More Philosophical Tribalism


Crispin Wright discussing McDowell’s Mind and World:

…if analytical philosophy demands self-consciousness about unexplained or only partially explained terms of art, formality and explicitness in the setting out of argument, and the clearest possible sign-posting and formulation of assumptions, targets, and goals, etc, then this is not a work of analytical philosophy (“Human Nature? in Reading McDowell, 157-158)

Zing. In their article, “Postanalytic Philosophy: Overcoming the Divide?,” (in Postanalytic and Metacontinental: Crossing the Divide) Duke et al. suggest that McDowell, along with Wittgenstein, Rorty and Davidson may be considered ‘crossover’ figures because their work  promotes increased dialogue between analytic and continental thinkers.  The case of McDowell is interesting:

McDowell’s early work within analytical philosophy was known only to a small group of professional philosophers working within the Anglo-American tradition.

To establish this the authors did a database search:

A search of Philosophers Index reveals that 26 of 28 refereed articles engaging in detail with the work of McDowell up until the publication of Mind and World were published in analytic journals or collections (note 46)

The authors continue:

The publication of Mind and World, however, introduced McDowell’s thought to a broader philosophical public, leading to increased citation of his work by analytic and continental scholars.  McDowell’s work has inspired interest from continental interpreters over the problematic character of naturalism and the status of second nature, the status of transcendental arguments and on the proper interpretation of Kant and Hegel (16-17).

Here are the stats, based on a baseline of 81, 134 articles from 1994-2008, 162 articles focused on McDowell: Analytic: 72, Continental: 16, Crossover: 74.  Based on this, the authors remark:

…even though there is evidence that McDowell’s work is discussed by both philosophical traditions, a preliminary cross-citation check once again yields little proof of substantial cross-traditional engagement.  This suggests that while analytical and continental interpreters deal with McDowell’s thought, in many cases they approach his work from sufficiently different perspectives to render his status of a crossover figure somewhat ambiguous.

Right. The evidence doesn’t seem to point towards much of a rapprochement between the two camps, nor does it seem like there is much crossover since McDowell resonates very differently in each tradition, which isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t bode well for a deflationary take on all of this.  Are there other potential  “crossover” figures besides those mentioned above?  Perhaps Hilray Putnam may be construed as a “crossover” figure?

11 thoughts on “More Philosophical Tribalism

  1. McDowell’s response to the first Wright quote is funny: he says something about being drummed out of the regiment with his epaulettes slashed off.

    • McDowell’s response is right on the mark and, I think, worthy of quoting in full:

      “Finally, I must comment on Wright’s splendid conclusion, where he drums me out of the regiment of analytic philosophers. If analytic philosophy prohibits imagery except for rare special effect, and precludes letting the full import of a term (such as, perhaps, ‘spontaneity’) emerge gradually in the course of using it, as opposed to setting down a definition at the start, I do not care if I am not an analytical philosopher. Likewise if analytic philosophy requires the kind of argument that aims to compel an audience into accepting thesis. In fact I see no reason why these should be taken as marks of the genre. Of course explicitness and clarity are another matter. But I wrote as explicitly and clearly as I knew how. As far as I can see, Wright’s remarks about an extraordinary need for constructive exegesis largely reflect his point-missing and—I have to say—ill-tempered efforts to find coercive philosophy in my description of the oscillation. Wright is clearly galled by my work, perhaps particularly by my stance of not aiming to compel my readers into theses, and I think this has prevented him from seeing how straightforward my book really is.” (p. 291)

      Considering the bizarre parochialism displayed by Wright in his comments, I think McDowell’s response is the best one: to simply ignore this provincialism.

  2. By “deflationary” I take it you mean that the analytic/continental divide is a social function (citation networks, mentoring/patronage relations, association membership and allegiance).

    I always thought that a serious difference in philosophical substance was that Continentals are much more interested in thinking about and/or through the historicity of their own and other philosopher’s work. Not that they are better at or more concerned with the history of philosophy, but they are much more likely to take seriously Hegel’s claim that the history of philosophy is philosophy. Analytics tend to not take that idea very seriously at all–not even McDowell and Brandom, I think, for all their sensitivity to the post-Kantian trajectory through Hegel and Heidegger. Even that should not be taken to mark out some difference between two essential types, but suggest the way two traditions have gone on.

    When, in some imagined future, there is a substantial bridging or rapprochment between analytic and continental philosophy–just what might the payoff, intellectually, be?

    • Or will it be like the Rapture, with philosophers disappearing into philosopher’s heaven, copies of Language, Truth, and Logic and Totality and Infinite eeriely abandoned?

    • When, in some imagined future, there is a substantial bridging or rapprochment between analytic and continental philosophy–just what might the payoff, intellectually, be?

      Good question. I have more to say about the intellectual upshot of all of this, but for now, I’ll simply say make a typically Continental response (allusive, nebulous and cryptic, of course0. I don’t think any complete rapprochement is actually possible or desirable. However that said, perhaps engagement across the divide might help to “liberate” both “cultures” or ‘camps’ of the methodological cloistering that often perverts theorizing, even across fields. I worry that this sounds too pollyanna, however.

      • “I don’t think any complete rapprochement is actually possible or desirable.”

        “cloistering that often perverts theorizing”

        It seems to me that bridging the gap can pervert theorizing as well. One problem is that many of the attempts at bridging are hilariously ham-fisted. I could swear I once saw a paper about a Levinasian approach to business ethics (a heavily analytic field in terms of its philosophical content). Now, I’m no Levinas scholar, but this just does not seem to work; in analytic terms, Levinas seems like more of a metaethicist than a normative ethicist–I mean that’s the analogy I would draw. Which is like writing a paper on quasi-realist business ethics. Which is nuts.

        I’m sure that there are cargo cult cases like this that go from the analytic to the continental, I just can’t think of one off-hand.

  3. Its not that there is a new idea to be gained from the rapprochement of two traditions. Its that many ideas are stymied by the artificial boundaries.

  4. Perhaps the outcome of a rapprochement would be an easing of the half-true stereotypes that are displayed by each side. Anayltical philosophers will look less like Brains from Thunderbirds and start wearing flamboyant cravats, as well as appreciating the socio-historical contexts of philosophical thought a little more. Continental philosophers will simply cease to think that they understand absolutely everything.

    Or maybe they will merge into one tyrannosaurus philosophicus, some kind of terrible world-devouring ego, with tiny arms.

    Really, I would like to see a rapprochement because Chakira is right: ideas are generally stymied by these boundaries. Nothing wrong with Polyanna either. Not only does she cheer you right up, you’re so energised you can drown the little love afterwards.

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