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May 01, 2007


Jon Cogburn

When I was at University of Texas I studied Derrida with Lewis Mackie, Critical Theory with Douglas Kellner, and Existentialism with a variety of people (I took five years to get the degree, and took lots of classes in these areas, some of them at the graduate level). While I loved Mackie's classes, after a couple of years I got really fed up with all things Derridean. The brighter grad students just seemed to be marshalling really unfunny puns in the service of unearthing the same a-poria over and over again. It seemed, and still does seem to me, like a useless enterprise.

During that period I took philosophy of language with Martinich and decided for myself that what was right in Derrida's philosophy of language could be found in Putnam, Quine, and Davidson without the horrible puns. Moreover, the secondary literature on these people was refreshingly critical, whereas I found almost all the secondary continental literature on Derrida to either ridiculously hagiographic, or really bad attempts to ape Derrida's (what should be sui generis) style. Maybe this has changed by now. I don't know. I also got really irritated by the incessant trope of "close reading" and "re-thinking" in continental philosophy, which in every case I was exposed to ended up being an excuse to not take into account all of the relevant literature on a subject (e.g. John Sallis having the gall in print to insinuate that a century of Plato scholars have (unlike him) not been reading Plato carefully, many of these scholars I've met and who, unlike Sallis, can quote astounding chunks of dialogues in the original as well as huge chunks of the surviving commentary in a variety of languages from the hellenistic period onwards). If you are, for example "rethinking responsibility" and you have enough institutional chutzpah to get away with this, you don't have to take into account anybody's thoughts about responsibility. Just subject the notion to some Derridan linguistic inversions and there you go (equally negative stuff about perhaps the majority of contemporary analytic philosophy below!).

While in undergraduate, I also started to study analytic political philosophy, and just didn't see *any* difference between the good stuff in that area and what continental philosophers in the critical theory tradition have been doing. So my experience was that if I didn't count the Derrideans, there was no substantive difference between analytic and continental philosophy.

So even though my first loves were Derrida through Mackie, Critical Theory, and Existentialism (and I still love all three!), I went to an analytic grad school- ending up doing philosophy of language and logic.

Since then I've been exposed to what might be considered Foucaultian tendencies in both analytic (my favorite living philosopher Mark Wilson, as well as Ian Hacking) and continental (your stuff and Chris Blakely's) philosophy, as well as an extremely important reading of the early Heidegger that does not culiminate in Derridean a-poria whoring, but rather leads through Merleau Ponty to plausible forms of "naive realism" in epistemology, and embodied cognition in the philosophy of mind. I think these two tendencies (the rise of Foucaultian naturalism and a roughly Heideggerian epistemology and philosophy of mind) are perhaps the most important things going on in philosophy today. In addition, starting in graduate school, as a result of taking a lot of linguistics classes, I've gotten increasingly dissatisfied with the a-prioristic methodology of most attempts to do metaphysics in the analytical tradition (particularly neo-Quineans who catastrophically confuse applied logical semantics with metaphysics, note: I hate this tendency far more than I do high church Derrideanism!).

So I think there is good and bad philosophy everywhere. Most philosophy (I include my own here) is just not that impressive. This is as it should be, we're in the same discipline as Kant. Analytical philosophy maybe has a slight edge because the dialectic created by the blind reviewed article system is a way for the vast majority of us who are not going to be Kant to still do something that is (arguably) useful. I find the lack of pretension to greatness refreshing and honest.

Based on my own limited study of previously famous philosophers and methodologies disappearing, I predict that most of the continental Derridean stuff as well as most of the analytic a prioristic metaphysical stuff will disappear from history. I also think this is as it should be. In a Foucaultian, Wilsonian, and Heideggerian (properly conceived) vein, philosophers will increasingly know more and more about the history of the relevant concepts, as well as more and more about cutting edge work in relevant contemporary fields. The work will have empirical friction, and not be a-prioristic. Thus, while the article system will win out, the analytical tendency to dismiss genuinely naturalistic inquiry as committing the genetic fallacy or being empirical and hence not philosophical, will die a much needed death. And following Michael Friedman's excellent work, I hope that our students will be reading both Carnap and Heidegger.

I realize I've said enough here to irritate just about everybody. Sorry about that. Contra yourself, in retrospect my decision still seems rational to me. I am a case of someone who had actually more exposure to continental than analytic as an undergraduate and decided to go to an analytic grad school (I didn't apply to any continental schools); I have not regretted the choice. Hoever, it must be noted that this is satisfaction is predicated on my very good luck at having colleagues with continental training like you and Chris Blakely.

John Protevi

Hi Jon, thanks very much for this. I don't think what you're saying entails this, but let me say here that I don't think that someone who has had early exposure to continental philosophy will alway pick CP!

A few other points: I never got into Derrida's philosophy of language; what I was into was using his concepts and something of his close reading strategy to read the history of philosophy. In doing so, I avoided at all costs the Derridean style of writing. As you say, in the hands of neophytes (and sometimes in his -- Derrida's -- hands as well) the result is utterly disastrous. And even with regard to D's method and not his style, as far as aporia-mongering goes -- at the risk of sounding like the characters from Stardust Memories who liked Woody Allen's "early, funnier work" -- I prefer the 1962-74 deconstruction period to the post-1990 aporia period.

I think what John Sallis does in Being and Logos is a modified Straussian gambit: what he criticizes is people not paying attention to the dramatic form of the dialogues and isolating arguments. We'd have to go back to 1975 to reconstruct the context, but if I recall correctly that would be the high point of using symbolic logic in reconstructing Platonic arguments, a movement that has come and gone for the most part, I think. Not wanting to go down that road then is different than just dismissing all other Plato scholars.

As there wasn't a lot on Aristotle from the CCP network, almost all the references to secondary work in Time and Exteriority are to standard scholars: Ackrill, Annas, Bostock, Broadie ... Gill, Kosman, Loux ... Owen, Witt (just to skip around in the alphabet). That's one of the problems with enforcing the boundaries of the citation networks: CP people miss out on a lot of great work!

You raise a very interesting point regarding books vs articles. Articles have the advantage of blind review, but books give you time and space to stretch out and develop various lines of attack. It may be that the rapacious pricing of science journals by Reed-Elsevier and Springer will so exhaust university library budgets that they simply stop buying humanities books, and CP will have to switch to (on-line) journals anyway!

Finally, let me say I completely agree with you that there's good and bad on both sides of the infamous "divide"!


When I was at Baylor the faculty didn't seem to make much of any distinction between "real philosophy" (i.e. analytic) and non-philosophy (continental). The general attitude of the department seemed to be that all these folks are important and we need to read them. It wasn't until I left Baylor and started a PhD program at SIU that the distinction became a worry and then it was mainly only a worry insofar as I knew I would have to contend with it in the job market.


I forgot to mention, my entire philosophical life has is point of departure in the following passage from MacIntyre's After Virtue:

"Contemporary moral experience as a consequence has a paradoxical character. For each of us is taught to see himself or herself as an autonomous moral agent; but each of us also becomes engaged by modes of practice, aesthetic or bureaucratic, which involve us in manipulative relationships with others. Seeing to protect the autonomy that we have learned to prize, we aspire ourselves not to be manipulated by others; seeking to incarnate our own principles and stand-point in the world of practice, we find no other way to do so expect by directing towards others those very manipulative modes of relationship which each of us aspires to resist in our own case" (p. 68).

That passage could have been written by a member of The Frankfurt School, Arendt, Foucault or any number of the other so-called continental philosophers concerned with the social impact of instrumental rationality and new forms of domination in contemporary life.


Coming from a Literature department I must say that I feel more comfortable reading "continental" rather than "analytical" philosophy. I think to some extent it is true that what "school" of philosophy (but not only what school, but also within that school which figures we read, which topics resonate with us, etc.) we find ourselves in is determined by contingent events as you point out. So I guess we can say that my coming from a literature department is the contingent event. But then again, there is that fact that I like the "continental" style of writing philosophy rather than the "analytical" one, which I guess leads me to ask: isn't there that difference? Isn't there that fact that philosophers from the two camps, as it were, write differently? Doesn't that contrast analytical and continental philosophy? It's also, it seems to me, not just the style of writing, but the way that philosophers from the two camps illustrate or prove their points. I haven't read all that much analytical philosophy (so I might be wrong), but it seems to be that a continental philosopher would often use, say, (like Deleuze with Borges and Proust) characters from literature to illustrate some point, while an analytical philosopher (like Rawls on the Law of Peoples where he makes up this country which seems to be Saudi Arabia but which he doesn't name) makes up an abstract example (like, "Say this person has this and that" rather than taking such person from a literary work). I'm trying to proceed cautiously here because I'm aware that these molarities ("a continental philosopher," "an analytical philosopher") don't apply to everyone we consider to belong in one camp or the other--hence we have the further ACP and CCP distinctions you make above. Still, isn't there that difference?

Related to this, I have read somewhere (and I don't know if there is a valid basis for this) that analytical philosophy models itself after (and as a?) science, making sure the arguments are airtight, hence the importance of logic. On the other hand, continental philosophy (or so the claim goes) concerns itself more with relevance, hence the paradoxes, "literary" truths rather than scientific truths . . . (I guess the model there is Heidegger?)

Having these differences in mind, I find myself saying (and this just because of how I am, not necessarily applicable to everyone), "I definitely want to do continental philosophy, not analytical." Given that determination, then, I definitely want to get into a grad program specializing on continental philosophy. I guess in that sense, it is somewhat a conscious choice. Then again (as with the intertwining of power and freedom in Foucault), that conscious choice is based on contingent facts in my life, like the fact that I started from literature, what kind of thinking appeals to me (due to influences in earlier schoolyears?), etc. I guess what I'm trying to say is: While I to think what kind of philosophy we end up doing relies on contingent facts, there may be some role for conscious choice as well. I don't know. Maybe I'm naively humanistic. But please continue with Part II of the post. I'm hooked . . . :-)

John Protevi

Hi Jon, this discussion shouldn't really be about John Sallis. I only mentioned him in the context of giving the names of all the people who played important roles in my "becoming the philosopher I am," because I thought some level of autobiographical detail was important in supporting my thesis that -- at least for me, and I suspect for many others, but perhaps not you -- our turning out to be analytic or continental philosophers has to do with contingent encounters more than with rational deliberation. I will just say that he's never struck me as "megalomaniacal" in this slightest in the 20 years of our knowing each other, and that, if we wanted to spend the time, I think I could show you true philosophical worth in his works, from Being and Logos onward.

The "empire of theory" in English departments: that's somewhat tangential to our topic, but I will admit that many people see CP through the lens of its reception in American university literature / cultural studies departments. That's a shame, I think. For philosophers, I'd say the reference points should be (in Derrida's case, since his is the most controversial) the works of Gasche and Lawlor rather than Norris and Culler.

Jon Cogburn

Yeah, sorry for ragging on Sallis.

I think that there is another interesting point here though. In my experience continental philosophers have more of an esprit de corps with one another, and are much less vicious in their criticism than analytic philosophers. I think this is good, in that it encourages more collaborative philosophy than analytic. I think that graduate education in continental programs can also be much better for this. My grad school encouraged so much perpetual confrontation that it produced people that are not humble in the way good philosophy demands (the above bloviations are probably evidence of this). In addition a lot of good philosophers that were not good at being confrontational got weeded out.

But I also think the esprit de corps of continental philosophy is bad in that it can hold back the dialectic. For example, Derrida repeatedly got away with impugning the motives of anybody who has the gall to criticize him (he did this several times, most prominantly in the De Man affair and to that poor guy who argued that Derrida got Husserl wrong in important respects). Name any famous analytic philosopher and probably at least 30% of analytic philosophers have a very negative view of most of that person's work. Analytic journals articles are overwhelmingly more likely contain substantial criticism of others work (this is the norm) than those in, for example, Continental Philosophy Review (which I think is an excellent journal).

Sociologically, I think this relative lack of critique in continental philosophy is a byproduct of suffering institutional oppression. Americans interested in 19th century philosophy, phenomenology, or social and political philosophy that actually has teeth have been at a severe hiring disadvantage in American philosophy departments for the last fifty years, one that is without justification and has also been very bad for the discipline of philosophy (I forget name the book about McCarthyism in this context, but I think it had some pretty valid points). I think this disadvantage produced the greater esprit de corps (I'm sorry if I mispelled that) that again is both bad and good.

I can tell nearly any analytic philosopher that I think most of what Quine wrote was crackpot (albeit the non-crackpot stuff was incredibly important) and nobody gets mad at me. We just talk about it. Unfortunately the history of marginalization of thinkers central to the continental tradition has made it very difficult for something similar to happen.

I think you see something similar in other oppressed communities, for example I've read that there is a norm among many African Americans that it is bad to criticize other African Americans in public, because any such criticism has fed into racism for so long. So a criticism of Derrida for being an asshole is just very likely to be read as typical unjustified marginalization of some of the most important philosophy from the preceding two centuries (in fact, such criticism by analytic philosophers is likely to be such!).

Does this seem at all plausible to you? I'm interested in this, so please correct me.

John Protevi

Hi Jon, I certainly agree that people in CCP can feel embattled / marginalized at times with respect to the AP establishment and somewhat paranoid that ACP is going to take the few good jobs at big schools that do open up for people working on CP figures.

I'm not sure that that results in less in-group criticism than in AP. We'd need ethnographic studies I guess. Sessions at SPEP meetings involve some amount of healthy criticism, I would say, but whether that's like the criticism you see at AP conferences, I just don't know.

As far as the worry about ACP, I think that's just silly. There's nothing wrong with people trained in CP learning enough AP to be able to talk with your colleagues. I take it to be a professional obligation. And insofar as the power dynamic in the profession tilts toward AP, it's just a pragmatic accommodation, whether or not people trained in AP reciprocate by learning some CP.

About Derrida and impugning motives, I think he was probably more sinned against than sinning. How many times was he called a "charlatan"? He was accused in the pages of the London Times of building his career on "semi-intelligible attacks upon the values of reason, truth, and scholarship." I take it this is impugning his motives. If he was overly harsh with some critics, I'd say we should cut him some slack.

The "McCarthy" book you mention is John McCumber's Time in the Ditch (Northwestern, 2001). It's important to realize that ALL McCumber is claiming there is to have presented a prima facie case for more investigation and more dialogue among philosophers in the US on the history of our profession. He is NOT claiming to have presented a slam-dunk case or the definitive history of that period.

Shaun King

Dr. Protevi, you offered yourself as an example of how biographical accident rather than rational deliberation is responsible for the type of philosophers we become. I do not think you meant to imply that we do not rationally deliberate between options when our interest, emotional attachment, and focus are distributed equally between the alternatives. I do agree, though, that, for me, the important decisions between the differences I choose were not chosen as alternatives in the first place. I have my life as an example. Here goes…
I was raised in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist – Biblical Creationism, literal resurrection, literal rapture, literal millennial reign (all literal ignorance). My father was an argumentative man and I wanted to defend the Bible against the worst the world had to offer. I began to read C.S. Lewis’ books on Christian apology in college but as I used him to trivialize Hume and Kant he was making me interested in Plato and Aristotle (C.S. Lewis loved Augustine so Platonism was never too far away). Also, Lewis was making me uneasy with my fundamentalist beliefs – Lewis was metaphorical around the edges (no literal creationism, no rapture, and no millennial reign). However un-Christian this may sound - I originally wanted to major in political science because I thought it would help me go to law school and I wanted a law degree because I wanted to help kids who got a bunch of speeding tickets like me to get off without increased insurance (what a virtue motivation right?). Luckily there was a political theorist at my college who taught a close reading of Plato’s Republic, the Laws, Aristotle’s Nic. Ethics, and Politics. I started wanting to go to graduate school and study political theory. I asked that professor which school I should apply to, he said LSU in part because he worked at LSU in the 70s and was vaguely familiar with the quality of the department.
My parents decided to divorce as I ended college, and surprisingly, one of the main reasons they divorced is the growing differences between them on how to interpret the Bible. I tried to negotiate their claims. I could not. I felt like God betrayed me I wanted a new way to see God I found Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity where theology is anthropology. I was grasping for a new foundation and the philosopher Michael Ruse’s books Darwin and Design and The Evolution-Creation Struggle and Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and Consciousness Explained were helping. I read Nietzsche who added sweet polemics (among other things) to a newly avowed atheist.
Right before I came to LSU I was searching the internet for anything about philosophy that was multimedia. I came across someone I’d never heard – John Searle. I downloaded his 12 lectures he gave on introducing Philosophy of Mind. Once at LSU I felt I wanted to write my thesis on Searle, but what about? I needed a better background in Phil. Of Mind so I talked to Cogburn about some options, he told me Protevi and I have some similar interests. I proposed to the latter a syllabus with Heidegger and Michael Wheeler’s book Reconstructing the Cognitive World (by the way, I came across Wheeler’s book by chance in a store, was interested, and then I worked my way back to Heidegger). Protevi introduced me to Dreyfus and since that reading course with Protevi I set aside Searle (who I was reading diligently prior to Wheeler-Dreyfus-Heidegger).
The most random occurrence, yet most defining feature of my current readings is how I came across Richard Rorty. No one ever said a word about Rorty to me, I had no clue, I picked up a book that was a collection of interviews of his over the years and I was shocked at how diverse his interests were. He bought together a lot for me – he was personal friends with Dennett, published on Heidegger, was an early proponent in the philosophy of mind of ‘eliminative materialism before shifting and helping to revive American pragmatism (which I knew nothing about). He was a critic of Searle for 2 decades. He also caused a storm in political theory with many weighing in against him. After I committed myself to studying ALL of Rorty’s works (which means I need to learn more about Quine, Sellars, and Davidson to name a few) Searle published his essay “Social Ontology and Political Power” which is his first extension of his previous writings onto contemporary social contract theory (e.g. Rawlsian). The paper I’m preparing for the McGill Conference for September is titled “Avenues of Political Power: Richard Rorty and John Searle.” What I find ironic about this paper I’m writing is the way Rorty and Searle came into my life was not in relation to other writers I was previously aware of, it was by chance. Lots of what they said fit with some other things I was reading and interested in, but their role in philosophy would be meaningless without the luck that created the conditions for reason-giving choices about what I felt important to study and how I could effectively appropriate them into my narration of where philosophy came from and where it was going. To repeat, I do not think, Dr. Protevi, you meant to imply that we do not rationally deliberate between options when our interest, emotional attachment, and focus are distributed equally between the alternatives. I would agree that the important decisions between the differences I choose were not chosen as alternatives in the first place. Their appearance as candidates of our interest are luck’s sexy way of keeping us occupied until we die.
I have nothing insightful to say about the Analytic/Continental divide. But Rorty might, since he has written about it for years, in future posts on this topic, what little contributions I give will be to try and inject whatever relevance Rorty has to say about the divide.

John Protevi

Hi Shaun, thanks for your nuance, which I accept. I was just calling into question the idea that most people have made a serious enough study in undergraduate days of AP and CP to rationally deliberate the choice of specialization between the two. I wasn't calling into question the idea of rational deliberation per se. (I might or might not want to in some other context, but that's another story.)

Thanks for your story too. The only thing I might say is that given your interests at this time there was a certain window of opportunity within which Rorty would appeal to you. So finding a book of his at the exact time and place you did was contingent, but given what you're studying now, there was a good probability that someone would have mentioned Rorty, or that you would have seen his name in print, and that you would start reading him. Or maybe you had already seen or heard his name but that your current reading had primed you so that the time you saw that book you picked up, you were receptive to it.

Ryan, you have raised a lot of issues: "style" is certainly a vexed issue in discussing AP / CP. I'll have to write a post about it in this series. Also, that AP models itself on science is a common idea. We can see something like this in idea of daily practice: the article vs book preference, for one thing, or the (hyper?)-specialization of research interests. These might be relatively uncontroversial, but other claims (about the status of the results of AP: are they like scientific claims?) would have to be much more carefully treated.

About CP as modeled on literature: I'd definitely say no, that CP is philosophy. It's clearly what all the great CP figures say they're doing. The trick is to figure out what conception of philosophy do they have? How does it relate to the conception of philosophy other philosophers have had and currently have? The meta-question, "What is Philosophy?" is perennially popular, ever since Plato. So we'd have a long story to tell there.

But since answering the question "What is Philosophy?" is itself a philosophical task, the way in which you answer it betrays your brand of philosophical practice. Do you isolate the necessary and sufficient conditions for belonging to the set of philosophy? Do you try to establish a family resemblance among philosophical practices? Do you construct a thick genealogical description of the history of philosophy?

John McCumber

While I agree with John (Protevi)’s opening point that one’s self-identification as analytical or continental is heavily path-dependent, like Jon (Cogburn) I believe that explicit choice, and criteria beyond the facts of networking, can have a role. I went in the opposite direction from Jon—from analytical to continental. What may be interesting is that my reasons didn’t change: the same things that made me identify as analytical 30 years ago now make me identify as continental.
What I have always demanded of philosophy is twofold: clarity and rigor. Rigor because that’s what philosophy is; clarity because it is democratic. In the Sixties, these traits were exemplified by analytical philosophy, in the wake of A. J. Ayer. As an undergraduate, I saw myself as a sort of combination of Moore and Carnap. I kept asking everyone exactly what they meant, and was rarely satisfied unless it was something verifiable. (At least I was bright enough not to make verification into a “principle”!) But it was the Sixties, and the world was falling apart. Analytical philosophers were going on about sense-data and second order issues in ethics; social philosophy was nonexistent in the United States until Rawls’ book in 1971.
So I set out to gain more content for philosophy by reading non-analysts and bringing their insights up to analytical standards of clarity and rigor. It never occurred to me to define “non-analyst” as “continental.” I went to the University of Toronto, where I could study the whole sweep of philosophy’s history from the Greeks through the Medievals to Kant and on to Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger. The degree I eventually got was in “Philosophy and Greek,” jointly awarded by philosophy and classics.
But my project ran into trouble because of Hegel. I had learned German—I have never seriously read Hegel in English—and it was soon apparent that he was, of all things, a careful writer. Much of his care, however, was directed to studied exploitations of ambiguities. I had learned that ambiguity is the enemy of thought, something to be eliminated from one’s reasoning as quickly and thoroughly as possible; but if I eliminated the ambiguities from Hegel, I was eliminating something substantial. What?
I will spare you the next twenty years or so. What I finally came up with, and explored in a couple of books, was that Hegel’s philosophy is not aimed at obtaining true sentences, beliefs, or propositions, but at something else entirely. This turns out to be a way of relating thought to the past without making the past into something virtually present, the way traditional truth-oriented discourse does. Similarly, after another couple of books, for Heidegger: he has a way of opening thought out to the future which does not reduce the future to a virtual present.
Meantime, something bad was happening to analytical philosophy. Its rigor largely disappeared into the a prioristic (i.e. dogmatic) logical metaphysics so articulately deplored by Jon. And I realized that unless it can take account of its own history, philosophy—like any other human enterprise—cannot possibly be clear. What is today called “analytical philosophy” is thus, in general. neither clear nor rigorous, but jargonistic and frankly, faith-based. (I don’t believe it should be called “analytical” at all and have another name for it, but that is for another time.)
So I call myself continental, because continental philosophy is philosophy which has developed a fuller set of methods and tools for thinking than has analytical—methods which allow it to be both clear and rigorous. To be sure, there is still a place for truth-oriented thinking such as analysts do; continentals like Derrida get into trouble when they try to dispense with it, an effort which itself has very deep historical roots (and is the subject of yet another book). So if postmodernism is continental, I am not continental; but if anyone who thinks something can be salvaged from postmodernism is continental, then I am continental.
And will remain.
Finally, since my McCarthy book has come up, let me say that John is entirely right: the aim was to ask some questions, not to prove a thesis. I state this very explicitly throughout the book, and that some analytical philosophers see the book as a failed effort to prove that Joe McCarthy is somehow responsible for analytical philosophy is testimony to their low reading skills and a degree of complacency that can only be called “immoral.” I expected the complacency; if American philosophers were moral people I would not have had to write the book, because the questions would already have been raised. The low reading skills, however, came as a surprise.
The question now is whether American philosophers, and not just analysts, are going to learn how to read and question themselves on new and deeper levels. Certainly the complacency is getting harder to maintain: George Reisch’s "How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science" shows in detail that my suspicions were only too right for one core area of analytical philosophy.

Jon Cogburn

Two brief things-

(1) Protevi's point about Derrida being sinned against is a really important one. Given how relentlessly and unjustifiedly demonized he was, it's a big surprise he wasn't crankier than he was. I think re Derrida there is a bigger issue of style. . . Maybe this is goofy, but I've always felt that it's harder to be a good literary writer than good philosopher (and perhaps equally hard to be great at either). Given this, most of us should work hard to be good philosophers. I tend to see philosophers like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Derrida, Heidegger, and Deleuze to posses sui generis styles that for them is an integral part of their philosophy. Very very few people can either philosophize as well as them, and perhaps none of us can utilize their style as effectively as them. So when in English Departments and amnong some philosophers "deconstruction" became a techinique (directly contradicting Derrida's repeated pleas!) that involved copying Derrida's style, I found this to be irritating. Likewise with some (though not by far most, at least in my limited exposure) high church Heideggerians.

The question of what our task is vis a vis stylistically idiosyncratic philosophers is clearly not one that we can resolve here. My paradigm has been the great work on Deleuze by Protevi, Delanda, etc. In these cases the ideas and theories are explicated, applied in novel ways, and revised where necessary.

My thought is that almost nobody is going to be a Deleuze or a Derrida or a Nietzsche, and that it is presumptious to try to write like them. I think that analaytic philosophers fistly don't realize that analytic philosophy has lots of sui generis and difficult writers (the good- Wilfrid Sellars, John McDowell, Michael Dummett, Crispin Wright; the bad- Jerry Fodor, and the ugly- Quine). And then since they've never gone to SPEP and don't even go to the continental talks at the APA they assume that all run of the mill continental philosophers have pretensions to greatness by aping Heidegger's style.

(2) It's really awesome that McCumber posted here. His dedication to philosophical clarity is manifest in your style. I found his book not only thought provoking but also an wonderful read. An Episcopal Bishop once said that nobody who has actually read the bible thinks it's inerrant. Nobody who's actually read "Time in the Ditch" (buy it!- http://www.amazon.com/Time-Ditch-American-Philosophy-McCarthy/dp/0810118092/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/102-8250735-0789712?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1178208346&sr=8-1 ) would take it to say that McCarthy created Analytic Philosophy.

(3) In light of McCumber's book, I need to retract something I said in my first post. It actually was not true that there was no substantive difference between the Critical Theory (Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Fromm, Habermas, etc.) tradition and the Rauls/Nozick etc. socio-political philosophy I learned as an undergraduate. In terms of clarity and rigor and depth (if we set aside Adorno, of whom I am a humoungous fan, and tend to think of as the deepest of the bunch) I think the two traditions are the same. This being said, at least when I was an undergraduate, with the possible exception of a few libertarians (also somewhat discriminated against), I didn't see in analytic philosophy any thoroughgoing social critic of the sort Doug Kellner was doing.

Sociologically and Historically, I think the a prioricity of much (not all, and not the best!) analytic philosophy has been to some extent a function of the fact that social and political philosophy with friction (in this case that actually explores the living conditions of humanity, and how power and ideology work to shape these), is going to have to include radical critiques as part of the dialectic.

(4) Finally, (and this is copied from my blog), I think the real division in philosophy now is between a prioristic and non-aprioristic approaches to philosophy, not between analytic and continental. I would make the division between naturalist/non-naturalist or materialist/non-materialist, but this is misleading, since many of the "naturalists" in analytical philosophy operates with an a prioristic, false conception of science that is a hangover from cartoon versions of logical positivism. I also think non-aprioristic philosophers can end up believing in supernatural entities (Popper's defense of substance dualism was in a book written with neuroscientist John Eccles).

This division runs across the analytic/continental divide. In analytic philosophy the a-priorists paradigmatically take philosophers to be in charge of what is conceivable and (for them) hence metaphysically possible. In continental philosophy the a-priorists paridigmatically take phenomenology to be in some sense prior to empirical science. Both operate as ideologies to defend armchair philosophizing and the resultant theories that kind of float in the clouds, lacking any empirical friction.

I don't think there is a principled divide between the empirical and conceptual, and hence think that philosophy that conceives of itself as non-empirical is mistaken at best.

Jon Cogburn

Three last brief things.

(1) Sorry for the abundant typos in the last post. (2) After some reflection I've decide that my Sallis bashing really was just a pretty generic instance something we need to get past. (a) If I remember right, I just read the guy when I was an undergraduate. What did I know then? (b) More importantly, so what if I don't get it! A lot of smart people of good will deeply value Sallis' contribution to philosophy. If I'd stuck to why I went to an analytic grad school that would have been fine, but I fell into the trap of trying too hard to rationally justify the decision. Lady Philosophy demands more humility from us! (3) The only reason I learned linguistics is that a mathematics class at OSU I wanted to take didn't make that quarter. I took Montague Grammar instead. So here is a case where, like with Sean, blind chance played a huge role.

Richard Moore

This looks like a fun and slightly narcissistic exercise, and since (in a somewhat narcissistic way) I guess my route is not entirely typical, I'll have a go.

I turned to philosophy for the particularly bad reason that, of the three subjects that I thought would make me interesting - art, music and philosophy - philosophy was the only one I thought I'd be really good at. I started at Birmingham, for no better reason than that I'd been rejected from Cambridge and wanted to live in a big city. But although that perhaps wasn't my best decision, it came with its bonuses. The main one of these was that during my third year I had the chance to do a lot of work with Greg McCulloch, whose combination of Wittgensteinian and Heideggerian ideas really caught my imagination.

By the time I graduated, I was sure that I wanted to continue to work on the Wittgenstein/Heidegger crossover, but I didn't want to stay at Birmingham and the other possibilities in England didn't look too atractive. Since I'd come to the conclusion that a lot of the really interesting ideas were ocming from "continental" philosophy, I'd decided I wanted to head somewhere where more of that was taught. My twin brother was at Warwick and I was jealous of a lot of the continental work he'd done. His being there meant that I couldn't/wouldn't go there myself. Nonetheless, I wanted to go somewhere where they studied unadulterated continental philosophy, since I figured there was more of interest there than the "analytic" philosophers were telling me about, and I didn't want to give up AP altogether. I looked for somewhere that I could do both, without any prejudices as to which was best.

I ended up at the Universiteit van Amsterdam, where I did an MA in Philosophy & Cultural Analysis. There I worked closely with Martin Stokhof, whose reputation was forged in formal logic but who knows a great deal about Wittgenstein, Davidson, Heidegger and Gadamer. I also studied Derrida with Hent de Vries and others, and during my first year Bert Dreyfus was visiting lecturer. I loved his work on Heideggerian philosophy of mind and started to take a real interest in embodied accounts of cognition. By then I was already writing my thesis on Platonism and Meaning in Wittgenstein and Derrida, but Dreyfus' Heidegger started to play a bigger role, particularly given my interest in the background against which linguistic understanding becomes possible.

At the same time, I was starting to appreciate the limitations of Phenomenology. If descriptions of the structures of experience were fundamental to all philosophical argument, how could one decide between the competing descriptions that seemed to underscore competing philosophical positions? I'd started to think empirical work would be important here but didn't really know where to start.

I got a big boost when, after graduating, I spent a term auditing classes at Berkeley, under the auspices of working with Dreyfus. There I sat in on seminars by Alva Noe, and was very excited by his use of empirical work to support his phenomenological arguments. Around the same time, I discovered Michael Tomasello's work, on Martin Stokhof's recommendation and after seeing him lecture in Amsterdam, and began to think about how this related to my interest in the background against which linguistic understanding becomes possible.

Knowing that I wanted to write on Wittgenstein and Heidegger and the background of linguistic understanding, I came to Warwick for my Ph.D., turning down Northwestern and Oxford (because I didn't want to be the only "continental" philosopher there). What attracted me here was the mixture of AP and CP and the use of empirical work inside the department. It didn't bother me too much that the AP and CP sides of the department didn't speak much (although this would come to be problematic later). My mind was made up after I read Michael Luntley's book on Wittgenstein and he agreed to supervise me.

By now I was reading a lot of empirical work, and upon arriving at Warwick, I went to see Susan Hurley, whose work I knew from Alva Noe's seminar at Berkeley. By then I had become very aware of the fact that my "analytic" philosophy was not in good shape. Amsterdam had been good for me, but the lack of seminars there (combined with the breadth of my own interests) had dulled me in comparison with other Ph.D. students. I know a bit about a lot, and that meant other people always knew more than me. I explained to Susan that my background was in Derrida and I knew very little about the philosophy of mind, but was interested in combining empirical and phenomenological insights. She read some of my work and - to my astonishment - asked to co-supervise me.

So here I am now: working on the background of linguistic understanding, using inights from Wittgenstein and Heidegger and empirical work on language-acquisition and autism to answer questions that first started to interest me when I realised how badly Derrida had answered them.

I'm happy here, but I'll add that it's been hard. In England I think there is a genuine sense in which (most but not all) "analytic" philosophers will take you seriously only if you show that you can do their stuff too. That's meant I've had to work really hard to bring my philosophy of mind up to scratch, and I'm still not there yet. My unusual background means that I still don't know much about a lot of very important analytic work, and this will continue to make some suspicious of me, I'm sure. At the same time, I know that my interests and background make me pretty unique. I'm not convinced that other people think that's a good thing, but I do.

John Protevi

Hi Richard, thanks for telling your story. I think your background, with both AP and CP, is very fruitful, though I acknowledge that not everyone thinks so. I'm working to get up to speed in phil o' mind as well, so I can relate. Anyway, I'm scheduled to talk at Warwick on November 28, so I look forward to meeting you, if you're in town that day and can come to the talk.

The Little Womedievalist

I'll sheepishly step forward and admit (as previous students of "Intro to Phil" are seldom willing to do) that the title of this blog entry rings an uncanny bell...

I seem to recall writing an essay (or journal entry?) some thirteen years ago that outlined the steps of becoming the philosopher that I would be. After an unholy humbling from Heidegger, a few quibbles with Quine, and an astounding [and wholly un-alliterative] argument with Aquinas (over intentio auctoris... long story...), I realized that "actualizing one's potential" was not actually an option.

Jesus, if I have a student that comes around 13 years later, I pray that I still have one of their ungodly essays hidden in a folder somewhere. We all need that occasional reminder that we, like our unlettered students, once wrote embarrassingly horrid papers for our profs...

(For the love of all things unholy, please tell me you threw away all Intro to Phil. journals as soon as they were written...)

Hope you are well,
The Little Womedievalist

John Protevi

Hi Little Womedievalist, don't worry. I can barely remember what I wrote 13 years ago, let alone student journals!

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