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Philosophy as practiced in most English-speaking philosophy departments today.
August 24, 2006 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Long .pdf paper on the state of mainstream "analytic" philosophy. In a recent thread, we discussed the current state of philosophy departments in English-speaking countries. Philosophers are often asked why we don't take Ayn Rand seriously as a philosopher, or why we aren't up on literary Theory or deconstruction, etc. The short answer is that most academic philosophers in universities in the English-speaking world are engaged in a broad consensus (about how to do philosophy, what counts as a good question, etc) that's called "analytic philosophy" for short. Here is a long, informative encyclopedia entry by Scott Soames describing the history and current state of play in analytic philosophy. If you want to understand the background of the currently dominant school of philosophy in the US, UK, Canada and Australia, this will explain it. Link goes directly to a 44-page .pdf file.

Here are a few bonus bits: Jerry Fodor on Why no one reads analytic philosophy. One of the Philosophy talk podcasts from the Stanford philosophy department, on The Future of Philosophy. Some answers at askphilosophers.org -- a site where you can ask questions directly of professional philosophers -- that say the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy should be retired. (In a way, I agree, but the terms are used so widely that it's useful to get a sense of what they're meant to describe.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on what different philosophers have meant by "analysis".
posted by LobsterMitten (56 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
I should have said, I got the link to the Soames paper from Brian Leiter's blog; there is some discussion among professionals over there of specific claims in the paper.

And, while I'm commenting on my own post I thought I would include some other links to Leiter -- which I stole from a list jayder made in another post here. Here are links where Leiter and others on his blog discuss the difference/lack of difference between analytic and continental philosophy; be sure to check out the comment threads too.

First, Leiter's extensive comments on that Fodor article I linked, including correspondence with Fodor.
Second, Jason Stanley arguing that analytics and continentals often reach the same conclusions
Third, Marcus Stanley (not a philosopher) on humanism vs. scientific thinking, and Neitzsche
Fourth, another attempt to distinguish the two
Fifth, more from Jason Stanley, on what to make of recent changes in specific philosophy departments
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:55 PM on August 24, 2006


LobsterMitten, I love you.
- Graduate Philosophy Student
posted by Dantien at 3:01 PM on August 24, 2006


It seems to me that philosophy (excluding ethics) is rather stalled out at present. To oversimplify, if you read Wittgenstein and Quine you're left feeling that they've solved a few of philosophy's big problems and demonstrated that you really can't solve the rest. What we need now are either new questions or new ways of getting after old questions that we thought had led to dead ends. The first half of the 20th century, to oversimplify again, was spent trying to translate philosophical problems from English into some perfect language where the problems effectively resolve themselves; W and Q showed why that's not going to happen.

Regarding analytic v. continental philosophy, I think what needs to happen is that the bulk of continental philosophy needs to be rebranded as literature, as it doesn't follow the traditional rules of philosophy. For example, if you were to tell Sartre that a theory of his leads to a paradox, instead of rejecting that theory, he'd claim the paradox demonstrated that his theory held some extra-deep truth. This isn't to say that continental philoshophy isn't valuable, just that you can't really do philosophy with it.
posted by Nahum Tate at 3:08 PM on August 24, 2006


Nice post. By the time I read through most of these links, the post will have scrolled off Mefi's frontpage (The Fodor piece is first on my schedule). But anyhow, and while I'm here, wtf is up with this guy? Is this where analytical philosophy gets us? (Sorry for the derail).
posted by washburn at 3:10 PM on August 24, 2006


This isn't to say that continental philoshophy isn't valuable, just that you can't really do philosophy with it.

Is this the philosophy equivalent of a troll? kidding

But really, a lot of people, myself included, would disagree with you on that one. Two big branches of political philosophy, Habermas and Foucault, both have their roots firmly in the continental traditions.

It's the emancipatory power found in continental theory that gives its political branches their strength.

But the, I just wrote a thesis on Habermas and international law, so I might be biased.

Lobstermitten, I also love you for the reasons covered by Dantien!
posted by generichuman at 3:25 PM on August 24, 2006


Hmm... Soames's encyclopedia article is overbroad, boring, leaves important bits out, but ultimately gets it right for all that. Check.
Fodor is funny, sweet, and insightful. Check.
Leiter has his hand in there for reasons unbeknownst to anyone. Check.

Yep, everything's as it should be.

continental philosophy needs to be rebranded as literature

Lemme get this one: instead of rebranding everything currently described as "continental" as literature, how about we get rid of the analytic/continental distinction, and then let all the various pieces, texts, and arguments fall into their respective categories? That would take your untutored conflation and make it reasonable and polite.

In other words, I object to the claim that Sartre is the archetype of continental philosophy. I'll take Habermas, thanks.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:26 PM on August 24, 2006


Good man.
posted by generichuman at 3:32 PM on August 24, 2006


Medieval scholasticism made philosophy into the handmaiden of theology. Our modern scholasticism has made it into the handmaiden of absolute materialism. There's no whore like an old whore.
posted by No Robots at 3:42 PM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


isn't it that a lot of philosophy is too connected to Wittgenstein (and Plato, i think) --abstract semantics and definitions and meta-things (of words and statements and intentions, etc) instead of the bigger questions of life and society and structures and organizations and desires and needs and reality and ...?

Foucault remains popular because he's all about things and actions and desires in the real world and their development and meanings and layers and impacts, instead of analyzing a statement about things or actions or desires or the real world, no? /ignorant about it, but like some of it all
posted by amberglow at 3:53 PM on August 24, 2006


generichuman: "Two big branches of political philosophy, Habermas and Foucault, both have their roots firmly in the continental traditions."

If Habermas and Foucault are 'two big branches of political philosophy,' then McDonald's and Burger King are 'two big branches of international cuisine.' Of course political philosophy doesn't have many roots in continental philosophy. Where did continental philosophy come from? Heidegger. Heidegger, famously the least politically-aware philosopher of the 20th century. That is, Heidegger the Nazi, who, for all his philosophical prowess, fucked up when it came to politics. This is why continental philosophers have historically been attracted to Marx; because they care so little about politics that, in the face of the deepest political questions, they simply act as contrarians, since being contrary is cool.

But Heidegger is still probably near the top as far as greatest philosophers of the twentieth century. So continental philosophy doesn't need to be denied; it only needs to be considered very, very carefully.

As far as analytic philosophy, it doesn't really need to be considered. It's pretty much harmless. It, like so many philosophies of this century, might have been engendered, and could probably be demolished, by a single well-considered Nietzschean epigram.
posted by koeselitz at 3:53 PM on August 24, 2006


I saw this linked on Leiter's blog and read it last night... I kinda disagree that it's a good introduction to non-philosophers about the state of the discipline, as it's hyper name-droppy (although maybe that is part of the state of the discipline!). It is a good paper for people who already have a reasonable grasp of philosophy, though.

Fodor's LRB pieces are excellent, and that Water's Water Everywhere piece is the best. Funniest man in philosophy.

Thanks for the post, LobsterMitten.

Nahum Tate: The first half of the 20th century, to oversimplify again, was spent trying to translate philosophical problems from English into some perfect language where the problems effectively resolve themselves; W and Q showed why that's not going to happen.

Actually, I think Quine's project is the exact opposite of this. He supported the regimentation (or recasting, or cleaning up) of our sloppy natural language into austere science and first-order logic in order to solve philosophical problems. Quine did argue that we can't turn to conceptual analysis of our ordinary talk in order to make progress, but also argued that we can replace that talk with something better.
posted by painquale at 4:03 PM on August 24, 2006


Where did continental philosophy come from? Heidegger.

Umm... No. At least not for any values of "come from" or "continental philosophy" of which I, an English speaker, am aware.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:48 PM on August 24, 2006


Where did continental philosophy come from? Heidegger.

See, I might go back a few more years. Say... Kant.

Hence the politics.
posted by generichuman at 4:55 PM on August 24, 2006


Many people have the mistaken belief that analytic philosophy is actually a philosophical position (not Soames, of course). It's very helpful when making claims about its place in history to keep in mind that it's actually just a method for describing and analyzing philosophical positions, including anything that those more on the Continental side come up with.

Just thought I'd add this, and also that Wittgenstein solved nothing.
posted by ontic at 4:58 PM on August 24, 2006


Also, Quine and Wittgenstein's synoptic visions of what philosophy can solve and what it can't are in tension with one another (and in tension with Kant, who also gave lots of answers and reasons why other answers couldn't be gained).

Oh, and qualia exist!
posted by ontic at 5:00 PM on August 24, 2006


Philosophy is important; however, I am unqualified to make any comments on it, other than to refer to others, such as www.importanceofphilosophy.com.
posted by DataPacRat at 5:08 PM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


See, I might go back a few more years. Say... Kant.

Don't forget Rousseau (how can you read Of Grammatology without him, eh? Oh, and Descartes, (for criticizing Cartesian dualism) and Spinoza, (for crypto-political readings of metaphysics and for infinite modes!) and definitely Hobbes and Machiavelli. We'll also need Augustine, so as to understand the jokey references from the Confessions. We'll need the Stoics and the Skeptics, and definitely Plato and Aristotle.

Where did continental philosophy come from?

Erm... Thales?
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:10 PM on August 24, 2006


Oh, and qualia exist!

This is the sort of thing I expect from metafilter. You'd think it'd be on the Posting page, right next to the warning about Lebanon and Israel: "Please do not bring up 'what it's like to be a bat,' as many recent threads have ended in shouting matches that do nothing good for the site or the community." :-)
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:13 PM on August 24, 2006


IT IS NICE TO BE A BAT!!!
posted by sonofsamiam at 5:25 PM on August 24, 2006 [2 favorites]


Long .pdf paper on the state of mainstream "analytic" philosophy

Thanks for the warning, I might have accidentally read that.
posted by nanojath at 5:28 PM on August 24, 2006


Amberglow: isn't it that a lot of philosophy is too connected to Wittgenstein (and Plato, i think) -- abstract semantics and definitions and meta-things (of words and statements and intentions, etc) instead of the bigger questions of life and society and structures and organizations and desires and needs and reality and ...?

Neither Wittgenstein nor Plato should be named as "out of touch" philosophers -- they both had, and expressed in their writings, great interest in bigger questions of "life and society and structures and organizations and desires and needs and reality and ..." In Plato's case, his writings (and, doubtless even more influential, those of Aristotle) were eventually reduced to certain essentialist precepts about language. These precepts, as Fodor describes, became central to analytic philosophy, though I think it's safe to say that the tradition of analytic philosophy is very far from anything Plato would have considered philosophy. Wittgenstein's later, most famous writings were effectively bullets aimed for the heart of the analytic (linguistic) tradition; so anywhere it seems like he is doing "abstract semantics and definitions and meta-things", he is just aiming at some specific part of analytic philosophy. The analytic tradition had been trying to reduce the "bigger questions" to linguistic/logical ones, and Wittgenstein's aim was simply to show that this wasn't possible.

In short, I think you have sight of the problem, but you're misattributing it when you name Witt. and Plato.
posted by voltairemodern at 5:46 PM on August 24, 2006


Eh, the analytics should just give up. They'll never get all the chicks and cash that real scientists get and the schtick is getting old. The whole premise that you can solve a problem if you're just "precise" and "logical" enough is just a fetish for pseudo-scientific technologism. Most analytical philosophers can't even be called materialists anymore, since W, and materialism are about as low as you can go. Really, just stop. Continental philosophers at least get laid.
posted by nixerman at 5:57 PM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: It could probably be demolished by a single well-considered Nietzschean epigram.
posted by joe lisboa at 6:25 PM on August 24, 2006


Though I do think Nagel had a point. I, for one, have no idea what it's like to be the sort of thinker who treats the fact that I have no idea what it's like to be a bat as a fatal blow to physicalism.
posted by joe lisboa at 6:30 PM on August 24, 2006


Thanks to the people who said thanks. :)

painquale, maybe you're right that this paper assumes too much background to help someone who really is coming to it cold. This is a peril of being immersed in a discipline; it's easy to forget that phrases like "in epistemology he was an anti-foundationalist" are not transparent conveyors of meaning. Sigh. I hope it will at least be useful to people who have had a little contact with this stuff and want to put the whole story together.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:42 PM on August 24, 2006


It'd be nice to find out if any of this stuff was experimentally verifiable.
posted by adipocere at 7:04 PM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


ahh--thanks, voltaire (we only did a little of Wittgenstein's chair stuff in college--it annoyed me. i do dip into Foucault and Derrida and Bataille and those folks from time to time now tho, and don't get annoyed)
posted by amberglow at 7:26 PM on August 24, 2006


i use [more inside], therefore i am.
posted by Hat Maui at 7:39 PM on August 24, 2006


Ayn Rand's life = Interesting
Ayn Rand's work = Inapplicable crap

I praise LobsterMitten's post and draw the sign of a dollar in mid-air.
posted by squidfartz at 8:02 PM on August 24, 2006


OKAY...

Sorry, it's just that I did the phisophy program at NYU, in a double major with the film program. NYU is still the model for analytic philosophy, and I was taught by not only Ned Block, but Thomas Nagel as well.

So I might be taking this a little personally.

If philosophy is, as it claims, the science of thinking, and collegiate education is, as it would aim to be, a place for student to learn to think for themselves, then analytic philosophy is the purest representation of those goals.

What the analytics strive for is to put every statement up to judgment, and if it doesn't pass, to replace it with something better. In my experience, what this meant was that we were taught by the most renound philosophers alive today (aside from Saul Kripke, who was on indefinte hiatus from Princeton after stalking one of his students) but that those philosophers were not teaching at us, but rather having a dialog with us in which we would argue furiously with their views, and they would relent and regroup as often as we would.

NYU wasn't a place where you could state your personal beliefs in academic terms and hope for the benefit of the doubt because of absence of evidence for or against. It was the NBA. If what you said worked, and couldn't be logically refuted, then you were a star. If it didn't, then it would be torn to shreds and you would wash up and rework it in the hopes to play better next time. I should know. As a freshman I mapped out the odds in a manner able to disprove Pascal's Wager, and not only did I get an "A" but my proof was also used as curricullum for the rest of my time there.

The next year, I presented an identity theory that I still think is unassailable, but depending on your view of quantum physics, the first premise falls completely apart.

Analytic Philosophy taught us how to think, and presnet our arguments, and rethink our arguments so as to present them better. Every other philosophy tells you what someone popular ages ago thought back then, and then has you regurgitate the material for the exam.

There's no question in my mind. Analytic Philosophy is the only version worth studying, and the others should be taught only as background or as literature. They don't teach students to think for themselves, though.

And for what it's worth, I'm working on a screenplay assignment that hinges on the What is it like to be a bat question. So I don't find it useless just because it might be played out in some circles.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:15 PM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer, I'm glad you got so much out of your undergraduate work in philosophy! But it is unfair to say that all philosophy other than analytic philosophy is mere repetition of other people's views, or is worthless. (Just as the one-line dismissals of analytic philosophy offered above are not terribly convincing, because they're way too simple-minded.)

Analytic philosophy and critical thinking are not exactly the same thing. Critical thinking, I agree, is something any course on ideas or the history of ideas should encourage, and contemporary university philosophy departments in the analytic tradition pride themselves on teaching critical thinking as an in-house specialty. Analytic philosophy is a more specific set of questions and methods, though -- not just an appreciation of critical thinking. (This is a common conflation, I think, especially among analytic philosophers.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:49 PM on August 24, 2006


Navelgazer> Er, you're obviously unfamiliar with the actual practice of continental philosophy, as opposed to the cheap parody of it that philosophers who consider themselves "analytic philosophers" pretend to knock down to impress their young, naive students.



As to the thread proper, I've always been rather fond of Habermas' distinction between analytic and continental philosophies of language. H. argues that analytic philosophy, until very recently, considered the fundamental function of language to be representation. Of what was up for debate, but words represented things, and a philosophy of language was essentially complete once it gave a complete account of the process of representation. Communication was simply transmitting representations, more or less accurately. Rorty makes a similar point in "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature" within the analytic tradition.

Against that, in Habermas' view, continental philosophy of language traditionally focused on communication and the circulation of signs. Representation was seen as merely a phenomenon that emerges out of those processes (and is the source of the ridiculous "relativism" trope about postmodernism). He has in mind stuff like semiotics (I'd be willing to bet money that he has in mind the stream coming from Hjemslev through Eco based on some remarks in Truth and Justification).

Habermas, with typical philosophical modesty, sees himself as engaged (as of 2004) in the process of merging the two, as part of an emerging body of cross-tradition thinkers ("Kantian Pragmatists" is the buzzword - McDowell may be one as well) who seek to wed the power of analytic accounts of representation with continental accounts of communication to provide a theory of language that finally gives both functions their due.

Exciting stuff, and it goes to show you how hollow all this "Postmodernism sucks!" "Analytic philosophers are sexist!" crap really is.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 11:49 PM on August 24, 2006


interesting Pseudoephedrine, though my limited experience of analytic philosophy of language seems to be thoroughly concerned with communication (nature of of intentions, common knowledge, conventions etc...). Also I would like to note that David Lewis should really be mentioned as one of the greatest philosophers of the late 20th century.

I currently work in the analytic tradition, though I just attended a conference this weekend that had papers from both sides. I have to say that a lot of the papers from the phenomelogical traditional seemed a bit empty to me. However, I have on several occasions come to appreciate continental thinkers like merleau-ponty, schutz and husserl after having found striking parallels to their ideas in recent analytic philosophy of mind. As a result of these experiences I think that continental philosophies often function as an avant-garde in this art of thinking we call philosophy (analytic style being no less an art). Analytic philosophies then catch up about 30 years later when empirical science has provided a bit more data.

Saying that, there's a lot of annoying, pointless blah on both sides.
posted by leibniz at 1:17 AM on August 25, 2006


Its interesting that today's conception of both analytical and continental philosophy stem from the same man: Wittgenstein. His first book, the TLP, is an ode to logical positivism. Strongly influenced by Frege and his teacher Russell who were firmly in the analytical camp, it was held to be a new dawn in analytical philosophy.

Despite the fact its a headfuck the TLP managed to become a central frame of reference for the Vienna Circle. These european philosophers took W's logical positivism and ran with it... all the way to America. (Schlick was a prof at Stanford, Feigl at Iowa. Carl Hempel- NYC Yale and Princeton, Hans Reichenbach- California, Rudolf Carnap- Chicago Princeton and UCLA, and Herbert Feigl- Minnesota). The influence of TLP was ingrained further into American philosophy thanks to Quine's travelling fellowship during which he met Carnap in Prague.

Meanwhile, Wittgenstein had changed his mind. Philosophical Investigations is a comprehensive demolition of his earlier work, and it is compelling. (As well as readable.) By relentlessly demonstrating the logical flaws in logical positivism he provides the launch pad for today's continental philosophers-- who can legitimately claim that analytical philosophy is an ab abusu ad usum non valet consequentia.
posted by verisimilitude at 4:13 AM on August 25, 2006


While we're arguing about origins, here's another theory: we could probably locate the basic distinction in Frege and Husserl. Husserl worked on much of the same material as Frege, and ran with the same crowd (Cantor, for one.) Yet these days, Husserl supplies little more than a footnote to analytic theories of mind, while he's taken as an inventively original thinker by many 'continentalists.'

Of course, while I sort of like this Jacob and Essau story about the branches of the discipline, I think it makes more sense to speak of loose groupings of figures and texts. I'll bet an analytic philosopher of mind would know more about Husserl than I, a cross-trained political philosopher, would. We might instead say that continental philosophers of mind were invested in the 'body problem' a lot sooner than analytics, but at this point they're working on many of the same problems as analytics, with basically the same relationship to psychology and and neuroscience.

So if I pointed to someone as a major figure in continental political philosophy, say Strauss (Leo not Levi), or Hannah Arendt, it wouldn't be right to say that they're ignored by analytic philosophers, either. Some think that Habermas refuted Arendt, for instance, but others disagree. Most take Strauss to be a classicist and an historian of ideas, and otherwise irrelevant, but among analytic ancient philosophers he's recently come into fashion.

What I find interesting is the way that the mere mention of the distinction puts a lot of people on edge. People go on the defensive, or on the attack, immediately, at the mention of words that largely fail to map the discipline any longer. It demonstrates an ironic failure of critical thinking, for such a thoughtful crowd.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:02 AM on August 25, 2006


Nifty
posted by Smedleyman at 9:44 AM on August 25, 2006


And then there are the outcasts of these islands. The metaphysicians. Nobody seems to want to know about the big questions, unless they can be rubbished in the pedagocial jute mills of academic life, whether it be in the States, the UK or France. It seems these guys are only interested in preaching to the converted. And those who are interested in the bigger questions aren't allowed beyond the "define your terms" security fences.
posted by donfactor at 10:21 AM on August 25, 2006


Funny you should mention metaphysics, donfactor. I was just reading this over on (game designer, ludologist, novelist and citizen philosopher) Chris Bateman's blog.
posted by Iridic at 12:27 PM on August 25, 2006


Ontic: Many people have the mistaken belief that analytic philosophy is actually a philosophical position (not Soames, of course). It's very helpful when making claims about its place in history to keep in mind that it's actually just a method for describing and analyzing philosophical positions, including anything that those more on the Continental side come up with.


Precisely. Analytic philosophy completely evades the question of the content of philosophy, pretending that it can resolve all questions solely through method. This is like saying you can cook a great meal if you follow the correct procedure, whether you use truffles or pig dung for your ingredients.
posted by No Robots at 12:45 PM on August 25, 2006


Analytic Philosophy is the only version worth studying, and the others should be taught only as background or as literature. They don't teach students to think for themselves, though.

This! This is why I was never able to take analytic philosophers seriously, and why I decided not to continue to grad school in philosophy. I couldn't tolerate that air of pernicious smugness, that dismissive arrogance that constructs a strawman version of its competition, knocks it down, then uses that as excuse not take the competition seriously. I don't care how admirably well-constructed their arguments are -- if they even can't be bothered to read a page of what the rest of the philosophical world has been up to for the last century or so , then it's hard to take them seriously as philosophers.
posted by treepour at 1:16 PM on August 25, 2006


Yes, and what ever happened to philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and all the other special areas that are studied philosophically? Not important or are they all thought to fit either analytic or continental models? I don't think so.
posted by donfactor at 2:24 PM on August 25, 2006


No Robots: Your analogy is flawed. The goal of philosophy is not to make "great philosophy" (a great meal), it is to provide answers to philosophical questions. You can answer philosophical questions about the meaning of life (truffles) or the vagueness of the term "heap" (pig dung). Analytic philosophy is a darn good method to use to get to the bottom of almost any question you want to get to the bottom of. (For those who think philosophy is mainly about salvation, edification, or easing one's mental suffering (Wittgenstein), I would suggest that philosophy is much bigger than just self-help. It can help you do these things, but that's not it's main goal.

treepour: Despite our NYU representative, smugness is not a necessary part of analytic philosophy. In fact, I believe the best philosophers in the analytic tradition are picked out specifically by their humility -- not in what they choose to read, but in what positions they are willing to evaluate. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of smug assholes in analytic philosophy. But actually both sides ignore each other with vehemence and in the long run, I'd probably say Continentals can be a little more smug about it. Especially when they regularly poo poo science with impunity.

donfactor: By and large, philosophy of mind and philosophy of science are specific content areas within analytic philosophy. One of the hallmarks of analytic philosophy is that it encourages (sometimes wrongly) specialization. You don't find many Continentals claiming to be philosophers of science, language, mind, etc exclusively. Derrida wrote about all of them, but I'm sure he would reject the label "philosopher of language".
posted by ontic at 4:23 PM on August 25, 2006


What ontic said.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:04 PM on August 25, 2006


ontic: Excellent points, thank you. I must say, though, that while I encountered a few humble analytic philosophers (my advisor was one of them, and I have the deepest respect for him & his work to this day), I nevertheless found the smugness to define the overall "atmosphere" of the analytic endeavor. Maybe it was just me or my experience, but I guess I just found the humble philosophers to be too few and far between. I also think that kinds of seemingly frivolous arguments that Fordor points out in his article don't help dispell this atmosphere -- their very aura of frivolity comes across (to me) as a kind of nose-thumbing at the alleged "seriousness" and "depth" of continental themes, as a self-affirming inside joke. Finally, I would completely agree that there is much arrogance on the "other" side as well, but it's been my experience (and perhaps my experience is unique) that the "continental" professors I've known have at least acknowledged that the analytic philosophers are doing real work. Whereas I never encountered a single analytic philosopher (no matter how humble) who was willing to concede that the continentals were doing anything but speaking grandiose gobbledygook.

I think analytic work is important, don't get me wrong -- but I think philosophy is broader than that. I suppose that the tendancy of the analytic schools to reduce the entirety of the philosophical project to their own project(s) is where I find a kind of systemic arrogance.

On the other hand, your point is very well-taken about the arrogance (and, I'd argue, irresponsibility) of poo-pooing science.
posted by treepour at 7:30 PM on August 25, 2006


Am i the only one who finds Russell's "Unpopular Essays" far more interesting than the "Principia Mathematica"?
posted by storybored at 7:41 PM on August 25, 2006


treepour: Yeah, there's a lot of crap for all the good in analytic philosophy. I, of course, cast my lot with them because I think the method is worth it in the end. But also, so you can say you met one, some Continentals are doing something much more important than speaking grandiose gobbledygook.

For the record, I also view Continental philosophy as basically a method, albeit a(n) historical one.
posted by ontic at 7:59 PM on August 25, 2006


After years of lurking, this is the post that brought out the credit card. I did undergraduate work at a "Continental" department. I do graduate work at an "Analytic" department. Here are a few observations on the differences that I have experienced:

-Modern philosophical logic did not matter at all to any of the folks in the Continental department, while a deep understanding of the basic principles is considered vital in the Analytic department, no matter one's interests.

-A deep understanding of History of Philosophy was considered vital in the Continental program, no matter one's interests, while it is marginalized in the Analytic department. While my current department is considered to be strong in History, those faculty and students who do not specialize in it do not take a particular interest-it is just another specialty to them.

-Along those lines, the faculty in the analytic department divide into their philosophical specialties more clearly, while the faculty had their hands in more pots at the Continental department.

I'll confess that I'm not too interested in the debate over which philosophers deserve which label. I've read plenty of interesting and terrible work on both sides of the line (leaving aside the question of where the line actually is). As Soames points out, "Analytic" departments dominate the American philosophical picture today. I picked an analytic department because I wanted to maximize my chances of one day getting a job, God help me.
posted by Kwine at 8:52 PM on August 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


After reading over my previous post, and the well-reasoned comments, well, I'm sorry. I didn't mean exactly what I was saying there, because I was taking some of the previous attacks a little personally, which was silly of me.

For me, Analytic is the method that works best for considering a line of thought and the merits that it may hold. I certainly didn't mean for my quote about background and literature to be read as insultingly as it inevitably would be.

(As LobsterMitten can probably attest, my comments on philosophy tend to become contentious. Honestly, I'm generally not that big of an asshole on other subjects, but this one just brings out the debater in me, I guess.)

I personally find literary debate to be just as valuable, if not more so, than philosophical debate, though I'm definitely not as experienced in it. I wasn't trying to make a judgment on the worthiness of the material, but just how I feel it is best studied. Descartes' skepticism, for instance, may be proven or disproven, deconstructed, torn down, rebuilt, and eventually replaced with something that works better. This works as the purview of analytic philosophy. Plato's Cave Allegory, on the other hand, may be interpreted in many ways, debated for meaning, and fitted to shape ones view of the world around them, but cannot be debated on the basis of truth. This, to me, makes it the purview of literature. You can refute Dennett with Hume, if you make a reasonable case, but you can't refute Bronte with Dickenson, nor is there any reason to do so. They're diffferent studies. Similarly, you can't refute Socrates with Aristotle, as their arguments were more about their perceptions of the world than stating the nature of the world.

My statement about other philosophies having the student simply regurgitate their reading material was simply wrong, and smug. It came from conversations with people at other schools (SUNY Binghamton, Mt. Holyoke, etc.) who had this experience in their courses, and were envious of mine, which I was lucky to have. These programs were always described to me as "classical," and were based in material thatcouldn't be meaningfully debated in an analytic way, though they would have been invaluable if treated as literature. I've never been in a truly continental program, though, and know nothing about them. I have some friends who were in Colgate's continental program, though, and they can school me in Wittgenstein and Kant, though I will say that I learned to think on my feet faster in the debates than they did. They learned the masters in a way that I never did, though I wasn't lacking for that, whereas I learned critical thinking in a way that they never did, though they weren't wanting for it either. It comes down to preference, I suppose.

The flamethrower language above was simply because I felt the need to defend the analytics. Analytic is, as has been said, not a philosophy on it's own, but just a different way to process it. I don't think the recipe analogy works, though, really. My focus was on Philosophy of Mind (hence the Block and Nagel courses) so I wasn't trying to proclaim analytic as it's own branch of study. It is merely a method of teaching, and learning, and above all, discussing. It's the method I find most valuable for the material, though, and I won't hesitate to reassert that fact.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:43 PM on August 25, 2006


You can answer philosophical questions about the meaning of life (truffles) or the vagueness of the term "heap" (pig dung).

Very good. Now, what does analytical philosophy have to say about mechanisms for determining the difference in importance between these "philosophical" questions?
posted by No Robots at 7:55 PM on August 26, 2006


Yup. It pursues questions in ethics and value theory, one of which could be "What is the most important philosophical question to answer?"
posted by ontic at 10:51 PM on August 26, 2006


It pursues questions in ethics and value theory, one of which could be "What is the most important philosophical question to answer?"

Where is Socrates to question these sophists to the point where they will admit their unknowing? Where is Spinoza to draw for us a neat and compact map of the whole of philosophy, rather than to divide it into a myriad of fragments? Well, we do have Socrates and Spinoza: what need have we then for these hair-splitting sophists?
posted by No Robots at 6:35 AM on August 27, 2006


The point of philosophy is not to arrive back at ignorance. The writer of Socrates (the character) also founded the Academy. Or are you implying that Aristotle is a hair-splitting sophist? It sounds like you gave up on philosophy before it got started.

Doing philosophy -- questioning, arriving at and defending answerrs to philosophical questions in order to find the truth -- is difficult, and often involves splitting things that are considerably finer than hairs. There are sophists in modern analytic philosophy, but modern analytic philosophy is not sophism. The sophists' project was to win arguments and convince others of their point of view using whatever means necessary -- by splitting hairs or by throwing piles of hair at someone to blind the intellect. The method of analytic philosophy, used by some of the best minds in the world today, is anything but that.
posted by ontic at 11:24 AM on August 27, 2006


We've all seen how various theories influence the areas they focus on--art, literature, music, politics, medicine, sociology and anthropology, etc---what's philosophy doing? or can it not influence because it's so broad? Weren't continental philosophers more integrated into--more engaged with and part of--the public life and thought of their societies, wanting to make people aware of things? And analytical philosophers?
posted by amberglow at 11:50 AM on August 27, 2006


The point of philosophy is not to arrive back at ignorance.

Socrates (the philosopher) was trying to get the Sophists to admit their ignorance, this being the starting point of philosophy.

The writer of Socrates (the character) also founded the Academy. Or are you implying that Aristotle is a hair-splitting sophist?

Er, it was Plato who wrote about Socrates and founded the academic. Aristotle was his pupil.

It sounds like you gave up on philosophy before it got started.

No. Actually, after a long search, I found the true philosophy.
posted by No Robots at 3:28 PM on August 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


I have been wondering why my friend has been such an uncooperative person sometimes lately and after reading this thread I realize that it's partly because he has been studying analytic philosophy and practices it on me while we gab, seizing on and analyzing my slapdash comments and authoritatively answering rhetorical questions.
posted by Aghast. at 7:33 PM on August 27, 2006


Metafilter: Seizing on and analyzing slapdash comments and authoritatively answering rhetorical questions.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:59 AM on August 28, 2006


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