A great deal of the discussion around the new Pluralist's Guide has, in my view, gone completely off the rails. People are debating whether it is a SPEP guide, whether Brian Leiter, or the PGR, is a positive influence on the field and other such, well, issues. Worse, it is serving to further reinforce the worst wagon-circling, dismissiveness, and mutual distrust in the profession.
So I'd like to use this opportunity to return to one of the founding themes of this blog - that is one of the issues we all care about, and one of the issues that largely motivated the selection of people to participate: namely the stupidity and destructiveness of the analytic/continental distinction. I return to this now, because a founding feature of the PG is that it is offering recommendations on places to study "continental philosophy". My main claim is that this is a terrible idea, because on any recognizable sense of the terms "analytic philosophy" and "continental philosophy" it would be unethical to encourage a philosophy student to study (just) one or the other. The only responsible advise, in my view, to a student who asked "where should I go to study continental philosophy?" is "Nowhere. Go somewhere to study philosophy. Preferably somewhere that they don't justify their ignorance by inventing pseudo-categories." That is, I'm going to argue for pluralism - though in a sense that is pretty directly opposed to the way that is meant by the PG and, I hasten to add, equally directly opposed to how it is meant by many departments that rank highly on the PGR.
OK. Bill's conclusion is this: "Therefore, the so-called Continental-analytic division within philosophy is not a philosophical distinction; it's a sociological one. It is the product of historical accident. It is unreasonable to cleave to it, and the insistence on remaining closed to work that is either presumptively "analytic" or presumptively "Continental" is irrational and unphilosophical. Further, rejecting or refusing to consider positions one has not studied and consequently does not understand is not a philosophical stance. It is, if anything, the very antithesis of the philosophical attitude. In light of this conclusion, I prefer to the extent possible not to use the terms "Continental philosophy" and "analytic philosophy." They perpetuate the divisions of the past, divisions that it behooves us to overcome."
I agree completely. And I want to draw out a consequence. But first, let me acknowledge some obvious facts. This anti-philosophical bigotry that Bill speaks of is widespread. It comes in both directions: ignorant dismissal of "continental" philosophy and ignorant dismissal of "analytic" philosophy. A long time back in the bad old days, my own department - I was not here, but I have it on the word of several good authorities who were - turned down a candidate for a job, one who would have seemed ideally suited to Georgetown, solely on the grounds that his degree was from Michigan which was "a bunch of logical positivists". And one hears similar attitudes still today at certain departments. (A little over a year ago, someone said to me, of Bill Blattner: "But obviously he is not a real continental philosopher, meaning that he could safely be ignored for doing the sort of philosophy the speaker was talking about.)
But though the pseudo-disciplinary defense of ignorance goes in both directions, it is also obvious that dismissals of "continental" philosophy come from a position of greater power. As Brian Leiter points out regularly, one side has largely won this social and political battle. One may be able to get away with laughing at works by Quine, Sellars, Frege, etc without having made a serious effort to study them at Duquesne or Fordham, but one can laugh at the works of Foucault, Deleuze, or Hegel at a great many universities with a great deal more clout in the academic world.
Leiter coined some time ago the phrase "party-line continentalist" for those who reify a meaningful distinct tradition of "continental philosophy" and push it as the sole tradition worthy of study, or at least as something worthy of study in abstraction from all philosophy that is not it. I agree with him that there are many such party-line philosophers, but I think it is simply a blind-spot not to admit that there are also many - indeed, likely quite a few more - party-line analytic philosophers.
So for those of us who are interested in following Bill's advise, and overcoming this bigotry in either direction, the question is what we ought to do about it. And here I think that any strategy that tries to push "continental philosophy" as a distinct area of study, a sub-field of the discipline, or (worst) a distinct style/mode/approach to philosophy altogether is going at things in precisely the wrong way. At best the promotion of "continental philosophy" as a sub-area promotes the existence of little ghettos within otherwise "analytic" departments. (Or worse, whole departments ghetto-ized within the broader profession.) We see precisely this in a number of well regarded departments where one or two people have been hired on the strength of their historical work on particular figures associated with "continental philosophy". But in most of these departments, one can happily go about one's graduate study without ever learning a thing about Hegel, Heidegger, Foucault, Deleuze or anyone who makes use of their ideas. I suppose it is better that there are these tiny pockets within the privileged social spaces - as it means that students who recognize the wisdom in doing so will at least have access to such work - but it is not remotely sufficient.
Consider Foucault. Foucault did not work in something called "continental philosophy". Foucault worked in epistemology, political philosophy, social philosophy, etc. He had important and original ideas in all of these. They have implications for the work of other figures in those areas, and if you work in that area, and don't know about the ideas Foucault developed, you are ignorant of your own field. (Nor should these areas be seen as really separable, but that's another issue.) It is simply irresponsible to offer a graduate survey in epistemology while ignoring the approaches that one finds in Heidegger, Merleau-ponty, Foucault, and Marx, just as it is irresponsible to ignore the approaches of the logical positivists, Sellars, Quine, Davidson, etc. Of course one can't cover everything in a survey, but systematically excluding one of these groups, and pretending that this isn't an important sacrifice, is just plain bad philosophy. Similar points could be made about any other sub-field. It is simply stupid to suppose that one can teach students metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and then tack on continental philosophy. It is like tacking on a final course on philosophers who names end in a vowel and who lived in two countries during their lifetime.
So finally, let me return to the question of rankings. What I think the PG got right was that there is a systematic bias - probably mostly unconscious - in the way that the PGR rates departments. There is a systematic neglect of the importance of historical figures, ideas, approaches, etc. that are associated with "continental philosophy". Ultimately this unconscious bias comes from the selection of an advisory board, made up overwhelmingly of philosophers who have been trained on the analytic side of this institutionalized bigotry, and who are largely unfamiliar with these approaches and figures. Thus, such advisors will see that something is missing in a department with no serious logician, but will see nothing odd in a department where no one learns anything about genealogy. And having a separate category of "continental philosophy" defined as simply an area of history as Leiter does, is not sufficient. So I would like to see a genuinely pluralist evaluation of graduate programs. But I do not think that the PG does this at all. In fact, it goes further than the PGR in its non-pluralism. We have a list of reviewers who are largely committed to "continental philosophy," and committed to its value as a separate thing assessing departments on the basis of how good they are as a place to study "continental philosophy." There seems to be absolutely no attention paid to the possibility that one will better understand Foucaut if she also understands Chomsky, Tarski, Rawls, etc.
What would a pluralist assessment of a department really look like? (btw, I'm obviously talking about analytic/continental pluralism. There is the largely distinct issue of the diversity of faculty, about which I've had a lot to say on this blog.) Well, it would surely think that a progam was seriously deficient if it's epistemology faculty did not expose students to the full range of figures I list above, and similarly for other areas. And not as a grab-bag of disconnected work. An ideally pluralist department is not one in which you could go read 3 figures with Jones, and go read 3 others with Smith and never see them put into productive conversation. That is, pluralism is not a matter of the sum of individual competencies, but of the space of discourse in a department. If you don't learn to see Foucault as posing challenges to Hempel, you haven't learned epistemology.
Of course there are other dimensions of evaluation. A department might be wonderfully and admirably pluralist, and have a faculty who rarely publish, who don't teach well, or who just aren't the sharpest tools in the shed. But pluralism would be one important such dimension in a genuinely pluralist evaluation. And it is here that I find the PG most lacking, for the evaluations betray a completely different agenda. I will not extend an already overly long discussion with my own views on lots of departments, but I will highlight the department that I take to be a model in this regard: Here is their faculty list. Please tell me what important areas of philosophy are not covered. (There are always some. But I suspect fewer here than almost anywhere.) And more important, this is a department that communicates. I have enough experience with this department to know that it is not a bunch of separated ghettos, but a vibrant place where one can move fluidly between formal logic, Foucault, Heidegger, and Davidson. (I know this because I talked about all of them in an invited lecture a couple years ago and the discussion was brilliant, indeed, surely more brilliant than the talk.)
So, here's a call for actual pluralism - a pluralism that is incompatible with self-identification with either philosophical pseudo-identity. From now on, when someone asks if you are an analytic or a continental philosopher, tell them you are queer. And you want a department of queers.