“Analytic” Philosophy vs. “Continental” Philosophy: WtF? Why Does It Still Matter So Much? (with Critical Discussion by Y, X, and W)

Quarrels between professors are never entirely disconnected from larger quarrels. There was a hidden agenda behind the split between old-fashioned “humanistic” philosophy (of the Dewey-Whitehead sort) and the positivists, and a similar agenda lies behind the current split between devotees of “analytic” and of “Continental” philosophy. The heavy breathing on both sides about the immorality or stupidity of the opposition signals passions which academic power struggles cannot fully explain.

Richard Rorty, “Philosophy in America Today,” in Consequences of Pragmatism, 1982.


When I was a graduate student in the 80s, I belonged to the first wave of young philosophers who were taking it upon themselves to reject, overcome, and transcend the so-called difference, or divide, between “analytic” and “continental” philosophy.

Indeed, that was how I framed to myself my goal in philosophy. So in my graduate school discussion-&-research group we studied the Tractatus/early Wittgenstein, Putnam on reference and meaning, Kripke on ditto, Kaplan on ditto, Husserl against logical psychologism and on consciousness and intentionality, Heidegger on existential phenomenology, Sartre on ditto, Merleau-Ponty on ditto, Gareth Evans on reference and intentionality, Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge and Words and Things, Stanley Cavell on Wittgenstein, skepticism, and tragedy, and Rorty on everything.

But Logical Investigations, Being and Time, the Phenomenology of Perception, Varieties of Reference, The Linguistic Turn (edited, with an amazing Introduction, by Rorty), and Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature were my bibles, each one at various times carried under my arm all day long, getting worn and sweaty, so that I could quote them chapter-and-verse.

At the same time, and later, I read Kant. Lots of Kant. Everything I could lay my hands on.

And Frege, Russell, Moore, Carnap, Quine, Austin, Strawson, Grice, and Searle. Everything by them that I could lay my hands on.

And then more Husserl, more Heidegger, more Sartre, more Merleau-Ponty.

The first half of my PhD dissertation was mostly historical, on Kant’s theory of judgment. The second half was systematic and original, on the semantics, philosophical psychology, and epistemology of singular “Russellian” propositions. Husserl and Evans were the primary inspirations of my thinking in that second half.

Sadly, no one in my (Ivy League university) philosophy department was qualified to read both halves of the dissertation. And by that time, all the Kantians in the department had retired, so there I was pretty much on my own too.

One my advisers (a well-known Heideggerian and “continental” philosopher) read the first half of my dissertation, and my other adviser (an even more well-known logician and “analytic” philosopher) read the second half. Neither read both halves. So I think I was the only person in the whole world who read it all the way through.

Luckily, they each liked their halves, so I passed without any hassles.

After I graduated and got a tenure-track job, I thought about all this stuff for a long time, and in the early-to-mid 00s, wrote two books in so-called “history of philosophy” about some parts of it.

(I say “so-called ‘history of philosophy’,” because I actually think that the history of philosophy and philosophy are essentially one and the same—so piss off, Quine. But more on that some other day.)

Also in the mid-00s, I wrote a systematic, original book about the nature of logic, trying to come to grips with what I took to be the foundations of the “analytic” tradition, namely, logic and analyticity. Along the way, I also attempted to explain logical knowledge in terms of irreducible consciousness and intentionality, which I took to be the foundations of the “continental” tradition. My basic idea was to ground them all (logic, analyticity, logical knowledge, consciousness, and intentionality) in the innately-specified a priori spontaneous capacities of rational human animals for constructing all logics, whether classical, conservatively non-classical, or deviant.

Blah blah blah. The point is that my basic idea was broadly Kantian.

Finally, after all that philosophical mucking-about, in the late 00s, I published a very long and boring paper in which I wrote this:

Twentieth-century philosophy in Europe and the USA was dominated by two distinctive and (after 1945) officially opposed traditions: the analytic tradition and the phenomenological tradition. Very simply put, the analytic tradition was all about logic and analyticity, and the phenomenological tradition was all about consciousness and intentionality. Ironically enough however, despite their official Great Divide, both the analytic and the phenomenological traditions were essentially continuous and parallel critical developments from an earlier dominant neo-Kantian tradition. This, by the end of the nineteenth century had vigorously reasserted the claims of Kant’s transcendental idealism against Hegel’s absolute idealism and the other major systems of post-Kantian German Idealism, under the unifying slogan “Back to Kant!” So again ironically enough, both the analytic and phenomenological traditions were alike founded on, and natural outgrowths from, Kant’s Critical Philosophy.

By the end of the twentieth century however, and this time sadly rather than ironically, both the analytic and phenomenological traditions had not only explicitly rejected their own Kantian foundations and roots but also had effectively undermined themselves philosophically, even if by no means institutionally. On the one hand the analytic tradition did so by abandoning its basic methodological conception of analysis as the process of logically decomposing propositions into conceptual or metaphysical “simples,” as the necessary preliminary to a logical reconstruction of the same propo- sitions, and by also jettisoning the corresponding idea of a sharp, exhaustive, and significant “analytic-synthetic” distinction. The phenomenological tradition on the other hand abandoned its basic methodological conception of phenomenology as “seeing essences” with a priori certainty under a “transcendental-phenomenological reduction,” and also jettisoned the corresponding idea of a “transcendental ego” as the metaphysical ground of consciousness and intentionality.

One way of interpreting these sad facts is to say that just insofar as analytic philosophy and phenomenology alienated themselves from their Kantian origins, they stultified themselves. This is the first unifying thought behind this [paper], and it is a downbeat one. The second unifying thought, which however is contrastively upbeat, is that both the analytic and phenomenological traditions, now in conjunction instead of opposition, could rationally renew themselves in the twenty-first century by critically recovering their Kantian origins and by seriously re-thinking and re-building their foundations in the light of this critical recovery. Or in other words: Forward to Kant.

My line in the late 00s, then, was that both “analytic” and “continental” philosophy are nothing but outgrowths from and spins on Kantian philosophy: a series of footnotes to Kant. So it’s now time for everyone to go forward to Kant! And I continue to think I’m right about this.

So, assuming that I am right, then what the fuck?

More precisely, why does the “analytic” vs. “continental” difference still matter so much?

—Matter so much, that there are even hilarious academic socio-cultural stereotypes associated with them: the “scumbag analytic philosopher” and the “scumbag continental philosopher.”

(Notice, for later back-reference, that stereotypical “continental” philosophers dress better than stereotypical “analytic” philosophers.)

—And also matter so much, that one of the readers of APP can write this to us just a month or so ago, in April 2015, beautifully capturing the essence of the current and seemingly forever-continuing situation in contemporary professional philosophy:

Dear Anarcho-Philosophers-

I admire the spirit of this new endeavor of yours. I write from the perspective of one of those continental philosophy types. I am a recently tenured professor.

I was one who fled ‘academic’ philosophy for comparative literature, knowing that if I really wanted to study continental philosophy the way I wanted to, I needed the freedom (and job prospects) that continental philosophy programs (ie: Stonybrook, PennState, etc.) could not provide. I now teach in a media studies department, and love it. But my passion is and always will be philosophy, and my blog writing and first book are firmly philosophy, and in fact, metaphysics in the continental tradition. I am a post-Deleuzian, I might add. I also might add that nothing I do would be considered ‘philosophy’ by most in your field (mainstream Anglophone philosophy depts?), even though there is hardly another word which describes it. Continental, critical theory, these are poor substitutes for a very different type of ‘philosophy,’ one with its own discursive norms equally as arcane as those you describe.

Reading your ‘5 Point Manifesto,’ I must say how strange it is that when recounting your short history of the discipline post-war, I recognize almost none of it. Surely the late Wittgenstein, we continentals love him. But most of the rest is a mystery to me, and dare I say, to most in my discipline. But while ‘continentals’ are the tiny minority in philosophy depts around the nation, within the REST of the humanities, it is ‘continental philosophy’ which is seen as the ‘real’ philosophy, only we all know, and by ‘we’ I mean us in the humanities, that the last place one can do philosophy, as least what we recognize as philosophy, is in philosophy departments.

It is bizarre indeed that the rest of the humanities (and in most philosophy departments around the world besides those in Britain and the US) seems to feel that the last place for philosophy is philosophy departments. Those of us working in what we see as philosophy see our work as the continuation of what philosophy has always been, which is to say, an endeavor to understand the world, building upon what we’ve learned from the ways this was done in the past. So-called analytic philosophy seems ahistorical to us, and employing an entire notion of truth, and in fact, of the purposes of philosophy in general, which seem alien to what philosophy has always tried to do when it has been at its best.

None of which is to say that we have simply tried to mimic the past, and in fact, the 20th century for us has been one of the deconstruction, in more ways than one, of all prior notions of the truth. Postfoundationalism is the name of the game.

When I read analytic philosophy, I can recognize it as philosophy, but it feels so alien to the work of Kant and Hegel, or Derrida and Foucault, Deleuze and Wittgenstein, all of whom seem to be at least working in the same genre, even if their views are very different. But there seems to be a continuity at least. When I read analytic philosophy, I feel like I am reading a different project altogether. The irony it seems to me then is that what ‘analytics’ do gets called philosophy in most philosophy depts, and what is a continuation of at least the spirit of the philosophy of the past is not accepted as legitimate to even count as philosophy.

I see no reasons why continentals and analytics and critical theorists of various types should not share departments, but this would violate the academic politics which I feel you rightly rail against.

I do not feel that asking a question such as ‘Does Hegel have anything of value to teach us today?” is silly. In fact, it seems to me to be a properly philosophical question. Just as much as to question whether or not thinkers such as Deleuze or Derrida, Badiou or Mielleassoux do this well. This is also not to discount the sciences, language, or logic. My work in fact is largely inspired by development in artificial neural networks, but draws upon findings in neuroscience, quantum mechanics, and paraconsistent logics.

But we continentals USE these outside sources differently that y’all do. Our very sense of what is at stake is different. But while I can at least recognize what analytics do as philosophy, if a particularly strange type whose concerns I find bizarre, particularly in regard to the world beyond, the history of philosophy, the rest of the humanities, the sciences, etc., I still see it as a sort of philosophy. This does not go both ways, however even though, oddly, in the rest of the humanities, it is what we do that is considered philosophy, … not [what] analytics [do].

I must say that I strive to make my work comprehensible to those in fields which are not philosophy. Many in both analytic and continental philosophy do not try. I feel we must remain relevant, and that if philosophy does not in some way impact the way people see the world, then it is hardly any good. That is, I see philosophy as giving us new lenses on the world, and when we see things differently, we act differently, and this produces the world we experience differently. This, however, is not a position shared by even those in my discipline.

That said, the entire continental/analytic thing hits me as quite bizarre all around, no?

[name elided]

Yes, yes, YES!, it’s been hitting me just that way too!, for 30 years.

Relatedly, here is what I also wrote in that same long and boring paper from the late 00s, in an attempt to explain what has really been going on with “the entire continental/analytic thing”:

In Davos, Switzerland, from 17 March to 6 April 1929, an “International University Course,” sponsored by the Swiss, French, and German governments, brought together the leading neo-Kantian Ernst Cassirer, famous author of the multi-volume Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1925, 1927, 1929), and the soon-to-be leading phenomenologist Martin Heidegger, famous author of Being and Time (1927), in an official and more or less explicit attempt to bring about a philosophical reconciliation between Marburg (or science-oriented) neo-Kantianism and phenomenology. The soon-to-be leading logical positivist Rudolf Carnap was there too, along with many other professors and students from across Europe. And a good time was had by all: “It appears that the Davos encounter itself took place in atmosphere of extraordinarily friendly collegiality.” [Michael Friedman, in A Parting of the Ways: Carnap, Cassirer, and Heidegger, 2000]

The key sessions at Davos were two lecture series by Cassirer and Heidegger, followed by a public disputation between them. Strikingly, both the lectures and the disputation dealt with the question of how to interpret the Critique of Pure Reason correctly. In other words, it was all about Kant and the neo-Kantian origins of phenomenology.

Now for this reason it can be argued, and indeed has been argued, that the Davos conference was emblematic of the death-by-mitosis of the neo-Kantian tradition, during the 1930s, into two fundamentally distinct and irreconcilable philosophical traditions: the analytic tradition (whose paradigm case was logical positivism), and the phenomenological tradition (whose paradigm case was existential phenomenology).

According to this historical reconstruction, the basic disagreements between analysis and phenomenology were latent in the period 1900–30, during which … Moore, Russell, and Carnap all started their philosophical careers as neo-Kantians, went on to reject neo-Kantianism and Kant by means of foundational work in philosophical logic and the influence of the contemporary exact sciences, and then correspondingly worked out various new logically-driven conceptions of a priori analysis. And then, so the story goes, the latent eventually became manifest, and the post-Kantian stream of philosophical influence consisting of Brentano –> Husserl/ Meinong –> Heidegger was officially divided from the other post-Kantian stream consisting of Moore –> Russell –> Wittgenstein –> Carnap, basically because the phenomenologists rejected the Frege–Russell conception of pure logic while contrariwise the analysts affirmed pure logic. And never the twain shall meet.

But although this makes a conveniently neat story, it is at least arguably not quite true to the historico-philosophical facts. The highly collegial atmosphere at Davos was no polite put-on. Obviously there were some important differences and disagreements between logical positivism and existential phenomenology. Nevertheless Heidegger took Carnap very seriously as a philosopher well into the 1930s, and Carnap also took Heidegger very seriously as a philosopher well into the 1930s. (As did Wittgenstein, and as also did Gilbert Ryle at Oxford – who, according to Michael Dummett [in Origins of Analytical Philosophy, 1993], “began his career as an exponent of Husserl for British audiences and used to lecture on Bolzano, Brentano, Frege, Meinong, and Husserl” throughout the 1920s and 1930s.) For his part, Heidegger was every bit as dismissive of traditional metaphysics as Carnap was. And while it is quite true that Heidegger significantly criticized the Fregean and Russellian pure logic of the Begriffsschrift and Principia Mathematica, and challenged its metaphysical commitments, so too did Carnap; after all, that is the main point of the Logical Syntax of Language. Furthermore, objectively considered, Heidegger’s existential phenomenology is not essentially more different from or opposed to pure logic, or logical positivism for that matter, than is Dewey’s pragmatism, which despite its radical critical philosophical implications … cohabited very comfortably with mainstream analytic philosophy in the USA after 1945. Nor, objectively speaking, is Heidegger’s existential phenomenology essentially more different from or opposed to either pure logic, or logical positivism, than is Wittgenstein’s later philosophy as expressed in his Philosophical Investigations (1953), which despite its equally radical critical philosophical implications, also cohabited very comfortably with mainstream analytic philosophy in the USA and England after 1945.

So it appears that the Great Divide between analytic philosophy and phenomenology did not actually happen in the 1930s. And it also appears that the Divide is not the consequence of any fundamental philosophical disagreements between analysts and phenomenologists about pure logic. On the contrary, it appears that the Divide happened almost entirely after 1945, and that it was the joint result of the three following factors:

1. The sharply divisive cultural politics of anti-fascism and anti-Communism in Anglo-American countries after World War II: Heidegger publicly and notoriously supported the Nazis in the mid-thirties; Vienna Circle exiles in the USA were understandably very eager to avoid being persecuted during the McCarthy Communist-trials era for their pre-war radical-socialist and Communist sympathies, so were generally playing it safe (Carnap however being a notable exception) by not rocking the boat; and the leading French phenomenologists Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty were both closely politically associated with the radical Left.

2. The sharply divisive debate about the cultural-political significance and philosophical implications of the exact sciences after World War II; taking his cue from Heidegger’s Being and Time, but also reflecting on the worsening cultural-political situation in Europe, Husserl had seriously criticized the epistemological and metaphysical foundations of the exact sciences in his Crisis of European Sciences; and then taking his cue directly from Husserl, Merleau-Ponty further deepened and developed this critique in his Phenomenology of Perception (1945).

3. The sharply divisive struggle for control of the major Anglo-American philosophy
departments after World War II: given the aging and retirement of historically- trained philosophers, neo-Kantians, and neo-Hegelians, it was going to be either the analysts or the phenomenologists who took over, but not both.

In other words, I am suggesting that although the Great Divide between analytic philosophy and phenomenology is real enough, nevertheless it didn’t happen until after 1945, and was essentially the result of cultural-political factors, together with one serious philosophical disagreement about the foundations of the exact sciences.

Now what about that one serious philosophical disagreement about the foundations of the exact sciences?

In a forthcoming paper on Kant and Wittgenstein, this is what I’ve written:

As Quine, Reichenbach, and Sellars so clearly saw in the 1950s, after the successive downfalls of Logicism and Logical Empiricism/Positivism during the first half of the 20th century, Analytic philosophy became, essentially, a series of minor variations on the theme of scientific philosophy:

In the dimension of describing and explaining the world, science is the measure of all things, of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not. [Sellars, in “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,” in Science, Perception, and Reality, 1963]

This is philosophy in Sellars’s Scientific Image [Sellars, in “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,” in Science, Perception, and Reality, 1963]. But later Wittgenstein, following Kant’s lead, radically challenges and rejects this essentially scientistic conception of philosophy:

I cannot even assume God, freedom, or immortality for the sake of the necessary practical use of my reason unless I simultaneously deprive speculative reason of its pretensions to extravagant insights; because in order to attain to such insights, speculative reason would have to help itself to principles that in fact reach only to objects of possible experience, and which, if they were to be applied to what cannot be an object of possible experience, then they would always transform it into an appearance and thus declare all practical extension of pure reason to be impossible. Thus I had to deny scientific knowing (Wissen) in order to make room for faith (Glauben). [Critique of Pure Reason Bxxix-xxx]

It was true to say that our considerations could not be scientific (wissenschaftliche) ones. It was not of any possible interest to us to find out empirically ‘that, contrary to our preconceived ideas, it is possible think such-and-such’—whatever that may mean… And we may not advance any kind of [scientific] theory…. We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place. These are, of course, not empirical problems; they are solved, rather, by looking into the workings of our language, and that in such a way as to make us recognize those workings: in spite of an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known. [Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §109]

In this way, transcendental anthropology as practised by Kant and Wittgenstein does not either seek a humanly impossible, absolutely justifying, pure rational insight into things-in-themselves, or draw Pyrrhonian skeptical conclusions from our inevitable and tragic failure to achieve a godlike ‘intellectual intuition’ of ourselves and the world (CPR B72), or fall into scientism. For all three of these philosophical projects, whether dogmatically rationalistic, destructively skeptical, or reductively naturalistic, are equally inherently self-alienating and ‘inauthentic’ in the Existentialists’ sense. Indeed, it is significant that even when, in 1986, [Peter] Hacker officially rescinds his earlier Kant-oriented interpretation of Wittgenstein from 1972, he still admits that

[m]ore than any other philosophers, Kant and Wittgenstein were concerned with the nature of philosophy itself and sought to curb its metaphysical pretensions by clarifying its status and circumscribing what one may rationally hope for in philosophical investigation. Both saw philosophical and metaphysical pretensions of reason as at least a large part of the subject, and the eradication of such illusions as a major goal of their work. [Hacker, in Insight and Illusion: Themes in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein, 2nd edition, 1986]

Otherwise put, with a tragic sense of life, Kant and Wittgenstein both fully recognize that we must renounce every variety of the bad faith of reason in order to make room for an authentic, autonomous, rational human life, and in turn, in order to make room for an anthropocentric rationalist version of Kierkegaard’s ‘knighthood of faith’, as it were, the knighthood of rational faith, whereby you can radically change your life, or change the direction of your life—and this is the deepest lesson of transcendental anthropology.

So what I’m saying here is that to the extent that there is any serious philosophical disagreement between “analytic” philosophy and “continental” philosophy since 1945, it is actually a philosophical disagreement between scientistic philosophy and anti-scientistic Kantian, Wittgensteinian philosophy.

Scientistic philosophy, in turn, is very closely associated with the military-industrial complex, which has heavily funded and importantly controlled Anglo-American universities since 1945, and therefore it’s highly unsurprising that scientistic thinkers would do extremely well in an institutional sense at Anglo-American universities in the post-1945 world.

So now there’s only one final piece that needs to be added to this philosophical-critical story about “the entire continental/analytic thing,” a piece that takes us historically from 1945 to 2015, and hooks up directly with the “scumbag analytic philosopher” and “scumbag continental philosopher” theme, and also with my correspondent’s beautiful remarks about “analytics” and “continentals.”

And that is this, in bullet-point lecture-note format:

• contemporary “analytic” philosophers = the institutional winners after 1945 = thinkers closely associated with the military-industrial complex that has heavily funded and controlled Anglo-American universities since 1945 = the major-leaguers = the Establishment, who look down their noses at, and hate

• contemporary “continental” philosophy = the institutional losers after 1945 = thinkers out-of-step with the military-industrial complex that has heavily funded and controlled Anglo-American universities since 1945 = the bush-leaguers = the Disestablishment, who look up their noses at, and hate

• contemporary “analytically-trained” so-called “continental” philosophers, who teach in Fortune 500 philosophy departments, and are undoubtedly very smart people,

• but who have sadly significantly misunderstood the upshots of Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Brentano, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, et al., not to mention both Wittgensteins =

• clever-dicks who figured out how to suck up to the Establishment “analytics,” and yet still dress in radical chic like Disestablishment “continentals”

And now I want to shout out from the back of the lecture room (something my famous “analytic” philosopher PhD adviser used to do all the time, right in the middle of conference and colloquium talks, and always get away with):

Why the hell kant they all get their acts together?

But in other and plainer words, what I am saying is that (to borrow Rorty’s lovely formulations) the “hidden agenda” that “lies behind the current split between devotees of ‘analytic’ and of ‘Continental’ philosophy” and

what really explains how the “heavy breathing on both sides about the immorality or stupidity of the opposition signals passions which academic power struggles cannot fully explain”

is that the real and continuing passion-driven difference between “analytic” and “continental” philosophy is nothing more and nothing less than—

an oppressive political difference, a rationally unjustified difference in cultural, social, and economic power-relations, that all real philosophers should clearly expose, critically examine, and then consistently eradicate from contemporary philosophy.



Y: This is a really important essay. One thing I am wondering about, though, is the link between scientistic philosophy and the military-industrial complex. Could you say a little more about what you have in mind?

Z: Yes, I’ll say something a little more explicit about how I see the scientism/military-industrial complex connection.

In his farewell address in 1961, Eisenhower said this:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

In other words, the military-industrial complex is the unholy alliance and super-tight economic-political inter-linkage of “an immense military establishment,” a “large arms industry,” and more generally big-ass corporate capitalism, heavily influencing the legislative process via lobbyists and PACs. A perfect example would be Lockheed Martin.

Now in order for Big Guns and Big Money and Big Influence to exist, Big Science is needed, which in turn is heavily funded by government-sponsored and big-ass corporate grants.

And Anglo-American universities that have Big Science (e.g., Caltech, MIT, Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford, plus Oxford, Yale, and Princeton to a slightly lesser extent, and all the major state universities, especially in the California system) are therefore (either very or relatively) rich universities, with leading philosophy departments, all of which are analytic philosophy departments.

Scientism, as I mentioned, is the broadly Sellarsian epistemic and ontological thesis that “science is the measure of all things.” (Completely by coincidence, this very good article on scientism was posted online yesterday: “A Conceptual Map of Scientism,” by Rik Peels.)

Now scientism, as I argued, is explicitly or implicitly presupposed by all “analytic” philosophy since 1945, and indeed was a central doctrine of Vienna Circle-style Logical Positivism, as their famous manifesto, “The Scientific Conception of the World,” makes absolutely clear.

Hence “analytic” philosophy, via scientism, fully supports the basic aims of Big Science, which fully services Big Guns, Big Money, and Big Influence, which in turn collectively heavily fund Big Science and “analytic” philosophy in the leading departments.

‘Nuff said.

X: I just looked at Z’s essay, and it seems A-ly A [i.e., amazingly amazing] to me. The only two things I would think of adding are:

(1) A minor but interesting fact — that Ryle also wrote a review of Being and Time. So, not only did he lecture on Brentano, Husserl, and the like, but he directly and seriously engaged with Heidegger in writing, which is something no “analytic” anglophone philosopher would stoop low enough to do nowadays.

(2) I would emphasize that the pseudo-divide is probably also responsible for creating at least some of the culture of fear in contemporary philosophy, and that those of us who don’t recognize the divide as legitimate are in some ways made vulnerable, or at least have a tougher time as professionals, because it’s harder to be taken seriously. That is, we are either dismissed as holding crazy views, or at the very least we have a harder time being recognized as legitimate players in the game, because our work doesn’t fit the myopic format of either domain taken in its most exclusive form.

This strikes me as a genuinely bad and non-trivial kind of discrimination in philosophy, and for all the work being done now to combat various forms of discrimination in our field, almost nobody recognizes this as problematic.

Just as an example: as we all know, potential infighting between say, feminist philosophers and M&E philosophers is the sort of thing that gets taken at least somewhat seriously at many departments because of the way professional philosophy works now — i.e., we are concerned about sexism, and we are concerned about whether people feel comfortable working on logic around people who think M&E is worthless, but no one seems to care one bit about whether people feel comfortable reading Deleuze around other philosophers.

And even though many of us have thick skins, this sort of discrimination has actual consequences. We are the Kantians, the ones who know more about “continental philosophy” and probably the weirdos and the sickos too, and even though we are just sick enough to kind of enjoy all of that, it also means that it’s much harder for the rest of the losers to take what we do seriously.

W: I don’t disagree with anything Z or X wrote. But I also think that X’s second comment is extremely interesting and important. Here are some other related things:

1. For any in-group, there needs to be an out-group. Academics in general, but philosophers especially (or so it’s seemed to me, and I’ve spent a good deal of time interacting with non-“philosopher” humanities-practitioners) seem to really want to be accepted as with it or special or the belle of the ball. I won’t arm-chair psychologize more than to say that most of us who become academics weren’t social super-stars in high school and perhaps some of us have not yet realized that high school is over. The out-group related to any in-group has to at least be somewhat similar to the in-group. So, e.g., we don’t see mean high-schoolers picking on elementary-schoolers–they pick on other high-schoolers. Analytics pick on those who are doing something recognizable as at least philosophy-like and use all of the old high school tools: You’re not cool, your face is ugly, you’ll never get a date to the prom, etc.

2. The institutionalization of the academy provides the tools for the subjugation of a weak group by a strong. Whoever becomes institutionally strong can make use of these tools. The fact that logic-choppers became institutionally strong is historically contingent, but it nonetheless provided them with the tools of subjugation.

3. The subjugated group has responded exactly as they always do: “You don’t know us. Why think that your way of doing things is the right way? High school won’t last forever, you know.”

4. The tools of domination relevant here are the same tools of coercion present in markets. This shouldn’t surprise us given that the institutionalization of the academy that makes subjugation possible is a manifestation of the principles of capitalism, esp. that of confusing merely instrumental value with intrinsic value.

4.5. Interesting thought: Scientism and empiricism spawned consequentialism which relies on exactly the same fundamental errors about value as does capitalism. “Continental” philosophy is nearly always anti-consequentialistic, as can be seen, at least along one line, as a development of Kantian deontology.

5. Power tends toward totalization. What this means is that those in power or those seeking power can’t allow for pockets of difference, even if that difference in no way threatens their power or their desired dominance. Thus, “continentals” aren’t just doing some other sort of philosophy; they’re not doing philosophy at all. Ditto with “analytics,” mutatis mutandis. There’s a nice bit in Adorno’s lectures on history about all of this…might be in the Dialectic of Enlightenment too. Outliers are either made to conform or banished to the point of being so other as to not even count as outliers.

6. Rorty’s got a nice bit at the beginning of some essay that I’ll try to track down–it might be the thing that’s now being packaged with the anniversary edition of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. He makes a sociological observation and claims that “a philosopher” is a person who is required to have an opinion about everything. While “the philosopher” might admit that she isn’t an expert in some area, she nonetheless needs to be able to claim to understand that area and to know enough about it to know all of the right things to believe about it. What this means is that if “a philosopher” can’t have an opinion about something, it must not be the sort of thing about which one can even have an opinion, which means that it must be actual nonsense. We saw this with the positivists, of course. But we still see this. “Continentals” are getting things so wrong that their writing is actually gibberish. “Analytics” are not only historically ignorant, etc., they’re just moving symbols around–they’re playing with blocks, essentially.

7. VERY interestingly, the philosophers of science who I think are most right about the definition of “science” and the proper “scientific methodology,” people like Laudan and, to some extent, at least, Feyerabend and Kuhn, claim that there is not only nothing distinctive about science, there is nothing distinctive about any discipline, such that disciplinary boundaries are not only imaginary, but harmful to progress. So if we get as “analytic” as we can and start trying to figure out exactly how to put philosophy on the secure path of a science, we end up crashing into the most totally nutso! “continental” claims that everything is just a text or whatever-the-hell.

X: Let me just add an interesting quote I just read from Markus Gabriel (U. Bonn/Germany) in his recent 3am interview, which you can read here.

As he is about to recommend 5 important books, he remarks: “They all share the virtue of belonging to the genre of philosophy written beyond commitment to the analytic/continental divide (which, by the way, is ridiculous and offensive to someone actually living on the continent of Europe. Continental philosophy is like a continental breakfast in that it is not served in Germany, France, Italy or any other country in my neck of the woods. As we all know: Kant, Nietzsche, Frege, Carnap, Husserl, and Heidegger were all German citizens – actually citizens of very different legal and political structures associated with the word “German” – all of which makes the category of “German philosophy” devoid of any methodologically relevant content. And I see no reason in general that would lead me to look for philosophical treasures exclusively either in Frege or Husserl).”

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About Z

Z is a 50-something cosmopolitan anarcho-philosopher, and previously was a tenured full professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America, but still managed to escape with his life.