Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Why This Blog?

Recent discussions over at the Leiter blog have focused on issues of pluralism, and the question of whether there are really methodologies and approaches to philosophy that both differ from the standard, mainstream analytic ones and are worth taking seriously. Discussion there tends to be a bit one sided, but one issue that comes up over and over is the question of whether we can really define methodologies. Those who want to claim that analytic departments are frequently already pluralist departments, without the need for any continental input, tend to argue along the following lines: we cannot clearly define what the analytic style or approach to philosophy is. Therefore, it makes no sense to speak of styles opposed to the analytic one, since it makes no sense to speak of not-x unless we have some identifiable x. There is also difficulty in defining the supposedly different styles, and Leiter has claimed that of the legitimate candidates for these, phenomenology is somehow moribund, while Foucauldian and Critical Theory approaches have very few competent practitioners. While all of these claims are questionable, the implication is that the only viable approach to philosophy is that taken by mainstream analytics. Furthermore, this is not a definable style, but just the best way of doing philosophy: it emphasizes clarity and argument, and what could be better than that!

But there are different approaches, though it is crucial to point out that difference does not imply opposition: while one cannot work simultaneously in two styles, one can both address the works of one style within another, and attempt to blend the styles into a new approach. The fact that both the analytic approach and the other approaches are hard to define doesn’t mean that these approaches don’t differ. The best way into the question is not to try to clearly define these approaches, but simply to read the output of their practitioners. A Heidegger or a Gadamer simply does not write like a Quine or a Davidson, and though they may sometimes address similar questions, the approaches to those questions can differ in important ways. If one wants a definition of Heidegger’s approach laid out clearly in the terminology and style of the analytic approach, one is looking for something incoherent, which is why Leiter’s suggestion that continental philosophers should have to justify their methods before there is any reason to take them seriously is a merely rhetorical device. The conclusion to draw is not that since we cannot define any continental styles, this must mean that there are none; it is that understanding those styles requires an engagement with them.

While views on this issue differ, our experience is that analytic and continental philosophers are not, overall, either opposed or hostile to each other’s approaches. More frequently, there is simply a lack of knowledge about methodologies and approaches that are not one’s own. This is understandable. Someone who works on Heidegger can easily get away with not reading van Inwagen, just as someone whose primary interests lie in utilitarianism will probably need to read Moore, but will not suffer professionally for lack of knowledge of Levinas. But this doesn’t mean that a familiarity with both sides will not make for more interesting styles and approaches, and limiting oneself to a single methodology simply out of an ungrounded belief that the others are incoherent places unnecessary limits on philosophical thought. This is the issue we hope to address here.

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