Monday, March 2, 2009

Laura Miller has a horrendous review of Critchley's new book, The Book of Dead Philosophers

The review gets really bad on page 2 when Miller naively divides philosophy into its two camps of analytic and Continental philosophy. Now, while I think there might be something said about this distinction, certainly this cannot be it:

Critchley is an adherent of the continental strain of modern philosophy, as distinguished from the analytic strain favored by American and British philosophers. To put it very roughly (and consequently provoke squalls of protest), the analytic philosophers concern themselves with what the universe is, or rather how we can know what it is, while their continental counterparts are more focused on the question of how we ought to live. Critchley doesn't have much use for the analytic side and its conviction that "philosophy should aspire to the impersonality of natural science." He's not especially respectful of science in general, and speaks slightingly of American philosophy's "infatuation" with it. A few scientists (Galileo, Darwin) are included in the book; others, such as Newton, Einstein, are not. Perhaps one reason why classical philosophy gets little more than a flyover from Critchley is that it was fundamentally entangled with the sort of discipline that we now call science. He is more comfortable with thinkers devoted to ethics, metaphysics and aesthetics.

Ethics cuts both ways across the Divide. It's naive to think that Critchley is the par excellence of pursuing this question. Many people have echoed this criticism on the, and I won't give it too much attention. Instead, I'll only say that I am disappointed that the general question of ethics is taken to be Continental and somehow analytic philosophy means just being "infatuated" with the natural sciences. This just oversimplifies the contribution both types of philosophy make to their respective fields.

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