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2010-01-10
What is Anglophone Philosophy?
What is Anglophone philosophy?

The question is simple enough, but I do now know if there is consensus on the answer.

Three possible answers come to mind:
  1. Philosophy produced in an English-speaking community.
  2. Philosophy produced in English.
  3. Philosophy that is primarily of interest to English-speaking philosophers.
I do not know what has been written on this subject, though the question was raised for me recently when I read (and responded to) Brian Leiter's "The Most Cited Books in Post-WWII Angolphone Philosophy."

In what follows, I consider Leiter's account of Anglophone philosophy, because his is the only treatment I've come across.  While Leiter may not be the foremost authority on this issue, I do not know who is.

Number 4 on Leiter's list is Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, which was not written in English, but which was first published in English translation, thanks to G. E. M. Anscombe.  Of course, Wittgenstein was a pivotal figure at Oxford.  Yet, I presume that he chose to write in German for a reason.  It is also unclear how much of his philosophy was produced in England.  Finally, Wittgenstein's work has been of significant interest to German and other non-Anglophone philosophers.  So it does not appear that Wittgenstein's Investigations neatly satisfy any of the criteria I listed.

It is possible that the Investigations is included because it is mainly known thanks to Anscombe's translation.  However, English-language translations of German texts are generally not considered Anglophone.  I think Professor Leiter would agree, since he does not treat English-language translations of Gadamer or Habermas as Anglophone, even though they are widely cited.  I brought up Gadamer and Habermas on Leiter's blog, having wrongly thought that English-language translations qualified as Anglophone philosophy.  In my defense, I was thrown a bit by Leiter's inclusion of Wittgenstein.  (Leiter says Gadamer and Habermas are not "mainstream Anglophone philosophers," though if we judge what is mainstream by what is most heavily cited, then we cannot exclude Gadamer or Habermas' English-language translations on the grounds that they are not mainstream.  For it is precisely because they are heavily cited that I suggested their inclusion.  Thus, I presume they simply are not Anglophone enough.)

The issue of translations raises another interesting case:  The Logic of Scientific Discovery is Popper's post-WWII English-language reformulation of ideas first published before WWII, in the German-language Logik der Forschung.  Should the English-language version be considered a separate philosophical work?  It is not a direct translation, from what I understand.  Is it Anglophone philosophy?  Is it post-WWII Anglophone philosophy?

Leiter says no to the last question.  He does not include The Logic of Scientific Discovery on his list, because he says it is pre-WWII.  Yet, the post-WWII book is surely Anglophone, and the pre-WWII book surely is not.  I responded with a comment on his blog explaining this, but he has chosen not to post my explanation.  I have not pressed the matter with him.  In fact, I thought I would forget about it; however, the question continues to flutter around the back of my mind.  Perhaps there is some criteria here which I am missing.  Or, perhaps it is just that there is room for flexibility when it comes to translations.

There is reason to resist the claim that Anglophone translations count as Anglophone philosophy.  Generally, we may observe the difficulty in translating philosophical texts, and accept that, in some sense, a translation is itself a work of philosophy.  One cannot translate philosophy without doing philosophy.  Yet, we should not say that, when we read the Investigations in English, we are reading Anscombe and not Wittgenstein.  Nor are we reading them both, side by side.  Rather, we are reading Wittgenstein through Anscombe.  It is Wittgenstein through an Anglophone lens.  But here the metaphor is likely to mislead us into oversimplifying what is really going on.

Perhaps the degree to which a philosophy is amenable to translation is the degree to which it is analytic; though I would not put too much stock in this.  For a philosophy may be easy to translate simply by virtue of being commonplace and simple. 

Regardless of how much or how little the original ideas are lost or altered, an English-language translation brings a work within the grasp of Anglophone philosophy.  Anscombe made the Investigations a part of Anglophone philosophy, regardless of how much or how little she altered Wittgenstein's thinking.  At least, such might be argued.  It might also be argued that the Investigations are not a work in Anglophone philosophy at all.

But, then, what is the criteria?

I think I have successfully danced around this question without offering an answer.  This is as it should be, since I am not interested in presenting a view so much as posing a problem.  Hopefully some of you will find it challenging and interesting.

I look forward to any and all contributions.

Regards,

Jason
January 8, 2009

2010-01-15
What is Anglophone Philosophy?
Correction:  Wittgenstein was a pivotal figure at Cambridge, not Oxford.