One of the reasons for starting this blog was to have my own venue in which to participate in the discussion on the relation of “analytic” and “continental” philosophy that pops up now and again on the web. For example, this post by Keith DeRose at Certain Doubts, in which, although joining late (#81), I ask people not to conflate “postmodernism” (defined as a concern with “floating signifiers,” the “free play of meaning” or some such) with “continental philosophy” or even with “contemporary French philosophy.” Or this post by Brian Leiter on “Styles of Philosophy,” in which I agree with Leiter that one cannot conceptually define “continental philosophy”(= “CP”) or (“analytic philosophy” [ = “AP”] for that matter), but in which I suggest we might be able to talk about the sociological reality of the two camps in terms of different hiring and citation networks.
There’s a nuance here that needs to be treated in further detail, and on which I plan to post in the near future, but I think we can distinguish – NB: using citation networks rather than a conceptual distinction – “analytic continental philosophy” [= “ACP”] as those works on continental figures which cite people belonging to the analytic network (e.g., Mike Wheeler's excellent book on Heidegger and cognitive science, Reconstructing the Cognitive World [MIT, 2005]) and “continental continental philosophy [= “CCP”] as those works on continental figures citing people belonging to the continental network (e.g., Reiner Schürmann’s superb book, Heidegger on Being and Acting [Indiana, 1987]). Both books are on Heidegger, but if we define “continental philosophy” solely by means of work on continental figures, then we’d have to say Mike Wheeler is a continental philosopher, and that seems to be something that neither Wheeler nor many others would accept.
I’m planning a series of posts on these topics, but thought I’d introduce them with some autobiography for the following reason. While I think we can establish the synchronic co-existence of two fairly distinct hiring and citation networks, I think it’s important to stress at the outset that, at least as far as the citation network goes, there is some opportunity for exchange, which I’ll detail below the fold. But you can also look diachronically at how people enter these networks, that is, how they become either analytic or continental philosophers by incorporating a set of beliefs / desires / tastes / emotional triggers, and so on, about what constitutes “good” or “bad” philosophy, or at least, “the sort of thing our people do.” We needn’t get too far into anthropology / sociology here (I do though really like the statement attributed to Bourdieu: “we should do an anthropology of ourselves and a sociology of others”), but I think this process is better described in terms of initiation or acculturation than it is in terms of rational deliberation. I don’t know about you, but I certainly never had equal exposure to both analytic and continental philosophy in my undergraduate training, and my decision to pursue continental philosophy training at the graduate level can’t really be said to be the result of rational deliberation as to the relative merits of the two fields. One – CP – just felt right to me – I knew enough about it to know that it was a challenge I wanted to take up; the other – AP – was largely terra incognita. I suspect it’s the other way around for those who ended up in AP, but I’d be happy to hear from others with different experiences.
I recommend this autobiographical exercise to all my philosophical colleagues who want to think about the relation of AP and CP. Specifically, I’m asking people who want to think about the relation of AP and CP to remember back to their undergraduate days, or even a little before. When I do that, here's what I come up with.
I was 13 in 1968 and ever since that year of assassinations
and riots, left-wing politics seemed a matter of life and death, a point that
was reinforced when I registered for the Selective Service in 1973, when I
turned 18. The Vietnam era draft was winding down, but they still had a lottery
that year, even though they weren’t actually drafting people. My number was in
the 300s, so I was safe, but I never lost the impression of “the system’s”
claim on my body!
Like many other middle-class kids from suburban
Philadelphia, I went to Penn State. I ended up doing a few majors before spending
a few years in the late 70s studying Physical Education. I love sports, so the part
about learning how to be a coach or gym teacher wasn’t painful, but I was
aiming at a PhD in what they were just beginning to call “Kinesiology,” so what
really turned me on was Anatomy, Physiology, Exercise Physiology, Biomechanics
and so on. So when the PSU Phys Ed department wouldn’t let me arrange an
internship in Cardiac Rehabilitation, but instead wanted to force me into an
internship as a high school gym teacher, I took a leave of absence to think
things over. And during that time, I picked up Plato’s Republic, which I remembered from an Intro to Philosophy course. I
was hooked, especially by the treatment of the body: the erotic component of philosophical
training; the training of the guardians; the discussion of desire, appetite,
spirit, all of it.
So I found myself wanting to study philosophy. In going back
to school in 1979 at age 24 I switched majors for the last time and began
taking philosophy courses. My teachers at the time were Stanley Rosen, Joseph
Kockelmans, Alphonso Lingis, Emily Grosholz, and Joseph Flay (later, in getting
my MA at Penn State, I worked with Irene Harvey). Unbeknownst to me, I had
stumbled upon one of the few centers of continental philosophy in the country!
In other words, if I had been an undergraduate at Pitt, I might have become an
analytic philosopher. You see, I didn’t decide I wanted to become a continental
philosopher. At the time I had no idea of the distinction between AP and CP. I
just wanted to read philosophy, and I fell under the spell of these charismatic
teachers and the incredible world of philosophy to which they introduced me. Again,
I have the impression that everyone has a similar story: it’s not that you sit
down and survey the field of philosophy and using your first-hand knowledge of
the various fields, you pick the best one. No, it’s that one day you find
themselves hooked by the type of philosophy that your teachers do.
So there I was, reading Plato with Rosen, Hegel with Flay, Kant, Husserl and Heidegger with Kockelmans, Derrida with Harvey, and Deleuze and others with Lingis. I went on to Loyola Chicago to study with John Sallis, with whom I read Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida. Tom Sheehan (more Heidegger, as well as Artistotle) was another big influence on me, as well as David Ingram (Frankfurt School), Paul Davies (Blanchot and Foucault), Robert Bernasconi, who gave a visiting course on Levinas, and Adriaan Peperzek, who arrived only in my last year (1990). My dissertation was on Heidegger and Derrida’s treatments of Aristotle’s theory of time; it was directed by Sallis (currently at Boston College), and the examining committee included Charles Scott of Vanderbilt, and Davies, currently at Sussex.
So there I was, a few years later, happily doing Heidegger
and Derrida’s take on the history of philosophy. I published a heavily modified
version of my dissertation asTime and
Exteriority (Bucknell UP, 1994). A variety of accidents, and the good
friendship of my graduate school colleague, Miguel de Beistegui, who nominated
me for the award, resulted in me becoming Leverhulme Research Fellow in the Department of
Philosophy at the University of Warwick in 1995-1996. There I underwent two
transformations: I met some very interesting guys (Nick Land, Keith Ansell
Pearson, Alistair Welchman) and so read Deleuze for the first time with regard
to his treatment of science and complexity theory (thus reading Manuel DeLanda
and Brian Massumi), and I started reading some analytic philosophy of science
and mathematics, thanks to the reading group at Warwick led by Greg Hunt and
This was a big turning point. I had been vaguely
dissatisfied with the way Heideggerians and Derrideans weren’t really that
interested in science, and I wasn’t thrilled with Heidegger’s politics, to put
it mildly. But I loved what they did with the history of philosophy. But suddenly
here with Deleuze there was a chance to do science, politics, and the history
of philosophy all together! This part of my career resulted in my second book, Political Physics: Deleuze, Derrida and the
Body Politic, (London: Athlone
Press, 2001) and Deleuze and
Geophilosophy (Edinburgh UP, 2004), co-authored with a professional
geographer, Mark Bonta.
But there’s another biographical accident that has also shaped
by career. One of my wife’s best friends is Amy Cohen, who is the widow of
Francisco Varela. Through Amy I had the chance to meet Francisco twice, and
even got to translate some of his work. It was reading Francisco’s work that
got me hooked on cognitive science, where my work is heading at present.
As an example of the porous borders of citation networks, which
I mention above in the third paragraph, look at the way analytically-trained people
in the embodied-embedded mind or situated cognition schools read Merleau-Ponty
and Heidegger (e.g., Alva Noe, Mike Wheeler, Andy Clark, and others), and phenomenologists
are reading cognitive science and analytic philosophy of mind (e.g., Shaun
Gallagher, Dan Zahavi). In my own contribution, I hope to nudge things in this
field in the direction of Deleuze and the secondary work on Deleuze. As that
work is at present solidly in the CCP network I guess you’d say I’m looking for
an ACP / CCP merger, at least insofar as work on cognitive science goes.
Finally, there’s one last biographical accident that has
made this last move possible. In the micropolitics of North American philosophy
departments someone working on Deleuze is seen as a “continental” philosopher
and so is lumped together with phenomenologists and post-phenomenologists
(Heideggerians, Levinasians, Derrideans, etc.) and expected to vote with them on hiring and
tenure decisions, curriculum construction, examination questions, and all the
daily politics that go on in academic departments. Working in a French
department, I’m free of all that, and hence free to pursue the Deleuze and cognitive
science connection. In doing so, I find myself actually having more in common
with “analytic” philosophers as far as my research goes.
The point of this narrative is not just to share with you the fascinating details of my professional life, but to offer a concrete example of how we become the philosophers we are: not by rational deliberation, but by biographical accident. What kind of philosophy is done at your big state university, where you were studying some other subject? What friends do you make along the way, and to whom do they introduce you? How do these experiences fit with the evolution of your intellectual, political, and personal commitment? How does all this interact with the hiring and citation networks into which you find yourself introduced?
I’d be happy to hear from others about their experiences in becoming the philosopher you are. I’ve got many MBs here at this blog, so don’t be afraid to respond in some detail.