Thursday, August 19, 2010

Indirect Continental Bashing

Now, I've said that Derrida is obscure and never states what he means. However, a charitable reading of Derrida starts with this as a basic fact and then moves on from there. This is definitely not charitable:

I am personally very sympathetic to the analysis of Chomsky and others, for whom a certain variety of philosophical obscurantism results not just from sloppiness or from lack of intellectual rigor, but is indeed an intrinsic part of its proponents' strategy for protecting their racket. The usual line of criticism approaches the phenomenon of French obscurantism with the conceptual tools of analytic philosophy (a measure by which it is doomed in advance), when what is in fact needed is sociology. It has often struck me that much American 'continental' philosophy depends on a total ignorance of the social milieu of the Parisian professoriat, and on a consequent inability to detect that what looks like the difficult expression of difficult ideas in writing is in fact just rarefied sociolect. Now sociolect, whether among carnies or professors, helps a group to cohere, and this helps it to survive. For Parisian professors as for speakers of carnie cant, all the better if outsiders are unable to understand....

What are the reasons for not clearly stating what one means? Here, it is read as a strategy to protect jobs of a few French professors, not a critique of a Western bias in philosophy since Plato to privilege a metaphysics of presence (obviously culminating in the work of Husserl!) Doubtful, Leiter would even want to know what the previous sentence means, though that is as clear and direct as I know how to say it. By extension, these poorly informed analytics do not want to actually engage with Derrida's work anymore than when French intellectualism of the 1980s was at its heyday.

Let us be fair. In the same post, Leiter does call our attention to the fact that this is an "ad hominem." Then again, Leiter has posted an excerpt on his wall giving credulity to an uncharitable interpretation of Derrida and promoting a philosophical intolerance for plurality. By grouping philosophers together that have nothing in common, he promotes the idea that there is something called "Continental philosophy". That's fallacious in itself. Why would a celebrated philosopher permit ad hominem arguments to stand on  his own wall if in fact the operative definition of philosophy is the systematic exchange of arguments in a dialectic to find the truth. I suspect motivations are not entirely philosophical, even with the qualifier.

As I've said many times before, even I find the interpretation of metaphysics qua presence questionable, but just because we do not accept a philosopher from the past does not mean we should not at least listen charitably to what they say.

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