Saturday, April 19, 2008

Continental Ignorance

Alexander Pruss recently commented rather ignorantly on the merits of what constitutes philosophy proper. Too much work at the Ends of Thought blogspot has shown the erroneous nature on this already, and rehashing


Alexander R Pruss said...

Let me try this tack. It seems that there is a recognizable practice of "analytic philosophy", with various vague markers, with the expected fuzziness around the edges, etc.

Now, this practice either is identical with the present day practice of philosophy simpliciter, or not.

Suppose it is identical with the present day practice of philosophy simpliciter. Then every current philosopher is an analytic philosopher, and an academic who is commonly described as a continental philosopher is either an analytic philosopher or is not philosopher at all. The second option here is uncharitable, and the first option does not strike me as plausible in many cases, especially since I suspect that most people who are commonly described as continental philosophers would deny they are analytic philosophers.

So the option of supposing that analytic philosophy is identical with current philosophy is either not plausible or not charitable (or both). The same unwelcome consequences result from supposing that the practice of analytic philosophy is something strictly wider than the practice of current philosophy (so that everybody who is currently practicing philosophy is also practicing analytic philosophy, but it is possible to practice analytic philosophy without practicing philosophy).

So, the practice of analytic philosophy does not exhaust the current practice of philosophy. Indeed, I think you agree from the things you say. Consequently, it makes sense to talk of those parts of the current practice of philosophy that are not parts of the practice of analytic philosophy. Now, it may be that there is no unifying feature of these parts, other than that they are not parts of analytic philosophy. But still it makes sense to at least talk of "non-analytic practices in philosophy". So some sort of a distinction seems to be possible.

By the way, I do not think analytic philosophy is simply an attempt to solve intellectual puzzles, though such puzzles are a major part of it. I don't think that we should read as the mere solving of intellectual puzzles attempts to argue for or against claims like: that God exists, that happiness is the exercise of virtue, that existence is best understood as constituted in a second-order property, that the Principle of Sufficient Reason holds, that we should maximize total human happiness, that death is a harm, that we are souls, that we are brains, that we are animals, that total amnesia is death, that we live in the best of all possible worlds, that there are no universals, that there are infinitely many universes, that knowledge of the physical world is impossible, that we may do things that have bad consequences, that there is no such thing as race, that gender is a social construction, that we should obey the state, etc. Yet each of these is a proposition that some analytic philosophers have argued for or against in recent years.

Vancouver Philosopher said...

Okay, try it this way. Of course, you could object to my use of the word “puzzles” which makes it sound like the last century of Anglo-American philosophy is nothing more than pedantic grocery store logic puzzle books. I don't mean to insinuate that. By puzzles, I strictly meant as you described it, a serious of philosophical problems that are solved by argumenative assent or dissent to various propositions in philosophical dialectic. Given that I addressed this minor concern, let's move onto my “major beef” with what you have claimed here. By the way, I appreciate you coming out to post on my blog.
Now, anyone in philosophy collapsing a distinction has to show why splitting hairs is unnecessary confusion, and such a burden relies on me. I think collapsing this distinction is tantamount to denying your defense of non-analytic philosophical practice as a category for philosophy proper. In this post, I will try to do just that.

First, you state that analytic philosophy has fuzzy vague markers. There is only a sense to which the term “analytic philosphy” picks out a school of philosophy largely stemming from the positivists, and their successors whom in some way make philosophy co-extensive with science. Yet, there are analytic philosophers working in philosophy of religion, and God is not a notion of the empirical world, so in this case, it might be better to suggest that analytic philosophy is somehow just plain ole “conceptual analysis.” Yet, conceptual analysis according to experimental philosophers is armchair philosophy, which simply ignores data of the empirical world. As such, how can there be analytic philosophers working on projects that take issue with non-physical objects? Such analytic philosophers might take issue with proposing age-old questions that are more proper to theology. Another move might suggest that analytic philosophy stopped after Quine suggests a naturalized epistemology. Quine and Davidson work together to usher in a post-analytic period in which people are currently working on—this explains the prevalence of seeing naturalistic and scientific grounds to justify philosophical claims in a way that is dependent, not independent of the sciences; the way that conceptual analysis independently provided the a priori for Ryle can no longer suffice for the post-analytic period.
Now, I may have gone off the deep end in the above paragraph. That's the point. The internal divisions of how philosophers agree consists with the analtyic tradition is a sorites problem. At what point do you draw the line given the vagueness. The vague and fuzzy sense in which the term employs cannot adequately demarcate as well as you think it does. Thus, this makes it hard for you to identify the practice of analytic philosophy since the division between Analytic and Continental is a perjorative oversimplification of what Anglo-American philosophers did not want to deal with. Equally, analytic philosophy in practice cannot really account for the nuanced discussion of how analytics conceive of themselves since it is itself another oversimplification of what analytics do as well. In fact, I am reminded of Ryle's dislike for “isms” in philosophy (he also has a fascinating and completely erroneous review of Heidegger's Being and Time).
So when you ask me to suppose an identity, I won't even assent to it. You're defending what clearly needs deflated. The new direction in philosophy of mind is the perfect example. Questions of the phenomenology of our first-person experience has ushered in a renewed interest in Merleau-Ponty, Husserl and Heidegger. Dan Zahavi, Shaun Gallagher and others are now “talking to each other.” They are doing this since phenomenology through its methods defended the first-person level of experience in a way that found itself antithetical to scientific reductionism. Moreover, there are arguments in Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger. Antiquated analytics just don't want to look for them because to them it apears like literary exegesis rather than claims made in clearly stated argument forms. What has become of these arguments is an entire generation of new people, like myself, who see the merit in collapsing the distincton for the richness that philosophy as the love of wisdom entails. I honestly think that's why your view is collapsible. The love of wisdom requires more than how philosophy has proceeded in the very same way that virtue ethics argues, rightly, that deontology and utilitarianism have obsessed over simply establishing decision-procedures for rules and principles without asking other questions germane to moral inquiry as a whole (what type of person ought I to be?), so too does seeing the shortcomings of some discourses in the analytic tradition – like the deontologists and utilitarians – ignore the arguments of Continentals. Maintaining that they don't argue is a rhetorical disarming strategy used to say they don't contribute at all.
In this blog, and in my posts, I recognize the distinction of Analytic vs. Continental as perjorative. My attempt at building bridges is modeled on finding more than unites us as reflective philosophers concerned with wisdom. The exemplars of this practice, so far, are Davidson and Gadamer who come together in ways that, despite the divide, they were very similar in their correspondence. It took effort to see that similarity and sharing, and what brought them together, ironically, was nothing more than a love for Plato. It takes effort to see, and you, my friend, are just not willing to see it.

Kenny said...

Suppose that "analytic philosophy" continues to this day to be recognizable as a specific school of philosophy, narrower than philosophy as a whole (I, like you, am not at all sure that this is the case; see my recent post on the subject). We mean by this, at least, that future historians of philosophy will classify a substantial number of writers who were publishing in the early 21st century as "analytic," right alongside Russell, Moore, and Carnap, and this classification will be helpful to them in trying to give an overarching narrative to the history of philosophy. Suppose this is true. Then I think it is highly unlikely that "experimental philosophy" is part of this school. Perhaps this is another piece of evidence for the breakdown of the divide: that experimental philosophy has begun to appear and it is something entirely different from either analytic or "Continental" philosophy. Perhaps analytic philosophers will start classifying it as "Continental" along with everything else that's foreign to them, but I don't think they will adopt it as part of their own school of philosophy, and if they do I think this will be evidence that they have lost their identity as analytic in any meaningful historical sense. Of course, they'll still be analytic in the sense I describe on my blog.

Vancouver Philosopher said...

You'll find it is not the case however that experimental philosophy is apart from analytic pretension when directing its attention to the evaluation of CP. It is an outgrowth of the post-Analytic period to see particular problems as associated with evidence derived largely from social sciences. I have a friend accepted to Florida State's PhD program, and at FSU, he can take science courses over doing his language requirements. This is a sign that the emprical methods are informing directly on philosophical topics.

Secondly, the coherence of such a narrative is only an expression of the hegemony of the analytic tradition seeking to fortify in disagreement that it is special. It is very much like the mediocrity of public schools that maintain the myth that every child is special. The distinction should be collapsed and the narrative given of early 20th century philosophy should be seen in the particular points of each philosopher. This is the misleading point of anthologies in philosophy. They never give a complete whole through their samples. To maintain that AP is something distinguishable from CP is to abstract oneself unnecessarily. Philosophy is nothing more than a pursuit of reflective inquiry. One hopes for systematicity, but sometimes, one finds it to be otherwise. Heidegger's analysis of how we are in the world leads one to realize how radically historical and contingent human life is.

Kenny said...

I'm sure that a lot of "experimental philosophers" WANT to be considered analytic philosophers, especially in the context of an oppositon between analytic and "Continental". But I'm not sure all of them do, and I also think it's too early to say whether the mainstream of (self-identifying) analytic philosophers will accept them as such.

Experimental philosophy is something more specific than "emprical methods ... informing directly on philosophical topics." That has been going on for ages.

As far as speculations about what future historians will find useful, I don't think that talking about philosophical schools and movements is necessarily misleading, it's just necessarily oversimplified. It's appropriate for broad overviews, but not for detailed studies. For instance, in the study of 17th and 18th century philosophy, we talk about "Continental rationalism" and "British empiricism" because it is convenient and it helps introductory students to get a grip in a very general way of where these philosophers stand. However, we then note that Berkeley - who is the most radical empiricist of them all - is in many respects more at home with Leibniz and Malebranche than with Locke and Hume. Certainly in the role of theology in his philosophy this is true. So depending on what aspect of history of philosophy we are studying the conventional "geography + epistemology" classification scheme is not always the most useful. Still, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume represent a recognizeable philosophical tradition, and it is useful when looking at broad overviews of the history of philosophy to lump them together as "British empiricists."

The same line of thought needs to be - and, I think, will be - recognized when speaking of analytic philosophy, even in the context of early 20th century history of philosophy. It's a convenient classification for purposes of broad overviews. Wittgenstein is proof that it isn't much more than that.