Monday, December 19, 2011

Leiter Nails It

"There are real dividing lines in the history of philosophy, but the one between the “analytic” and the “Continental” isn’t one of them, though it’s interesting today from a sociological point of view, since it allows graduate programs in philosophy to define spheres of permissible ignorance for their students."
More here.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes. He makes the same point near the end of the philosophy bites episode. This is very insightful.

Anonymous said...

He's surely right about that, but I think that's a rather obvious point except to the hardliners on either end.

This is a much better nail-job:

"...far more harm, in my view, has been done to Marx by moralists like G.A. Cohen than by any of the post-modernists.... calling for a moralistic change in the consciousness of individuals, regardless of historical circumstances. This latter, Christian turn in Cohen’s thought represents as profound a betrayal of Marxism as Habermas‘ attempt to supply it a Kantian foundation - in this respect, both Anglophone and “Continental” Marxism betray Marx’s original realism.

Anonymous said...

I take it that Leiter is making some sort of an objection here, but actually, it is necessary to define spheres of permissible ignorance (no one can know everything). I want a reason to believe that the analytic/continental distinction is particularly *bad* way to define spheres of permissible ignorance.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I find Leiter's reasoning particularly persuasive. Perhaps this is in part because Leiter doesn't conceive of the distinction in the same way that I do. And perhaps he thinks of it as more black and white than I do.

I treat philosophy as analytic to the extent that it exhibits clarity of argument, argumentative rigor, precise use of terminology that is defined as clearly as possible, and so forth. Philosophy is continental to the extent that it lacks these obvious virtues. On this understanding, it's patently obvious that there is a distinction being marked, and it's a distinction well-worth marking. Obviously there will be borderline cases, but so what?

Anonymous said...

But Leiter points out that by your criterion, Michael Dummett is not an analytic philosopher.

Anonymous said...

4:54

So Aquinas was an analytic philosopher?

Anonymous said...

Reports of the demise of the analytic-continental distinction are exaggerated, if not false. They’re in fashion, of course,and yeah, the distinction oversimplifies. But, as Harvey Keitel’s “Wolf” puts it in Pulp Fiction, “Let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks yet.” For one thing, we can still identify analytic and continental philosophers -- we know who's which -- with much more ease than we can account for the difference itself (differences are funny that way, as one hackneyed analytic-but-European philosopher famously taught).

In Philosophy Bites, Leiter himself uses the point that Bernard Williams is an analytic philosopher as a counterexample to many of the alleged trademarks of analytic philosophy, and therefore as a way of showing there’s nothing to the distinction. Except the example is self-refuting, because it depends on the obviousness that Williams was, after all, an analytic philosopher. Which he was. So how do we know that for sure, unless there’s something it is like to be analytic and not continental?

Anonymous said...

I thought he used Williams as an example of someone whom everyone safely assumes is an "analytic" philosopher and someone who so self-identifies, but then asks what he has in common with Frege, or something like that?

Asaf Bar-Tura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Leiter talks the talk but does not walk the walk. If he truly believed that the analytic/continental distinction is only useful for non-philosophical purposes, then why does the PGR have a specialty in 20th century continental philosophy? Why not just rank based on whether someone is working in, say, political philosophy? I find it most amusing that, for example, Rawlsians are evaluated as "political philosophers" whereas Habermasians are evaluated as "Continental philosophers." Just because Habermas is German? Ridiculous...

Anonymous said...

How do you know that's how "Habermasians" are evaluated? There are some Habermasians as evaluators for the political philosophy category. And couldn't this objection apply to 17th-Century Philsophy as a category too? Isn't the distinction between scholars of figures in a period and those doing philosophy?

Anonymous said...

I want to go back to the point about permissible ignorance. I think that's a genuinely important issue. Leiter's right that folks in the analytic world act as if it is permissible for them to be ignorant of continental philosophy. But why is that bad? And what's a better way? Leiter seems to think that the analytic/continental distinction ought to be supplanted by other distinctions, such as the naturalist/non-naturalist distinction. But it would be a really bad idea for folks in the naturalist tradition to be ignorant of the non-naturalist tradition. (Just imagine a Cornell realist in metaethics who is completely ignorant of Moorean realism!) So, the naturalist/non-naturalist distinction does not provide an adequate basis for spheres of permissible ignorance. But again, what's a better way to go?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:27 and 10:30, I fail to see how you might possibly think you're raising an objection to my criterion. Perhaps Dummett and Aquinas aren't clear cases. Perhaps Dummett and Aquinas are borderline cases. So what? Only a weak mind would infer from that fact, if it is a fact, that there there is no distinction to be marked.

Anonymous said...

5:32, the objection isn't that those are unclear cases. It's that your criterion gets the classification wrong.

Anonymous said...

5:32 Of course there is a distinction. but your criteria don't track it at all. But then again, I do have a pretty weak mind.

Anonymous said...

"5:32 Of course there is a distinction. but your criteria don't track it at all. But then again, I do have a pretty weak mind."

This barely qualifies as sardonic, when there was an opening for all-out, contemptuous beratement!

Spiros needs to pick up the moderation a bit around here.

Anonymous said...

4:01 conflates "forgivable" with "permissible." Or so it seems to me.

amb said...

I don't see what's so bad about classifying Aquinas as an analytic philosopher. On this point--as indeed on all points--some distinctions are in order. Peter van Inwagen puts one relevant distinction this way:

"Analytical philosophy may be thought of as a particular or as a universal.

As a particular, it is a confluence of streams of thought whose springs were in Britain, Austria, Poland and the United States. It has an early-classical or “Cambridge” period (the period of Russell, Moore, and the Tractatus), a middle-classical or “Viennese” period (Carnap and the logical positivists), a late-classical or “Oxford” period (Austin and the “philosophers of ordinary language” and—with apologies to Cambridge University—Philosophical Investigations), and a post-classical or “American” period (Quine, Putnam, Kripke, and David Lewis). (This neat schema, like most neat schemata, is rather too neat and rather too schematic. For one thing, it omits many items that are essential to the story of analytical philosophy: the great pre-positivist philosophers of Austria; Frege; the Lwów-Warsaw school; American pragmatism.)

Thought of as a universal, analytical philosophy is something that recurs periodically in the history of philosophy. Aristotle was an analytical philosopher by any reasonable definition of ‘analytical’, as were most of the medieval philosophers (both Christian and Muslim), the so-called British Empiricists and Continental Rationalists, and many of the classical philosophers of India. (I’m of two minds about whether Kant belongs in this list.) When I, a fairly typical post-classical analytical philosopher read texts from any of these sources, I know that their authors and I are “up to the same sort of thing”—which is certainly not my reaction when I read the work of Plotinus or Rousseau or Heidegger. They are philosophers of other times and other cultures, but I nevertheless recognize them as colleagues, “fellows of another college,” as Littlewood said of the Greek mathematicians."

Anonymous said...

amb, for the record, I agree about Aquinas. (I think I would mark him 'hors categorie', myself, but if someone wants him with the analytics, I won't argue.)
My point was that the objections weren't about vagueness or borderline cases, but about misclassification.

(This is 7:15AM)

Anonymous said...

"Public intellectual"? Really?

Anonymous said...

"I treat philosophy as analytic to the extent that it exhibits clarity of argument, argumentative rigor, precise use of terminology that is defined as clearly as possible, and so forth. Philosophy is continental to the extent that it lacks these obvious virtues. On this understanding, it's patently obvious that there is a distinction being marked, and it's a distinction well-worth marking. Obviously there will be borderline cases, but so what?"

Except that "continental" does not mean "unclear, non-rigorous, etc." If you're going to make a distinction - and at the same time note your terminological clarity - why not use more precise terms? As adjectives, analytical and continental aren't opposites. It's like deciding that there are two kinds of apples: baking apples and New York State apples.

As it's often the analytic philosophers who insist on this distinction - and that same group prides itself on its terminological clarity - why not at least be more precise in the distinction?