Both of these writing modes are essential skills for graduate students to master, but it's hard to get them to even try the "teacher-development" mode, perhaps because it's more difficult. (It's especially important for continental philosophy students to master this, since they will very often be addressing non-CP experts when addressing professional colleagues.)
I am optimistic about the potential of the powers-based approach, but I
see its major barrier to success to be bridging the gap between itself
and other systems, or at least, clearly situating itself with respect to
the dominant dialectic. Many advocates of more traditional approaches
see the powers-based system as operating within its own philosophical
universe and making little contact with the existing framework. This
hurts both sides: powers-based theories are only taken seriously by
those antecedently friendly to them, and prevailing approaches do not
benefit from the theoretical resources of the powers approach. At the
same time, using the tools of the more dominant strategies would benefit
powers-based theories, as some of their key concepts (properties and
substances, to name a few) remain underdeveloped. Clearly connecting
powers-based theories to the traditional Humean framework will open up
greater theoretical resources for both sides.--Sara Bernstein reviewing at NDPR. [Letters added to facilitate discussion.]
This quoted passage is the closing paragraph of Bernstein's very informative and stimulating review. (What follows is in no sense criticism of Bernstein.) I read Bernstein as identifying the "traditional Humean framework" (i.e., Lewisian metaphysics) as the more "dominant" approach to metaphysics at present. I read her as describing the "powers-based" (i.e., a neo-Lockean or, more accurately, neo-Aristotelian) approach as the weaker party. Let's stipulate that Bernstein's judgment on the relative strength of both parties in analytical metaphysics is accurate (see also Troy Cross's recent reviews, here and here). Even so, her review raises some uncomfortable questions about the state of the discipline. Here I focus on three features: (i) the existence of sub-disciplinary echo-chambers; (ii) who gets to decide who should respond to who; (iii) the benefits, if any, of philosophical engagement.
One attractive story about the demise of the Principle Sufficient Reason (PSR) is that it was discarded in the founding of analytical philosophy together with the heritage of British Idealism and related polemics against Spinoza (and Bergson) by Bertrand Russell. When Russell was given the option, accept (a) Bradley's Regress or (b) the PSR, he chose neither; and he opted, instead, for (c) submission to scientific fact: "The scientific philosophy, therefore...aims only at understanding
the world... without being turned aside from
that submission to fact which is the essence of the scientific temper." (On Scientific Method In Philosophy [recall my discussion and Jeff Bell.] If the to-be-explained-facts are brute, then it is possible that even if they can be fully captured by integrated into a theory/model (etc.) some arbitrariness is inevitable (in, say, initial conditions). One might even think that this stance is (informally) justified by the "principle of indifference" that accompanies the embrace of a classical probability theory in one's inductive logic (see, Carnap).
Eric says below that "Lewis is arguably the most significant and influential (analytical) philosopher of the last quarter of the 20th century. (Perhaps, Deleuze is the only contemporary that will match his enduring significance..."
Now putting Lewis and Deleuze together would yield very interesting metaphysical work I think. Unfortunately, there's a high barrier to entry to this kind of comparative work in terms of the time commitments necessary to get even a baseline acquaintance with each philosopher. So there has been only a very few attempts I can find to bring them together. Here is a New APPS post by Jeff Bell (and another); there is also Ch 6 in this book by James Williams (pdf here). Williams begins:
For Gilles Deleuze, the virtual is real and no actual world is complete if considered in abstraction from the virtual. For David Lewis, possible worlds are real and the actual world is but one of many real possible worlds. Deleuze is critical of the concept of the possible, warning against any confusion of the possible with the virtual. Lewis’s arguments can be deployed against many of the assumptions that hold for Deleuze’s virtual – most notably, against the claim that the reality of the virtual is a certainty, rather than merely a useful supposition.
All nine of the Schock winners thus far were or are eminent philosophers, and most of us can only aspire to emulate the quality of their work as best we can. Even if one allows that "The Schock" only seems to go to male, analytical philosophers, each winner is an important and interesting philosopher, deserving of significant honor. Having said that, The Schock Prize judges had four or five chances to honor David Lewis, and failed to do so. (Lewis died in the Fall of 2001.) Lewis is arguably the most significant and influential (analytical) philosopher of the last quarter of the 20th century. (Perhaps, Deleuze is the only contemporary that will match his enduring significance, but he and Foucault died before the Schock got up and running.) So, while one can excuse the members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (RSAS) to play it safe and not award the prize to, say, Derrida (and, thus, avoid the predictable outcry), not giving it to Lewis means they failed to grasp the nature of analytical philosophy in their own time. That in addition, they passed on Gadamer, Ricœur, Goodman, and, thus far, Habermas suggests that the Schock has a long way to go before it can establish itself as the ultimate arbiter of general philosophical excellence.
Let's stipulate that there is genuine bullshit (see Frankfurt 1986). Let's also stipulate there is bullshit in the Humanities, even in philosophy.
A lot of people I know in philosophy are pretty confident that much of what passes in Literary Theory and the philosophies that influence(d) it is bullshit. I have seen testimony people that ardently defend this view who have studied quite a bit of, say, Continental philosophy and reached this conclusion. (Of course, in reality, a lot more folk are dismissive on the basis of extremely slender personal, intellectual investment.) When pressed for evidence, the Sokal Hoax is trotted out as exhibit A. It made a great splash inside the academy and the popular media that covers it. Rather than interpreting the case as an instance of bad refereeing, editorial misjudgment, whole areas of thought got written off by quite a few people.
I just learned that a paper was retracted from Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics--a very fine physics journal published by a reputable institute. It frankly reports, "The Editorial Board has investigated this and found that the XPS
spectra shown in figure 3 all exhibit an identical noise pattern that is
unphysical." [HT Retractionwatch] In other words, the journal published artfully presented bullshit. (It recently announced that it "is now using ScholarOne Manuscripts for submission and peer-review management.") Undoubtedly, this incident is unpleasant for all the parties involved, but nobody in their right mind will draw any inferences about physics from it.
The moral: very good journals can publish bullshit, and the refereeing institutions of all disciplines need constant maintenance.
The reader may have a sense that we have gone off the rails. To be honest, I share that sense. The claim that the category of sentence carves at the joints, for example...strains to the breaking-point my intuitive grip on the notion of joint carving...[I]t's evident from examples that there just is a metaphysically significant notion of saturation. I invite the skeptical reader not to simply dismiss the issue, but rather to join my struggle to make sense of this notion, and perhaps come up with something better. T.Sider, Writing the Book of the World (257) [emphasis in original--ES.]
An uncharitable -- not to be confused with the "skeptical" -- reader might interpret the passage above as a rhetorical way to dismiss an important worry (recall my earlier post). But this would miss what is at stake here; Sider here recognizes (to speak pompously) the crucial, world-historical significance of his project, which madly pursues the 'linguistic turn' to its near-breaking point within analytical metaphysics. For, with 'saturation' Sider makes clear how his knee-jerk realism and his embrace of the method of final (or fundamental) language come together: the world consists of joints and these correspond to "a linguistic category: that of the complete sentence in a fundamental language. In a fundamental language, a language in which the category of sentence carves at the joints, sentences are always "metaphysically complete"--saturated." (254)
Now, this is not the place to offer Sider's ingenuous and persuasive argument for his idea that "there's something metaphysically distinctive...abut all parameters being filled. When all parameters are filled, we can call the result a [metaphysical] fact." (252). Let's accept that a fully regimented fundamental language contains a primitive operator that attaches to a dummy sentence-variable. We have here a way of thinking about submission to fact (recall and here) that is internally satisfying (and consistent). To put Sider's insight more informally, but it in the spirit of Sider, "when God created the world" she needed sentences to write the book of the world.
Sider's picture comes attractively close to offering a metaphysical bedrock that dispenses with the Principle of Sufficient Reason (and, thus, exorcise the ghost of Bradley's infinite regress that has haunted analytical philosophy since inception).
"Scientific philosophy" as I will be using it here is an eighteenth century invention by now-forgotten philosophers (McLaurin, 's Gravesande) or not read as philosophers anymore (Euler) (and then opposed by now-canonical philosophers like Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and folk that are fun to read like Mandeville and Diderot) that, after the split between philosophy and science, was re-introduced into philosophy by people like Russell, and echoed by Carnap, and Reichenbach. Scientific philosophy has six characteristics:
‘success’ trumps other
(rational/methodological) claims. Given that scientific philosophers sometimes retreat to the idea that philosophy is an a priori discipline, the 'empirical' (in 1) is often re-packaged as, say, inference to the best explanation in light of a variety of enduring 'scientific virtues' (i.e., simplicity, scope, predictive power, fruitfulness, exactness, etc.)
(a) Physics is the foundational science and/but it (b) has no need
for ultimate foundations. While 2(a) may seem obvious (see, e.g., Ladymann & Ross) due to its universal scope, its foundational nature was contested well into the nineteenth century. One could imagine, say, the science of information taking over as the foundational science in the future.
Within scientific philosophy reason
limits itself in various ways: in doing so (a) it avoid the fallacy of systematicity because it does not try to say
everything about everything; (b) it embraces the intellectual division
of labor (from 3(b)); it avoids the fallacy of (metaphysical) foundationalism because it has no
need to try to to secure its practice in un-shakeable, first principles
(see 2(b)). So, it is no surprise that Russell rejected the principle of sufficient reason or Bradley's regress argument.
is a self-directed, autonomous practice; once one has mastered certain rigorous tools, one moves
from one given experiment/solution (etc.) to the next problem. Given the emphasis on rigor, it is no surprise that:
Scientific philosophy is often opposed to a licentious or unintelligible
alternative(s) associated with past failures, sometimes even moral. (Exhibit a.) It, thus, embraces commitments to transparency (and clarity).
offers submission to the
facts (recall) and is disciplined (recall) by way of a careful, painful, modest and most
importantly open-ended progressive method. This entails that any scientific philosopher will enter a pre-existing, moving research trajectory and can expect to die before any destination is ever reached.
Last week I received a widely distributed announcement on a conference celebrating "The 'Stanford School' of Philosophy of Science." The 'core' members of this school are taken to be: Nancy Cartwright (Durham), John Dupré (Exeter), Peter Galison (Harvard), Peter Godfrey-Smith (CUNY), Patrick Suppes (Stanford). The parenthesis are the current affiliation of the 'core' members; this immediately suggests that if there is a 'school' at all we are either dealing with a historical phenomenon or very distributed one. Scanning the list of the 'next generation' confirms that Stanford is not the current base of the purported school.
First, I adore much of the work done by many in the 'core,' but the idea that this group is a 'school' is deeply flawed. For, Suppes is far better understood (as he does himself) as belonging to the first generation (including Kyburg, Pap, Isaac Levi) intellectual off-spring of Ernest Nagel, who successfully created American analytical philosophy by combining the Scientific wing of Pragmatism with the new approaches emanating from Vienna, especially, and Cambridge (recall and here). In his autobiography, Suppes describes how assimilated from Nagel the significance of history of science.
It may well be irrational to believe that history is progress after the unprecedented moral and political calamities of the twentieth century. But it does not follow, as [John] Gray apparently assumes, that history has no meaning. There is another possibility. To my knowledge Gray never endorses it, and it extremely difficult for a post-Darwinian mind to grap, but it has been presumed true by most civilizations and philosophies of the past, and is still so regarded by many non-Westernized cultures today. The possibility is that history does indeed have a meaning, purpose and end, and that these can easily be discerned by human beings, but that the direction of history's development is backward not forwards. History is not progress but regress, not advance but decline, and it leads to destruction rather than to utopia.--David Hawkes reviewing John Gray "The Silence of Animals" in TLS (30 August, 2013).
Let's distinguish four main conceptions of history:
Eternal Return. Within philosophy this goes back to Book 3 of Plato's Laws. It was revived by Nietzsche (and is part of the sub-structure of much continental philosophy and via Ian Hacking it is seeping into philosophy of science). It accords well with a cyclical conception of history with a rise and fall narrative or with periodic destruction of civilization(s) (think of the Atlantis story in the Timaeus and Bacon's riff on it). I expect it to become increasingly attractive to people as we head for man-made environmental catastrophe.
Whitehead lectured on Science and
the Modern World and on Cosmologies Ancient and Modern. I responded little,
even after accustoming myself to his accent. What he said had little evident
bearing on the problems that I recognized. His lecture hours were mercifully
short and his speech exasperatingly slow. My notes were crowded with doodles…But
retained a vivid sense of being in the presence of the great.--Quine, The Philosophy of W.V. Quine, Volume 18 van Library of living philosophers, Hahn/Schilpp).
In Quine's memory Whitehead is a stereotypical Continental philosopher, somebody that affects greatness but is not relevant to our problem-solving. In his intellectual autobiography, Davidson comes close to adding that the "unreadable" Whitehead was basically a fraud as a teacher and philosopher: "Truth, or even serious argument was basically irrelevant." (Davidson, Volume 27 van The library of living philosophers, p. 13-14) [I thank Stefan Koller for calling my attention to these passages in Davidson.] So, some will find it, thus, fitting that bona fide Continental philosophers -- Deleuze, Stengers -- have adopted Whitehead as one of their own. Our very own Jeff Bell is part of this story and hopefully will share insights on its nature and causes.
Now, undoubtedly with the (once very influential) leaders of our tribe discouraging, even ridiculing interest in Whitehead it's no surprise that Whitehead is whitewashed (sorry, couldn't resist) out of the collective memory of analytical philosophy. I have already mentioned that this was not inevitable; in 1930 Ernest Nagel acknowledged that Whitehead's work on the "nature of existence" is "a notable addition" to a revival of interest in metaphysics among scientific philosophers. As regular readers know, I claim that Ernest Nagel is a privileged observer; he played the crucial role in coining and articulating the concept, "analytical philosophy" in 1936 (without including Whitehead, who was in the wrong Cambridge). Granting that historical accuracy need not be the most important philosophical virtue Whitehead's migration out of analytical philosophy obscures proper philosophical self-understanding, at least if we think that Quine's moves matter to us.
Now, reflection on this very small sample (add your favorite example in comments!) inclines me to delimit a certain genre of philosophically effective ridicule (as opposed to mere character assassination); this genre, relies on the magnification of a core philosophical commitment of the opponent and thereby render the whole project preposterous or laughable. I label this a 'Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy.' Nietzsche's writings are littered with attempts at Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy, although he often suggests that the contrasting strategy -- ridicule by way of minimization (e.g., Berkeley on minute philosophers) -- comes more naturally to him.
Of course, such a Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy is compatible with the existence of effective arguments against the ridiculed opposition (as well as the existence of argumentative rejoinders). It is also compatible with holding a rather austere (what we may call, adopting a phrase from Derrida) 'ethics of writing'. Given the sample, I hasten to add that even if the meta-ethical-writing-principles were shared, the enacted norms of writing may differ widely. We should distinguish the Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy from other forms of ridicule (which, say, rely on misrepresentation, incredulous stares, silencing techniques, etc.).
I conclude my preliminary analysis by way of a suggestion; in some possible world it ought to be possible to execute the Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy under, as it were, the radar without, say, being funny. To give a hint of an example: when Locke takes on the stance of an 'under-labourer' he magnifies some privileged others (Boyle, Sydenham, Huygens Newton). Nobody would ever accuse Locke of being a funny writer, but it would be amusing if he were capable of an inside joke.
"Strauss' interpretation of Plato is wrong from beginning to end." M.F. Burnyeat.
Although we philosophers are thought of as a cerebral bunch, our loathings can be pretty intense. I need not mention the hundred-year, fraternal civil war, which around here we label a 'divide,' between analytic and continental philosophy; we are not known for our fondness for what passes as 'theory' among literature and cultural studies departments (and I have experienced plenty of uncivil behavior from folk in, say, science studies in return). But when professional philosophers are not just puzzled by the Straussians they encounter, we reserve a special kind of bile and invective against them, especially as Strauss's students found their ways into advising Goldwater and Reagan (and beyond); once I was halted in my invective against Wolfowitz by (The University of Chicago's) Ralph Lerner's, 'Paul once sat in that chair, and was no less passionate than you.' Undoubtedly a few of us were at least mildly irritated by reading Steven Smith's very respectful review of books on the legacy of Strauss in a recent New York Times Book Review--"doesn't he know that 'Strauss is not a Philosopher!'"?
In his famous essay, Burnyeat (a former teacher) overreached. Invoking "ordinary scholarship," Burnyeat treats Plato (surprisingly Popperian) as a "radical utopian," primarily relevant for opening up "a reasoned debate on the nature and practicality of a just society" (emphasis in Burnyeat). Given that Burnyeat was in no sense an ordinary scholar, who also searchingly pioneered the historiographical construction of the classics, these lines are painful read; Burnyeat reduces the significance of Plato's political philosophy to being a forerunner of Rawls. Those of us living in the shadow of the surveillance state may find Strauss' "anti-Utopian teaching" ("invented" or not) about Plato a useful touch-stone, sometimes. For in Republic and Laws surveillance are ever-present and its limits thematized. The cause of Burnyeat's overreach is that Plato's Laws has always been a blind-spot to him (and until recently ordinary analytic scholarship).
At some level, Burnyeat must have known he overreached, because he allowed the original and reprinted version of the piece to have a clear reference to a famous short story by Oscar Wilde, -- which may be read as an allegory on philosophical madness [Murchison is introduced as a truth-teller] ! -- that ends with that enigmatic "I wonder."
in form nor extent does it carry out the idea of a system. Its subject indeed
is central enough to justify the exhaustive treatment of every problem. But what I have done is
incomplete, and what has been left undone has often been omitted
arbitrarily.--F.H. Bradley, Appearance
and Reality, Preface (xi).
There is no established reputation which now does much harm to philosophy. And one is not led to feel in writing
that one is face to face with the same dense body of
stupid tradition and ancestral prejudice.--Bradley, Preface (xiii).
Michael Della Rocca has been encouraging me to get interested in Bradley [and this post was prompted by one of his papers--ES]. (See this book for a polemical introduction to Bradley. [I blogged about it here; Mohan responded; then I; Mohan here.]) The lines in the first epigraph above are the second, third, and fourth sentences of Bradley's book, explaining why Bradley calls it an "essay in metaphysics." While -- if we allow that being exhaustively treated and the idea of system are close in spirit -- the subject is suitable to systematic treatment, Bradley goes out of his way to deny his book is not. At first sight he seems to suggest that it is not systematic because the book is "incomplete."
Fair enough. The edition I am looking at is over 600 pages long. But Bradley is also insistent that the in-completion is due to his arbitrary omissions. So, the first paragraph of the book introduces an opposition between the idea of system and arbitrary gaps. That is, the idea of system entails deliberateness about internal structure. I emphasize "idea" because Bradley does not deny that his book is an attempt "to deal systematically
with first principles" (xiii); evidently such an attempt does not fall under the idea of system.
How can an agent choose to deploy arbitrary gaps? (To be anachronistic: there is nothing arbitrary about letting a random-number generator create the numbers of a sequence, even if any given number is arbitrary.)
One of the saddest and scariest things about human beings is how we can work so damned hard for year after year and then derive so little satisfaction when things actually come to fruition. I don't know how ubiquitous this is, but it is somewhat pronounced both in academia and the music world, two fields that typically require a nauseating amount of effort for years on end just to make a bare living.
Consider music. There's an overwhelmingly affecting point in the recent Ramones documentary where the original bassist and songwriter (who later died of a heroin overdose) is reflecting on his bulimia and massive intake of anti-anxiety medication; he says something to the effect of "All my dreams came true. Why can't I be happy?" This isn't just rock music either. There is a small literature suggesting that successful orchestra musicians (with a job market very similar to academia) have pretty low job satisfaction when compared to other fields.
In academia I've noticed in particular two kinds of virulently unhappy successful people. The first is the person who just got tenure and all of the sudden faces an overwhelming existential crises, analogous to when deep sea divers come up too fast and their bodies can't handle the depressurization. That is, at every point prior to tenure, from gradeschool through being an Assistant Professor, there is ususally a ton of outside pressure to do specific tasks to get to the next point. And some people who thrive when being told what to do find it horrifying to be any other way.
This is a weird thing, because the pressure of going through tenure review is itself so harsh. I know plenty of people who actually went on prescription happy pills for the first time in their life during tenure review, only to get off them after the tenure was resolved and move on unscathed. But two people I cherish did just fine during the tenure review only to completely fall apart afterwards. One was institutionalized and is no longer an academic and the other is dead.
One of our categories here is "Analytic-Continental Divide (and its overcoming)." What do I mean by "overcoming"? I don't mean that when the divide is overcome there will be one homogeneous way of doing philosophy. I'm a Deleuzean, and that would not at all be a Deleuzean ideal. Instead I think we should make philosophy into a multiplicity.
JHAP aims to promote research in and provide a forum for discussion of the history of analytic philosophy. ‘History’ and ‘analytic’ are understood broadly. JHAP takes the history of analytic philosophy to be part of analytic philosophy. Accordingly, it publishes historical research that interacts with the ongoing concerns of analytic philosophy and with the history of other twentieth century philosophical traditions. In addition to research articles, JHAP publishes discussion notes and reviews.
"and with the history of other twentieth century philosophical traditions" is a very important clause! Two [update: now three] notes which concern that clause:
The London Review of books couldn't have picked a better person for the review (HERE).
It's an excellent piece, but a little weird to me that (given his other work) he only went after the DSM for the ways that mental illnesses as descriptive phenomena are not like Linnaean natural kinds. He basically argues that the massive vagueness of the underlying phenomena forces the DSM writers to: (1) overuse "not otherwise specified" (NOS) as a catchall after listing various subtypes of a disorder, basically allowing anyone to be diagnosed with anything (e.g. diagnosed as "schizophrenic: NOS") and (2) the infinite regress of co-morbidity listings, where the disorders overlap so much that it becomes unclear who has what to what degree.
But he writes nothing about how "disorder" is not a statistical but rather a normative notion, and what a bash clinical psychology makes of this fact.
This is very odd because to me the new DSM's defining of mental health as the ability to function in one's society shows how vulgar the whole business is.* There's a strong intellectual pedigree for seeing through this kind of thing that leads right up to Hacking too. In France Canguilhem initially appealed to the normativity of health to critique the Linnaean model of mental health, and later read his own student Simondon to articulate this in Nietzschean terms. This account was picked up and worked on by Foucault, whose own writings in part prompted Hacking's own wonderful thoughts about the metaphysics of mental disorders and much else.
*I was talking about this at a neighbor's crowded pool party last Sunday with a colleage in Clinical Psychology. Weirdly, none of our LSU colleagues engaged with my criticisms until I brought up the example of the Nazis** and the Good German as a paradigm of mental health via the DSM's definition of health. I really did try to use more subtle examples.
[WARNING: F word mentioned (not used) after jump.]
First post: "I thought I would start this group. I would also welcome arguments why we should not try to get beyond the divide, or why "beyond" is a bad metaphor, or why "divide" is a bad metaphor, and so on."
Because I am rarely capable of great subtlety and a friend of historical truth, I love subtle revisionism. So, I am grateful to Dirk Felleman for calling my attention to the title, "200 YEARS OF ANALYTICAL PHILOSOPHY" of a 2008 issue of the The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication. The issue was edited by world class scholars-philosophers, SANDRA LAPOINTE, MATTI EKLUND AND AMIE L. THOMASSON. So, where does analytical philosophy start?
With the recent discussion of citation networks, I thought I'd re-post this piece from 2011.
Something about all the recent talk about pluralism (I'd personally prefer something like "aiming to go beyond the a/c divide" though it's more clunky) made me wonder just how often do big continental names appear in top mainstream journals.
So I searched for "Foucault" in Journal of Philosophy. Unfortunately my library has an electronic subscription enabling me to search their database only up through 2005, so if someone can supplement this search with more recent data, I'd be grateful.
I'll present my results in a bit, but what I'd like to do is ask other people to do similar searches, say for Deleuze in J Phil, or Heidegger in Phil Studies, etc. If you post them here, we'll have a sort of Wiki going.
Findings: no articles had "Foucault" in the title or as the main topic, although Ian Hacking does a laudatory review of Dreyfus and Rabinow's book: J Phil 82.5 (May 1985): 273-277.
In a very interesting, recent post, Brian Weatherson points out that "the tradition of
formal philosophy of language" is systematically ignored in Journal of Philosophy, one of the H4 journals. While I have never been excited about this tradition, I agree with Brian that this is really "unfortunate." For, the tradition is a fundamental aspect of the development of analytical philosophy not in the least in the Low Countries. I offer two observations about Brian's approach, one friendly and one very critical. First, Brian's analysis of the exclusion of the tradition cannot be explained away by the phenomenon of H4-citation-delay (recall here, here, and here). The classic papers that are not being cited in Jphil were all published more than a decade ago (two of which outside H4). So, we're dealing here with a situation of editorial bias (tacit or explicit, possibly self-reinforcing, etc.) against a certain approach. This means that if you would peruse JPhil monthly (as I used to do religiously in graduate school), you would really miss an important trend in contemporary analytical philosophy.
During the past week I engaged in a polemic with Prof. Williamson (here, here, and here). Along the way I claimed that "in his piece Williamson is scathing of Dummett and the kind of philosophy promoted by Dummett." In a patient series of letters, Professor Richard Heck has convinced me that I am certainly wrong to claim that "Williamson is scathing of Dummett." In his piece, Williamson makes a clear distinction between Dummett's position and the community of those that followed him: "Dummett’s posing of the issue between realism and anti-realism provides a case
study of an occasion
when the philosophical community was offered a new way of
gaining theoretical control over notoriously elusive issues... The community spurned the opportunity, if that is what it
So, I apologize to Prof. Williamson and our readers for claiming otherwise.
I had also thought that Williamson held Dummett responsible (in the manner, say, of Socrates's responsibility for some of the vices of his students) for the follies and intellectual vices (stereotypically associated with 'continental' philosophy [about which more below]) of those that followed the "opportunity" Dummett had created (note, for example, the qualifying "if that is what it was.") So, for example, after commenting on Dummett's willingness to give up on the law of excluded middle, Williamson added: "When law and order break down, the result is not freedom or anarchy but the capricious tyranny of petty feuding warlords." (17) I took Williamson to be blaming Dummett for the bad consequences. (This is compatible, of course, with Williamson admiring Dummett in lots of other ways.) After my exchange with Heck, I am less confident about my interpretation, especially because Williamson is -- to quote Heck -- "fully aware of Dummett's efforts at answering the question "which principles of logic are supposed to carry authority.""
During the last few days I have been rather critical of Timothy Williamson's dismissive-ness toward most of the rest of us and his inability to accept honest disagreement as a potentially intrinsic feature of philosophy (here and here). Now, amidst Williamson's (2006) kvetching about debased standards he does offer a positive proposal worth reflecting on:
But when philosophy is not disciplined by semantics, it
must be disciplined by something else: syntax, logic, common sense,
imaginary examples, the findings of other disciplines (mathematics,
physics, biology, psychology, history, ...) or the aesthetic evaluation
of theories (elegance, simplicity, ...). Indeed, philosophy subject to
only one of those disciplines is liable to become severely distorted:
several are needed simultaneously. To be ‘disciplined’ by X here is not
simply to pay lip-service to X; it is to make a systematic conscious
effort to conform to the deliverances of X, where such conformity is at
least somewhat easier to recognize than is the answer to the original
philosophical question. Of course, each form of philosophical discipline
is itself contested by some philosophers. But that is no reason to
produce work that is not properly disciplined by anything. It may be a
reason to welcome methodological diversity in philosophy: if different
groups in philosophy give different relative weights to various sources
of discipline, we can compare the long-run results of the rival ways of
Williamson's final paragraph begins: "In making these comments, it is
hard not to feel like the headmaster of a minor public school at speech
day, telling everyone to pull their socks up after a particularly bad
term". I cannot speak for the participants at the conference, but my own
reaction to being compared to a wayward British schoolboy was: So who
died and made you headmaster?--Tim Maudlin
I much prefer searching self-criticism than kicking the outsider. So, I was about to start really liking Williamson. But it turns out, Williamson is not above kicking down. For the very same passage continues: "within the analytic tradition many philosophers use arguments only to the extent that most ‘continental’ philosophers do: some kind of inferential movement is observ able, but it lacks the clear articulation into premises and conclusion and the explicitness about the form of the inference that much good philosophy achieves." (11) Okay, so the point is: most analytical philosophers think they are superior in philosophical virtue to continental philosophers, but they are as bad as the legitimately despised continental philosophers. Yes, in context Williamson says he is deploying "crude stereotypes," but he is not disowning the stereotype about continental philosophy! (Cf. "Much even of analytic philosophy moves too fast in its haste to reach the sexy bits." (15; emphasis added--ES)) The main point of Williamson's piece is to double-down on the stereotypical virtues of analytical philosophy: "precision" and "rigour" (15), and to do so in opposition to the despised 'other.' In fact, the un-argued hostility toward Kant, which I noticed yesterday, is a trope in Williamson: "if we aim to be rigorous, we cannot expect to sound like Heraclitus, or even Kant: we have to sacrifice
the stereotype of depth." (15; logically that allows Kant to rigerous, of course, but if you sound like Kant, etc...) [Doubling-down is not the whole story, but about that more tomorrow.]
The usual stories about the history of twentieth-century philosophy fail to fit much of the liveliest, exactest, and most creative achievements of the final third of that century: the revival of metaphysical theorizing, realist in spirit, often speculative, often commonsensical, associated with Saul Kripke, David Lewis, Kit Fine, Peter van Inwagen, David Armstrong, and many others: work that has, to cite just one example, made it anachronistic to dismiss essentialism as anachronistic. On the traditional grand narrative schemes in the history of philosophy, this activity must be a throwback to pre-Kantian metaphysics. It ought not to be happening; but it is. Many of those who practice it happily acknowledge its continuity with traditional metaphysics; appeals to the authority of Kant, or history, ring hollow, for they are unbacked by any argument that withstood the test of recent time.--Timothy Williamson (2004).
Philosophy is not easy.
Judging where 'we' are 'in' philosophy's development is also not easy. The twenty-year data-set (1993-2013) deployed by Healy (here and here) cover much of my time in philosophy. My progress through the discipline (Tufts BA, Chicago PhD, Wesleyan, WashU) meant that until I arrived at Syracuse in 2005, I was oblivious about the dominance of David Lewis. Obviously, I had read some Kripke and Lewis along the way; if my memory doesn't deceive me, Van Inwagen had visited Tufts to give a lecture, and, while I found him impressive, I had thought Dennett had gotten the better of the exchange. Ever since 2005 I have been playing catch-up on recent metaphysics (which I adore). I have been taking comfort from the fact that around the same time even Brian Leiter missed how significant Lewis's legacy was radically reshaping philosophy. For Lewis and the "wave of "old-fashioned" metaphysical theorizing," (Leiter: 6) he inspired is, in fact, a very minor presence in Leiter's entertaining volume (2004) The Future For Philosophy, from which I quoted Williamson above (recall my post, and Mohan's).
Spotting self-serving narrative is easier. Here's a formula: when folk that pride themselves on "logical rigour and semantic sophistication," (Williamson: 128) trot out metaphors ("the test of recent time"), you have a good chance of being served disciplinary-boundary-engendering myth. Above Williamson implies that somehow (Kantian) arguments against metaphysics were shown wanting (by argument). Williamson does not even provide a pro forma reference to an authoritative place where metaphysics was made safe from Kantian criticism. Given that it would be surprising if the Wykeham Professor of Logic were merely bluffing, I welcome suggestions from readers that can direct me to the appropriate place where I can find a decisive refutation of transcendental idealism (say, as reformulated by Langton or Allison).
Yesterday Roberta Millstein (HERE) raised the question of why the H4 journals (Nous, Journal of Philosophy, Philosophical Review, and Mind) have such a central place in the pantheon of analytic philosophy. While I am convinced by her that it is misleading at best to refer to these as "generalist journals," I am not convinced that this should undermine their centrality.
I think that any journal in analytic philosophy with the H4 level of centrality will of necessity privilege Language, Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Mind. This is because if ones philosophical practice presupposes (independent of whether one takes the presupposition to be true as a philosophical proposition!) a strong distinction between form and content, then following asymmetry holds.
All areas of philosophy will have to make linguistic, epistemic, conceptual, and metaphysical presuppositions relevant to the truth of their claims. But if form is independent of content in certain ways, this dependency is asymmetric. For example, aesthetic presuppositions might render a philosophical paper more or less fun to read, but would not be relevant to the truth of the claims (it's not anti-symmetric, because the paper might be on the metaphysics of beauty).
So LEMM is "core analytic" precisely because all analytic philosophy is asymmetrically dependent upon it.
I should note that at the end of the day I don't think that form and content are seperable in the way I presuppose that they are in the way I conduct my research. However, I think that the false presupposition is a necessary fiction for the proper unfolding of the dialectic (or rather that there need to be institutions in science (Fichtean sense of "science" here) generally where much of the work makes the presupposition).
This is also why I am not looking for some kind of Hegelian synthesis between analytic and continental philosophy (even though there is massive overlap with respect to individual works; see this related post, for what I take to be distinctive of continental philosophy as a practice), but still think that that we must learn from one another. But this is the subject for other posts. Here I just wanted to defend the centrality of LEMM to analytic philosophy.
For sake of clarity and accuracy, we should really call this sociological phenomenon "Party Line Continentalism" since what it actually picks out is a political effort to enforce a certain philosophical orthodoxy, namely, that which arises from a conception of philosophy and its methods that is largely fixed by Heideggerian phenomenology and developments in mostly French philosophy that involve reactions to Heidegger (such as Derrida, but not only him).
Readers of Ferry and Renault's La Pensée 68 (translated into English as French Philosophy of the Sixties: An Essay on Anti-Humanism) will recognize this immediately. Ferry and Renault characterize each soixante-huitard as "Heidegger +" someone else (e.g. Foucault is "Heidegger + Nietzsche," Bourdieu is "Heidegger + Marx," and Derrida is "Heidegger + Derrida's style"), and like Leiter describe it in conspiratorial terms.
I have no idea how fair Ferry and Renault were. What's more relevant here is that their book came out during the Reagen administration! And, no matter how you voted back then, basic fairness should lead you to admit that quite a bit has changed.
In particular, since many of the other Baby Boomer culture wars seem to be winding down with the forces of truth and beauty winning, can we please just do the same with this one?
I'm very serious.
One thing Adrian Johnston and I have in common is that we were both undergraduates at the University of Texas during the enviable time when the Iowa metaphysicians (Herbert Hochberg, Edwin Allaire) and Sellarsians (in particular, Johanna Seibt, who taught a class on Hegel's Phenomenology while I was there) had an excellent rapproachment with continental philosophers such as Douglas Kellner, Kelly Oliver, Kathleen Higgens, Lewis Mackie, and Robert Solomon. This spirit of rapproachment at least set the tone for the undergraduates and graduate students there at the time. Even though U.T. is still a great department, for those of us that germinated in that enviornment (especially Mackie's grad. students after he died), it was somewhat traumatic as the academic versions of the late eighties culture wars proved to be so destructive to the pluralism that in part made the place such a fertile place to think (Kellner touches on it in this interview).
With respect to Leiter's fervent efforts to keep alive the Ferry-Renault critique, I should just say that as an analytic philosopher (there are symbols in my papers) who has been to one SPEP and two continental conferences now, I call shenanigans.
In the discussion yesterday either of this post or this one, I noted that no less than three sessions at SPEP that I went to last year involved non-trivial discussion of Sellars and McDowell. I also linked to this cool talk about Sellars by Ray Brassier.
I should have noted that Graham Priest, David Lewis, Bertrand Russell, and Kurt Goedel were discussed in other sessions that I attended.
Though the topic yesterday was Zabala's penchant for making weird essentialist claims about analytic philosophy, one should realize that what he's doing is just the flip side of making weird essentialist claims about continental philosophy. If Zabala's dismissal of analytic philosophy were widely held by continental philosophers, then Brian Leiter's incessant polemic about "SPEP style continental philosophy" would have at least some point other than justifying the selection of rankers for the PGR.*
Really exciting things are going on in continental metaphysics. Consider the lineup in this issue: Lee Braver, Levi Bryant, Graham Harman, Eileen A. Joy, Adam Kotsko, Christopher Norris, Jon Roffe, Daniel Sacileto, (fellow newappser) Jeffery A. Bell, Manuel Delanda, Markus Gabriel, Peter Gratton, Adrian Johnston, Paul Livingston, John Mullarky, and Dylan Trigg.
I saw Adrian Johnston present his eleven theses at Notre Dame a few weeks ago, and the two hour presentation/discussion felt like it went by in fifteen minutes. I"ll be enthusiastically reading and teaching his work for years to come. Here he is at right on Lacan and John McDowell. It's dynamite stuff.