1 Analytic and Conversational Philosophy
How to distinguish the two camps
How to pigeonhole philosophers: look at their bookshelvesContinental: books by and on Hegel and HeideggerAnalytical: books by and on Davidson and Rawls3rdgroup: ambidextrous: about 10%DerridaandWittgensteinFoucaultandCristineKorsgaard
Why so few ambidextrous philosophers?
There’s only so much time for graduate students to get jobsIn most European countries students must read a lot of intellectual historyJob interview questions:What do you think about Hobbes versus Machiavelli?Why does Nietzsche prefer Sophocles over Socrates?It’s bad if he shows a blank face
You don’t need to know all that history
In Anglophone countries it is ok to show a blank face for such questionsBut not re the latest articles inJournal of Philosophy,Phil Quarterly, PhilReviewOnly after getting tenure does she have the time to studyFor the analytic: Kierkegaard as well asKripkeFor the continental: David Lewis as well as Schelling
Why worry about this split?
It has always been the caseIn the 1930s Germans did not study the FrenchBrunschvicgIn Italy everyone knew Croce’s book on Hegel, but not DeweyIn the US … neither of these were importantStudents at Harvard read different books than students at ColumbiaThe same is true of the study of literatureNational literatures predominateIf you are in an Anglophone country you are not expected to know French literature
Philosophers are supposed to be constantly questioning their presuppositionsBut the truth is thatif your teachers at Michigan say Derrida is a charlatanor if your teachers inTuebingenregard formal semantics as a mystification and cogscia boondogglethese opinions are likely to stay with you for the rest of your lifeAnd so you will have a vague contempt for Continentalphilor sneer at analytical philosophy
Why the hostility?
The analytic-continental split is a conspicuous example of academic parochialismwhich is normal and mostly inevitableBut why the hostility, thecontempthere?And not in the difference between astrophysics and physical chemistryOr between Italian and German literatureWhy is this not a matter of different specialties of a single discipline, philosophy?
“They are free-loaders”
Behind this split are different accountsof what philosophy is good forof philosophy’s place in culturedifferent self-images of philosophyAnd so each side suspects the other side to be free-loadingof taking advantage of the prestige of the discipline of philosophywhile betraying its true nature and function indulgence in intellectual vice
Mere intellectual history
Biggest difference is in self-imageAnalyticalsconceive philosophy on the model of the natural sciencesAnd so continental philosophy seems to them to be “mere intellectual history”
Kicking up the dust
But tocontinentals (in Spain, Japan, Poland, and Brazil) theanalytical articles inNous, Mind, J. of Philseems to bebombinationin a pseudo-scientificvacuumThe miscellaneous group of issues under the heading of “metaphysics andepistemology” seems to be“kicking up the dust and then complaining that they cannot see.” (Berkeley)These “core areas of philosophy” seemirrelevant to the interests that initially drew them to philosophy
Ismetaphilosophydistinct from philosophy?
This “metaphilosophical” differenceIs philosophy like science?Or is it intellectual history?might seem at first to be a separate questiondistinct from the “basic issues of philosophy” about the nature of knowledge, truth, and meaningBut these are integrally related issues
Conceptual analysisor description of uses of words
What are concepts?1) simply uses of words?and so no different from how ordinary people understand them2) entities capable of being understood by philosophers better than the vulgar grasp themSo that “intellectual confusion” is eliminatedAnd “clarity” is achieveddebate over whetherphilosophy engages in “conceptual analysis”or is it merely the description of usages,and perhaps recommendations for changing these uses
Was Wittgenstein right?
Was Wittgenstein right?to give up on a systematic theory of meaning which he defended in his early workWas Quine right?to hold that the notion of “meaning” is a holdover from Aristotelian essentialismIf they were rightand there is no such thing as a meaning different from the uses of wordshow preserve the notion that “intellectual clarity” can be the goal of philosophy?
Conceptual or empirical?
Philosophers have rejectedthe analytical/synthetic distinctionWillardVanOrmanQuine, "Two Dogmas ofEmpiricism“ (1951)the language/fact distinctionWittgenstein’sPhilosophical InvestigationsIf they are right,how continue to defend the notion that philosophy investigates“conceptual” issuesrather than “empirical” onesIf that’s not possible, what other way is there to “put philosophy on the secure path of a science”?
Are concepts different from words?
Does the content of an assertion varyfrom one utterer to another?from one audience to another?Or does something remain invariable?i.e., the concepts behind the wordsIf the latter is truethen there could be conceptual entities with intrinsic propertiesthat philosophical analysis could pin down
Or are concepts like persons?
Otherwise concepts are like personsneverquite the sametwicealways developing, alwaysmaturingYou can change a concept by changing the usagebut you can never get a concept right once and for allTreating concepts as like persons is central bothto Hegel’s thoughtand to pragmatism
RobertBrandomargues thatthe content of a sentence is in constant fluxand this is not a problemInferences from sentences are always up for grabsbecause individuals and communities are always revising their patterns of behaviorThere are no inherent meanings in the structure of languageAnd so “knowledge,” “morality,” “justice” have no permanent structuresthat a philosopher could discernbut that the vulgar may not have noticed
What does “Republican” mean (to you)?
#2: “A word— “dog,” “stupid,” “Republican,”—has a different significance in my mouth than it does in yours,because and insofar as what follows from its being applicable,its consequences of application,differ for me,in virtue of my differentcollateral beliefs…” (Brandom)
What is the history of philosophy all about?
Analyticalview of the history of philosophya continuing examination of the same data that Plato and Aristotle consideredre knowledge, morality, mind, justice …with the hope of finallygetting it rightAnalytical view of the continental viewof those who think there are no such stable entities as concepts or meaningsthey are reducing concepts or meanings tomere conversation
Rorty: I accept that description for me:but without the “mere”Philosophers are just adding to the conversation, contributing to the cultureby suggesting changes in the uses of wordsenlarging our repertoire of individual and cultural self-descriptionsThe goal of philosophy: contributing to cultural progressnot finding outwhat something is really likebut helping us to grow up: to be freer, happier, more flexible
Shifting the focus
Example of this:Let’s stop talking about “analytic” versus “continental”Instead let’s use the words “analytic” and “conversational”This change of usage of words shifts the focusfrom what we need to read to get a degree and a jobto whether there isanythinga philosopher can get right
Where is the consensus?
When is “getting it right” appropriate?Only when everyone interested in the topic draws the same inferences from the same assertionsThis only happens when there is consensusabout the aim of inquiry in the areaabout when a problem can be pinned downso that everyone is clear about what it would take to solve itThis happens in areas where common sense provides such consensus“Is it raining out?”
Do genes exist?
But also in expert cultures, there is consensus aboutwhen a gene has been locatedwhen a chemical compound is analyzed into its componentswhen a theorem is provedRelevant referring expressions are used:“gene,” “element,” “proof”and there is general agreement aboutwhat exists(genes, elements …)Shared confidence in the existence of a certain sort of entityis integral to the consensus on the utility of certain referring expressions
Hungry generations treading each other down
But analytical philosophy has never been an expert cultureThere has never been long-term, near-universal consensusThe dissertations of full professors look merely quaint to their studentsThe strongest argument in favor of conversational philosophy:Hungry analytical generations treading each other downThere’s a 200 year history of professionalized philosophywhich hasneverachieved consensusRorty’sproposal:Instead of “let’s get it right,”substitute “let’s try something different.”
Bracketing common sense and expert culture
Define philosophy: What is left over after bracketingcommon senseand the various expert culturesWhenever philosophy has attempted to be an expert culture it has degeneratedinto scholasticisminto controversies which are of no use to anyone outside the profession
The university system versus (non-expert) culture
The attempt to make philosophy and literary criticism into an expertculture results fromsqueezing these areas of cultureinto a university system tailored to the needs of lawyers, doctors, and natural scientistsE.g., departmentsof literature require a book for tenureThe fastest way to do this is to learn a theory and then apply it to a literary textHence the popularity of “literary theory”
In philosophy departments, tenure requires contributing to currently fashionable controversies “unprofitable hack work”In both fields, the good people do what they have to do to get tenure,and then find something more relevant to the interests that brought them to the field in the first place
Philosophy rests on impatience
Are there “naturalexplananda”?i.e., topics of concern for any reflective mind in any era and in any societyIf not, then what areKant, Hegel, Wittgenstein, Austin,orBrandomdoing?Not metaphysics, or epistemology or semanticsunderstood as getting reality or knowledge or meaning rightBut expressing impatience with a familiar mind-setand attempting to entrench a new vocabulary using old words in new ways
Kant insisted on the irreducibility of the subject-object distinctionHegel was impatient with this vocabularyand proposed a wholesaleredescriptionof knowledge, of moral and intellectual progressand a whole range of other thingsgiving the old words new Hegelian senses
Philosophers and their opponents
The later Wittgenstein was impatient with his earlierTractatusAnd the philosophical mind-set this shared with Moore and RussellAustin trashed Ayer and his colleaguesfor trying to save British empiricism
It’s getting boring
Brandomis not sayingeverybodyhas been getting it wrong,andnow I am getting it rightButrepresentationalistaccounts of semantic contenthave become familiarand the problems they raise increasingly tediousSo let’s try aninferentialistaccount insteadAnd see if things go better
Robert BoyceBrandom(born March 13, 1950)isan American philosopher who teaches at the University of Pittsburgh. He works primarily in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and philosophical logic, and his work manifests both systematic and historical interests in these topics. His work has presented "arguably the first fully systematic and technically rigorous attempt to explain the meaning of linguistic items in terms of their socially norm-governed use ('meaning as use', to cite theWittgensteinianslogan), thereby also giving a non-representationalistaccount of the intentionality of thought and the rationality of action as well.“Brandomis broadly considered to be part of the American pragmatist tradition in philosophy.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Brandom
Let’s talk Hegelian
How read Hegel’sPhenomenology of SpiritOr Wittgenstein’sPhilosophical Investigations,or J. L. Austin’sSense andSensibiliaDon’t ask: do they get something right?But, would it help to start talking that way?
The analytic-continental divideis primarily geographic and sociologicalThe analytic-conversational distinctionis about different philosophical self-imagesbased on different meta-philosophical attitudesThese are both cause and effect ofanswers one gives to first order questions,such as the nature of concepts
Historicism and professional deformation
Rortyprefers philosophers who are historicistwho think of themselves as taking part in a conversationrather than as practicing a quasi-scientific disciplineHe is dubious about analytical philosophersbecause they assume that the problems they discussed in graduate school are important for that very reasonAnd so they evaluate other philosophers, past and presentby their relevance to their work on those problemsprofessionaldeformationThis is more damaging than any similar phenomena one finds among the conversational philosophers
Why is there a rough correlation between geography and self-image?Conversational philosophy is more popular in countries in which Hegel is a required textIt is less popular in countries where candidates for jobs in philosophy can afford to look blank when Hegel is mentionedi.e., in countries where Hegel’shistoricismis looked at withsuspicion
[But why is Hegel prominent in the Continent?]Because he is German?Because …Recall earlier divide: Empiricism v. RationalismBut why this division?]
The sequence Descartes to Kant
Skipping Hegel means stopping with Kantwith Kant’s idea that there are permanent structures of thoughtor consciousness, or rationality, or language, or somethingwhich philosophers can revealAnd about which the vulgar can be confusedHence, foranalyticals, proper philosophy isthe sequence Descartes-to-KantThe sequence Hegel-Nietzsche-Heidegger is an unfortunate departure from the true pathand can be safely neglected
The sequence Hegelto Nietzsche to Heidegger
Philosophers who spend a lot of time with this sequence are sympathetic to Hegel’s idea:“philosophy is its time held in thought”They are sympathetic to the idea that philosophy makes progressnot by solving problemsbut by replacing old problems with new ones
Cultural events and philosophical change
Conversationalistphilosophers believe that philosophy cannot ceaseas long as there is cultural changeAs long as the arts, the sciences, politics come up with new thingsthat the old words in the old ways don’t happily describe
Concepts and Events
New philosophical thought that is not scholastic was created byevents:the rediscovery of the texts of Aristotle in the 12th-13thcenturiesThe emergence ofcorpuscularianmechanics in the 17thcenturyThe French revolution of the 18thcenturyEvolutionary biology of the 19thcenturyThe nineteenth century novelTwo world wars in Europe in the 20thcentury
Such conversationalist historicist philosophers are not sympathetic toWittgenstein’s goal of “complete clarity”“For the clarity we are aiming at is complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophical problems shouldcompletelydisappear.” (Philosophical Investigations, #133)I.e., an unproblematic grasp ofthe way things really areThey will be suspicious of Wittgenstein’s goal of replacing non-sense with senseBut instead will favor replacingsensible and coherent use of certain termswith something even better
Sympathetic to these ideas
Such sympathizers of Hegel will be sympathetic tosocial constructivist ideasthe idea that questions about the existence of kinds of objects boil down to questions about the utility of certain referring expressionsthe idea that philosophy makes progress by imaginative leaps performed by individuals of genius (and not by teamwork)
RecallPrado on this topic—post-modernistconstructivism as extremist subjectivismButRortyis not saying that it is all subjective or relative,butthat certain new uses of words are better, more interesting, more useful (his pragmatism) than the old onesIssue:=development, progress in the history of philosophy (Hegel),orperiodic “paradigm shifts” (Kuhn) that are notnecessarily progressive]?
Lovers of truth versus free spirits
The analytic/conversational description avoids the previous divisions:Foranalyticals: betweenthose who love truth and reason carefully worked out andargued (themselves)and those who prefer dramatic effects and rhetoricaltriumphs (those Continental philosophers)Forconversationals: betweenFree spirits (themselves)And unimaginative clods (those analytical philosophers)
Plato’s idea: philosophy can be like math
It is a split between different ways of thinking about the human situationas deep as that between religious and secular outlooksThe split began when Hegel challenged Kant’s version of Plato’s ideathat philosophy could be like mathematicsoffering conclusive demonstrations of truths about structural features of human lifeInstead of summaries of how humans have been living their lives so far
Cutting reality at its joints
Foranalyticals, Plato was rightto postulate a permanent ahistorical matrix for thoughtto carve nature at its jointswith its distinctions betweenKnowledge and opinionReality and appearanceReason and passionLogic and rhetoricreal universals "cut nature at its joints" (Phaedrus265d-266a).
SocratesInthese chance utterances were involved two principles, the essence of which it would be gratifying to learn, if art could teach it.PhaedrusWhat principles?
SocratesThat of perceiving and bringing together in one idea the scattered particulars,thatone may make clear by definition the particular thing which he wishes to explain;justas now, in speaking of Love, we said what he is and defined it, whether well or ill.Certainlyby this means the discourse acquired clearness and consistency.
PhaedrusAnd what is the other principle, Socrates?SocratesThat of dividing things again by classes, where the natural joints are, and not trying to break any part, after the manner of a bad carver.
Other such distinctions:Mind-bodySubjective-objectiveTranscendental-empiricalRealist-antirealistRepresentationalist-inferentialistKantian-HegelianAnalytical-conversationalistForconversationalist neo-Hegeliansthese distinctions are temporary expedients that will someday become obsolete
A thing is what it is
Hegelians think progress is madeby blurring old distinctionsThis is systematically done inThe Phenomenology of SpiritNeo-Kantians (analyticals) approve Bishop Butler’s maxim“a thing is what it is and no other thing”[logical principle of identity][Directed against British neo-Hegelians, who say that things are what they are only in relation to other things, to the totality of things, and not by themselves]Neo-Hegelian(conversationalist)relationalism[not relativism] or holism:Athing is what it is by virtue of its relation to everything elseJust as a word has its use by virtue of the uses of all other words of the languageAnd all such relations are in constant flux
Those who distrust holism
Most who describe themselves as working within the analytic traditiondeeply distrust holismthough some, likeBrandom, support this approachBut also German philosophers who publish in pro-analytical journalsThey see the conversational approach as pointing away from a scientific philosophyThey see philosophical professionalism as requiringsome form of atomismsome method and subject-matter that supports cutting things at the joints
Continentals who want to get it right
But there are those who do not identify with analytical philosophy who also want to get things rightE.g., transcendental phenomenology of Husserl path of science for philosophyHeideggerianswho see “the ontological difference” as rightDerrida’s “différance” gets things righti.e., an over-arching ahistorical framework of human existenceThe Anglophones have just been looking for it in the wrong places
We neo-Hegelians prefer to describe Heidegger or Derridaas offering imaginative neologismsthat help us hold our time in thoughtWe don’t worry about which academic department should take responsibility forHegelFreudHeideggerNietzscheDerrida
Looking for company in other departments
We seek out the company of others whooften findthesethinkers to be ofinterest, includingintellectual historiansand students of literatureNot because humanities offers truth and natural sciences do notbut because the study of the history of philosophyleads to situating that history into a larger historical context
History and natural science
The history of algebraic topology or of molecular biology does not require such historical contextualizationunlike the history of philosophy or the novelThe neo-Kantians think one can be a well-trained philosopherwithout any particular knowledge of literary or political historyBut we neo-Hegelians disagree
The thing in itself
We do not think the value of a philosopher’s work liesin its relation to the thing itselfbut rather in its relation to the work of other philosophersJust as the value of philosophy itself liesnot in its relation to a subject matterbut in its relation to the conversation of humankind
Referentially opaque contexts in semantic theory
Hence the value of this bookNeo-Kantians want to get away from meta-philosophyand “get down todoingsome philosophy”But for us neo-Hegelians meta-philosophy is a respectable way of doing philosophyas good as, e.g. of an analytical issue, discussing how to give referentially opaque contexts their place in a semantic theory
"Mary believes that Cicero is a great orator" gives rise to an opaque context; although Cicero was also called 'Tully', we can't simply substitute 'Tully' for 'Cicero' in this context ("Mary believes that Tully is a great orator") and guarantee the same truth value, for Mary might not know that the names 'Tully' and 'Cicero' refer to one and the same thing. Of course, if Mary does believe that Cicero is a great orator, then there is a sense in which Mary believes that Tully is a great orator, even if she does not know that 'Tully' and 'Cicero'corefer. It is the sense forced on us by "direct reference" theories of proper names, i.e. those that maintain that the meaning of a proper name just is its referent.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opaque_contextSee Quine,From a Logical Point of Viewand Prado, Chapter 6)
Why does it matter?
Why does this latter issuematter? why the founders of analytic philosophy wanted what they wantedNeo-Kantians think just introducing this issue is a good start to doing good philosophyNeo-Hegelians think that students who have never reflected on what a semantic theory might be good forare undesirablyunconversableAnd their dissertations will have very short half-livesto be ignored, or mocked by the next generation
The worldwide triumph of analytical philosophy?
Perhaps one day one of these approaches will triumphbut this is hard to imaginebecause they are dialectically intertwinedeach living the death of the otherTo study philosophy today is to take sidesby instinctor after reflectionOnly a “soullessPecksniff” will be indifferent to the choice[See Dickens,MartinChuzzlewit]
Holding our time in thought
These distinctions:Rorty’sattempt to hold his time in thoughtMaybe the world will change, but not because one of these sides triumphsBut because something new will come along and count as philosophy like the revolution of the 17thcenturyBy 1700 the quarrels of the 14thcentury interested no oneThe Dominicans who supported AristotleV. the Franciscans who supported AugustineThen this book will seem boringBut until then it will be very useful