Bridging the Analytic-Continental Divide

0219Stone-blog480Gary Gutting in the NYT's Opinionator:

Many philosophers at leading American departments are specialists in metaphysics: the study of the most general aspects of reality such as being and time. The major work of one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger, is “Being and Time,” a profound study of these two topics. Nonetheless, hardly any of these American metaphysicians have paid serious attention to Heidegger’s book.

The standard explanation for this oddity is that the metaphysicians are analytic philosophers, whereas Heidegger is a continental philosopher. Although the two sorts of philosophers seldom read one another’s work, when they do, the results can be ugly. A famous debate between Jacques Derrida (continental) and John Searle (analytic) ended with Searle denouncing Derrida’s “obscurantism” and Derrida mocking Searle’s “superficiality.”

The distinction between analytic and continental philosophers seems odd, first of all, because it contrasts a geographical characterization (philosophy done on the European continent, particularly Germany and France) with a methodological one (philosophy done by analyzing concepts). It’s like, as Bernard Williams pointed out, dividing cars into four-wheel-drive and made-in-Japan. It becomes even odder when we realize that some of the founders of analytic philosophy (like Frege and Carnap) were Europeans, that many of the leading centers of “continental” philosophy are at American universities, and that many “analytic” philosophers have no interest in analyzing concepts.

Eric Schliesser over at New APPS has a response [h/t: Ben Wolfson]:

Gary Gutting is one of the most important and interesting intermediaries between continental philosophy and mainstream analytic philosophy. So, he is always worth taking seriously, but I am afraid that his recent New York Times Opinionator is marred by some self-serving rhetoric that prevents illumination on some very important philosophic issues. Against standard blog-rhetoric (where we normally land heaviest punches first), my criticism below will increase in severity and philosophic significance.

First, Gutting writes: “There is…a continuing demand for analytic expositions of major continental figures. It’s obvious why there is no corresponding market for, say, expositions of Quine, Rawls or Kripke in the idioms of Heidegger, Derrida or Deleuze.” In context, Gutting implies that the obvious answer is that Quine, Rawls, and Kripke write so clearly that no such exposition would be needed–they are accessible without intermediation. Now, after a recent reading group on Word & Object (with Dutch folk who are very good philosophers of science, but who had not been exposed to a standard Anglo undergraduate curriculum), I know for a fact this is not true of Quine, who — while being a beautiful and humorous stylist — is extremely opaque writer to people not steeped in his dialectic with Carnap (and lack of knowledge of set-theory). [Is there anybody that really thinks the argument of Two Dogmas is clear?]