Beyond the Divide (one view of the intellecutal payoff)


I came across this interesting account of analytic – continental divide,” Before and Beyond the Analytic Divide” (pdf), by Matthew Sharpe, wherein he suggests:

…a rapprochement between analytic and continental philosophers is a good we might at least pray for, as the ancients would have said. Why?
First, because both sides, as well as harboring virtues, also do harbor the type of vices and limits the others’ prejudices typically pick out. Continental philosophy often does verge into anti-realistic, unfalsifiable, and nonsensical formulations…Analytic philosophy, for its part, does not allow itself to raise many questions which are ‘philosophical’, certainly in the sense in which philosophy was understood until the seventeenth century, and is still understood by laypeople today: what is the meaning of being, or of our being? Can the sense of “truth” be reduced to something internal to propositions, rather than attitudes, systems of understanding, beliefs, ways of life, or certain experiences? What is the best way of life or regime? What is the relationship between ethics, politics, religion, art, and philosophy? Is our modern or postmodern age any better than previous societies? And if so, in what respects, and with what costs? It is legitimate to long for Heidegger or Hans Blumenberg, when asked to consider for too long, in a time of fast tracked social change, what it is like to be a bat, or to have a lead role in the prisoners’ dilemma.

Second: a rapprochement of analytic philosophy with some extra-scientific, but defensibly rational, way of understanding the whole, is desirable. It is desirable because the modern scientific Weltanschauung is predicated on a fact-value distinction, and before that on the later medieval attack on final causes. But this means that its objectivity excludes—indeed, it threatens to render ‘ir-rational’—any normative criteria for making the ethical and political decisions that are the unavoidable stuff of our shared life. We will return to the consequences of this. They turn around how the philosopher, once he leaves the study, is also a citizen. So if his philosophy—whether analytic or continental—cannot offer guidance on ethical and political questions, he must decide like everybody else on extra-rational grounds of fear, passion, or tradition—or at least he cannot philosophically critique any of these ethico-political motiva-tions.

Third: a rapprochement between analytic and continental philosophers is desirable since both sides are arguably blind to their shared modern presuppositions, despite the well-attested ambivalence of many continentals about modernity in general and science in particular. We moderns can only know what we make. There is a world of difference between ancient contemplative episteme and the Baconian intention to put nature on the rack using active experimentation, so we might pry loose her secrets. For the analytic philosophers, this is why our linguistic and conceptual equipment, however conceived, is the privileged object of the analysis, and the thought experiment is a principle modus operandi. For the continental philo-sophers, this is why human history, and the art and texts produced by numin-ous authorities, are the privileged object of analysis, and hermeneutics is the principle modus operandi. For both traditions, then, nature cannot be philosophically comprehended: either science takes this laurel or else nature appears, in forms of continental vitalism, as radically resistant to, or excessive of, any rational determination.
Divided in what they stand for, that is, the analytics and continentals are unit-ed in philosophical possibilities both exclude. Both reflect in different ways what historians of ideas have called modern world-alienation

Fourthly, both lineages of twentieth century philosophy, as modern, miss the orienting fact that philosophy is a way of life.

Thoughts?  My knee jerk reaction is that (1) is a bit overblown, (2) seems right, but I wonder why this would demand a rapprochement between the two cultures/camps/styles, (3) seems  right in principle, but I’m not quite sure this is actually the case, and (4) seems to be a gross generalization.  I’ll have to think about this some more and time permitting, expand on each, of course.

2 thoughts on “Beyond the Divide (one view of the intellecutal payoff)

  1. Having read only the excerpt which you provided, I have to say that I disagree with all four points, mainly because I think the author has mischaracterized both traditions.

    On the first point, it is bizarre to reduce analytic philosophy to mere technical problems; what about the work of Bernard Williams, Rosalind Hursthouse, Philippa Foot, Anscombe, Velleman, Nussbaum, etc.? Those are all authors who are clearly worried about the kind of questions which Sharpe claims are “more philosophical”. As for the tendency of continental philosophers to be “unfalsifiable” (a criterium that, following van Fraassen and others, I find particularly useless), this is also incorrect: Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Deleuze, and Foucault all drew heavily from the empirical sciences (e.g. linguistics, biology, and history, respectively), and even if they situated their claims in a more abstract level, it’s not the case that they didn’t offer explanations for empirical phenomena, explanations that can be assessed for their empirical adequacy.

    On the second point, it is controversial at best that philosophy should provide “normative criteria for making ethical and political decisions”. Foucault and Deleuze would most likely disagree, as would Williams and McDowell. In any case, as you noted, even if this were uncontroversial, there is still the problem of how the rapprochement would contribute to the task.

    On the third point, this seems to me a false dichotomy. The recent volume edited by Mario de Caro and David MacArthur, Naturalism in Question, deals precisely with this dichotomy. Most of the authors there question the dilemma: either nature is entirely amanable to scientific treatment, or we should fall into mysticism or irrationalism. Contrary to this, they propose what they call a liberal naturalism, namely, the idea that nature is not exhausted by its scientific description and that there must be some room for blatantly natural phenomena such as the maturation of a human being. This finds a nice expression on the work of John McDowell, who has being a vocal advocate of this liberal naturalism. Scientism has been out of vogue for some time now, so I think Sharpe is fighting against windmills here.

    On the fourth point, I agree with you, this is just a generalization. Both traditions are very rich in ethical writings that take the idea of a way of life to be central to philosophy.

    To be frank, I take a very simple position to this rapprochement: we should ignore the divide for the very simple reason that there is interesting work being done on both sides of the line, and I see no reason to draw exclusively from one camp. If I read something interesting from Deleuze, and then another from (say) Quine, why should I be barred from commenting on both, perhaps even contrasting their positions?

  2. I agree largely with Daniel, but I would take further issue with (2): Investigation of normativity (moral, instrumental, and so on) is and has been an important part of analytic philosophy. Not everyone accepts the “fact/value” dichotomy–or even agrees about what it supposed to amount to. There are many positions that argue quite reasonably and well for some sort of objective practical rationality that do not depend upon old ideas about final causes.

    Regarding (3): there seems to be something wrong with this story about the diremption in scientific thought at t = Bacon. The purpose of scientific thought in Bacon (and Descartes) does not radically change from that you might find in the Stoics and the Epicureans, except that the therapy provided addresses (or attempts to at that point) the actual physical living conditions pertaining to healthy bodies (e.g., medicine–for which Bacon and Descartes had the highest hopes) in a much more comprehensive way than the ancients. The difference between Bacon and post-Baconian natural philosophy/science is less impressive when we take the practice of philosophy by not-Aristotles more serious.

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