Analytic vs. continental philosophy

P.D. has a generally right-on comment (The great divide) on Piccinini’s response to Brian Leiter’s claim that the analytic-vs.-continental “divide” in philosophy is no longer useful.  His wrap says it just right:

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.

I’ve said many times that the “split” is an artifact of history, and that even in terms of lineage, the analytic and continental “traditions” both spring forth from the Descartes-to-Kant issues about the mind and the world, filtered through a Fregean set of concerns about intentionality.  As a philosophy of psychology guy with a leaning toward ecological psychology who also teaches phenomenology as a secondary interest, this should surprise no one. 

But all this spurs me to recount an anecdote from about 15 years ago.  I’d just joined my current department, and my new colleagues were doing the usual taking-to-lunch and the like.  One of my older (and since retired) colleagues took me to lunch, and in a way clearly intended to be welcoming and honorific, he said how pleased he was that the department had hired an “analytic” philosopher.  I responded by noting that I not only taught the upper-undergrad-to-early-graduate survey course on phenomenology, focusing on Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty, but I also didn’t consider myself an “analytic” philosopher in that I didn’t embrace the methodological device of “conceptual analysis” or anything very close to it.  He balked slightly, and then said “Oh, you know what I mean” — which, in context, clearly meant “you know, I meant you give arguments, and aren’t just full of bullshit and intentional obfuscation”.  Because that’s what “continental” philosophy meant to him.

And it wasn’t just a generational thing.  I recall a colleague from a nearby college who was a good 10 years my academic junior insisting on several occasions that I was just bullshitting when I declined to embrace the “analytic philosopher” label and offered the same sorts of reasons.  But again, when push came to shove, it was all grounded in the idea that commitment to some ideals of good reasons and arguments for your position was what really divided “our” tribe from “theirs”.

The tribes are all that really remains.  And I don’t like tribalism.

07. October 2007 by Ron
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