Lo and behold, I woke up this morning to find on Leiter's blog a disparaging analysis of the type of philosophy he marginalizes had organized against his rankings with the Pluralist Guide to Philosophy Departments. Now, I have often wondered why he was so invested in the PGR rankings for philosophy departments. I have very much advocated on this blog a climate of co-operation and coexistence with my fellow philosophers no matter their self-identification because when axe comes down from those that don't appreciate the humanities at all, administrators won't distinguish a Heideggerian from a Strawsonian.
I told my logic students last semester to avoid hasty generalizations, and we should too. Perhaps, Leiter hasn't taught one of these classes in a while, otherwise he wouldn't have said this:
SPEP represents a group of philosophers in the U.S. who strongly identify with a certain conception of philosophy, most traceable to Heidegger (I have called it Party-Line Continentalism), and which identifies philosophy more closely with the kind of stuff that goes on in English Departments and cultural studies, than with the natural sciences, linguistics, history or psychology. These are generalizations, but as Nietzsche often remarks, the rule is usually more interesting than the exception.
SPEP is not a homogenous group. To be fair, there is an "air of Heideggerian orthodoxy" and I deeply disagree with this. I am not alone, however. This can be seen if A) Leiter were to attend an actual meeting and B) look at the program. Every celebrated Husserl scholar I love attends SPEP and these people are by no stretch of the imagination liking the Heideggerian motif. One SPEP member, for instance, told me that Continental philosophy had become textual exegesis to such an extent that they no longer want to talk about structures of experience, and this is why phenomenology had more in common with the analytic tradition. I've heard this from several people.
SPEP is more numerous than I would like to count. There are people working on race, politics and gender. There are people very suspicious of phenomenology and there are people equally suspicious of the poststructuralism. Likewise, I cannot say that even with the Heideggerian orthodoxy, Continental philosophy is moving in different directions than when Carl Schrag and company founded the group. Marion and Henry, for example, are re-inventing phenomenology to articulate structures of religious experience while more naturalistic inclined phenomenologies are working alongside cognitive scientists on embodiment. I know one Merleau-Pontyian that is working on neo-natal development. If I were to include myself in the mixture, then I embrace the reflective equilibrium of Rawls but want to get clear first on what exactly constitutes moral experience in agency, values and otherness--a metaethical phenomenology of sorts which brought me to my current project of pitting Scheler and Heidegger together.
Now, let me concede even if it were true that these departments resemble English and Cultural Studies departments, then what would be wrong with that in principle? Why can't literature inform us with just as much as science unless of course Leiter thinks science more reliable in producing answers to the type of philosophical problems that constitute philosophy. This is what I suspect is the case. The divide between Leiter and these group of graduate schools is a disagreement about what constitutes philosophical questions and ultimately the methods employed in answering those questions. Further, I speculate that this difference comes across in the PGR rankings. There has been a cultural gap for years between these two and I think it is about time that this divide goes away. It won't go away any time soon nor can we afford the divisiveness professionally---this is a point of prudence, however, not substance. Substance is what divides.
There are times when literature can be more helpful than science, depending on the question. Let me take for example a question I have often thought about since my undergraduate days. What should be the lasting philosophical significance of Auschwitz? How should an ethicists respond to the Holocaust? I think these are questions that philosophy can answer, and some like Adorno have. Beyond that, however, as a side project, I am taking an English literature theory seminar that examines Holocaust literature. I do not think this question is easily answered in any ONE way or the other. Yet, it might help to read some Primo Levi and other survivor stories to get clear as to how exactly those people understood their experience.
Art can serve equally well in a concern like this that science cannot. Several German artists also represent a lifetime of being raised in the country that committed the Holocaust. For example, Anselm Kiefer moved me with his piece Lot's Wife.
Also, I want to speak to the SAAP "alliance"
One important caveat about the generalization: in this case, the SPEP folks have also allied with philosophers involved with the Society for American Philosophy. This alliance is political, not intellectual: like the SPEPPies, the SAPies, feel marginalized from the dominant tendencies in the profession.
There has been several moves of exclusion, and this exclusion can be seen from the treatment of central authors in the American tradition. Dewey comes to mind. Here is a man that did not have an idle pen, wrote as much as Husserl from what I can tell, and is often not even taught at top recommended philosophy departments (despite Dewey's mainstay was Columbia University). Moreover, I take this move personally since much of SAAP and SPEP call attention to the same matters.
My department is particularly represented at SAAP meetings as we have people doing dissertations that fuse Heidegger and Dewey together. Some work in philosophy of literature and have equal interests in Peirce and Gadamer. I am not saying that SIUC should be regarded as typical. I don't know. I just have friends that work in both areas and it is quite common for my department to have people common to both sets. Therefore, there is at least prima facie evidence to suggest that those interested in American philosophy might have equal interest in Continental figures. Therefore, it is not just that SAAP and SPEP are politically aligned. Instead, there is common ground between the two intellectually.
In this post, I have shown several things:
1. SPEP is made up of more than just Party-line Continentalists (and even that distinction is moribund and superficial. I've spoken about it before here);
2. Science can and does figure into the work of some phenomenologists who also attend SPEP;
3. Even if we grant Leiter's caveat about the work resembling English and Cultural Studies, there can still be philosophical work done that takes its inspiration from English and Cultural Studies. Holocaust literature provides me with a framework to ask questions about Auschwitz in as much as art does (See the Levi and Kiefer examples above)
4. There has been an attempt to control what counts as philosophy and this has resulted in the exclusion of American philosophers just as much as Continental philosophers. It is perhaps just surprising that by excluding Continentals, the Continentalists gathered at several schools, put a stake in the ground and declared some turf. From what I can tell, Americanists weren't even that lucky. SIUC is a wonderful little island for that reason.
Of those that I know, several of them are interested in cross-fertilization projects and this suggests prima facie reasons for rejecting Leiter's characterization of SAAP and its relation to SPEP.