Sunday, 13 February 2011

A Question for Anyone With an Answer to Share

Is it necessarily a good thing that analytic philosophy often does away with the idea of studying the work of one philosopher (with the exception of Kant, who is not explicitly analytic anyway) and instead lays the focus purely on "philosophy of x"? When I saw that we were working through Frege's systematisation of language and not just doing "philosophy of language" I felt more inclined and motivated to do it whilst seeing it along with its origins of a man at a time and a place. I feel it enables seeing the philosophy in its proper significance, not seeing it as an ever-present "thing" alongside other things in the world, but as a relation to things grounded in a historic way of being (which in its historicity must be rethought in terms of modes of being which are possible today). What do you think?


  1. It is often a calm and serene antidote to the continental tradition of inserting one's writing arm into a long dead corpse and, in the manner of an expert ventriloquist, espousing one's own ideas.

  2. Misunderstandings. It might be true that "continental philosophy" does focus on a particular set of texts during phases of growth and development - but to insist that this amounts to ventriloquism and unoriginality is a very unreasonable claim.

    One of the most plainly evident features of the "contintental" tradition (I use these terms lightly) is its insistence on historicity - a virtue which is not shared by analytic philosophy. Work is interpretive, not plagiarised. Look at Heidegger's readings of Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Kant - far from being a restatement of old ideas. They are understood from new perspectives, acessed from previously unavailable paths, and grounded once again by a person at a time and a place.

    Heidegger's work stands as a radical re-placement of emphasis in the Husserlian method of phenomenology. Husserl himself applied the fundamental tenets of empirical psychology (Brentano) to philosophy and thereby created phenomenology. Heidegger himself continually reinterpreted his own work in light of the findings of past investigation (the hermeneutic circle).

    You might also look at people like John MacQuarrie, a theologist and existentialist who certainly cannot be said to be holding Kierkegaard, Heidegger or Nietzsche up and pointing to them as though they were his own views. Again, much of his commentary is informed by his background in theology.

    It's a bit of a tired old stereotype made by analytic philosophers that continental philosophy is a bunch of people saying the same thing. A cursory glance at the history of the tradition would show any reasonable person a different picture. Continental philosophy is, as a generalisation, less concerned with rationality and more concerned with description and historic interpretation. To charge continental philosophy with unoriginality on this basis would lead one to the absurd conclusion that analytic philosophers are similarly stuffing their hands up Frege's arse, and have been for the last century.