The great divide

Sat 06 Oct 2007 09:09 PM

Brian Leiter has claimed that the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy, whatever its merits might have been forty years ago, is no longer useful. Gualtiero Piccinini responds, arguing that there is a real distinction and that it goes like this:

Analytic philosophy is a set of overlapping traditions whose founding fathers are Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Moore, whose exemplars include works by Carnap, Quine, and Kripke (among others), whose main sources of authority are logic, mathematics, and science, and whose core concerns include what there is and how we can know it.

Continental philosophy is a set of overlapping traditions whose founding fathers include Hegel, Nietzche, and especially Heidegger (or a subset thereof, depending on the specific sub-tradition), whose exemplars (besides Heidegger) include works by Gadamer, Foucault, and Derrida (among others), whose main sources of authority are art and hermeneutics, and whose main concerns include understanding "the human condition".

So Piccinini draws the distinction in three areas: founding fathers, sources of authority, and core concerns.

Founding fathers: For my own part, I see my work as continuing in the tradition of Thomas Reid, CS Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. The divide seems to miss all of my heroes.

Sources of authority: My work begins with a methodological presumption that science is mostly all right, but I am a philosopher of science. If your philosophy portrays actual science as altogether bankrupt, then it isn't a philosophy of science; it's just a philosophy that has dire consequences for science.

Philosophy of science as I see it has to make sense of the scientific enterprise as broadly successful. This does not mean that the claims of science must be taken at face value, nor does it mean that every specific instance of science must be deemed virtuous-- but science generally must be reckoned as OK.

This doesn't seem essentially anti-continental to me. Wouldn't Merleau-Ponty be on board?

Core concerns: My work is concerned with knowledge or at least with justified belief, but I think that it is a mischaracterization of the analytic tradition to say that it is concerned with what is and how we know it. The movements that are paradigmatically analytic didn't worry about being; rather, they worried about meaning. The linguistic turn was the great analytic stratagem, and I am not party to it.

On the other hand, Heidegger was not really concerned with the human condition. The brilliant existentialism was just a way of getting at his real concern: the problem of being. I don't pretend to understand it fully, but it does not fit into Piccinini's rubric.

In short, the analytic/continental distinction does not help me understand philosophy or my place in it. It neither clearly categorizes me nor illuminates those of my fellows that it does pigeon-hole. The distinction really only helps me understand the academic politics of philosophy in the twentieth century and, insofar as people are still carrying those banners, academic politics of today.


from: Greg

Tue 09 Oct 2007 09:38 AM

Hi PD --

I don't really know, but I would've thought that Quine (one of Gualitiero's 'exemplars') is not too far genealogically from Pierce and to a lesser degree Dewey. Quine was an American, and he did think that his break with Carnap over analyticity brought him closer to the pragmatic tradition, I think.

And I'm really out of my depth here, but I'm not sure about your Heidegger claim. He is interested in being (or rather Being) qua being, but his answer (according to my limited grasp of it) is pretty existential/ human-focused. If the only way we can understand Being is by understanding the human condition, then I hesistate to say that Heidegger was not concerned with the human condition. But I probably should not have written this paragraph, given how little I know about this stuff.