounced, institutionalized nature of the divide (the separate journals, conferences, schools, etc etc) and the fact that there is so little dialogue between the two sides (setting aside the occasional isolated individual who makes a brave attempt to do something about it).

This is not a case of "many mansions". This is a case of continents (no pun intended) separated by oceans whose inhabitant speak quite different languages and who spend most of their time ignoring (if not disdaining) each other while both claiming to be doing the same thing - philosophy.

Put bluntly, it is a schism - with all the drawbacks that involves.

DA




2009-10-13
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
What topics do you think Critchley should've added?  Do you think this book would warrant a follow-up?  Like a Part 2?  

2009-10-13
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
It is not as if Continental Philosophy encompasses everything other than Analytic Philosophy. A reading of Kant that focuses on the primacy of practical reason is completely eclipsed by the epistemological possibilities that he introduced that it would appear foreign to continental philosophy in general. While Kant is not the only conduit through which Continental Philosophy has become what it is, his importance is enough to warrant looking at the question from the primacy of practical reason, something that, in my opinion, is quite foreign to both continental and analytic philosophy, which are split over problems of knowledge. I would pursue other ways of addressing this divide, for it would be a unsatisfactory if these two were to comprise the totality of what is philosophy. 

2009-10-13
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Perhaps the first practical step in getting the two sides talking is in asking people to study the Frege-Husserl debate vis-a-vis psychologism creeping into thinking on the foundations of logic. Here were two great thinkers, both hard-science-oriented, both of the same generation and speaking the same language, both seeking the pathway to the grounds of objective knowledge, both anti-psychologistic, and yet not agreeing on what it means to be psychologistic at all. Remarkably, one is considered the beacon of the analytic school, while the other outlined the phenomenological project for philosophers and thus spurred the Continental school of thought. That is where the institutional schism began, since Frege influenced Russel deeply and Russel had enormous clout in the English speaking philosophical world, while Husserl taught Heidegger... and the rest is history. The study of the causal chain of affairs in Western academia in view of the rapidly widening idealogical gap is doable is reasonable time-frames.  

(By the way, Frege and Husserl were at least listening to each other. Two generations later Carnap was ridiculing Heidegger and the latter was ignoring him as superficial. In between, the Logical Positivists essentially castrated the notion of "Meaning" - and that I think is why speaking terms could not be established any more, since in philosophy, "Meaning" is way high up there with "Truth" and "Knowledge" in the pantheon of "Really Important Things"...) 

2009-10-13
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Guy Schultz
A very interesting suggestion. But surely Heidegger was influenced at least as much by Kierkegaard as by his "teacher," Husserl. It seems to be pretty much with Kierkegaard that Continental philosophy's characteristic sense of confronting some sort of cultural, ethical and personal "crisis" begins. Which is evident in Husserl, Sartre, Adorno, Foucault and perhaps even Derrida, as well as in Heidegger. Whereas analytic philosophy from Frege onwards is more "professionalized," addressing the meaning of propositions rather than the meaning of "life." So that logical positivism was able for a while to exile questions about value from philosophy. Analytic philosophy still approaches those questions in "technical" ways, asking about the basis of "normativity," and so forth. Whereas the Continentals continue their great dialogue about how to live at all.

My own view is that only the classical tradition from Plato through Hegel has the cognitive means to integrate the "personal" with the "objective," "spirit" with "hard science." (Maybe I should add that the classical Hindu and Chinese traditions seem to deploy similar means.) The Continental/analytic split as we know it flows inevitably from the failure of both sides to appreciate and appropriate these classical means. The Continentals are right to think that we're in a state of cultural and personal crisis, as long as we can't integrate these things. The analytics are right to think that the Continentals fail to integrate them, and to suspect that the means that the Continentals seek to employ for that purpose, are inadequate to the task. But the analytics are wrong to think that we can be satisfied either to ignore the task, or to break it down into a set of technical sub-tasks and assign a working group with an endless time horizon to each one.

That would be my account of the "schism" within philosophy, which Derek Allan quite correctly deplores.

Best, Bob Wallace

2009-10-13
The analytic/continental divide
This is a brief reply to Bob, Guy and Onno - with a PS to Christopher

I confess I don't know exactly where and how the divide started. Guy's, Bob's and Onno's thoughts all sound worthwhile pursuing. I myself tend to see Hegel as the fork in the road but I wouldn't die in a ditch defending that view. (As I may have said before, this is not my main area of interest so I can't claim to have any solutions ready to hand.)  I would agree with Onno, too, that one ought not think that analytic and continental are the sum of all that exists in modern philosophy - though they do comprise a mighty big part of it  They are definitely the 'main games' .

I guess, also, I would want to reiterate the thought in my previous post - that what bothers me a lot is the institutionalized nature of the split. Certainly there are people here and there trying to do something about it, but they remind me rather uncomfortably of the legates that Rome once used to send to Constantinople (and vice versa) trying to patch up the differences between the Western and Eastern Churches. No matter what they did, the huge weight of the religious institutions on both sides quickly rendered their efforts useless. The schism went on its merry way.  I have the feeling here, likewise, that healing the divide is going to need something more than isolated efforts. Perhaps I am a pessimist.

My PS to Christopher is that it's a while since I read the Critchley book. I'll have another glance at it to see why I was not terribly happy with it.

DA 


2009-10-13
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Thanks for your response, Derek. You won't be surprised to hear that I agree with you that the schism essentially began with--I should say, began after--Hegel. Hegel was the last of the great classical synthesizers, a la Plato and Aristotle. His successors either didn't understand his synthesis (which is perfectly understandable, in view of his peculiar terminology and writing style) or they had personal agendas that made it unappealing to them: Marx's reductive materialist and "prophetic" agenda, Kierkegaard's "absurd" Christian agenda, Heidegger's anti-rationalism, the positivists' messianic scientism. I must say that these "personal" agendas all seem to me to fall short of the seriousness that one has a right to expect of genuine philosophy=love of wisdom. But they are all pursued with verve and various kinds of charisma, so they attract followings. Plus there is of course the apparatus of professionalism, the journals and conferences and appointments that you refer to. I personally doubt that a convincing break in these patterns is likely to come from within the "philosophy profession" as such. Many professionals certainly have a lot to contribute to such a break. And so do many specialists in other domains (sciences, humanities). But the combined effects of cults of personality, on the one side, and quasi-scientific obsession with technical detail, on the other, are likely to undermine even the best work that people in their later years, free from the pressure of tenure decisions, are able to do. Think of John Rawls, Wilfrid Sellars, Stanley Cavell. Each of them a brilliant synthesizer, drawing on German as well as Anglophone philosophy, but each of them somehow hobbled by what I can only think of as unsolved "spiritual" issues. I realize I'm verging on the "personal," here, which professionals are careful never to do. But as I suggested earlier, surely philosophy as such should speak to the "personal," as well as to the "objective." All of the great synthesizers do this. I doubt that we can save our souls, and (incidentally) overcome our "schism," without somehow doing the same.

Best, Bob

2009-10-13
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
May be worth noting that the 'analytic' vastly outstrips the 'continental' in the range and variety of issues discussed. The latter is narrow in its topics
compared to the former, lately having a lot to do with issues that flow from literary criticism and the politicization of language. So most concerns in
the analytic simply find nothing matching in the continental to map onto in a rewarding way.  If one is interested in the dispute tween endurantists and perdurantists,
or modal logic, or policy issues concerning advance directives in nursing homes, or whether distinct objects can be co-located, or whether a counterfactual
account of causation can succeed, or what makes 'natural laws' laws, or whether potentiality grounds a right to protection
in unborn children or... there is little help in the Continental. A 'schism' requires more widespread duplication of topics.

Note too that there is a vibrant
discussion going on in philosophy of religion, where many of the proponents are believers; also a vigorous discussion about the meaning of life.
Certainly it isn't true that contributors lack sufficient integrity or scholarly ability to appeal to work written in Europe that illumines their concerns. 
Or that they never look hopefully in that direction.  Nobody is penalized for talking about somebody Continental. (McGinn just lately wrote about Sartre in his book on the imagination; Searle
appealed to Heidegger, I'm reading Meinong in a seminar at UNC,)
Tongues aren't clucked, eyes aren't rolled.
Analytic philosophy these days is pretty eclectic, the positivists are long gone. Metaphysics is in,
Aristotle is back, a number of mainstream people are interested in the medievals . Hardly a bunch of dogmatists or creatures of institutional concerns, who would not look
 to other traditions for help.  Once again, I suggest the best explanation of the relative lack
of communication between analytic philosophy and the continental genre
is that finally people don't have all that much to say to one another.

2009-10-14
The analytic/continental divide
RB: "But the combined effects of cults of personality, on the one side, and quasi-scientific obsession with technical detail, on the other..."

Spot on. How often does one see it! 

2009-10-14
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
JS: "May be worth noting that the 'analytic' vastly outstrips the 'continental' in the range and variety of issues discussed..."

But narrowness of approach is precisely one of the complaints continentals have about analytic philosophy.

JS: "Once again, I suggest the best explanation of the relative lack of communication between analytic philosophy and the continental genre is that finally people don't have all that much to say to one another. "

But that is amazing, is it not?  It implies that both sides really don't see the other as doing (worthwhile) philosophy. Yet each side strongly believes it is. Each side is, in effect, seeing the other as philosophical heretics - schismatics.

DA

2009-10-14
The analytic/continental divide
Christopher

Looking quickly at Critchley's book again, the main problem I see is that it is just not thoroughgoing enough. It suggests reasons for the divide - and some of them seem quite plausible - but he doesn't really take the discussion anywhere. It's all rather descriptive, and about the best he can prescribe for current problems is what he calls 'a little intellectual policing' to avoid the worst excesses on each side.

I am being a bit unfair to his book, of course, since it only describes itself as 'a very short introduction'. But what I'm looking for - so far in vain - is a book that really puts the differences between the two camps to the test. That is, a book that makes a solid and convincing attempt to identify the key differences, and then weighs them in the balance and tries to argue which position is superior, and precisely why.  In short, a book that engages with the divide in a totally serious way. The writer would need to be (1) very well versed in the philosophy of both sides, and (2) pretty much bullet proof!

So that would be the 'Part 2' I would like to see.

DA



2009-10-16
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Bob, Derek, it seems we all agree that academic professionalism / institutionalizing in philosophy is a problem for "real" philosophy. That, of course, is a subversive thought - but quite natural for some philosophers. Who were Socrates, Descartes, Spinoza, Marx and others if not great subversive thinkers? 
Well, maybe we should take our work underground. 
I mean, if professional philosophers cannot speak to each other because of professional pressures, then what are they and their profession worth? 
What is the big problem that they cannot overcome, that they cannot understand, that they don't want to put effort into solving??? 
In Gulliver's Travels, Swift parodied earlier political/ideological divides/schisms with his portrayal of the war between "Big-endians" and "Little-endians" who were quarreling over which side of an egg one should break it... 
Philosophers are no better. 
But they should know better. 


2009-10-16
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
I had always heard it said that the difference is that analytic philosophy says everything about nothing, continental philosophy says nothing about everything. While a bit general, there is something to it. Continental philosophy carries on in the spirit of Platonic rationalism, whereas analytic philosophy inherits the metaphysics of modern science (in the tradition of Democritus). There are a lot of facts to cover in analytic philosophy, so it would appear to have variety, while continental philosophy keeps going back to the same fundamental constituent relation in what makes us human as the point of view from which to evaluate any such claims. 

2009-10-16
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Onno de Jong
"Continental philosophy carries on in the spirit of Platonic rationalism..."? I wonder how many Continental philosophers would be prepared to agree with this diagnosis of their work. Husserl, yes; but Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida--I doubt it.

But I nevertheless think you're basically right! "The same fundamental constituent relation in what makes us human..." This is surely what Plato seeks with his accounts of the soul, the Good, eros, and the divine. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault and Derrida struggle with Plato's account (and with Hegel's modern version of it). Analytic philosophy comes back constantly (in this you're absolutely right, Jim Stone) to aspects of these issues. It is wonderful how open analytic philosophy has become in the last couple of decades. But as I suggested, its leading figures--people like Rawls, Sellars, and Cavell--so far don't quite seem to measure up to the depth of the issue. When they finally do measure up to it, the schism will have been overcome.

I didn't mean to suggest, Guy, that institutional structures, pressures, professionalism and so forth will inevitably prevent the "philosophy profession" from measuring up to the issue. They do make it difficult. I think the great underlying difficulty is that philosophy ultimately has to be a spiritual pursuit. The "fundamental constituent relation" is the deepest fact about _ourselves_, and therefore one of the most difficult things for us, whoever we are, to get into focus.

Best, Bob

2009-10-17
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Guy Schultz
I've often thought about philosophizing within the confines of academia. I've also thought much the same about art. The closest I've come to conceptualizing this problem ("philosophizing" on philosophizing, or "creating" on creating) is that it is but another language. In other words, it is philosophizing by virtue of being a kind of philosophizing, albeit circumlocutory in its method. This is kind of like the One and the multiple: the One, being undivided, must contain the multiple since it cannot logically have an other. Philosophy in this analogy is the One; academic philosophy, isolated, and other variant philosophies are the multiple. Hence the academic &c. are just as much philosophy as philosophy itself (however one defines it).

It seems, however, that the path through academic &c. saves room for itself. Therefore, professors must continue to speak about their own specialized fields in order to remain professors. Are the professors philosophers in and of themselves? Only if they speak at the expense of their field. Such a negation would yet substantiate a field, however the field of philosophy per se, not academic &c. Questions remain, among which: Is there any defense for a philosopher's defending the professorial, specialized field?

2009-10-17
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Continental philosophers are rooted in the rationalism of thinking, and do not get their values from the earth, so in the antinomy that Plato sets up in the Sophist, the continental philosophers, while not buying into Plato's solution by any means (Aristotle didn't either), follow him in setting up the problem. 

2009-10-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Onno de Jong
I take it you're referring to the war between the Gods and the Giants, and suggesting that all continental philosophers side with the "Gods," who don't "get their values from the earth." Do you think Heidegger or Foucault would be willing to be set alongside the "friends of the Forms" in this way? My feeling is that they would resist such a classification mightily. Perhaps because they suspect Plato and the Friends of the Forms of setting in motion a debilitating dualism, with their "God"-talk. And yet I think you're right to suggest (if you do) that neither Heidegger nor Foucault would want to be categorized with the Giants, who believe only in what they can grasp with their hands. They are both too preoccupied with their respective visions of "liberation" to settle for flat materialism.

(As for Aristotle, as you probably know, the Neoplatonists count him as a "Platonist," presumably precisely because he too is clearly on the side of the "Gods.")

I'm inclined to suspect that there could be a good deal more mutual understanding between "continentals" and some "analytics," if both were aware that they're on the same side in the war between the Gods and the Giants. Isn't "the enemy of my enemy, my friend"? But the alliance won't be an easy one, insofar as some "continentals" are heavily invested in their war against what they take "Plato" and "Platonism" to stand for.

Best, Bob

2009-10-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
I think we can find followers of Plato's "divided line" thinking in both Continental and Analytic philosophies.  Likewise we can find those who reject the distinction by inverting it (Nietzsche and his followers such as Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze but also empiricists) - but I agree with Heidegger that such an inversion is still thinking too closely with the rejected distinction.  The interesting cases are those who reject the distinction and find a new way of approaching the problem.  and i do not mean by setting up a new dualism such as Descartes.

2009-10-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

While I agree with much of the discussion regarding the Analytic-Continental divide, especially the Frege Husserl point, I fear the discussion makes it far too simple for the complicated affair that this divide is.  Many figures seem to be overlooked.  One needs to see the divide between the Analytic-Continental mode of doing Philosophy not merely as a divide between Positivism/Lingustic Analysis and Phenomenology/Existentialism, but also not a clear divide which separates the Empiricist from the Rationalist.  Consider Henri Bergson's place in the divide.  And considering Bergson, one ought to also consider William James and the Pragmatists.  Considering the friendship between James and Bergson one needs to not only consider these personalities, but also consider the Idealists like Royce and Hocking and the many others which represent the Idealism of the Late 19th early 20th century.  But to consider the Idealists one must also consider the Realists like G. E. Moore and the New Realists in the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />US (Perry, Montague et al).

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I would suggest that the Analytic-Continental divide is a much more complicated affair than so far discussed and for an exemplification of that notion, I offer the work of John Niemeyer Findlay and Roderick Chisholm.  One could also look to the work of Alvin Plantinga and Herman Dooyeweerd, or Neo-Scholastics also interested in Husserl, in this regard.  Not all is as it appears when considering this divide which may very well be real, but much more complicated with many more crossovers than one expects.  It is not merely a matter of style either, since the aphoristic style of Wittgenstein has a parallel in Paul Weiss.

 

I suggest that the real difference between these modes of Philosophizing that of the difference between a portrait or still life and a Panoramic Scene.  In other words I find the Analytic centered in a problems approach to Philosophy while the Continental a more systems approach.  While the Analytic paints in minute detail, the Continental paints with much broader strokes, though perhaps not as broad as Hegel.


2009-10-21
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Simplistically, there are four options in evaluating the divide:
1. Both schools are worthy endeavors in philosophy. 
2,3. Only XYZ school is worthy. 
4. Both are quite bankrupt. 

Insofar as the quote that "one says everything about nothing and the other nothing about everything" means something important, and insofar as they are not cross-fertilizing one another, then perhaps they're both walking up long, winding dead-ends in the maze of ignorance and wonder we all find ourselves in when we begin to ask big questions.  


Academic structures can only make things worse then. Academic institutions are essentially artificial preservation-and-duplication factories for ideas, so if bad ideas infiltrate the main assembly lines, they can hinder true intellectual achievement for - literally - ages. I believe that without academic structures, philosophy in the 20th century would have been much more vital to larger cultural and social interests - which should be philosophy's ultimate concern. Countless academics have wasted their intellectual lives in dusty departments, writing papers of no consequence whatsoever, just because the were part of the system that forces them to do so. Isolation - or solitude -  is good for a philosopher, part of the time. But after ideas have been cooked, he/she should go back to the street, the village, the jungle, what have you, and try them out. And then and there the ideas meet ideas form other realms, like music, politics, etc., fuse with them, and mutate. Without universities keeping them on life support, both schools along the divide would have long finished their cultural function. 


How much longer can students dabble in Russel and Heidegger, with the enormous challenges of 21st century life furiously unraveling outside the walls of academia? Global warming, world-shaking economic crises, ideological wars, global population explosion, etc. etc  - and 99% of philosophers have nothing to say. If they do have something to say, they say it not as philosophers, because philosophy today hardly launches you on a career of saying illuminating things to people about their lives today, i.e. "the same fundamental constituent relation in what makes us human". 




2009-10-27
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
These two 'schools' look like autonomous self-exciting. self-perpetuating, systems, closed in that their conversations are conducted internally with little reference to either each other or the purportedly common goal of 'doing philosophy'. Apart from engaging their participants in self-interested conversation, does either of them serve any human purpose or is the continued existence of each its sole objective?

2009-10-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Fenton Robb
Just a quick reply to Fenton and Guy.

You both seem to be questioning the value of both analytic and continental philosophy, not just the divide between them. I must confess to a certain sympathy for your views. I have just been to an annual conference on analytic aesthetics (aka philosophy of art) and I frequently had the feeling I've had on earlier such occasions - that there was precious little connection between much of what was said and the actual world of art - and a fortiori human life. (I have often had the same feeling at continental philosophy conferences, I should add.)

Part of the problem, I think, is that schools of philosophy do become what Fenton calls "self-perpetuating".  They get entrenched in journals, textbooks, publishers' agreements, appointments etc and there are, in the end, so many vested interests at stake no one wants to rock any boats in any serious way. It's almost as if there is tacit agreement not to disagree too fundamentally with the generally accepted "line".  One can embroider on it, even suggest revisions, but not question its very foundations. So, paradoxically, the very institutions that should be promoting genuinely adventurous thinking - universities - become unwittingly the victims of a deep conservatism (an interesting irony given that many of those involved profess "progressive" views in politics!)

I don't know what the solution is. I'm not sure about Guy's suggestion of periodically "going back to the street, the village, the jungle, what have you".  Sounds a bit drastic and I'm not even sure it would work. Intellectual blockages need to be challenged and unblocked intellectually, I think - ie on their own ground.  But I agree there is a problem.  The entrenched nature of the "divide" is a clear sign of it, but I think you are both right in suggesting it goes deeper.

DA



2009-10-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Sorry - I was just giving a little air to my pet hypothesis that some kinds of social system are autopoietic - I called them 'institutions' (to distinguish them form 'organisations' that are created by people to serve human purposes) and defined them as the emergent properties of conversations in arcane terms. The conversations, not the people. are the components that create the system out of themselves (Maturana and Varela). These may be real supra-human systems that use human lifetime to energise their processes of self-production or, alternatively, this may just be a handy metaphor to describe how some groups close off just to keep themselves going. Take your choice.
I expanded this in a few short papers some time ago but 'autopoiesis' seemed to fall out of fashion and the system that sustained it died out - prematurely in my humble opinion. Luhmann and Teubner seemed to chime with this.  
Age is luring me to regress to Hume's mitigated scepticism - a comfortable resting place for an elegant retirement!       


2009-10-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Guy Schultz
To the contrary, at least in the analytic tradition. Starting approximately with Peter Singer's 'Famine, Affluence and Morality,' in 1971, which argued on utitlitarian grounds that
we first-worlders ought to give to famine relief until we are nearly as poor as the people we help, there has been a massive philosophical industry applying philosophical
methods to practical problems. Singer went on to provide a philosophical basis for animal rights and gave arguments for vegetarianism. Many other philosophers
have been involved in this discussion, both pro and con. Philosophers have debated the right to medical care of Down Syndrome newborns. Michael Tooley has
argued that newborns and fetuses have no moral right to life ('Abortion and Infanticide'); Mary Anne Warren argued this too; so did Joel Feinberg. This has
been opposed by a number of people, including Don Marquis and myself. There has been a vigorous debate among philosophers about abortion. There is a major industry
called 'Medical Ethics,' which includes some of these discussions, as well as arguments about equitable ways of selecting organ recipients, issues about advance directives,
resuscitation policy, the morality of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. I was a consultant to the ombudsman's office of the State of Colorado concerning
resuscitation policy in nursing homes. Four prominent philosophers went to court to argue that New York State's law prohibiting euthanasia should be
struck down, because it violated the right to equal protection of the law, because the law permitted letting terminal patient's die but prohibited actively ending their lives--a distinction they argued makes no moral difference.

Philosophers have also been much interested in Just War theory,
especially in relation to the Gulf War and also Israel's recent invasion of Gaza. Philosophers have been involved in the debate about the death penalty and the basis of legal punishment.
Philosophers have published on nuclear deterrence policy (see The Paradoxes of Nuclear Deterrence, Gregory Kavka). There has been another
industry concerning environmental ethics. It just goes on and on.

These philosophers have university posts and they are most certainly doing philosophy (analytic methods have helped enormously in sorting out and
clarifying fundamental issues in practical ethical problems). There are prestigious journals devoted to these issues, like 'Philosophy and Public Affairs'
and 'Bioethics.' And the philosophers involved often work in metaphysics, epistemology and so on, as well as in applied ethics.

2009-10-30
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

The analytic/continental divide is not imaginary,it is real and persisting inspite of the bridges built of late by Rorty,Brandom and others.The first analytic philosophers pulled philosophy from its throne and employed it as the housemaid of science.They wanted it to clean the dung in the science barn.But the continental philosophy still yearns for the grandiose and majestical role it played before the advent of modern science.
  The interesting feature of analytic philosophy is its dialogic nature.To   me it is closer to the spirit of Greek philosophy than its continental counterpart.The exchanges between Carnap and Quine,between Rorty and his critics remind me of the dialogs of Plato to whom I think they are very much indebted inspite of their animus rhetoric to against him.Finally I think analytic philosophy is the product democratic societies.


2009-10-31
The analytic/continental divide
I agree with this very much, except on one point: there is no animus toward Plato or toward the history of philosophy.
Greek philosophy, especially Aristotle, is very influential in contemporary analytic philosophy.
The leading view in metaphysics since 1970 or so is called 'Aristotelian essentialism.'
There is a robust interest in the history of philosophy and an application
of the work of historical philosophers to contemporary issues.


2009-10-31
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
JS: "There is a robust interest in the history of philosophy and an application of the work of historical philosophers to contemporary issues."

Of a very selective kind, I think. Take my own field - philosophy of art (aka aesthetics). Most analytic philosophers of art leap right over Hegel and go straight to Kant.  Token gestures are sometimes made in the direction of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer but the major emphasis by far is on a small group of eighteenth century philosophers (Kant, Hume etc) and a select group of twentieth century names who are seen as sympathetic to the analytic outlook. (Plato and Aristotle get occasional honorable mention but that goes without saying for all philosophy.)  Key contemporary figures in continental philosophy - Derrida, Levinas, Agamben, Foucault etc - are ignored, along with with earlier names such as Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Sartre, and not surprisingly Marx.

My impression is that something similar is the case for analytic philosophy more generally.

I am not all persuaded by arguments - such as some I've seen on this thread - that claim that the divide is really exaggerated and that, after all, some analytics have an interest in Husserl etc.  One can argue that the number 1 is really not far removed from the number 10 if one starts by saying, well, after all, 4 is not very different from 5, and 4 is close to 3 and therefore not far from 5 either, and 5 is close to 6 .. and so on.  The simple fact remains that there is a huge gulf separating contemporary mainstream analytic philosophy from its contemporary continental counterpart - a gulf reflected in, and perpetuated by, separate journals, conferences etc etc. They are two different countries. There is a DMZ between them where they meet for occasional talks but there is not the slightest sign of reunification...

DA



2009-10-31
The analytic/continental divide
Pending a deep discussion on the real nature of the so-called 'democratic societies,' perhaps it will be useful to consider where in contemporary philosophy the idea and the practice of democracy are seriously discussed? And why there is a dearth of such a discussion on one side or the other of the presumed divide. We may also seek the help of philosophers, wherever they are, in creating a genuinely democratic world society. 

2009-11-01
The analytic/continental divide
There seems to be considerable discussion of "democracy" on both sides. How deep it goes, I'm not sure. I would suggest that one of the deeper discussions of democracy, in the western tradition, is contained in Plato's Gorgias, Republic, and Symposium. Obviously Plato doesn't elevate formal democratic procedures as a highest goal. Rather, he focuses on what it is to be self-governing. Presuming that what the democrats and the aristocrats of his time all really want, is (at least) to govern themselves, so as to deserve the credit or the blame for their own lives. This issue is picked up again and deeply investigated by the German Idealists. The subsequent history of Anglo-European philosophy, both "continental" and "analytic," can be understood as floundering around this issue. John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, John Rawls, Richard Rorty, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Foucault--all think they have news for us about what's involved in being liberated, free, self-governing, "oneself." Whether any of them have fully grasped what Plato, Kant and Hegel taught on this subject, is an open question. 

2009-11-01
The analytic/continental divide
You need go no further than David Hume for a signpost towards a democratic society. See his 'Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth'.He demonstrates that political parties are not just non-democratic but anti-democratic and he suggests a form of democracy that ensures freedom from domination by powerful vested interests and arbitrary power. Well worth a look - down to earth common sense that takes into account the real nature of men. 



2009-11-02
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Fenton Robb
Thanks very much for the Hume reference, which I just read with great interest. The machine metaphor therein intrigues me a lot. After having considered the suggestions by you and Robert, I am left to wonder about the usefulness of relatively 'classical' models in the understanding of contemporary, i.e., late twentieth and 21st century democratic politics. The question I wanted to pose is how to look at the existence and the functioning of 'democratic societies' in post-world war II, post-colonial, post-communist and post-national and therefore increasingly diasporic contexts. How do philosophers on either side of the divide or elsewhere respond to these questions, with or without referrence to the classical models?    

2009-11-02
The analytic/continental divide
Thanks for the reply. I would suggest that as long as humans are biologically-based creatures who seek to live in ways that aren't merely biologically based--to get some idea of what a truly good life would be, and in that way to be free, self-determining, or "themselves"--the "classical" thinking of Plato and Hegel (and Vedanta, Taoism, etc.) will be as relevant as it ever was. None of these traditions are wedded to the ephemeral phenomena that you mention: colonialism, communism, nationalism.

As for Hume's essay, I see that as in his ethical and epistemological works, here too he does not address the issue that I just described: how a biologically-based creature might function in ways that aren't merely biologically based, and in that sense "be itself." Which (as Plato and Hegel show) has major consequences for the way such a creature would deal with others of its kind (ethics and politics).

A leading philosopher, recently deceased, who tried to address the political situation that you describe is John Rawls, of Harvard. See his _Law of Nations_, as well as his classic _Theory of Justice_. I personally think that the weakness of Rawls's important work in political philosophy is that he didn't go deeply enough into the issue that I've described. I would say the same of prominent "continental" writers in political philosophy, such as Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault.

Best, Bob

2009-11-03
The analytic/continental divide
Plato thought so as well, if I may equate analytic philosophy with the metaphysical position of Democritus, for Plato connected the philosophers of nature and the sophists with the development of democracy. His is a conservative reaction against the democratic forces that condemned his teacher to death. He prized virtue over rule by the people, and established a speculative metaphysics to secure that, which Aristotle ascribes to as well. Continental philosophy is for the most part still dealing with that metaphysics, while the nominalist roots of the analytic tradition liberated itself from the speculative metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle a long time ago. Kant merely displaced Plato's universal realism with a transcendental skepticism, but preserves the metaphysics, if only on a new subjective foundation, and that then becomes the foundation for continental philosophy. 
As to analytic philosophy being good at solving particular problems, including practical problems, it better be good at solving particular problems, for that is its virtue; to say a lot about little. It is more difficult to establish the synthetic whole that would explain the particulars, which is what the continental system builders attempt to do; saying little about a lot. It would appear to me that most analytic philosophers leave the problem of metaphysics to the objective paradigm of science, something that continental philosophers refuse to do, so the two are opposed, much like the war between the gods and the giants. 

2009-11-03
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim, 
Has it occurred to you that the examples you give actually support the criticizing position towards modern academic analytic philosophy, rather than yours?

"...we first-worlders ought to give to famine relief until we are nearly as poor as the people we help" - is a viewpoint that can only be furnished by somebody who cannot be serious about application in practice, and that is unacceptable when thinking about practical problems.  
"..newborns and fetuses have no moral right to life" is as bad a conclusion in any argument as I can imagine in its insensitivity to human parenting instincts and values. If "philosophical methods" bring us that, then  these methods are suspect of being worse than useless. 
"..New York State's law prohibiting euthanasia should be struck down, because it violated the right to equal protection of the law". Is the reason given a good reason in this context? It just seems so lame an approach, so "technical", as if the deep deep question of euthanasia can be dealt with without regard to peoples' basic emotions towards death. 


The (sad) truth is that analytic philosophy has contributed very little to the societies and cultures in which it has been embedded for about 100 years. With all the smart people involved, with all the journals, the conferences, the energy, and all - society is entitled to expect much much more than what your awful examples stand for: an out-of-touch bunch of highly verbal, highly logical people who mutually admire one another for being part of this highly exclusive bunch, who hide behind their books most of the time, without almost any influence on larger affairs, without the skills and know-how needed to make an impact on modern society, who have reached their position quite exhausted after bleeding their way up the treacherous pecking-order of academic philosophy, and who haven't the collective courage to stop, look around and really ask themselves whether there is really, really any point in keeping it up.  




2009-11-03
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
I think that one overlooked distinction (thus far in this thread) is the relationship between politics and philosophy.

Often in the Continental tradition, this relationship is intentionally very blurred and on the Analytic side, intentionally very clearly demarcated. To some extent, this reflects or is an expression of the historical/a-historical methodological distinction some earlier posters have articulated.

The influence of Hegel (beyond his logic) and Marx is very significant on the Continental side, and it follows that political and sociological concerns become embedded and inseperable from philosophical concerns and discourses. Whereas unless it is specifically a political or ethical theme being addressed, Analytic philosophy attempts to be a-political as much as it attempts to be a-historical.





2009-11-03
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,

I also do not know what the solution is. It may be a bit drastic what I suggest, but isn't contemporary philosophy in a drastic state, with the budget cuts, and the fact that today, for students that come from less than rich households, it is downright economically dangerous to pursue a career in academic philosophy? 

I guess danger and poverty are things some brave people can handle, if their lives are meaningful - and philosophy at its radical best can be that way. "At its radical best" means for to me to be able to say something very important about the roots of the most pressing issues at a given time - something other people just cannot see because they haven't given it the kind of abstract, penetrative thought philosophers are capable of. Think Spinoza, Marx, Nietzsche, Camus, there are quite a few. But to take on the risks, just to enter into the "deep conservatism" you mention? Isn't this "deep conservatism" exactly what philosophy is supposed to challenge? Don't philosophers have any responsibility towards mankind - yes, mankind - as a whole, to dig out those truths from underneath our normal daily thought processes - and show the world a reflection of itself, and thus transform it? That is roughly how I see the value and purpose of philosophy. 

What is your view? 

Best,
Guy 


 



2009-11-03
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
   I think the ghost of Plato still haunts philosophy,so philosophers spend their time either exorcising or placating it. While they are busy doing that some of his themes surreptitiously find their way into their systems.
None of the philosophers has hated Plato as Karl Popper has done,nontheless relics of Plato's forms found their way int his " third realm" objective knowledge.Analytic philosophers and Plato share a number of themes and concerns.For example,  both parties take mathematics to be the model of rationality and conceptual analysis the road to clarity. Furthermore Plato and analytic philosopher share a deep concern for the reliability of our knowledge.(  one more remark: Any analytic philosopher who flirted with ontology even slightly such as Quine found Plato beckoning at the end of line.)

2009-11-03
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
There has been mention of two aspects of this interesting discussion that I would like to comment on, since they seem to me to be  related. Travelling intellectually over the Divide, these two appeared very recognizable to me. One is the difference in interest in history in analytic or continental philosophy noted earlier in this discussion, the other being the difference in scope between the two. There is a relation between these two issues, and both can be traced back to Hegel, who has been mentioned earlier as being at the crossroads of the divide - to which analysis I subscribe.
Hegel's argument was -in a broad stroke- that a science of logic (which purports to be both an ontology and epistemology) can only be constructed or analyzed once we have an accute awareness of the different constellations between those two that history has left us. Moreover, the pure logic that we may thus (re-)construct is as such hardly applicable to real life empirical and historical settings - that's why Hegel speaks of the 'freien Entlassung der Idee in der Natur' (letting free of the Idea in nature). The contingencies of nature or reality are such that logical relations can be applied with quite some degrees of freedom there.
This has left most continental philosophers with an ambivalent heritage: for one, most have little confidence in the ability of philosophy to present a generally valid or objective analysis of a particular phenomenon or problem. On the contrary, the awareness of the historicity of the problem and its associated connections to other problems and concepts prevents many continental philosophers to facing head-on a particular problem. Instead, they often argue that there is no such a thing as a straight approach - or scientific investigation- of a problem once we are thus aware. The other side of this same heritage is that analyzing a phenomenon -even in a particular, historical appearance- requires the establishing of this extensive network of associated phenomena and concepts. In contrast to the modesty in scope that results from the first concern, the second leads to an ambition of comprehensiveness in the analysis of such a 'modestly' defined and embedded object. Taken together, the heritage results oftentimes in painstaking analyses of a particular instance of a problem that are both extremely limited and abundant in scope and depth.
Contributing to the divide, I think it results in attention to historical and systematic embeddings of problems that make these continental endeavours appear both difficult to read and needlessly dependent upon contingent, historical facts to analytic eyes. Whereas conversely, analytic analysis of such problems often look surprisingly historically and systematically naive to continental eyes.

As for the suggestions for readings of those that have tried somewhat to bridge the gap, I would like to add two suggestions. There has been some discussion on Davidson's pragmatic philosophy of language and his discussion of conceptual schemes in Hegelian and hermeneutic quarters, especially after he received the Hegel-prize in 1992. Not surprisingly, Davidson positioned himself in that context more in hermeneutic philosophy than in Hegel's neighbourhood. There is another hermeneutic philosopher that merits discussion here, Paul Ricoeur. He taught for many years in Chicago and tried seriously to engage in a discussion with analytic insights of philosophy of language&action -like those of Austin, Anscombe, Strawson, Parfitt and Davidson. His 1990/1992 'Oneself as Another' is an extended argument in which he uses their analyses of linguistic and pragmatic aspects of action but argues that they need to be integrated with a more complex ontology of agency and interaction, in order to account for especially the temporal extendedness of action. Unfortunately, Ricoeur's book has been read only by continental eyes, as far as I can see.

2009-11-03
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Guy Schultz
"The value and purpose of philosophy?" Well that puts me on the spot, Guy, and I'm not sure I could answer without falling into the usual platitudes.

But one thing seems to me essential (and I guess it applies in all areas of intellectual pursuit not just philosophy). It's what I would call, for lack of a better phrase, a spirit of adventure. I mean by that a willingness to go wherever careful, probing thought happens to lead whether or not that transgresses one of the established orthodoxies. I suspect that the lack of this spirit is one of the main reasons for the entrenched analytic/continental divide: people are trained in one or other of the orthodoxies and they are not willing, or perhaps able, to question it at any fundamental level (and of course there are powerful institutional forces encouraging them to remain within the orthodox frames of reference.)

I'm not sure what can be done about this. I suspect that more genuine contact between the two sides of the divide would help. That surely would prompt some people to look more carefully at their own basic presuppositions - the very basis of their thinking. And that would be a good start.

DA




2009-11-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
It seems to me that the need for philosophy has never been more pressing, yet many professionals seem to be navel-gazing when they should be out in the world applying their skills. Politicians, priests, fanatics and financial interests are hard at work shaping the lives of the innocent and ignorant by peddling false beliefs about all sorts of things. Corruption and lies are the stock in trade of these forces and the media amplify and promulgate viewpoints of the world that are enslaving and impoverishing millions of people.
Philosophers should be shooting down these lies and demonstrating the intended and unintended consequences of swallowing them (apologies for mixed metaphors!). Science too is ever more being prostituted to political and commercial ends and the search for detached understanding of what is afoot has almost stopped. 

One feature of the scene is constant - the properties of the human animal and how it pursues its own advantage ruthlessly and how when disadvantaged it plays out its role as victim submissively.

 Civilisation, all we have to keep us from each other's throats. is incredibly fragile and is under stress on a scale as never before. Law and order are being broken down on an international scale and thousands of lives have been lost and millions more are under threat of slaughter, starvation and domination. Philosophy can provide not only the arguments but the passionate drive needed to counter these banal forces. 

For starters, why are philosophers silent about the claims of politicians that there is 'a settled scientific view about (anything)' thus claiming such certain knowledge about something that the naive are persuaded to take action that is not in their own best interests but which suit the propagandists. Philosophers should be arguing and demonstrating that having a 'settled view' is not only non-scientific but anti-scientific.  

Why are not the moral philosophers inveighing against usury (in the classical sense of the term) - the root cause of the rich (people and countries) getting richer and the poor poorer. No one should be able to demand the return of the full amount of a loan or to use money to make money as permitted by the toleration of usury?

Where are the philosophers who can anticipate the consequences of 'monetary easing?   

I don't think of philosophy as an empty academic or scholarly pursuit - it is the application of the disciplined mind to ask difficult questions and to question easy answers!

Excuse me but I feel passionately about this and only wish that others could share my concerns.

2009-11-06
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
Most of my heroes are analytic philosophers such as Robert Brandom, Christine Korsgaard, Terry Pinkard,parfit and others, yet Iam a fan of a few continentals such as kant and Habermas.I find analytic philosophy more lively and vibrant.It is now reaching out to experiment with new ideas and new sources from other traditions. For example the doors are wide open for Hegel in the analytic quarters. Robert Brandom is producing a major work on the phenomenology of spirit .Terry Pinkard has completed a translation of the phenomenology of spirit.Soon metaphysics will follow.
It is not all dance in the moonlight.I sometimes find analytic philosophers unedifying to borrow one of Rorty's terms.They become over technical  and their arguments become tangled and unnecessarily abstract and boring.

2009-11-06
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
I agree with your take on the matter, and "a spirit of adventure" is a great phrase. 
It captures  the courage, the excitement, and the lack of knowledge as to where you'll end up when you begin thinking - all in one. 

2009-11-16
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
The core of Hegel is the dialectic, A = A + ~A.  That drives the analytic school nuts, since they usually cling to Aristotle, A = A.  At least that's what I recall from a seminar I took at the University of Nebraska back in 1965-66, when we had both Marxists and Wittgensteinians pondering Hegel's Philosophy of Right.

2009-11-17
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Carl Davidson
This remark is fantastic. As part of my recent readings in the philosophies of language, I have been pondering over this A = A  or 2 = 2 problem. That is, what happens to the equation, when one adds qualitative entities on either side. E.g. 2 mangoes = 2 mangoes as compared with 2 African mangoes = 2 Indian mangoes and so on? It seems to me that equivalence / equality is not equal to or same as sameness. In other words, it is impossible to eliminate the difference. This has its consequences in the 'computational' (Classical) versus 'cognitive' (Connectionist) debate in the processing of 'natural language;' Thus, the English, 'I am hungry' may be considered (functionally and minimally) equivalent to the French 'J'ai faim' which uses a possessive, but it cannot be deemed as the same, for reasons which may be cultural, historical, etc. (A subjectvised equative construction as in English may indeed be of recent historical origin.) Things get even more complicated  when we consider other kinds of sentences for the same 'I am hungry' in many other languages, such as those which employ the 'dative' case (e;g. 'me-dative hunger is,' as in many Indian languages) and which are said to be (translationally) equivalent or equal to the English, 'I am hungry.' Further, what is valuable this remark, is that it usefully brings back into philosophical focus, negativity, lack, and even death.      

2009-11-23
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
A slight departure from the way the string has developed. Two points that are worth making. 
Firstly while analytic philosophy has self-consciously attempted to bring itself into line with science and has attempted to put philosophy on a 'scientific footing' continental philosophy has not done this. It might be tempting to say that while analytic philosophy takes its methodological orientation from the sciences continental philosophy takes its methodological orientation from the humanities. But that characterisation could only ever operate at a very general level and I would resist it, as tempting as it might be for some. Although as a characterisation of analytic philosophy it seems better than just 'in the ballpark'. Besides, while in the 19th century it might have made sense to talk of the tension between the natural sciences and the humanities today there is a three way tension between the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities - perhaps one might map the philosophical tensions between analytic philosophy, critical theory and continental philosophy onto that, but such mapping doesn't seem that productive to me. 
The second thing is that I am one of those that would claim that there are geo-political issues that run through the distinction. Even back in the late 18th/early 19th century we see a similar tension between Fichte and Burke. Here the tension is based around political reform, while people like Fichte had faith in the powers of reason in regard to the reform of politics and society Burke thought that political principles needed to be drawn down from more traditional sources. The tension over politics has long been present; indeed some analytic philosophers say that they are trying to do philosophy free of ideology or are unwilling to allow philosophy and hence 'truth' to be subordinate to any particular ideology (implying a direct and stark tension between analytic philosophy and Marxism that I think some analytic philosophy might reject - not to mention what Continental philosophers might say). Of course it would be easy, as a rejoinder, to suggest that a commitment to ontological naturalism (as opposed to methodological naturalism) is just as ideological. And so it might go on...without resolution.

The tension between Analytic and Continental approaches also seems to be at work in 19th century history of philosophy through distinction between Empiricism and Rationalism. These terms were basically the product of 19th century history of philosophy and they were used as a way of carving up modern philosophy. But the two terms can also be considered in light of the implicit distinction between sensible British Empiricism and obscurantist European Rationalism - as Critchley suggests (if I recall correctly). The terms 'rationalist' and 'empiricist' were never used by the philosophers that 19th century philosophy applied them to as a self-attribution, Descartes did not consider himself a rationalist, and Locke did not consider himself an Empiricist. So, it does not take any degree of deep discourse analysis to realise that one can use this conceptual scheme to carve philosophy up into the 'good' bits and the 'bad' bits and it seems clear that, for the most part and with Kant as the one potential exception, that this division flows along geo-political lines. 

The geo-political forces that shape our 20th century tensions are also interesting (the Cold War does seem to have shaped philosophy in ways that is often unacknowledged), but these geo-political forces are not as interesting as the economic forces that shape it. While for an analytic philosopher the fact that research funding tends to favour analytic philosophy (a slight understatement) is just a sign that it is a powerful intellectual discourse, from another perspective this might be seen as complicity with the status quo. But in the end we have to realise that national governments, who are often responsible for handing out the research dollars, are not going to fund the revolution, so if you are interested in normative critiques of the status quo then you might have to reassess your chances at a government grant, far better to be an 'under-laborer to science' an produce results that have a $$$ value than to seek to 'reform society' - even if that society is running flat to the wall in terms of resources - its a far better way to have career stablity. Ultimately the fact that one side of the divide seems to dominate the research funding stakes is something that needs to be explained in politico-economic terms. A critique of the contemporary practice of philosophy that took this into account would be very interesting.

In the end, and now I think I ought to voice some of my own perspective, I enjoy reading from both sides of the divide - I get a lot out of each and will continue to actively read from both sides and actively take from both. The best papers in philosophy that I have read have shown evidence of such broad reading. As such I find the distinction unhelpful because it tempts one to situate oneself on one side of the divide or the other, to me that risks creating a blind-spot where one need not exist or worse it risks turning one of the myopic denizens of partisan philosophical politics. Of course taking sides has the benefit of group identity and the affirmation that you have chosen correctly by the only people that count, those who have chosen similarly.  

In any case, just some casual thoughts pre-bed.




2009-11-24
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
The Philosophical Survey by the PhiPapers Editors is a great example of the analytic-contentntal divide. 

2009-11-24
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Onno de Jong
I agree Onno, its a perfect display of the divide in action, indeed in many respects it seems to be actively sustaining and maintaining the divide - we can see it constructed for us just by walking through the questions. How many philosophers who would identify themselves with something Continental would bother completing the survey? I doubt many would get past the first three or four questions without abandoning it in frustration. There is very little of relevance to them there. So its not really a survey of what philosophers think? How could it be seen as collecting a representative sample when the questions themselves filter the sample. Its a philosophical survey that seems to have already determined what is worth philosophical reflection by excluding a large and important group of contemporary philosophers - that cannot be good data collection. It also seems to privilege the 'metaphysical' questions. As someone with an interest in practical philosophy generally and not so much interest in metaphysics and epsitemology I did not feel that the interests of practical philosophy were well represented. The questions themselves also seen overly adversarial, do you prefer Vanilla or Chocolate? Or neither or an alternative? But if you like neither, or if you like an alternative, we have no way of systematically tracking what flavour you do like, you can write something in the comment box, but its going to be hard to get any data out of that due to the fact that comments there might be imprecise and fail to use stable terminology, so really you are either chocolate or vanilla or nothing. 
The fact that the questions themselves will filter out most of those who find the issues in the survey uninteresting is, however, the most important problem with the survey.

2009-11-25
The analytic/continental divide
I agree. It was a wonderful illustration of the divide...

And there didn't seem even to be any awareness that there might be alternative ways of looking at things. So that really fixes the divide problem, I suppose. No alternative; no divide...


DA

2009-11-25
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hello to everyone engaging in this interesting conversation.

As to whether the Survey exhibits the divide, I completely disagree with you. I think most of what Continental philosophers write/say does imply a number of positions that can be translated into the terminology of the Analytic school, even if many of the terms may sound quite unfamiliar to the representatives of that tradition.
 Continental authors like Heidegger, Sartre and Foucault say a lot of things which would force them,albeit indirectly, to take a stand on issues like externalism/internalism, the relativity of truth, idealism/realism, physicalism about the mind, the metaphysical status abstract objects etc. There are indeed some Analytic-specific problems in the Survey like e.g. the Trolley problem, but in general I don't think it would be fair to say that the Survey as a whole represents the divide. After all, as the editors say, 25 out of the 30 questions are about general philosophical standpoints.
The terminology it uses may be alien to the way Continental philosophers express themselves, but that should not prevent us from categorizing their views on most of the issues concerned because they have to put their cards on the table at the end of the day, so they cannot say 'I'm not interested in those issues'.

  

2009-11-25
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
yes, Most of the issues you mention are very old, some of them going back to ancient Greece (e.g. whether mental states are physical states).
They flow principally from the history of philosophy.
Even the trolley problem flows from medieval Roman Catholic moral philosophy,
especially The Doctrine Of Double Effect.

2009-11-25
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
To Phil55 Smith:

To a certain degree, I heartily agree with you.  My career as a scholar has been dedicated to making continental thinkers intelligible to analytic philosophers by translating their ideas into a commensurate vocabulary.  I think this can be done and I have tried to do it.  However, one thing I have learned from these endeavors is how difficult the process is.  It takes a great deal of careful work to triangulate the positions of people locked into two long conversations that have developed in almost total isolation of each other.  Of course, the survey not only makes no attempt to do such a thing--this would be far too onerous for such a device--but it seems to ignore the need for such a process.  Its tone--identifying topics and positions only by shibboleths without even a cursory attempt to describe them with just a sentence or two--is exclusionary in the extreme.  These questions will only make sense to those with significant familiarity of the extensive literature on each, and with a particular sub-section of that literature that uses these particular titles.  Surely some people know these topics under different names, and would immediately recognize them were they given the briefest description.

The survey is representative of the divide precisely by completely ignoring it.  It is a survey exclusively for those in the know, thus ensuring highly skewed results.  The fact that it is only interested in this body of philosophers appears to me a clear indication of how automatically and unconsciously the divide operates.  Just look at the classification offered to those taking it--look at how fine-grained the classes of analytic thinkers are, as opposed to the single shapeless lump of "continental philosophy."  We're not talking about persecution, but unthinking ignoring.

2009-11-25
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
In Fairness, the survey is trying to poll the opinions of professional philosophers working on, or who have thought carefully about, general philosophical issues most of which flow from the history of philosophy and continue to be live issues today.
There seems nothing the matter with targeting that population in particular. A good way to do it is to raise the issues in the terms in which they are typically discussed
in the literature that discusses them. Even if some people get excluded this way, one trades inclusion for effectively polling one's target population. In explaining
 the matters one invites a lot of opinions
from people who are thinking about them for the first time. Also some of these matters aren't so easy to capture in a sentence, so heaven knows what the responses will mean!

I wish I could review the survey. Perhaps you can say what some of the questions are that continental philosophers do not understand.
Phil's descriptions, 'physicalism about the mental,' 'realism/anti-realism' are expressions I would suppose most educated people
know, especially those with doctorates in philosophy. The metaphysical status of abstract objects...
But maybe these terms didn't occur in the survey. 





2009-11-25
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
I think Lee Braver's comments are very well taken - and well put.

I might add that in my own area of special interest, theory of art (aka aesthetics), I was particularly conscious of the narrow, doctrinaire thinking behind the question asked. 

I note that there is to be a meta-questionnaire. I shall not bother. I found the whole exercise very irritating - or perhaps depressing is a more accurate term.  The divide, I sense, will be with us for a very long time to come...


DA



2009-11-26
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
I don't think the point is whether or not there can be a translation of ideas. Whether or not this is possible is completely contingent on the particular issue at play and also contingent on the particular orientation/background of the particular philosopher who has been asked to undergo the work of translating their usual framework into the 'master-discourse' (as it might be perceived). There is much more going on here than the simple issue of whether the ideas are, in principle, translatable or not - that's a red herring. To think that this is the only point is to miss the point. The point is that with a survey such as this it is only those who either already speak the language or who are willing to do the translating whose opinion can count, everyone who does not fall into those categories does not count and I am worried that a significant group are excluded here. For people like me, who are not so partisan and who operate across the distinction, this failure is significant and could render the survey irrelevant. Note, its a 'philosophical survey' (universal) that is anchored in the ideas and terminology of Analytic philosophy (particular) and where those outside of that tradition must 'translate' their ideas to have a voice. The worry, and I think it is a worry, is that this will lead to more sampling bias than is helpful for any survey, particularly one that presents itself as a 'Philosophical Survey', thus invoking the universal 'philosophy'. What use will the information be? It will basically tell the people doing the survey what analytic philosophers think about issues in analytic philosophy. Now, perhaps that is all that interests those who set the survey up, it looks very much like it to me and that would be fine, nothing wrong at all with doing that - but if your interest is factional and fractional then why not say so? What is lost in saying this?. Why not call it the 'Analytic Philosophical Survey', because that is what it is. Why invoke the universal here? It does not seem to be striving for universality so why imply universality? Is there an attempt here to present this set of interests as those that (normatively) ought to define philosophy? What is the relationship between the universal voice and the particular voice in this? One is easily led into that line of questioning, which is essentially political, and throws you straight into the 'analytic-continental' divide with all its partisan political overtones.
Further, while it is perhaps the case that you can translate most of the issues of the survey into another language/ discourse it is also the case that the categories are problematic, as is the over emphasis on metaphysical questions. I mean, think about the choices on one of the few political questions: between Communitarianism and Libertarianism - you also get the option of neither, or an alternative, or an intermediate view here. Setting aside the latter three options which are all relatively non-specific does the central binary between Communitarianism and Libertarianism really make sense? I mean here in Australia there are liberals but few libertarians, and libertarianism is not so well understood. Indeed one philosopher I know working at one of our best G8 universities, but lecturing in metaphysics, mentioned that there was such a political view to his undergraduate audience in a discussion of metaphysical freedom, implied that it had something to do with freedom, but said he really did not know what it was about. Okay, you can't build much on anecdotes but he is an analytic philosopher trained at a top G8 university and lecturing at a top G8 university - how might he answer the question? He might leave it and move on. Or he might mistake liberalism for libertarianism without understanding the nuances that separate the two views. Further that way of cutting things is not just peculiar to analytic philosophy but more-so to American analytic philosophy. How do Neo-Republicans situate themselves in regard to this question? It seems difficult to do so. The view articulated by some republicans could be seen as an alternative position, but it could also be seen as a mediating position, it could also be seen as tending to either communitarianism or libertarianism depending how it is articulated? So they might identify themselves as tending one way or the other, but is it really helpful for us to view it in that way? It might end up that the republicans are distributed across the categories: but how would we know? What about those whose primary take on politics comes from a historical figure? If your primary take on the political is Hegelian do you understand that as a mediating position or an alternative position? It does not seem to be communitarianism and it is not libertarianism. What about Rousseau? Libertarian? No, not one of those. Communitarian? Maybe on a certain reading but... Alternative? Mediation? How do we situate him and if one is primarily influenced by him then how does one situate oneself? 

What about the choice between consequentialism and deontology? In the literature this essentially translates to the distinction between consequentialism and Kant, but this is based on a myopic misreading of Kant - most Kant scholars see the 'Prussian Monster' deontological reading as a misreading (A.W. Wood and P.Guyer are two within the Anglophone tradition who regularly point this out and in terms of American Kant scholarship they are high flyers - both involved at a high level with the editorship of the Cambridge edition of the works of IK). A fact that seems to render the binary a little tricky. Further, and I think that there is something to this, recent authors have suggested that there is a strong consequentialist element to Kantian thought: the value he asserts as objective is 'free rational agency' and it seems that he asks us to both honour and promote that value. Whether or not you accept that view it is a better reading in many senses then 'Prussian Monster', which a cynical person might suggest is just a rhetorical or sophistical device there to scare the children (read undergraduate students) into the loving and protective arms of consequentialism. So who are the deontologists? The Leibnizians? Divine Command Theorists? Who? Or are we just talking about Rights liberals here? Is the tension that is being picked out here just one between those that suggest that no citizen has the right to feel secure from consequentialist incursions into their lives by their government (or technocrats) and those that suggest that individual citizens ought to have some right to be free from such consequentialist incursions? If it is, then why have the primary distinction as that between consequentialists and deontologists, isn't the primary thing at issue here rights? If the issue is rights, then the question is about the relationship between individual rights and corporate rights, which is, I take it, the heart and soul of the binary that is introduced here - the consequentialist asserts a corporate right over an individual right, whereas the Kantian might be seen as going the other way. But then we seem to return to the communitarian versus libertarian issue above and the whole thing gets very complex. Is this question really asking me to pick my favourite decision procedure/normative ethical theory or is it asking me to chose between individual rights and corporate rights? If the former, then: because I basically hold that trying to approach ethics by attempting to find a universal decision procedure that solves every ethical question no matter what is bankrupt, and for good reasons, how do I answer the question? Do I hold an alternative position to the two above - that might imply that I hold to a different normative theory, but in what sense different? Do I have a mediating position between the two? No, my view does not really mediate? Do I hold to neither view? Well, I think that both a consequentialist and a Kantian approach to ethics can be useful depending on the problem one faces, but both need to be subject to critical limitation, so it seems that I accept both, but I don't try to mediate, I might be seen as holding an alternative view but it is not necessarily the case that I hold to some other normative theory, its more that I have a meta-ethical take on things that makes the question quite difficult to answer in the form presented. Is my view relevant? I think it is, but can find no way of integrating it into the question without writing an essay explaining the ins and outs in the comment box, and why would I do that? So, clearly and for the sake of this questionnaire my view is irrelevant, clearly it cannot really be translated into the consequentialism versus deontology binary, and only problematically into the 'neither', 'alternative' or 'mediating' categories, but many of those working in what is called the Continental tradition would have similar views to my own.

What about theism versus atheism! Are you a theist or an atheist? I am an Australian, how does an Australian aboriginal person answer that question? They don't have Gods. There are those beings that act in the dream-time, but they are not Gods, they are far closer to ancestors and credible scholars of Aboriginal religions (like T. Swain and G.W. Trompf) would make the point that there is no super-nature either, the dream-time is a distinct time, not a distinct place (the actions occur in and on the land of Australia) and the beings who act in it, while they do very impressive things, are not Gods. How does a Doaist answer it? How does a Buddhist or a Confucian answer it? Even within the Judeo-Christian-Islamic sphere: how does one who supports an apophatic theology answer it - many who follow an apophatic theology believe in God but do not believe in God theistically. You might say that this is just vexatious, because the question is just asking if you believe in God or not rather than 'how' you believe in God? No, I would say, the question needs to be interpreted, if they wanted to know if you believed in God they would ask if you believed in God, they ask you whether you are a theist or an atheist and that's a different question. Theism is about a particular conception of God, for many its the personal and primarily interventionist God that is being picked out by that term. Historically Deism was occasionally seen as a mode of atheism, Pantheism definitely was, today the former is seen as theism but the latter is still considered to in the ball-park of atheism (for some reason). But faced with the choice between theism and atheism how does one understand the apophatic approach, deism or pantheism not to mention non-Abrahamic faiths? Are they alternatives to theism versus atheism or are they intermediary positions or what? The most important point, and its been pointed out by people like M.Levine, is that there are a number of non-theistic conceptions of the deity and these have been prominent, at different times and places, within each of the monotheistic traditions too - indeed the Greek (as opposed to the Latin) tradition of Christianity could be seen as primarily non-theistic (by Latin tradition I am referring to Catholicism and all post-reformation theology - so Lutheranism, Calvinism...). I think it can track how many philosophers think of themselves under these terms, but I think that this binary is more important to contemporary analytic philosophy of religion (especially as it occurs in the US) than any philosophical reflection on religion going on outside of it. But, if you look at the culturally specific nature of the terms one has to say that not only is the question philosophically parochial but also culturally parochial.

The survey is asking us to situate ourselves within a set of binaries that define current discourse within analytic philosophy. The translation of many Continental positions into that language is possible, but I am not sure whether it is either helpful or appropriate to do so as I think much of interest will be 'lost in translation'. Further I do not think that many Continental philosophers will bother: firstly why do they have to invest more time in filling the thing out (because of the translation requirement) than their analytic peers - it seems to suggest that you either speak our language (i.e., do the translation work) or don't have your views tracked. That is simply putting a burden on the respondents to the questionnaire that ought to have been born by those who created it (translation into more universal language - that might just be seen as a call for 'public' reasons' or something like that, but good democratic practice on one view); secondly why ought these terminological distinctions, as limited as they are (both limited in terms of culture and history but also limited in scope) define what is relevant to think about philosophically, by making them central to the survey the implication is that they are of central relevance. A young academic that lacked confidence in their own interests might be thoroughly disheartened by this, alternatively it might be a fillip to the spirits of others; third by doing the 'translation work' the way the work I am doing differs from the dominant culture is lost or marginalised and if you are concerned about issues of exclusion and marginalisation that might be a very important point to you, as the way the survey is set up does seem to exclude and marginalise. This feeds back into some of the thoughts in my second point, if you are a young philosopher working within the continental tradition you might come away from the survey feeling utterly disheartened about the relevance of your interests (although of course I think most will see the clear limitations of the survey and basically ignore it as irrelevant), whereas if you are a young analytic philosopher you might come away believing that you are situated at the heart and soul of all relevant philosophical issues, you might be led to a kind of narcissistic self-orientation. I don't fully identify with either Continental or Analytic philosophy and I thought that the survey was deeply problematic. It ought to be called the Analytic Philosophical Survey or, better, the Mainstream Analytic Philosophical Survey - because that is what it is and that is predominantly who will reply to it and we ought not kid ourselves about that. There is nothing wrong with having that more limited survey, that would be perfectly legitimate and such data might be very useful for some people. But it ought not set itself up as being generally relevant, or some kind of universal take on the 'preferences' or 'orientations' of 'philosophers'. I think many philosophers, particularly those associated with the Continental tradition, will just not bother with it. That might be to their detriment, particularly if you feel that such surveys are important - but if the survey aims at finding out what philosophers think then it will fail to do that because it will exclude a significant group and I take it that a failure to fulfill your own criteria would be the most significant failure of any such enterprise. 

Lastly, what good does it really do? Is it just tracking the successful philosophical memes? Those ideas that have wormed their way into our heads. If this is the case it is not tracking philosophical relevance or truth so much as the capacity for a discourse to be self-replicating - which is an ambiguous boon. Or will it just allow those who like to ride the waves of intellectual fashion to have a clearer indication of the trends so as to be able to make sure you is publishing in that area? That's too cynical. But really, it could be useful feedback for analytic philosophers who are interested in what other analytic philosophers think. I have no problem with that, that's a perfectly legitimate thing to do and I am not criticising it at all, indeed I would be interested in seeing the results. Its like a political party determining what the various MP's within it think about current issues, this could be strategically important for them and probably of interest to many members of the public, but that does not give an indication of what 'politicians' think and you ought to be clear about the kind of data that is being presented: its limited to the view of one camp, a camp that has already committed itself. In any case, and back to the survey, if you think that finding out what analytic philosophers think about various positions in analytic philosophy is the limit of relevance on these matters then you might be satisfied with this survey - myopic, but satisfied and myopic, which is perhaps better then pure myopia, but no less arrogant.

There are several other things that nag me about this, but I have said enough.

Philip

2009-11-26
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
In case people are interested, I thought I would say something about a couple of questions I remember from the survey that possibly people would have had trouble fielding an account of terminology.

The Trolley Case (what's that?):

A. I’m the conductor on a runaway trolley which is on a track such that it will kill five innocent workmen unless I switch to a sidetrack, where it will kill only one workman.

This is often coupled with another case,

B. The same scenario but there is no sidetrack. However there is a very fat man on the trolley and if I throw them over the front, his body will brake the trolley, so that it stops before it kills the five.

Many people feel that, though both A and B have the same cost benefit analysis, one dies, five live, A is permissible but B is not. In the first case I’m not trying to hit the lone workman on the sidetrack. He death isn’t part of my plan. His death is the foreseen but undesired side effect of what I do to save the five, namely, switch tracks.

Jeremy Bentham said that a consequence of an act is ‘obliquely intended’ when it is foreseen but not desired. The workman’s death is obliquely intended.

In case B., I’m trying to run over the fat man with the trolley, as a means of saving the five. Hitting him with the trolley is part of my plan. Bentham said that an effect of a voluntary act is ‘directly intended’ when it is foreseen and desired both. The harm I do the fat man is directly intended, not for its own sake, but as a means of saving the five.

This goes to the Doctrine Of the Double Effect, a medieval Roman Catholic doctrine, according to which it is sometimes permissible to bring about by oblique intention what it would be wrong to bring about by direct intention.

A consequence of the doctrine is that A. is permissible, B is not. The doctrine, which is quite controversial, is applied in many practical circumstances, including medical ethics and the Catholic doctrine of The Just War.

The cases also go to the ‘consequentialist’ doctrine that the consequences of actions are all that determine their moral value. Utilitarianism is such a doctrine.  As both A and B have the same Consequences, one dies, five live, if we decide that they have different moral worth, we reject consequentialism.

I believe the question was: would you switch tracks in case A?

..................................................................................

The Teletransporter. This is a device that promises a way to get to Mars in three minutes. You step into it and it records the molecular blueprint of your body, meanwhile incinerating it. Then the blueprint is radioed to Mars, where a machine constructs a molecular duplicate out of Martian matter. As mentality supervenes on molecular structure, it is assumed, the individual stepping out of the duplicator on Mars would not only resemble you physically, he or she resembles you psychologically, has the same memories, the same talents and skills, the same intentions. That individual is psychologically continuous with you due to a reliable cause.

Is this a means of transportation? Is it a cheap way to get to Mars fast? Or a way of getting murdered and being replaced by somebody else who merely resembles you? (My wife says: ‘tele-transportation isn’t frightening. I’ve done it 100 times!’ Has she done it Ever?)

The thought experiment, which was devised by Derek Parfit, is used to discuss questions of personal identity. For example, according to John Locke, psychological continuity, especially memory, is sufficient for personal identity. Hence body switching is possible in theory. On John Locke’s account, although the fellow on Mars is a different animal from me, he is psychologically continuous with me due to a reliable cause, so he is me. It’s a case of reincarnation, in effect.

But if I am simply this human animal, this man, then body switching, or reincarnation, is impossible. As the man on Mars is a different animal from me, even though he resembles me closely, he is somebody else.

Parfit suggests that, even if the fellow on Mars isn’t me, so that I don’t survive, my relationship to him is just as good as survival, so it doesn’t much matter whether or not he is me.

The survey question was (I think): ‘Would you use the tele-transporter to get to Mars?’ My answer: not for all the tea in China!

2009-11-26
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Just one quick follow up. What would be the status of a survey that not only presented questions that will lead to a bias in the sample but was constructed by people who ought to understand that this is the case (philosophers) but have done little to overcome it? I mean if you know that the divide exists and you construct a survey that basically ignores one side, or (implicitly) asks one side to undergo a translation requirement that you do not demand of the other side, then to what degree are you complicit in creating a biased sample and so responsible for any distortion that features in the results? To me its there is a lack of rigor that just brings the survey into question. To me these seem like very straightforward issues.

2009-11-26
The analytic/continental divide
From the survey's information page:

    The controlled group tends to favor departments strong in analytic philosophy, because our focus is especially on issues that are central within analytic philosophy.

    We sought a list of simple questions that (i) could be phrased as a (usually binary) choice between views, (ii) would be widely understood within the profession, and (iii) are at the center of widespread debate within analytic philosophy.

From my blog post advertising the survey:

    The questions focus on issues in analytic philosophy, and will make most sense to those with some experience in the area, but anyone is welcome to take it.

We thought a fair amount about alternative approaches, e.g. having questions that would be drawn from the continental tradition (and perhaps other traditions) while still being accessible to analytic philosophers, but this proved very difficult (perhaps that illustrates the "divide" of the subject line).  Many respondents to the survey have noted the bias toward analytic philosophy and suggested having more continental questions, but only three or four respondents have suggested concrete questions.  The questions were things like "Madness: historical or ahistorical",  "Hegelian dialectic or Marxist dialectic", "Substance, Spirit, Will to power, or Ereignis?", and so on.  We appreciate the suggestions, but we think it is pretty clear that these would have drawn largely uncomprehending answers from the predominantly analytic audience (divide, again).  So we thought in the end that it was best to explicitly focus the survey toward analytic philosophy, while also encouraging others to take it if they like.  I do think that some of the questions -- e.g. those about empiricism vs rationalism, naturalism, a priori knowledge, the external world, god, physicalism, ethics, politics -- are reasonably accessible across numerous traditions, though of course philosophers from many traditions might want to question the relevant distinctions (and the survey leaves room for that).

I certainly appreciate that the survey can come across as something of an alienating experience for philosophers from non-analytic traditions, though.  We may have other surveys in the future and input from philosophers from all traditions would be welcomed.  I'd also encourage other philosophers oriented toward other traditions to design surveys of their own.

2009-11-26
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Thanks for the post David. The only thing that I found alienating was the name of the survey which seemed to suggest something general or universal when the focus was clearly specific and non-general. I think I was fairly clear about recognising that the survey has been limited to one tradition, my main gripe was that the name of the survey seemed to dissemble this. That was my first point. My second point, and second post, was mostly directed at those who made a defense of matters by saying that the concepts were easily translatable and so there really was no problem and no bias. I thought that this view missed something entirely, as specified in my subsequent post. 
So to be clear, from my first post my position was that the survey is interesting in light of the divide because it seems to actively help construct it: the relation of the universal voice and the particular voice were important to my reaction here (a 'philosophical' survey that was focused on 'analytic philosophy' seems to suggest a) that analytic philosophy is the start and finish; and b) that there is no room for rapprochement, the other side is not worth considering). The second post related to the claim that there was no analytic bias to the project because Continental philosophers could just make a translation. That is a problematic position both because it would seem to suggest a) that its fine for a survey that aims to say something about philosophy in general to put matters in such a way as to place a translation requirement on one group (potentially alienating them and biasing the sample); b) that the survey was in fact aimed at philosophers in general, when it is clear that it was not. As I have said, insofar as the survey might give some insight into what analytic philosophers think about their tradition it is certainly something that I will read when it is completed.
In general I understood the questions, they were not that esoteric - but I crashed the survey, probably due to excessive remarks in the comments box. I agree that a survey based around more continental type concepts would be alienating for analytic philosophers - indeed depending on what sort of philosophy your into it could be very alienating for some who are within the Continental tradition. Yet I would also suggest that some of the categories in the current survey will not sit well with some analytic philosophers either, or more pertinently there are Anglophone philosophers that might have a hard time situating themselves within some of the conceptual binaries of the survey. I think that the three I picked out consequentialism/deontology, communitarianism/libertarianism, and theism/atheism are as good as examples as any others. But even the rationalism/empiricism distinction is tricky. Its easy enough to understand what it means, but really this terminology is problematic in itself, its a product of 19th century history of philosophy and imposed on early modern and enlightenment philosophy, these two terms were not the self ascriptions of people like Descartes and Spinoza on one hand and Locke and Berkeley on the other. Further it maps onto the value based distinction 'sensible British empiricism' versus 'obscurantist Continental rationalism'. What side of that distinction would one set oneself on? The sensible side? With Berkeley? Indeed, you can set the whole continental versus analytic question aside, I think that the survey will still result in a biased sample because its just hard, on the basis of the options provided, for many of us to respond. I think that this will be true of certain people who work in Anglophone philosophy too. Of course it will not be difficult for those smack in the middle of contemporary analytic philosophy to reply, but a 'philosophical' survey needs to go beyond that group in order to be generally relevant or to be a 'Philosophical Survey'. 
While I have spent some years studying Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel and Marx, I do not really consider myself a continental philosopher, I enjoy reading much of it, but I don't feel any need to 'belong' within a camp - I also read widely from contemporary ethics, social theory, political theory and philosophy of religion and am happy to read material written by anyone - analytic, continental or whatever. Its just not an issue for me in the work that I do. But, in my opinion, the survey does seem to over-emphasise metaphysics and epistemology on the one hand, and push respondents into what I find overly constricted categories on the other - some of which are problematic (see particularly the issue of consquentialism versus deontology in my long previous post). In any case I recognise that if my response had of gone through it would probably have been very unhelpful - mostly I could not situate myself in regard to the positions central to the questions and so found myself messing around in the comment boxes trying to explain why, I pretty soon realised that I would have to do this for almost everything, to relieve myself of that I gave quick but poor answers to the central 10-15 questions, then went back to writing comments in the boxes in response to some of the later questions that pushed a few of my buttons. I crashed the survey (after putting some time into it) but concluded that it was for the best as I could not see how my responses would help you. If I was not killing time on Sunday, when I did it, I would have probably been annoyed that I crashed it. But then if I was not marking time I would never have gone past the first three or four questions.

In any case the criticism is not of the idea that a survey into the opinions of analytic philosophers on these matters is interesting, it will be. My first point was simply to agree with another subscriber that the survey seemed to be actively constructing the divide and it does. My second point was simply to respond to those who claimed that there was no bias in the survey because Continental philosophers were at liberty to spend some extra time translating it into something they could relate to. Any survey that proceeded in that manner would be quite questionable for several obvious reasons. Indeed I do not think that you would affirm that suggestion yourself.



2009-11-26
The analytic/continental divide
What I find so depressing about David Chalmers' explanation is that it simply seems to assume that the divide is there, and so be it.  There is not the slightest suggestion that something might or should be done about it.  In effect he is saying: This is the red team's go. The blue team - who seem to play by different rules - can have a go another time if they want.

The key problem about the divide is not that equal "air time" is not given to both; it's that so few people on either side seem willing to do anything about it - to try to understand why it has arisen, to look deeply into their own philosophical presuppositions and see how it has come about.  To my mind, this is something that philosophers on both sides should regard as an admission of defeat: it is a philosophical problem which, they are implying, they simply can't deal with - a problem that is beyond them.  (I exclude the few honorable exceptions who are trying to do something about it.)  So the solution is simply to retreat into one's little corner and go back to business as usual. The questionnaire was a good example of business as usual.  If anything, it simply reinforced the divide.

(The only positive I could find in the questionnaire was that some of the questions highlighted just how narrow the concerns of "analytic" philosophy can be, and that there seems to be a deep confusion between philosophy and pointless exercises in mental gymnastics.)

DA


2009-11-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
The differences go deeper than a translation of the arguments, and the assumption that this is what it takes is indicative of the divide. We are talking about two sides of a spectrum and mollify either side when attempting to straddle them. While there are many shared points that engage us, common positions and both sides have greatly influenced each other, think of Parmenides' influence on Democritus or Leibniz's influence on Hume, Hume's influence on Kant, or Kant's influence on Wittgenstein — we are talking about the same world but different starting points and thus a different perspective and telos. I think that this is the case today, and why we speak past one another. 

2009-11-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
The survey is a failed experiment, and there is something disturbing in the fact that it was even attempted. The problem is more basic than a bias towards one half of the Divide. The assumption - or shall I say, the pretension - that philosophy is a "profession" and that there is value in polling what the "experts" think about the issues, is the root cause of this travesty. 

Philosophy is not a profession.  Why? Because a professional is one who has a specialized function in the division of labor that characterizes almost all human endeavors. Professions come to be when human groups face certain challenges, and a sub-group takes upon itself the responsibility for dealing with a specific aspect of those challenges. Now, what is the philosopher's function in the grand division of labor of humanity today? A few centuries back, when philosophy was indistinguishable from science, you could claim that philosophers' function is in basic research - dealing with the challenge of sheer human ignorance about the world. Alternatively, many philosophers were, and are today, social and cultural critics. It would be fascinating to further develop the discussion on this particular function of being a critic - is it a profession or a calling? are revolutionaries professionals? - but I won't do that here. Suffice it to say that nowadays, sadly, philosophy in academia is a fossil of its former self, a vestigial structure in modern society just like the vermiform appendix is one in the body. The fact that some people who are called philosophers get paid for it is meaningless - it's not unlike the body "investing" living tissue and some blood into the appendix. 

2009-11-28
The analytic/continental divide
"I don't think the point is whether or not there can be a translation of ideas".

Though this not the only point, it is a very important one, because if you answer that question in the negative you certainly go a long way towards deepening the Divide.
 I believe discussion phrased in the analytic terminology is intelligible and universal for all intelligent adult human beings. If you think that translation from the continental jargon into the analytic phraseology must be impossible or at best very inexact,  well, then you owe me and every other intelligent human being an explanation of what the hell the continental talk is really about. Because, as Jim said before, analytic philosophy addresses the classical questions of philosophy, so any other approach that claims itself to be worthy of the title 'philosophy' should be made intelligible for analytic philosophers. As Professor Searle puts it in his book on intentionality, 'Where questions of style and exposition are concerned, I try to follow a simple maxim: if you can't say it clearly you don't understand it yourself.

Unfortunately, there are no signs (except perhaps Habermas) of any serious attempt on the part of contemporary continental thinkers to address themselves to the work of analytic philosophers, which must surely be a very inconsistent way of doing philosophy, because their own writings  arguably imply more or less definite standpoints on a series of classical metaphysical, epistemological issues that are now commonly discussed among analytic philosophers. By contrast, analytic philosophers have made significant efforts to interpret Continental authors, and they are quite successful in interpreting them in my view.
 
"Is there an attempt here to present this set of interests as those that (normatively) ought to define philosophy? What is the relationship between the universal voice and the particular voice in this?"


This must be a misunderstanding. Analytic philosophy is simply philosophy done in an explicitly disinterested way, as far as prejudices and other distorting factors are concerned. Its disinterestedness is reflected in the fact that it promotes the standards of open and constructive debate, being the heir to the broadly rationalist and critical tradition of the Enlightenment. "Analytic philosophy" does not name a separate subject matter within philosophy, but rather a style and characteristic approach to age-old universal philosophical problems. You misconstrue its spirit if you see it directed at defining philosophy in this or that particular or indeed partisan way.
 At the same time, universal philosophy IS defined by the set of problems it inherits from the Western tradition. Any other 'world philosophy' is intelligible to the extent that it addresses in a very significant part the very same metaphysical issues in its characteristic way. Take Indian philosophy, for example, where you can distinguish between materialist and idealist solutions to metaphysical problems, solutions that allow to be rephrased in the analytic terminology. And indeed, the standards of rational argumentation and the rules of logic dictate that they can be rephrased clearly and according to contemporary standards, no matter you what you wish to call the final result.

So my point is this :there are no incommensurable philosophies, there is only one universal philosophy, and the analytic approach is arguably the best way to approach its distinctive problems, so much so that any other alternative approach, be it dubbed 'continental' or else, should be translatable into the analytic terminology on pain of unintelligibility.
 
 

2009-11-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
It seems to me that the mutual antipathy of one tradition toward the other has considerably less to do with what philosophical questions one is interested in addressing or the method of addressing them, and rather more to do with academic standards. A particularly analytic-centric member of the philosophy faculty at NYU quipped to me that continental philosophers ought to be "intellectually exterminated" (by which he meant "not published", of course). One does not talk in those terms if one simply has "different priorities" or "different methods". A physicist, for example, uses vastly different methods to investigate vastly different topics than a biologist. And yet, it seems to me that there aren't likely many if any physicists who hold biologists in contempt for studying biology. Rather, there seems to me a genuine antipathy between the analytic and continental traditions, which goes rather beyond mutual disinterest. To that end, it seems to me rather misguided to point to the "difference" in the two traditions as being a mere accident of geography or disparity in methodology/subject matter.

In my experience, analytic philosophers unsympathetic to continental philosophy are prone to refer to them as "nonsensical". Continental philosophers, on the other hand, often respond that analytic philosophy is concerned with a too-narrow range of issues, and fails to consider some purported "big picture". Being strongly sympathetic to the "analytic tradition", I find the latter view perplexing in the extreme. As someone exclaimed earlier in this thread, it seems to me that analytic philosophy deals with a far broader range of topics than continental philosophy, which seems rather narrowly (perhaps monomaniacally) focused on uncovering political subtext. Upon further considering the bizarre allegation that analytic philosophy is too "narrow", I am inclined to suspect that what they mean is that analytic philosophers, broadly speaking, tend to avoid incorporating political or cultural factors (unless they are directly warranted: e.g. in political philosophy) into their philosophical explanations. I gather from my rare and biased reading of Foucault, Lacan, and writers of that ilk, that the continentals view "the subjugation of women", "imperialist intentions", etc., not as merely relevant, but central to any subject of inquiry. So, the dearth of analytic philosophers considering the role of feminism in the mind/body problem, or the plight of Algerian immigrants in France when addressing the problem of universals, would seem to them a fault.

Admittedly, my characterization may be doing a disservice to continental philosophy, and I concede that this myopically political/cultural obsession is more characteristic of recent French philosophers than, say, Heidegger. However, it seems strongly evident to me that continental philosophers and their sympathizers are, in general, inclined to regard political/cultural issues as central to any scholarly field -- including scientific, mathematical, and philosophical inquiry. They are not simply interested in political/cultural issues. Nor are analytic philosophers disinterested in politics or culture. Rather, "continental philosophy", insofar as it describes a coherent tradition, whatever its variants, seems to me united by a common belief in politically motivated relativism. Insofar as that's an apt characterization, I am reminded of conspiracy theorists, who seem more impressed with their own marginal cleverness than discovering any particular facts-of-the-matter. To these people, any mundane topic (e.g. a recent increase in sales tax) can only be understood in terms of the Kennedy assassination, the ascendency of the illuminati, and a federal conspiracy to conceal the existence of the Yeti -- none of which needs to be justified, and all of which are "connected". In my view, continental philosophers are simply the philosophical equivalent of conspiracy theorists, twisting the meanings of words and/or inventing new ones to express various unjustified beliefs in an oppressive and sinister entities -- facts, evidence, and sound arguments be damned.

The difference between analytic and continental philosophy is not, in my view, a difference in interests, nor methodology, nor geography. For those who would suggest geography, why then is there no continental vs. Anglo-American divide in physics, economics, or music theory?. For those who would suggest that analytic and continental philosophy simply address disparate issues, there are too many overlaps in subject-matter, as many other other posters have pointed out, to expect that mere subject-matter is the cause of the "difference". To the extent that the "difference" is methodological, it is only because continental philosophy lacks any coherent method at all. The principal difference seems to be that continental philosophy eschews any academic standards whatsoever. There is no baseline for acceptable scholarly discourse (e.g. Sokal's infamous paper), nor for what counts as reasoned argument (e.g. Lacan's make-believe "topology", whereby he claims to "prove" that the torus is "the structure of the neurotic"), nor even for what counts as a coherent utterance (e.g. Derrida). Apologists for the continental tradition inclined to dispute my claim (i.e. that continental philosophy is simply philosophy without quality standards) have rather a lot of work to do in explaining how the editors of Social Text, a (formerly) respected and mainstream academic journal in the continental tradition, came to accept Sokal's paper for publication, how Lacan's gibberish counts as "mathematics", or to produce anything resembling an argument or even a coherent claim in any of Derrida's voluminous writings.

If the continental philosophers were merely studying different subject matter, then they would be regarded simply as colleagues in a different department. If the continental philosophers were merely geographically separated from the Anglo-American philosophers, they would be regarded simply as colleagues in a different continent. The dismissive and occasionally antagonistic attitude that many analytic philosophers have towards continental philosophy (and which I happen to share -- if this weren't yet obvious) is rather the result of continental philosophy's apparent flagrant disregard and contempt for academic standards. If they simply had different academic standards, then perhaps one could then argue that it's a difference in methodology, but there does not appear to be anything even purported to be a scholarly method in that field. Of course, adherents of the continental tradition are often complimented by the notion that they don't have standards, because "standards" in their view connote political oppression, and in my experience, I have found that they enjoy flattering themselves as being too "radical" and "progressive" for the staid and stolid tradition of analytic philosophy, with its stuffy insistence on "justifying claims" and "making sense". So, to answer the question: it's my opinion that the difference between analytic and continental philosophy is that analytic philosophy has academic standards (i.e. for what counts as a sound argument, for what counts as a reasoned explanation, for what counts as a coherent sentence).

It is rather unclear to me that the dichotomy of "analytic" and "continental" philosophy is particularly meaningful anymore anyway. Not because there has been any noticeable intermingling (Rorty, Putnam, and Habermas aside), but because the "continental" tradition has more-or-less collapsed under the weight of its own pomposity. I seem to recall some recent poll, which found a majority of philosophers in mainland European universities (including France) self-identifying as "analytic". No doubt, the geographic and linguistic divide will continue to have an insulating effect, but it seems that the disparity between Anglo-American philosophy and continental European philosophy need be no greater than that between Anglo-American physicists and their continental European counterparts. Happily, from what I can gather, the "continental" lineage of Heidegger, Derrida, and Deleuze seems to be dying out, and the last remaining true-believers of that "tradition" are (ironically) found in greater numbers in American art-criticism and comparative-literature departments than in European philosophy departments. 


2009-11-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Years ago, I learned about dividing troubling situations in problems and conditions. For problems, you look for solutions and resolve them. For conditions, you acknowledge their persistence and look for ways to manage them. Besides, what's wrong with 'let a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend.? The Buddhists have had at least four major divides for 2000 years; this one has only been around for less than 200. It's not a matter of being lazy; it's more a matter of what you choose to focus on.

2009-11-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Guy Schultz
Yes, I too bridle at the notion of a "professional philosopher".

First it seems to verge on pomposity. "What do you do?"  "I'm a professional philosopher."  (Y'don't say!)

Second, and more importantly, it implies that the field of philosophy is more or less settled (like, say, engineering or medicine) and that if one wants to "become a philosopher", one needs to learn a certain series of standard practices and routines - standard arguments, counter-arguments, isms, counter-isms etc.  And then, once one has learnt them, one can call oneself a "professional" philosopher. One has one's "ticket" so to speak. (The questionnaire, by the way, betrayed this kind of attitude very clearly.)

Now, while fully agreeing that someone who wants to study philosophy needs to read lots of it carefully, and think about it as deeply as they can, I find the idea of "standard" arguments and counter-arguments etc very suspect indeed.  It smacks of a stultifying intellectual conservatism - scholasticism in the worst sense of that word. It implies that philosophical knowledge (and is there even such a thing?) is somehow settled, that many things are more or less done and dusted, and that while one might be able to embroider a bit here and there on what others have said, nothing really new or revolutionary remains to be said - nothing that would turn the whole system upside down.

But we only have to glance at the history of philosophy to see how questionable that view is. All major Western philosophers have been revolutionaries in the intellectual sense. They have all turned things upside down. That is why they became "major".  They were adventurous minds, daring minds - the very opposite of conservative thinkers.

And to end on a note more directly relevant to the title of this thread: I wonder how many analytic "professional" philosophers would be happy to call their continental counterparts "professional"? And vice versa? . Since many on both sides seem to shrink from even granting the name "philosophy" to what the other side does, it is by no means clear what the answer to that question should be.

DA




2009-11-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
David--I find your qualifications helpful in explaining the analytic-heavy bias of the survey.  I consider the divide real, though permeable with significant effort, so a survey directed at one side or the other seems perfectly reasonable to me.  I did not notice those qualifications when I took the survey; perhaps they should be displayed more prominently (or perhaps I just wasn't paying sufficient attention).  It also occurred to me, while thinking about it, how difficult it would be to construct continental questions that fit the survey's terse structure, although that very terseness struck me as somewhat problematic.

Aside from that helpful interjection, this discussion is quickly degenerating into attacks, both foolish and mean.

Phil55 Smith, do you really believe, can you possibly believe that, "discussion phrased in the analytic terminology is intelligible and universal for all intelligent adult human beings"?  Do you really give 7 years of graduate training (on average) so little effect?  Do you actually believe that the average intelligent adult would immediately grasp the sense of, say, modus tollens, anomalous monism, conceptual schemes, Twin Earth or multiple world logic, rigid designator, radical translation or interpretation...? I'll stop there, but the list could be extended indefinitely.  These are all terms that could be dropped into analytic presentations without even the need for a gloss, and yet would be gobbledygook to non-philosophers.  Certainly, many could come to understand it with some explanation, but that's precisely what's at issue.  This absolute unselfconscious assumption of the universal comprehensibility of what one happens to be familiar with is usually outgrown with childhood (a young nephew of mine, in his first visit to a foreign country, expressed amazement when he saw a woman speaking Spanish to her dog--didn't she know that dogs only understand English?).

Meanwhile, Daniel Pi offers the spectacle Derrida often remarked upon of his detractors betraying the very standards of scholarship they viciously attack him for lacking.  How can someone admit what surely should count as serious, if not fatal, flaws, biases, and severe limitations in their knowledge of a topic ("my rare and biased reading," "my characterization may be doing a disservice to continental philosophy, and I concede that this myopically political/cultural obsession is more characteristic of recent French philosophers than, say, Heidegger," "The dismissive and occasionally antagonistic attitude that many analytic philosophers have towards continental philosophy (and which I happen to share)"), and yet feel perfectly competent to render absolute and universal characterizations ("However, it seems strongly evident to me that," "the continentals view")? 

And of course, the conclusions reached on such thin, problematic grounds are not the carefully reasoned arguments his self-characterization of analytic philosophers would lead one to expect, but shrill, screeching insults, philosophical feces flung at continentals ("continental philosophers are simply the philosophical equivalent of conspiracy theorists, twisting the meanings of words and/or inventing new ones to express various unjustified beliefs in an oppressive and sinister entities -- facts, evidence, and sound arguments be damned," "continental philosophy eschews any academic standards whatsoever").  One of the central arguments offered, no less than three times in a relatively brief posting, is that since analytic philosophers (unlike geographically divergent scientists) hold continental philosophers in contempt, they must deserve it; apparently, there could be no other explanation ("If the continental philosophers were merely geographically separated from the Anglo-American philosophers, they would be regarded simply as colleagues in a different continent").  Of course, he himself points out that continental philosophers reciprocally feel the same about analytic thinkers, but this contempt somehow implicates its holders instead its object, showing that its holders are incompetent to judge, having been driven mad by resentment of philosophers who have standards (not to mention the profound mis-characterizations of scientific disputes which, while not generally divided geographically, frequently become mutual dismissals of rival schools or theories; just recently, many physicists have considered string theory to be not real science because of the lack of empirical testing while others see it as the next great paradigm).


Unfortunately, this is what discussions of the divide often devolve into.  Is it really any wonder that scholars generally prefer staying within their group?



2009-11-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
Dear all,

Interesting to see the emergence of those old friends, "contempt," "pomposity," and the like. I would remind everyone of Hegel's dictum that fleeing from something does not liberate one from it. Nor, I would add, does having contempt for something liberate one from it. So if we're interested in freedom, we'll do our best to minimize these ego-centered attitudes.

I have no investment in either "analytic" or "continental," as such. My investment is in serious thought, which I believe I can detect in major figures on both sides. I doubt that the next generation of major thinkers will care about these categories. But it will surely respect the real concerns of both sides.

Best, Bob

2009-11-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
Lee writes: "Is it really any wonder that scholars generally prefer staying within their group?"

No it isn't. But what a bizarre situation!  And what does it say about the capacity of both sides to understand what is going on? What does it say, in short, about the state of modern philosophy?

DA

2009-11-28
The analytic/continental divide
Bob

My word "pomposity" was not targeted at either side. It was targeted at the notion of a "professional philosopher".

You may be right about "the next generation of major thinkers".  Or you may be wrong.  Either way, I don't think that the possibility that the future may not care about our problems licenses us to ignore them.

Personally I am happy to "respect" both sides (with reservations...)  But I would respect both of them a lot more if they placed a much higher priority on working out why there are two "sides".

DA  



2009-11-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
Well, in the spirit of rehabilitating the discussion, I note that, in analytically oriented seminars led by leading analytic philosophers, I have studied
Meinong, Husserl and Brentano. My own work on dreaming explicitly quotes Sartre, as does Colin McGinn's recent book on imagination.
Phil mentions John Searle's book Intentionality, which depends heavily and explicitly on Heidegger. I haven't much grip on contemporary
French philosophy, but I certainly have nothing against the Continental philosophy I have read. I think the phenomenological
stuff is especially interesting. I'm not acquainted with a
deep prejudice by analytic philosophers against the Continental, though there used to be one back in the days when
Positivism was ascendant. Doubtless it happens but I think the serious study of Continental philosophers by analytic philosophers
speaks more accurately to the analytic side's estimate of Continental philosophy.

Let me say something about the analytic tradition. It begins IMO, with Frege's logic. If Aristotle was logic's Galileo, Frege was its Newton.
This extraordinary development, especially coupled with Russells use of it to apparently solve some philosophical problems,
led to serious concentration on language. The new logic, some thought, would solve philosophical problems by clarifying
language. This led to the idea that philosophical problems were entirely confusions of language. In addition, some thought
that the reason Frege's logic was so powerful was that its structure corresponded to the structure of reality, so that
we could read off metaphysics from the new logic. In the midst of this heady stuff, the positivists coupled Frege's logic
with Hume's empiricism, we get the Verifiability Criterion of Meaning, the rejection of metaphysics, the rejection
of ethics, the rejection of most of the history of philosophy (metaphysics), the rejection of the Continental.

The Positivist's  program begins to lose force in the 50s. The logical and linguistic skills developed
are used to re-introduce metaphysical questions (especially Kripke and the interest in modal logic). It is felt we can
now make progress on old
issues because we have the logical means to do it. Metaphysics comes back with a vengeance, modal questions,
personal identity, free will, God's existence, universals/nominalism, propositions, parts-wholes,
the nature of time, the question of persistence through time,
and so on. History of philosophy returns with extraordinary vigor, scholars trying to understand
the great philosophers in reference to their concerns in their own day. The Vietnam generation
of philosophers rejects entirely the positivistic view that philosophy shouldn't comment on moral
issues, and there is an explosion of applied ethics and medical ethics, which I detailed earlier in this thread.
Philosophy of religion also comes to the fore. Further analytic philosophers are surfing off science, especially
developments in neurology and computer science/artificial intelligence, which make it possible
to address the old mind-body problem in a more informed way. Also the metaphysical debate
about the nature of time (which goes back to Augustine) is affected by physics and relativity theory.  Political philosophy also
advances, especially through John Rawls' work. There is a mini-industry of
philosophers working on the meaning of life. And epistemology is very important,
as is probability theory and the philosophy of science. Philosophy of biology....
And more...

Amid all this diversity, running like a thread through it, is Frege's logic. Sooner or later analytic philosophers
trying to clarify their thinking, will see how it looks in first-order predicate calculus. Also the discussion
of language and logic, plus set theory and mereology, have provided means to express difficult issues much
more clearly. So what one has is the continuation of the traditional philosophical enterprise, mostly old problems
pursued across a wide front, with an arsenal of new logical tools, not always at the fore, but
underlying the enterprise. If Aristotle came back today, or Aquinas or Hume or Descartes or Leibniz or Anselm or....
I believe they would join in with gusto.

The analytic tradition is precisely the sort of thing that happens after a major advance in logic, which
raises issues of its own and also enables us to see more deeply and clearly into old issues.

The analytic tradition involves a passion for clarity, that arguments will be set out clearly so that fallacies, if present will
be discovered.   While there is sometimes considerable craftsmanship and elegance in writing, there is
little rhetoric.

I think it's fine that people pursue philosophy in other ways than this,
and I have noted above the real interest in Continental philosophers among
analytic people with whom I've studied. It is widely recognized that some
Continental philosophers were grappling intelligently with real problems
and that we can learn from their efforts.

2009-11-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

In mentioning "pomposity," I had in mind Daniel Pi, who used the word before you did: "the 'continental' tradition has more-or-less collapsed under the weight of its own pomposity."

I suggested that serious thinkers will "respect" the "_real concerns_" of both sides. If we did that I think it would go a long way to removing the division between them. Jim Stone has mentioned the analytical folks who study Meinong, Husserl and Sartre. Others study Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger. That doesn't leave a lot of the continental "canon" outside the circle.

Best, Bob

2009-11-29
The analytic/continental divide
http://berto-meister.blogspot.com/2008/08/peter-singer-on-hegel-and-marx.html

Here is Peter Singer, an analytic philosopher, discoursing on Hegel.

2009-11-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
Imagine how Hegel would have felt if he'd known that his destiny would be to be known as "the teacher of Karl Marx." And as the "inspirer of German nationalism," as Bryan Magee adds at the beginning of this video. Whereas Hegel's main remark on German nationalism was that "Deutschtum" was "Deutschdumm." And I can't think of a single thing that Marx, whose dissertation praised the Greek atomists rather than Plato, Aristotle, Proclus, Descartes or Kant, learned from Hegel. Marx's so-called dialectic has nothing in common with Hegel's, which is inseparable (in the _Science of Logic_) from his metaphysical theology. Nor does Marx's conception of history, which locates freedom only at the end of the process, have anything to do with Hegel's. But pontificators on the history of philosophy still routinely talk as though there was a significant connection between the two of them.

Best, Bob

2009-11-29
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Bob

Thanks for the explanation.

Personally I don't doubt that there are certain "analytic" philosophers who are interested in certain "continental" philosophers (I put both labels in quotes because for different reasons I think they are both questionable). But that is not the real issue.

The issue is the systemic divide between the two - the fact that they operate in two different institutional worlds ("institutional" in the broad sense).  The questionnaire was an example of that in microcosm. It is equally obvious in the broader world of conferences, publications, appointments etc etc. 

Of course there is a small number of people on both sides who (rather timidly) make forays across the boundaries. But what priority does either school as a whole place on understanding why the divide has occurred?  What system-wide encouragement is there to deal with the problem? 

(PS There is a lot in the modern "continental" canon apart from Hegel, Husserl, Sartre, Nietzsche and Heidegger - and of course much also depends on how those names are read... And philosophical trends on both sides over the past three or four decades seem to be widening the divide rather than building any bridges. Try reading some contemporary mainstream "analytic" stuff and then some Derrida, Lacan, Badiou, or Levinas...)

DA

2009-11-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Well, we've got leading analytic people teaching Continental philosophy in seminars. (No, it's not 'timid.') We've got analytic people writing books about Continental philosophers.
Also analytic people deploying the ideas of Continental people in their research, both in books and journal articles. We've had leading analytic
philosophers quite deeply drenched in Continental people, like Roderick Chisholm. We've got Continental philosophers
teaching in most analytically oriented departments, and intense discussions between individual people in both traditions, e.g. Bert Dreyfus
and John Searle.  In a good number of cases, Continental philosophers chair analytically oriented departments. Continental ideas, like 'intentionality'
and 'Brentano's problem' and 'bad faith' and 'phenomenology' are part of mainstream analytic philosophy.
Continental people routinely read papers in mainstream philosophy conferences, both at the state and national levels. There have been
conferences that were designed to bring together both analytic and Continental philosophers to talk about common interests.
There are prestigious journals like 'Religious Studies' that routinely publish papers from people in both traditions.

What would you count as good evidence that there is no 'systematic divide,' and that these philosophers aren't operating in 'two different institutional worlds'?






2009-11-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

I guess I doubt the long-term importance of institutions and "trends." In the short term (decades) they obviously have a lot of influence on who talks to whom, and the like. In the long term (multiple decades) I think the serious thinkers will and do seek out significant work to respond to, regardless of what institutional banner that work was done under. I don't see this as "timid" at all. For a recent example, Hilary Putnam of Harvard published a book on Jewish philosophy in which Levinas figures prominently. So much for the great divide. Young German scholars  work on Hegel and "analytic" philosophy of mind. Badiou writes about mathematics, right? He won't be ignored forever by the mob of analysts who are mathematically inclined. The questionnaire that you all have been so upset about was in fact put together by a philosopher, David Chalmers, who is an example of the great openness of contemporary "analytic" philosophy of mind. Chalmers was trained in math and science, which should make him a hardcore analyst, right? And he is one, in the sense that he's plugged into all these weird discussions about externalism and internalism and so forth. But he also happens to have become one of the strongest critics of the dominant trend in analytical phil of mind, which of course has been materialism. In due course, David will learn more about Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Hegel, who are the great classical critics of materialism, and then the discussion will become really interesting. For these are the people who inspired Husserl, for whom Derrida and company claim to have such great respect, and Sartre, despite the fact that Sartre never took the time to actually read them. The true inheritors of Husserl and Sartre I believe are the analysts and continentals (always with scare quotes, of course) who care about these issues. And David will be quite ready to converse with all of them, when they emerge from the woodwork. Go ahead, tell me it won't happen. I believe in the power of ideas and truth. The twentieth century was of course pretty much overwhelmed by the progress and prestige of science and its acolytes. Putnam and Chalmers come from within that "temple," and they're not satisfied by it. Why not? Not because they have something to gain in terms of conferences and chairs. They've got those. Rather, I suspect, because they want to make satisfying sense of their own experience as human beings. As for what either school "as a whole" places priority on--forget about it. No "school" of these dimensions places priority on anything with any subtlety. Only individuals do that.

Best, Bob

2009-11-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim

I'm not going to do a philosophical tour du monde. I'm only going on what I see around me month after month, year after year, in conferences, in publications, in appointments, in how institutions are organized, in what people do and say (even on this thread, you may have noticed) and so on. But if you think there is no problem - and that, say, Levinas or Jean-Luc Nancy are as much household names in "analytic" departments as say Quine or Davidson, then I guess you and I haven't got much common ground to work from. That is not the world I see.

Just on a recent topical example, what did you feel about the questionnaire?  No evidence of a divide there?

DA




2009-11-29
The analytic/continental divide
Bob

I'd like to say that I admire your optimism but since I don't think it is well founded I can't honestly say I do. 

Either way, there is not much point in discoursing on the future - on what people will or will not think, or whom they will or will not converse with. I can only talk about what I see about me now, what has been the case for quite some time, and what looks to me to be pretty well entrenched.

I really do hope that your faith in the "power of ideas and truth" is justified. Alas, history is not always reassuring ...  

DA

2009-11-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Of course names like Levinas and Jean-Luc Nancy aren't as well known among analytic philosophers as Quine or Davidson. But this appears
to flow naturally from the fact that the traditions are often concerned with different problems and are using different methodologies.
 Again, I'm very strongly analytic and I see people
working in Continental integrated pretty well into my intellectual community. My wife's department is analytically oriented. The chair is
an expert on Simone de Beauvoir. Preceding her a couple of years before a Husserl scholar.
Continental philosophers
have been in virtually every analytically oriented department I've been involved with, getting on cordially and professionally with
their colleagues. When I was at Colorado I was good friends with Hazel Barnes, who translated Being and Nothingness into English.
We talked a great deal about Continental philosophy, and she was keenly interested in analytic philosophy.
Another very close friend and intellectual colleague was Christine Skarda, a phenomenologist who had studied in Belgium, and became closely associated
with John Searle, who was then writing his book on Intentionality. Searle was then carrying around a copy of Being and Time. As mentioned,
I studied Meinong this semester at UNC, a leading analytic department, with Robert Adams, a leading analytic metaphysician.
I read Husserl in a graduate seminar at Notre Dame with Dean Zimmerman, a leading analytic philosopher.
My wife helps organize a state-wide yearly philosophy conference in Illinois.
Continental philosophers are most always represented in the papers read and this duplicates in a general way at the APA division meetings.
I remember Continental papers read at the yearly Louisiana State Philosophy conference. Deleuze was a popular topic.

Perhaps there is a problem but I think it's overblown to describe it as a 'systematic divide,' nor do I see analytic and Continental
philosophers living in 'different institutional worlds.' Perhaps Australia is different from the USA.

Earlier in this thread I said what I thought the survey was up to.

2009-11-30
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
JS: "Perhaps Australia is different from the USA."

I am living in France at the moment. Same story - though even more so...

But I gather from what you say that all is fine where you are. 

DA

PS Minor points: I did not say "systematic" divide. I said "systemic".  It is a question of how the system operates. And as I suggested, "different institutional worlds", does not necessarily mean in different physical institutions. Indeed, the systemic divide sometimes goes on under the same roof.

2009-11-30
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Well, it certainly isn't bad. In St. Louis, where I live, there is a strong philosophy department at Saint Louis University with a large number of people from both traditions
who function well together. Together in reading  groups. Another thing we occasionally see are philosophers working very well in both traditions at once. So Jim Bohman at SLU, chiefly
a Habermas scholar, is a formidable political philosopher on every front. Has a prestigious professorship, important figure in the department. As mentioned I've had
plenty of personal friends doing Continental. Not like they had complaints or talked of a divide. Occasionally someone trained in Europe would show up
and express horror, not at analytic philosophy, but at Continental philosophy as manifested by grad students. Said it was too woolly minded, not the real thing.
The 'ideological' tensions I see operating in philosophy departments are along other lines, e.g. how to do history of philosophy and whether one does
violence to historical figures in applying their work to present problems.

2009-12-01
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
"Phil55 Smith, do you really believe, can you possibly believe that, "discussion phrased in the analytic terminology is intelligible and universal for all intelligent adult human beings"?  Do you really give 7 years of graduate training (on average) so little effect?  Do you actually believe that the average intelligent adult would immediately grasp the sense of, say, modus tollens, anomalous monism, conceptual schemes, Twin Earth or multiple world logic, rigid designator, radical translation or interpretation...? I'll stop there, but the list could be extended indefinitely."  These are all terms that could be dropped into analytic presentations without even the need for a gloss, and yet would be gobbledygook to non-philosophers."

Now I see I have not made my point it clearly enough ;-) Of course, what I have in mind is not the average intelligent adult, but rather intelligent adults with a background in analytic philosophy. That said, there still remains a huge difference between the intelligibility of works in contemporary analytic and continental philosophy.

The bottom line is that all the concepts you mention on your list (and it could be extended indeed), are such that allow clear and unambiguous definitions. Granted, some philosopher's concept of anomalous monism or radical translation may slightly differ from another's, but there is always the chance to point to and clearly formulate the differences, so these definitions are accessible to discussion to any member of the analytic philosophical community.

By contrast, students of continental philosophy will inevitably run into the inextricable and rather fruitless debates about the fundamental concepts that define the field. The fundamental notions and objectives of phenomenology are still heavily debated after so many decades, not least owing to the radically different conceptions of the philosophers who have claimed to belong in this tradition. (In answer to Jim, I'd like to point out that Searle in fact sees phenomenology as a rather limited enterprise as compared to his own project in the field of intentionality, as the title of his paper 'The phenomenological illusion' already suggests.).

Should phenomenology aspire to the status of a rigorous science, as Husserl thought? Or rather, is it much more akin to poetry, as the later Heidegger (who never explicitly disowned the deep phenomenological roots of his own philosophy) come to see it? Or rather, should it investigate intersubjectivity by completely abandoning the basics of Husserl's philosophy, namely the epoché and the transcendental ego, as Sartre and subsequently Merleau-Ponty claimed? Or again, is it an exercise in a peculiar kind of intersubjective ethics, as Levinas holds? There's no telling which conception should be accepted as "phenomenology proper'", and the truth is that these views are arguably incommensurable with each other (for example, Heidegger did not have much to say about ethics at all, while it is not an exaggeration to say that Levinas's philosophy is a fundamentally ethical undertaking.)
Thus generally speaking, these days you can be a Husserlian, a Heideggerian etc. without having to bother to make yourself understood by the rest of the so-called phenomenological community which does not share your idiom. How can you expect, then, to make yourself understood by analytic philosophers when your own brethren are not supposed to comprehend what you say?

Even more to the point, you would certainly be unable to find a single notion in the philosophy of say, Hegel, Heidegger or Sartre that would allow unambiguous and accessible definitions, unlike the analytic concepts included in your list. In fact, those notions are highly unambiguous and opaque. Who is to say what Hegel meant by "becoming" is in his logic (which he claimed was "the presentation of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and of finite spirit" - I wonder if anyone can take seriously this admirable piece of philosophical naivety, recurring later in Husserl who wrote in a similar vein), or what "Being" meant to Heidegger who insisted that his philosophy is all about a single 'question of Being'. Not to mention the highly opaque writings of postmodern authors like Derrida and Foucault (in fact, the latter insisted on not to be called a philosopher at all!). Unfortunately, as far as I know, both Derrida and Foucault claimed to be Heideggerians, so as long as the aims and basics of Heidegger's philosophy remain unclear, there is no way to judge whether these two are doing philosophy in any acceptable sense of the term at all.  
 
To sum up: In my view, any attempt to mediate between analytic and continental philosophy is eventually deemed to failure, because the difference between the extent to which analytic and continental concepts allow clarification is not a matter of  degree but of kind.




2009-12-01
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
"Aside from that helpful interjection, this discussion is quickly degenerating into attacks, both foolish and mean."

I don't think it would be either foolish or mean to attack all obscure continental verbiage verging on pompous nonsense in the name of analytic clarity and rigor. If you think it is foolish and mean, please note that I am not alone in this, as I side with such illustrious analytic philosophers like Jonathan Barnes (writing in one of his books of the "kind of charlatanry" that passes for continental philosophy), David Bell (who wrote about the "dismal and dogmatic" aspect of Husserl's philosophy"), Timothy Williamson (see the interview with him at http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/classical-investigations-timothy-williamson/) and Roger Scruton (who once said he does not understand Heidegger at all and does not know anybody else who can make any sense of his writings)... and I could extend the list further.
They don't hold these disparaging views because they are ignorant of the topic (which they surely aren't) or because they have had a dismissive attitude from the beginning  - no, these views are often the result of several years of fruitless effort in vain, devoted to make sense of continental thinkers.

"Do you really give 7 years of graduate training (on average) so little effect?" 

I have already corrected myself in my earlier post on that point, because of course what I had in mind was people with analytic training. Still, I would like to add something.

7 years of graduate training in analytic philosophy provides you with everything you need to defend your claims on the philosophical issues you are interested in, assess the validity of arguments, think up counter-examples, discern the failings of inadequately formulated positions etc.
By contrast, after 7 or more years of graduate training in continental philosophy you will still find yourself struggling to decipher the obscure texts written by the "big names" in the field.
After  all those years you will not be in a position even to judge whether what they've written is really intelligible or not, far less to decide whether their statements (if they made any at all) are true or false. Of course, you can make yourself believe that you understand them, but that would be no more than a kind of self-deception or self-conceit. To see that it is the case indeed you only have to look to the vast amount of secondary literature that abounds with wildly diverging interpretations of any of the classic and contemporary figures in the continental tradition. Who is to decide which is the correct one?


 





2009-12-02
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
Just noticed this in an ad for a position (names deleted to protect the guilty):

"Applications are invited for the Chair in Philosophy at the University of XXXXX.

The University’s intention is to appoint an eminent scholar in Analytic Philosophy ...."

I have a faint suspicion the divide may be alive and well there...

DA


 

2009-12-03
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

I find the idea (and it always remains an idea) of 'thought experiment' obscure, obscurantist and occult. Whatever philosophy undertakes it seems to be avoiding complexities and looking for an easy way out.


2009-12-03
The analytic/continental divide
Yes. It seems to be a contraction in terms too, doesn't it?  "Experiment" implies trying something out in practice - in the real world. Odd to think one could experiment in the world of "thought".

I seem to recall seeing recently that some analytic philosophers were themselves having worries about the idea. I can't remember the context. (I don't think continentals talk much about "thought experiments".)

Something similar that often bothers me in analytic philosophy is the constant appeal to "intuition". ("Intuitively this just seems wrong/right/weird" etc). A very odd thing for a school of philosophy that seems to pride itself so much on clear, rigorous reasoning etc. 

DA   

2009-12-03
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
That's a fair point Jim, but here (Australia) we have plenty of political philosophers of a Continental orientation that include Rawls in their teaching and draw in other important figures from the post-Rawlsian tradition (Kymlicka, Dworkin...). Further there are lots of guys who are discussing McDowell and Brandom  in their lectures on people like Kant and Hegel (or occasionally in teaching phenomenology). In regard to phenomenology figures like H.L. Dreyfus are regularly featured, although often critically, as with Strawson in many people's teaching of Kant.
One reason why it can be hard to draw Analytic philosophy into teaching in the Continental tradition is the fact that many courses in Continental philosophy are orientated on a one of the great names in the tradition. I mean if you are running a 12 week course on Hegel you will have a hard time doing anything more than studying Hegel - when I have taught Hegel I have focused on the 'Philosophy of Right', its hard to get through that text in one semester. You can make a few gestures at contemporary political philosophy but for the most part its a struggle to get through the assigned text. So, in a tradition that takes history seriously (rather than seeing history of philosophy as the history of errors as some do) and in a tradition where courses are largely oriented on one or two figures, there are certain limits to what can be done. Nonetheless, as per my first paragraph, I do think that there are people teaching Continental philosophy that draw upon the work of important analytic philosophers. So its not a one-way street.

2009-12-03
The analytic/continental divide
Thanks for this post Bob - the note of optimism is refreshing. In the end, and as with any century, there will only be a handful of thinkers from the 20th century that will become important historically, they will be remembered and both sides of the divide will be represented. It is these thinkers that the thinkers of tomorrow will focus on and rightly so. Personally I do appreciate and respect the fact that people like David Chalmers are working in a far more ecumenical way - some of David's work on the way significant thinking occurs outside the skull of the human being hooks up with some of the stuff I am interested in very nicely (McDowell and Brandom). Where this happens you just shoot yourself in the foot to ignore such work because of some antecedent sectarian commitment. Further thinkers like Paul Redding here in Australia, who are more Continental in approach, do very well to establish dialogue with Analytic philosophers and is again very ecumenical. Also there is good and useful dialogue between Anglophone and European traditions happening between pragmatists and critical theorists - that has to be a positive.
I think that the survey was problematic, I have said my piece about that and don't care to say anything more about it, but do feel it needed to be said. In a string like this it is worth drawing attention to these things, its a datum to be considered in the discussion, if we do not point to those things that we feel help to construct the divide we cannot really hope to overcome it. But it is important not to let a pall of pessimism and despair envelop us - and, as fond as I am of Continental philosophy, some of the philosophy that emerges out of that tradition is marked by a sense of cultural despair. So, we had a problematic survey and an interesting (if at times heated) discussion about it - I see this as some good (albeit limited) coming out of that problem. But where to now? 

Phil

2009-12-03
The analytic/continental divide
Philip writes: ", as fond as I am of Continental philosophy, some of the philosophy that emerges out of that tradition is marked by a sense of cultural despair."

Would this disqualify it as good philosophy? Perhaps the cultural despair is spot on...

DA 

2009-12-03
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
Dear Phil,

You wrote:

Who is to say what Hegel meant by "becoming" is in his logic (which he claimed was "the presentation of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and of finite spirit" - I wonder if anyone can take seriously this admirable piece of philosophical naivety, recurring later in Husserl who wrote in a similar vein), or what "Being" meant to Heidegger who insisted that his philosophy is all about a single 'question of Being'. Not to mention the highly opaque writings of postmodern authors like Derrida and Foucault (in fact, the latter insisted on not to be called a philosopher at all!). Unfortunately, as far as I know, both Derrida and Foucault claimed to be Heideggerians, so as long as the aims and basics of Heidegger's philosophy remain unclear, there is no way to judge whether these two are doing philosophy in any acceptable sense of the term at all.  
 
To sum up: In my view, any attempt to mediate between analytic and continental philosophy is eventually deemed to failure, because the difference between the extent to which analytic and continental concepts allow clarification is not a matter of  degree but of kind.

I reply:

I wouldn't dispute your suggestion that "analytic" concepts have in general been more readily "clarified" than concepts of phenomenology and the like. But I would suggest that this might be due mainly to the fact that phenomenology is trying to come to grips with something that analytic thinking has tended to avoid, namely, the fundamental issue of the relation between personal experience (first-person point of view) and objectivity (third-person point of view). So that the lack of agreement as to what phenomenology even is, should itself be a very rewarding topic for sympathetic investigation. 

As to whether "anyone can take seriously" Hegel's remark about the presentation of God as he is in his eternal essence: _I_ can take it seriously, to the extent of writing a book about it (_Hegel's Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God_ [Cambridge U. Press, 2005]). Need I explain that Hegel is speaking figuratively, here, since time and thus the normal sense of "before" is not present in his Logic? As to whether there might be a structure of reality that is logically prior to time and nature, and which might appropriately be termed "divine," Plato is equally "naive" on this issue. And he coined the term, "philosophy." ;-)

Best, Bob W

2009-12-03
The analytic/continental divide
'I wouldn't dispute your suggestion that "analytic" concepts have in general been more readily "clarified" than concepts of phenomenology and the like. But I would suggest that this might be due mainly to the fact that phenomenology is trying to come to grips with something that analytic thinking has tended to avoid, namely, the fundamental issue of the relation between personal experience (first-person point of view) and objectivity (third-person point of view).'

Thomas Nagle's The View From Nowhere is a major work devoted to this issue, if I understand you. Certainly there is considerable interest
in subjectivity and introspection.

2009-12-03
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,
you have to call things by their individual merits. So no, despair does not necessarily equal 'bad philosophy' just as optimism does not necessarily equal 'good philosophy'. But, firstly, talk of 'good' and 'bad' philosophy as per my last sentence seems a little crude, and of course a little too formalistic. So, bad = despairing, good = positive would be a silly/myopic way of setting things up, just as bad = continental, good = analytic is a silly/myopic/partisan way of setting things up. You have to judge according to individual merits and to do that you need to appreciate what is going on, in order to really appreciate what is going on you need to exert some effort. Second despair can be politically enervating, so the question is always: 'where does this leave us?' If it only leaves us with despair then perhaps this is a point which can be criticised. Of course criticism does not necessarily mean total rejection, it might mean something like sublation.

Perhaps there is a broad sense in which cultural despair is spot on. If one is hoping for something new, something that might transform our political culture then, from one point of view, looking at Anglophone political philosophy does not give us much to be hopeful about. Hegel has been criticised as a philosopher of the Prussian state, a philosopher of the status quo, these are problematic claims, but if one looks at contemporary Anglophone philosophy one might equally get the impression that most Anglophone philosophers are simply philosophers of the status quo. Anglophone political philosophy is either the philosophy of liberalism or the philosophy of public policy, the former is philosophy of the status quo the latter is just the abandonment of political philosophy. If you take that view, and I can see why you might (I have had conversations along these lines recently, its not a completely unrealistic view) then there might be some reason for despair. Of course, and from a slightly different point of view, this could be rejected by reference to contemporary Republicanism, which is quite interesting. Furthermore neo-republicanism could be a point of dialogue between traditions. It depends what data one takes as relevant - it depends what bits of the social world you look at, it depends on what philosophy you look at and it depends on the kind of lens you filter it all through (the presuppositions that you bring with you).

Phil

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Bob,
You say "To sum up: In my view, any attempt to mediate between analytic and continental philosophy is eventually deemed to failure, because the difference between the extent to which analytic and continental concepts allow clarification is not a matter of  degree but of kind."


Is this not a little too bleak as an outlook? Surely conceptual mediation is not the limit to what mediation might be, surely there is some hope for a meta-discursive mediation that can methodically think through the relationship between two modes of philosophical praxis. It seems to be overly pessimistic about the powers of human thought, particularly pessimism about creative thinking, creative theorising, which I tend to be optimistic about. 


Of course the immediate response is that I am being overly optimistic, this might be right. But perhaps there are some interesting features of contemporary philosophy that would lead us away from such pessimism, that open the cracks from which such a meta-discursive view might emerge. I mean in the 1950's the idea that Kant and Hegel on one hand, and Husserl and Heidegger on the other, could have an important part to play in Analytic philosophy would have been seen as very strange indeed. But it is not so strange today. There is much more interest in Idealism and phenomenology within the analytic tradition today than there once was, it is only the ideologues that deny this - but ideologues and inflexible partisanship have always been the enemies of intellectual movement. In any case Hegel is a very interesting point of contact between traditions. This is not just limited to a discussion of the interplay between contemporary pragmatism and Hegel, more than one person has commented on resonances between Badiou's work and the work of Hegel too. So, perhaps that might be a point of mediation. Of course for this to occur both sides have to undergo a certain rethinking of matters and a certain rethinking of the philosophical vocation, history shows us that this happens. Yet without some kind of meta-discursive thinking it would seem that we 'would' have to resign ourselves to the idea that the gulf is unbridgeable - except for those moments when monomaniacal and cycloptic behemoths try to bridge it with their cudgels. And, to refer back to a previous post in this string, there is no monopoly on monomania in contemporary philosophy.


In the end though, history will move forward and some of the tensions that we feel, and that we perhaps felt a little more acutely a decade or so ago, will fall away. New tensions might arise, but thought will move on and it is important that we be open to that. Pessimism about this might leave one clinging to old forms, and perhaps the forms that we cling to are in fact decay forms. We have to be open to newness in order for newness to manifest, nothing is more intellectually stultifying than the refusal of the new and the insistence that a matter has been settled. Of course I am not suggesting that you are claiming that matters are settled in your post, you are not. But there does seem to be at least some tension between the above remark and the comments that you made previously in regard to the work of David Chalmers. Is there no room for optimism?


Phil

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
Hi Phil55,

You say: "By contrast, after 7 or more years of graduate training in continental philosophy you will still find yourself struggling to decipher the obscure texts written by the "big names" in the field. 
After  all those years you will not be in a position even to judge whether what they've written is really intelligible or not, far less to decide whether their statements (if they made any at all) are true or false. Of course, you can make yourself believe that you understand them, but that would be no more than a kind of self-deception or self-conceit. To see that it is the case indeed you only have to look to the vast amount of secondary literature that abounds with wildly diverging interpretations of any of the classic and contemporary figures in the continental tradition. Who is to decide which is the correct one?"

How is this not judging continental philosophy by a standard that is alien to it. This is an external critique, it takes the standards of a certain intellectual praxis and applies them to another intellectual praxis without asking about the standards internal to the praxis that is being criticised. Now there is some room for this, but it is an extremely limited endeavor. You have basically got to be in a position whereby you have already decided that you are in possession of the only set of criteria for judging to say this sort of thing. Personally I can see how both analytic and continental philosophy keep some faith with the Greeks. One crude and simple way that one might do this (so a way that would require much further thinking and development because its just too crude) is to say that while Analytic philosophy is orientated more by the attempt to give an account of the construction of the world and by asking 'What is X?' type questions, continental philosophy is more interested in a criticising the norms of the social world.


Phil

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Philip writes: "Second despair can be politically enervating, so the question is always: 'where does this leave us?' If it only leaves us with despair then perhaps this is a point which can be criticised. Of course criticism does not necessarily mean total rejection, it might mean something like sublation."

But surely, if a philosophical analysis leads to despair, that alone is not grounds for criticizing it, is it? It may be a very well argued, penetrating analysis. It may reveal that there is no hope, but if it does, should we criticize it just because we would like a rosier picture?  (I recall some stuff by the twentieth century French writer, Cioran. Extremely pessimistic. There are bits where he seems to give up hope entirely for Western civilization. Very worthwhile reading all the same. Given the choice between Cioran and a book of analytic philosophy - even well argued analytic philosophy - I know which I would choose...)

DA

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,
I did not ever close that possibility down. It would be ignorant or close minded of me to do so. So I built qualifications into my statement with words like 'perhaps' and 'might'. Although I do insist that if the analysis leads only to despair we must ask 'Where to from here?' or 'Where does this leave us?' If the reply is that we have arrived at a final truth, a despairing yet ultimate truth, then this just shuts thinking down, there is nothing more to be said - philosophy has completed itself in regard to this issue and we are just left in a state of despair. A form of thinking that implies this is, in my opinion, a form of thinking that denies the infinite possibilities of thought, one reason that one might want to reject it is not because one wants a rosier picture but because one wants to continue thinking about the problem with at least the hope that there might be something more than mere despair. In my opinion good philosophy does not 'give philosophy rest', but excites the mind to think and think further, if you want to give philosophy rest (that is, close down the incessant pursuit of truth or the incessant emancipatory questioning of social norms) perhaps you ought to move from philosophy to Theravadan Buddhism, just embrace a transformative mode of practice that does not intellectually engage the world (there would be nothing wrong with that, not everyone has to be a philosopher). It seems to be an anti-philosophical move, now anti-philosophical moves might be very useful at times, but more than being anti-philosophical it is a move that seems to be anti-thought, it seems to tell a being that can think (about the problems that it faces) that there is no point in thinking.

Phil

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Philip,

What you quote wasn't my words, but those of Phil55, whom I quoted. I would never have said that! The quotes fell by the wayside when Jim Stone replied to me.

Best, Bob

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Oh, my apologies Bob. Thanks for pointing this out.
Phil

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
Hi Jim,

In response to my comment that:
'I wouldn't dispute your suggestion that "analytic" concepts have in general been more readily "clarified" than concepts of phenomenology and the like. But I would suggest that this might be due mainly to the fact that phenomenology is trying to come to grips with something that analytic thinking has tended to ... (expand) avoid, namely, the fundamental issue of the relation between personal experience (first-person point of view) and objectivity (third-person point of view).'

You wrote:
"Thomas Nagle's The View From Nowhere is a major work devoted to this issue, if I understand you. Certainly there is considerable interest
in subjectivity and introspection."

I reply:
Yes, all honor to Tom Nagel, and to David Chalmers, following in his footsteps. But notice how unusual they are, in the last half-century of analytic philosophy. Wittgenstein, Quine, Sellars, David Armstrong, Daniel Dennett, not to mention the crusading Churchlands--none want to acknowledge the first-person point of view as equally fundamental (for philosophy) to the third-person point of view. Whereas phenomenology makes the first-person point of view at least equal, and people like Merleau-Ponty struggle mightily with how to integrate the two.

Best, Bob

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Dear Robert,
you wrote:

"I wouldn't dispute your suggestion that "analytic" concepts have in general been more readily "clarified" than concepts of phenomenology and the like."But I would suggest that this might be due mainly to the fact that phenomenology is trying to come to grips with something that analytic thinking has tended to avoid, namely, the fundamental issue of the relation between personal experience (first-person point of view) and objectivity (third-person point of view).

I think this is no longer the case for a long time because analytic philosophers (e.g. Robert Nozick, A. W. Moore and many others in the philosophy of mind) have regularly addressed this issue since the publication of Nagel's The View from Nowhere without hardly ever feeling the need to revert to phenomenology.

 "
So that the lack of agreement as to what phenomenology even is, should itself be a very rewarding topic for sympathetic investigation. "

The big trouble with your approach is that phenomenology (singular) is actually a non-existing branch of philosophy. In fact, what you call "the lack of agreement" is a massive understatement, because in reality there are a number of mutually incompatible views about the very nature of phenomenology, so currently one can speak only about phenomenologies (plural) which means you have to tackle virtually as many radically different conceptions passing for phenomenology as the number of individual philosophers who have ever gone in for writing phenomenological works.

  As to whether "anyone can take seriously" Hegel's remark about the presentation of God as he is in his eternal essence: _I_ can take it seriously, to the extent of writing a book about it (_Hegel's Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God_ [Cambridge U. Press, 2005])Need I explain that Hegel is speaking figuratively, here, since time and thus the normal sense of "before" is not present in his Logic?

I'm sorry for having touched a nerve, but I have to confess I'm completely at a loss because I cannot begin to understand how anyone can intelligibly use the words "before" or "after" or "prior to" without their temporal sense in talking about (alleged) events like the Creation .
I agree that Plato is equally naive on this issue (it is false that he coined the term "philosophy", as Diogenes Laertius attributes this to Pythagoras),  but to that extent he is a mystic. However, the thoughts of mystics are excluded from the scope of philosophy provided you are willing to use the word "philosophy" with the quite reasonable presupposition that any philosophical discussion is conducted with at least a minimum of rationality and with the use of concepts that are potentially available to everyone for grasping.  

By the way, I recently found Fiona Cowie's remark that nicely captures an essential feature of analytic philosophy:

"Analytic philosophy is all about bullshit detection, and we [Australians] are very good at that."

I think Cowie's bullshit detector would keep beeping upon her reading that passage from Hegel, or any other obscure piece of continental writing for that matter.






 

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
Hi Phil55,
You say: "I'm sorry for having touched a nerve, but I have to confess I'm completely at a loss because I cannot begin to understand how anyone can intelligibly use the words "before" or "after" or "prior to" without their temporal sense in talking about (alleged) events like the Creation . 
I agree that Plato is equally naive on this issue (it is false that he coined the term "philosophy", as Diogenes Laertius attributes this to Pythagoras),  but to that extent he is a mystic. However, the thoughts of mystics are excluded from the scope of philosophy provided you are willing to use the word "philosophy" with the quite reasonable presupposition that any philosophical discussion is conducted with at least a minimum of rationality and with the use of concepts that are potentially available to everyone for grasping."

Is it also the case that you cannot see the book of Genesis as being anything other than a purportedly factual account of the creation of the world?


Phil

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
RE: "Analytic philosophy is all about bullshit detection, and we [Australians] are very good at that."
 
The question, though, might be: How good is analytic philosophy at detecting the substance in question in its own backyard? 

(Though I'm an Australian, I confess I don't think I am any better equipped to answer that question than anyone else.)

DA

 

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Phil, you write inter alia: "If the reply is that we have arrived at a final truth, a despairing yet ultimate truth, then this just shuts thinking down, there is nothing more to be said - philosophy has completed itself in regard to this issue and we are just left in a state of despair. A form of thinking that implies this is, in my opinion, a form of thinking that denies the infinite possibilities of thought, one reason that one might want to reject it is not because one wants a rosier picture but because one wants to continue thinking about the problem with at least the hope that there might be something more than mere despair."

But surely you are confusing two different questions. If a philosophical analysis leads to despair, that might well lead us to give on the state of civilization, "life", etc. But why should it "shut thinking down"?  One could perfectly well go on thinking - about just how desperate things are, how we got to where we are, etc.  Cioran, whom I mentioned, wrote quite a considerable corpus of work despite his despair. Ionesco (a playwright but of a very philosophical turn of mind) spent most of his life in a state of despair, or close to it, but wrote some wonderful plays. And nihilism, though perhaps not the healthiest philosophical position to be in, does not necessarily imply philosophical mutism. 

So, no, I don't think we can condemn despair as "anti-philosophical".  Are we going to require philosophers to adopt the motto, a la Norman Vincent Peale, "Think positively!" ? 

DA






2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,
Its a good enough point you make, so no criticism there, and I am Australian too. But I just want to play off your comment. I think Australians (perhaps somewhat jingoistically) like to think of themselves as good bullshit detectors, its the sort of thing we like to say about ourselves - its always nice to make out that you are better at some specified activity than 'others'. But perhaps that self-description is self-serving and parochial. And that is partly what the whole string is about - no?

Phil

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

perhaps you are right about my confusing of the two questions, I am always open to the idea that I am in error. But I think I what I was getting at here relates more to the questions that I put in response to a philosophy of despair - 'where to from here?' type questions. If there is no answer to these questions, if there is nowhere to go, then sure we might continue to think but what is the end of such thought. Is it thinking for the sake of thinking? Well fine. I certainly will not disallow that. But how many ways can you re-describe the despair before you become tempted by basket weaving?

Do I think that all thinking must be positive? No, not at all. For me critical thinking is the most important thinking of all. But, from where I sit, critique is rarely purely negative for criticism and the exposure of limitations is the key to making space for the new. I am critical of despair for the reason that, even where it is critical its critical voice seems to leave things right where they are. 
Perhaps we see things differently I despair of despair, but would be loath to just say that, for from where I sit that just leaves the despair right where it is. I have no answers here, just a computer and some spare time.

Phil


2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Re the question of "good bullshit detectors".

I'm sorry, Phil. I have never noticed that Australians have any special ability for detecting said substance.

And I have seen just as much of it produced by Australians, per philosophical capita, as by anyone else.

DA

2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,
so my comment was that they like to claim special talent/insight in regard to bullshit, which is not to say they do in fact have some special talent/insight. Perhaps re-read the post. 

I agree that cultural membership does not generally privilege one in regards to this or any other kind of insight, Australians are no better and no worse than anyone else here. My suggestion is that cultural membership is often the basis of asserting that one has some privileged insight - hence my reference to it as jingoism. I hope the point is clear, I thought that it was. 

Australian philosophers are better known for their modesty than anything else though - right? ;-)

Phil





2009-12-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
Hello Phil55,

So are you one of those people lucky enough to be born in Australia and thus with a built-in bullshit detector? If so, I congratulate you on your good fortune.

 I wrote:

 As to whether "anyone can take seriously" Hegel's remark about the presentation of God as he is in his eternal essence: _I_ can take it seriously, to the extent of writing a book about it (_Hegel's Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God_ [Cambridge U. Press, 2005])Need I explain that Hegel is speaking figuratively, here, since time and thus the normal sense of "before" is not present in his Logic?

You replied:

I'm sorry for having touched a nerve, but I have to confess I'm completely at a loss because I cannot begin to understand how anyone can intelligibly use the words "before" or "after" or "prior to" without their temporal sense in talking about (alleged) events like the Creation .
I agree that Plato is equally naive on this issue (it is false that he coined the term "philosophy", as Diogenes Laertius attributes this to Pythagoras),  but to that extent he is a mystic. However, the thoughts of mystics are excluded from the scope of philosophy provided you are willing to use the word "philosophy" with the quite reasonable presupposition that any philosophical discussion is conducted with at least a minimum of rationality and with the use of concepts that are potentially available to everyone for grasping. 

I reply:

Thanks for the correction about the term "philosophy." I explained that by "before," Hegel means logically prior, by which I mean presupposed by, necessary for the intelligibility of. He does not have in mind a creation that precedes the world in time. Neither (probably) did Plato. How do you know that Hegel's Logic or Plato's doctrine of the Forms are not "conducted with a minimum of rationality or with concepts that are potentially available to everyone for grasping"? It seems to me that both Plato and Hegel go to great lengths to achieve precisely those goals. For details on Hegel, see my book. But if you tell me you don't need to read it, because your innate detector has told you that certain sentences of Hegel's are clearly bullshit, I will suggest that you aren't measuring up to your own stated standards of philosophical discussion. For a "minimum of rationality" surely involves being willing to reconsider the deliverences of supposedly infallible "detectors."

Best, Bob

2009-12-06
The analytic/continental divide

Hi Philip,
you wrote:

How is this not judging continental philosophy by a standard that is alien to it. This is an external critique, it takes the standards of a certain intellectual praxis and applies them to another intellectual praxis without asking about the standards internal to the praxis that is being criticised. Now there is some room for this, but it is an extremely limited endeavor-

What you say in effect is against the possibility of all objective critique, because all such critique must be external and apply standards from one "intellectual praxis" to another. For example, if you were right, modern physical science could never have been in a position to criticize and reject Aristotelian cosmology because the latter had been "another intellectual praxis" too. Let me quote a passage from a paper by Herman Philipse to support my argument:

the preference for internal criticism, common in Continental philosophy, is both incoherent and an instance of the informal fallacy called argumentum ad Verecundiam (appeal to authority). It is incoherent because purely internal criticisms at best show that there are inconsistencies in an author, whereas the only reason for avoiding inconsistencies is that mutually inconsistent claims cannot all be true. Yet internal criticisms can never demonstrate which philosophical tenets are true or false. Hence the very point of internal criticisms, that is, the concern for truth, is frustrated if one restricts legitimate criticisms by fiat to internal ones. And the preference for internal criticism is an argumentum ad Verecundiam because it attaches importance to the identity of the author of criticisms instead of focusing on their validity.

 By the way, this is the same Herman Philipse who wrote the following in his book on Heidegger:

Most philosophers in the Anglo-Saxon world agree that critical discussion is one of the essential methods of clarifying and testing ideas. It seems, however, that on the European Continent, Heidegger's rhetorical move of denouncing critical discussion has been effective. Seen from a properly philosophical perspective, the influence of Martin Heidegger in European philosophy resembles the destructions of the Second World War on the Continent of Europe. The birthplace of the Enlightenment has been invaded by a revolutionary and yet reactionary power, which aims at replacing the open and critical mind of the Enlightenment by totalitarian and authoritarian thought.

I think what Philipse says about Heidegger applies to much of contemporary continental philosophy too.




 

2009-12-07
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
Aside: Pythagoras can be taken to have defined a philosopher as opposed to a sage, whereas Plato defined philosophy as opposed to sophistry.
An understanding of the possible usage of both terms would be helpful for understanding and combating the divide (without simply taking sides and thus begging the question).

2009-12-07
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith

Hi Phil55, 

It’s a bit of a shame that you did not read the section of text you quoted from my post adequately. I clearly acknowledge (in the bit you quote no less) that there is “some room” for external critique. Of course there is! Its odd that where I say that there is “some room” you claim that I am saying that there is ‘no room’ and you imply that I am ushering in what might be, to borrow from Kant, “the nighttime of the sciences”. Its wrong and distorts my comments. It just seems to be a false assertion on your part. I would suggest that it is not good argumentative practice to rest much on a false assertion.  Perhaps that’s a standard we can agree on. No?

 

In regard to the quote from Philipse, the irony is too delicious to pass up, you appeal to the authority of Philipse who bases his comments around the idea that there is a fallacious appeal to authority occurring in Continental philosophy. You talk about the legitimacy of criticizing Aristotle from the perspective of the modern physical sciences. Well, if both discourses were trying to achieve a neutral/value free/third-person description of nature (that is, if both had the same goals and aims in mind) I cannot see too much problem here, although it would have to be done with some hermeneutic sensitivity so that we do not miss what is going on in Aristotle or misrepresent him. There could be a long discussion of that sort of thing as an important prelude to such an exercise – otherwise why bother, that is, unless you get Aristotle right why bother criticizing him from the perspective of modern physical science, as otherwise it might seem as a mere rhetorical piece of false triumphalism.

 

Regardless, and don’t hang too much on the prior comment, the quote from Philipse seems to miss the point by being too focused on micro issues. The point I was making in regard to internal versus external critique is not so much about an appeal to authority but about understanding what a particular philosophical endeavor is trying to do in the first place. So, for example, a mythographer might produce some set of writings about myth that attempts to explain the kind of world view that produced it and the norms at play in it, but if we reject their work on the basis that the myth makers were deluded about the existence of this or that entity we have just failed to see what the mythographer was trying to do in the first place, our critique is external to the praxis even if what we say is true, the mythographer was not assessing truth claims, they were asking about the world view and norms at play in the text. A perfectly legitimate exercise. Alternatively if we look at what the mythographer says and show that they have committed some methodological error, failed to take account of some feature of the culture that is vital to the interpretation of the myth or have radically misunderstood it for some reason or another, then we are offering them a criticism of their work that appreciates what it was trying to do in the first place, but shows that they failed to achieve it and why they have – here our critique is internal to the praxis. That sort of thing pushes the endeavor that they are already engaged in further,  its useful, whereas the former criticism just fails to understand the endeavor entirely and is perhaps only of use to the person who makes it, i.e., it’s the critic pursuing their own intellectual agenda (perhaps narcissistically so) and not engaging in a dialogue with the person they critique.

 

Would it be a fair criticism of someone working in the philosophy of biology, say problem solving within evolutionary biology by focusing on the kind of mechanisms that drive the evolution, to say that they have failed to take account of the richness of human embodiment? This might be true, they might have failed to consider this. But, do I not just miss the ballgame entirely by suggesting it? Is that not a failure on my part to see what is in front of me – basically an empirical failure? What would be the response to such a criticism? The response would be: “You are missing what is going on here, we are not denying that there is something interesting about human embodiment, its just that it is irrelevant for the project we are engaged in and so WE are not interested in it.” Why is that an appeal to authority? Its not really, at its core its an appeal to methodology, it says that such considerations, while not necessarily uninteresting, are methodologically irrelevant to the enquiry we are making. If an intellectual praxis cannot appeal to the methodology, goals and aims that orientate it then we are in real trouble.  Of course where the methodology of a discourse is failing to achieve the goals and aims of that discourse, or inadequate to them, we have a basis for criticizing it, but that is internal too – the goals and aims are the internal standard that the method or discourse is held to. Where the external criticism might come in is through assessing whether the goals and aims of the discourse are worthy in the first place; whether any discourse should have those particular goals and aims. But care needs to be taken when we consider the ‘worth’ of goals and aims. We can end up wallowing in parochialism and arrogance here. So, for example, we cannot presume that a third person description of the construction of nature is the only ‘worthy’ intellectual project. You have to demonstrate that and you have to demonstrate it in a non-circular way, a way that does not presuppose the good of that project to begin with.

 

But what is most important in a discussion about the possibility of creating some kind of reconciliation between two divergent approaches to philosophy is that a person who remains with an external critique of the other side is not going to take the discussion very far, and indeed does not seem to want to take the discussion very far.  They say “speak my language or leave my table” and that is parochial, not to mention arrogant. You seem to insist that analytic philosophy is a universal standard, but that mistakes the part for the whole. It claims that the project of analytic philosophy and the standards applied within it are more than merely valuable tools to employ if one is embarking on a certain type of intellectual project, embarking on a certain mode of enquiry, you are saying that analytic philosophy is the alpha and omega of philosophy and that there is only one valid philosophical project -  that which is defined by its norms. Again this seems parochial not to mention arrogant. Further it seems to mistake the part for the whole and is thus fallacious.

 

What I have suggested in my post is that rather than analytic philosophy judging Continental philosophy according to standards that fail to appreciate what is going on within it and perhaps vice-versa that we seek some meta-discursive orientation on both traditions.  To find some kind of discourse that can think through the relation between two modes of philosophical praxis that are historically related.  If such an orientation on philosophy can be found then both analytic and continental approaches to philosophy could be validly situated within it, criticizing either of them from that perspective would not be as problematic as criticizing each from the perspective of the other side. I am not saying that’s an easy matter but it might be something that we could hope for. Particularly in a discussion such as this. At least it seems more helpful in the context of this discussion than to simply assert the priority of analytic philosophy.

 

For my own part I am interested in philosophy and I read philosophy, that leads me to read analytic philosophy and Continental philosophy and I have been informed by both. I cannot judge a piece of work purely on formal criteria, I have to judge work by its own merits and so the terms analytic and Continental do not mask for me the value judgments good/bad as they seem to for you. In the end, I leave that as a matter for you. For my part I would just assert that to judge and pre-judge a piece of work along formalistic lines (so just determining its worth on the basis of whether its in one tradition or the other without reading it) is bad philosophy.

 

I will pass up any invitation to discuss Heidegger, some uses of him are interesting, but that is a matter for those whose primary interests lie with him and mine lie elsewhere.

 

Phil


2009-12-14
The analytic/continental divide

Dear Philip,
you wrote:

Is it also the case that you cannot see the book of Genesis as being anything other than a purportedly factual account of the creation of the world?


I see what you mean. You say that like the book of Genesis (or much of the entire Bible for that matter), Hegel is going metaphorical in saying those things about God's thoughts and the Creation. But that is a very risky business, because most metaphors are open-ended, which means their meaning is vague and so they can be interpreted (or perhaps paraphrased) in indeterminately many ways.

  The book of Genesis is a good example, as it is heavily encumbered by metaphors and similes, which makes it impossible to find out its true literal meaning. This is how Richard Dawkins comments on this state of affairs:

 Of course, irritated theologians will protest that we don't take the book of Genesis literally any more. But that is my whole point! We pick and choose which bits of scripture to believe, which bits to write off as symbols or allegories. Such picking and choosing is a matter of personal decision.

 

  So unless the author of a text himself explains in literal terms what he intends to express with the use of metaphors, there is practically no way to determine the author's exact meaning.

 Let me hasten to add that I have nothing against the just mentioned use of metaphor in philosophical discussions. For example, when Descartes uses the metaphor of the pilot and the ship to elucidate the mind-body relationship, he does this in conjunction with a literal discourse on the topic, so it is by no means unclear what he means by saying that the way the mind resides in the body is different from the way a pilot resides in his ship. His metaphor is a stylistic tool, a figure of speech.  I repeat, this is legitimate only for as long as you express your meaning in literal terms as well.

 The trouble with Hegel's dictum is that he nowhere elucidates how the concept of "prior to" or "before" could be interpreted literally. Remember, the sentence we've been discussing is in a book on the science of logic, a science that cannot tolerate metaphorical discussion without any further disambiguation and explanation. Worse, while you can tell the metaphor from the literal fairly well in Descartes's treatises, there's no indication whatsoever in Hegel's works as to he is speaking literally or metaphorically in any given passage.

 

Dear Bob (excuse me for answering you in the same post but my quota is limited):
You wrote:

  I explained that by before, Hegel means logically prior, by which I mean presupposed by, necessary for the intelligibility of. He does not have in mind a creation that precedes the world in time.

Well, I haven't read your book on Hegel, but I intend to, and it might induce me to reconsider my views on the matter. Until then I think I have to entertain strong suspicion about this sentence which is by no means unique in Hegel's oeuvre, as there are loads of similar sentences that strongly seem to be good candidates for winning a bullshittiness competition.

 My reasons for saying that are as follows. The explanation you gave of the notion 'logically prior' seems to be very dubious and weak, to say the least. As far as I can tell, the only scientific concept of presupposition is the linguistic one, which is a relation defined as obtaining between sentences of natural language (or better, propositions expressed in natural language). It follows that only propositions can have presuppositions, which means that events like the Creation cannot have any presupposition by definition.

  On the other hand, the term 'necessary for the intelligibility of' can be given no clear meaning in contemporary logical theory. In logical syntax the concept of necessity is taken to be a sentence operator that is interpreted in logical semantics as a relation on possible worlds. So it has nothing to do with the intelligibility of propositions, rather it is all about the truth of a given proposition across some specific range of possible worlds.   

 You also wrote:

 

 Neither (probably) did Plato. How do you know that Hegel's Logic or Plato's doctrine of the Forms are not 'conducted with a minimum of rationality or with concepts that are potentially available to everyone for grasping'? It seems to me that both Plato and Hegel go to great lengths to achieve precisely those goals.

 To me, it doesn't seem so at all. Hegel claimed to find some actual contradictions in the world (e.g. in his discussion of movement), which I take to be a sign of accepting some lousy logic. Moreover, look at what Peter Winch thought about his philosophy of science:

 according to[the master-scientist view of the philosopher] philosophy is in direct competition with science and aims at constructing or refuting scientific theories by purely a priori reasoning. This is an idea which is justly ridiculed; the absurdities to which it may lead are amply illustrated in Hegel's amateur pseudoscientific speculations.

Or take Plato, for instance. He insisted that he could not put his mystic 'science' into written form.   In the Phaedrus, he stated that the philosopher does not put into writing the things 'which are of greatest value'. He confirmed this idea in his Seventh Letter.

To end my post on a pessimistic note, I have a question to all philosophers engaging in this discussion.  I consider this nagging question to be of utmost importance but I cannot find any encouraging answer to it. To understand why, look at what Timothy Williamson, Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford has to say about continental philosophy:

When I was a graduate student, I used to go to meetings of a Radical Philosophy group and read Derrida and Foucault because I was curious about whether continental philosophy had intellectual resources that I could use. Although I occasionally found something intriguing in their works, I eventually came to the conclusion that they were not worth the trouble. The texts were obscure and dogmatic. At first I thought other people in the Radical Philosophy group understood them better than I did, but then I discovered that they didn't - they were simply more willing to go on talking in that way, without trying to clarify the obscurity. They couldn't answer my questions.

So here is my own question:

Given that Mr. Williamson, who is said to be an extremely acute analytic philosopher and a formidable opponent in debate, admits that he cannot comprehend the writings of these continental philosophers, how could I ever expect to be able to understand the meaning of those (or possibly other, even more challenging) continental texts?

Best,

Phil55


2009-12-15
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
Of course we can't answer your question as to how you could expect to understand continental texts. Don't know you, after all.
Still, some comments might be relevant.
Personally I operate by this principle: I will not reject as meaningless, misguided, mistaken or whatever any philosophy or philosopher that I
haven't read  myself. I really recommend this principle, especially as the history of philosophy contains instances of
top ranking philosophers testifying to the meaninglessness of work that certainly makes sense to lots of people, myself included.
I share your high opinion of Williamson and I confess I find some of the Continentals more accessible than some of
his work. Part of being a professional is not letting others decide these matters for me, IMO. I don't care how acute they are.
I have the hard-won ability to make
such determinations myself and I think it's part of intellectual fairness to do so.

Testifying to the worth of Continental philosophy are these facts: mainstream philosophy has been much affected by, and incorporated,
ideas from Continental philosophy, e.g.  intentionality, bad faith, phenomenology, Brentano's problem, bracketing. Further
analytic philosophers sometimes draw heavily on Continental philosophers (e.g. Searle 'Intentionality' acknowledges a considerable
debt to Heidegger), write books about them, teach them in analytically oriented graduate seminars, and so on.
Plainly these philosophers feel they understand the texts well enough to make good use of them, and find them rewarding,
so perhaps you will too. It may take some hard study, of course.






2009-12-16
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone

Dear Jim,

 it seems we have reached an impasse. I myself operate by this principle: I will not reject as meaningless, misguided, mistaken or whatever any philosophy or philosopher that I haven't read  myself. So I have also read the works Continental authors like Husserl, Heidegger, Foucault, Merleau-Ponty and others, and like Professor Williamson, I find their oeuvre obscure and dogmatic. I would certainly carry on reading them and strive to understand them, and readily attribute these difficulties to my own limited abilities and the lack of hard work of years, were it not the case that several prominent analytic philosophers hold opinions of Continental philosophy that echo Williamson's.

Being reinforced in my conviction by these opinions, I must conclude that Continental authors are not worth the trouble.However, unlike any other issue in contemporary analytic philosophy, the really big problem with this state of affairs is that there seems to be no rational way you could convince me about the intelligibility of these texts. Although I am far from being so acute as Mr. Williamson, I consider myself a man of above average intellectual capacity, and I myself could ask you a myriad questions concerning interpretation about any specific Continental texts, and in the end we could not make progress in understanding any of them. I know this would be the case because I have tried to discuss these texts with other philosophers, to no avail. So I conclude there is something deeply suspicious and scandalous about them. Look for example what distinguished analytic philosopher Jonathan Barnes has to say about Continental authors. 

 most philosophers who belong to the so-called analytical tradition are pretty poor philosophers. But there's a big difference between the analyticals and the continentals: what distinguishes the continental tradition is that all its members are pretty hopeless at philosophy. Myself, I've read scarcely a hundred continental pages. I can't see how any rational being could bear to read more; and the only question which the continental tradition raises is sociological or psychological: How are so many apparently intelligent young people charmed into taking the twaddle seriously?

 As to the problems of mainstream (analytic) philosophy you mention, intentionality had been discussed long before Brentano in the Middle Ages, so although it is a major issue in contemporary analytic philosophy, it cannot be said to be a specifically continental topic.  Among the several main and myriad minor themes dealt with in contemporary analytic philosophy, the problem of bad faith emerges generally in connection with Sartre, so it can safely said to be a Sartre-specific one. Along with bracketing, it hardly anywhere gets a mention in general companions to analytic philosophy. So these two problems are considered marginal ones at best in contemporary analytic philosophy.

 Furthermore, to be fair to Searle, he nowhere mentions Heidegger in his book Intentionality and it would be clearly mistaken to say that he is indebted to Heidegger to any extent. On the contrary, he distances himself from and takes issue with contemporary phenomenologists like Dreyfus and Continental authors like Husserl and Heidegger in many fundamental respects. Searle has written several articles on the superiority of his own approach as compared to phenomenology. Let me quote from one of these, the Phenomenological Illusion:

 I turned to the phenomenologists, and the book that I was urged to read was Husserls Logical Investigations. (Husserl 1970a) Well, I read the First Logical Investigation, and, frankly, I was very disappointed. It seemed to me that it was in no way an advance on Frege and was, in fact, rather badly written, unclear, and confused. So I abandoned the effort to try to learn something about intentionality from previous writers and just went to work on my own. It turned out to be a rather difficult task, the hardest I have ever undertaken in philosophy. After several years I produced the book Intentionality: an Essay in the Philosophy of Mind. (Searle 1983) When that book was published, I was flabbergasted to discover that a lot of people thought it was Husserlian, that I was somehow or other following Husserl and adopting a Husserlian approach to intentionality. As a matter of my actual history, that is entirely false. I learned nothing from Husserl, literally nothing, though, of course, I did learn a lot from Frege and Wittgenstein.

 In the same article, Searle heavily criticizes Heidegger for repeatedly having fallen into the trap of the so-called phenomenological illusion. For example, in Searle's opinion if Heidegger is right,

 the problem which forms the basis of philosophy of language and linguistics simply dissolves.There is no such problem. If Heidegger were right, a hundred and fifty years of discussion of this problem from Frege through Russell, Wittgenstein, Grice and Searle would be rendered irrelevant by a dissolution of the problem.

And now please look at what Searle says about postmodern Continental authors like Derrida et al.

I believe that anyone who reads deconstructive texts with an open mind is likely to be struck by the same phenomena that initially surprised me: the low level of philosophical argumentation, the deliberate obscurantism of the prose, the wildly exaggerated claims, and the constant striving to give the appearance of profundity by making claims that seem paradoxical, but under analysis often turn out to be silly or trivial. In my review, I gave examples of all these phenomena.

And there are many other analytic philosophers who share Searle's opinion. For example, Maria Baghramian writes this in her book entitled Relativism:

To echo a point made by Hilary Putnam, to argue against postmodernists is somewhat like entering into a boxing match with the fog.

One of the main reasons is not too difficult to see: as Timothy Williamson says (in New British Philosophy: The Interviews), 

certain advances in philosophcal standards have been made within analytic philosophy, and for anyone who has taken these to heart, there would be a serious loss of integrity involved in abandoning them in the way that would be required to participate in continental philosophy as currently practised.

So Jim, do you really want to convince others to give up those standards and suffer a serious loss of integrity? For if you disagree with Williamson on this point, you would automatically give proof of an anarchy in standards of analytic philosophy, which is clearly not the case. That would be really confusing, to say the least.

To sum up: I think  the status and value of Continental philosophy is a real scandal in the eyes of many prominent analytic philosophers, to say the least. Not to mention the fact that the issue of the analytic-continental divide is also highly politicized, and I can bring many quotes in support of that claim, from Richard Wolin and others.

 


2009-12-16
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
I’m afraid I have no time to sort out your post, because we’re about to drive 1000 miles.
So I will say two things.

I don’t have John Searle’s intentionality book with me, however I was intimately involved in its writing. John, who was my teacher, acknowledges my help in the introduction and cites me in the text. John taught a course on the first draft of his book, I was the TA.  John, the phenomenologist Christine Skarda (fresh from the Husserl archives), and I were involved in constant conversations about the manuscript, all of us good friends, though of course the extraordinary creativity the book manifests is his. What a book!

During this time John was reading  Being and Time, brought the book to all his lectures, showed it to the students and spoke positively of phenomenology. He felt the division between analytic and continental was needless. He said that phenomenology is the part of analytic philosophy that deals with intentionality, and analytic philosophy is the part of phenomenology that deals with everything else. He acknowledged in his lectures a debt to Heidegger. I’m no expert on Heidegger and I believe the part of his book which deals with The Network and The Background are derived from Heidegger.  Quite crucial to the book. And very good stuff.

There are plenty of Continental philosophers, obviously, and each philosopher often talks about lots of different things. One can have a very low opinion of some continental philosophers without having a very low opinion of all of them, and one can object emphatically to what one of them says about something  while thinking that other things he says are quite valuable.

As mentioned I have studied other important continental philosophers in graduate seminars taught by leading analytic philosophers. Just did it this semester with Robert Adams. Made sense to me, made sense to them. And I myself have used continental writing in some of my publications, especially concerning the imagination and dreaming. As have others, e.g. Colin McGinn in his recent book on the imagination.

Second, I want to say personally how sad I feel about your posts. Perhaps I haven’t understood adequately what you are doing, and it seems to me your posts have taken the thread down an unfortunate path that can lead to nothing fruitful. Nothing personal. I don’t believe what you do about continental philosophy, though I do understand why people sometimes think it, but if I did believe it, I don’t suppose I would argue for it here. Of course, if you have widely studied continental philosophy and reached the conclusion that it is largely bunkum, you’re entitled to your opinion. All the best

2009-12-17
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

    You are right the debate nees to move a head from  its present stage.Could you do that by throwing light on how did Heidegger influence Searle's work on intentionality?Is it through Searle that Heidegger's influence passed to other American philosophers? I know that Rorty is a great fan of both.I think most of the participants in this debate recognize the divide and I think most of them agree that in most cases it does not affect intelligibility.Don't you think that it is time to discover the areas of mutual influence if there are any?
 
Alnour Rahama


2009-12-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
Dear Jim,
you wrote:

I want to say personally how sad I feel about your posts. Perhaps I haven't understood adequately what you are doing, and it seems to me your posts have taken the thread down an unfortunate path that can lead to nothing fruitful. Nothing personal.

Well, by this time everyone should see this is not about my personal opinion at all. If anything, you should feel sad about the opinions of prominent analytic thinkers. For I just side with a number of top class analytic philosophers who have studied continental philosophy and have a very poor opinion of it.

Note that It is not that they approach these texts with prejudice and then somehow find themselves justified in rejecting this style of philosophy after reading them. That would be a very unlikely coincidence indeed, and to suppose it would amount to applying a kind of conspiracy theory explanation to analytic philosophy. Rather, these analytic philosophers have their own arguments for their rejection, and those arguments are often well-supported ones.
So, Jim, if your opinion is anything to go by, I think we can conclude that analytic philosophy suffers from a kind of split brain syndrome in its relation to continental philosophy. So there must be another significant divide WITHIN analytic philosophy in this respect, one which we should try to clear up because it seems hopelessly confusing at present.

For example, I wonder if you have read Paul Edward's book that appeared with the title Heidegger''s Confusions. No wonder that prominent analytic philosophers like Peter Singer and J.J.C. Smart who are "repelled by Heidegger's style of philosophizing" and think it is "pretentious nonsense" praise this book so highly. But if continental philosophy is intelligible, how can several analytic philosophers agree on the following point (quote from the blurb):

Until fairly recently, Heidegger was not taken seriously by philosophers in Great Britain and the United States. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. One goal if the present study is to stem this ride of unreason.

Maybe is that is why Searle himself might have changed his mind later and felt ashamed to recognize Heidegger's influence on him in retrospect? That would nicely explain why  he made no reference to him in the book on Intentionality which you claimed was written under Heidegger's influence, and why Searle later wrote that  "I abandoned the effort to try to learn something about intentionality from previous writers and just went to work on my own."

So I need explanation as to how Heidegger as a paradigmatic continental philosopher can be such a divisive figure among analytic philosophers, given that in your opinion continental philosophy is fundamentally intelligible. Are those who have read him (like Philipse and Edwards) and have a very low opinion of him just air their personal prejudices?

Or, to countine the list, how comes that Simon Blackburn, another big name in analytic philosophy, can say this(in his book Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed) 

Analytic philosophers are apt to suppose  that the wild writings and licentious thinking of relativism and postmodernism have nothing to do with them. We like to think that these perversions are the preserve of a 'Continental' tradition where strange cults grow up around strange names...Yet we should look to our defences. For although we maintain our sanity, it is fair to say that almost all the trends in the last generation of serious philosophy lent aid and comfort to the "anything goes" climate.

Or, if continental philosophy is basically OK, why did another big name, Anthony Quinton characterize it in 2005 edition of the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, (a standard reference book in the field) in this way from the analytic point of view:

In British philosophy, that of continental Europe is the object of occasional startled observation, like that of a nasty motor accident viewed from a passing car. Where it has lodged itself in English-speaking universities is in departments of literature and social studies, partly as a result of failure of methodological self-confidence, partly from a desire to liberate ideological affirmation from the constraints of logic and evidence.

And I also wonder what makes Dean Zimmerman characterize it in these words (In the foreword to the book of essays Persons: Human and Divine):

The majority of philosophers trained in the universities of Great Britain and North America reject the presuppositions of most postmodern, Continental theorizing. By now, the two rivers have, to use Michael Dummett's metaphor, emptied into very different seas.

I wonder what those presuppositions can be. Don't those presuppositions entail the rejections of the standards of analytic philosophy Professor Williamson has referred to?  In your opinion, are all these philosophers just exhibiting their ignorance of continental philosophy in saying such things about it? Or is it really all about those standards of analytic philosophy that Williamson mentions in the passage quoted in my earlier posts?





2009-12-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
Phil55 Smith writes: "So there must be another significant divide WITHIN analytic philosophy in this respect."

I think Phil has a point here. In fact it may even be a three way split:

(1) Analytic philosophers who think there is no divide.

(2) Analytic philosophers who say there is no divide but whose comments on continental philosophy suggest they don't really believe what they say.

(3) Analytic philosophers who think and say there is a divide.

Maybe there is even a fourth:  Analytic philosophers who not only think there is a divide but who regard continental philosophy with complete contempt.

Perhaps this could be a topic for the next "sociology of philosophy" questionnaire ...

DA

2009-12-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
Dear Phil Smith,

I wonder why you feel so strongly about the topic of continental philosophy, to invest the time and energy that you've invested in collecting quotes from so many "big names," and writing such impassioned and lengthy emails on the subject. Do you see continental philosophy as a serious competitor, which therefore needs this much attention? If so, what signs are there of its being a serious competitor, in any domain that analytic philosophy cares about? Is analytic philosophy perhaps not impregnable in its rational or its institutional authority? I note that Simon Blackburn, whom you quote, seems to feel that analytic philosophy itself has been in some degree of danger recently. For although we maintain our sanity, it is fair to say that almost all the trends in the last generation of serious philosophy lent aid and comfort to the "anything goes" climate. What trends do you suppose he is referring to? Once we've identified them, we can ask whether they've been definitively overcome, or whether instead the danger that Blackburn sees still exists. In which case perhaps analytic philosophy's "standards," of which you are so confident, might in fact be in serious danger and need the kind of passionate defense that you're mounting. Though I must say it sounds to me as though the danger that Blackburn is referring to is primarily an internal one: that analytic philosophy for a time at least undermined its own "standards." That would indeed be cause for some anxiety, to those who identify with those standards. 

Best, Bob W

2009-12-18
The analytic/continental divide
Sorry to butt in, and please, Phil Smith, don't let me interfere with your own response.

But seriously, Bob, your question puzzles me.  Quite obviously, the philosophical world is deeply split, pace the reassuring words offered by some on this thread. Why wouldn't one worry about that if one takes the cause of philosophy seriously? 

It seems to me that one could only not worry if one thought the other camp so feeble and worthless that it didn't even merit the name philosophy - so no question of "competition" could arise.  I imagine there are some in both camps who think this way (I know one or two - and not just analyticals...)  But that is surely an extreme view? 

DA

2009-12-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

Phil Smith's canvassing of "big names" has convinced me that many prominent figures in contemporary analytic philosophy have no significant respect for what's called continental philosophy. I don't have the impression that continental philosophy gobbles up much funding that might otherwise be available for analytic philosophy. Consequently, I wonder what all the fuss is about. I don't hear anyone complaining that the "Metaphysics" section of quite a few non-academic bookstores is composed of astrology and the like. Different people use words in different ways. Why such a too-do, then, over the fact that a few inconspicuous writers and institutions claim to be doing "philosophy" but don't do it in the analytical way?

Best, Bob

2009-12-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith

Contemporary philosophy is moribund. It lacks vitality. This is true no matter which side of the ‘great’ divide you look at. Its not like either side has anything of the energy they had as little as 20 years ago. People on both sides have a sense that this is happening; hence we have analytic philosophers falling into apoplexy about the reading of Heidegger. The barbarians are at the gate and the crystal palace may crumble! Analytic philosophy seems to have more or less disappeared into micro interests that could only really be seen as problem solving in the sciences or the abandonment of philosophy for science. Where is the great theory of the mind that we were promised? Philosophy of mind seems to have lost its shine over the last 20 years, but that is not because of substantive success (as opposed to the generation of academic articles in peer reviewed journals – if only pure quanta were the measure of success). How many substantive philosophical problems have been resolved once and for all? How many of the so-called pseudo-problems are still viewed as pseudo problems? This was promised; it could be taken as a criterion of success, an internal one at that. If they are criteria of success then we seem to have fallen short. Despite this we can see that, over the last 50 years, there has been an explosion of articles and an explosion of academic journals. Turning to the other side of the divide, there are only a few big names left in the Continental tradition. Yes the cult of the proper name is still strong and it cannot be denied that this can shade into evangelism and hagiography: a ‘spreading of the word’. And yes, anyone who is anyone has a book with a proper name as part of the title. In any case the comment was made to me recently that if your PhD was on Derrida you would have a hard time getting a job in France and so you were better off looking to the Anglophone world; not so much philosophy, rather other areas in the humanities and social sciences. But if analytic philosophy threatens to disappear into science Continental philosophy threatens to disappear into the humanities and social sciences. Has the twentieth century simply been the long, and often dreary, twilight of philosophy?

Of course analytic philosophy has done much better in terms of obtaining research funding. But in this country at least (Australia) most philosophical research funding is driven by the government, sometimes in linkage with industry, but mostly through the government. Insofar as Continental philosophy is interested in a critical engagement with the norms of social praxis and in particular political and economic praxis, it limits its funding opportunities. It is not as if that project lacks merit, the criticism of the norms by which we live is a vital part of the philosophical endeavor, it always has been and it ought always remain so. But the government is unlikely to want to fund the revolution. Industry, insofar as it relies on social stability as a key to predicting or anticipating revenue, even less so. As such what we find in social and political philosophy is that we all become philosophers of the status quo, we tinker at the edges of liberal democratic theory. Political philosophy becomes the philosophy of public policy or just part of the long, and again often dreary, footnote to Rawls. Insofar as it is merely this, the philosophy of the status quo or a mere tinkerer, it has some funding success. Insofar as many young philosophers want careers in philosophy they direct their research towards such work, knowing that here they might find some modicum of prosperity, otherwise they will inhabit what a colleague has referred to as the ‘slums of continental philosophy’.  On the other hand it is also clear that many European philosophers have read the writing on this particular ‘Wall’. Has Rawls, who can legitimately be seen as a philosopher of the status quo, also joined the saintly constellation?

So really all this stuff from Phil Smith just seems to be a little silly to me. It all seems so retrograde. I can see what he is attacking and what he is defending but it just seems to me to be action taken on the basis of false hope. If only we can stem the flow of Heidegger or Hegel or whoever, and return to good, old fashioned, hard-nosed analytic philosophy the sun will shine again; the dark clouds of Continental obscurantism will be burnt away by the bright light of scientific illumination, then we can return from the barricades to the crystal palace. Well, I just see this as an empirical failure; the view is so deep down in the trench that it cannot see above it, it fails to see that both sides have equally lost energy. We need to move forward. We need to address what I see as a crisis in contemporary philosophy, a crisis partly brought about by social, political and particularly economic context in which philosophy operates. In my view that is the first and primary object of criticism. We need to start to question the norms that structure contemporary philosophical praxis, not primarily the norms of philosophical praxis (although they too ought always be open to criticism) but the norms under which philosophy operates. We ought not accept them as an immutable inevitability, as the eternal conditions of philosophical thought. I do not see forward momentum coming from further digging in.

Of course, stating things as I have risks getting shot at from both sides. Well I would imagine that the number of people following this string, particularly as it has developed over the last three weeks or so, is so vanishingly small that the bullets with be few. Furthermore if the above assessment is anywhere near accurate then it will more or less be ignored in favour of further wild firing over the trenches.


Philip


2009-12-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith
"Well, by this time everyone should see this is not about my personal opinion at all. If anything, you should feel sad about the opinions of prominent analytic thinkers."
Mr. Smith,
If I may generalize, and i apologize ahead of time for doing so, but why is it that analytic philosophers feel so comfortable quoting someone else, a secondary source, about this or that, as if to avoid taking the bull by the horns themselves? Does being removed from the problems discussed make one's position more secure? Just curious, but it always struck me as odd.  If you have a beef about Heidegger, quote the passages. Show me what you are made of. In this dialogue, there is no reason to shield behind Tom Dick or Harry. Currently, what you say comes across as emotional gibberish, and that, Mr. Smith, is neither logical nor scientific. Now I am no fan of Heidegger, or even Post Modernism, but Continental Philosophy is much more than that, so before you start throwing mud, show some respect and demonstrate that you know what you are talking about. 




2009-12-19
The analytic/continental divide

Reply to Phil55.
  Quoting prominent philosophers from your prefered field doesnot validate your argument.You haven't cited a single faulty Heideggerian argument.Heidegger 's project aims at drawing philosophy back to the constituting moment.To the Ionians where thought had been fresh.Of course he was romantic about the Greeks like Hegel before him.Richard Rorty gave Heidegger 39 pages in the 2nd volume of his philosophical papers.Rorty thinks that one can throw away the pomposity from Heidegger and keep his pragmatism and poetry.As for the influence of Heidegger on Searle let us wait for Jim Stone's next post.


Elnour Raham

























,


2009-12-19
The analytic/continental divide
Philip

I found your description of the current state of affairs interesting. But your solution puzzled me a bit. You write:

"We need to address what I see as a crisis in contemporary philosophy, a crisis partly brought about by social, political and particularly economic context in which philosophy operates. In my view that is the first and primary object of criticism. We need to start to question the norms that structure contemporary philosophical praxis, not primarily the norms of philosophical praxis (although they too ought always be open to criticism) but the norms under which philosophy operates."

What aspects of the "social, political and particularly economic context" do you have in mind?  Isn't the solution more likely to come from within philosophy (as you partly suggest)?

DA

2009-12-20
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek, 

Thanks for the response, I take it that these sorts of discussions are better than unfocused mud throwing or wild firing. I’ll take matters in reverse order. Philosophy, or philosophical criticism, would of course be vital to the criticism of cultural, social, political and economic norms. One of the things I take out of a reading of certain key figures in European philosophy is the importance of cultural criticism. Particularly turning the critical eye on your own culture and those aspects of it that you most closely identify with, which for the philosopher includes the norms of philosophical praxis and so rapidly leads us to auto-critical work. Here you cannot presume the good of the object of criticism – we don’t want apologetics. Philosophical auto-criticism is important because to fail to take up (and strongly take up) the task of criticising the practices with which you engage is to fail to be self-reflexive and implicitly to insist that the matter has been settled once and for all. Nothing is more culturally and intellectually stifling that the insistence that a matter has been settled, the insistence that something is beyond criticism. I think Continental philosophy has paid a lot more attention to this type of auto-criticism than analytic philosophy, which pays a lot of attention to the criticism of specific arguments but, once its own orientations were established in the early years, has not paid so much attention to the criticism of its own orientations. Of course some philosophers in the analytic tradition do have some critical interest in ‘the other side’. But here its no good focusing all of your critical energies on an externality, some of it ought to be turned back on yourself.  Some do this, I take it that thinkers like Rorty, Brandom and McDowell have done a very nice job of this sort of thing – which resulted in Rorty becoming something of a whipping boy in some circles. In any case philosophy is part of culture (it does not stand above it, it cannot stand above it), we ought to philosophically question the norms and practices of our own culture – as such part of the task is philosophical auto-criticism. So, philosophy is part of the “solution” but also might be part of the problem – you have to look to know and you wont know until you look. 

But,  insofar as certain modes of philosophy have been driven out of philosophy and seek refuge in other departments within the humanities and social sciences (for reasons that might be connected to what I say below) important elements of philosophical criticism might flow from outside of philosophy. I want to remain open to that. Indeed other areas within the humanities and social sciences engage in their own culture-critical enterprises and so are already critically engaged without having to have philosophy come on the scene. Further, insofar as philosophy is part of the culture that they criticise they could provide philosophers, amongst others, with critical insight into philosophical practice. Although certain folk seem to think this idea utterly preposterous, some feel that they have very little to learn, philosophically, from English literature, sociology, gender studies, history or whatever. Although the people who I have met who have this kind of view do tend to feel that ‘Science’ has plenty to offer and that THE ONLY kind of interdisciplinary or trans-disciplinary dialogue that can take place is between philosophy and science. Which leads us nicely back to the notion that we require some auto-critical hold on our own practices. 

In regard to the aspects of the social, political and economic context that need to be criticized (so what aspects of our culture need to be criticized): well all those aspects of culture that Continental philosophy has been engaged in criticising. That is the short answer. Here I would just state the obvious, analytic philosophy for the most part does not engage in that kind of work – for the most part it leaves culture exactly where it is, and focuses on theoretical problem solving mostly in subordination to some other ‘higher-order’ discourse (primarily science). This can have secondary impact on culture, society and politics but is not primarily orientated on criticising or problematising the culture in which it operates. Rather it seems accept and accommodate itself to these cultural conditions, it adapts itself to them, as if philosophy had no role to play in changing or reorienting them. Here there is a sense in which more radical criticism might see that mode of philosophy as complicit with the status quo in having abandoned social and cultural criticism almost completely (poor old Socrates). By status quo I mean, in part at least, an unsustainable culture of consumption that has been founded on the blood and sweat of the worlds poor. The only answers we see coming forward seem to be mere tinkering, it’s the philosophy of the status quo, no radical criticism. So, if we were all (as individuals) only a little more philanthropic we might be able to feed the globe – answers that address the symptom but leave the cause untheorised. Just to state the bleeding obvious before moving on – the wealth of developed nations was founded on the exploitation of others, our prosperity was founded on injustice and violence and is still largely sustained on injustice. Charity might help, but it is tinkering and leaves the injustice in place, its only benefit is that it does not ask US to change what we do in any significant way, we can remain more or less what we are. If we all gave a little more to charity everything would be okay!!! 

Okay, but that is a little general. In my post I specifically picked out the context in which philosophy operates and so primarily I was talking about the norms that currently shape knowledge production. So, and now I have to be very local in my considerations as I have to talk about the context with which I am most familiar, I think some of the most pressing issues relate to:

1. The way the tertiary sector seems driven by an economic agenda so that what seems most important within the Australian University is generating revenue (making a profit) and capturing market share. Naturally this flows into all aspects of the life in the contemporary university. But to focus on one aspect, it flows into pedagogy so that more and more we serve up sampler courses where nothing very hard is demanded of students (they need to enjoy the product that they are consuming and if its too hard they will not enjoy and so may stop consuming). It certainly flows out in many other ways too, but to remain with this theme: if you are setting up a philosophy curriculum it is better not run courses that ask students to sit down and do close studies of difficult texts, far better have a collection of sampler courses. Far better, in any particular course, to just photocopy a set of articles and offer a Whitman’s Sampler – a collection of attractively packaged, self-contained and easily consumable topics.

2. We see university administration expanding while at the very same time more and more administrative work is placed on the academic. Indeed the administrative side of things seems to be self-perpetuating and self-fertilising. So we see more and more that technocrats are setting the agenda, but they hold the purse strings (this of course relates to point 1).

3. Then there is the contemporary research culture, which within the humanities is primarily driven by government, with some industry linkage. In the sciences there is far more external funding – I know that pharmaceutical companies fund much medical research and so on, and there are a whole range of issues there. But within the humanities we are limited mostly to what we can draw forward from government and the few industry players that can benefit from our work. But, and understandably so, neither the government nor industry are interested in funding people who want to engage in deep criticism of contemporary social, cultural, political and economic norms. I mentioned this in my previous post. But this just seems to favour the sort of work that is conducted by analytic philosophers. If one wants to be a philosopher and if one was a careerist, and I see that most people these days are,  then it would seem that the most sensible thing to do would be to go into analytic philosophy. That is where all the research funding is, that’s your best chance of a career. 

As I am writing this I am realizing that the list could just continue to be extended and that I am just randomly selecting issues. These issues are important but I think that this post is long enough. I think that my first two paragraphs explain my thoughts on the importance of philosophy to the type of cultural criticism I was talking about in my previous post. The latter part of this post is just an initial pass at responding to the first part of your question. But just to be clear, in my previous post I was primarily thinking about the social, political and economic conditions which structure the production of knowledge in contemporary world – to my mind, and particularly in the English speaking world,  these seem to favour those in analytic philosophy over those in Continental philosophy. Which might all just seem a felicitous turn of events. It could be seen (by the unreflective person) simply as culture expressing its values. On the other hand this seems to presume the good of that which needs criticising, the culture that constitutes the conditions of knowledge production, and we cannot simply presume that it is good. In particular we cannot simply assume that it is good because something that we like is prospering from it – that would just be an intellectual failure. But criticising the conditions of knowledge production cannot be the limit of criticism, it is only one part of it and a limited part of it. On the other hand it is often good to turn your attention to those things close to home from time to time – they certainly cannot be ignored. This would be part of a general cultural criticism. One of the keys to thinking forward is to understand the conditions that shape your thinking.


2009-12-20
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Philip

An interesting post. I sympathize with a lot of what you say - though I'll reserve judgment on the political issues. I tend to avoid them in philosophy for various reasons.

I do agree with your observation that many philosophers - mainly of the analytic persuasion, I think - tend to feel that "'Science’ has plenty to offer and that THE ONLY kind of interdisciplinary or trans-disciplinary dialogue that can take place is between philosophy and science."  Science seems to have truly mesmerized analytic philosophy.  It seems to be viewed as the only location where Truth will finally be found. There's an irony!  A school of philosophy that tries to appear so modest and sober is in fact in pursuit of its own version of the Absolute (as much as Hegel ever was)!

I also agree that "The only answers we see coming forward seem to be mere tinkering."  Not perhaps in the political sense you intend that comment but in a deeper cultural sense. I sometimes wonder if there has ever been a philosophical movement that has had less impact on the culture in which it operates than analytic philosophy.  It is almost entirely a creature of academia and its impact on the person in the street has been virtually nil, even though it has been in operation for how long now? - several decades anyway. I am not "continental" either, as I think I have said, but I do think that continental philosophy has at least the saving grace that it seems concerned about the society in which it operates and the future of that society.

I haven't addressed a lot of your points. I tend to be a sprinter, not a long distance runner, on discussion lists.

DA


2009-12-21
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

On the question of the impact (or lack thereof) of analytic philosophy on culture (and the man in the street): it is easy to recognise historical trends from the distance of time and can be very difficult to see what is actually happening around you, let alone why it is happening.

On the one hand; the minimalism, nihilism and scientism that goes hand-in-hand with much analytic philosophy was recognised as occurring before the term 'analytic philosophy' was even coined.  Think of the rejection of Cartesianism, transcendental philosophy, foundationalism and Utilitarianism that occurs in Nietzsche.  Here we can see the link to the Enlightenment weakening of the fetters of dogmatic Religion and the Romantic responses that followed.  On the other hand; consider the lack of both political involvement and a sense of moral integrity that has become prevalent in the last thirty years.

<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />We have already seen much of the questioning of cultural value of Continental philosophy in previous posts, so I will resist repeating those claims.

I am not suggesting answers here, rather problematizing the question (that is the way I see and thus try to approach doing philosophy).  Also I think this may be an interesting direction to take the conversation on the divide following the challenging posts from Philip Quadrio (and what I take to be their tacit allusions to Foucault and Bourdieu).

But it is important that this be conducted without mud-slinging - the tarring of one side while feathering the nest of the other will get us nowhere.  What I would suggest is that doing philosophy should never involve merely setting-up-camp, rather self-reflection and the questioning of historical influences, critical evaluation of alternative views and evaluation of the essential and inessential, are required no matter what one calls the philosophy one claims to be doing.


2009-12-21
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,
I am no fan of the endurance events either - hence my last email was poorly edited. Its just that when you start thinking...

I agree with what you say about analytic philosophy being purely a creature of the academy, one with little impact on the person in the street and that it has not had a big impact on culture generally. To me it seems to be a deeply professionalised, highly academic approach to philosophy and one that has reached a level of specialisation that seems to mirror, in a fainter way, the specialisation of the sciences. Yet, given its orientations, these points would just seem to lack traction, I think many would shrug their shoulders at this. So whether or not this is a criticism would depend on what you think philosophy 'ought' to be doing in the first place. That takes us to meta-philosophical issues and meta-discursive issues that have to be framed in a non-partisan way.

I know when I started looking at analytic philosophy in the early 1990's I felt that many of the discussions were a little overstated - the rejection of dualism, I did not need philosophy for that and I do not think many of my generation who had thought about things for more than a 30 seconds did. If I had implicitly rejected dualism it was not because I had read philosophy or because of the cultural impact of philosophy of mind, it was because I was educated under conditions where the only real place these issues were touched on was the science class and here (perhaps unlike the US - I don't know) science was taught as science. 

I remember in my first year at university the introduction to philosophy was comprised of two components. The first was epistemology, the second was political philosophy. At one point I was having a drink with my epistemology tutor along with a few other philosophy students, he was banging on about the horrors of continental philosophy. Actively trying to cruel the pitch and running down people in his own department because of their interests, unable to mouth the word Marxist of Feminist without palpable distaste. I suggested to him that one of the reasons I came to university (after a long time in the workforce and association with certain Australian Unions) was to study Hegel and Marx and that after reading Marcuse I had become interested in the whole trajectory from Rousseau, through Hegel to Marx, and that I thought philosophy had an important emancipatory dimension. I was 'informed' that Rousseau was not really worth reading as he lacked 'argumentative rigor', that mostly Hegel's philosophy was 'incoherent' and that the only thing that could be salvaged from it was the political philosophy, but that this led to Stalin and Hitler. He then said that Hegel and Marx were 'not really philosophers' anyway, they were really just social theorists, bad ones, basically sociologists ('mere' sociologists by implication).

In any case, back to the comment about the cultural impact of analytic philosophy. There are figures that have been culturally important, I suppose Russell was, but recently this is not so much the case. I think that this is just a factor of the methodological orientation. If you are working as an under-labourer to science, or buried in formal epistemology, then your cultural impact will be second hand (you can have a great career as a professionalised philosopher, but that's another matter). Science, for the most part, is just not in the business of challenging social, cultural and political norms. So, direct engagements with culture and politics will be limited. The suggestion here will probably be that influencing high theory in the sciences is socially and culturally significant. It is, but I would say this comes second hand, and I would also suggest that really here it is science that is influential, not philosophy, philosophy might do some good ground work and so be able to bask in the reflected glory of science, yet it is science that gets the credit and the accolades and perhaps rightly so. But its important not to overstate things, there are people in Anglophone philosophy who are engaged in cultural and political work, its just that this is not seen as the main game and I think that most analytic philosophers would see this as being peripheral. But again, its a matter of what you think philosophy 'ought' to be doing in the first place and that has to be determined without presuming too much, certainly you cannot presume that either Continental or Analytic philosophy hold all the answers here.

Also, just as a reminder, we must not neglect the importance of Rawlsian and Post-Rawlsian philosophy - it is influential, its influence is certainly broader than philosophy, although as I have suggested, most of it is pretty much 'philosophy of the status quo'. If you identify with the status quo then this might seem completely adequate, if you don't then it wont. No matter how you answer that question we ought not run an end-of-history type thesis here, we must always allow for further thinking here and so while we might want to defend the status quo we cannot insist that matters are settled.

Okay, but it is certainly the case that Continental philosophy and the figures that Continental philosophy focuses on have had broad cultural impact. How one ought to evaluate that impact is another question, an interesting one. It must be the case that people like Phil Smith would suggest that it has had not positive impact on culture at all. Regardless of the evaluation, it is the case that Continental philosophers have been influential on culture and have been present on the public stage - see the recent debate between Critchley and Zizek that has been featured in various popular media (I have just finished co-editing [with Robert Sinnerbrink] a special edition of Critical Horizons that focuses on Critchley's recent work). Where are all the Anglophone public philosophers? There are very few. Perhaps the best representative of something like a public philosopher is the evolutionary biologist Dawkins - what a wonderful representative! Yet Continental philosophers still appear on chat shows and so forth in Europe. Indeed Sandel has recently commented on this, that while philosophers in Europe are regularly a feature of public life that in the US this is not the case (this is also true in Australia and I take it Britain as well). Accepting Sandel's claim we have to say that this is an interesting piece of data, that in the Anglophone world where Analytic philosophy has been dominant philosophy has a very small public profile (which at least in terms of pop-culture shows that it is not a strong cultural force) whereas in Europe things are different. 

When you reflect on this sort of stuff it just seems that there is a massive difference in orientation between the two traditions. Continental philosophers are more interested in direct engagements with culture that go to reorienting social, political and cultural norms, whereas analytic philosophy seems more orientated on lending aid to scientific endeavors. So, one group is more interested in describing the world while the other is more interested in changing it. Both approaches seem to have some fidelity with the Greeks, so neither ought to be seen as alien to philosophy.

Philip.

2009-12-21
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Massimo,
Nice post. Certainly I was alluding to Foucault! Who I have always seen as one of the more important thinkers of the last 100 years.

I think that you are right about historical perspective. I think a sound historical perspective is important in the current discussion. I mean, and as a friend just pointed out, the idea that analytic philosophy is still pursuing 'classical' or 'traditional' questions in philosophy might be questionable - depending on the way we see matters, particularly depending on how we see classical philosophy.  

2009-12-21
The analytic/continental divide

Hi Max

You write: "On the question of the impact (or lack thereof) of analytic philosophy on culture (and the man in the street): it is easy to recognize historical trends from the distance of time and can be very difficult to see what is actually happening around you, let alone why it is happening."

Well, I'll be happy to revise my opinion later on if need be. But, as I say, analytic philosophy has been around for several decades now and so far has hardly registered a blip on the man in the street's radar screen. Moreover it's hard to see how it ever will. In very large measure, it is a school of philosophy hanging on to the coat-tails of science. Science itself has had - and will continue to have - major effects on the man in the street but that is another issue.

RE : I am not suggesting answers here, rather problematizing the question"

The risk is that one might "problematise" every question and never actually get around to asking any.

RE: "But it is important that this be conducted without mud-slinging - the tarring of one side while feathering the nest of the other will get us nowhere. "

I do not see my comments as mud-slinging or feathering nests. I see them as an attempt at a just appraisal of the situation. I am not a continental philosopher (ie I'm not in the other camp) so mud-slinging and nest feathering has no particular value for me. (I have criticisms of continental philosophy as well.) The danger, I think, is that any criticisms of either side will be dismissed as mud-slinging. Neither side - especially analytic philosophy - shows much interest in self-criticism, so someone needs to think about it. Wouldn't you agree?

DA



2009-12-21
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Philip

Not much I would want to disagree with there.

I was appalled to read the bit :"I was 'informed' that Rousseau was not really worth reading as he lacked 'argumentative rigor', that mostly Hegel's philosophy was 'incoherent' and that the only thing that could be salvaged from it was the political philosophy, but that this led to Stalin and Hitler. He then said that Hegel and Marx were 'not really philosophers' anyway, they were really just social theorists, bad ones, basically sociologists ('mere' sociologists by implication)."

Imagine someone concerned with Western culture - and last I heard philosophy was supposed to have some vague connection with that - advising such things!  Someone who thinks like that is already in bean counter mode: no need to convert them to the management mentality!  And the sheer empty-headedness of "but that this led to Stalin and Hitler". Therein lies the real risk of such a narrow approach to philosophy (and education generally): one turns one's back on major figures in the Western tradition and proceeds to justify this dangerous superficiality by shallow, half-baked opinions.

What it also reveals is a very intolerant, doctrinaire concept of what "argumentative rigour" means. What it is really saying is: if you don't think in just the way I do you are not "doing philosophy".  (I wonder if this fount of wisdom knew, by the way, that Kant was absolutely overwhelmed by Rousseau?)

Minor point. You write : "Perhaps the best representative of something like a public philosopher is the evolutionary biologist Dawkins - what a wonderful representative! "

I assume you are being ironic?  No matter how good he may be as a scientist, I think Dawkins is null and void philosophically

DA
   



2009-12-21
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Imagine, for that matter, if we said someone who (let's withhold prominent examples) did philosophy in the cognitive science mode, was only a computer scientist. 

2009-12-21
The analytic/continental divide
Not sure I follow, Franson. Computer science is computer science, not philosophy (leaving aside the highly specialist reaches of logic etc). One could be an excellent computer scientist and never go near a philosophy department. (Ditto for biologist, neuroscientist, physicist etc - though in analytic philosophy at the moment, doting as it does on all things scientific, the reverse may not be true...) 

Or am I missing your point?

DA

2009-12-21
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,
Yes, the remark about Dawkins was completely ironic. The anecdote from my first year studies is something that has haunted me for the last 15 years or so. Rousseau was not a particularly systematic thinker, but he was a deeply insightful thinker in many respects, he is one of my personal favourites and he had profound impact on both history and philosophy. In regard to the former many of the French revolutionaries saw themselves as the children of Rousseau, in regard to the latter he lurks in the background of many major German thinkers of the late 18th and early 19th century. 

Phil

2009-12-22
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hello,

Some time ago, in my first years at the university, I was a 'continental', more precisely a Heideggerian. I used to think back then that the analytics 'do not understand' (Hegel, Heidegger, the nature of philosophy, anything). Later, I became an analytic. I used to say that the continentals' discourse is 'meaningless', 'gibberish' and so on. So I have the experience of both camps. Over-simplifying, I would say that the difference is related to arguments. It is not that analytic philosophy favours arguments more than continental philosophy. Whenever I read Heidegger or Satre, or Marion, or Levinas, or Richir I am under the strong impression that they are asking me to share their insight, to convert to their vision; to follow or to get lost. It is virtually impossible to bring a counter-argument to what they say, because in general they do not give reasons for their statements. They do not argue, they are telling you how things are, in virtue of their being trained to see how things are. When reading a phenomenological description, if you do not have the 'phenomenological eye', you just have to take the phenomenologist by his word. I would say, in the end, that the essential difference between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy is one of underlying views concerning the nature of reason. Hegel's Kantian distinction between understanding and reason, associated with the proclamation of the superiority of reason has a lot to do with that. Continental philosophy tried to emancipate from the mere philosophy of understanding (or intellect)(and analytic philosophy remained, from that perspective, to this stage), and, finally, that led to a relativisation of reason itself. Indeed, what I think that historically characterises continental philosophy is suspicion of reason. Or, rather, an attempt to 'recuperate' thinking by surpassing classical reason (which Enlightenment proclaimed universal).  

2009-12-22
The analytic/continental divide
So much food for thought in a short time...Excuse me but presently I can reply only to a few comments because I am busy now.

Dear Ibrahim,
I think you misunderstand me on an important point. So far I haven't intended to argue for the superiority of analytic philosophy specifically - I just wanted to illustrate the current state of the analytic-continental divide with the quotes. I don't see what's wrong with quoting prominent philosophers if someone wants to present the sort of attitude analytic philosophers in general adopt towards continental philosophy. Please note that several of those quoted by me do not speak in their own names but give a general view of the whole analytic profession. To continue with quotes, when Michael C. Rea writes this (Analytic Theology, OUP 2009):

The climate in theology departments for analytic theologians is much like the climate in English-speaking philosophy departments for continental philosophers: often chilly.

can you really suppose those analytic philosophers in general don't have their own reasons for adopting that kind of attitude?

Dear Onno de Jong (and Ibrahim),

I don't want to shield behind anyone, but I suggest we opened a separate thread for discussing Heidegger's faulty arguments.

Dear Mr. Wallace,
you wrote:

Why such a too-do, then, over the fact that a few inconspicuous writers and institutions claim to be doing "philosophy" but don't do it in the analytical way?


With all due respect, I think you fail to notice that the whole analytic-continental divide is heavily politicized through and through. The reason is that continental philosophy has a (not so hidden?) political agenda too since Heidegger's involvement with the Nazis, and this agenda is currently promulgated in the service of far-left-wing political goals. Stephen R. C. Hicks has written a brilliant book on this topic (Explaining Postmodernism), in which he lays bare the counter-Enlightenment movement with the accompanying relativism and the related (arguably groundless and inconsistent) critique of the West as well as the inherent contradictions and the path to nihilism in contemporary continental philosophy.  As he writes about the strategy of Derrida, Foucault and others:

The contemporary Enlightenment world prides itself on its commitment to equality and justice, its open-mindedness its making opportuntiy available to all, and its achievements in science and technology. The Enlightenment world is proud, confident and knows it is the wave of the future. This is unbearable to someone who is invested totally in an opposed and failed outlook. That pride is what such a person wants to destroy. The best target to attack is the Enlightenment's sense of its own moral worth. Attack it as sexist and racist, intolerantly dogmatic and cruelly exploitative. Undermine its confidence in its reason, its science and technology. The words do not even have to be consistent to do the necessary damage.

And here is Richard Wolin's assessment from his book The Seduction of Unreason on an concrete political issue:

...with the September 11 assaults, 'America got what it fantasized about', - which, Zizek insinuates, echoing Baudrillard, is merely another way of saying that America got what it had coming. Thus, in his view, the terrorist attacks were merely a case of the West reaping what it had sowed: the disastrous consequences of American foreign policy had, at long last, boomeranged....What is striking about both (ie. Zizek's and Baudrillard's) interpretations is their absolute divorce from any discourse of morality or right. With a self-defeating Nietzschean glibness, postmodernism has burned its bridges to a traditional rhetoric of moral evaluation. Hence, Baudrillard and Zizek pointedly fail to mention that the West, in addition to being an epicenter of imperialism (conveniently, instances of genocide or conquest that originate outside the West always go unmentioned), is also the birthplace of a moral discourse that has given birth to an international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1948 Convention of Genocide. For postmodernist hipsters like Zizek and Baudrillard, however, such precepts remain woefully 'foundationalist' and are, consequently, simply irrelevant.

So this political aspect must surely be among the main sources of analytic philosophers' hostility to continental philosophy.












2009-12-22
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

Yes, Rousseau was huge for the French Revolution - and for a whole host of things, not just the overthrow of "the tryant". For example, he greatly influenced the Convention's thinking about education and the very enlightened legislation (for the time) they enacted on the subject.

Behind our discussion is a deeper question about what exactly philosophy is. There is another thread on this which I have not been following, but just a couple of remarks. 

In France, at the moment, there is quite a lively debate about whether Camus was a "philosopher" (sparked mainly by Sarkozy's suggestion that Camus should be moved into the Pantheon). Most French intellectuals these days are quite well disposed towards Camus (Sartre being somewhat less a la mode) but they are not quite sure if he was "a philosopher". For them, a philosopher is above all someone who went through the ENS or something very similar, preferably with flying colours, and talks the talk, so to speak. Just as, in the anglophone world, someone is not a "philosopher" unless they have jumped through all the necessary academic hoops, preferably at one of the more prestigious institutions - which will probably mean one specializing in analytic philosophy - and talks the (rather different) talk.

The danger in all this, to my mind, is that it so easily leads to a kind of rigid scholasticism which clings to a recognized canon of writers, uses an in-house jargon that excludes the outside world (said jargon being rarely re-examined), defines philosophy as a certain limited series of topics, and in general goes into a kind of intellectual cocoon. The attitude towards Rousseau you mention sounds very redolent of that kind of thing. Likewise the French ambivalence towards Camus (who never went near the ENS).

Personally, I would give 100 analytic philosophers for one Rousseau, and 100 Derridas for one Camus.  But whether I'm right or wrong, it seems to me quite foolish to define philosophy in such a narrow way that it excludes writers of that calibre. Philosophy can only suffer as a consequence.

DA











2009-12-26
The analytic/continental divide
    I managed finally to get hold of a copy of  Intentionality, our copy being in my wife’s office in Illinois. It’s interesting to revisit these issues, which I haven’t much thought about for 30 years.

I wrote this earlier in the thread:

‘I don’t have John Searle’s intentionality book with me, however I was intimately involved in its writing. John, who was my teacher, acknowledges my help in the introduction and cites me in the text. John taught a course on the first draft of his book, I was the TA.  John, the phenomenologist Christine Skarda (fresh from the Husserl archives), and I were involved in constant conversations about the manuscript, all of us good friends, though of course the extraordinary creativity the book manifests is his. What a book!

During this time John was reading  Being and Time, brought the book to all his lectures, showed it to the students and spoke positively of phenomenology. He felt the division between analytic and continental was needless. He said that phenomenology is the part of analytic philosophy that deals with intentionality, and analytic philosophy is the part of phenomenology that deals with everything else. He acknowledged in his lectures a debt to Heidegger. I’m no expert on Heidegger and I believe the part of his book which deals with The Network and The Background is derived from Heidegger.  Quite crucial to the book. And very good stuff.’

Two objections were posted to this.  I want to respond to them and also to say something about the larger issues.

The first objection is that Searle makes no reference to Heidegger in the book. Not so. Searle refers to Heidegger in Chapter 5, the chapter entitled ‘the Background.’

Also, there is something interesting on the acknowledgments page. John writes: ‘For comments which affected the content of the text my greatest debts are to Hubert Dreyfus and especially to Christine Skarda.” In short, the two philosophers whose comments most affected the text of his book were both phenomenologists, the first, Dreyfus, an enthusiastic Heideggerian and probably the leading interpreter of Heidegger in the United States.

A word about Dreyfus. Searle and Dreyfus are colleagues at Berkeley, and at the time the book was written they had been closely involved for some time, including teaching courses together. Dreyfus reached in the 1960s the conclusion that computers cannot think. He recognized a collision between Heidegger and artificial intelligence, at least the ambitious sort of artificial intelligence (‘strong’ artificial intelligence) which maintains that computers are doing more than merely simulating thought. In 1972 Dreyfus published the book ‘What Computers Cannot Do’ in which he argued that computers cannot realize intentionality. Searle, in 1980, published the famous Chinese Room Argument, arguing on independent grounds that computers cannot realize intentionality. In short, there are excellent reasons to think these two philosophers had been closely affecting one another for some time when Intentionality was written, including what Searle says about Dreyfus in the book.

    There is an extraordinary set of five interviews with Dreyfus on YouTube (‘Hubert Dreyfus on Husserl and Heidegger’) done around 1980, in which Dreyfus discusses Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau Ponty. The emphasis is on Heidegger, acknowledged as the most important continental philosopher. Among other things, Dreyfus talks about ‘the background’ in Heidegger. I  recommend this series of interviews, a real intellectual experience. Dreyfus is masterful at expressing clearly Heidegger’s central ideas. Much of what Searle writes about the Background sounds very much like what Dreyfus says Heidegger says about it, and as Searle was reading and talking about ‘Being and Time’ when he was writing the book and as I recall he invoked Heidegger in his lectures in relation to the Background, it’s likely that Searle was influenced by Dreyfus and Heidegger on this point.

     The second objection is a quotation that I believe comes from a 2004 paper Searle wrote:
"I abandoned the effort to try to learn something about intentionality from previous writers and just went to work on my own." This seems right. Searle’s theory of intentionality, though surely influenced by what people like Dreyfus and Christine Skarda were saying to him, is his own. It employs a battery of concepts from analytic philosophy like direction of fit, propositional content, conditions of satisfaction, intentional causation, the last of which I believe Searle developed himself. He is not ‘under the influence’ of anyone but himself.

    However Heidegger is involved in the part of the book about the Background, and the Background isn’t part of Searle’s theory of intentionality proper. Rather The Background is ‘a set of nonrepresentational mental capacities that enable all representing to take place.’ Searle continues: ‘Intentional states only have the conditions of satisfaction that they do... against the background of abilities that are not themselves Intentional states’ (143). He has in mind capacities such as ‘walking, eating, grasping, perceiving, recognizing, and the pre-intentional stance that takes account of the solidity of things,’ as well as ‘opening doors, drinking beer from bottles, and the pre-intentional stance that we take toward such things as cars, refrigerators, money and cocktail parties’ (144).  

    Searle notes that intentionality in activities like skiing tends to diminish as the skier becomes an expert (Heidegger is very interested in experts). The skier begins learning by internalizing certain rules ‘but the repeated experiences create physical capacities... that make the rules simply irrelevant. The body takes over.’ Searle writes: ‘The advanced skier doesn’t follow the rules better, rather he skis in a different sort of way altogether’ (151).

    Heidegger would say that a good deal of our activity in the world is pre or non--intentional. In expert skiing there is no subject and object. Intentions may get the skier to start down the slope, but after that there is just the skiing. For Heidegger the duality between subject and object emerges only when something goes wrong, when the ski bindings don’t work and I must find a solution. But much of the time what I AM is situated-activity, just doing, in which there is no me and the skis nor  me and the slope, nor even me and my body. The subject and object dissolve in a flow of activity which is what constitutes my existence in the world at that time. This activity manifests care but in a pre-intentional way, not as goals or representations but in the way that the expert skier without intending to do so skis without falling. Dreyfus quotes Heidegger: "Dasein ... is nothing but ... concerned absorption in the world.’  (The word 'Dasein’ denotes our way of existing in the world.)

    Heidegger believes that the Cartesian stance of a subject thinking about objects, wondering whether they really exist and what he can know about them, which has been primary in philosophy since Plato, falsifies our most fundamental relationship to the world, which doesn’t involve subject and object or an individual isolated from others. For Heidegger our fundamental stance in the world is that of the expert carpenter, the good basketball player, the expert skier, or perhaps just the ordinary person going for a walk, when things are going well. The Cartesian stance is only possible against this background.

    Searle notes that when one tries to say something about The Background it appears representational, because the only way we can talk about it is as if it is representational. (Dreyfus observes that Heidegger’s difficult terminology is an effort to talk accurately about what we previously had no adequate language for.) And once we so misdescribe The Background problems arise that cannot be solved, Searle says. They are insoluble precisely because we are trying to deal intentionally with what is pre-intentional. Searle writes: ‘My commitment to the existence of the real world is manifested whenever I do pretty much anything. It is a mistake to treat that commitment as if it were a hypothesis, as if in addition to skiing, drinking, eating, etc., I held the belief–there is a real world independent of my representations of it’ (159). He writes: “There can’t be a meaningful question “is there a real world independent of my representations of it?” because the very happening of representations can only exist against the Background which gives representations the character of ‘representing something’. This is not to say that realism is a true hypothesis, rather it is not a hypothesis at all, but the precondition of having hypotheses” (159).  Heidegger responds to Immanuel Kant’s remark that it is a scandal that we have no proof of the external world, that the scandal is that we continue to try.

(Note that a consequence of the idea of The Background is that computers cannot think, because they lack a background. (Nothing can just think and speak .) I believe this is one of the chief reasons Dreyfus maintained that strong artificial intelligence cannot be correct if Heidegger is right. Searle could have concluded simply on the basis of chapter 5 that computers cannot think.)

    After the book’s publication, Dreyfus wrote a series of articles criticizing Searle’s account of intentionality proper. He believes that Searle has reinstated the Cartesian mistake, which is precisely what Heidegger was objecting to in his teacher, Husserl.  According to Dreyfus a good deal of human action and activity simply doesn’t fit Searle’s account of it.
Heidegger, not Searle, does better justice to the truth of human action.

    Searle responds (2004) that Dreyfus has seriously misunderstood him. Phenomenology is a worthwhile project, Searle says, but it has a limitation that shows up in Dreyfus‘s objections. According to Searle, phenomenology assumes that anything important to intentionality registers in consciousness. It’s part of our experience. He calls this ‘the phenomenological illusion.’ Searle thinks that a good deal of what matters to intentionality is not phenomenologically accessible. Conditions of satisfaction, propositional contents, intentional causation, direction of fit are constitutive of intentionality, Searle says, even though they are  not typically part of our experience. According to Searle, Dreyfus’s alleged counterexamples to his account of action depend on supposing that because we are not experientially aware of conditions of satisfaction, direction of fit, and so on, they aren’t constitutive of intentionality. That’s the phenomenological illusion.

    It seems to me that there may be more to Dreyfus’s objections than Searle realizes. Dreyfus gives examples like the expert basketball player so absorbed in playing that he stops being aware of what he’s doing. Dreyfus quotes Larry Bird as saying that sometimes he passes the ball without realizing for several seconds that he’s done it. Dreyfus also gives examples like this one: it’s a feature of our culture that when we stand in an elevator we move away from other people until we reach an equidistance. This is something we usually don’t even realize we do (I remember my  discomfort in Asia when, talking to a fellow I had just met in a market place, he reached out as we talked and began absentmindedly playing with the buttons on my shirt). Dreyfus thinks Heidegger deals with this nicely–this is pre-intentional activity, the latter cultural, certainly, but it’s not like we’re intentionally getting away from other people in the elevator. There’s no success or failure, no conditions of satisfaction,  no intention, only what’s comfortable or uncomfortable. It’s what we just do because we’ve done it all our lives because that’s what people do. Larry Bird doesn’t intentionally pass the ball; in the flow of the game he just does it. For Searle what makes action action is intentionality, for Dreyfus a good deal of action isn’t intentional.

    Searle responds that just because we aren’t aware of intentions in these cases, it doesn’t follow that this isn’t intentional activity with conditions of satisfaction, and so on.  This is the phenomenological fallacy, he says. The difficulty is that he seems to have already allowed, in his chapter on the Background, that such activity is often non-intentional. Dreyfus may not be committing any such fallacy. His point may be simply that Heidegger’s account of action is more plausible than Searle’s for a good deal of what we do.

2009-12-27
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,

I read through this string with much interest. As someone who does the history of philosophy I have been intrigued by the divide as well. I have four related questions I hope everyone can help me with, and a list of practical suggestions.

I completed my doctorate at a university where continental philosophy and history of philosophy were both well-represented. Since my work is on the history of philosophy (the Kantian sublime), I feel that I am tied to neither school. (Incidentally, the Kantian sublime is a hot topic in continentals such as Lyotard, who tends to do "violence" to Kant's text. Analytic literature on the sublime, like my book on the topic, tends to be more interested in what Kant says.) My questions and suggestions are:

1. Can/should the history of philosophy be considered a third approach?
2. Can philosophy (unlike the sciences) be done in an a-historical manner? I myself suspect that it cannot. (If it cannot, are analytics and continentals both doing "history" of philosophy, even though they would not usually recognize this or put it this way?) In short, your thread/question seems related to the question/thread: "What is philosophy?"
3. Where does pragmatism fit into this debate? Is it yet another school?
4. Is our situation unique when compared to that of the ancients? The schools of the Academicians, Stoics, Cynics, and Epicureans in Greece and Rome disagreed with each other on the goals and content of philosophy. But perhaps there was more dialogue than there is today (yet cf. Searle, Brandom, etc.). The current situation in any case seems to bear some similarity to the ancient one. Moreover, insofar as our situation IS actually dissimilar, it is probably because philosophers today are so specialized that it is hard to converse with philosophers from other schools. There may be just too much to read. (Moreover, we are less tied to philosophy as "love of wisdom" as were the ancients.)
5. Finally, I conclude with some practical points. There does seem to be some limited interest in overcoming the divide. Here are some ways to contribute to the development of the relations between the analytics and continentals, from theoretical and practical perspectives:

More theoretical points
•    Understand, criticize, and appreciate each other’s philosophical assumptions: methodological, epistemological, and ontological
•    Discuss areas of agreement and disagreement
•    Emphasize points of convergence
•    Understand how points of convergence came about historically, e.g., through the Frege-Husserl debate, the reception of Wittgenstein, etc.

More practical points
•    Read and teach the main texts of the other tradition
•    Translate primary sources
•    Create (more) journals of secondary literature that appeal to both traditions (and address your question/problem)
•    Publish monographs devoted to the history, assumptions, methods, and styles of the two traditions
•    Seek agreement on subject matter and problems for research by organizing conferences (like the one you mentioned), broadening calls for papers, and carrying out collaborative projects

I recognize that carrying out these points is not an easy task.
 
Best wishes,
Robert R. Clewis

2009-12-27
The analytic/continental divide
I believe that for a "philosopher" to actually be doing philosophy, they must find their own way with the problems they tackle and not merely follow the path of another (a mistake made on both sides of the divide). - As long as the history of philosophy remains a mere history of ideas, it is history first and philosophy second.  As such it would not be a third way of doing philosophy.

In so far as a philosophical problem is a real problem, it cannot be treated in isolation from its place in cultural perspectives and a history of the raising of associated questions.  - Should not all philosophy deal with the history of the problems raised rather than treating them in isolation from time and place and culture?  As such the history of philosophy is not a third way of doing philosophy.

Not only would the question "What is philosophy?" be useful for this thread but further the question "How does philosophy differ from science?".

When considering other divides in the history of philosophy it becomes apparent that what was disagreed about was less significant than actually how much was shared - consider: Heraclitus (all is flux) and Parmenides (all is one); Stoics and Epicureans; Rationalists and Empiricists.  On the surface their philosophies appear to be complete opposites but when you dig deeper and compare what they actually claim the difference is usually on a minor point.

2009-12-27
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek, My statement of was of course ironic. The point was that if Marx and Rousseau are to be seen as mere social theorists, or Derrida as a mere literary / feminist critic (as it was done by those who petitioned against his Cambridge honorary doctorate about 20 years ago), then one will be justified in calling many contemporary philosophers of cognition and mind mere 'computer scientists.' I believe many of the early (and the lineage has not yet vanished) cognitivist philosophical approaches were derived from a consideration of what it is for a computer to 'think'. (I wouldn't do either.) In this context, it is worthwhile to counterpose such approaches with (for example) Heidegger's 'What is thinking?' even though the consequences would be very different.     


2009-12-27
The analytic/continental divide
Franson, My apologies. I had an uneasy feeling I was misunderstanding you.

Yes, to see Marx and Rousseau as "mere social theorists" is an odd stance is it not? "Mere social theorists" who have radically affected the course of Western history over the past two and a half centuries!  Of course one might reply "Yes, and look at the consequences." But even if one took that one-sided view, that is hardly justification for ignoring them. Indeed, all the more reason not to.

Of course analytic philosophy - or at least certain elements of it - tends to want to set history aside anyway, doesn't it. Though I sometimes wonder if there's not a kind of underlying messianism at work despite that. I mean, I occasionally get the impression that analytic philosophy is saying: "All that - ie history - is one long tale of woe and one long catalogue of errors. Let's wipe the slate clean, start again from point zero, put everything on a solid basis (science being the model), and get it right this time, once and for all."  A kind of messianic hope for a new dawn - the world made new. So history is still there in a sense - as a kind of malignant spirit one is always trying to flee from.

Just a thought. Maybe not a very worthwhile one.

DA





2009-12-27
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Ah, it's nice to see this thread returning to real discussion.

Derek, analytic philosophy's "messianism" wasn't implicit or underlying; Russell explicitly said these things, over and over again (I quote them in my book, A Thing of This World pp. 27-30).  And Frege, the grandfather of the movement, defined logic as the study of thoughts cleansed of all contingent particularities involving thinkers, time, etc.  I consider this attitude one of the central distinctions between the 2 traditions (discussed in my conclusion).  When continentals, following Hegel, apply historical considerations to those elements (esp. truth and reason) that analytics believe should escape all external determinations in order to guide our actual thoughts and acts (normative vs. descriptive), continentals look like sceptics, relativists, nihilists, misologists, perverse cultivators of irrationalism and obscurity.  In fact, this investigation represents in many ways the consistent extension of the enlightenment project: we should not simply rely unquestioningly on the tribunal of reason that seems legitimate to us, but investigate our reason and intuitions themselves.  This puts continentals in the uncomfortable, if not paradoxical, position of using some kind of reasoning to investigate reason, but what other option do we have?

Lee

2009-12-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone

 

Dear Jim,

there is something really strange going on. I believe you have an excellent memory and you are perfectly able to recall the atmosphere of Searle’s seminars. In this case, however, I can find no credible explanation for the way Professor Searle explicitly distances himself from Heidegger. In his paper The Phenomenological Illusion, his disagreement with Dreyfus (and by implication with Heidegger) goes deeper than the scope and use of  phenomenology. He criticizes Heidegger for the kind relativism and perspectivalism that form the basis of the so-called phenomenological illusion. In the paper The Limits of Phenomenology (1999) he comes down really hard on Heidegger and Dreyfus  - I think I should have started by quoting this paper.

To start with, Searle confesses not to understand what phenomenologists say about intentionality or anything else in philosophy.

  I must say immediately that I have not read enough of the works of Husserl, Heidegger or phenomenology generally to have an intelligent opinion about what they actually say. When I say Heidegger I mean Heidegger-as-described-by-Dreyfus, and ditto for Husserl and phenomenology.

 Supposing you correctly recall what went on in the period of preparing the book Intentionality, I think you owe us an explanation of why in 1999 Searle apparently had no memory of having ever been able to understand Heidegger or phenomenology in general well enough to form an intelligent opinion of it.

 In what follows, this is how Searle summarizes the weaknesses of the phenomenological method in three points:

 1. Using this method, many of the most important questions in philosophy and science cannot even be stated.

 2. Where it can see the questions, Heideggerian phenomenology typically gives systematically false answers.

 3. There is a systematic ambiguity in Heidegger's philosophy between phenomenology and ontology, this produces inconsistencies.

 I think this is as hard a critique as it can be, and it clearly suggests that Searle has a very low opinion of Heideggerian philosophy. Here is how he disowns any alleged similarities in methodology with Heidegger and Husserl.

 My enterprise in analyzing intentionality is totally different from that of Husserl and Heidegger…From my point of view both Husserl and Heidegger are traditional epistemologists engaged in a foundationalist enterprise. Husserl is trying to find the conditions of knowledge and certainty, Heidegger is trying to find the conditions of intelligibility, and they both use the methods of phenomenology. In my theory of intentionality, I have no such aims and no such methods.

Please note the words 'Totally different' and the closing sentence. As for the Background, already in that single passing mention of "the referential totality of ready-to-hand equipment in a Heideggerian vein" in Intentionality, (it is telling that Heidegger's name does not even occur in the Index!) Searle contrast his own view of the Background (which on his view consists of mental phenomena) with the Heideggerian conception of it. And this is how he describes Dreyfus' misunderstanding of him, referring to the Background in the paper already quoted:

 The views [Dreyfus] describes are not my views, and indeed are inconsistent with my position. On my view the key to understanding intentionality is the conditions of satisfaction which are determined by the contents of intentional states, and the Background of capacities that enables intentionality to function. You would never get an understanding of these central principles from Dreyfus's parody of my views.  Nor would you get the idea that on my view phenomenology does not necessarily reveal either the conditions of satisfaction or the Background.

Here Searle clearly says that Dreyfus has never come to understand the concept of Background properly. Given what Searle said earlier, namely that the only understanding he ever had of phenomenology and Heidegger he got from Dreyfus's writings, it is very hard to see how Heidegger could have even indirectly influenced him in shaping his own conception of the Background. This is all the more so as in Searle's view, phenomenology may not even be necessary for the analysis of the Background.



2009-12-28
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Robert

I found your post very interesting.  There is a lot in it and I will only try to reply to one of your points for now.

You write: " Can philosophy (unlike the sciences) be done in an a-historical manner? I myself suspect that it cannot. (If it cannot, are analytics and continentals both doing "history" of philosophy, even though they would not usually recognize this or put it this way?) In short, your thread/question seems related to the question/thread: "What is philosophy?""

I agree. On the one hand, there is simply the need for historical awareness. Without knowledge of the historical context in which earlier philosophers wrote, there is a real danger they will be misunderstood - ie that we will ascribe ideas to them that they never held. The danger gets bigger of course the further back we go in time.

But a deeper problem (and probably closer to what you are suggesting?) is that, whether one wishes to or not, one is necessarily doing philosophy historically because one is always working with underlying assumptions rooted in, or in some way responding to, previous specific philosophical developments. I think some philosophers - especially perhaps some of the "analytic" persuasion - would like to deny this because they would like very much to think that their approach is totally assumption-free - wholly "objective". At this point the problem gets quite serious, I think, because it suggests an unwillingness to examine one's presuppositions - a major philosophical trap in my view.

(A final thought: Your post looks like the outline of a good article!)

DA 



2009-12-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

I am glad that you also appreciate Rousseau, and yes his work on education has been quite important – not just in revolutionary and post-revolutionary France, but more generally.

I am not sure about swapping 100 analytic philosophers for one Rousseau though. It’s a bit formal. Which specific analytic philosophers would we swap? Also I like to moderate my general, though healthy, cynicism with a touch of optimism about the potential for people, even those who are not the ‘Stars’, to find something new. Perhaps I would put it in terms of academic articles. When I think about the First and Second Discourses, particular the Second, in relation to much of the water that has gone under the bridge of the academic journal over the last 50 years or so….  But he was one of those rare thinkers, the sort of character that emerges very infrequently in the history of thought and so the comparison, like all comparisons, might be a little odious (a venerable thought and perhaps one contributors to the string might reflect on in terms of the string). 

You say: “Behind our discussion is a deeper question about what exactly philosophy is”. This is what I have been intimating regularly (almost constantly) in my posts to this string and its something that is really important in regard to the question of the divide (regardless of whether there is another string focusing on this topic). In general I agree with B. Christensen in his book Self and World – From Analytic Philosophy to Phenomenology (De Gruyter 2009) that European philosophy has generally been better at this sort of thing than analytic philosophy. But the meta-philosophical question is one that we really need to answer, certainly we need an orientation on philosophy that can think through the division and certainly such a meta-discursive orientation cannot presuppose that one tradition has all of the answers.

The anecdote about Camus is interesting. It seems silly to exclude someone who has had such an impact on philosophy simply on the basis that he did not jump through the right hoops. Surely the contribution speaks for itself. To me it just seems like the product of professionalism and institutionalism, petty stuff – the professionalized denizens of the modern institution protecting their turf in a way that risks excluding, by failing to recognize, valuable thinkers. Philosophy suffers as a consequence – I agree with you there. But philosophy often suffers as a consequence of itself. That is why philosophical auto-criticism is so important.

Phil


2009-12-29
The analytic/continental divide

Hi Robert,

I believe history of philosophy is very important, in general philosophy is not progressive in the same way that science is seen as progressive. If it were it would be very strange to see anyone making any use out of thinkers like Aristotle, or Kant or whoever. But people do make use of these figures, even in Analytic philosophy – Aristotle still features in Analytic ethics as does Kant both seem to have been important to people like John McDowell. Further while contemporary consequentialism is a long way from Mill he is still an important point of reference. Further, what would contemporary liberal political theory be without Mill and Kant? Practical philosophy in the Analytic tradition was almost non-existent until Rawls and he is a thinker with a massive debt to history. But I agree with Max that one needs to find one’s own problems and certainly find one’s own voice. One needs to come out of the shadows of some great name – no matter whether you are inclined to be ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and hitch your wagon to some contemporary philosopher or whether you want to work under the name of one the ‘Saints’.

But more particularly, in terms of doing history of philosophy, I think that we need to find a way between two approaches that are common. Firstly, the approach that begins from the problems of contemporary philosophy and then tries to read those problems back into the history of philosophy or perhaps one or two figures in the history of philosophy – as if our problems were their problems. This is not uncommon in Analytic philosophy, although not alien to Continental philosophy, but it often distorts matters. The other approach I feel needs to be avoided is where history of philosophy fails to move outside of the confines and structures, particularly the conceptual confines and structures, of the figure or figures discussed. Here the disciple recapitulates the master, often poorly or at the very least not as well. There are other approaches that I think are problematic, like expositing a complex thinker such as Kant, Hegel or Heidegger in terms of one’s own favorite theme – turning the thinker into a monomaniacal mirror of oneself (my PhD dissertation probably is guilty of this). It is rare, although I think it does happen, that we have history of philosophy that can inform contemporary issues as well as being able to show a reasonable amount of fidelity to the problems that the particular thinker faced. Or that tells a fairly faithful history that actually helps us understand ourselves better – philosophically. I found George A. Reisch’s How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science: To the Icy Slopes of Logic such a book – its also one that seems relevant for this string, switching us on to some of the social, historical and political features that shaped Anglophone philosophy, which is something much Anglophone philosophy seems to just ignore. It’s a good read.

I am not sure that history of philosophy could be a third way of doing philosophy; at least I do not think it could. As Max intimated, insofar as it is good history this will limit its capacity to say much that is new, or move very far beyond the object of historical focus (if it does then it is not strictly historical and so more than history of philosophy). Sure, in doing strict history of philosophy we might help others gain insights that can bring something new forward, that’s fine and then history of philosophy contributes to philosophy in a secondary way. But unless a thinker was directly addressing the problems that we face today then at some point we just have to liberate ourselves from the thinker and/or the text we are considering and go forward into new ground and hopefully in a new way, a way that does not simply echo (often quite dimly or dully) or mimic some great historical figure. I do not close the possibility that thinkers of the past were addressing similar problems, I just think it is most often this is not the case. If it is true that our experience of alienation is exactly the same as the experience of thinkers in the 19th century then it would seem that history is a fairly week thing anyway. But, in fact, while I think that there is continuity in the experiences I also think that new historical conditions reconfigure the problem and often they do so in unexpected ways.

Lastly, doing history of philosophy is a good way to broaden one’s thinking about any problem. The idea that the history of philosophy is the history of error, as some analytic philosophers suggest, leaves us in the unfortunate position of being focused on what has happened in the last five minutes. But, because anyone who puts philosophical pen to paper is destined to become part of that history (mostly a very small and insignificant part), are we not all just writing the history of error with every stroke? Every academic article is just another page or entry in that history of failure. I can see some undergraduate getting excited about the paradox that lies in philosophers making such claims (that history of philosophy is the history of error), for those very claims just flow out into the same history. Sellars tells us that philosophy without history is not just blind but dumb. I tend to agree with that sentiment.

In any case, history of philosophy is part of philosophy. While there is no doubt that there are and have been philosophers who have made contributions to philosophy on the basis of a very limited knowledge of that history it is also true that some of the most interesting philosophy I have read shows deep acquaintance with philosophical history. Heidegger, despite the quirks of the historical narrative that lies in his work, is one of them.

 

Philip  


2009-12-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Phil55 Smith

Does it really reduce to this? Does the whole question of Heidegger’s relevance really reduce to the question of whether Professor Searle actually got much out of him?

In an earlier post Phil you suggested that important thinkers like Singer and Smart have taken the time write against Heidegger, they do so to stem the flow of unreason. Their main concern is that analytic philosophers, contemporary analytic philosophers, are reading Heidegger and so they must mount their defense. Two things are clear here. Firstly that the defense would not be needed if this was a marginal matter, if it was only a few minor analytic thinkers drawing water from the phenomenological well then such an enterprise would be utterly quixotic. Secondly if analytic philosophy was still a vital force, then there would be no need to do this, Heidegger and phenomenology would be crushed under the weight of its vitality. But analytic philosophy has lost that vitality, and analytic philosophers are reading Heidegger. Do you see the flicker of twilight? Perhaps not, perhaps it’s the dragon’s breath! Well then, mount your steed and draw your lance.

Philip


2009-12-29
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jim Stone
"How could an object, distinguished by its presence, call forth an act of attention, since consciousness includes all objects? Where empiricism was deficient was in any internal connection between the object and the act which it triggers off. What intellectualism lacks is contingency in the occasions of thought. In the first case consciousness is too poor, in the second too rich for any phenomenology to appeal compellingly to it. Empiricism cannot see that we need to know what we are looking for, otherwise we would not be looking for it, and intellectualism fails top see that we need to be ignorant of what we are looking for, or equally again we should not be searching. They are in agreement in that neither can grasp consciousness "in the act of learning", and that neither attaches to the circumscribed ignorance, that still empty but already [determinate/determinable] [intention/neediness] which is attention itself."
Merleau-Ponty,  M. 1945/1962 Phenomenology of Perception. Colin Smith (trans.). London: Routledge. 2008 reprint.
Bracketed words: the first is that of the published translation, the second, Dreyfus' suggestions.

I collected the interviews with Dreyfus on Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty mentioned by Jim Stone here

There is a 2005(?) Dreyfus account of the history of the Dreyfus-Searle debate here (pdf) 

If you listen to Dreyfus' podcast lectures on Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger you'll hear frequent references to their debates. And as recently as 2005 they were still having lunch together, so one must distinguish between professional posturing and the situation on the ground. If it is true that Searle has not learned anything from Heidegger (whether via Dreyfus or not) it seems to me that he must be very thick indeed. As he's clearly not thick, if he has in fact said that, he is either mistaken, a liar or both. My money would be on 'mistaken' as that would be in-line with his cognitivist views being open to the 'intellectualism' criticism, as posited by Merleau-Ponty (above).

All of which makes me wonder how the Dreyfus Dasein deals with the fact that his email comes through "cogsci" at berkley :-)

David

2009-12-30
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Interesting! I guess there must be not just one, but mutiple ways of responding to the question of history. And this for history in general, or for history of philosophy. For example, history may either be sought to be exorcised as you suggest, or a certain version of it may be incorporated  and reinforced according to one's own power of imagination. Both can also take place simultaneously. History can be seen to be full of these diverse attitudes towards history. One can go on further on the problems of and perspectives on history ... One may usefully look for how they manifest themselves in the history of philosophy.

2009-12-30
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

My "100 analytic philosophers" was a figure of speech. I don't think I'll name names - though some spring readily to mind.

Just on the word "cynicism".  I wouldn't describe my own attitude towards analytic philosophy as cynical. For example, I don't for a moment doubt the sincerity of its practitioners. Indeed, their unquestioning faith that they are on the right track is one of the things that often bothers me. 

Pursuing that thought a little, I notice that analytic philosophers sometimes express doubts about the label "analytic". I share the doubts, though I suspect for different reasons. A key problem of the school, to my mind, is precisely that it is not analytic enough. That is, there is an endemic reluctance to examine the fundamentals of one's position - a reluctance to go beneath the surface of things.
 
I notice this time and again in discussions of the notion of (human) consciousness - I topic which for a number of reasons (none connected with analytic philosophy) interests me a lot. A little anecdote. I vividly remember a particular analytic philosophy seminar I attended on the question of consciousness which revolved around certain experiments with animals looking into mirrors. (God save us!)  Throughout the discussion, the terms consciousness and self-consciousness were used as if they were interchangeable and as if the presence or absence of the word "self" made no difference, and also as if the idea of "self" was non-problematical. After a while, unable to stand it any longer, I pointed out that consciousness and self-consciousness were not self-evidently synonyms and that, in any case, the concept of the self itself raised a host of problems. My comment was greeted with a kind of blank incomprehension and the discussion resumed as before as if nothing had been said. 

I have noticed precisely the same unwillingness to reflect on one's basic concepts in discussion of consciousness on PhilPapers. It is as if there is a point beyond which discussants are not prepared to go - as if there is a danger that, dare I say it, one will become involved in "philosophy" as distinct from something of a more "scientific" nature.  To my mind all that is the very reverse of "analytic".

DA 





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2009-12-31
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

Well, we can leave the ‘100 analytic philosophers’ alone then, although I did not want to prompt you to name names. Equally we ought to leave the cynicism comment, I was more gesturing at my own tendency to cynicism about philosophy generally – its not a full blown cynicism, it is marked with hope. But I do think that the conditions under which philosophy is conducted these days is a recipe for mediocrity. A friend of mine mentioned at a seminar where he was the guest speaker that these days all the big players in philosophy departments around the world just want to hire themselves again. What he meant was that they do not want anyone who departs from the way they think and the way they do philosophy on board – so if they could only just clone themselves… I think that the comment has something to it, insofar as it does it is one ingredient in the recipe for mediocrity. Of course none of that would mean that you wont be successful in obtaining research grants and research money. But the problem there is that there seems to be a greater emphasis on obtaining such funds than on the results. One further comment about these matters, a colleague recently said to me about life in contemporary universities (particularly referring to philosophy departments), that if anyone was happy in what they were doing that they are very good a hiding it. This is due, in my opinion, to departmental politics and live in the contemporary institution. In any case its cynicism tinged with optimism here, all of which is augmented by a general enthusiasm for philosophy.

In regard to the faith that analytic philosophers show that they are on the right track. There are two things to say here. Firstly it was a movement born of grand claims – they were going to solve all substantive problems in philosophy or show them to be pseudo problems. But if you think about the early years in post-Kantian philosophy figures like Schelling and Hegel felt something similar in regard to what they were doing and there was a similar faith. It is interesting to think that part of the birth of analytic philosophy was the rejection of idealism (but for the most part what they had in view was British idealism Russell did not really have such a good grasp of the Germans). But many philosophers and philosophical movements have this sort of self-confidence. I, like you, often puzzle about it – particularly now that we are 100 years on and, on a realistic evaluation one would have to say that all substantive problems of philosophy remain, only slightly modified or reconfigured (but history reconfigures everything). As for the pseudo problems, they all remain also. So, yes, a movement that starts with grand claims and proceeds with self-confidence – that is not uncommon. But you are right that there is a certain lack of reflection and this might relate to the second point. So, secondly, I think that one of the things that might contribute to the idea that one is on the right track is relates to the conditions of the production of knowledge in contemporary institutional life and particularly the things that are taken as a gauge of success. So long as the metrics are all blazing, you have success. Think about the rankings of academic journals. On what basis are they ranked? Who ranks them? Think about the successful research applications. On what basis are they ranked? Who ranks them? If you turn your attention to these things and really think critically rather than engaging in self-justifications and rationalizations of the process then the couple of questions I asked above quickly start to expand.

The issue about self-consciousness and consciousness is an interesting one. Its something one notices when one comes to analytic philosophy from continental philosophy. One of the things that is just not reflected on is the fact that the concept consciousness is used differently in analytic and continental philosophy. The thing is that every intellectual discourse has: a set of foundational presuppositions that generally remain unquestioned but which orient the questions it asks; a method through which it engages its problems and questions; and a preferred conceptual framework through which it articulates its responses to questions. In order to understand why analytic philosophy is unmoved by your comment you have to really think through the way these three features lead you to speak past each other and most importantly why someone who has not reflected on the on the difference between analytic and continental philosophy on these three points might just think you are pushing an irrelevant point. Further if a person presumes that their orientation on these issues is the only valid orientation for philosophy (for all philosophers for all time) then its easy to scoff (I will return to that below).

What I think the above points to are the meta-philosophical questions and I think it does so in this way. We have two philosophical discourses both of which seem to be different in terms of: their fundamental presuppositions and orientative questions; the methods they employ and; their use of concepts. At the most simplistic level one could just suggest that the differences here map onto the differences between the sciences and the humanities. As such if you reflect on the knowledge produced by one side in terms of the orientations of the other you are highly likely to undervalue it, dismiss it, speak about it in condescending tones…  The only way forward is to find a neutral point from which to both relate the two discourses and evaluate them, a point that does not already presume that one side has all the answers (this is not necessarily a God’s eye perspective it could just be a more fulsome view, a meta-discursive view of philosophy – which of course would have to be historically informed). The beginnings of obtaining such a view, rather than acquiescing in dismissals, condescension, conceit… would be to gain a better understanding of the presuppositions/ questions, methods and conceptual frames that underwrite any particular philosophical discourse. Further, and I think that this is vital, one has to have some take on an end, some reason for philosophizing – raising the issue of a telos for the whole endeavor.

I think that both sides do have such an orientative end and both relate to the issue of human emancipation in different ways. I think that analytic philosophy might, crudely speaking, be understood on quasi-Baconian terms as seeking emancipation through the growth of knowledge about nature – and is thus descriptive, it seeks to change the world by producing better descriptions of it, so the description is primary. I think in Continental philosophy the orientation is on the critique of culture. This includes philosophical autocriticism and certainly includes a critique of modern science, for both philosophy and science are part of culture. Of course it includes a whole lot more besides. But when you put it like this then I think the possibility opens up of gaining some meta-discursive orientation on both practices of philosophy and so to a philosophical way of relating the two modes of philosophy. From that perspective we might be able to make sure that there is more equity in the way the two discourses are dealt with.

One of the things that I find infuriating, from both sides, is the scoffing at the other. Yes, analytic philosophy is deeply linked to science and yes from the outside it can seem as if it is more deeply linked to science than it is to philosophy. Yes, Continental philosophy does tend toward the literary and from the outside it can seem that it is more deeply linked to other areas of the humanities than it is with philosophy. But scoffing is the recourse of those who do not want to think and thinking is our work.

Philip


2009-12-31
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

A very interesting post in which there are lots of things I agree with. My reply will be short because I have to pack and catch a train.

RE your comment "A friend of mine mentioned at a seminar where he was the guest speaker that these days all the big players in philosophy departments around the world just want to hire themselves again. What he meant was that they do not want anyone who departs from the way they think and the way they do philosophy on board – so if they could only just clone themselves."

Yes, indeed, and this carries over to things like editorial choices for journals and a host of related things. It's like a huge ball and chain that philosophy has attached to itself. A recipe for scholasticism in the worst sense of the term.

RE: "So, yes, a movement that starts with grand claims and proceeds with self-confidence – that is not uncommon. "

You are more forgiving than me, I think.  To my mind, a philosopher's first duty is to think for him/herself, not to follow some beaten path.  Especially when that path has been beaten with no sign of success for several decades.

RE: In order to understand why analytic philosophy is unmoved by your comment you have to really think through the way these three features lead you to speak past each other and most importantly why someone who has not reflected on the on the difference between analytic and continental philosophy on these three points might just think you are pushing an irrelevant point. Further if a person presumes that their orientation on these issues is the only valid orientation for philosophy (for all philosophers for all time) then its easy to scoff ...

Yes. True. But again I am less tolerant than you. A philosopher worth his/her salt should always be ready and able to question his/her presuppositions.  And the point I was making was surely not that difficult?  In that roomful of analytic philosophers could I not have hoped for one who could grasp it? (Rhetorical question).

Re: "One of the things that I find infuriating, from both sides, is the scoffing at the other." 

Yes. I imagine this is what psychologists used to call a "defence mechanism".

DA






2010-01-01
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

Perhaps I am more forgiving/tolerant than you. Be that as it may, I think that we just have to accept that some people, perhaps many people, will be inspired or captivated by a certain tradition or thinker and work within that tradition or in line with that thinker. I am sure you would agree this is acceptable. Whether or not you stop to look at the more grandiose claims made within that tradition or by that thinker (particularly in its/their early days) is another matter. Just taking up on your comment regarding psychology, often its better not to focus on those kinds of statements for the sake of your own self-relation or self-respect. We can understand why people pass over certain aspects of their tradition without endorsing their doing so. 

But of course it is right to suggest that every one should climb the mast and look back at where there ship has taken them once and a while. Clearly this should be done in a way that is both objective on the one hand (so not defensively rationalizing or justifying matters) and critical on the other, so actively being critical not just of the rout taken, but also of the choice of destination. I think two things are required to do this. Firstly one has to find clear and objective internal criteria that relate to first order maters; so, what is this tradition of thinking trying to achieve? Filling library shelves or accumulating cash, or achieving dominance might be 'good', but they are not really a philosophical objective and if they are 'good' they are only instrumentally so. Secondly one has draw in some external criteria, which is best done, in my opinion, from a broad perspective on what it is to do philosophy and, of course, an understanding of how this tradition fits in.

In any case this is not necessarily easy and while, at the abstract level, everyone should do this, I don’t thing everyone can. Further there are certain barriers against voicing a negative result even if one does climb the mast. Most people these days are more concerned with careers than with wisdom, virtue or truth – this is one of the conditions of contemporary knowledge production. Pretty much philosophy is like any other ‘business’ these days, if you want to ‘succeed’ (read make a living out of it) you have to be strategic. What does this include? First and foremost it includes being connected to people with influence! What else is necessary for success? Well it includes having a keen nose for the winds of intellectual fashion so that you can be ‘where the action is’ (read, jump on the band-wagon). You have to be doing something that is ‘relevant’, you have to be publishing stuff that is ‘relevant’. This happens in both traditions, so within analytic philosophy you have to be switched on to whatever micro area is sexy at present and be writing to that, in continental philosophy you have to be switched on to who is the latest Saint and be writing to that. Ah, the bracing smell of the pursuit of wisdom, virtue and truth! But if these things constitute the bases for success then imagine our obituaries – ‘Philip was a great philosopher, he had a great nose for the winds of intellectual fashion, an uncanny ability to set his sails so as to catch that wind and an exquisite talent for slipstreaming, he sailed fast over waters others struggled through ’.

As I was driving to the pool yesterday, after writing to you in my last post, I was listening to the Style Council song ‘Money-go-round’ it struck me that the first four lines of the second verse, while not so relevant to the whole string, were relevant to our discussion.

Philip



2010-01-01
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Further on the detour on history and the question "What is philosophy?" and meant to be suggestive not exhaustive, here is a brief survey on various ways of doing philosophy followed by a brief summation on how this relates to the over-arching question of the divide:

Historical - surveying thinkers, ideas, theories, positions and arguments and the relationships between them.

Genealogical - incorporating an understanding of the history of philosophy in one's philosophical questioning (consider Aristotle, Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger).

Argumentative - attempting to prove a position such that no alternative would seem possible (the modus operandi of most analytic philosophy).

Dissolution - performing a reduction ad absurdum on a position to show that it is mistaken (Wittgenstein).

Definitional - use the defining of terms to either argue for or dissolve a posiiton or to clarify a problem.

Conceptual analysis - explore meanings and consequences of the use of terms to either argue for or dissolve a position or to clarify a problem.

Persuasive - the appeal to authority or experts or the common man or a particular interest group, using beliefs they would either assent to or reject to cajole others to one's way of thinking.

Story-telling - the use of literature or creative examples to portray what it would be like if a position was accepted or rejected.

Now, although many philosophers use many of these ways and probably others, analytic philosophers tend to focus upon the argumentative as their approach and the way they define philosophy.

But consider: How many knock-down arguments have there actually been in the history of philosophy?  And how many arguments which have been considered knock-down have actually been based upon over-simplification of the problem or misrepresenting the views of others an idealized conception or some other form of sleight of hand.  Examples: Descartes cogito ergo sum (historically based upon Augustine and others but presented as an armchair "thought experiment"); Anselm's Ontological Argument; and any argument based on projecting from formal logic or linguistics to natural language or the world.

Also consider how many of the major "Analytic" philosophers are more innovative and creative than this (consider Quine and Wiitgesntein), which is why I consider the label arbitrary and unhelpful (much like the terms "Modern" or "Postmodern" philosophy).  Likewise the term "Continental" philosophy fails to capture anything significantly in common held by European philosophers.

Derek - I know this does not address your concern with conferences and journals and departments being myopic, but (to follow Phillip's most recent post) one has to decide whether to play the game and compromise one's philosophical ideals or hope that one can carve one's own path and get by whether inside or outside of Academe.

2010-01-02
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
MAX WROTE:
Derek - I know this does not address your concern with conferences and journals and departments being myopic, but (to follow Phillip's most recent post) one has to decide whether to play the game and compromise one's philosophical ideals or hope that one can carve one's own path and get by whether inside or outside of Academe.

One of the most disgusting things that I ever witnessed was a graduate student in a top 25 newly-"Analytic" American University, who wrote a paper for a course in Plato defending the thesis that Socrates was not an academic philosopher, with the implication that anyone practicing philosophy in the Socratic mode (Philosophy with a capital "P" on my count) does not belong in the academy.  That is, anyone doing Philosophy does not deserve a job in philosophy.

He got an "A."  And, he got a job.

Makes me shudder to this day.

2010-01-03
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

Re your: "Be that as it may, I think that we just have to accept that some people, perhaps many people, will be inspired or captivated by a certain tradition or thinker and work within that tradition or in line with that thinker. I am sure you would agree this is acceptable."

I accept that entirely. In fact I am such a person to some degree.

My objections start when the tradition or thinker becomes the be-all-and-end-all, and people either can't or don't want to see it in a larger context, question it, or examine its presuppositions. In other words when it turns into a rigid orthodoxy.  This results in the kind of situation you describe in the latter part of your post - the awful recipe for success in philosophy. Philosophy as "business". Just nauseating.

DA



2010-01-03
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Hi Jeffrey

Makes me shudder too.

I well remember that one of my best teachers as as undergraduate taught almost entirely in the Socratic mode. 

DA


2010-01-05
The analytic/continental divide
Philip,
Having just read that U of Louisiana, Lafayette is eliminating its philosophy major, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/education/edlife/03careerism-t.html?em, and your post about careerism, I could only think that maybe eliminating academic activities will actually be good for philosophy. Regarding the "divide", if you close departments throughout the world, you'll know pretty soon whether it's just institutions that are keeping it alive, or whether it truly has a life of its own... 

2010-01-05
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Guy Schultz
Hi! This is indeed a very perspicuous remark, thanks. Very often, the divides (of one kind or the other) keep the institutions going, and not vice versa. There's always life outside the divide. 

2010-01-06
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Look.  I think that it might be easy for someone working in the 'industry' of philosophy to miss the point of the closing of a major or even of a program...
The fact is that academic philosophy produces nothing - absolutely nothing -
that improves the lives of anyone not receiving tenure as a reward for jumping through the arbitrary hoops of it all.
A fact of which many "philosophers" are patently proud.
Now, if it takes the deaths of a few programs for academic "philosophers" to understand this, then I suppose all the better.
But, it does return us to one aspect of the point I was making, earlier.
Plato set up the academy as a way of removing Philosophy from the political gunsights that left Socrates dead, probably in a sort of compromise with his politically invested brethren.
Since, practical wisdom has increasingly become im-practical wisdom,
changing the world through open inquiry toward truth has increasingly become describing the world and then arguing over the appropriate uses of terms of art,
and the original inspiration of the Philosopher, common to all, articulated by Aristotle in the oft-misrepresented phrase concerning human nature and the desire to know -
which utilizes a form of "know" rooted in a verb meaning "to see" -
has been sold out for the security of an academic post free from political scrutiny because it is by nature without social or political import.
Rather than 'seeing' for one's self, it has become enough to quibble over what others report to have seen others see, to dispute fictions and to advance on fictions with further refinements of fictions.
And, the Philosopher's primary product - however uncomfortable or politically incorrect -
Truth
is no longer "philosophy's" product, at all, but some virtual approximation thereof.
In fact, those who call themselves "philosophers" these days are essentially unable to see the world for themselves in the first place.
The vacuum of the ivory tower rewards rigid minds working in pre-defined 'specializations' who are essentially incapable of adjusting to the rapidly changing complexity that is the natural world...
So, what business have they teaching anyone Philosophy?
The only solution is a return to the roots.
Philosophy, as Socrates demonstrated, is BIGGER than politics.
BIGGER than the academic flavor of the day which fills today's 'high-level' philosophy journals.
The overt politicization/corporatization/balkanization of (especially the American) academy must be corrected.
Frankly, I lay the blame for the current rise in Western fascism at the feet of so-called "philosophers" who, for 2 generations, have not only dropped the Philosophical ball, but have REFUSED to ever pick it up in the first place.
Which returns us to the issue of the analytic/continental divide.
This is a ruse.
Either an argument with a child at either end, or as Socrates may have painted it, a battle between two poorly trained and ill-conceived puppies.
The tradition must be lived for it to be appreciated.
Philosophy is an art.
It is not Physics.
Philosophy can result in Truth...
Perhaps ONLY Philosophy can result in Truth (contrary to Jason Brennan "Skepticism about philosophy," (2010))
IF it is properly understood and rigorously practiced.
Which demands it be adequately defined,
which obviates this ridiculous 'analytic/continental' divide.
Philosophy is bigger than that.
And until "philosophers" take the Philosophic life seriously,
and start acting like it and living like Philosophers and not pampered pedants,
the ivory towers should continue to fall...
It is not unlike 9/11.
What permitted that crime also promotes this tragedy...
Academics asleep at the Philosophical wheel, arguing over petty divides like this one, were responsible for the thermite, then.
And now, it is their own chairs that crumble.
Good riddance.


 
  

2010-01-06
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Goodness, someone give this guy a hug. I'm not an academic nor tenured. But I got my BA in philosophy way back in 1965, and have followed it at my leisure. with varying degrees of intensity, ever since. I'd assert in a heartbeat that the critical thinking skills and the widening of my world through the study of ideas through time, have helped me qualitatively in just about everything I do--from teaching computer repair to ex-cons, to mowing the grass, to trying to figure out how to end a war, to enjoying the art of walking my dogs in the woods. And every few months, I google my old professors to see if they're alive and have written anything interesting. Something's got you fired up here, but I'd say your take on philosophy is narrow and one-sided, to say the least. I'd look elsewhere to get at the root of what's bugging you..

2010-01-06
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Carl,
Three things:
1)This is not 1965.
2)Philosophy is not a leisure time activity, not in the sense that you employ either leisure or "philosophy."
Socrates was stern: Philosophy requires leisure.  But, by this he meant that the Philosopher must not be tied to the outcome of his inquiry in such a way as to steer it away from its natural ends and toward his own self-interest.
Gadfly that he was (irritant to the numb-founded masses and entitled leaders and elites who corrupted his society even as ours is, today), and as sleepy as Nebraska is, I am not surprised that you have mistaken the two senses of leisure, or the purpose of Philsophy, for the same reasons.
3)Oxytocin I enjoy in large amounts, frankly, and do not in the least require a "hug," least of all from some armchair cornerback.  Pursue at leisure whatever you like.  Leave the future of Philosophy, and of the world for that matter, to persons who take the issue seriously.
 

2010-01-06
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

If it be permitted that another Nebraskan weigh in on this issue, I would like to make a few points.

1- It is quite obvious that it is no longer 1965, and the social-political-academic of 1965 is no longer present.  But it is curious that 1965 is mentioned.  I received my BA in 1965 and earned the PhD in 1972.  I studied both Analytic and Phenomenology and finally settled into the History of Philosophy.  In terms of Philosophy, 1965 is less distant than 1965 is for Physics, Cosmology or any of the hard sciences or Social Sciences.

2-Some of us take philosophy so seriously that we spend our leisure time philosophizing.  I spent most of my life working outside Philosophy from everything from Home Builder to Drafting Manager in a Design firm.  When I retired I decided to go back to my first love and renew my full time study of Philosophy, and I immediately took on an adjunct position teaching Ethics at the local Community College.  Adjunct positions require that love be the chief motivation, since the salary is laughable.

3- Not to abuse an oft quoted remark of FDR, but "Not everything in this world is done for profit".  There is something quite unfair, if not repugnant, to measure the value of Philosophy by its product.  It is the very nature of Philosophy to be free of political, economic, or religious constraints.  True philosophizing cannot be done under the watchful eye of a big brother, or bean counting executive, or orthodoxy hunting religionist. Philosophy is some sort of special love seeking understanding and all that goes with both terms.

4- The loss of a Philosophy department in any academy is a loss felt by lovers of wisdom everywhere especially those in the Academy.  But this is not it really; it is the loss of a core to western civilization that is to be mourned.  What should be troubling is the fact that Philosophy has turned again since the middle of the 19th century to a Scholasticism in the general meaning of Scholastic as institutionalized in academia.  But if one permits oneself to examine Philosophy's history one ought quickly to realize that many of the greats, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, earned their livelihood outside the academy.

5- Philosophy is not entertainment nor is Philosophy a form of exercising brain states.  Philosophy is neither Meta-science nor Meta-narrative, at least nor merely, but should be a little of both. Philosophy is difficult, hard work, or as some of my students complain "it is hard to think about meaning, when we are taught nothing but facts previously."  Philosophy is no mere language game, although to some degree language is a player.  Philosophy is a search for meaning through a meditation most of us never experience until we experience a profound loss such as that of a loved one. 

Finally, <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Nebraska is not sleepy.  We are currently frozen under about 30 inches of frozen precipitation. Most Nebraskans, whether farming or living in towns, work long tedious hours where meaning and Philosophy seem irrelevant to earning a living, which is a byproduct of a vicious economic engine not of our making.


2010-01-07
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Guy Schultz

Hi Guy,

Thanks for posting this up, its interesting. I have two things to say that are directly relevant to the article and a few less direct thoughts. Firstly it would seem to me that once you start cutting out areas such as philosophy you jeopardize your status as a university. Once your focus becomes vocational training you start to look more like a polytechnic – there is nothing at all wrong with them, they are essential. But there is a difference between a university and a polytechnic and this lies in the way that the former is concerned with higher learning (ALL branches of higher-learning) and to progress our collective understanding of certain types of knowledge through research. There is certainly an important pedagogic task connected to the university, so it is not only about advancing our collective understanding of all key branches of higher learning. But the pedagogic task is not so much about feeding the job market. The kind of thinking that asks ‘What are you going to do with that degree?’ is ultimately a crass way of thinking about things. The newspapers in Australia reported that Arts graduates were increasingly seeing employment success in the corporate world; their capacity to analyze information and communicate it in effective ways was seen as valuable. One executive said that while these skills were invaluable the best vocational training that people in their firm recieved was the kind of training that was undertaken within the context of the workplace. That makes sense. Nonetheless a university is different from a polytechnic, the latter engages in vocational training the former is focused on higher learning and the progress of our collective understanding of key fields of knowledge.

The second point would be that to sacrifice philosophy, a core component in such higher-learning, for the reasons cited by the University of Louisiana – its no longer popular with students who are primarily focused on their jobs/careers after university - is an utter failure to understand the difference between a university and a service industry operating in the market place. Once the university starts to think of its relation to the students as a vendor/client relationship and begins to tailor its offerings to suit what students ‘want’ we are in a problematic situation. From my experience many students, like water, tend to follow the path of least resistance in the pursuit of that wondrous piece of paper, that stamp of approval that they can hang on their walls. Its not so unusual or surprising and pursuing something, in part, for self-affirmation is not all bad. But the number of students who will actively take up the harder aspects of study are few, we ought not let them down, they are the future of our disciplines – and often the capacity to think outside of the disciplinary square, rather than be a good foot soldier for the status quo, or be a self-promoting celebrity academic, comes out of the smaller, less wealthy institutions or out of no institution at all (see Camus and Rousseau). Yet the most important issue here is that the focus on student demand allows the student to set the curriculum rather than the educator determining what the student needs in order to be a well rounded student. That is not a condescending thing. Yes students need to be treated as adults but that does not mean that they have the pedagogical know-how to determine what they should and should not study. It is a sad fact of life in the contemporary institution that we have encouraged students to think of themselves as customers consuming a product – if the product is not sweet and easy to consume they ought not buy it. Sure you can think about it like that, but the question is whether you ought to. In designing a curriculum there ought to be some scope for choice, but that is a different matter. All of this relates to the conditions of knowledge production and the way economics hangs over this – once the accountants and administrators run the university then what will count, in terms of curricular, will be whether a course or program is profitable, whether or not we can put bottoms on seats, rather than whether the program is an essential part of tertiary education or whether the course is an essential, or even just important, part of a discipline.

Okay, does this relate to the continental/analytic split. Well I have one point to make in answer your question (1) and then I have another point to make in response to Franson (2).

1) Regardless of what I have said above this might also be evidence that contemporary philosophy has lost vitality – it’s a point I made some time ago in the string and is one that I think is equally true of both sides of the great divide. It would be surprising if an area that was full of vitality was not attractive to either administrators or students – that is not an argument for allowing students or administrators to influence curriculum. Yet, part of the reason why philosophy has lost vitality is that economic/institutional factors, and particularly in an Anglophone context, have steered it so far away from the kind of normative critique of society, politics and cultural that it just disappears up the backside of science, or vacates philosophy altogether and clings, somewhat precariously, to other areas in the humanities. Of course the administrators do not really want an active and vital criticism of the status quo because if one really looks at things objectively administrators and technocrats have prospered within the tertiary setting through it. These are the conditions under which we currently operate. But no matter whether one disappears into science or the humanities we are led to a practice that lacks vitality because ultimately the philosopher can only be an adjunct to something else and loses its autonomy (if there is any real possibility of autonomy within any aspect of the contemporary institution). Where Anglophone philosophy still does contribute something to social, political and cultural life it hardly does so in a way that criticizes much besides the essays of other philosophers published in academic journals. It does not really do much to criticize or question the social, political and cultural conditions under which it operates (this is true no matter what individual philosophers might do with their leisure time). In this regard Anglophone philosophy is still pretty much the child of the Cold War and a philosophy of the status quo. But how could one critically engage the social, political and cultural conditions that are simultaneously the conditions of ones career? Where the sort critique I am referring to does occur it is mostly done by Continental philosophers who are, these days at least, primarily operating outside of philosophy departments.

2) The question that Franson raises about whether or not the divide keeps departments/institutions going is a good one. It goes to the more general idea that sometimes in academic life it is the debates, disputes and divides that occur amongst specialists that give the appearance that real activity is occurring. But I would deny that this is the case in terms of the analytic/continental divide. For the most part the divide has not really been something that we have reflected on philosophically. We have mostly not moved outside of the boundaries of our own sub-disciplinary orientations (analytic/continental) to turn philosophical attention, at the meta-discursive/meta-philosophical level to the divide (which is not meta-narrative and ought not ever be confused for it). There are a few books and articles here and there, but that is not the point, the point is that the divide itself has not really been one of the problems that philosophy is known to have taken the time to address. To my knowledge there are no philosophy departments whose institutional existence depends on the discourse it generates relevant to this divide, if the departments exist it is generally because they are working on other problems – generally problems that have an ‘applied’ dimension or that are seen as ‘sexy’ at the moment – cog-science yesterday, bio-ethics today, whatever tomorrow. Doing what’s sexy is evidence that you are sexy and we all know that only the sexy can be celebrities. So I would say no – this divide does not keep the institutions going or the departments.

Lastly and most generally the social, cultural and political conditions in which contemporary institutions operate seem to place an institutional requirement on philosophy departments that are inimical to the production of many very important forms of philosophy. To the cynical they might seem to turn everyone into a self-promoting careerist more interested in what their colleagues can do for them and their career advancement, or celebrity status, than in advancing our collective understanding of vital fields of human inquiry. As such, and in regard to our capacity to do anymore than be an under-laborer to science (the contemporary reflex of the scholastic handmaid to theology) institutional philosophy remains an enervated remnant. But it is hard to bite the hand that feeds, and sometimes its rational, if only instrumentally so, to gratefully take what is in one’s bowl and avoid the masters stick.

Yours,

Philip


2010-01-07
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Vernon Kooy
Dear Vernon;

Grateful for your thoughtful response.
Of course, this is (supposed to be) a discussion on the analytic/continental divide, so I will try to return us to that core subject in the following.
1) I disagree that this is closer to 1965 in Philosophy than in Physics...  Most real recent advances in the physical sciences have come in applications, and these are mostly due to advances in materials science, and ultimately industrial chemistry.  No one has challenged relativity, for instance, and - at least when I was doing molecular models as a PhD student in Chemistry in 2000 - quantum theory was still quantum theory, quantum electrodynamics QED, etcetera...  No big divide, there.  Meanwhile, in Philosophy, the quest for legitimacy by failed or wanna-be physicist 'philosophers' resulted in increasing micro-fractionalization of the 'discipline' of 'philosophy' into what it is now, a WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY.  This is why the programs are dropped, the majors are laughable, and the profession is increasingly derided.  Granted the current economic decline, the top-down persecution of free-thinkers, and various other pressures of which I am sure that you are keenly aware, this situation will not be getting better anytime soon.  Now, this goes for 'analytic' 'philosophers,' who frankly have forgone their places in history for a cozy chair in an intellectual vacuum, which is why so many of these persons root themselves as the intellectual descendants of Descartes...  They pick and choose which parts of the world they allow in, while, those on the "other side," the 'continentals,' open up for everything, and thereby have retained, in fact CLAIMED their places in the unfolding narrative that is the course of world events...  My point here being that physicists still do physics as it was done in the 60's - albeit to new ends on new stuff with new tools - but that 'philosophers' (analytics) do not do Philosophy as it was done in the 60's, or any other time, because they are not doing Philosophy at all.  They have let go of the wheel, and are - rather than tilling the most relevant field of inquiry, being all encompassing - doing nothing, returning nothing of value, and so the source of the divide is them selves.  They have (since 1965) split from the world, from the past and the future, and so far as I have seen, NO ONE in any of the natural sciences has done, is doing, or could get away with doing that.  In summary, analytic programs SHOULD BE closed, simply as a matter of reciprocation.  After all, they closed off to the world first... And the first thing to do when the ship is taking on water?  Jettison the dead weight that no one will miss.  What will survive is CONTINENTAL philosophy, and from this base, Philosophy as it is, as it should be, and as it always was can be reconstituted.  so, I suppose that rather than mourn this divide, I am grateful for it: a convenient place to excise the parasite.
2) Again, leisure time is the only time one can "philosophize," it is the only time that Philosophy is possible.  This is clear once both concepts are adequately understood, in terms of the TRADITION, a fact hidden from everyday-language analytics.
3) Amen.
4) Yes, we have entered a new middle-ages replete with a new McCarthyism actively enforced in the current academy under the new scholastics.  Truly, this is the new dark age...  Which is of course why great minds are absent from analytic departments.  Analytics, on the other hand, CANNOT SURVIVE IN THE WILD!  They lack the relevant tools...  From this fact, I will make a prediction:  There will be NO THINKER OF ANY LASTING NOTE TO EVER ARISE FROM THE ANALYTIC "TRADITION" (except perhaps in the rejection of it) and this is a direct consequence of the analytic design...  And frankly their loss is not a loss for any lover of wisdom.  It is in fact the sign that the world is in the mode of a long overdue correction.  They disappear, and finally there may open room for true lovers of wisdom...  After all, they call themselves "philosophers," but they spend all their time talking about 'knowledge...'  Even as "Christians" always seem to talk about God, and never Christ...  The essence of their faith is lost.
5) Socrates worked to provoke the necessary feeling of a shaken foundation, and people didn't like it.  Now, people (in the West) are so soft and spoiled that to say something critical about ANYTHING is nearly forbidden from the ACADEMY!  So, they wait until their cat dies to think about their lives...  No great mystery here.

Having received my PhD in 2006 (December) from Missouri - Columbia, I know the sleepiness of the mid-west first-hand...  Hard work, yes.  Some good, honest, strong people, yes...  But, the sort of sleepiness that allows people for the most part to follow today's political/economic/religious extremists - "leaders" who pretend to be "conservatives" - into today's new dark ages, while not questioning themselves, or their roles in the tragedy in which we are all irrevocably embedded, today.  I am wondering, as I have made the case that the loss of analytic philosophy will not trouble anyone, what will it take to wake your people up?
I think some good, old-fashioned Philosophy the way it always was and always must be...
After all, Philosophy belongs in the streets.
Sophistry in elitist vacuums of privilege.
Defund the vacuum.
Free the Philosopher.


2010-01-07
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
from my small country in eastern europe, it seems that both 'analytic' and 'continental' philosophy are anglo-american-australian traditions. in this sense, 'continental' seems to be a label put on several directions in european philosophy - pretty different directions, by the way (phenomenology, critical theory, discourse theory all start from different assumptions and employ their methodologies to different goals).

i doubt, for example, that jean-luc nancy would identify himself as 'continental' - maybe more along the lines of 'post-phenomenologist'. and people who work in a broadly 'continental' approach - by anglophone standards - may have very little to say to each other, much like the 'analytics' and 'continentals' in anglophone universities.

from what i have read, it seems to me that the main way of doing philosophy 'the analytic way' seems to be arguing in favor or against a claim - which may or may not have its sources in previous philosophical texts. but for 'continentals' (if we preserve this label) argumentation is put along 'description', 'exemplification', 'proposing an alternative viewpoint', etc. (as some people in this thread also suggested).

maybe in this sense 'continentals' say that analytical philosophy seems pretty arid and limited - because their purpose and style are different, and find little relevance in what the proponents of the other tradition seem to do. but a 'derridean' in an european university may find just as irrelevant what a 'deleuzian' says - although their themes would seem pretty close to an 'analytic' eye :)

also, when i read nancy or levinas, their way of doing philosophy seems pretty different than that of a lot of their american interpreters - in the secondary literature, i have found expressions such as 'levinas' argument seems to be...' in moments where i or my department colleagues would not interpret levinas' text as an argument at all :) - a kind of translating their texts in a more 'analytic' language and modifying them to suit analytic purposes.

so, it seems to me that 'analytic' and 'continental' traditions have developed mostly on anglophone soil - but from different sources - and may be closer than some of their main figures are caring to admit.

as to the reasons of this divide - i know too little about the climate of the american academia to say anything justifiable :)

2010-01-08
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Philip

Picking up on just one phrase (!) in your post.

You rightly mention the need to "think outside of the disciplinary square". One thing that seems to militate against this in some philosophy departments is a tendency to become isolated from other areas of the humanities - history, literature, art, anthropology, for example. Philosophy is seen as a kind of self-sufficient "technical" study that can get on perfectly well without any involvement with other elements of the Western cultural tradition from which it sprang (and non-Western cultures are, of course, right off the radar).  In these circumstances, thinking outside the box becomes very hard because there is no real concept of an "outside" anyway. 

Probably both sides of the "divide" are guilty of this to some extent but the analytic side is the worst offender in my view.  The only "outside" analytic philosophy seems to acknowledge is science - and one often has the impression that it would really rather be outside with science than where it is!

DA

,



2010-01-09
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

One thing is that under the kind of economic conditions that constitute the background to academic work, conditions that we generally don’t resist - or even know how to resist – it might make sense to keep yourself differentiated from other disciplines. I know of a department of Studies in Religion, which like most such departments, was interdisciplinary and so was looked on by administrators the way a lion looks at a gazelle. It could easily be carved up, a few people could be bumped out entirely (saving a couple of salaries), some of them could then be moved into other departments – sociology, history… and it would just save a lot of money.  So the thinking was – why do we need a whole department to teach this stuff when many of the subjects, particularly the more popular ones, can be taught in other departments? Of course what gets sacrificed here are all of the less popular higher methodological type courses, they could not really be taught anywhere else, but these courses were ones that not many students enrolled in anyway. The only ones that did such subjects were those who wanted to go on to post-grad work. These courses helped the students identify and criticize some of the problems with interdisciplinary work and to reflect on the way different disciplines reflect on concepts and use concepts in different, sometimes incompatible ways (a thing that often leads philosophers who presume that the scientific use of a concept is the only valid way to use the concept to scoff at other disciplines). But could you imagine this sort of stuff being taught by a sociology department or a history department. The problems with interdisciplinary study would just be presented as a reason for not doing any and the reflection on the different uses of concepts by various disciplines would turn into a justification of the a certain disciplinary use of that concept and perhaps scoffing and condescension about the use of that concept in other disciplines.

In the above case you can see how narrow the kind of thinking that tries to rationalize, by amalgamating and eliminating departments, is. By eliminating such a department the university would no longer really be able to produce scholars who could address the theme religion in the way it needs to be addressed – with sensitivity to social, historical, psychological, experiential, institutional and perhaps philosophical dimensions. But back in the late 1990’s when this was happening it did not seem as if any such department was needed, the presumption was that religion was a dead phenomenon – I think philosophers in Australia made this mistake too. But then history has a way of biting you on the bum – just because something does not seem relevant today that does not mean it will be irrelevant tomorrow. I do not think that the narrow-minded nature of this move has received a second thought from the administration who sought it, particularly since it failed – which is great – they have moved onto other ways of taking money away from research and teaching and channeling it into expanding the administrative apparatus and so their techno-power. So that is one thing that we need to keep in mind – there is a need to be distinctive to justify your existence and to keep the lions at bay. It also seems to reinforce specialization and often with it the dismissal of other approaches.

I am not sure though whether this sort of thing applies to philosophy. In fact at times it has seemed that philosophy has benefited from offering courses that have something of an interdisciplinary feel. For instance ‘Moral Psychology’ courses are often attended by large numbers of psychology students, really boosting numbers. Of course you cannot give them anything too deep or too hard because its not really seen as a core part of their degree and if they have to work too hard that may detract from the energy they can spend on their core degree and they wont take that unit. So you end up with fluffy courses where you just wheel out a different position each lecture, show how smart you are by ridiculing most of them, entertain the students with fun thought experiments, drop a few gags here and there and round the course off by wheeling in the position that you want them all to hold. Does that sound familiar? Of course while the position promoted is an open agenda, the hidden agenda is bums on seats for other units, so it has to be fun, entertaining and be of some relevance to people outside of philosophy – or at least seem so. In any case there are many courses in analytic philosophy that have this kind of interdisciplinary appeal and from my experience they are exploited by departments: philosophy of mind, moral psychology, bio-ethics and so forth. They attract big numbers and they do so because students see taking a unit of philosophy as a fun distraction from the core part of their degree, while not being too far from it. Run a course on Kant, or even someone as important to the history of philosophy as Descartes, and watch the numbers dwindle. You have to offer things like: 17th century philosophy or Philosophy in the Enlightenment (that might capture a few history students), or the Scientific Revolution (get some science students and history students).

Students studying other areas of the humanities do take courses on Continental thinkers and they do seem far more prepared to do difficult textual work than students from the sciences who take philosophy subjects. Students in the sciences just seem better with numeracy-based subjects than with literacy-based subjects. So if you are catering to them you cannot really throw them into the deep-end textually. There is a sense in which you just need to dumb down to suit science students. Once this is done then philosophy can be seen as a fertile place for failed science students.

But when looking at a department’s offerings even philosophy students can be very instrumental. I mean do a logic course and apply yourself well and you can get good marks easily. Do the Whitman’s Sampler type courses, where you get a set of nicely packaged but self-contained lectures, and where all you need to know is what is wrong with positions a, b, c,…. and what is right with position z and again you can get good marks with only a modicum of effort. Do a full semester on the Critique of Pure Reason and you really need to work to understand what is going on. But how many students who have completed an undergraduate philosophy degree would be able to talk coherently about the relationship between Descartes and Kant. Students know that at the end of their undergraduate degree the only thing that matters is whether they get the marks for a scholarship (if they want to go on) or that they have a reasonable mark with no fails if they want to go into the work force. These conditions just make a fertile ground for courses that, in a very fluffy and deeply instrumental way, think outside of the disciplinary square. When it is all about bums on seats (which is more important to the survival of a course than its being vital to a discipline) the fluffier the better. But these conditions also seem to stream students towards certain approaches to philosophy – in particular I think that analytic philosophy benefits more from this than does Continental philosophy (no value judgment meant there, its just a descriptive claim). But then benefiting from contemporary conditions is no proof of philosophical worth.

But what I was talking about in thinking outside of the disciplinary square is not so much doing interdisciplinary work its about thinking in a way that challenges the contemporary norms and limitations of your discipline rather than acquiescing in the status quo. So, rather than trying to produce foot-soldiers for the status quo or intellectual clones of oneself, we ought to be producing philosophers who can, amongst other things, think critically about their discipline, who can take a meta-philosophical look at it and see its limitations. We do not do this – we tend to channel any such critical attention into reflection onto approaches to philosophy that we do not identify with. But here, like most xenophobes, we tend to spend a lot of time ridiculing the other without ever really understanding them. You see this all the time scoffing, ridicule, unreflective narcissism and so forth – its standard fare in terms of the divide, it’s the muck that we throw. We often mistake such scoffing, such arrogant dismissals and such unreflective, self-indulgent narcissism as cleverness, particularly when it flows eloquently and from one of the ‘stars’. I think that the most important point that I was trying to make though was that we need the capacity to think outside of our sub-disciplinary boundaries but we don’t do much of that and furthermore I do not think we are aiming to produce philosophers that are capable of that. For the most part we produce foot soldiers and intellectual clones, very clever ones, often very eloquent ones, ones that ‘know’ a lot about their AOS and who are able to track what is sexy so as to reorient their AOS accordingly. I think that this is part of the recipe for mediocrity that I spoke about earlier.

Do I think that interdisciplinary work and the capacity to use philosophy to speak to other disciplines (besides science) is important. Yes, its very important. While Continental philosophy produces philosophers that are very good at speaking to disciplines within the humanities, analytic philosophy seems very good producing philosophers that can speak to science. Unfortunately very few philosophers seem to be able to straddle that particular division or even relate to philosophy in such a way as to value more than one of these capacities. But, in terms of funding, the humanities have been ravaged in the late 20th century where as science has prospered. While those who work in the sciences self-indulgently reassure themselves that this is because science is more relevant, this is false, we have a need for both the humanities and the sciences. The reason why the sciences have prospered is cultural and economic, they do not challenge the status quo, they do not criticize the norms by which we live and the work that is done flows out into things that have a more straightforward $$$ value. Indeed in many cases the work of science gives us more products to consume. 

Philip


2010-01-09
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phillip

Very interesting - if somewhat depressing!

I wasn't talking about interdisciplinary work either - at least not in some formalized sense.  I was trying to get at the point that philosophy courses themselves need to show greater awareness of the cultural contexts/traditions out of which modern philosophy - of all stripes - emerges.  This might help combat the tendency I see over and over again to assume that certain philosophical positions are completely "objective" and free of all presuppositions. It might also help reduce the size of the "divide" - and perhaps moderate certain hubristic tendencies one notices from time to time.  (Hope springs eternal!)

DA  
 

2010-01-10
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

Hope is good. I agree that in teaching philosophy there needs to be a greater engagement with culture. I am always impressed/unimpressed by the way in teaching history of philosophy when we focus on context we do so rather narrowly, we look mostly at the political life, norms and language of the time and often neglect what a philosopher was reading (outside of philosophy). Sometimes with a figure like Hobbes we look at the fact that he lived through the English civil war but we often do so in a very narrow way – in particular leave out the religious and theological history. It was an amazing period and the relationship between religion and politics in mid seventeenth century England is very important to understanding the period. Further the religious radicalism of the period is fascinating in terms of the politics of the day. But then we usually neglect the fact that one of Hobbes’ major themes in the Leviathan is the relationship between the Church and the state, a theme that looms over the text as a whole. In any case, I agree that contextual understandings of philosophy are vital to understanding philosophers of the past in a fulsome way, and that doing so can lead us into a critical look at ourselves, what we think and what we do. I also think that our look at context can very limited; one of my pet hates is the tendency to make historical figures look too much like ourselves, to read our own interests back into philosophy or to turn history into a mirror – cultural narcissism.

Philip


2010-01-10
The analytic/continental divide
Hi! I know I was not entirely right about the specificity of the analytic/continental divide. Thanks for pointing this out. But, I was thinking of divides in more general terms, e.g., the cold (and the not so cold) wars, the national partitions, and so on where the discourse of the divide or the bipolarity, is seen as necessary to keep the institutions (that claim one or other kind of power) going. Perhaps, the academic divides or doctrinaire oppositions don't function in the same way. But we'll have more to to talk about this later....I guess, there would always be the question of whether to seek to arrive at the common core that unites the polar opposites through dialogue, or to look outside the totality that these opposites seem to constitute...

2010-01-12
The analytic/continental divide

Dear Franson,

I take your point about the political/ideological divides that you specified and I largely agree that the opposing players invest a lot in the divide itself. These are divides that are very significant in terms of public discourse, the players invest in these divides as a way of structuring public discourse and giving the impression that the devil is out there, but so long as you put your faith in us we can keep him at bay.

I suppose a bit of this happens in philosophy too, part of the divide is creating the impression, for those interested in philosophy, that the devil is out there (whether that devil is the philistine barbarian of analytic philosophy or the obscurantist Continental philosopher), but by sticking with one side or the other you can avoid the demon.

But of course the public is not really interested in what happens in philosophy, the public is not really interested in whether a functionalist theory of the mind is ‘true’ or whatever. Nor are the institutions that interested in what goes on in philosophy, they are interested in whether the metrics are firing. So this sort of thing is mostly restricted to the classroom. On the other hand, bums on seats in the class room is a way of demonstrating that the courses you teach are ‘relevant’ so in that sense I guess there might be more to it – or more than I gave credit for in my first response.

Phil


2010-01-12
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

Your comment "But of course the public is not really interested in what happens in philosophy" interested me.

When I am in France, I often notice how frequently radio programs make use of philosophers as commentators on social, political and cultural issues.  Of course France has a comparatively rich selection of radio programs on such matters - better than Australia and better than the US (not sure about the UK) - so there is more opportunity; but all the same it's very noticeable that the participation of philosophers is simply accepted as part of the normal run of things. And of course there are a few programs devoted specially to philosophical issues.

Apart from the very tiresome Philip Adams, and one or two other minor things, the ABC in Australia has nothing like it, and my brief experiences of radio in the US were very discouraging. (I remember one sleepless night in Philadelphia trying vainly to find an interesting program amongst a wilderness of pop music stations and radio evangelists.)

I'm wandering a bit here as you can see. But I guess my point is that philosophy does get quite an airing in France, and one senses that, for a certain proportion of the population anyway, what happens in philosophy does matter. Of course French philosophers tend mostly to be "continentals (I'm trying to drag my post back to the title of the thread!) so there is at least a reasonable chance they will be able to relate their work to social, political and cultural issues.

DA


2010-01-12
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,

Sorry I did mean to restrict that to the Anglo-American world, it is absolutely clear that on the Continent that philosophy does have a public face. Earlier in the string I mentioned this. I think it is important to some of the developments of the string.

Anglophone philosophy is almost entirely a beast of the academy – but of course, for the most part (or up until very recently), the issues that it deals with have little to do with the sort of things the public are really interested in. But this is unsurprising in a philosophical context where the main game, philosophically speaking, is: metaphysics, epistemology, logic and semantics, and where political philosophy, culture criticism and until recently ethics are seen as marginal activities. When I was an undergrad if you restricted your view to analytic philosophy you would have been justified in thinking that philosophy of mind was the start and finish of philosophy and that logic, epistemology and semantics were all subordinate themes in the service of philosophy of mind. It’s a theme that would have had little grip on the public imagination. Indeed I remember as a first year student that the very first thing that our lecturer did was ‘motivate us into the problem’ – this was necessary because I think if he had told us that we were about to spend the best part of a semester learning that, broadly speaking, we think with our brains, most of us would have walked out. I think that the public would have had a similar reaction. In motivating us into the problem we started in the seventeenth century then skipped straight to the mid-twentieth century as if until Ryle came along everyone was still guilty of a category error. After this begins the ‘brave’ work of those dedicated to truth who stand before a tide of ignorance. Of course you did not leave the 17th century without laughing at Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz a little first. Sound familiar?

Things are different today of course and issues in ethics and political philosophy have become more important to analytic philosophy. I have said enough about political philosophy in the Anglophone tradition in earlier strings – its basically a footnote on Rawls and a philosophy of the status quo. But ethics has become far more prominent these days. But I think it’s a limited enterprise – a very limited one. It seems to me that what is desired is a decision procedure that you can feed ethical data into and that will spit out the right answer to any ethical problem. If there is a debate within normative ethics it’s a debate about whether Kantianism or consequentialism can provide this – of course the Kant we discover is a horror story and caricature of Kant and so quite often, particularly in Australia, consequentialism just wins hands down. It seems here that consequentialism is the dominant view, whereas the Kantians (read Rawlsians) have a better time of it in America. Of course, focusing on Australia, in one sense you can see this as a victory of the conservative Left against the individualism of rights liberals – we now seem to broadly agree that individuals ought not be protected from consequentialist incursions by the state, or by technocrats; that the hammer of consequentialism can and should fall on us if the numbers are right. That might be a little crude but I don’t think it’s a terribly unfair thing to say.

But the public are not interested in that side of things too much – debates about normative ethics. What they are interested in is whether we ought to switch of granny’s life support system, or whether they can live longer if we do stem cell research and so on. I am not minimizing the importance of applied questions – even though some Continental philosophers do scoff and snort at it (which is silly in my opinion). What I will say though is that this sort of thing has brought analytic philosophy out of the academy and into an engagement with questions that people are actually interested in. Which, leaving the details of the what is said where it lie, is better than being completely irrelevant to public life. I am not saying that there is not a lot to criticise, there is, its just that if public relevance is at all important then today things are better than they were 20 years ago.

The other area that has some interest for the public is philosophy of religion. But Anglophone philosophy of religion is so utterly parochial that seldom reaches outside of its own boundaries. Its something of an Etikettenschwindel – you think you are going to get an engagement with religion as a general phenomenon, what you get is an engagement with theism and it is absolutely clear that Christianity, and a very limited understanding of that, is the paradigm of theistic belief. So, the product has been wrongly labeled it sounds a lot more inclusive than it is. Here see my article: Parochialism in a Pluralistic Context, in Quadrio, P.A. and Besseling, C.A. Politics and Religion in the New Century: Philosophical Perspectives, Sydney UP, 2009. There are three other articles in that same volume that also address the narrowness of contemporary philosophy of religion. But what does the public interest in religion amount to – it does not amount to reading any sophisticated articles on religion, it amounts to being interested in the New Atheists whose interests are almost purely polemical. Think about Sam Harris’ engagement with Islam and the way he claims that Islamic people are morally inferior to the West and the way that Dennett and Dawkins both applaud his work for its bravery. Brave for demonizing Islam? That can’t be the case as the book was written in 2004 when the Bush administration had already been engaged in a similar endeavor. Brave from saying that religion is responsible for the problems of the world? You are hardly going to get chased out of the academy for that, even if there are a number of people that will criticize your work, some of them will quite rightly criticize it as being a monolithic, reductive and simplistic piece of social analysis, others will just be reactionary.

In any case, I think that applied ethics and elements of philosophy of religion have found their way into public discourse. How you evaluate that is another matter.


Philip



2010-01-14
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

Sorry, I probably gave the impression I was taking issue. I was kind of just following a line of thought your post suggested to me.

Some interesting issues in your last too.  My (rather brief) acquaintance with the ethical aspects of analytic philosophy have, I must say, left me somewhat underwhelmed.

I am probably being unjust here (please feel free to correct me) but ethics of this kind seems to me prey to the illusion that if only we can think through ethical issues clearly enough, the problems will somehow be solved. That is, ethics is seen in the end as a kind of logical problem: all that is really needed, ultimately, is a clear head and perhaps a bit of training in formal logic. What is not needed - what will just muddy the waters - is e.g. some kind of "irrational" belief in the value of an individual human life (such as the Christian notion that every person has an immortal soul) which is, after all, not amenable to logic, and certainly has no scientific basis.

In a mood of grim humor, I sometimes imagine myself lying on a hospital bed with a grave illness, and two or three philosophers of this stamp outside my room debating if it would be logically appropriate to turn off my life support system or not. Death by logic!  Ionecso could perhaps have written a nice little scene around the idea.

My encounters with the philosophy of religion aspects have been similarly brief but here again I seem to detect the underlying belief that the issues can, in the end, be resolved by a clear head and a good dose of tight, logical analysis. What is not needed is the slightest hint of a non-logical "revelation" - the kind of thing that Jesus and Buddha seems to have had, for example - which, again, will just muddy the philosophical waters.

If there is going to be any religion at all, I gather, it will be a calmly conceived, logically respectable, "theism". God will be reinstated in his heaven and all will be right with the world - or if not right, then at least amenable to a reasonably sound logical defence. Places of worship can presumably be dispensed with: it is hard to see how a mood of "worship" would be conducive to the kind of sober, eminently rational, mental outlook this religion will require.

DA

 

2010-01-15
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

No problems at all, its just a casual discussion, which I am enjoying.

I largely agree with your characterisation of analytic ethics if you bring THE right normative theory and appendant decision procedure to a consideration of ALL morally relevant facts then you can be TOLD what the right thing to do is. It’s a kind of proceduralisation of moral reflection. But what I would add to your charicterisation is a little more emphasis on the procedural side of things and so the decision theory. Normative theory is relevant because this is required to underwrite a decision procedure. But once that side of things is taken care of all you need is clarity on the facts, and access to all the morally relevant ones. Off the bat, I have doubts about both sides of this endeavour and also a few more global doubts about the entire outlook. For instance it seems to be the case that the normative theory frames what is ethically relevant in the first place raising issues of circularity. I will set those sort of consideratons aside and just offer a broad remark that connects to the theme I have been riffing on regarding the conditions of contemporary knowledge production. This sort of approach to ethics while, as you suggest, simply mirrors a broadly analytic approach to most problems, is also one that would be attractive to government and industry. For the most part it would just simplify ethical thinking at the institutional level – there is one right approach to all ethical problems and a decision theory to match, all one needs is to do is input the data and the problem is resolved as output. No need to think, just gather the data, plug it into the procedure and hey-presto, you can be TOLD what to do. Promise that you are going to produce that, or contribute to the production of it, and your research looks attractive – perhaps far more attractive than a problematisation of our normative and meta-ethical presuppositions.

Contemporary philosophy of religion is a strange beast. Yes you are right, and as people from Pascal to Heidegger have commented, that the philosopher’s God is not the God that people worship. That is clearly something that one can be concerned about. But why ought philosophy of religion be about God? Why does God constitute the start and finish of a discussion about religion? It seems to me that contemporary philosophy of religion is almost entirely consumed with theistic and atheistic apologetics – so entirely concerned with defending the rationality of certain metaphysical commitments (for an interesting take on the theistic side of this and its political implications see Michael Levine in Quadrio, PA, and Besseling C. Politics and Religion in the New Century. Sydney UP, 2009). If one came to philosophy of religion expecting to find out something about religion one would leave sorely disappointed as you would learn nothing about the topic. It’s a discourse that proceeds as if there is nothing interesting to say about religion qua universal category. Further while on one hand I can see why mainstream Anglophone philosophy has, for the most part, ignored Analytic philosophy of religion as an irrelevance (up until recently), I think that this has itself contributed to the emergence of a limited and conservative approach to matters. One that is going to be difficult to reorientate now; the horse has bolted. 

So I think that most analytic mainstream analytic philosophers have taken an approach to contemporary philosophy of religion based around the notion of ignoring it in the hope that it will just wither on the vine. This approach seems to be based in an acceptance of the secularisation thesis: so with the growth of scientific knowledge about the world the need for religion will wither and so religion will die out. If you accept that notion then perhaps its best not to engage theistic philosophers, they will just be crushed under the weight of scientific knowledge. But religion has not proved so susceptible, the secularisation thesis as state above is false (more could be said there but I will not go into things). In general I think that the abandonment of philosophy of religion by mainstream philosophy has allowed that sub-discipline to develop in ways that are parochial and which mistake one large and powerful island (theistic belief) for the mainland (religion). I think that this leads to a failure in terms of philosophy of religion, that failure relates to a capacity to engage religion in a broader sense and also a failure to contribute to public discourse about religion in productive ways (rather than polemical ways). Further it leads to a failure for us to understand some of the more important aspects of contemporary global issues - for instance, in order to understand the contemporary imbrication of religion and politics you have to be able to understand what both of those concepts mean, but we have no non-controversial theoretical understanding of religion. So, if someone claims that some act is a religious act and we want to criticise that we seem to be lacking some important theoretical resources. Here I think that Dennett is entirely correct when he suggests that philosophers need to return to the topic of religion. I do not agree with the general approach he takes and feel that the humanities in general have plenty to offer, or more than he suggests, indeed I think some of the comments he makes about the humanities and their contributions to matters are one-sided and perhaps somewhat ideological. Further while I think that a hostility to science based engagements with religion are unhelpful and that someone interested in religion needs to engage with that material I do not think, as he does, I think that an over-emphasis on science just flows in the other direction. We don’t need cycloptic engagements. But all that said I do agree that philosophers need to return to the topic and to return to it in a way that seeks to understand 'religion' rather than just seeking a discourse on 'God'. 

Philip 


2010-01-15
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Yeah, check out this book that came out regarding philosophy in French culture.  http://www.amazon.com/Turning-Mind-French-Philosophers-Television/dp/0226509915

Haven't read it yet but it looks interesting. 

I remember in the 90's that the NY Times had an Arts&Ideas section which made me love to buy the paper on Saturday.  Within probably a year or two, as I recall, they dropped the "ideas" from the section.

I don't get it either.  I mean, how many philosophers has Charlie Rose even had on his show? 

2010-01-15
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Yes, philosophy's public face... must perhpas be talked about not only in terms of its exposure through the electonic / audiovisual media as one can notice especially in the French context (the Philosophy Fridays on France-Culture Radio, is the best example I can think of, but I am not sure if it is still on) but also its exposure through the print (books and journals) and the intenet media. The fact is that academic works, including philosophical texts, published in English reaches and are read in most parts of the globe, and this is evidently due to the current historical dominance of the English language. As is well known, even works first published in French or German have to appear in English translations, mostly published by the Amerincan presses, for large sections of the followers of European / Continental philosophy to become acquainted with them. Regrettably, many of these translations are seen to be marked by their own failings and inadequacies. And secondary works on continental philosophers are similarly, often (not always!) interpretations or misinterpretations of the original works. And yet it can be easily said of many of the French philosophers that they are read more by students and teachers outside France, in other languages, especially English, than they are read in French by those who know the language, whether in France or elsewhere.

2010-01-15
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Franson

You are right. Philosophy Fridays (Vendredis de la philosophie) has gone - replaced by a program called "Macadam Philo", which is philosophy geared to current issues. My few encounters with it so far suggest it has become somewhat superficial and less interesting.  Sort of dumbed down philosophy.  I hope this is not a sign of things to come on France Culture (I am going to drop them a line - they usually respond which is nice.)  Fortunately there are a number of other good programs which sometimes deal with philosophical issues. Their history offering, and that of France Inter, is good too. (I am commenting on all this because it seems so different from the world of radio I am used to in Australia - even though we have our ABC. If philosophy is to have a public face, radio is a very good medium for it, and in Australia it plays almost no role at all.)

DA

2010-01-18
The analytic/continental divide
Thanks for the book reference. In Australia, a book called Philosophers on TV would be a very slim volume indeed!

DA

2010-01-18
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

You write: "For instance it seems to be the case that the normative theory frames what is ethically relevant in the first place raising issues of circularity." 

Yes, it seems to me that this is very likely to be the case. I think there is perhaps a hope that if the whole thing can just be reduced to technical-procedural matters, any underlying ethical propositions can be done away with.  (Hence my black humour about "death by logic".)

My brief encounters with the analytic philosophy of religion tally with your comments too.  I think it is probably very difficult for anyone in our agnostic, materialist modern culture (speaking generally) to achieve any substantial insight into what religious belief is/was, but it does seem to me that the kind of narrow, logic-chopping approach that often characterises the analytic philosophy of religion is a very good way of getting further away from it rather than closer. (I think the same about the analytic philosophy of art but that's another matter.) 

I suspect there is more "religion" in certain twentieth century writers of fiction - e. g. Ionesco, Malraux - perhaps Camus (all of whom were agnostics) - than in any of the philosophy of religion I've read.  I say that because it seems to me that, essentially, religious belief is not simply about belief in the intellectual sense; it is about a certain kind of apprehension of the world - even, I would say, a kind of feeling about existence.  Hence the major role revelation has played in different religions.  I'm not suggesting that religions are irredeemably ineffable and can't be discussed, described etc. But the scope of the argument needs to be much broader than the analytic stuff I've seen (or what analytic philosophy calls "metaphysics").

DA  


2010-01-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

While I love talking about contemporary ethics and its limitations I will set that issue aside, I’ll focus on the religion stuff.

I don’t think that the theistic philosophers all fail to grasp the feeling side of things, I think that they have set that aside and engage in a logic chopping defense against naturalism and atheistic philosophers who (rightly or wrongly) assert the truth of naturalism. But they mirror naturalistic philosophy in many senses. Many contemporary analytic theistic philosophers of religion just philosophise from a theistic perspective, they ask ‘what would a theistic philosophy look like?’ When I was introduced to metaphysics as an undergrad the position was more or less - we don’t know that naturalism is true, we have no evidence against it, so it is worth looking at what philosophy might be like orientated by naturalism. Many contemporary theistic analytic philosophers do the same with their theisitic commitments. They would acknowledge that there is more to belief than the logic chopping arguments they pursue, but they would claim that what they are trying to do is to give an argumentative defense of their commitments that ‘any rational person could follow’ – I would suggest that its an argumentative defense against naturalism and atheism. As such naturalism, more than atheism, is the ‘other’ of theism. There is a lot of reciprocity between naturalists and theists. Indeed contemporary theistic analytic philosophy of religion seems to be a product of naturalism, one that it will never be able to kill, only laugh at (rightly or wrongly) from the security of a closed table, while the theists who sit at their own closed table do the same, laugh at the naturalists (rightly or wrongly). It’s a familiar scenario, but no one gives it much thought, no one thinks what has produced it and none of the players think about how silly it looks from the out side (no one cares, everyone who counts is sitting at one or other of the closed tables) they just let the polemics come forth. But the dialectic between them seems to restrict philosophy of religion to a debate about the justification of theistic and atheistic commitment. So philosophy of religion is about God, not religion, for analytic philosophy of religion God defines religion. The first thought is of God, this comes at the expense of any engagement with the subject religion.

For the most part the question of religion is not even raised, most philosophers of religion do not even care to clarify the concept ‘religion’. There is no satisfactory theoretical account of religion, scholars of religion have been saying this for years. Its extraordinarily problematic in a context where Rawlsians argue that religious reasons have no place in public discourse, where Habermas now argues that they have a limited place in public discourse, and where this and that philosopher argues that we are entering a period of ‘religious’ violence. A context where people like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens tell us that the problems of the world are caused by religion, where they explain terrorism with reference to religious commitment. People say these things as if they are unproblematic statements at the very same time that theorists of religion tell us that there is no satisfactory theoretical account of the thing that they are talking about. If you turn to contemporary analytic philosophy of religion for some help you will have a hard time getting any for ‘religion’ is not really a subject that is dealt with by contemporary analytic philosophy of religion. It deals with God. Philosophers of religion do not really seem to care that much about specifying what religion is and what differentiates religion from other manifestations of culture. There is no conceptual clarity and very little, if any, work that attempts to gain conceptual clarity. This is surprising in the context of analytic philosophy, which prides itself on conceptual clarity. Okay, so there are other sub-disciplines of philosophy that find it hard to clearly define their object of focus, but in other sub-disciplines this becomes a problem, something to think about. Its not a problem in philosophy of religion. Why? Because no one cares about religion, what people care about is their own metaphysical commitments: the apologetic defense of a metaphysical commitment to either naturalism or theism (and of course Christian theism is the main game). If this has little or no relevance for other religions – Buddhists, Taoists, Confucians, Hindus, Jains, the fantastic multitude of tribal belief systems and the ever-burgeoning field of new religious movements (including the scientific and para-scientific religions) – no one cares because they don’t count in a parochial practice of philosophy.

Get it clear, there would be very few areas in the academic life where the sort of parochialism and exclusion that we find in philosophy of religion would be tolerated. But it is tolerated there and it is even tolerated by the atheistic naturalists. The theists and atheists mirror each other in this capacity to tolerate parochialism. There are so many Western presuppositions within philosophy of religion that it is one of the last bastions of exclusion. I mean here is one, you refer to Confucianism as a religion, many people count it as one, its contained in most good academic texts produced by scholars of religion surveying world religions. But then some philosophers say, its not really a religion as it lacks God or Gods and lacks any real reference to super-nature, there is no strong otherworldly metaphysics that forms an essential core to that tradition. But that just seems to exclude it from counting as a religion for failing to mirror Western theistic belief sufficiently, it seems to be the case that we presume that for something to be a religion it has to share the features of what we have experienced, in our culture, as religion. But why ought Gods be a feature of religion? Why ought supernature or otherworldly metaphysics be a feature of religion?  Why ought we deny Confucianism the status of religion? In order to answer any of these questions we have to know what religion is, we have to answer the Socratic question ‘What is religion?’ or at least attempt to. But we have not answered that question, and we don’t have a non-controvercial account of religion. In philosophy we do not ask the question and it seems that we do not care. Again, to his credit, Dennett has at least asked the question. His answer is in my opinion a limited one. It strikes me as problematic to ask the question and then deliver an answer that fits so neatly within your own cultural experience of religion – so provide an answer that is essentially at home within a Judeo-Christian-Islamic sphere and that might be extendable to ancient Greek or pre-Christian European polytheism. In any case, I agree with what you have said, but I think that the problems run fairly deep. I deal with this sort of stuff in my chapter - ‘Parochialism in a Pluralistic Context’ which can be found in Politics and Religion in the New Century (PA Quadrio, and CA Besseling, Sydney University Press, 2009).

Taking it back to the focus of the string, I am not surprised that this parochialism haunts contemporary analytic philosophy of religion, what surprises me is that when you turn to Continental philosophers who deal with religion things are only marginally better. Yes they will deal with the affective side more, yes they will deal with lots of other stuff, stuff that individual believers might find more interesting. This might be a reason to say that Continentals deal with the stuff better than analytics – ‘better’ or ‘differently’? Both practices seem to have been shaped by different conditions. But Continental philosophy, when it deals with religion, seems parochial too – perhaps not quite as parochial, but only marginally better. Derrida’s work just seems ultimately a reconciliation of Western monotheisms, but hardly thinks outside of that sphere. In a recent article in The Guardian there was talk about the way Leftist Continental atheists take theology more seriously than their Anglo-Liberal counter-parts. But what strikes me is that the figures refered to just seem locked into a dialogue with Western theology and predominantly Paul. Its all non-metaphysical and has little time for the justification of metaphysical commitments, but again the dialogues seems to be quite restricted to a certain sphere. Do be careful about what I am saying, I don’t think things are as bad (in regard to parochialism) with Continental philosophy as they are with Analytic philosophy, I am trying to be fair. But, think about it, if you are interested in universalism and turn to Paul you end up finding the key to universalism within your own cultural tradition without looking too far outside it. I mean Buddha came 500 years prior to Paul. So why Paul? One reason might be because Paul offers you a more active approach, there is an evangelist element with Paul that might be appealing to a new vanguard – but then what is the difference between evangelism and cultural imperialism. The difference is this, while all the cultural imperialist is really after is power or the wealth that can provide it the evangelist has assured themselves of their own truth and thus the falsity of everything that stands against that truth. There is hardly a higher justification for appalling acts than to say that they are done in the name of truth.

(sorry about the woeful editing on the previous post - it was rushed) 

Philip 


2010-01-19
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

Just a rather quick - and no doubt inadequate - reply while I wait for a plane.

I think I gave the wrong impression towards the end of my last. The French writers I mentioned did not belong to the mainstream of continental philosophy. (None of them went to the ENS for example...) and were not part of the current Continental "turn" towards St Paul, Judaism etc. I agree with your comments on that: it seems a very limited approach to religion - almost a kind of "back to the womb" event, one is tempted to say!  (But very fashionable, I note.)

The reason I mentioned Malraux, Ionesco and Camus was that each of them, despite being an agnostic, had at times what seems to me to be a genuine "sense of the sacred" by which I mean (very briefly) a sense of the fundamental mystery of things - and not just in the impersonal sense of an unsolved intellectual problem but in the sense of a mystery of which the individual is ineluctably a part. Each of them was very interested in religion, and by no means just the Western experience of it, which, as you rightly point out, is only one of its manifestations. 

The tendency to limit the whole thing to "God" - usually understood in a very narrow Western sense - is I agree very regrettable. Someone on another thread once informed me that religion was a essentially about a "God who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent", the implication being that that is essentially all that needs to be said about God and, I assume, about the subject matter of the philosophy of religion.  If so, it would be an extremely impoverished study!  I was listening recently to a radio interview with a French scholar who had spent decades studying ancient Egyptian culture and particularly their religion. One point he made was that our tendency to refer to the Egyptian gods as gods (and therefore to pigeon-hole their religion as "polytheistic") is in all probability quite mistaken. Anubis, Horus, etc were, he argued, more akin to what we might call "spirits", although even there we are caught with the limitations of language.  So here is a religion - and Egyptian culture does seem to have been deeply religious and lasted for an enormous time - which quite possibly had no "gods" in our sense of the word. And of course the same seems to have been true of many African religions, and no doubt others.

Many analytic philosophers of religion must surely be aware of these facts (it's hard to imagine that they never read any anthropology or ancient history) yet as far as I can see they have very little so say about them, preferring to remain, as you suggest, within the traditional confines of debates about Western theism, atheism, etc. Why is that, I wonder?  It can't surely be an assumption, a la nineteenth century, that any religions other than Western ones don't count as serious religions? One certainly hopes not...

PS I must get hold of your book.

DA

2010-01-20
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

Sorry, it was not that you gave the wrong impression, my reply just did not take up the issues to do with the authors you mentioned – I primarily focused on what I thought were the limitations of contemporary analytic philosophy of religion, but thought it would be proper to say something about Continental philosophy as well and just gave some general thoughts. I agree that there are many authors out there that have a good sense for religion, its just that most of them are not philosophers (or evolutionary biologists). While I am sure that there are many Christian analytic philosophers that feel that contemporary analytic philosophy of religion is doing a fine job the fact remains that most mainstream analytic philosophers find it repugnant or irrelevant or both.

The omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent God stuff is quite funny. Clearly there are those that have held to such a conception of God, and clearly a clever person who cornered an unreflective believer could get them to agree that this is their conception of God, but even within Christianity this is limited conception. Some say it’s the philosophers God, a clear conceptual articulation of God – which is the only sort of God that a ‘philosopher’ could be interested in. Clearly such people have a very limited understanding of what a philosopher is, never mind their limitations in regard to God. Such people often go on to show that the philosophers God is conceptually incoherent. Great, philosophy does not have a conceptually coherent conception of God. In any case I am not really interested in the ‘Philosophy of Theism’ – which is what contemporary philosophy of religion is. We are subject to an Etikettenschwindel, the philosophy of theism is packaged as the philosophy of religion and nobody really registers that this is the case – God, God, God… Not that I am saying an interest in God is illegitimate, of course its legitimate, its just that it allows the part to define the whole, the philosophy of theism is to philosophy of religion, what philosophy of religion is to philosophy itself. The answer to the limited focus – the focus on the ‘tri-omni-God’ is not just to keep on articulating different conceptions of God, although that is important so that we can see how diverse and interesting engagements with the subject are (far more diverse than much philosophy of religion allows) – the answer is really to look beyond God to religion and to avoid allowing the Western experience of religion to define that subject. We have to reject the Etikettenschwindel, we need truth in labeling so we do not distort our topic and deceive those who come to it.

Your comment on the Egyptian ‘Gods’ is interesting. Many cultures are like this – for many cultures there is continuity between living people or beings, their dead ancestors and spirits. The spirits and ancestors are not seen to live in another world, nor are they worshiped, respected yes, but not really worshiped. But we still treat this as simple ‘animism’ a mere stage on the way to ‘higher’ religion, a ‘primitive’ religion – we still think under the shadow of J.G. Frazer! This is the case with many different cultures. Australian Aboriginal traditions, as diverse as they are, do not really have Gods either, indeed scholar of Aboriginal religions T. Swain, argues that the tradition is a non-dualistic geo-centric tradition. The narratives of the dream time do not depict the acts of Gods at all, the beings there are not ‘worshiped’, they orientate those who hear the stories on geographical features, they help imbue the land with normative significance due to the connection between aboriginal people and the land this provides normative orientation at the anthropological level. The beings of the dreamtime do not inhabit another world, a super nature over and beyond this one, they are beings of another time who acted in this world on this land. To just strike on something interesting from Australian Aboriginal religion: according to Swain it is a religious tradition that is geo-centric. This is interesting. We generally see religion as being theocentric (orientated on God or Gods), we see one of the great moves of secular modernity as the move to an anthropocentric orientation (with humanism mediating the move). The debate between the theists and the atheists could be seen as a debate between a theocentric and an anthropocentric outlook, a debate about where we ought to take our primary normative orientation from. But what would a geocentric outlook offer us? What would it be to be geocentric? What would it be to take our normative orientation from our environment rather than from either God or ourselves.

I agree that there must be analytic philosophers who are aware of these details, but I am not sure whether the analytic philosophers who are aware it are interested in religion. Further the theistic analytic philosophers who might be aware of it just think it is error and so don’t bother with it. It does not matter what the Egyptians thought about their Gods, their traditions have the status of fairy stories to many contemporary theistic analytic philosophers of religion. You can just map this back onto the analytic attitude to the history of philosophy. The history of philosophy is the history of error, there is not much use in studying the mistakes, so don’t study history of philosophy. Likewise, the history of religions is predominantly a history of error (with the exception of 'my' tradition), why study error. What is the point of problem solving within a tradition that is mistaken anyway? Do not lose sight of the fact that for many contemporary theistic philosophers there is a presumption that they have are in possession of the truth and everyone who denies their truth is wrong, this presumption is just as strong as the naturalist presumption that naturalism is true. The work then just becomes about problem solving, its just about applying philosophical tools to the problems that arise within a framework that is presumed to be true. Even if we don’t have all the detail there is a faith that it will all work itself out in the long-run and that what we presume to be true is just true.

About my book: the book is orientated by an inclusive criterion, we have theists and atheists, we have analytic and continental philosophers. We did not want to lead those who read it by the nose towards the view that we hold about politics and religion rather we aimed to gather interesting articles about the subject that would stimulate readers to think about the subject. The latter idea was very important to us – we think that the best thing for a collection to do is to stimulate people to think for themselves about the topic at hand, not to create converts to this or that view. As such we allowed each author to present their view. The chapters by Slezak, Levine, Crittenden, Bubbio and Quadrio are all relevant to the contemporary practice of philosophy of religion. So, of 13 chapters there are 5 that are important for those who are interested in the nature and practice of philosophy of religion – and it’s the political implications of that practice. You can get it through Sydney University Press website : http://purl.library.usyd.edu.au/sup/9781920899318

Philip


2010-01-20
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
My understanding of the fundamental points of difference between Continental and analytical philosophy is that Continentals do not make the same distinction between philosophy and other disciplines compared with the attitude by philosophers within the Anglo Saxon/American tradition, and consequently I imagine this is why Continental philosophers tend to look at an argument within the context of social history, psychology,anthropology, literature and so on.   Whilst the dialectical style of many Continental argument examinine the reasons why  something is the case within the context of other sorts of disciplines, analytical arguments are  necessarily adversarial in nature, which commits them to focus rather more upon the weaknesses of the other's logic.  I believe this style of agument can sometimes overlook pertinent truths.   The UK legal system is also based on this analytical adversarial line of argumentation, and similarly focuses upon an innocent/guilty verdict whereas there must be many occasions where truth is not so clear cut, or at least that whilst logic can prove a valid case in terms of its narrow remit, it does not always provide a broad picture.  I think there is a comparison here concerning the analytical/Continental divide. 

Dilys

2010-01-20
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
You can check instead the program nouvaux chemin de la connaissance, which is more multidisciplinary in scope but still brings in philosophical ressources. 

2010-01-21
The analytic/continental divide
Yes, you are right. This is a high quality program which often deals with philosophical issues - and they do it five times a week for about an hour each time. Unimaginable in Australia and I suspect in the US - maybe also the UK?

And like so many of the other programs "Nouveaux chemins de la connaissance" is available as a podcast.
 
DA

2010-01-21
The analytic/continental divide
Phil

RE your "Further the theistic analytic philosophers who might be aware of it just think it is error and so don’t bother with it. It does not matter what the Egyptians thought about their Gods, their traditions have the status of fairy stories to many contemporary theistic analytic philosophers of religion."

This is just appalling! And, moreover, presumably very inconsistent of them. I mean, I assume they are not so Eurocentric, and so rooted in nineteenth century thinking, that they dismiss all beliefs of all non-Western cultures, past and present, as mere childish nonsense and/or barbarism?  And if they are prepared to accept that there just might be other ways of understanding the world (i.e. if they are prepared to accept that anthropology is not just a silly waste of time!), how could they possibly exclude religion? On what basis would one pick and choose?

Are there really analytic philosophers of religion with such parochial minds? In 2010? What a depressing thought!  If so, the "divide" is far worse that I thought: It's not just a divide between analytic and continental; it's a divide between analytic philosophy and anything resembling a modern, educated view of the world!

DA



2010-01-22
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

I hate to depress you but, very crudely stated, the position of many (though not all) contemporary theistic analytic philosophers of religion is this: we have good reasons for believing in the truth of our tradition (Christianity); the truth of our tradition would imply that everything that contradicted it would be untrue; insofar as other religions believe things that are incompatible with Christian doctrine then those who follow such traditions are subject to false belief, they believe untruth. That's quite a crude, but not unfair, account. Alvin Plantinga, who is one of the most prominent contemporary theistic philosophers of religion in the US has an argument that broadly reflects the above pattern. Such a line of thinking establishes, for him, a justification for religious exclusivism – there is no need to tolerate falsehood, we would not tolerate the assertion that the earth is flat because we know it to be false. Does the above argument remind you of anything? I mean in the context of this string does it remind you of anything?

I think that they would see anthropology as a descriptive exercise but insofar as the cultures studied appear to be committed to things incompatible with Christian doctrine then these cultures are subject to falsehoods and we do not have to tolerate those beliefs – indeed, to extend the argument it would seem imperative that we enlighten them, which would simply render their original beliefs historical curiosities. Yes there are more ecumenical types around, but Plantinga is one of the more important and more prominent American theistic philosophers of religion in the analytic tradition.

In any case, I suggested that for many analytic philosophers contemporary theistic analytic philosophy of religion is either irrelevant or repugnant, perhaps this shows why some would find it repugnant. Don’t take this as a hostility to Christianity, its not at all, but I share a sense of repugnance at much contemporary theistic analytic philosophy of religion – particularly the kind of view one finds in Plantinga whose influence is broad.



 


Philip

2010-01-22
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

Truly amazing!  But I don't doubt what you say. The (very) little I know of Plantinga, for example, squares with it.

It tends to confirm what I have found in my field - philosophy of art - that the analytic approach often fosters a very conservative cast of mind (or perhaps proceeds from it...). Not necessarily in the political sense, but in the sense of sealing oneself off from other areas of thought - the only exception for analytic philosophy being physical science for which, instead, there seems to be huge enthusiasm. I think it's quite extraordinary. The "anthropological" view of cultures is part of the very intellectual air we breathe these days, whether we like it or not, and has been for many decades. One can hardly just write it off as not worth serious attention. The attitude you describe is not all that far from the nineteenth century missionary going out to "convert the heathen"!

Moreover, how with this attitude does one really do philosophy of religion at all?  If one begins with the view that "we have good reasons for believing in the truth of our tradition (Christianity)", the case seems to be closed before one starts. All one could really do, one would think, is (Christian) theology. Or become a kind of lapsed Christian!  I just could not take this kind of thing seriously.  It's like turning back the clock - about a century.

Not that Continental philosophy seems to perform much better, I should say. The "back to Judaism" or "back to St Paul" thing seems just as parochial to me. Or, I should say it seems painfully beside the point. A huge part of the modern challenge facing philosophy - and not only philosophy - it seems to me, is working out what we can believe in the face of the bewildering variety of beliefs that have sustained humankind across the millennia in so many different cultures. I'm not suggesting the task is impossible - I'm not leaping into some kind of desperate nihilism. But there is simply no reason to believe in some a priori way that our Christian tradition is any "truer" than any other.  I know I don't need to be telling you all this.  Just letting off steam!

DA



   


2010-01-22
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil,

It's funny that you mention Frazier a few posts up--I take one of the most insightful discussions of religion to be Wittgenstein's later ruminations of it, part of which is a direct attack on Frazier (an anecdote says that when W&a friend tried to read Frazier together, W became furious at every other sentence, and they didn't get thru more than a few pages).  Like many continental thinkers (and a few analytics), Wittgenstein views meaning holistically, so that the status of a claim derives from its surrounding language-game and form of life, to use the buzz-words.  Thus, W argues, when 1 person proclaims God to exist and another denies it, they aren't disagreeing, since the existence of God does not represent a univocal meaning.  The two mean such different things by it that they aren't even disagreeing. 

Much of analytic philosophy, at least throughout much of the 20th Century, has remained behind with W's initial belief that the business of language is to affirm or deny the existence of states of affairs in the world.  Despite many attacks on this conception (esp. by Austin), later thinkers like Davidson insist that the literal meaning of a statement is its true core, so that any metaphorical, poetical, etc. meanings are encrustations upon the "first" or literal meaning.  This fits in with his general denial of alternate conceptual schemes.  I don't see how one can start with this view of language and end with a sensitive, insightful understanding of religion.  It cannot but reduce myths to falsehoods and fairy tales.

And Derek,

I'm just now starting to familiarize myself with it, but there's been a lot of continental interest in religion, esp. Levinas (who wrote commentaries on the Talmud), Derrida's later work (Caputo specializes in this) and a whole host of French post-phenomenologists.

2010-01-22
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
Hi Lee

Yes I'm aware in a general way with this trend in Continental philosophy. What bothers me about it is that, like the "analytic" philosophy of religion, though in a different way, it seems so Judeo-Christian in orientation. Not that I would want to exclude those religions, of course, but to my mind it is just not reasonable or defensible any longer to take such a narrow view of the question. 

If one is talking about the value of religion in human life, it seems essential to me to take the widest possible view of the matter.  Religions, as we all know now, have taken a multitude of forms. There have been some, as Phil points out, that had no gods at all - at least not in any recognizable Western sense of the word 'god'; there are some in which the gods, if any, seem to have played no role in Creation, and so on and on. To dismiss such religions as unworthy of interest seems to me totally arbitrary and quite out of keeping with any respectable philosophical approach to the matter - especially if, like analytic philosophy, one has pretensions to "scientific objectivity".

The fashionable Continental concern (and a lot of it does seem like fashion to me, I confess) with Judaism and St Paul strikes me as mildly farcical. If one is claiming to "transcend history/politics" and rediscover religious thought (which is part of what is involved, I gather) then how strange to begin by turning one's back on all religions except those in one's own backyard!  I am not religious myself - i.e. I am agnostic - but I find religions and the religious sense of life extremely interesting (and I find the attacks on it by people like Dawkins, Hitchens and Co very superficial). But the question, it seems to me, needs to be approached in its entirety, not in some truncated way that eliminates 90% of the worlds religions. 

DA


2010-01-22
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
I would make two defenses of prioritizing Judeo-Christian religion in their study. 

1) The more we acknowledge the deep and subtle differences between different Weltanschauungen, which is where we started, the harder it is to grasp an utterly foreign one.  If Wittgenstein is right that, say, Hitchens&a religious person (I'm more familiar with the anti- side of the debate) are talking past each other, then that should be true tenfold for a Western philosopher and someone practicing an African or Chinese religion.  The difficulty in even applying general terms like religion or gods has already come up in the conversation.  Most of us have at least a toehold in Judeo-Christianity, which can function as a bridgehead to expand one's understanding, whereas the terms used to explain a very foreign religion may be just as incommensurable.

2) I'm not sure what you mean by "transcend history/politics"--as I understand continental philosophy, most of it is diametrically opposed to this possibility.  Although the choice of Judeo-Christianity is arbitrary from one point of view, one looking over the entire spectrum of religions from the outside, that isn't the perspective any of us inhabit.  Even tho we have been "thrown" into one particular culture without consultation or decision, this heritage largely makes us who we are.  Thus for us, these stories have a palpable significance that other cultures do not (this is a big theme in Heidegger).  They've been woven into our lives, making our investigation of them not just natural but preferable.  It's a bit like Aristotle's conditional necessity: given the contingent conditioning by our specific culture, it is charged with vastly greater meaning.  Altho this is only for us, we are the ones doing the investigating.

2010-01-23
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver
Interesting points, Lee. Some comments in reply:

I'm not quite sure what Wittgenstein's point is. The view that "the status of a claim derives from its surrounding language-game and form of life", if true, would seem to apply to conversations on lots of (all?) topics, not just God and religion, and then we would presumably be into a general debate about the possibility of communication?

But I do have doubts about the idea that "Most of us have at least a toehold in Judeo-Christianity, which can function as a bridgehead to expand one's understanding, whereas the terms used to explain a very foreign religion may be just as incommensurable."  One could surely argue that the deeper one's immersion in any one tradition - eg Judeo-Christianity - the less likely one is to understand another. For example, devout monotheists have rarely shown much patience with polytheisms. Perhaps, indeed, one might argue that non-Western religions are better understood today, in our essentially agnostic culture, than they have ever been at any time in the past, when they were often simply dismissed as strange pagan idolatries.

Sorry, the "transcend history/politics" reference was a bit enigmatic. You are no doubt better versed in this area than I, but my understanding of at least part of what is going on is that the deep disillusionment that followed 1968 has led some - especially in France - to look for an absolute of another kind - in this case religion, and specifically Judaism or Christianity. I'm not suggesting of course that this is the whole story.

Finally, I have problems with Heidegger's suggestion that "these [Judeo-Christian] stories have a palpable significance that other cultures do not".  First, what follows from that? If we are sincerely interested in religion, and given what we now know about so many of the world's religions, we have no obvious reason to ignore any of them. And if we do, we surely do so at the cost of narrowing our field of vision. Second, maybe our modern understanding of Christianity itself is much less palpable than we like to think. Recently, for curiosity, I've been reading the stories in the "Golden Legend" which was the most widely copied and read book after the Bible during the Middle Ages. To a modern mind it reads like a series of religious fairy tales, chock full of miraculous happenings, the Devil disguised in various forms, etc. Yet its popularity coincided with what one might well call the highest point of Western Christianity - the period when the great cathedrals were built etc. In many ways, the mindset that would read the "Golden Legend" avidly seems as impalpable (to me anyway) as say Buddhism or even the religion of the ancient Egyptians. So I am not at all sure about Heidegger's claim - or at least I would need a lot of convincing.

DA








2010-01-23
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek;

This was not Heidegger's point.  His issue was general.  Allow me to elucidate:

*Each person arises in terms of a given culture, which itself plays out in terms of encompassing myths (a deeply Platonic theme that Heidegger - as a genuine and authentic Philosopher - expropriates).
*Heidegger's point is that each must first take up this tradition, myths and all, understand it, myths and all
(subjectively, as a person experiencing life so determined, and objectively, as one framework for the living of life amongst other possibilities, existing as possibilities on a field of potential for still undetermined other possibilities - distinction per Aristotle informed by early quantum theory)
*and then transform the tradition into something worth living in terms thereof, that being something that encourages each person to live a life worth living in the genuine Philosophical sense.
*This Philosophic life spent in the care of others through the lifelong exercise of the human highest potential, understanding (per Aristotle) he calls (in English) genuine authenticity.
*In short, Heidegger's philosophy is essentially moral, and this is (the main reason) why he didn't branch off and focus on ethics, as if it could be isolated from all the rest that makes up a life worth living and a world worth living it in... (think Allegory of the Cave here.  An often forgotten aspect of this metaphor is that, upon reaching understanding, one must return to the cave and share it.)

Now, for the religion thing:
*For Westerners, Judeo-Xstian myths bear special significance because they lay out the terms that one must break with (think cave chains, here) in doing the right thing, seeking one's highest potential (think escape the cave only to return), and this is why Heidegger, in the end, equates Philosophy with conscience (my specialization).
*For example, when people who take up the Judeo-Xstian heritage and report that the Bible commands Xstians and Jews to do certain things and to live certain ways of life so that the Jews, 'God's chosen,' can rule the world (lord over the 'cattle' that are non-Jews) from Jerusalem - for instance to support the Zionist enterprise at least until the mythical temple is rebuilt, so that the 'Messiah' can return, even if that means giving white phosphorous to the Zionists so that they can murder innocent Palestinians (read 'Philistines') and printing Biblical slogans on sniper rifle scopes and various other wargear and propaganda -
*insofar as one seeks to live a life of conscience (on Heidegger's account, the Philosophic life, genuinely authentic, moral... I picture Socrates meets Habermas meets the young Hegel, here) one must reject the tradition as given (this is the thrown-ness that one must overcome per cave chains), not conform with the immoral program (courage to take responsibility for one's life of actions per conscience), lay out something better (through understanding) and - most importantly - to provide the living example of that something better in action. (Kant ends up dying with this picture on the tip of his literary tongue, Heidegger actually develops it, with Socrates the exemplar or, in general terms of myth, "hero.")

In any event, one can see three things:
1) What Heidegger might have to say about Analytic philosophy of religion, and
2) Why Heidegger might not be any Analytic's favorite, especially not an Analytic philosopher of religion.
3) And, that I had to do something similar - reject the Analytic political shallow-end that had corrupted my own Philosophy Department as a student - in order to ever come to the understanding that I have, per Philosophic duty, just shared with you...  If I had followed their (easy) way, I would not understand, not reached out for my highest potential, and most importantly be of no help whatsoever, being unable to live a genuine and authentic, Philosophic, life.

Frankly, with the background, the desire, the hard work and the intelligence, one can easily understand Heidegger's Philosophy.  He is not obscure.  But, he does force a person to come to some - perhaps - uncomfortable conclusions about the way he or she may be living his or her life...  Especially if posing as a Philosopher (note my consistent use of a capital "P").

And, as persons (especially philosophers) are generally lazy, and prone to avoid uncomfortable situations, Heidegger gets attacked, discounted, and conveniently misunderstood.

In the final analysis, this is the essential difference between Analytics and Continentals, as at least amongst Continentals there remains the potential for the Philosophic life.


2010-01-25
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
This is just a postscipt to my last contribution. 

On the one hand, I suppose we are getting a little off track by focusing strongly on the philosophy of religion; on the other, I suppose discussions of the analytic/continental divide can quite reasonably divert into particular areas to discuss whether or not the divide is operative there and in what ways. From the little we've said about the philosophy of religion, it seems that this is one area in which there is, surprisingly, some common ground: both sides of the divide tend to give priority to the Judeo-Christian tradition.

To that extent, I personally find myself isolated from both sides, as my comments have indicated. In my view, any worthwhile philosophy of religion today needs to take account of religion as a broad phenomenon across a wide range of cultures. Putting the point as starkly as possible, I would want a philosophy of religion to be as attentive to, say, the Christianity of St Francis, based so much on ideas of brotherhood, kindness, and self-denial, as it would be to, say, the religion of the Aztecs in which mass human sacrifice was an essential element. Both, I would argue, manifest - or anyway presumably manifest - the sense of the sacred that seems fundamental to religion, and I personally could never be satisfied with an account of religion that threw in the towel where the Aztecs (for example) are concerned, or arbitrarily excluded them.

There is an interesting parallel with the world of art.  We would not think for a moment today of restricting the term 'art' to objects from European culture. Objects from Africa, ancient Egypt, India, Pre-Columbian America and so on are as much a part of our world of art today as Rembrandt and Picasso, and any account of art worth its salt has to take account of this (though in fact both analytic and continental aesthetics seldom do...). 

In short, I think it is quite untenable today to put on cultural blinkers, pretend we are still in the nineteenth century, and try to ignore what we know from anthropology and ancient history - even if that knowledge is incomplete. Philosophy of all stripes, I would argue, needs to be open to other areas of study - e.g. anthropology, history. Not of course in a non-critical way, but in ways that show sensitivity to what is being thought and discovered in those areas. The price of not doing so, surely, is ossification and irrelevance.

DA

2010-01-25
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Lee Braver

Hi Lee,

Thanks for the note on Wittgenstein and Frazer – I have the lectures on religion earmarked for a re-read latter in the year (I have not looked at it for over a decade). In any case I will look out for the attack on Frazer. To me though Frazer is significant, not for what he said but for the fact that his work is an important part of the history of thinking about religion – faint praise. The kind social Darwinian approach to thinking about religion is very unhelpful, and kind of reinforces the notion that religion is primitive science, which is so common in the contemporary analytic atheism: as if the need to explain the world is prior to all other engagements with it. We might be interested in explanatory accounts that map out causal relations, fine, but one ought not imagine that such an activity has priority. I have a point to make about social Darwinism and the new atheism but I will return to that. What strikes is that the assumptions of the news atheists are important for your point about language-games. The presumption is that religion is more or less playing the same game as science – attempting to give a causal/explanatory account of the world and everything in it. But they are given a massive boost in this enterprise by fundamentalist and literalist theism. Fundamentalists and literalists are vital to the new atheism as they are the evidence that religion is what the atheists say it is, an inferior rival to science an inadequate way of explaining the world. Okay they can also draw on some rather crude readings of Medieval philosophy but most of the New Atheist crew and analytic atheists are not know for their capacity to work with historical texts – so set that aside. In any case while many people probably have suspected that Fundamentalist and literalist religiosity is an albatross around the neck of religion it is probably for reasons other than the one I cite above – the resonance between it and the new atheism on idea that religion and science compete on the same ground. But only a truly unsophisticated reading of religion could assert that! Here I think that it is quite clear that Continental philosophy has dealt with religion in more sophisticated ways.

But the social Darwinism stuff is interesting. J.G. Frazer held the idea that we progressed from magic, through religion to science. As such while the West had reached the pinnacle, the further east one went the more ‘religious’ things got and the further south one went the more ‘magical’ things got. The new atheists, and analytic atheists generally, seem to share some of this view. What they share is the idea that one can replace religion with science and that science represents a pinnacle, again the foundational presupposition is that religion and science must be doing the same thing – if they are doing different things one cannot so readily replace the other. But apart from this (in my opinion) interesting point, the role of Darwinism in the new atheism and analytic atheism is interesting. The new atheists tend to stress that religion is the cause of violence and the major horrors that people do to one another and they assert that this can be demonstrated historically. This is a poor reading of history, sure religion has been instrumentalised as a reason for, or justification of, aggression, but this mostly dissembles other motives (wealth and power being primary). No one could doubt that religion has been used in this way. But science and higher-learning can just as easily be instrumentalised for the same reasons. There is more than a little Darwin in the NAZI attempt to build a master race. Sure, the NAZI’s did not really care to much to be faithful to Darwin. Sure, its bad science. But that is not the point, the point is that science can be instrumentalised and used as a way of justifying what one wants to do anyway. Its not that religion and science are so similar that one can be replaced with the other. The point is that one cannot just commit a crime of the scale that modern warfare (or warfare generally) demands, one has to rationalize one’s way into it, here we cast about for ‘good’ reasons to do what we want to do. We instrumentalise the resources that are at hand.

Just finally to engage your point about 20th century attempts to prove or deny states of affairs in the world. Yes, much philosophy of religion has this flavour. But it seems more to flow from analytic atheists. They assume that if someone believes in God then they believe that God is ‘part of the furniture of the universe’. So if God exists there should be evidence for God’s existence – their conception of God, apart from the tri-omni attributes, is one of an interventionist God who acts (causally) in the world. They often get excited about miracle stories in the bible (as do fundamentalists) and suggest that believing them to be true is ridiculous, but like most fundamentalists they neglect all good bible and scriptural scholarship on these matters. In any case I don’t want to defend the bible or theism – its not for me to do – but again Continental philosophy seems to be much better on these issues than analytic atheism, which just seems to be the dialectical other of fundamentalist and literalist Christianity. Okay, that’s the atheists, the theists for their part often seem to be doing something slightly different from trying to prove a certain state of affairs, many of them seem to be trying to rationally underwrite belief. They seem to want to show that they are justified in believing that things are a certain way despite the lack of demonstrative proof. Here I think that they are on par with naturalism – they marshal reasons why they are justified in having certain metaphysical commitments.

Phil


2010-01-26
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

I don’t think that there are many people doing ‘philosophy of religion’ that are interested in philosophy of religion. They do not really seem to be asking, and so never answer, questions about religion. Imagine a philosophy of mind that never asked any fundamental questions about ‘mind’ or a philosophy of language that never asked any fundamental questions about ‘language’, or a philosophy of history than never asked any fundamental questions about ‘history’. What would the status of such endeavors be? Okay the disciplinary fracture here is very analytic, I don’t see that as necessarily an evil, philosophers can specialize. But philosophers of religion nearly all over-specialize. Theism is not necessarily uninteresting but if you assume it is the alpha and omega (so to speak) of philosophy of religion then either you are parochial or circular or both. I would suggest that many philosophers of religion are both, they presume that their own tradition is the only one worth enquiring about because it’s the only one that has rational merit. As such it all becomes religious apologetics and the justification of prior metaphysical commitments.

Religion is impacting and has impacted on all of our lives. But as philosophers we do a very poor job with it. If we are going to adequately deal with many of the issues we face in the contemporary world we need a better practice. This means that you cannot just ignore it and hope it goes away, it must be engaged, but it must be engaged (as far as possible) in a way that is ideology free, it cannot just be an attempt to kill or affirm religion.

Phil 


2010-01-26
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

This is just to take up Derek’s reply to Lee in regards to the limitations of the Judeo-Christian perspective. I think that Badiou’s Saint Paul is an example of the sort of project that Derek was referring to. Badiou’s philosophy, while certainly Continental, is unashamedly universalist. The return to Paul as part of a universalist project might make a certain kind of sense, but it seems to be a little problematic . Similarly the current nexus between Zizek and Milbank.

Okay, so there are worries about the use of culturally specific frameworks to articulate supposedly universal political conceptions in face of a disillusionment with politics. Then there is a different set of worries connected not to our failure to understand this or that religion but connected to our failure, as philosophers, to engage the subject religion itself. I mean in his essay ‘Mystical Anarchism’ Critchley makes the claim that we are moving through a “political reality dominated by the fact of religious war” (p272), he goes on to say that “Politics, religion and violence appear to define the present through which we are all too precipitously moving: the phenomenon of sacred political violence, where religiously justified violence is the means to a political end” (p272). If this is true it would be important for us to be able to tease apart the various elements here, particularly religion and politics. But what elements of the present conflicts are particularly religious and what are particularly political? The answer to that would depend on how one understood religion and there is no theoretically adequate understanding of religion. This renders the formulations vague and problematic.

Consider the terrorism of 9/11: Is flying a plane into a building a religious act or a political act? Consider the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq: Is the invasion of a sovereign state a political or religious act? One of the points that Critchley wants to make is that there is an intrication between religion and politics in these acts that is problematic. But how do we untie the knot if we cannot identify the strands? Where does the political end and the religious begin? To turn 9/11 into almost exclusively a religious phenomenon, as people like Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins seem to do, just distorts the reality of what is going on and would ultimately lead to a failure to understand it. To turn it into a purely political act would also distort elements of what is going on. But to really become clear about what is religious in the act, and perhaps in the response (the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq and the War on Terror), we have to understand what religion is. And we don’t. My problem with contemporary philosophy of religion and the reason why I see it as largely irrelevant is that it fails to help us understand religion, indeed it does not ask about religion so it cannot help us. Analytic philosophy of religion seems to be in the most trouble here, it’s a thoroughly circumscribed and parochial business (thus either repugnant or irrelevant).

Philip


2010-01-26
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

A couple of points in response.

Yes, I also see the fixation on things like 9/11 as largely a distraction. Even if one were to agree, for argument's sake, that the motivation was wholly religious, could that act of terrorism be taken as a true and adequate reflection of Islam?  In fact, the general tendency to link religion with violence (a la Hitchens and Co) seems to me a distraction. There are lots of theories about the sources of human violence and I seriously doubt that a world peopled exclusively by atheists and agnostics would necessarily be violence free.

You also write that "many philosophers of religion ... presume that their own tradition is the only one worth enquiring about because it is the only one that has rational merit..." Yes. And that got me thinking about the Aztecs again. (I like to choose them because they are a sort of "hard case".) I am by no means a specialist on Pre-Columbian religions, and I also think it is enormously hard, probably impossible, to reconstruct the mentality of past religions (including our own...) but here is a kind of educated guess:

The Aztecs, like some other cultures, seem to have regarded the whole universe - the earth as well as the heavens - as the domain of the gods. So humanity was in a sense an intruder - or at least rather like a foreign tribe whose presence is tolerated on the lands of a great monarch only as long as regular tributes are paid. And the Aztecs seem to have felt that the tributes could be nothing less than what they held most valuable - human life itself.

Does this thinking lack rational merit? If correct, it suggests that the Aztecs viewed the whole world in which they lived and moved as sacred - the rightful precinct of the gods not of men - unlike Christianity, which saw the world - the "here-below" - as a mere "vale of tears" in which one prepared for the "true" life to come.  In terms of simple rationality, I can't see any grounds for preferring one view over the other. Once the element of the sacred is introduced into human experience - and religion minus this element is unimaginable in my view (pace the philosophical theists) - there is no obvious reason why the Aztec view should be considered less rational than the Christian one (indeed if I were an environmentalist, I would perhaps favour the Aztecs!)

Amateurish though it is, this little comparison highlights two things in my view: (1) the value of comparing religions to bring out what is it distinctive in each; (2) the danger (which you allude to) of thinking that one's own religion is more rational than others.  Christianity seems more rational to us because we are used to it (and the theists help this along by severely watering it down and turning it into a sort of bloodless philosopher's theorem) but any respectable philosophy of religion can hardly take that as a reason for limiting its focus to Christianity alone.

DA


 



2010-01-26
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

Well I think that the new atheists would ‘want’ to believe that an atheistic world governed by those guided by science and scientific rationalism would be a world without violence and war. Whether or not this is the case there is certainly something kind of Pollyanna in this sort of thinking and they way they twist themselves around to avoid acknowledging that a great deal of totalitarian violence was also secular violence is bizarre. Okay, at best they say this violence was the product of irrational ideology more than science, but so was My Lai in an abstract way as was the slaughter on the road to Basra. Two things to say straight off the bat about the orientations of the new atheism: its millenarian in its outlook (heaven on earth is a scientific utopia); its anti-pluralistic they want to eliminate those who think differently or at least remove them from any position of authority or influence, this is not just limited to religion, people like Dennett also seem to want to purge the humanities. There’s a feature of the analytic/continental divide!

In regard to Aztec belief, as a general orientation on the world, and contextualized as it must be, there does not seem to be anything irrational about that mode of relation to the world. Indeed if one recognizes that religion changes and reconfigures itself in history one wonders how that tradition would have transfigured in time if it was allowed to remain vital. Aztec religion is often cited as the paradigm of irrationality – here the descriptions always rest with the most striking aspects (human sacrifice, strange deities…). There is little attempt to draw out, as you were attempting to do, the general orientation of the tradition and the underlying rationality of it. To my mind this is far more important. If we are going to consider individual religions then we need to start by understanding the way it orientates people on the world. The stories of the Aboriginal dream time can look really strange – a snake created this geographical formation! If you leave it at that you can just see the whole tradition as irrational but the narratives that Aboriginal people tell about the land are a key to understanding that the land, for Aboriginal people, has axiological priority – it’s a geocentric tradition. The narratives are interesting and beautify. But set that aside temporarily (if only so as to avoid having the narratives laughed at as bizarre and irrational beliefs) the geocentric orientation is not at all irrational, how does a geocentric tradition measure up to the theocentric orientation of say Christianity or the anthropocentric orientation of scientific rationalism? It’s an interesting question.

I agree that there is some value in comparing religions, so long as one is very careful not to speak for other religions and other people and so long as you avoid trying to map another religion back onto the tradition you are most familiar with. We cannot presume that all religions have the same shape as our own (as Michael Pye warns us). That relates to the second point you make, if your religion constitutes the paradigm of rationality you might be tempted to try to mash every religion you encounter into a structure you abstracted from it. So, you might seek out the Chinese equivalent to our heaven, or an Aboriginal salvation discourse….

Philip


2010-01-27
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

Just a quick question. You write "people like Dennett also seem to want to purge the humanities." Not being an avid reader of Dennett, could you tell me where he says this sort of thing? (I tried to read "Consciousness Explained" but found it very uninteresting and never got to the end. I find most analytic stuff on consciousness very tedious and question-begging.)

DA



2010-01-27
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

He basically thinks that the humanities have little to offer in the study of a phenomenon like religion and that if you want to really understand what is going on you need to use science. So understanding equals explaining. Think about beauty. I would imagine that the question of beauty for Dennett would not rise much higher than explaining why a creature like us evolved in such a way as have the kind of encounters that it describes as beautiful. With religion the job seems to be explaining why a creature like us would have evolved in such a way as to have needed religion. For him there is nothing else to do. As I read his stuff on religion it struck me that it was just as much a polemic against the humanities as anything else. Run a discourse analysis on Breaking the Spell and you quickly see this. He constantly contrasts ‘brave scientists’ with ‘obscurantists from the humanities’ it shines a great light on the analytic/continental divide – death to the humanities. In any case in this book he basically suggests that the humanities have clouded the study of religion, at times they have sought to protect it from the cold light of science which could ‘break the spell’ and so they not only obscure they obstruct. The upshot is that the humanities should leave the study of religion to science, because that is where the objective study of it can take place. That is why I talk about him wanting to purge the humanities. I think that basically if you put him in charge of curricular the humanities would be reduced to history (the old ‘who did what’ type history), languages (learn how to speak X,Y or Z), literature (done in a kind of ‘book club’ type mode)  and philosophy (analytic of course).  Okay, that last bit is a little playful, but he has very little time for the humanities and does not see them as contributing much to the study of anything, indeed they obscure and obstruct – ‘scientific objectivity’, ‘brave scientists’, ‘pioneering work of science’ these are the catch-phrases that dot his work.


2010-01-28
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

Death to the humanities! All bow down before the mighty god of science! Shades of Skinner and his "Beyond Freedom and Dignity". (I often think that the ghost of Skinner still haunts the corridors of analytic philosophy.)  There are clearly some minds in which the touching nineteenth century faith that "science will solve all our problems" will never die. It is as if the twentieth century, with all its horrors, never happened. Oh wait, I forgot, that too was probably all the fault of religion and probably some woolly-minded humanities types.

Coincidentally, I was thinking this morning how grey and empty is the world painted by analytic philosophy. I've been reading bits of a recent book called 'What Philosophers Know: Case Studies in Recent Analytic Philosophy".  Reading?  "Forcing myself to read" would be a better way of putting it. The author (Gary Gutting) describes, for instance, the debates over the question of consciousness (Nagel, the childish, tedious "zombie" question, etc). So I experience once again the sense of immense disappointment - desolation would be a better word - I always feel when I enter this narrow, intellectually suffocating, world. Here we are talking about human consciousness, after all - the astounding, vastly mysterious thing that must surely lie at the heart of religion, language, art, (even science...), our greatest acts of nobility and self-sacrifice as well as our most abominable episodes of selfishness and cruelty - in short, the whole panoply of what it is to be "human". Yet in the hands of analytic philosophers it all reduces to cold, weary debates about bats, zombies and neurons.  Anything remotely "human" has gone out of it entirely. As you know, my enthusiasm for continental philosophy is quite limited too, but there at least one still finds glimpses of what being human might signify. There are still signs of life, so to speak. But in the world of analytic philosophy, where science and logic rule like oriental despots, we enter a world of silence and tombstones. All life gone.

DA

 

2010-01-28
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,
I recently picked up a book - Philosophy Through Computer Games, I thought it might give me some stuff to talk to my kids about. No, its all about how to look at computer games through the lens of analytic philosophy, what do they tell us about the mind... It was fine, for what it was, but I thought that mashing an activity into 'what we do' just sapped the colour out of the activity, it made an activity that people enjoy (computer games) the underlabourer of the interests of analytic philosophy - and if anyone enjoys doing philosophy these days they do a good job of hiding it.

Phil

2010-01-28
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

My essential problem with the analytic approach to the question of consciousness (I'm still on this topic from reading the book I mentioned) is that at no point, as far as I can see, is there any serious attempt to say what is meant by the notion of consciousness. It is taken as self-evident - whereas if there is anything in this world whose meaning is not self-evident it is surely the notion of consciousness. One response I've had to this complaint is: "Oh well, it doesn't matter. When we find it we will recognize it." Recognize what? How does one "recognize" something when one doesn't know what one is looking for?

Gutting, in the book I'm reading, gives the outline of Chalmers' argument of which the first premise is "In our world there are conscious experiences". Now, I even have a problem with "our world". (Who is "our"? What kind of "world" are we talking about - the world of individual experience? (in a sense the only real world any of us know), collective experience? the world of scientific observation?) But beyond that, again, what is "conscious experience"? Apparently no answer.

Then the next step is that there is a "logically possible world physically identical to ours in which the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold".  What on earth are the "positive facts about consciousness"?  I gather they are not physical facts; that seems to be implied. But either way how would one state even ONE established, incontrovertible "positive fact" about human consciousness? If placed on a rack I, for one, couldn't. Who could? 

The problem is made worse by the constant tendency to fall back on so-called "intuitions" which tend to operate as a kind of unanswerable argument. (How does one argue with "My intuition is...") It amazes me that a school of philosophy that prides itself on "rigorous argumentation" (I keep reading that) relies so often on this mysterious thing called intuition.  Even the continentals don't do that and they are not even supposed to be "rigorous". Of course, not surprisingly, the "intuitions" of analytic philosophers often differ, but I gather we are supposed to turn a discreet blind eye to that.

How does one take all of this seriously? It wouldn't matter so much, but the question of human consciousness is after all a huge and vital one. To see it dealt with like this is truly depressing.


DA


2010-01-30
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
I am glad you brought up difficult questions about consciousness. In this context, have you seen a book by Roy Harris, Mindbogglling? It's worth looking at.

2010-01-31
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Franson

No I haven't. I seem to vaguely recall seeing it in bookshops. What is Harris's central argument? 

DA

2010-01-31
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Time on my hands, so I thought I might say a little more about my problem with the [Chalmers] statement: "In our world there are conscious experiences". (My post before last.)

What is "our world"? It implies a world we all share. Now, I think of my next door neighbour.  I know a little about her, but there are all kinds of things - who her friends are, who she likes and dislikes, her childhood memories, her hopes for the future etc, that I have no idea about. And if I think of my neighbour two doors down, I know even less of that kind - in fact I know nothing at all. 

So the notion of "our world" clearly cannot include those kinds of things, i.e. the elements that make up what one might call individual experience. Because those are things that, clearly, "we all" do not share. And of course this extends beyond my neighbours to billions of other people around the world.  In this sense, there is in fact no such thing as "our world". 

So what might "our world" consist of?  I guess the analytic philosopher might reply "Well, of course we don't mean personal things like that. We mean things that are outside personal experience - the objective facts about the world. Obviously we all share those."

Interesting notion "objective facts about the world".  It implies what one philosopher (I forget who) calls a "view from nowhere" - though I think that's a little misleading because it is in fact a view from somewhere: it is surely the impersonal, "scientific" point of view - i.e. the point of view that seeks to rigorously exclude anything due merely to personal perspectives (as Bacon pointed out so long ago). In this sense, there is certainly - or so it would appear - an "our world", although it is, at the same time, curiously, no one's world.

Now two interesting things emerge from all this:

(1) It is just not satisfactory - not good philosophy - to use a phrase like "our world" without asking what it might, and might not, mean. It is a trap phrase - one of those phrases that gives the impression that it is has a clear, self-evident meaning but which conceals hidden complexities. (And there are other complexities I haven't gone into here.)

(2)  If the above analysis is correct, we seem obliged to say that the "our world" in which "conscious experiences" exist is the world revealed by impersonal, scientific observation.  Now that raises two immediate problems. First, human consciousness, one would think, is very much something that exists at the personal - the individual - level. If I die my consciousness dies with me (or so we assume). Unless we are a Buddhist or something of the sort, there is no such thing as a "general" human consciousness that transcends the individual. And, second, haven't we in fact loaded the dice in our inquiry into consciousness before we even begin?  By saying that conscious experiences exist in the world revealed by impersonal, scientific observation - which is what we seem committed to by the notion of "our world"  - we seem to be making assumptions about the nature of consciousness right from the outset - i.e. that it is the kind of thing that is amenable to detection and explanation via scientific study. Which is precisely what many people, who do not accept physicalist explanations, contest. 

In short, a little phrase like "our world" can cause all sorts of problems in a philosophical analysis. Especially if we are rigorous...

DA


2010-02-04
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Some of you may have seen this morning's review of Ulrich Steinvorth, _Rethinking the Western Understanding of the Self_, on Notre Dame Phil Reviews:
http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=18807

Is this book "analytic"? Is this book "continental"? I suggest that it's neither, and this is a major virtue.

Best to all,
Bob Wallace

2010-03-06
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek

I agree with you on many points especially the one concerning the multifaceted problems little phrases can cause. Given your scepticism about the legitimacy of using a phrase like „our world“ I wonder what you (exactly ;-) mean by the phrase „correctness of analysis“ ?
If there is no common world we can refer to (I quite agree on that - but I´m not shure what my agreement amounts to) how can we possibly analyze „It“ ?

CT

2010-03-07
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Christian

Interesting comment.  Got the brain cells moving.

However, if I interpret you correctly it contains a couple of assumptions I would not subscribe to.

First, I was not arguing there is necessarily "no common world".  My analysis of the phrase "our world" was not intended to establish that. It was only intended to reveal the traps hidden in the phrase.

In fact I think there is a common world - a world we all share - but it is not the world of scientific observation dear to analytic philosophers.  Or, rather, it is only very marginally that.  Indeed, I think that the relentless pounding on the idea that the world of scientific observation is the only world that counts steadily increases our sense of individual isolation - of loneliness -  rather than reducing it. Among other things, it denies the value of the world of individual experience - which is where in fact we all inevitably live.

What do I think is the world we all share? I will dodge that question because it would take me too far. But as a very brief and totally inadequate indication, I would say it lies at the metaphysical level.  (Though not what analytic philosophy calls metaphysics, which is merely a series of rather dry mental puzzles.)

You ask what I mean by "correctness of analysis". I think you are probably saying to me (correct me if I am wrong): "If you reject the world of scientific fact, what is your basis of proof?" But I do not reject the world of scientific fact. How could one in the modern world? I simply think it is of very limited value in answering philosophical questions and, more generally, as an aid to giving some meaning to our lives.  But where scientific questions themselves are involved, certainly, the world of scientific observation must be the standard of correctness.

And elsewhere?  We do the best we can.  We observe; we think carefully about the nature of our experience; we try to hunt out hidden assumptions that keep confusing us or leading us down blind alleys (the "our world" thing is an example). And above all, we question everything.  We treat all orthodoxies with suspicion unless and until they have thoroughly convinced us; and even then...

I hope this has answered your questions to some extent.

DA


2010-03-08
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
I would like to take up the notion of a "common world" from the purview of  'human consciousness' as 1) an 'embodied' consciousness; 2) as one embodied in a 'non-technological - natural - world,' 3) as one embodied in a 'modern scientific/technological world', and finally 4) in the 'post-modern world of quantum physics'.
1) personal human consciousness involves the human body with its external sensory organs and its internal neurological system. These external and internal biological systems respond to appropriate physical media. The visual organs respond to photons/light rays. But this response is just physical activity and is not perceiving; however, it is the messenger/medium which carries 'information' (in the technical sense) that can be 'read' by human consciouness. Why? Because it contains the codes which, when interpreted correctly, makes local meanings - conceptual, categorial, value-laden. Human consciousness has the hermeneutical ability of making present meaningful facts and value-laden activities located in the 'common world' of the perceiver; the perceiver has to be linked with - be a member of - a local community with a common discourse and generally common values. The scientific mentality tends to make the same mistake that Galileo made: that in seeing, we see 'rays of light'; light is the messenger, and not the message! We don't see the messenger light - unless we are doing the physics of light! - but we get the message that the messenger light carries, namely, 'illuminated chairs, roads, buildings, etc,'  
2) If the 'world' of the perceiver is 'natural' - in the sense of non-technical - then the natural space of the binocular visual world is geometrically curved, finte in size and Riemannian in structure (it is Aristotelian, if you wish), with a nearby quasi-Euclidean zone for hand-eye coordination (see my book, Space-Perception and the Philosophy of Science). The geometry is associated - I suppose, through evolution - with the prioritization of local hand-eye coordination and the inability to act immediately at large distances.
3) If the 'world' of the perceiver is a scientific/technological world, then the perciever learns in this new culture to embody and 'live through' common instruments, technologies, etc. by giving new meanings to the new codes, such as measure-numbers, associated with the use of these instruments and tools. Thus, the non-Euclidean visual measure is replaced by the straight ruler Euclidean measure; the visual measure in such a 'world' can be dangerously misleading, for example, a new highway will be - as it should be - constructed Euclidean, but the driver's vision, not being Euclidean, sees the curves in the new road differently - he sees them in fact as sharper than they were engineered ... with occasional unhappy consequences. 
4) The 'standard' form of the quantum theory is expressed in an (infinite dimensional vector Space, called a "Hilbert Space". "Observables" in such a space are represented mathematically by operators on the state vectors. Each observable can only have definite (eigen) values; for each eigen value, the state vector has to be in a definite subspace of the Hilbert Space, the one that defines the 'measurement context' for that observable. In quantum physics, however, two 'complementary' observable are such that they cannot share the same subspace, and so are related by an Uncertainty Principle. Such  'complementary uncertainties' are found in everyday life; they are the product of the contextuality of everyday life. Everyday life is full of mutual "uncertainty principles" such as, "You cannot play a tin whistle and drink beer at the same time" 
 

2010-03-09
The analytic/continental divide
Patrick, I would like to introduce you to my 'common world' - yes I experience sense data and call them 'experience' and this enables me to form 'ideas' about some 'outside world' with which I share my ideas and which responds with data that encourage me to form new ideas and so on. But, unlike the world of the sophisticate, my world is flat, the Sun rises and sets and the night sky turns on an axis that lies somewhere near the Pole Star. I see no atoms or molecules, hadrons or quarks, my office chair does spin, but there's the end to spinning. The 'inverted bowl' can tell me nothing of any real interest - all I can say about it is 'cor!' and that's just at night in the country.  Custom and habit have given me the confidence to know that the future will be somewhat like the past; but of one thing I am absolutely certain - that absolutely nothing can be known for certain. Indeed, if I am honest with myself, my world is entirely full of of surprises, (black swans and butterflies) most of which I care to ignore. I am happy and would like to continue living for as long as health allows. And the world that I inhabit will be extinguished with my death. That is the biggest surprise of all - that sometime, there will be no common world and all the thinking and ranting will stop. Constantly I mis-take my own knowledge and slip into idle speculation about causal relations and then have to remind myself that science (which is my discipline) is about making observations and reporting them with great care.  Interestingly, I have no sentiment for future generations - simply because they won't exist. This contributes to my happiness. I am saddened when I see people waste their lifetime on the alter of future generations - have they no wish to live their own lives to the full? So I do not speculate about 'causes'  - like Newton, I offer no hypotheses (explanations) - I leave that to metaphysicians who seem well able to collect some of my observations and those of others into explanatory 'systems' which are convincing to others because they appear, for the moment, to be consistent and to embrace all the data that they care to select to form their hypotheses. These 'systems' become 'Causes' and give rise to conflict and futile 'sacrifice' of lifetime to useless purpose. Now, this paragraph makes perfect sense to me, but I don't expect you to understand it or even try to share it with me. As to whether it is analytic or continental, I cannot guess, any more than I can determine whether it is egg-shaped or wet.

2010-03-09
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Fenton Robb
Fenton, I was attempting to categorize classes of significant 'common worlds,' shared by communities of philosophical and scientific thinkers concerned with the distinction between 'continental' and  'analytic philosophers'. People can choose - as artists, poets, ... and comedians do - to 'construct their lived environment' (namely, their 'world') in very personal and selective ways; this is done by imagining - or intending - their 'world' as one actually shared - at least temporarily - with others in a way that can make it - temporally - a 'common world'  with others, say, by changing the linguistic genre, in the style of Alice in Wonderland. This is generally done for purposes that are either recreational or to respond to the challenge of a 'heady' conversation that they do not understand and that seems intended to exclude them. I do believe that there is a role for the genre of Alice in Wonderland - even a philosophical one - but I do not know what it is or what its purpose is. My hunch then is that you, Fenton, are just not 'with the conversation' as far as the depth, complexity, and cultural importance of the philosophical and scientific problems that separate the epitemological robots of analytic philosophy from the ontological consciousnesses of continental philosophy. If I have misjudged your response, I apologize for it ... and you can try again.  Patrick

2010-03-10
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek, I don't think the notion of "foreigner" is entirely out. For those of us - now in our eighties - who remember the Second World War and the Cold War that followed - recognize that the Western World was torn for a century between "Us" and "They". First, it was the Second World War, "The Allies" vs "Nazi Germany" and then it was the Cold War, "The Western Democratic Powers" vs "The Communist Soviet Union". The strident life-or-death winners/losers character of these century long confrontations left permanent marks on Anglophone (British-American-Australian) cultures:
1) on the special role of science and technology in winning the two Wars and the immense support for science that was supported in the interests of military and economic/political victories; and
2) on the deep suspicion that, for half a century after the victory, remained of (what were thought to be) the 'philosophical/humanistic' seeds of the 'enemy culture' that had validated, on the one hand, the genocide of the Holocaust, and on the other, the genocides of Communism. 
I personally recall the emphasis that the US government placed on any research that promised to increase the global power of the Allies (I had some US and Geman grants myself in the fifties&sixties that aimed at "growth in knowledge" in the interests of the race against Soviet Communism) and, the socio-cultural orthodoxy that was demanded of researchers. These goals also created in the 20th century the atmosphere that empowered the scientific and cultural emigres from central Europe to the US, while incidentlly throwing suspicion on those who remained in Germany and Eastern Europe during the two wars. It is then not surprising that only one philosophical school, logical empiricism - imported by emigres from the Vienna/Berlin Circle - became the monopoly standard for the philosophy of science in the US, while Heisenberg - the most philosophically cultured and yet the least studied of all the great physicsits of his day - was treated with great suspicion, as indeed was his friend, the great philosopher, Martin Heidegger.
We seem still to be in thrall to the socio-historical traces of our immediate past. With such a multi-generational history, it should not surprise anyone if  analytic philosophy (Anglophone philosophy - as it is called in Germany) were described as the philosophy of epistemological robotics. Continental philosophy - the humanistic trend in 20th century German philosophy stemming from Dilthey and Nietzsche - would then in contrast be called the philosophy of ontological consciousness.
.
Patrick   

2010-03-10
The analytic/continental divide
Cheers!

2010-03-10
The analytic/continental divide
Since it was me (I?), I think, who got this issue going, I thought I'd offer a brief comment again.  I used the phrase "our world" rather than "common world" but I don't think it makes any real difference. The problems I raised are the same. 

My comments were in response to what I see as the uncritical use of the phrase "our world" in statements such as Chalmers' "In our world there are conscious experiences". I won't repeat what I said in my post of 31 Jan. I will just add that, to my mind, Patrick's comments, interesting though they no doubt are from a scientific point of view, don't tackle the issue I raised, particularly where I pointed out that human consciousness would seem to be something that exists at the personal - the individual - level, not in the world revealed by impersonal, scientific observation.  (A problem masked by the unthinking use of the phrase "our world" or "common world".)

Just one more thought.  I was struck by Fenton's comment "And the world that I inhabit will be extinguished with my death."  The interesting thing about this is that, in a very real sense, the world that will be extinguished by one's death is the only world one can ever know. We know the "objective", scientific world as a series of facts; but our lives - our hopes, fears, plans, disappointments - are not constituted by that world - by those dry facts. So, bizarrely, the world that will be extinguished by one's death is in fact the world. Hence the uncanny feeling we all have from time to time (don't we?) that "when I die the world will be extinguished with me."  Hence also, I suspect, the myth of Atlas: each of us carries the whole world on his/her shoulders.

Seen in this light, the statement "In our world there are conscious experiences" seems very question-begging does it not?

DA
  

2010-03-10
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Ok, 2 things:
1) Sounds like you need a new thread.  This, as I have noticed in your posts often enough, is far enough from the original anal/cont divide to warrant expansion.
2) We share objects of consciousness, if not consciousness itself (and, given the fact of mirror neurons and chemical signaling and all sorts of other more or less analytically ignored stuff, I feel that we DO share consciousness), and these are the objects by way of which our dreams, aspirations, goals, and anything else typically significant are constituted.  These are things like truth, for Philosophers, or the Good, or happiness, or God or whatever floats your boat. And, to emphasize, THESE ARE SOLELY OBJECTS OF CONSCIOUSNESS, NOTHING ELSE.  Look around the room, you will not find them.  And, this truth is nothing new.  We need not forget Aristotle, that a person wants for material things solely as means to the properly understood and universal (by his account) end.  The End.  Now, this is an end that we all share.  I suppose that the factic expression is death, to recall the Heideggerrian analysis.  But, properly, it is life as a mortal critter, wishing to have one's capacities effectively realized, one's potentials become actualities, that consumes each and every person.  This is not death, or the end of the world, but mortality.  And, this is all that there is to consciousness, altogether.  So, as mortality is shared, so is its experience, and so is the world so constituted, and so the world in common is one in which there are conscious (and by David's use of the term, I would expect only conscious) experiences.  About the 'my world ending, your world ending, the world ending' concern, it would seem that the fence that the dying ego draws around the world it understands is as large as is that ego's understanding of the world.  As this understanding increases, it includes other persons, other lives, animals, entities, times...  And, is in the capital sense COMMON.  Not that when I die you die...  But, that, when I die, some part of you is gone, and when you die, some part of me is gone, and this is why we should mourn the destruction that is the wake of the Western culture of death (to recall Erich Fromm's analysis).  The result, taken in a strong form, is that Atman equals Brahman, self is world, and the mystery in this equation is only solved when your soul (in the Nietzschean sense) expands to become the world, in common.  Otherwise, and until this happens, you will continue to struggle with such phrases as 'in our world, there are conscious experiences.'

2010-03-10
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Thank you Derek and Jeffrey, I thought someone would agree that it is the Self that is the only reality and that philosophy is much much more than nagging about distinctions between 'schools' of thought favoured by 'communities'. It is not even about academic papers and books, it is about learning how to live a life - My Life - in which you all play your parts. 
And, Patrick, I, too, was a witness at first hand of the ghastly slaughter of WWll and wept over the insanity of men who, driven by rhetoric, and false religions, could deprive each other of their only valuable possession. And I look with horror at the way war and avarice still destroy the lifetime of so many innocents; while philosophers are engaged in ... what?

Philosophy, IMHO, has to start with self-understanding and the hard task of throwing off the detritus of communal thinking, of schools and ready-made points of view that can so easily lead us to cause harm to others. The aim of practical philosophy should be so to understand human nature as to be able to help to emancipate the individual - in particular This Individual, from the tyranny of society.
To me, philosophy is about Living before death.



2010-03-10
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Fenton Robb
Yes, Fenton.
I could not agree more.
Especially, I wish to emphasize your question:
Philosophy is currently doing - WHAT?
This question offers a return to the origins of this thread.
The Cont tradition permits a Philosophic life.
The Anal tradition, so far as it can be called a 'tradition' at all, in fact discourages it.
In this era of perpetual war for empire, rabid injustice and inhumanity, apartheid and open-air prison camps not unlike the worst of the 20th century,
we are doing...What?


2010-03-11
The analytic/continental divide
Thank you Patrick. I am sure we would all love to hear more from you on your experience of philosophy through the Cold-War. It seems to me that Anglophone philosophy is either blind to, in denial of, or does not care about the socio-political forces that shaped it (probably all three). In any case, I am very busy but following the string, I am very interested in, and very happy to see your comments.
Philip

2010-03-11
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Fenton Robb
I completely disagree that the Self is the only reality.
Philip

2010-03-11
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Philip,Briefly, I assert that the only reality is myself, because that is the only certainty I can experience and I anticipate that when I die, so that reality will vanish. Very briefly, those are my observation and my argument. I appreciate that you are very busy, but, when you have a moment I'd be interested in the observations and/or arguments that support your opinion. 
Regards Fenton

2010-03-11
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

Good to know you are still tuned in.

Thought I'd comment on your reply to Fenton denying that "the Self is the only reality" - and also try to get back to he subject of this thread which, as Jeffrey rightly points out I have strayed from.

Put baldly like that ("the Self is the only reality") I also disagree.  The point I was trying to get at was that the idea of "reality" - or "world" - is a tricky one. Not from the point of view of the hoary old question about does the outside world exist etc (questions which has never interested me much) but from the point of view of how we define the idea, i.e. how we conceptualize it.  I won't repeat the argument in my 31 Jan post but I think that, if we reflect carefully on the question, we see that the idea of 'our world' - or simply 'reality' - is very much dependent on the kinds of things we have in mind as making up a "world". If "the world" is made up of, or includes, the hopes, dreams, fears, etc, of people I have never met - and there are billions of them - then the idea of a common reality, or 'our world' starts to look very shaky. And seen in that light, it is not quite so silly to suggest that the self - ie individual experience - is the only reality.

Now, trying in a roundabout way to pull that back to the subject of this thread:

As I said in my earlier post, "human consciousness, one would think, is very much something that exists at the personal - the individual - level. If I die my consciousness dies with me (or so we assume). Unless we are a Buddhist or something of the sort, there is no such thing as a "general" human consciousness that transcends the individual." So the issue under discussion links to the question of human consciousness (and raises serious questions for example about Chalmers' bald statement: "In our world there are conscious experiences".) 

Now, interestingly enough, this question of consciousness seems to be one of the vectors of the analytic/continental divide. To my knowledge there is nothing in continental philosophy resembling the "scientific" approach to this question adopted by analytic philosophy (scare quotes very much intended!). The idea of human consciousness in continental philosophy is linked to quite different issues - history and ethics, for example. So that's something to consider for those who suggest that the divide is greatly exaggerated etc. One of the central questions of modern philosophy is approached in completely different ways on either side of the divide.

DA




2010-03-11
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Fenton Robb
Hi Fenton,
I do not find the approach phenomenologically compelling, or at least I no longer find that approach phenomenologically compelling. Being the father of two children and being intimately involved in their development over the last decade or so, part of which is allowing their experience of the world to affect mine in a intersubjectively rich way, there are lots of things I am certain about in regards to them. In particular I am certain about things which affect them emotionally, perhaps not apodictically certain - but if that is the demand then I think that the demand is too strong. That's just off the cuff. But really I have lots on and cannot contribute to this string for the next few weeks.

Philip

2010-03-11
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,
yes still following, though snowed under after a longish trip to the US. Sorry to buy out of matters but until I catch  up with work I will have to leave the discussion to the people who were previously engaged. I mainly just piped up because I enjoyed the post in regard to the Cold-War.

Phil

2010-03-12
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,

You wrote:
To my knowledge there is nothing in continental philosophy resembling the "scientific" approach to this question adopted by analytic philosophy (scare quotes very much intended!). The idea of human consciousness in continental philosophy is linked to quite different issues - history and ethics, for example.

Look, I will be frank, here.

I do not mean to be rude, but I do wish to expedite matters, and sometimes what jumps us out of a rut is a quick and perhaps brutal jarring, so here it goes:

1) You are right.  Only the Anal tradition does what it does, which is what I see you doing, which is flailing about in sunny waters with its eyes closed to the big picture due to some deluded 'scientific' privilege of neglect in the name of pedantic focus.
2) Consciousness is tied to other issues in any adequate inquiry into the matter (perhaps to be found in some of the Cont tradition - Ponty, Heidegger, Hegel being the big three here) because the very term "consciousness" derives from another earlier and more robust term, "conscience."  And, conscience is ESSENTIALLY a moral/ethical critter. Obviously, this bears significant implications for your considerations of a common world.  And, obviously, this is why any adequate inquiry into consciousness cannot satisfy your demand for a "scientific approach."
3) Finally, though you may object that what conscience names is not what people (you and other Analytics, I expect) presume to be consciousness (due to its popular usage, now, I suppose), this objection falls flat for anyone well grounded enough to realize that THERE IS A REASON WHY CONSCIOUSNESS WAS, AND HAS BEEN, OF AN ESSENTIAL ETHICAL CHARACTER (at least in Philosophy - with a capital "P").  And, this reason is that only some things are deserving of our directed attention.  Any idiot can bubble about the color red, but in no case does this advance the human condition, make people happier, and, in the end, satisfy what Aristotle would have called the highest potentials of the human life, the exercise of reason to the most significant ends.  Of course, this Aristotlelian torch is carried forth by (come) in the Cont tradition.  And, the result is a thick notion of consciousness, the one that you seem unwilling to bear.  On the other hand, this Aristotelian torch is callously pissed on by the Anal tradition, even in passing, when its practitioners so obviously discount these insights, and pretend to themselves that what the world really needs is a brand new start from some ignorant scratch. The real rub is that this "approach" is called "scientific."  What a sham!

Regarding the Self is the only reality thing...

Again, persons prove only one thing in their reflex dismissal of such a claim, and this is their total ignorance of traditions that make very good sense of it.
Either you understand, or you don't, and it cannot be my burden, or Fenton's burden, to carry you to the gateway of enlightenment.
These traditions make it perfectly clear that it is the job of the student to seek out the experiences necessary to bring him/her self to this state, when he/she can realize the Truth (yes, with a capital "T") of such a claim.
Until then, I will recall a Heideggerian sentiment, itself merely a recollection of a Christian sentiment, that 'Only he who understands is able to listen.'
Until you make yourself capable of understanding, then you will not hear what is being said to you, only splash and wail about the need for greater clarity.
Stop.
Think about this image.
This is the reality.
It is YOU.

Regarding the Anal/Cont thing.

The differences in the two "traditions" are obvious in the preceding.

However, I shall restate the simple recipe that I have often enough already produced:
In the Cont tradition, the Philosophic life is still a possibility.
And the Anal tradition, the opposite is the case.

Should there be any dispute, then I suppose there is need for further comment.
I am more than willing to defend these claims.


2010-03-12
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Hi Jeffrey

I must not have been very clear.  I am not at all sanguine about the likelihood of a scientific approach having anything useful to say about the nature of human consciousness (though it does of course provide very valuable information about the brain).

Although I would not perhaps have phrased it this way, I tend to agree with you that "Any idiot can bubble about the color red, but in no case does this advance the human condition..."

DA

2010-03-12
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek;

I understand your explicit attempts at a middle-position from previous posts, and from other forums...
And, I admire your attitude, at least for its apparent openness to refutation.

Brain info does not come from philosophy, so far as I can tell.
Even 'experimental philosophy' is merely the creative application of neuroscience, which itself is only a branch of applied physics, or more properly understood physical chemistry, and none of this, though correlating brain scans (energized states of glial cells, in the case of MRI), tells us much about consciousness, unless we relegate consciousness to the confines of a single brain, which is the flavor-of-the-physicalist's-day, and over-whelming position in Anal philosophy, and this position by definition not only denies that consciousness is by its nature a shared state (insignificant outside of the conscious community, maybe is a good way to put it, anyways), but also flies in the face of the most interesting results from the neurosciences (see social cognitive neuroscience for starters here...).

I tend to understand this fact of the Western approach from a socio-evolutionary perspective, but I will leave this explanation for another day...

Allow me to make the following strong claims, with the hopes that either you will challenge them directly or agree with them with substantial comment:
1) Anal philosophy does not tell us anything about consciousness, unless we are content with being wrong.
2) "Self" is different from "self."
3) The study of consciousness is essentially an ethical inquiry.
4) There is and will never be a philosopher of lasting note to arise within the Analytic "tradition."
5) Analytic philosophy is sophistry.
6) Reductionism inspires small-minded persons with limited experience.
7) Continental philosophy requires 3 things that most Anglo-philosophiles lack: literacy, a sense of history, a capacity for synthesis.
8) The current state of political affairs in the Anglo-West (budding totalitarianism in the guise of theo-fascism) is due to the fact that Anglo-philosophiles have dropped the ethical ball, that is they have not and are not doing their jobs as Philosophers.
9) Furthermore, this totalitarianism will continue, and result in civil/world war (by design) until and unless Philosophers arise from the ranks of Western-philosophiles and retake the helm of social transformation.
10) In the end, the Anal tradition shirks this responsibility, while the Cont tradition still allows for it.

Finally, I appreciate the fact that you have the courage to reply, and to engage me on these matters.
I was heavy-handed with you.
Purposefully.
And, I hope that in the end this strategy will be effective in moving us, and our discourse, along...

Yours, ready to be refuted,
Jeff
 




2010-03-12
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek

Thanks for your prompt reply.

Some things you say sound a bit Rortyesque to me :
- 'the relentless pounding on the idea that the world of scientific observation is the only world that counts' (I quite agree on that critique !)
- your apparent aversion towards the analytic world.
Yet your conclusion sounds quite similar to what I have heard there : careful observation, hunting out hidden assumptions, questioning just about everything - this is all analytical repertoire aint it ?

As far as I understand you it is the claim for exclusive unquestionable validity what bothers you about the analytic/scientific world, a claim that is in many peoples understanding tightly associated with metaphysics - looks like the old religious vs. atheist/naturalist conflict is at the center of the matter (but please correct me in case I got you wrong there).

You got me wrong, though, on one point : I wouldn't subscribe to the scientific method mainly because subscriptions have the terrible tendency to claim an exclusiveness which in turn might result in a certain rigidity which in turn certainly does great harm to the curious mind which is, after all, a precious little thing that I believe should remain unharmed - but isn't that not just another (rather clumsy) way of articulating suspicions towards orthodoxies just as you did ?
How does this fit in with the metaphysics you mentioned?
Well, after all I might just have adopted an analytical notion of metaphysics since to me this is a special flavour of orthodoxy that goes through many pains to immunize itself against suspicions and doubts.  I have reservations towards the scientific world because I see it, even today, saturated with diverse metaphysical suppositions.
So we both seem to have certain reservations towards science, but probably from rather different angles of incidence.

I absolutely agree with you, though, that we should strive for reduction rather than increase of individual isolation/loneliness. But don't we create a fair portion of it by concepts like supposed places 'were we all inevitably live' ? (The term 'Inevibility' sounds rather lonely to me) Could it not be that by advancing notions of strict 'individual experience' (an thus underestimating or even denying the common fields of language and culture) we cause parts of the isolation that we henceforth try to cure ? Wouldn't we be better off  to reevaluate this sort game ?

CT 

2010-03-12
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Jeffrey,

Not wanting to put a dampener on the brutal jarring, but I worry you underestimate the number of Aristotelian torch-bearers in the analytic tradition, and underplay the scientific approach in Continental philosophy. In defence of these two claims, firstly, I could site the resurgence in Aristotelian virtue ethics, the growth of Virtue-Epistemology, and the increasing fashionability for Pragmatism in dominantly Analytic departments, all three of which embrace the idea that philosophy is highly relevent to how we live or inquire well. Secondly I want to focus on Merleau-Ponty as a continental philosopher who was scientific. He was doing something similar to cognitive neuro-psychology. He cites a case study of a brain-damaged patient, and shows that the pathology is the sort that would be predicted by intellectualism or by empiricism, thus presenting a strong case that they provide the wrong ways of understandin the capacities the patient lacks. This is exactly the form of methodology used in cognitive science by cognitive neuropsychology. While Merleau-Ponty is becoming more influential in contemporary cognitive psychology, they perhaps do not grasp the full scope of Merleau-Ponty's insights, but there are people engaged in debate with analytic philosophers arguing for Merleau-Pontian positions. A minority, admittedly, but they are there nonetheless. I am a fierce critic of the scientistic approach to philosophy that views philosophy as merely an underlabourer to science, but I am equally sceptical of tubthumping dismissal of an approach to philosophy that is home to a diverse collection of views and approaches.

Finally, the 'only he who understands is able to listen' bit may well be true, but needen't be quite so antagonistic. One of the beautiful things about Phenomenology, as a movement, is that it appeals to a domain in which we all have expertise. I'm sure my colleagues in the analytic tradition, by and large, share the relevant experiences with you, but what needs to happen is better advertisement of the differences in methodology at work. For me, part of the Philosophical life is to try and show people why Aristotelian torch is worth bearing, rather than accusing them of being deluded for not bearing it already.

2010-03-12
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Hi Jeff

Re: "Brain info does not come from philosophy, so far as I can tell." Yes I agree. When I said the "scientific approach" has useful things to say about the brain I meant science as in medicine etc.

And now for your list of claims which I can't resist responding to:

1) Anal philosophy does not tell us anything about consciousness, unless we are content with being wrong.
Enjoyed the humour. In my typical agnostic style I will say that I think it unlikely that it will tell us anything
 
2) "Self" is different from "self."
Well, I get edgy around the word "self" with or without capitals so I will pass on that. (I once attended an analytic seminar about "self-consciousness" where no one seemed to think it necessary to define what was meant by self. At last I raised the point and received blank looks as if the question was irrelevant. I heard a rumbling noise which I think was Hume turning over in his grave.)

3) The study of consciousness is essentially an ethical inquiry.
Not sure. Could be.

4) There is and will never be a philosopher of lasting note to arise within the Analytic "tradition."
Ha!  Well, you could be right...

5) Analytic philosophy is sophistry.
I think a lot is, yes.

6) Reductionism inspires small-minded persons with limited experience.
Well, yes, maybe...

7) Continental philosophy requires 3 things that most Anglo-philosophiles lack: literacy, a sense of history, a capacity for synthesis.
I think it does require a sense of history. In general I think analytic philosophy is quite hostile or at least indifferent to history (analytic aesthetics certainly is). That results, in my view, from analytic philosophy's basic view of what reality is: it is taken to be like the reality of science - that is ahistorical.

8) The current state of political affairs in the Anglo-West (budding totalitarianism in the guise of theo-fascism) is due to the fact that Anglo-philosophiles have dropped the ethical ball, that is they have not and are not doing their jobs as Philosophers.
Possible. I'm not sure I think philosophers can save us anyway.

9) Furthermore, this totalitarianism will continue, and result in civil/world war (by design) until and unless Philosophers arise from the ranks of Western-philosophiles and retake the helm of social transformation.
Ah, well, here we are in the realm of prophecy. I will abstain.

10) In the end, the Anal tradition shirks this responsibility, while the Cont tradition still allows for it.
Well I think continental tries to respond. Whether it does successfully or not is another question.

Sorry to be so non-committal at points.

DA
 

2010-03-12
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Christian, Re: "careful observation, hunting out hidden assumptions, questioning just about everything - this is all analytical repertoire aint it ?"

No. This is one of the reasons I object to the purloining of the term "analytic" by "analytic" philosophy. There is an implication that everything else is vague and airy-fairy. I think the things I listed are necessary to all good philosophy. One of the objections I have to a lot of analytic philosophy is that they are missing.  It is not analytic enough.

Re;"As far as I understand you it is the claim for exclusive unquestionable validity what bothers you about the analytic/scientific world." No. It is essentially analytic phil's reluctance to examine its presuppositions - and even worse its unwillingness to recognise that it has any. (But I should be clear: I do not oppose the scientific method in the least. Science has achieved marvels - as well as horrors... But I am very chary of philosophy that simply apes science.)

DA 



2010-03-12
The analytic/continental divide
Re claim 1)  Aristotlelian torch bearers they are not.  Bumming a light is not the same as carrying a torch.  These people might talk the talk, at least mutter the appropriate terms at the appropriate times (more or less) but do not walk the walk.  The Aristotelian torchlight does not fade at the edge of a 'discipline,' 'specialty,' or 'field.'  It is a way of life, and the thread that is this life runs continuously from Socrates (proto-phenomenologist) to Philosophers, perhaps like McKenna and Mohanty, recently.  I name them as I will mention them again in a moment.
Re claim 2) Pragmatism is the only American Philosophy, it is extremely powerful and influential around the world, through Peirce grounding semiotics as metaphysics, influencing deeply effective work (Lorenzo Magnani, for example, who will recall that when he worked in the States, he asked colleagues about Peirce, and was surprised to hear that no one knew him...) and for it to have to shoulder a chair in a 'dominantly Analytic' department in the country of its birth, the same place where Peirce himself was effectively ostracized to death for being right, is a tragedy in itself.  This is no victory for Anglo-philosophiles.  Only testimony to the hypocrisy and lack of vision that motivates hiring decisions and journal editors.
Re claim 3)  Ponty, yes.  Psychology, yes.  Method, ok.  I don't understand why you mention it.  I am quite familiar with these things.  Neurophenomenology included.  Whatever your point here, it is lost on me...  Philosophy still doesn't tell us about brains.  It does, of course, through Phenomenology, provide the only means of interpreting info on brains, provided by neuroscience.  And this is why a proper understanding of Phenomenology and the phenomenological method is becoming so important.  We need it to sew together all the subjective with all the objective...  But, zombies aren't helping us here, for example.  They are a tenure-useful delusion, only.

Most importantly, re claim 4)  I disagree that Analytics share the relevant experiences with me.  Mohanty does a great job, or should I say did more than 30odd years ago, telling us that the job of the phenomenological philosopher is to enter an instant prepared to report on an experience, in a certain way, to "tell the story" if I remember correctly.  And, I would argue that, if a person is not prepared to do this work, then they are not experiencing the same thing that I am experiencing.  McKenna wrote a piece a couple years ago applying the phenomenological method to overcome cultural barriers, and it requires experiencing life in terms of the world of objects as one within that world of objects, 'as one' here meaning with ends and aspirations the same, bound up in cultural determinants and motivated as well as possible by myth, in fact in full re-creation of lifeworld.  There is of course discourse, here, but along the way, not primarily.  And, this exercise requires a certain holism - literacy, historical sensibility, capacity for synthesis - that is not available to the field-delimited Analytic mind.

You say "movement," and this is what Philosophy is.  Dynamic - walking, in life, together, integrating to common ends.  It is Socratic.  It is not - as Peirce famously accused the scholastics and Analytic 'philosophy' is a sort of new scholasticism - suiting up with terms of art to sally forth in battle to defend one position against another (Anglos make war on everything, especially ideas), whereby there is only movement in the route.

When in the company of Analytics, I feel like Socrates with a less well educated and less than honestly motivated Callicles.  The fact is that, even in demonstrating the Philosophic life, some people, most people, simply go their own way.  Granted, those without the wherewithal, without options, without the power, to see for themselves the ends to which they are bound and to choose otherwise, these people can be forgiven for their delusions.  And, for them further demonstration is perhaps a worthwhile investment of my time.  But, indignant, and often dismissive, if not combative, chairs of philosophy departments who measure tenure/raises/hires by the numbers of words written in certain 'ranked' journals (themselves edited by Analytics, ranked by Analytics), these people can be rightfully accused.  And, in fact, paraded as the pariahs they are.  The only thing that will change these people is shame, and - if one recalls the roots of the Phenomenological tradition - shame has a very important role to play.


Thank you for your interest, your patience, and your tolerance.
Looking forward to a reply.
Jeff 




2010-03-12
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek;

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

I will attend to only number 10.

I appreciate your use of the word 'respond,' as this is where 'responsibility' comes from.
"Response" "ability" is an capacity to respond, when prompted.

"Are you here?"
"Yes, I am here."
"Why are you here?"
"Because..."

I am saying that the Analytic (by definition, in essence, fundamentally, in the strongest terms) has no capacity to respond.

Whether or not one is successful in providing an adequate response, well, that depends on a couple things.
One of these is what the questioner requires in the way of a response for it to count as adequate.

Another, of course, has to do with the response itself...
But, this is not the issue.
The issue is merely the potential for an adequate response at all...

I will maintain that the Anal/Cont traditions can be effectively and without exception delimited on this line.

What do you think?

P.S.  I fully intend to trump Forbes' claims issued 4-27 of last year with the above, and perhaps especially invite his retort.

2010-03-12
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Please may I make a suggestion about science/philosophy distinction?
I am told that Newton, in the 1st edition of Principia, suggested that the phenomena described by his Law of Mass Attraction could be 'explained' if there were to be a 'force that acts at a distance', something that is invisible and unobservable in itself. He was criticised for entering the realm of metaphysics and making an inference that was not justified by any evidence (of the senses). Subsequently he wrote 'I have not as yet been able to discover the reason for these properties of gravity from phenomena, and I do not feign hypotheses (hypotheses non fingo). For whatever is not deduced from the phenomena must be called a hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, or based on occult qualities, or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. In this philosophy particular propositions are inferred from the phenomena, and afterwards rendered general by induction'. (Wikipedia). It seems to that this encapsulates the distinction between 'experimental' philosophy (which we now call 'science'  - the observation of phenomena and the operation of inductive inference which does no more that summarise the observations made so far) and that branch of philosophy we call 'metaphysics' and which speculates about causal relations (or necessary connections) between phenomena. Science, as defined here, is never able to offer a categorical truth, because the very next observation of phenomena could undermine the consistency of previous observations - e.g. the discrepancy of Mercury's orbit that prompted Einstein's metaphysical hypothesis about the curvature of space/time and the theory of general relatively. (We might note that the discovery of an hitherto unobserved planet in the Solar System might reinstate Newton's Law again!).


So I advocate keeping apart the activities of making observations (experimental philosophy or 'science') and those that engage in speculations about the probabilities of causal relations and necessary connections i.e. 'metaphysics', embodied these days in (mathematical) modeling of hypothetical connections between observations. Keeping these two 'philosophies' apart - calling observations and measurement 'Science' and speculations about causal relations 'Metaphysics' would protect 'Science' and the whole body of knowledge (scientia) acquired by experiment from the effects of the inevitable changes in the causal (probabilistic) interpretations of the phenomena (metaphysics). 


Thus I can walk with confidence on the flat Earth, watch the Sun rise and set, the heavens rotate overhead and be entertained by the planets doing their weird motions without giving a thought to the varying curvature of the earth or the orbits of the planets and so on. And, without recourse to metaphysics, I can plumb the depths of knowledge required to navigate my ship or aeroplane using Great Circles to any part of the world or even to the Moon. I may be wrong, but I do not see any real need to seek causal explanations and I suggest that causal explanations are more a matter of 'fashion' within and between rival peer groups. Of course, people who want to change the course of events demand causal 'explanations' but, in the event of making decisions to take action, the 'explanations' are chosen to suit the political, economic aims of the decision makers rather than accord with the empirical 'facts'. Causal explanations are used as justification for action, just as the Will of God served the same purpose not so long ago.The little ice age, air pollution, global warming, weapons of mass destruction and so on - even printing money is thought to solve national bankruptcy and destroying towns and villages is believed to bring political freedom to the survivors! Heigh-ho fashions change! 


2010-03-14
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Hi Jeffrey

This time I will answer a question with a question. Why are you so sure that the analytic tradition is powerless to respond to our current situation? What in your view is its fatal weakness?

DA

2010-03-14
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi.
Thanks for the question.

Now, there are some obvious issues, like the demands of publishing formats, styles and guidelines, the nepotism and inbred nature of the industry, the sense of ivory-tower entitlement, the incredible lack of experience had by the increasingly young PhD's (and rapid hires into professorships) emerging from analytic diploma(puppy)-mills, and of course the physics-envy impelled artificial field delimitations, but perhaps, though I should like to attend to these in turn, they are all best wrapped up in another aspect:

Generally, lack of scope, but pointedly PRIDE in this lack of scope, extending in three dimensions.

I will keep things personal, speak about what I know best, so you can see that I am honest and that the following is my best understanding:

1) Historical/contextual - I once dropped a class (doing a PhD, not a popular move) after the first day (in phil mind - or should I say zombies and other such ridiculousness) as the attitude of the prof (a rather well known 'reductive' physicalist) that he had never read Kant and was HAPPY about it.

The students who remained (everyone, actually) enjoyed his 'focus.'  I couldn't stand sitting in a room full of children who couldn't recognize, or refused to appreciate, the similarities between "propositional attitude" and "disposition."


2) Professional/personal or public/private - Now, these were and I suspect still are perfectly agreeable people, in that they chewed with their mouths closed and didn't steal laptops during coffee breaks, but there was a spirit of privileged ignorance that, in every contact I have ever had with (especially) the champions of Anglo-anal-phil, and I have sat with some of the more recognizable names here or there, has been repeated.

Sure, there may be passing interest in some relationship or other, as a moment of table talk.
But that is all that it ever really amounts to - table talk.
As if thee are a bunch of white collar Fred Flintstones: hear the whistle blow, and it's off to the golf course.

3) Cognitive/affective - Even when discussions run through libertarianism, the 'what sort of libertarian are you?' kind of line, the discussion is airy, ungrounded, as if the full ramifications are comprehended but not FELT.

Now there are exceptions, of course.  I once listened to a rather well known philosopher who writes mostly about distributive justice talk about how his new sweater was unnecessary and that he could more justly deploy these resources to other persons but he didn't remove his sweater, and as he failed to act he struggled with this fact...  So, I know that he was sensitive to the implications of his professional work on his personal life, and I respected that, but he - so far as I know - hasn't done anything about it.

(((But, there is more readily evidence to this effect.  For instance, the anemic attempt at defining wisdom recently (and expensively) undertaken by persons apparently without the necessary experience to make it happen...  Just imagine how many sweaters this effort cost us!)))

And, so far as I can tell, sweater-man can't do anything about it, not and keep his job, most likely.
Corporatism in the academy is - especially now that the Fed has destroyed the public base in the U.S. - not something easily overcome.
And, the stories about people getting fired or bought out for representing views against the illegal and immoral 'war on terrorism' (just another extension of corporatism in public policy) are famous enough to those who have been paying attention.
Not to mention Zionism and apartheid...
Down-under, there is full-blown internet censorship.
In Europe, people are jailed for talking about WW2.
For all the reading I am able to do, I have yet to see a anything published in a peer-reviewed journal indicting the U.S. for torturing people.  Considering that I spend a lot of time on Ethics, this is troubling, to say the least...  Now, this is changing slowly, and we may see some breakthrough, but the point is that philosophy is not leading the way, as it should be...
And, may never get the chance, if it waits long enough.
The push is on in the States for even more stringent 'protections' against open information. So, there is no short of evidence that, increasingly, to represent the truth, or even to seek it, is to marginalize, or even criminalize one's self.
And that means no job.

But, this is exactly the Philosophic mission.
It is only possible when one feels the situation, first, and understands it second.  When one does not distinguish between his/her public/private life (the distinction is artificial and merely serves corruption in the authentic Greek sense).  Altogether, when one realizes his/her place in history, and his/her role as the power that creates it.

Tracing the thread of these ideas to the beginning of this post, you see how we are led to the Analytic doorstep.

Now, one may object that I am indicting most of the West for most of time, but that is not my problem.
My problem is with Philosophy.
Specifically, with 'philosophers' who live in terms of the times, swayed by popular opinion, working in the mode of the popular times, in other words, in bite sizes on fad-topics and without lasting effect - the Analytic scholasticism of today, aka sophistry in the broad sense.

Recalling E.O. Wilson, the problems we face are not limited to one field or another, and will not be resolved within one or the other. The knowledge must be unified, and the Analytic attitude cannot manage it.
Recalling Aristotle, the problems are political problems, requiring a sort of civic courage that isn't demonstrated in Analytic departments on any level that I have witnessed, at least among professors under 60.
Recalling Heidegger, to live otherwise is to live without conscience, un-authentically, dis-ingenuously, in short, un-Philosophically.

Now, one may further object that I am laying out requirements too strong to be met.  By anyone.
But, again, this is not my problem.

It is easy enough, however, to see that Analytics are not up to the task.
If they were, they wouldn't be so proud of not reading Kant.
The kingdom of ends is our own.
Per Kant, Aristotle, Heidegger, we make room for the future in the space of our understanding.
Thus, the ends and kingdom so delimited, and the narrow focus of an analytic specialty doesn't offer much room for a future.
For anyone.

Keeping these horizons open is exactly the Philosophic mission.
And, as we see in some Continental Philosophy, this is still explicitly recognized, and so, for its students, still a possibility.

Now, this is a single pass exposition.
Treat is as a conversation, ok?
I have not even proofed it!
Not a lot of time to edit forum posts...

But, I am grateful to engage in discourse.
As men.
And, I am open to further discourse if you are interested in sharing your time.

Best,
Jeff


 

 

2010-03-14
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
In this situation I consulted the philosophers. I turned over their books, and examined their several opinions. I found them vain, dogmatical and dictatorial—even in their pretended skepticism. Ignorant of nothing, yet proving nothing; but ridiculing one another instead; and in this last particular only, in which they were all agreed, they seemed to be in the right. Affecting to triumph whenever they attacked their opponents, they lacked everything to make them capable of a vigorous defence. If you examine their reasons, you will find them calculated only to refute: If you number voices, every one is reduced to his own suffrage. They agree in nothing but in disputing, and to attend to these was certainly not the way to remove my uncertainty....

But were the philosophers in a situation to discover the truth, which of them would be interested in so doing? Each knows very well that his system is no better founded that the systems of others; he defends it, nevertheless, because it is his own. There is not one of them, who, really knowing truth from falsehood, would not prefer the latter, if of his own invention, to the former, discovered by any one else. Where is the philosopher who would not readily deceive mankind, to increase his own reputation? Where is he who secretly proposes any other object than that of distinguishing himself from the rest of mankind? Provided he raises himself above the vulgar, and carries away the prize of fame from his competitors, what doth he require more? The most essential point is to think differently from the rest of the world. Among believers he is an atheist, and among atheists he affects to be a believer


2010-03-14
The analytic/continental divide
Mmmm. After this, and Jeffrey's charge list too, one could start feeling quite gloomy! 

Is there an analytic philosopher on the thread who might perhaps be able to give us a faint gleam of hope?  (My own sympathies don't lie in that direction so I won't try it myself.)

DA

2010-03-14
The analytic/continental divide
At the risk (always) of proving my self (usually) in error, is this from Rosseau's Emil, in the voice of the vicar?



2010-03-14
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Actually, what I am doing here is - in more pointed terms - merely returning the discussion to where it seemed to be around the end of October/November last year.

And, I would not be surprised if there is no response from Analytics on these counts.

One must be responsible to respond...
Or perhaps feel a need to be.

To take on the legitimacy of their society, the legitimacy of their industry, or the legitimacy of their way of life, would be to confront the limitations of the Analytic project.
And, as confrontational as I am trying to be, the necessary courage is not something that I expect an Analytic to demonstrate.
After all, their safety in the ivory tower is at the whim of the emperor and his thralls...

Given what has been said about about liberty and security, I suppose the animal is well adapted to its environment.

Rulers of the roost don't listen to the eggs hatch.
And, where possible ignore those who challenge them.
But, with the barn burning, I would hope for more...

P.S.  I enjoy a certain privilege, in that I keep myself from politically compromised positions, and am relatively free to open windows at the margin, windows onto the screams of the world that - to recall an image from Rousseau - philosophers are typically too quick to slam shut.  I do not expect others, in more sensitive positions, to echo these sentiments openly, though I do expect that many share them.  So, I suppose I am deploying this privilege in underscoring certain themes that have run through this forum from the outset, themes that may in some circles be risky when writ large and in red letters...  And this may be another reason for the silence...

2010-03-14
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Right! Got it in one.

2010-03-14
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Hi Jeff,
as you know from some of my previous postings to the board I agree with much of what you have said in the last few days about the nature of contemporary philosophy - although I am not at all protected from the philosophical 'marketplace'; an unfortunate circumstance for myself. 

But the thing is: if you talk to people about the state of philosophy - you know, talk candidly, in a friendly manner, perhaps over a drink or meal, in the kind of setting where you can be candid, where you can talk one-on-one - now, whether they be analytic philosophers or continentals, they wont deny that things are, broadly, as you have described them. Perhaps they will put matters a little more delicately (lipstick on a pig) but I doubt that they will deny the basic content of the points you make. I have had many such conversations with people, I cannot recall anyone who has put up any kind of real defense of the status quo (in regard to institutional life). The most you get is 'Yeah, well, its just part of the culture...', or something like that. Hardly a strong justification, but about as strong as it gets. Its odd, depressing and much more, its a world for 'players'. 

Contemporary philosophical culture is something that philosophers have helped, in conjunction with economic and political power, to construct. But no one is going to fund the revolution, we must always remember that.

Philip

2010-03-14
The analytic/continental divide
Agreed.
The status quo is constituted by so many sticks in the mud.

2 things are required for revolution.
1 is a will to move.
2 is a place to go.

Money is not an obstacle for revolutionaries...
Ideas are.
And balls.
Most of the conversations I have had with most of the people in the industry have revealed a dearth of both.

But the more Anglo-analytic (even in computer science/physical science circles) the more striking the absence...
And the more prideful for it.

2010-03-15
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Hi Jeff,
I wanted to make a clarification and then say something about the Rousseau quote.

My use of the word 'fund' was a little metaphorical, I meant 'facilitate' or perhaps 'resource' rather than 'pay for', so if we want change we cannot look around for others to do the work.  

Secondly while the quote from Rousseau is certainly meant to cut against analytic philosophy it is also meant to cut against much continental philosophy. There is no less vanity there. You see 'sneering' of a different kind - the 'more radical than thou' sort of sneering at others, it really irks me; 'radical sneering'! Also, in regard to Continental philosophy we could turn to Rousseau's First Discourse, to draw out elements that would be more appropriately aimed at Continentals - particularly when he begins on the issue of refinement; of language, of taste and so forth. But then, Rousseau could sneer with the best of them, so its ironic waters that I draw from that particular source. Of course I do agree with you that something positive 'might' come out of Continental philosophy. I think that the kind of auto-critical resources that are found in the Continental tradition are more helpful for speaking to the contemporary crisis, and it is a crisis. Contemporary philosophy is almost completely moribund.

Philip

2010-03-15
The analytic/continental divide
Re : ".....speaking to the contemporary crisis..."

At the risk of sounding simplistic I think a key factor here is different notions of the real.

For most analytic philosophy, the real that forms the subject of philosophical analysis is a kind of static, impersonal set of facts. The world of science more or less. Parts of this world may move (atoms etc). It may even have evolved into its present state. But as a whole it is just there - static, impersonal, a state of affairs one observes much as a scientist might peer through a microscope.

For continental philosophers, the world philosophy studies is always, in some way or another, historical - in process of change. (The Hegel-Marx inheritance)  Opinions differ widely on the nature of the change, how it happens, who makes it happen etc. But it is never just the static set of facts of analytic philosophy (and it is often less impersonal: history involves agents).

Thus the notion of a crisis is, in itself, very hard for analytic philosophy to digest. The individual analytic philosopher might of course happen to think there is a crisis of some kind, but the notion fits very uncomfortably into his/her schema where historical change is essentially absent.

The continental philosopher on the other hand can easily deal with the notion of a crisis, and might even suggest who is responsible. Of course, one does not have to agree with his/her diagnosis...

DA

2010-03-15
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Yes, yes, there is certainly something in what you say. That is exactly what is going on when, in drawing attention to the state of contemporary philosophy (as per Jeff's recent comments and mine of late 2009/early 2010), people respond with 'Yeah, well, its just part of the culture...', the second half of which is 'and what can I do about that?' If anything is to be done with culture it is to be observed and described. Its as if culture is something that goes on separately from them - its a display. Its not seen as something that they can relate to actively. But then, that is part of the problem. It seems to be divorced from reality in a number of senses. Predominantly it seems to see philosophy or intellectual life as something that, in some manner, stands outside of culture.

Ironically though, when people like Richard Dawkins take a big intellectual stick against creationists, those who believe in Noah's ark and so on, it is praised by analytic philosophers - he is criticizing culture in the name of 'truth' (although as someone said once, watching this is like watching someone hunt cows with heat seeking missiles - hardly sporting. I mean Noah's ark! Really!). But, to get to the point, if we can feel free to parade and applaud a critique of one form of non-sense (and engage in culture critical work in that way) then surely culture is not so static after all. Or is there a difference here? To borrow a common analytic question: what's the difference that makes the difference?


Philip

2010-03-15
The analytic/continental divide
Of course, 'fund' as in 'found' as in "start."

My portrait of Rousseau is not so snarky.
He is not Aristotle.
Rousseau cries...  Real tears.

And, not so elitist...
He is a naturalist, a deist, betrayed by the ignorance of his times, believing in the power of human reason but not in its power to reveal anything more than what is given.
Man cannot make a new world, nor perfect the one he has, but pursuits to the contrary are what the movers and shakers of his era would have, and the way that it has been since.
Rousseau, by my picture, was indeed aloof, but not by choice. By necessity.  And I think that it hurt his feelings...

Of course, I may be confusing myself with the Vicar, here.
Wouldn't be the first time.

To the latter points, you develop these in the following post, so I will comment there...

2010-03-15
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Yes.

It is an odd fact that anatomy is done with dead animals.
And, in the envy of science, Analytic philosophy proceeds likewise.
The method involves removing a piece of discourse, as if taking one stride from a journey, and analyzing it with the sterile and - so it is said - impartial and universal(-ly validating) tools of binary logic... "Carving it at the joints" (to quote an Analytic attempt at the method of doing metaphysics)... and then carving it up some more, with the "it" being the living, changing world, a person and his discourse being one conveniently distinguishable aspect thereof...
Obviously, this method not only proceeds on the basis of static things, but also requires that all forward motion stop, altogether...
Else, the patient, as it were, would be too far removed to suffer the 'benefit' of the Analysis.

What is the analysis of crisis, then?
I venture that the inability to conceive of a dynamic system, and rather the dependence on word and 'law,' both static and mistaken fictions, and religious application of formula whether lingual or otherwise, results in an all-or-nothing end of the world white knuckled grip on the way that things are...
Because the alternative is a 'not.'

What the continental tradition offers is a view from outside crisis, from past crisis, partly historical, and partly because its body takes on the issue of crisis, both in subjective and in objective terms.

And, because of this, for its students, the Philosophic life (so far as I know, only understood at all from a Cont base) remains a possibility.

So, in long form, yes. 


2010-03-15
The analytic/continental divide
Yes, culture is a dead animal, or in this case a prey animal whose sole purpose is to die for one's own enjoyment, whether in process or afterward what is the difference, eh?

However, one perhaps unintended side effect is the death of culture altogether.

Society is reduced to a bunch of self-interested causally related (and casually related, per contract and at-will employment and...) atoms, just expressions of selfish genes, everyone on the make for the big finish, regeneration, and off again...

So, what rises instead is nationalism, militarism, and corporatism, which, once bound together and called culture (what it is, if one has the conceptual wherewithal to capture the phenom in one fell glance) is properly known as fascism, which is where we are today.

To reiterate, it the the Philosopher's mission to work against this tide.
And, as flotsam on the prevalent jetstream, Anal-Anglo-philosophiles are unable to do so.


 

2010-03-15
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
So, are we in agreement?

One form can respond to crisis, while the other cannot?

If this is a determined position, then we can move on in the elucidation of others...


2010-03-15
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
No I doubt that we are.
 
I've only really said that analytic philosophy, given the basic notion of the real it works with (which it rarely reflects on, I notice), is much less likely than continental to be able to think in terms of social or cultural issues. That doesn't mean that continental will necessarily come up with good diagnoses or good remedies.

(As you might notice, there are large areas of my philosophical thinking - though not all - that end up being fairly agnostic. I'm guessing this is much less so for you.)

DA


2010-03-17
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Can't resist throwing this in because it is such a nice illustration of the difference between the analytical and continental perspectives. It's from an abstract for paper to be given shortly in a university context. (I will leave out the details):

'"Firstly, the political is essential to human being. To be a conscious being with a distinct perspective on the world depends on speaking with others and this, in turn, is only possible within a political community."

Can we imagine an analytic saying this? Consciousness depends on the political? (And perhaps even implying that it begins with the political).  

DA

2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Just distilling things down, I suppose one of the central questions we are left with is whether the ‘job’ is to describe the world or change it (in the normative sense).

1.     If it’s the former than it seems that we have failed to keep faith with Socrates, or reduced Socratic questioning to ‘What is X?’ type questioning, without bothering to understand that the motivations behind that mode of questioning, partly at least, is to confront social norms and thus change the world (reorder the normative order).

2.     I think that the decision that leads to accepting that the ‘job’ is to describe the world comes prior to a relation to culture a static, a dead object and so behind that view is a will.

3.    I think its a a conservative decision in multiple senses of the word.

Philip


2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Hmm. Well, I think I would have a few problems here.

1. I'm not sure our job is to keep faith with Socrates.  I just see him as one among a number of philosophers.

2. To change something, one might presumably need to begin by saying what it is (now)?

3. There might be some things philosophy describes that it doesn't necessarily seek to change. I would see art as one; human consciousness and language as others. Just to be able to say what these are (to answer the "What is?" question) would seem to me an enormous achievement.

This is not of course intended as a defence of analytic philosophy. I don't think the fundamental problem there lies in a will to resist change - though that might be a consequence. I think the problem there lies essentially in superficiality - an unwillingness to examine fundamental assumptions.  So it is often not philosophy at all, but a kind of game with words, jazzed up occasionally with odds and ends of science. 

DA


 


2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Can you imagine a responsible Cont phil student spouting this:

 Heidegger was basically wrong - he neither attempted to rigorously describe the whole of the mind nor completely did so on any level; psychologically, phenomenologically or ontologically.

And not getting trounced for it?

Guess this is what passes for a philosophic attitude at Cambridge these days...

2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
I am replying to Philip, but I will use Derek's answer as a sounding board...

Philip, I agree.


1. I'm not sure our job is to keep faith with Socrates.  I just see him as one among a number of philosophers.
Of course, even for Socrates, this was true.  However, as he lived, though others might have claimed to be Philosophers, he was the only one (in Athens, at the time) actually doing the job.  Others were practicing some brand of sophistry in the following mode:
superficiality - an unwillingness to examine fundamental assumptions.  So it is often not philosophy at all, but a kind of game with words, jazzed up occasionally with odds and ends of science. 

2. To change something, one might presumably need to begin by saying what it is (now)?
But, what one takes that to be depends on the way in which it is encountered, and that depends on a 'will' or at least method, so I think that Philip is right on the money here...
The problem seems to be when the 'what needs changing' is (mis)understood by way of the sophistical will/method.
Killing something is easy.  Keeping something alive, or better caring for something is hard.
It is no wonder that the laziest people on Earth are also the most destructive, and what stands as 'philosophy' in that culture is merely a reflection of this fact...

3. There might be some things philosophy describes that it doesn't necessarily seek to change. I would see art as one; human consciousness and language as others. Just to be able to say what these are (to answer the "What is?" question) would seem to me an enormous achievement.
Philosophy is originally an art.
I would expect that, especially an artist, would be intent on changing consciousness, or at least affecting it, and the Philosopher in this sense is an artist, should he/she work to change the way that people understand and even become aware of themselves and the world...
The language changes in the course thereof...and the body, itself, even if through selection, over the long course thereof...
Now, this is of course difficult, and personally costly, requiring a lifetime of dedication, providing a living example, in fact giving one's life to Philosophy (the Philosophic mission, or 'job'), so it is no surprise that people do otherwise.
My problem is when they do so and still pretend to be Philosophers...
Just as (scientific) advance can be seen as a map of labor-saving devices, lazy people have taken on science to do the Philosopher's job for them.
Scientism is the reigning school, in some form or other, and the end of that road is always 'truth.'
But, do they really qualify as "Philosophers?"
I say "No."
I tend to distinguish the two with big P's and little p's...

Look, I am basically a Heideggerian.
Heidegger is a Philosopher, and a descendant of Socrates.
(He got burned, badly, for his efforts - but that is subject for another discussion...)
Heidegger tells us that Philosophy is genuine authenticity and that is conscience...
He EXPLICITLY tells us that, in the form of an equation.
I feel that this is true...
Conscience is obviously about changing the world, and not simply normatively...


But, that aside, I think that we can trace the larger problem we are facing to a misunderstanding of Aristotle, a misunderstanding that did not plague Heidegger, but that he had to work against, and one that shapes the world in which we all live and work to this day.

The contemplative life is happiest spent studying ideal and unchanging things.
The problem is that philosophers (small p) start with this, take it as their day job, from day one.
But, Aristotle tells us that coming to understand what these things are takes a lot of hard work, in fact a life dedicated to the enterprise.
If one can come to an understanding of something that is eternal, then this aspect of his soul can live forever.
(Basically, he/she tells others, and this understanding remains viable, so the product of his animus continues to affect the world, and this is the end that a Philosopher should have in his/her sights...)

Now, this immortality promised through understanding is the product of the Philosophic job properly done.
But,
it has been misappropriated since and finally diluted into the promise that one can live forever in Christian heaven if he/she merely "understands" that Christ is the son of God.  (Truly, a lazy man's dream come true!)
Now, gone wrong or kept right, it doesn't take much to find Socrates as the inspirational root, here.
He is surely the exemplar of this Philosophic immortality.
And, the model for the Christian mission (another Philosopher by my count) if no longer for the contemporary Xstian life.

Being a good Christian means upsetting the unjust status quo (when necessary) in a life of self-sacrifice toward a just world...
This is also the Socratic mission.
The only life worth living.
And, it cannot proceed in a perceived dead world.
I take this to be the Philosopher's job.
Anything else is philosophy with a little p...
Or it is something else, entirely.
That is why, given the current state of the industry, I, like Socrates, am sadly engaged in a sort of turf war, if for no other reason than to make a clearing in which seedling future Philosophers can bend to the Sun free from the poison-weeds and wanna-bees...

I suppose this is why I come off - as Derek has noted - not so agnostic.
Again, I am grateful for your patience.


2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White

Hi Derek,

Probably more than a few problems in my broad comments. But the point is the tension between describing the world and changing it.

1.     Socrates to me is a vital point of departure, not merely ‘just one among many’, a figure who has hung over philosophy for its approximate 2,500 years, a figure that many great thinkers have sought to keep faith with.  Further Socrates is far more of a figure than a ‘person’. In any case, to me, he is one of the most important figures for understanding what critical questioning is.

2.     So a theoretical engagement with/understanding of ‘the world’ is prioritized over a normative or practical engagement with it. Theory determines practice? We await the deliverances of science.

3.     I am not sure I have ever felt a pressing need to say what art, language or consciousness is. I have felt a need to question why certain things are not counted as art, but raising that question has not required me to know what art is. The question goes right to our norms of judgment, but asking it does not require me to know what art is.

Philip 


2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Well stated.

2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Hi Jeff

To avoid possible misunderstanding, I thought I would just reply to this point : "I would expect that, especially an artist, would be intent on changing consciousness, or at least affecting it,"

I agree with that. But the question "What is art?" itself does not necessarily involve change.

I don't personally have any problems with "What is?" questions, at least in certain contexts. They seem to me quite natural questions in many cases. Of course, they may lead one to conclude that the thing being asked about is subject to change (art certainly is, in my view) but that is part of its nature, which one reveals by first asking "What is?"  I don't think "What is?" questions necessarily involve a commitment to Platonic Forms etc (as sometimes alleged). 

I think analytic philosophy, for example, would profit greatly by seriously asking the question "What is the real?" (I mean they should ask: "What does our approach to philosophy assume the real - the ultimate ground of truth - to be? And what are the implications of that assumption?")   

DA


2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Cheers Jeff,
interesting post from you above.

Philip

2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek,
you need that qualification! Because from where I stand the question 'What is the real?' generally reduces in analytic philosophy to 'What is real?' and there seems to be some degree of confidence that the latter question has, more or less, been answered. But the question "What does our approach to philosophy assume the real - the ultimate ground of truth - to be?" Is a different order of question, its Socratic in my opinion - because it implies an auto-critical dimension that is not implied by the question 'What is real?'


Phil

2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hey Derek,

First of all, I am coming to appreciate you as a friend, in the Socratic sense, in that we have common best interests at heart, perhaps proceeding in different strides...
And, that is a special gift for me, who has largely felt embattled in the (first language)English-speaking world of Philosophy.
So, first of all, thank you.

Secondly, I think that we are returning to the problem of self, again, and I know that you wish to avoid this terminology and/or focus, so I can recast the problem as one of subject/object.
The subject comes across an object.
In so doing, it is the mode of encounter that makes the thing.
At least, that makes the thing significant, and why.
I use the following example in my book:
A farmer sees a rock as an obstacle.
A geologist as the object of his inquiry!
Both are real things, in fact the same things, as substrate, but the reality that emerges from either practice differs, in fact is contrary to the other.
Further, imagine the world that results were the farmer or geologist King...
A world filled with rocks, or one emptied of them...

Seems that the question "What is it?" must only follow the question "Who/what am I?"
This I think is the meat of Philip's prior post.
And, both imply what sort of world we wish to make, as who we become must be at home in that world...
Socratic, to the core, here.

This question, "Who/what am I?" as a subject is - however present - impossible to adequately approach via Anal methodology.
"Intuition" for instance, as the not so subtle foundation stone for so much Anal-phil, precludes introspection.
It is the contemporary equivalent of the 'clear and distinct' idea...
Self and world so constituted begin/end here.
For myself, however, there is something precedent, and consequent.
And that is the mode of production of said self/world, in the chain of which self comes first.
Of which, what is more clear and distinct than the "thing" before us...
So, the rock is reduced to what is in common between the farmer and the geologist.
Which, in any sense of the "real," it is not.
In any event, this is what I see to be the implication of method presents...
Recalling previous posts, and likely rehashing post-structuralist/critical theorist criticisms, divorced from a dead world rather than engaged in a living world.


2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Exactly.
The auto-critical is supposed to fall out of the machinery.
Like a ticker tape that says "You are wrong."

2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
And, one more before I get to (real) work...

What happened to "post-analytic" philosophy?
I recall there being a movement, here, some years ago, and have lost track of it.
I was hoping that you may have a finger on its pulse?

In any event, the fact that there is a 'post-analytic' says something...
No one is talking post-continental.

It would be like talking post Earth, or post air...


2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

I'm not quite clear about the distinction you are making. 

The questioning of assumptions I have in mind is auto-critical in the sense that it encourages one to ask "If I think p is a true statement about the world (the real), what is the nature of the world I am measuring p against?"  I don't think analytic philosophy asks this question - at least not in any fundamental way, and not in anything I've read (though I admit I avoid it a lot: it is so painfully dull).

For the most part, it seems to me, analytic philosophy assumes that the "world" - or the real - is a vast (if very vaguely conceptualized) agglomeration of "facts", all readily discernible, especially by someone informed by scientific methodology. A good example - which I have commented on in another thread - is David Chalmers' notion of "our world" in a statement such as "In our world there are conscious experiences". The notion of "our world" is taken as quite unproblematic - and of course not just by him but by all those involved in the same topic.  What could be simpler? (the assumption seems to be) "Our world".  We all know what that is, don't we? No need to think about that at all...

That's what I mean by superficial.

DA  

2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Phil

Missed your earlier one but will add a comment on that as well, especially where you say "I am not sure I have ever felt a pressing need to say what art, language or consciousness is. I have felt a need to question why certain things are not counted as art, but raising that question has not required me to know what art is. The question goes right to our norms of judgment, but asking it does not require me to know what art is."

I think the question of human consciousnesses is very important because it is - or at least seems - tied up with questions about what it means to be human. Language seems tied up somehow with human consciousness so, apart from anything else, it is important from that point of view.

I find the question "What is art?" extremely important. Not in order to say why x is or is not art (that seems to me to be a red herring), but to explain its raison d'etre. Why do we "have" Shakespeare's plays (for example), and why do we say they are important? We even call Shakespeare "a genius". Why?  Moreover, all this, in my view, is not just a question about art. A writer I greatly admire once said - and I agree - that "Once the question 'what is art?' becomes serious, the question 'what is man' is not far away". 

Art has been drastically sidelined in modern philosophy and lives in a quaint little world called "aesthetics"...

DA




2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Hi Phil

(I am feeling unwell at the moment and unable to concentrate on "real work". So posts are a welcome diversion!)

Re your : "Seems that the question "What is it?" must only follow the question "Who/what am I?"
This I think is the meat of Philip's prior post.
And, both imply what sort of world we wish to make, as who we become must be at home in that world...
Socratic, to the core, here."

I agree with your point about the geologist and the farmer. But does it follow that we simply "make" the world?  I'd be inclined to say that our perception of things is always coloured by our interests/preoccupations, but we can only "colour" something that already exists (as distinct from something that doesn't). 

I don't think this means exactly that "the rock is reduced to what is in common between the farmer and the geologist" (or whoever). I think it just means that unless there is something - in this case a thing usually called a rock - neither the farmer nor the geologist will be able to perceive anything.  This is a bit inadequate, I realize...

Your comment reminds me a little of Derrida's "There is nothing outside the text".  But I perhaps I am missing your point. 

DA   









2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Jeffrey White wrote:

Can you imagine a responsible Cont phil student spouting this:
Heidegger was basically wrong - he neither attempted to rigorously describe the whole of the mind nor completely did so on any level; psychologically, phenomenologically or ontologically.
And not getting trounced for it?


Which seems to me to encapsulate a number of problems, including with the way this discussion has developed and with discussions of analytic/continental divide more generally.

What of value is to be gained by putting up weakly formed arguments just to shoot them down?

The Question Jeffrey poses can be simply either answered in the affirmative or otherwise and nothing useful is learned in the process. If we restrict ourselves to an inquisitive implication in it:


 Can you imagine a responsible Cont phil student spouting that Heidegger was basically wrong - he neither attempted to rigorously describe the whole of the mind nor completely did so on any level; psychologically, phenomenologically or ontologically?
The answer must be "no" because the 'statement' is so ill-defined that to answer "yes" can't possibly be speaking responsibly. To say that Heidegger is basically wrong for what he didn't attempt to do, nor even to be wrong because he didn't do it completely, is such twaddle that it deserves to be trounced on argument formation grounds alone.



I have a similar problem with other parts of the chat on this thread. If someone comes out and says "I think x, y or z" with out any recognition of the fact that "x", "y" and "z" have been the subject of considerable historical debate among philosophers, what is the point? Even the words themselves lose all meaning, as Wittgenstein would argue. The analytics' proclivity for reasoned argument doesn't make their assumptions correct, but it is certainly makes reading them a more mindful activity than engaging in the naive or mischievous tracings of undisciplined spoutings. The extent to which people engage "continentally" as a license to do the latter is not a weakness of that tradition, simply of those who accept such methodology as having any validity within the discipline of philosophy as a whole.



2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to David Worrall
Hi David

Thanks for your post. You write "I have a similar problem with other parts of the chat on this thread. If someone comes out and says "I think x, y or z" with out any recognition of the fact that "x", "y" and "z" have been the subject of considerable historical debate among philosophers, what is the point?... The analytics' proclivity for reasoned argument doesn't make their assumptions correct, but it is certainly makes reading them a more mindful activity than engaging in the naive or mischievous tracings of undisciplined spoutings."

I'm not sure what particular points you have in mind, but isn't there a problem here? I mean if someone outlines a particular proposition and then points out weaknesses in it, does he or she really need to discuss what all previous thinkers have said?  In a book perhaps, but surely not on a discussion list.  Moreover, one may well think that a lot of what has been said by previous thinkers is of little value. (I can think of instances of that...)

Your comment about "The analytics' proclivity for reasoned argument" also bothers me. Personally, I find an awful lot of argument by analytics to be lacking in reasoned argument - that is, on crucial points. My claim about an unwillingness to examine presuppositions about "our world" - or, more generally, the "real" - is an example.

Generally I think  we need to guard against the danger of philosophy becoming too "in house" - i.e. too strongly wedded to established currents of thought. That way lies ossifciation...

DA





2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to David Worrall
In all fairness David,
I was only trading one-liners with Derek.
The post was not intended to do more than commiserate.
I agree, there is no use in holding up such tripe, even as evidence that the industry has become so anemic as that such tripe is seriously entertained.

No, and I am not merely tracing, here, but recalling a recent and less than satisfactory encounter with an Anal-Anglo-philosophile.
So, in a sense, this is therapy.

Which leads me to the end at which we, Phil, DA and I had been arriving at...

The notion of Philosophy, as a whole.
I don't suppose you have any comment, here?

Or, the rather fruitful result of recent posts, that one tradition has the resources from which to respond to crisis, while the other does not...

Anything to add?
Or, just picking off the stragglers?
Because, frankly, feast away.
What you are chewing on wasn't the meat of the discourse...

2010-03-18
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,
In response to David, I concur.
Your wrote:
Your comment about "The analytics' proclivity for reasoned argument" also bothers me. Personally, I find an awful lot of argument by analytics to be lacking in reasoned argument - that is, on crucial points. My claim about an unwillingness to examine presuppositions about "our world" - or, more generally, the "real" - is an example.


However, it seems that at rock bottom, what an Analytic defaults to is "intuition," like pulling the ontological rabbit from the hat, and we are all supposed to just sit in agreement that yes, there is a rabbit, so obviously...

Symbol pushing is not all there is to reason.
At some point, we have to wonder why these symbols in this particular relation.
Wittgenstein was doing phenomenology in the Tractatus,
showing us the why of the relations, of course, but also how it is that some stand as nonsense and others as fundamental.
My point being, if any here are intimate with that work, a given pattern will be accepted without question when it maps onto previous relations, confirms them, and is counted as an advance when proceeding from established presumptions without contradiction.  Any other notion of advance is considered nonsense, as are questions about what arises between the different nodes of relationships, that is what fills in the blank spots in the ontology.  So, any question about real world or common world draws a blank stare, as a reflection of the fact that there just isn't an answer there.  It has not been sensed, felt, the object that might constitute the answer so far non-sense in that way.

In the end, I count Wittgenstein not as an Analytic, but as a Continental, for this reason.
He didn't stop with intuition, but showed us where these intuitions come from...

2010-03-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Hi Jeff

RE intuitions. Yes, a while ago I seem to recall some analytics doing a little soul-searching about their use of "thought experiments". I can't remember the context but they seemed to be bothered about whether they were overdoing them etc. (Duh! as the teenagers might say.)   A little soul-searching about the reliance on "intuitions" might not go amiss too. I have always found it odd that this would-be rigorous, hard-nosed school of philosophy is so often ready to say "Intuitively, it seems to be the case that..."  or versions of the same kind of thing  ("That argument just seems weird" etc).  No doubt it once seemed intuitively true that the world was flat, and the idea that it was not must have seemed very weird.

DA    

2010-03-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek, et al.

Thanks for your replies. This thread is now so long that it has become a rope. I find it is hard to maintain a trace of the various ideas. Is there any impediment to splitting the thread, or spinning off adjunct arguments into new ones? ... It seems that such structuring is more easily dealt with in a mail list. ... Anyway, to the substance:

I did not mean to denigrate many of the excellent posts in this thread. It seems to me that the continental/analytic divide does not fruitfully reduce to an argument, interesting though it might be, about the pros and cons of phenomenology, including Searle's or anyone else's view about what Heidegger etc should or shouldn't have done. I thought the thread started quite positively with a discussion of the roots of the two traditions etc (as condensed in Graeme Forbes' post of 200904129) and a sense of the different spirits in which these lines of philosophical enquiry are conducted. 

Personally, I'm intrigued by questions such as why mind/body dualism is adopted with such ease by many different cultures; a different question to the validity or otherwise of the arguments are for and against it. If I'm interested in exploring ideas about death or guilt, I'll consider what Kierkegaard and Heidegger etc have to say. If I find that John Searle doesn't have anything interesting to say on these matters, does that mean he's wrong? I hardly think so. He just isn't doing what I might be wanting him to do at the time. And what do I think about death? Well, philosophically speaking, it only matters in relation to what others have thought. So technically it  behoves me to inform myself rather than make the egotistical assumption that by not doing so I'll become some amazing oracle. I assume that when Heidegger or Mereau-Ponty, for example, are obscure, it is because they are struggling with an idea, which is of course bound to the expression of it, rather than from any obscurant motivation. I even extend that to Derrida, although sometimes I do wonder; philosophical writing, being writing, first and in a philosophical mood second.

So to your last comment, Derek:

Generally I think  we need to guard against the danger of philosophy becoming too "in house" - i.e. too strongly wedded to established currents of thought. That way lies ossifciation...

That is too extreme a switch on the position I was putting, which was more in-keeping with your related post of 20091229 in which you said:

On the one hand, there is simply the need for historical awareness. Without knowledge of the historical context in which earlier philosophers wrote, there is a real danger they will be misunderstood - ie that we will ascribe ideas to them that they never held. The danger gets bigger of course the further back we go in time.

I'd like to see some evidence that truly original ideas are likely to emerge in the presence of ignorance of the past. My query about 

If someone comes out and says "I think x, y or z" with out any recognition of the fact that "x", "y" and "z" have been the subject of considerable historical debate

does not translate, as it appears to me you have done, to 

if someone outlines a particular proposition and then points out weaknesses in it

Jeffrey: I'm sorry you reacted the way you did. I was expressing a disappointment that the discourse seemed to be being polluted by stragglers with no meat, whether or not posting them functioned as therapy for the postee or not. Ditto for descriptors such as "Anal-Anglo-philosophile" which seems to me to add nothing to the end at which we, Phil, DA and I had been arriving at...The notion of Philosophy, as a whole. Such caricatures are simplistic prejudicial expressions that do not gain any value by being "catchy". IMO such talk is best left in the pub and I was hoping that this forum just did not descend to such trades.


2010-03-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to David Worrall

Hi David

You had me scrambling to see what I had said earlier! 

You quote my recent comment that:

Generally I think  we need to guard against the danger of philosophy becoming too "in house" - i.e. too strongly wedded to established currents of thought. That way lies ossification...

and you say:

That is too extreme a switch on the position I was putting, which was more in-keeping with your related post of 20091229 in which you said:

On the one hand, there is simply the need for historical awareness. Without knowledge of the historical context in which earlier philosophers wrote, there is a real danger they will be misunderstood - ie that we will ascribe ideas to them that they never held. The danger gets bigger of course the further back we go in time.

These are two separate issues, as you no doubt recognize. My point in the second comment is that if we are dealing with earlier philosophers we should be aware of how they are using terms/concepts and should not assume they are using them in the same way we might be. That is not the point in my recent post (first above), which is that we should not allow ourselves to become hedged in by whatever approaches to philosophical problems happen to dominate the discourse - past or present.

An example that might interest you - since I think it's one of your areas of interest - is the continued domination of the philosophy of art by the post-Kantian (really post-Enlightenment) categories of beauty, aesthetic pleasure etc. In one way or another, both analytic and continental aesthetics still live in the shadow of this and (with minor exceptions) seem unable to talk about art in any other terms. I reject it entirely. I think it is a huge mistake - an understandable one for historical reasons, but a mistake nonetheless, and one that acts like a ball and chain on our understanding of art.*

Now I may be right or I may be wrong, but it is vitally important, in my view, that we be prepared to question everything, including strongly entrenched traditions like this. That's what I mean by the danger of becoming hedged in and too strongly wedded to established currents of thought.

DA

* PS One of the things that annoyed me about the questionnaire by the way was its apparent assumption that this tradition represented the only way to think about art. As I've said before the questionnaire was an inherently conservative instrument.



2010-03-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to David Worrall
David;

First off, thanks for being willing to engage in the discourse.

As you may have taken from past posts, I take the issue of the Analytic/Continental divide seriously.
I find it ultimately destructive, in fact parasitic, on something deeper than tradition, namely the Philosophic way of life.

Now, there are two things that I think need be made very clear, here:
1) The people who are able to articulate the requirements of this way of life are classified as Contintental Philosophers, and they seem obscure (in such exposition) for 2 reasons:
a) This way of life is difficult to describe, and
b) The people reading them have little or no experience lving this way.
About this point, I find that at least of the descendant traditions retains the spirit and indeed resources to make this way of life possible, if not support it.
And, that those who find these Philosophers most obscure are farthest from living this way.
Thus, farthest from being Philosophers.

2) Per the results of 1, Anal-Anglo-philosophile is neither caricature, nor simplistic and prejudicial.
Though, I am grateful that you find it "catchy."

In regards your other sentiments, I am sorry to litter the forum with candid side-talk.
Perhaps the first thread-splitting should begin here, as you have.
A forum where no value from one side of the split is to be recognized without the exlicit recognition of value from the other side equally trumpeted...
Frankly, I would be unable to contribute to this forum, and your troubles in regards my mode of discourse would be solved.

However, my own inclinations run another way.
I am drawn to propose a sort of exercise, if not challenge:

In the Peircean mode, let us draw up Venn diagrams, one for each Cont and Anal, and one for Philosophy as a whole...
And, let's see what falls into what, and lend it to our reasoning to determine why...
A sort of good-hearted practical experiment, lines in the sand sort of figure-making, as easily washed away as established.

This may provide the sort of structure that you are seeking to this forum, permit the distillation of points from prior posts, while maintaining the space to test my own convictions.
Who knows, we may even end up with something noteworthy, if not becoming friends in the process...

Anyone in favor?

2010-03-22
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Please excuse the intervention - there is nothing at all weird about the earth 'seeming' flat even now, when we 'know' that it is an oblate spheriod. It seems flat because that is the way we observe it for (almost) all practical purposes. Similarly, Newton is still much more useful than Einstein even for most Earth-bound activities. As for 'weird' - 'superposition' might be a candidate?

2010-03-22
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Fenton Robb
Fenton

Yes, the earth does indeed seem flat. My objection was to people using "seems weird" as a knock-down argument in a philosophical discussion.

DA

2010-04-05
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
I stumbled onto an article dealing with the topic on the Harvard Philosophy Department website that I thought might be of interest: 
http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%2011/Hankey.pdf

The critique is spot on when I looked at the courses offered.



2010-04-06
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Onno de Jong
Thanks Onno

I have only skimmed it, but it seems to be an interesting article, I think that the opening section, where the author discusses Hadot is interesting and pertinent to some of the ideas that developed in the latter part of the string. 

Tangentially: I have not really had much time to follow the string since the end of January. But I think that more recent comments about its status should lead to some reflection on what can, or ought, be expected of it. 

Personally I treat the postings to PhilPapers much the way I treat postings to any other message-board I subscribe to, so informality does not bother me (nor do crudities). Perhaps PhilPapers ought to be treated differently; far be it from me to be prescriptive. I read the string like I read an on-line newspaper - quickly - and I respond in the same way. I take this to be true of many of the people who contribute and see evidence of this in what they post. I generally take this to be appropriate or typical or normative for such a board. But from what has been posted recently it seems to be the case that what is expected are more careful scholarly postings. I would love to know how others see it.

I do think that we need to stay on topic. But the topic is a contemporary philosophical divide, and thus questions about the nature and status of philosophy itself are up for grabs. This means that the string is going to naturally pull in different directions. I thought that there were some productive contributions. Although towards the end there I started to worry that the problems with contemporary philosophy were being reduced to the problems with analytic philosophy, or that it was seen as the primary problem. There are problems on the other side too. Ultimately it is my opinion, however, that the divide and many of the problems within contemporary philosophy related back to the nature of contemporary institutional life (which the article posted by Onno gestures at), and problems with contemporary knowledge production. I think we can often blame the divide, and blame those who sit opposite us in it, for problems that lie much deeper.

It is in regard to these issues - the nature of contemporary institutional life and the conditions of knowledge production - that I think many of the issues raised in the latter part of the string are actually worth thinking through. The professionalisation of philosophy certainly needs critical attention, as does the way research and publications are evaluated, and the 'puppy-mill' effect that we see in many graduate programs is also a concern. Certainly one of the things that really worries me about many young people that I have taught and see entering graduate programs is how strategic the whole business has become. This might produce 'stellar careers' but mediocre philosophy. These issues are perhaps, however, too broad for this string. Certainly I think seeing them as issues only for one side of the divide, and thus as a way of differentiating the traditions might be one-sided.

Philip



2010-04-08
The analytic/continental divide

I have only skimmed the article too and I suspect there's a lot I might have a problem with. But this bit near the beginning caught my eye:

"In his judgment, the present existence of philosophy as the abstractly theoretical production and manipulation of concepts divorced from life and serving other forms of knowing what is, other determinations of what is to be done, and other powers shaping the self and enabling life, is a humiliating reduction and ruinous loss"

Here, probably, is some kind of distinction between analytic and continental because I think the latter does still tend to have some influence beyond "manipulation of concepts divorced from life" (though of course one could debate whether it's a good influence or not.)

It's strange, really, when you read some nineteenth century novelists, say, Dostoyevsky, and realise how strong the influence of philosophy, especially German, was on the young people of the times. Seems like another world.

Then one wonders: what does shape the minds of young people today? Obviously not philosophy of the Anglo-American kind. Marginally, continental, as I say. Literature? What, I wonder? And in any case the teaching of literature seems to have lost its way as well. Maybe it's Hollywood movies, computer games and rock music - God save us.

How long does a civilization last when it effectively lives on nothing?

DA


2010-04-08
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek;

I think that I will put "abstractly theoretical," manipulation of concepts divorced from life," "serving other forms of knowing [than those which improve life]," "other determinations [than those which improve life]," and "other powers shaping and influencing life [than the self and the broad community of life and world in all its forms on which it depends]" safely in the "Analytic" circle of the Venn Diagram...

As per your last question, I am struck with the following image:
A dying man,
with a cancer spread from testicle to brain,
having sown the sorts of moral monsters that murder journalists with helicopter mounted machine guns and giggle about it,
laying in a corner forgotten, damp from decades of his own urine,
the name 'Civilization' on a name-card stapled to his forehead,
sputtering to himself "Necessity is true in all possible worlds..."

There is no life in the vacuum of the Cartesian idea space from whence Analytic philosophiles spring.
Only a moment before death when the eyes bulge and it passes.
That is the point of the bit you quoted I believe...
Per Fromme, it is a culture of death that spawns such dribble,
and as such it is only a symptom, a boil, a pustule on the white belly of history gone soft.

Finally, I have been thinking often enough about this thread, and have come to something.
Analytic philosophy is frankly akin to catabolism, or even digestion.
It is a process seen in the starving organism, feeding on itself...
It is again only a symptom, of a dying civilization.

Now, I - as you may well suspect by now - also feel that Philosophy done right is the cure for this condition.
Anabolic Philosophy.

The trick?
Don't feed the tumor.
It loves sweet stuff.
Simple carbs, sugars -
Short arguments consisting of short chains, easily digested, for immediate energy.
Profile is familiar enough, as it matches both a cancerous growth and the style of "the present existence of philosophy."



2010-04-09
The analytic/continental divide
To stay on topic or to stray, I'm not sure,
Before the split, and up to the split, I consider that the original interest in philosophy is the ethical moral question, as connected up with the how is this world constituted, and how can we know that? Heraclitus, Parmenides, etc. Plato opposes them and comes up with a compromise that remains till after Kant, when the Noumenal is jettisoned in the Continental Tradition and the Analytic Philosophers lock themselves into how we can know.

For Kant, morality comes first, then knowledge; the same order as the ancients. 

That order has been reversed in both traditions. Is there any chance that there is a third option, now that global warming is putting the lid on our limitless aspirations? 

2010-04-09
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Onno de Jong
Yes, ethics should again be the first philosophy (Levinas). Absolute ethics is the need of the hour...
Along with global warming, we should add two of its main causes: absurd and cynical wars, particularly in Asia today, and the business avarice that floods cities and even countrysides with polluting and heat-inducing vehicles and other machines. (A major central Indian city is experiencing this year a spring time high temperature of 44° C !)
Philosophy has perhaps never reached this level of being choked....   

2010-04-09
The analytic/continental divide
To stay on your focus:

1) Epistemology and metaphysics are the same thing.  What/How we know and What/How the world is composed are the same questions, and they intersect in the "What are we going to do/What can we do in light thereof?"  This is, of course, the question on which the Ancients rightly focused, and even that which impelled Kant, for all of his distraction (which I owe largely to his trying to speak to his largely Cartesian audience), and is poignantly the question to which Phenomenology returns - Ontology.  Ontology is first philosophy, and it is essentially an ethical science.  In the end, everything is moral.  Now, I have never been popular amongst Anal-philosophiles, but especially because I regard epistemology as a pseudo-philosophical cop-out played by persons incapable or unwilling to meet the rest of the universe halfway, as if the cosmos revolved around the human brain (a prevalent point of view amongst contemporary American Christian Zionists/Evangelicals, who have been doing to the Academy what they have done to politics in the U.S.  There is a reason why Aristotle talked about politics the way that he did, essentially as the ultimate application of metaphysics, and because of this, the political will, the capacity to actually do anything, has been stripped from academic philosophiles in the U.S., frankly enough under penalty of blacklisting and even firing tenured professors...  The land of the free, indeed!  Well, long story short, this is one reason (one top-down reason) why anal-philosophy has dug in like a tick on the back of a sick dog in the U.S...).

2) Perhaps more importantly, global warming is a lie.  Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.  It is plant food.  Now, I am not a fan of cars, or of gasoline, and I am even less of a fan of ethanol from corn as I am especially sickened by the fact that, rather than grow fruit and veg locally, the locals are growing fuel-corn, and shipping fruit and veg from Brazil, as if their ethanol (energetically expensive to refine, transport, produce, at every level idiocy!) can make up for the fact that the lettuce at their $7 buffet traveled 3000miles in a refrigerator.  Carbon is only a means of control, a hook sunk in the collectively guilty minds of a generation so scientifically illiterate that they are easily conned into believing that a government tax on everything that they do will save the planet.  Now, for all the co2 this and co2 that polluting the nightly newscasts, we hear nothing anymore of true problems: depleted uranium (per your war comments, spread all over Iraq, a poison that will never really go away), cancer inducing food-additives, toxic by-products from plastics manufacturing, the continued encroachment on the vital carbon-sinks around the world (think rainforest here), and finally, all the energy wasted to prop up an essentially unjust system of banking and commodity run amok in the name of "globalization," as if metastasis is progress.  Case in point, how you know that carbon dioxide is a problem, that "global warming" is a problem, and what you plan to do about it, are the real issues, rightly pointed out.  Absolute ethics is the need of the hour, but you have to get your ontology straight first, and - seriously, not to sound too Continental here - this is about method.  Method, of course, is something that Anal-philes lack.  They want a recipe, a formula, that is reproducible in the Cartesian vacuum lab space that they consider the true test of ideas.  And, no matter how you compose the world, this approach is never going to amount to anything useful.  As I have maintained, at least in the COnt tradition there are the resources to begin to address the issues...

By the way, I am not averse to fact checking and even pointed prodding.
I know that I drop some bombs, here, figuratively speaking, and I would think that many might want to test me on some things...
So, please, belief revision is never an easy thing, I understand, so I invite your inquiries.
Jeff

2010-04-14
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek


I really appreciate your concern to seriously engage in the problem of analytic-continental divide in philosophy.Anyone doing serious philosophy these days can not be immune to philosophies of
 
 either camp.The reasons are three fold:Firstly, the masters themselves are denouncing such a divide (e.g. Rorty and Brandom et al);Secondly,people from one camp have an intrinsic desire to know
 
what their counterparts on the other side are doing and finally, a philosophical concept sometimes transcends its locale boundary to reach a level of universality where sterile dichotomies such as 


analytic-continental do not work anymore.


Bijaya Mahapatra 


2010-04-19
The analytic/continental divide
Hi Bijaya

Thank you for your post.

Yes I agree. I think there is something truly regrettable in the current situation. Some contributors to this thread have argued that there really is no divide and that many philosophers these days straddle both camps etc. I have no doubt some do.  But they remind me a little of the heralds that warring medieval armies used to send out to communicate with each other: they don't change the fact that the separate camps continue to exist and, in the main, think very differently. 

My analogy is a bit misleading though. In fact, the two camps seem to do their best not to be at war - i.e. not to engage in open conflict. It's as if there's a kind of an undeclared truce in which each side has undertaken not to fire if the other doesn't. So, apart from the odd sniper, who is usually careful to flee the scene as quickly as possible, there is no open conflict. The result, I think, is that the divide is much less obvious than it otherwise would be. Sometimes I wonder if open warfare would not be better. At least that might get some exchange going. Anything seems preferable to the stultifying stand-off we have at present where each side carefully guards its own territories, clings desperately to its own orthodoxies, organizations, conferences, journals etc, and does its level best to see that the status quo is not disturbed.

DA



2010-04-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Cheers Derek!

I agree.
War is preferrable, especially for those on the sidelines, the fools on the hill so to speak.
Though it may end worst for those stuck in the middle, the peacekeepers and 'heralds,' who should rightly be squashed under the weight of the forces for whom they serve as apologists, their losses are necessary should Philosophy heal itself of this silent rift, largely covered over in denial and,
as you may be taken to allude,
in cowardice.

I should like to point out a simple fact of complex systems, that, as one degrades, it naturally moves to a state of greater disorder.
The sad fact of our deluded era is that such deterioration has been, rather than resisted through directed synthesis, endorsed and encouraged under the guise of 'progress,' 'welath maximization,' 'market expansion' and, especially poignantly, 'academic specialization.'

As a result, we are left not simply with an Analytic/Continental divide, but with a divide between sub-species of either sect, language groups which hardly communicate with each other within either domain, let alone across them.
Moreover, this situation is worsening, and the atomization of the single most important collective discipline throughout the ages is reduced, now,
to so many short-lived flavors of the day spiralling willy-nilly into the vacuum space that is, for lack of conceptual resources otherwise, our collective future.


2010-04-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek and Bijaya,
just to respond to the idea that many "philosophers these days straddle both camps". I think that this is probably the case with some people today and wont reject the idea. But there also seem to be some who just see it as irrelevant to what they are doing. I don't particularly see it as relevant, so I read widely (probably too widely, but hopefully it will pay off one day). 


I am not sure about Bijaya's comment about 'the masters' above. I have enjoyed reading both Rorty and Brandom and have found both useful. But on the other hand whether or not they are 'masters' is debatable and even if we agreed that they were the question of the status of the divide remains open regardless of what they say. 


Philip

2010-04-19
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan

Been lurking and enjoying this thread.

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There are some very promising interactions these days that don’t really cross the chasm here, but may be a decent start.  I work a lot in applied ethics, particularly business ethics.  There is a new collection out “Cutting Edge Issues in Business Ethics” where the editors Patricia Werhane et al call directly for the abandonment of the typical burned out analytic style and advocate a move towards continental philosophy.  Business ethics has run its course in terms of Aristotle Kant Mill and Rawls in so many ways; it is getting tiresome.  I have an article coming out shortly on Rorty and Business ethics in the Journal of Business Ethics; and I’ll be reading it at the Philosophy and Management Conference Oxford in July.  There is a new set out on Levinas and Business ethics, and in my view, Jean-Luc Nancy, Claude LeFort and so many of the so called ‘left Heideggerians’ have a lot to offer those of us concerned with applied ethics.  So in my little corner of the field, knowing that applied ethics does not have the standing of philosophy of language or philosophy of mind, there is an interesting convergence happening that I think bodes well for some serious reconciliation.  But then again I thought things would change radically with Obama and I kind of missed the mark there in a few key ways

 

SG


2010-04-26
The analytic/continental divide
To continue my argument we need to ask how disparate are two tradition.
one has every right to say that I don't give a damn to what X says.
Ditto is the case with one who holds that there is an isomorphism between
X and Y.Rorty is a classic example of the latter.What brings together the
analytics and the continentals to a common plateau of thinking is their
antiepistemological stance.



This is philosophy's fate:it is a highly intricate commingling of unity and division.
Division is but a unity.Wittgenstein rightly says It does not matter where you enter
but you have to plow the whole field.Perhaps this is sacrosanct.

2010-04-26
The analytic/continental divide
Frankly, I have found analytics to be anything but anti-epistemological!
Epistemology, in my mind, isn't a field separate from metaphysics,
as both are subspecies of ontology,
and I used to draw a lot of stares/ire from anal-phile peers on this point!

I always supposed it had to do with how and why one's bread is buttered...

And, speaking of fields.
I have also found anal-philes to be anything but interested in plowing the whole field,
and rather to be most content to camp in a shady corner,
planting and replanting the same old strains.
Unhealthy as this may be for the field,
it is as bad for the farmers,
and does explain the general lack of nutrition in an analytic meal,
if not the sunken eyes and lifeless expressions.

2010-04-26
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Re: "and rather to be most content to camp in a shady corner, planting and replanting the same old strains."

Yes I agree with this.

I wonder if I could also bring up a minor point of nomenclature.  Occasionally, people on this and other threads have queried my use of the phrase "analytic" philosophy as if I am describing something that exists only in my fevered imagination.

Now, I myself have doubts about the term "analytic", mainly because this brand of philosophizing is, in my view, often trivial and superficial - ie not analytic enough - and I reckon it's a bit rich to appropriate the word and imply that all the rest are not "analytic".

I also know that some people in the analytic school are not happy with the term for one reason or another.

On the other hand, what other word is there?  One can't just say "modern philosophy". That implies that no other forms exist, and although some analytics would possibly like to pretend that the continentals were never invented, that is not in fact the case. And one can't really resort to "Anglo-American" philosophy (though I do on occasion) because that seems to imply that the continentals, and also-rans such as myself, don't exist in the anglophone world.

So I don't really see any alternative to "analytic", for the present anyway. There is most certainly an identifiable school - a way of doing philosophy - in question, and although it would be rather nice if it did just exist in my fevered imagination, I know it doesn't.

Any thoughts anyone?

DA
 

2010-04-26
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Well, Brian Leiter, author of the 'leiterreport' (http://leiterreports.typepad.com/) and perhaps standard bearer for the entire movement not to be named for the impossible implications such an act should invite, runs a rather biting (the nard bits) assessment of the state of philosophy in the West, and unabashedly lumps 'analytic' with, well, anyone great.  That post is here:
http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/analytic.asp

Now, Leiter and I might agree on only one thing, and that is the rising face of fascism in the West, but that is beside the point.
That Richard Posner guest blogs on his site is a major hurdle and seeming inconsistency here, but that again is beside the point.

He has no trouble calling analytic philosophy analytic philosophy.
And by exclusion, everything else becomes anything but...

He begins his analytic family tree with Aristotle.
Jumps to Descartes, Kant and Hume.

Now, I am almost OK with this, especially with the knot at the end (though I hardly feel the standard 'analytic' line on Kant comes close - see maybe the encyclopedia of phil entry on Kant, written by an old aquaintance of mine from my alma mater - but that is again another story).
And, if you want Descartes so badly, then you can have him, as far as I am concerned...
Heidegger eats Descartes for lunch.

But I am not OK with the 'analytics' claiming Aristotle and for that matter Wittgenstein.
For one thing, Wittgenstein tried his best to get everyone to understand that he was really doing phenomenology in the Tractatus.
But, no one could understand him.
Least of all Russell, grand-uncle to the analytic movement, and in my mind really best as an anti-war activist...Seeing as how he read everyone of substance, from Dewey to Hegel wrong, and the rest of it is, well, brown table this and empty coat that foolishness.
Nothing near to what Husserl was doing...

But, I digress...
Aristotle had one thing that analytics do not, and that is a final cause.
An end.
A purpose.

This is lacking.
Now, any student of Aristotle worth his salt knows where we are headed.
Not far from where Socrates leads us...

What do we call this tradition that begins with Socrates, and with the world that birthed him?

See, this is my major point of contention.

Face to face, there is Philosophy, with a capital "P" and it is a way of life, inherently political, and on its way toward something big.
Then, there is everything else, 'analytic' philosophy included.

Maybe an 'analytic' is content to sit at the top of his little mountain-for-now and draw little lines in the sand,
as I suppose a 'philosoper' of 'law' like Leiter would like to do,
but that is molehill mantra-bation at best.

Ain't changin' any worlds,
but clearly enough,
Anal-philic is a tendency for which "analytic" is the clinical self-diagnosis.
I say, let 'em have it. 

2010-04-26
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Hi Jeff

I looked up the blog you linked and that started me off on a new theme.  One of the headings there was "Philosophy's Place in the Humanities" and I read some of the comments and got to one where someone had written :"I think the ostracism of analytic philosophy from the humanities..." 

Without even reading on, I think that's an interesting phrase. If anything, I would have thought, analytic philosophy has removed itself  from the Humanities. It has tried to get closer and closer to science, and in doing so, I think, has increasingly distanced itself from the disciplines of history, literature, anthropology, archeology, art history and so on.

Now this is really a topic for a new thread, but it is relevant here because I think it is true to say that, generally speaking, continental philosophy has not cut itself quite so severely adrift from other humanities disciplines.

I wonder if anyone has any thoughts on this. Is it true? Does it matter?

DA 

2010-04-26
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Interestingly enough,
on those same pages,
you may see reports of the 20 most important philosophers/most cited philosophy texts/and so on...
and be (not so surprised) at the chagrin with which a simple fact about these compilations is noted,
that nothing (truly) analytic resides on these lists,
nothing (truly) analytic has had (or has) any influence on anything outside of analytic circles
(even though the ivory tower is completely infested top-down by leiter's account)
and
on this note something else about that site/those sites bears note:
I recall reading Leiter deride Ed Allaire (spelling?),
because, as a philosopher of 'local' note in Austin Texas (a bit more than that, but, by Leiter's account...)
Leiter suggests that his 'local' fame charmed students into dissertations under him,
and then they had difficult times finding jobs,
while,
one might infer,
if they had only pledged to the analytic fraternity,
their places at podiums would have been guaranteed!
Now, this discussion took Allaire as an example,
but Leiter'sbroad portrait was of the analytic movement as the tide,
gift of the heavens on Earth,
go with it or get crushed beneath the sheer weight of its cosmic consequence...
However, when the man actually pulls his head out of his anal-lysis,
he is surprised to find that - well - the rest of the world runs bottom-up,
and either didn't get the memo
(because, written by an analytic, it was likely so full of empty technical expressions
that no one with an interest in real life could afford to spend 4 years on Kripke and Lewis to figure it out),
or simply,
didn't,
care.

Now, this leaves me with a simple conclusion.
The value of a thing might be construed as the inverse of the injury due the ignorance of that thing.
Clearly, the book lists and rosters of influential thinkers reveals,
one can easily afford to remain ignorant of 'analytic' philosophy.
That much is fundamental.
Legislate against it, compose required course lists all one likes,
top-down ain't changing the facts on the ground.
 Analytic philosophy is culturally non-consequential,
and I agree with you.
This is no accident.
It is
by design.

2010-04-27
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Jeffrey White
Hi Jeff

Re: "Analytic philosophy is culturally non-consequential,.."

Yes, I tend to agree. I notice it even in my own area of special interest - philosophy of art - where "analytic aesthetics" has almost no cultural impact outside the field of ... well, analytic aesthetics. So much so, that there is not even any significant interchange between analytic aesthetics and the history of art. Both, ostensibly, are talking about the same thing - art - but they behave as if they lived in different universes. Same goes for literature. The influence of analytic aesthetics on the study of literature is, and has always been, virtually nil. (Continental thought has had a big impact - not always for the best, in my view, but at least it hasn't just been ignored.)

This wouldn't matter much if analytic aesthetics were the interest of a small minority but unfortunately that's far from the case. It hold a virtual monopoly on the field, and if one aspired to a university career teaching aesthetics, studying anything else would be career suicide. So, unfortunately, irrelevance perpetuates itself...

But that wasn't the main point I was trying to get at in my last message. What has also struck me is the isolation of analytic philosophy (in general, not just aesthetics) from other areas of the humanities, such as literature, art, and history. Contrary to what the person I quoted seems to imply, I think this is self-inflicted rather than the result of "ostracism". The basic tendency of the analytic movement, it seems to me, is to move closer and closer to the sciences and away from the humanities, which it seems to regard with a kind of uneasiness, if not contempt. I sometimes think that, if it were possible, analytic philosophy would deny that philosophy even belongs to something one might call "the humanities". If this is the mindset, what you term the "culturally non-consequential" nature of analytic philosophy seems fated to get worse.

DA

2010-04-27
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
I suppose there is evidence enough for the attitude at which you point.
One being, to stay stuck on Leiter's pages,
the contempt with which he/others write about non-analytic philosophers
when there role is to serve as 'public intellectual'
rather than symbol pusher in a self-imposed vacuum.

Not only is your physics-envy motivated social isolation accelerating,
but the velocity is evidenced in the red-shift that is contempt for philosophical bodies still in residence in
what one might call the real world of blood and guts people and political consequence.

Self-imposed. Yes.
But, I see it motivated by a lack of courage,
civic virtue,
spine,
as well as
 well,
any desire for science-like legitimacy.

2010-05-06
The analytic/continental divide
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek

My basic impression is that there are philosophers not lacking
in number who defy the dominance of physicalism,computationalism
and allied naturalistic tendencies in modern philosophy.Dreyfus and
McDowell are two such philosophers.The former's 'absorbed coping'
(a concept borrowed from Heidegger and the latter's idea of 'second
nature' are proofs of the fact that the 'subjects of contemplation'(humanities)
can never be exhausted by science.   
 

Bijaya

2010-05-08
The analytic/continental divide
Yes, Biyaya, I was not wanting to suggest that all analytic philosophers are physicalists. Analytic philosophy has a number of distinguishing characteristics, it seems to me, and it can also vary considerably from one philosopher to the next.

Nevertheless, I do think, I said, that the basic tendency of the movement - or at least one of them - is to move closer and closer to the sciences and away from the humanities. Even analytic aesthetics, which, one would surely expect, would be closely engaged with literature, art, music, and history, tends to treat these topics with a kind of clinical detachment, as if it did not want to contaminate its "objective" stance with things of dubious merit. One can read right through many articles, and even books, on analytic aesthetics and encounter only the occasional mention of any specific artist or work of art, especially if they happen not to be contemporary.

Not surprisingly, of course, the study of literature and the other arts tends to take very little notice of analytic aesthetics. They are, as one writer puts it, "like ships that pass in the night". So at the very point where one would expect analytic phil