Analytic Philosophy’s Fire Alarm

Santiago Zabala in the Columbia University Press blog:

S zabala photo by a letiziaAnyone who questions or raises doubts over analytic philosophy’s role or significance today indirectly pulls a fire alarm in our framed democracies, our culture, and our universities. The doubter will immediately be attacked theoretically, academically, and probably also personally. This has happened to me (and many other continental philosophers) on several occasions. It does not bother me at all. It’s just a pity things are this way. The books, essays, and articles that set off the alarm are not meant to dismiss analytic philosophy but simply to remind everyone it’s not the only way to philosophize. My concern is educational (given the prevalence of analytic programs in universities), political (given its imperialistic approach), and also professional (for the little space given to continental philosophers in academia). The point is that we are not even allowed to generalize or be ironic, an essential component of philosophy as Gianni Vattimo andSlavoj Zizek show in their practice.

The problem is not that John Searle was honored by George W. Bush in 2004 (with a National Humanities Medal) or that the research of other analytic philosophers is often funded by government grants but rather that these grants are not always distributed among other traditions. After all, philosophers are not supposed to simply analyze concepts in their university offices but also to engage with the political, economic, and cultural environments that surrounds them, as Judith Butler, Peter Sloterdijk, and Simon Critchley have done so well for years.

Sure, one must defend one’s philosophical position, but it’s not a matter of truth or honor. In philosophy and the humanities in general it has never been about being correct or on the right side of history but rather interpreting differently in order for the “conversation to continue,” as Richard Rorty used to say. This conversation is probably also what drove another great American philosopher, Arthur Danto, to stress the “value of letting go.” After all, “philosophical disagreement,” he said, “is not so important” because the “important thing is to be able to start over again someplace else.”

More here.