Rigor’s just another name for nothing left to lose: Or, Refutation through accurate summary

In the wake of Derrida’s death, Brian Leiter slandered Derrida as being a “bad man” who had had an entirely negative influence on the world and strongly implied that the rise of deconstruction in literature departments had something to do with the rise of Reaganism in American politics. Simon Critchley harshly denounced Leiter’s slander in print. At long last, Leiter has responded, with a lengthy preface slandering Critchley as a total intellectual lightweight with no grasp of philosophy, followed by what amounts to a “guilt by association” argument attempting to discredit Critchley–the “association” in this case being an association with Derrida. That is to say, having done scholarly work on Derrida is here taken as evidence that Critchley’s opinion of Derrida is worthless, since Derrida is intrinsically unworthy of such attention: to properly understand Derrida is to dismiss him. Along the way, we learn that continental philosophy does not exist and that Leiter is proud of his own work as editor of The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy, a volume full of rigorous, scholarly interventions into this non-existent field.

Obviously, Leiter has written a very bad post on virtually every level. My question here is whether it is structurally possible to respond to such a post (in the traditional sense of refuting claims and offering counterclaims). Or is the only possible response simply to repeat what is stated in the post and say something along the lines of “Obviously, Leiter has written a very bad post on virtually every level”?

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140 Responses to “Rigor’s just another name for nothing left to lose: Or, Refutation through accurate summary”

  1. scotterickaufman Says:

    I can’t comment on the substance of Leiter’s remarks at the moment, but I want to point this out: according to OUP, Leiter’s Handbook of Continental Philosophy is “the only accessible and authoritative guide to the continental traditions in philosophy.”

    Yet, he claims that Critchley is a “philosophical used car salesmen.” As a future (crosses fingers) English lit. scholar, well, I would hope the irony is apparent. Alas, I fear it ain’t.

  2. anonymous coward Says:

    He’s a pompous ass. That’s all. Read his stuff on Nietzsche — you’ll see exactly the calibre of thinker we’re dealing with here. He’s someone who has networked his ass off and become incredibly influential, but he’s also someone who has a pathetically narrow view of what constitutes ‘good philosophy.’ Perhaps his rabid, argumentative style has something to do with his legal training?

  3. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    These sorts of people (nerds who have made good) cannot be argued with. The only thing they have to live for is their belief in their own intellectual superiority to everyone else. So we can say that he is really not serious about this stuff since he has no intention on changing tact. Everything, and this is so common among Anglo-analytic philosophers, is already decided ahead of time. So, to answer your question, no there is no true way to respond to someone of this kind except how you have. Even though he would say you’ve presented no argument and are yourself an idiot who has wasted half his life reading Derrida.

  4. cynic librarian Says:

    Leiter should perhaps read a page from Anthony Kenny’s new series on the History of Philosphy. While it seems that the feud between Continetal and Analytic philosophy has bred many misunderstandings, Kenny admits in an interview that he found much more to Schopenhauer and Heidegger than he had when he started the series.

    Kenny seems to have the honesty to recognize that he doesn’t “understand” Heidegger but he does see that the latter was saying important things. I wonder whether Leiter and Kenny might not be enlightened by a reading of Tugendhat’s attempt to bring Analytic and Heideggerian philosophy together in Self-Consciousness and Self-Determination?

    In the context of your remarks, these comments assume that you can see Derrida as a radical descendant of Heidegger (taking his dekonstruktion to its logical limits) and Schopenhauer (via Nietzsche).

  5. Alex Says:

    Sigh to high heaven.

    Imagine this scenario. I am making an authority decision on Sam Kripke, no in merely his work, but on his life as a human individual. I’ve read some assessments that his work is great. I’ve read others that he severely misrepresents Wittgenstein, who is my favourite philosopher of all time. I’ve talked to some continental philosophers jokingly about just how analytic philosophy his book titles sound, but I have never read any of them. In fact, I think the term analytical philosophy is misguided – and if it includes philosophers as diverse as Rorty and Wittgenstein, thin. I can now apparently say he is shit, a bad person and be editor of a book on analytic philosophy. Well done me. Shabby stuff…

    Its classic argument ad Derridium – Derrida was stupid, you read Derrida, you are stupid, a stupid, stupid face.

    In part, the greatness of Analytical philosophy is always attempting to do its homework, logically or otherwise. This is not doing its homework. Even AC Grayling was a little more generous, and said he had actually read him, but thought it was nonsense, and offered a philosophical argument to why it was this way, which although a bad reading, at least hinted that he had engaged.

  6. Dave Belcher Says:

    Does anyone else get the feeling that the best way to win an argument these days is to just throw out some well-known but worthless epithet with no further explanation? “Oh, yeah, well you’re just nothin’ but a Scotist!” or “Well, perhaps if you stopped naturalizing the supernatural by way of your Ockhamist tendencies toward spatialization you wouldn’t end up with mere identity politics and liberalism.” These work well…the ones on the back row can snicker to themselves about how you’ve been one-upped by a superior thinker.

  7. Sam C Says:

    I don’t much like Leiter’s style either, but can I just point out:

    (In response to Adam) Leiter doesn’t claim that there is no such field of study as ‘continental philosophy’. He claims that it’s much more various than Critchley realises, hence the repeated use of ‘continental traditionS’. In particular, Leiter claims that: 1) Critchley’s characterisation of ‘the continental tradition’, as a series of attempts to overcome the dualisms of Kant’s third critique, is bollocks; and 2) Critchley is an ignorant, sloppy reader of texts in the various continental traditions. The first claim seems spot on to me; about the second, I have no view, having never read any of Critchley’s work. Have you?

    (In response to cynic librarian) Leiter has no need to take Kenny’s lesson, since he’s a scholar of continental philosophy (there’s a reason why he’s co-editor of the Oxford Handbook). He doesn’t remotely think that continental thought is worthless; he thinks that bullshit should be called, and that facile, incoherent readings of that thought should be recognised for what they are. Whether or not you find Leiter’s work useful, you should recognise that it’s serious, high-quality stuff, and that he knows what he’s talking about.

    (In general) For all his mouthiness, Leiter’s basic commitment is to intellectual seriousness and honest scholarship. He therefore gets irritated when people talk ignorant crap about things he knows about. I sympathise.

  8. Adam Says:

    Three cheers for the dissenting voice!

  9. Alex Says:

    Sam C

    I would like to think we are all committed to intellectual seriousness and honest scholarship. Scholars who consider themselves interested in continental philosophy (like me) even more so, since we need to cover our backs since we are consistently accused of being feeble minded and intellectual worthless. But it is because we get “when people talk ignorant crap about things he knows about” that we are bothered by Leiter’s statements. I am not a Derrida scholar but I do know a fair deal about him, but Adam is, so for him his problem is precisely this: making absurd statements regarding Derrida’s complicity in certain political events and events within the academy, as well as accusing him of being personally flawed. Considering he has not read Derrida where is precisely his commitment to serious scholarship? Critchley aside, surely this is the big problem?

    Regarding Chitchley’s own work, I have had a brush with it, and it seemed to be part of the post-Derrida/Levinas industry, and not particularly interesting, or clever as the best scholar in this field in my view Christopher Norris.

  10. Adam Says:

    Sam C,

    I met Critchley once, but haven’t read enough of his work to make a sweeping statement regarding its worth. Yet it does seem clear that he “knows about” Derrida, and so his riposte to Leiter reflects Critchley’s own irritation “when people talk ignorant crap about things he knows about.” Leiter is attempting to discredit Critchley indirectly as a scholar of “continental philosophy” (a field that Leiter rightly reminds us cannot be reduced to a unity), but what’s at issue is not “continental philosophy” in general, but Derrida! By Leiter’s own stated standards, it would be ridiculous to claim that a scholar of “continental philosophy” automatically knows Derrida, or automatically has a privileged ability to assess Derrida’s worth — a scholar of Derrida (which, as Leiter admits, Critchley is) is in a better position to assess Derrida than a scholar of Nietzsche is. And indeed, if Critchley’s statements about Kant and what followed are incorrect, then that’s just an example of him stepping outside his specialization — 20th Century French thought — just as Leiter’s remarks about Derrida are an example of Leiter stepping out of his own specialization. Those of us who know Derrida universally agree that Leiter’s remarks are uninformed and indeed slanderous.

    Leiter’s treatment of the term “continental philosophy” in his post is duplicitous — it is regarded as an irreducible plurality when doing so will provide ammunition against Critchley, but it is treated as a singularity when doing so will provide Leiter with leverage against Critchley. Surely a basic respect for the principles of reasoned argument would lead anyone — even those convinced that Derrida is a bad philosopher — to reject Leiter’s tactics here.

  11. Alex Says:

    PS By he has not read Derrida above I meant it in the sense that (as he chides Critchley for lack of reading around Nietzsche), he hasn’t read him in any detail or the scholarship surrounding him.

    Can’t edit these posts. Posting too fast = errors.

  12. larvalsubjects Says:

    What do you expect from someone who has consistently claimed that all the best work in Continental philosophy is done at institutions that are primarily Anglo-American in their orientation with only one or two continentally oriented faculty, and who doesn’t even include institutions such as Loyola, DePaul, Suny Stonebrook, Penn State, Villanova, etc., as leading programs in Continental philosophy in the Gourmet Report? Does Leiter himself really count as a Continental philosopher because he’s written a bit on Nietzsche?

    Anyway, here’s some criticism of how Leiter has ranked Continental programs:

    http://www.geocities.com/Athens/1575/report.html#leiter

  13. Adam Says:

    He doesn’t include Loyola? But they’re a pluralist school! Does their analytic side just suck too much in his opinion, or what?

  14. Dominic Says:

    Critchley vs Leiter? A pox on both those houses.

  15. Adam Says:

    But more of a pox on Leiter, surely! Perhaps smallpox, to Critchley’s chickenpox.

  16. Sam C Says:

    A scrappy post responding to various people, sorry (I’m busy catching up on Adam’s epic dust-up with John Holbo about Zizek):

    Alex: I wasn’t defending Leiter’s views on Derrida, I was responding to Adam’s critique of Leiter’s response to Critchley. About Derrida, I don’t really have any view – what little I’ve read seems weak and pretentious to me, but I can easily believe I’m wrong.

    Adam: Leiter’s assessment of Derrida is a moral assessment, so he’s as qualified as anyone else to call Derrida a shit. Again, I have no strong view about whether he’s right or not (when I saw Derrida speak he was charming and responsive, but not actually very interesting, and Tom Baldwin ran polite rings around him). Leiter’s assessment of Critchley, on the other hand, is scholarly and in his area of expertise, so I don’t see the inconsistency you’re trying to pin on him. I also don’t see the duplicity in Leiter’s use of ‘continental philosophy’ – he’s saying the same thing he says in the introduction to The Future for Philosophy and elsewhere: ‘The “Continental tradition”, then, is no tradition at all, but a series of partly overlapping philosophical developments that have in common primarily that they occurred mainly in Germany and France in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’. This means that glib generalisations will likely be rubbish, as Critchley’s is (although to be fair, it could work as a central narrative for a nice undergraduate course, and maybe that was all Critchley intended).

    larvalsubjects: On a fast reading, the linked ‘criticism’ amounts to ‘the Leiter report disagrees with these alternative rankings which I have just pulled out of my arse’. So what? ‘Does Leiter himself really count as a Continental philosopher because he’s written a bit on Nietzsche?’ – no, he counts as a scholar of continental philosophy, who’s written more than ‘a bit’ on his expertise.

    The fundamental disagreement here seems to be between those who think that there are two completely different ways of doing philosophy, ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’; and those who – like Leiter – think that there is only one way of doing decent argument and scholarship, and that some people conspicuously fail to live up to it. As already noted, Leiter’s combative persona (which is consistent across his web posts and his academic writing) often irritates me, although he can be very funny. But I think he’s right that there’s an important difference between scholarship and bullshit, and right that we ought to mark the distinction.

  17. Adam Says:

    Sam, There seems to be a misunderstanding here. I’m saying that Leiter is arguing poorly. In specific, he is equivocating on a central term. The overall goal of his post is to claim that Leiter is a much better scholar of continental philosophy than Critchley is — in order to do this, he must implicitly treat “continental philosophy” as a unified field, such that Critchley and Leiter’s expertise can be compared in an “apples with apples” fashion. The purpose of doing this is to establish that, despite the fact that Critchley is a Derrida scholar and Leiter is not, Leiter’s assessment of Derrida’s philosophical worth is more trustworthy. (If that’s not his goal, then he’s just gratuitously tearing down Critchley for the sheer hell of it — it seems a little over the top to me to assume that Leiter is acting out of complete unmotivated malice.) Yet one of the ways in which he bashes Critchley is precisely for treating continental philosophy as a unified field — despite the fact that the unity of the field of continental philosophy is a necessary (though unstated) premise of his attempt to discredit Critchley and legitimate himself as an assessor of Derrida.

    (At this point, I have submitted Leiter’s post to a much closer reading than it deserves. Perhaps I’m getting drawn into the same blackhole that I jumped into on that Valve post. If anyone notices me positively defending Critchley’s statement about the specific influence of the third critique on subsequent generations, please hit me with a 2×4.)

  18. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Sam C,

    ‘But I think he’s right that there’s an important difference between scholarship and bullshit, and right that we ought to mark the distinction.’

    The problem is when that is decided by a committee vote. Sure, I think there are two distinct ways of doing philosophy in the Anglophone world, but by no means does that mean I think there are only two or that these two things delineate every possible philosophical position. My problem isn’t that Leiter is more analytic (and that defines more an attitude these days than a particular philosophy, just as Continental does the same), but that he thinks that analytic philosophy is scholarship.

    ‘although to be fair, it could work as a central narrative for a nice undergraduate course, and maybe that was all Critchley intended’

    Yes, that is all he intended. Which is pretty clear when you read the damn thing. Alex may think he’s weak, but on the whole he was really the go to guy for deconstructive ethics for some time. Which, despite being able to have rings run around them, is no small thing.

    It’s a bit of sophistry you’re defending Leiter’s clearly duplicitous definition of Continental philosophy of which he seems to me to be more of a commenter than a historian. In that way maybe he is more of a bad Continental philosopher than I’ve originally thought. All of that besides the whole ranking system is pure class warfare and anyone who can’t see that is an enemy of the people.

  19. Adam Says:

    “There are two types of people: those who divide all people into two groups, and those who don’t. I’m one of the latter.”

    The problem with identifying scholarship, rigor, etc., with one particular school of philosophy is that sooner or later, being a member of that school is itself taken as an automatic sign of scholarship, rigor, etc. (It’s the Hegelian problematic of “ground” — some of that good old obscurantist continental stuff.) And since members of this school are already qualitatively better simply by virtue of being in this school, you’re willing to apologize for Leiter’s poor argumentation in the service of his greater point — namely, that Leiter’s on the side of good argumentation! (I’m not faulting him for a combative persona — I mean, I have a combative persona. I’m faulting him for a faulty argument. And it’s not like Leiter is solely referring to Derrida’s character — he’s referring, in fact mainly referring, to his worth as a philosopher.)

  20. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    ‘On a fast reading, the linked ‘criticism’ amounts to ‘the Leiter report disagrees with these alternative rankings which I have just pulled out of my arse’.’

    Must have been quite a quick reading then. His main charge, it seems to me, is the very insular nature of the surveys sent out. Again, it is a class thing.

  21. larvalsubjects Says:

    Actually Loyola barely makes it on the most recent rankings. Your UC figures at the very top:

    http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/breakdown/breakdown29.asp

    Sam C, I think you need to read the link I sent a bit more carefully. There is more to the critique than simply a disagreement over the alternative ratings proposed. As the author points out:

    Put more directly, Leiter thinks that scholarship at the majority of Continental programs is watered down, and that the level of thought at these programs is rather low. One wonders, however, how Leiter comes to these conclusions. Aside from the rather insulated group of respondents for his survey (more on this in a second), Leiter offers what might be the best summary of his criteria for evaluating graduate programs in his advice to would-be graduate students. Among these criteria are the kinds of job offers that faculty have received, honors and awards received, job placement of students, and the journals and presses which publish faculty scholarship. In all cases, Leiter’s criteria are skewed so as to favor analytic programs and scholarship. For example, given that analytic programs are more highly ranked in Leiter’s analysis, the fact that they hire analytic philosophers is somehow indicative of the quality of the programs producing their hires, instead of the fact that these programs hire analytics because they themselves are analytic in orientation. Or, in terms of the kinds of journals which are taken to represent the standards of scholarly rigour and quality, Leiter’s list consists entirely of journals which are predominantly analytic, with no mention of Continental standards like (for example) Continental Philosophy Review, Husserl Studies, or The Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology. Is it any wonder, then, that philosophers affiliated with Continental programs are seen to be ‘publication-challenged,’ given that the journals they value are not taken into account?

    The issue is one of Leiter’s methodology. Leiter ranks programs based on the publications of the faculty, yet he only acknowledges certain journals as relevant to these rankings. Consequently, because those that work primarily in the continental tradition do not publish in these journals, they are at an inherent disadvantage. How is this measure legitimate in evaluating philosophy programs? Leiter’s ranking system seems transparently designed to exclude continental philosophy on rather arbitrary grounds.

    It is one thing for a philosopher to believe the positions of others are mistaken and to argue against those positions, it is quite another to treat this difference as being in all cases about poor scholarship. Here Leiter strikes me as hypocritical. In a post on his blog explaining his particular argumentative style, he writes:

    But there is a more general point here, though it is one that may be hard to impress on those of limited intellectual ability or parochial horizons: not all topics are of equal intellectual merit, and not every issue has “two sides” with equal epistemic merits. There are, to be sure, tons of “hard questions” with multiple serious answers in contention; but most of the discussion on the blog (especially the political discussion) pertains to what are “easy questions.”

    Start with some examples of hard questions, the kinds of questions I largely avoid on the blog (though some of them are the subject of my scholarly work):

    Does the now orthodox thesis of the token-identity of the mental and the physical (the supervenience of the mental on the physical) have the unintended consequence that the mental is epiphenomenal? (Relatedly: is there really an intelligble kind of metaphysical relationship between properties [i.e., supervenience] that is intermediate between property-dualism and type-identity?)

    Is there any reason to think that putative moral facts will figure in the best causal explanation of any aspect of our experience?

    What exactly is Nietzsche’s doctrine of the will to power, and what role is it playing in the argument of the Genealogy?

    Do authoritative reasons in Raz’s sense really have to be exclusionary reasons, or will it suffice if they simply have more “weight” than other kinds of reasons?

    What reasons, if any, does (or can) Quine give for his naturalism, and are they sound?

    Is it an obstacle to descriptive jurisprudence that the concepts central to law are (as I have called them) hermeneutic concepts, i.e., concepts whose extension is supposed to be fixed by the role they play in how people understand themselves and their social world?

    What is Foucault’s view of the cognitive and epistemic status of the claims of the human sciences?

    I have views (in some cases, published views) on several of these questions, but in each case, I think they are hard questions, and those who have different or contrary views, may well be right, and are certainly worth taking very seriously.

    Many would argue that Derrida is attempting to answer some of the “hard questions” and is therefore worth taking seriously. I have no dog in the fight one way or another, not being a Derridean, but I do wonder how Leiter is in a position to make these judgments about Derrida if he hasn’t carefully read his work or acquainted himself with his methodology.

    I haven’t read the book by Critchley that Leiter attacks, but there is definitely some foundation for the importance he attributes to both Kant and the third Critique. The third Critique was a tremendous influence on Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel… Not simply because of the way in which it attempted to bridge the divide between the ethical world and the natural world (one of Hegel’s central projects), but also because of its organic metaphors pertaining to living systems (again a big influence on Hegel and indirectly on Marx’s conception of society as a system), and its account of concept formation in the discussion of beauty that would indirectly influence thinkers like Nietzsche in their epistemological claims.

    Clearly Hegel was a tremendous influence on Marx. And certainly Nietzsche was responding to a number of the thinkers that emerged in response to Kant and post-Kantian German idealism. Sure, one can point out that Nietzsche or Marx or Husserl, etc., were not directly grappling with Kant’s third Critique, the issues posed in the third Critique, and with Kant, but is that really what is proposed by an argument about historical influence proposes? Whitehead remarks that all Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato. When Whitehead makes this claim, is he claiming that every subsequent philosopher was intimately working with Plato’s works and developing them in detail, or is he arguing that Plato had a formative effect on the subsequent direction that philosophy took such that even thinkers that had never read a page of Plato were still indirectly influenced by his thought? One can argue that such an account of the history of Continental history is reductive or overly simplistic, but certainly it can’t be denied that Kant and the third Critique played a highly significant role.

  22. larvalsubjects Says:

    Whoops, here’s the link to Leiter’s blog entry on his style:

    http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2005/06/on_rhetoric_civ.html

    I want to emphasize that I am not unequivocally endorsing Critchley’s particular take on the history of Continental philosophy, but saying that I don’t think it’s transparently obvious, from the perspective of historiography, that his claims are the result of poor scholarship. Of course, this is what intellectual historians do: they provide differing accounts of historical influence and movements. I believe that these differing perspectives on the history of philosophy do more to illuminate than obscure, and can’t simply be reduced to “poor scholarship”.

  23. Roman Altshuler Says:

    It’s worth also checking out Leiter’s original post on Derrida (he links to it in the post under discussion). Reading that post, I think, gives a pretty clear indication of why Critchley might have thought that Leiter’s hasn’t read Derrida. It’s not that he doesn’t discuss the central points, but that he often seems to miss what they’re about. I’m not a fan of Derrida, but I admit that I don’t really understand him. If Leiter just admitted that he doesn’t understand him either, everyone would be much happier.

    It is problematic that Leiter so enjoys the strategy (he’s used it before) of insisting that the people he disagrees with just don’t know anything about continental philosophy. Besides the fact that it makes the arguments entirely personal rather than philosophical, it’s just annoying that Leiter always backs these attacks with a restatement of his own credentials. Quite apart from his actual scholarly work (which I know very little about), he’s made remarks that make those credentials somewhat dubious. For example: he’s claimed that phenomenology is moribund, and that there are very few competent practitioners of critical theory. Both just seem false, at least insofar as either lends itself to some evaluation as to its truth value based on facts. I don’t think this means that Leiter can’t be considered a scholar of continental philosophy, but it does suggest that there is a good deal of current, and often excellent, continental work that his expertise doesn’t cover. And this means that intellectual honesty should prevent him from using his credentials to try hammering other people’s credentials into the ground.

    As for Critchley’s comments: true, there is no one thing called “continental philosophy” (just as there is no one thing called “analytic philosophy”). But if you are asked to characterize continental philosophy in an interview, or commissioned to write a very short introduction to it, it makes sense to look for a simple and reasonable principle that unifies many, if not all, of the figures and movements covered by that name. Although there is no one analytic movement, any history of analytic philosophy is likely to talk about Frege, Russell, Moore, Wittgenstein, and the Vienna Circle. Similarly, a history of continental philosophy could reasonably start with Kant, and then mention Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger. Both of these are fine–so long as nobody maliciously misrepresents the authors as, respectively, claiming that all analytic philosophers are trying to ground arithmetic in logic or that all continental philosophers are obsessed with Hegel’s reply to Kant.

    larvalsubjects: your claims about understanding references to Kant and Hegel as being about historical influence are right on. I’ve tried to work this out in a post on my site (the link should show up).

  24. Sam C Says:

    Adam, I get that you’re criticising Leiter’s argument: I was responding to that criticism, perhaps unclearly. You accuse Leiter of an equivocation on ‘continental philosophy’, such that it’s a unified field when it’s Leiter’s expertise, but a bundle of loosely-connected traditions when it’s Critchley’s. I think there’s no such equivocation: Leiter is comparing himself with Critchley, apples-to-apples, on scholarly rigour. His argument is that Critchley carelessly misreads both post-Kantian philosophy and Leiter’s post on Derrida, and that this is evidence of Critchley’s general superficiality and dishonesty as a scholar. As I’ve noted already, scholarship is Leiter’s central concern, and one of two things which fuel his aggression (the other being politics). He’s fond of quoting Nietzsche:

    No, my scholarly friends, I bless you even for your hunched back. And for despising, as I do, the “men of letters” and culture parasites. And for not knowing how to make a business of the spirit. And for having opinions that cannot be translated into financial values. And for not representing anything that you are not. And because your sole aim is to become masters of your craft, with reverence for every kind of mastery and competence, and with uncompromising opposition to everything that is semblance, half-genuine, dressed up, virtuosolike, demagogical, or histrionic in litteris et artibus—to everything that cannot prove to you its unconditional probity in discipline and prior training. [The Gay Science, sec. 366]

    That’s what powers his attack on Derrida. Leiter thinks that Derrida was a dishonest scholar, half-genuine, dressed up, virtuosolike, demagogical, and that his influence was pernicious in teaching others, including Critchley, to play the same game.

    It’s also what powers the Leiter report: whether or not it succeeds, it’s an attempt to rank graduate programmes according to the scholarly virtues of their faculties. The methodological criticisms in larvalsubjects’s link may have applied in 2001, when they were written, but don’t have much purchase on the current methodology (see here): there is no list of ‘approved’ journals, no specification of which subject areas are worthwhile, no direction to the philosophers surveyed other than ‘Please evaluate the the following programs in terms of faculty quality, using the following scale: 5 – Distinguished; 4 – Strong; 3 – Good; 2 – Adequate; 1 – Marginal; 0 – Inadequate for a PhD program’. Leiter just asks a large group of professional philosophers to rank anonymised philosophy departments by lists of their staff. What better way of ranking departments is Leiter failing to use?

    If the result of this ranking is that ‘analytic’ departments come out higher (assuming that ‘analytic department’ is a well-defined class, which I doubt), then maybe that’s because those departments are actually better at serious scholarship, in the judgement of the profession. At least, that conclusion isn’t a priori ridiculous: that a method produces results you don’t like or didn’t expect isn’t a criticism of that method.

  25. Sam C Says:

    Sorry, link to Leiter’s methodology page doesn’t work: the URL is http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/reportdesc.asp.

  26. larvalsubjects Says:

    C’mon Sam, this still doesn’t alleviate the problem. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that if the people you consult with these surveys are primarily analytic, continental is going to be at an inherent disadvantage. A number of concerns have been expressed specifically about Leiter’s rankings of areas of specialization. Richard Heck of Brown does a good job outlining these problems:

    http://frege.brown.edu/heck/philosophy/aboutpgr.php

    As for this:

    That’s what powers his attack on Derrida. Leiter thinks that Derrida was a dishonest scholar, half-genuine, dressed up, virtuosolike, demagogical, and that his influence was pernicious in teaching others, including Critchley, to play the same game.

    What qualifies Leiter to come to this conclusion? His conclusions read like hearsay, rather than well-informed positions. I have students that say much the same after reading Aristotle for the first time or just about any Medieval theologian… Not because they have an understanding of the material, but precisely because they don’t yet have the requisite reading skills to understand the material.

  27. Alex Says:

    This is strictly ancedotal, but might give way to further discussion of the issues at hand.

    At the end of last year I went to dinner with the director of the Husserl Archives in Leuven, Rudolf Bernet, after he gave a paper on The Secret according to Heidegger and the “Purloined Letter” by Poe. He is editor of Husserl’s collected works, as well as being on the editorial board of Husserl Studies. He is a man of deep learning and philosophical seriousness, who has had a distinguished career, more distinguished probably that both the figures we are discussing today. In his essay, Derrida and his Master’s voice, he defends Derrida’s reading of Husserl against both that of Derridians and that of Husserlian’s who attempt to claim that Derrida simply got it wrong. And in conversation, he spoke warmly of Derrida’s understanding of Husserl and in a sense his phenomenological legacy.

    One of Leiter’s key contentions seems to be that Derrida was a bad reader of the philosophical canon, which is a charge leveled at him by others, for example by AC Grayling. And this bad reading, and the habits that caused this bad reading, are passed onto his followers, for example Critchley. Let us refresh our memory:
    a primary reason for skepticism about Derrida is that overwhelmingly those who engage in philosophical scholarship on figures like Plato and Nietzsche and Husserl find that Derrida misreads the texts, in careless and often intentionally flippant ways, inventing meanings, lifting passages out of context, misunderstanding philosophical arguments, and on and on.
    Now, and again I am not qualified to say other than ancedotally, was Derrida really that bad a reader of texts as Leiter makes out? Certainly, someone associated with the Husserl archives appears to think not. Indeed, there are many theologians who think that Derrida’s reading of Kierkegaard is not too shabby at all.

    So two questions: is one of the core contentions of Leiter’s accusation actually the case? Is Derrida a bad reader of the tradition?

    And moreover, does Derrida suffer from something that has been discussed on this blog previously: that when someone makes a comment on philosopher X, the experts on philosopher X will almost always say that person is incorrect, that they have misunderstood, that this point is debated, that this is not a reasonable interpretation. See any person who tries to construct a long term historical genealogy, for example, Macintyre.

  28. Adam Says:

    To be fair, this question about Derrida’s quality level cannot get beyond the level of mere assertion in the context of a comment thread.

    Suffice it to say, however, that the official position of this blog is that Derrida is a great philosopher — and that anyone who claims Derrida is a charlatan is himself a charlatan.

  29. Sam C Says:

    Can’t resist dropping in the Philosophical Lexicon definition of ‘MacIntyre':

    macintyre, n. An inflated wheel with a slick, impervious coating; hence, derivatively, an all-terrain vehicle equipped with macintyres. “If you want to cover that much territory that fast, you’d best use the macintyre.”

    There is a reason that MacIntyre gets criticised by people who know about his individual subjects: in his rush to make his big point, he often says things which are plainly wrong in detail. Rorty had the same problem. Grand narratives are hard to get right, but not impossible: Jerrold Seigel’s The Idea of the Self does a pretty good job, for instance; not that what he says is beyond criticism, just that it isn’t obviously wrong.

  30. Roman Altshuler Says:

    Sam: that analytic departments come out higher doesn’t in any way imply that they are better at serious scholarship. Do I need to rehash the obvious retort? Since most philosophers in the US do not work on continental figures, they are not likely to be especially familiar with work by people who do. Thus, they are not likely to rank departments with those people highly. Of course, you might say that there are specialty rankings to deal with this issue, but those can also be weird. For example, NYU makes it into the specialty rankings for continental philosophy. But I can’t imagine a reason why NYU might even be on that specialty list: they have one person, John Richardson. He may be good, but can’t be a match for (just to take schools in Manhattan) a department like the New School (which ranks below it) or Fordham (which doesn’t even get on the list), which have actual continental faculties. Anecdotal evidence: Richardson actually wanted to teach a course on Heidegger a few years back, but there was no interest among grad students and the plan got nixed. In any case, imagine trying to apply to NYU, claiming continental philosophy as your major area of interest in your letter. It’s not likely to work. So the rankings can just yield intuitively nonsensical results. If the claim is “If you go to NYU and somehow end up studying Heidegger, you are likely to get a better job than if you went to New School or Fordham,” then this might be true. But if the claim is that NYU will get you a better overall education in continental philosophy, then, well, I refer you to Hume’s essay on miracles.

    Alex: Do Husserlians actually claim that Derrida got Husserl wrong? My impression was that many thought that Derrida got the early Husserl right, but it isn’t a great criticism since Husserl himself says similar things in his later unpublished writings. That would suggest that Derrida is a very good reader, if maybe not the most thorough one. (Incidentally: Leiter says similar things about Leo Strauss. Strauss only wrote on one contemporary of his–Carl Schmitt. Schmitt, apparently, told people that Strauss saw through to the core of his work and recommended Strauss’s very critical commentary as the best thing written about him. That, I would think, is what one might reasonably consider a sign of a good reading…)

  31. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Sam C,

    Some phenomenologists do think Derrida got Husserl wrong. Robert Sokolowski is the one I can think of off the top of my head. There are quite a few more as well, but they are pretty much old guard and passing (with their own passing).

  32. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Err, sorry, that was for Roman.

  33. Roman Altshuler Says:

    There’s also an interesting double standard, I think. For example, there is a long and proud tradition in analytic ethics of getting Kant dead wrong (mainly because you have to read past the Groundwork to figure out his argument), but one doesn’t frequently see a call denouncing, for example, Bernard Williams as a bad scholar because of his Kant reading. The attitude seems to be that, if you have a substantive project going, it doesn’t matter all that much whether or not your comments on historical figures are spot on. So… why the double standard for poor JD?

  34. larvalsubjects Says:

    Jean-Luc Marion also has a pretty trenchant criticism of Derrida in Reduction and Givenness, though it seems to me that he ignores Derrida’s arguments in Given Time, The Gift of Death, and Speech and Phenomenon altogether.

  35. Adam Says:

    Incidentally, it appears that Leiter has looked at this post through SiteMeter. Let’s all pray that he views us as beneath contempt, because a link from Leiter could very well destroy this humble site.

  36. Alex Says:

    In terms of hits? Or in term of his analytic death ray?

  37. Adam Says:

    Well, I like big numbers as much as the next guy, but I was thinking in terms of a flood of commenters defending Leiter from my calumny. Thankfully, we have preemptive comment moderation for all first-time commenters, but I’d prefer not to reinforce the popular image of me as a censorious fascist by deploying that power en masse.

  38. larvalsubjects Says:

    The longer I’m online the more sympathetic I become towards limited dictatorship.

  39. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Adam,

    I’m fine with advertising quite widely that I am the moderator of this little website. So it is I, and not Adam Kotsko, who is the censorious fascist and will deploy said power with extreme prejudice if need be. I mean, come on, Leiter doesn’t even allow comments! Like I care if a bunch of whiny analytics are upset with us for not posting there whiny comments.

    Though, for the record (is someone still keeping a record?), no one here has insulted Leiter on a personal level, as he did with both Derrida and Critchley. Hell, I’m even willing to guess he is alright at his job (Nietzsche, moral philosophy, and philosophy of law). Doesn’t excuse the rest of it.

  40. Adam Says:

    That’s right. All the remarks about his wife’s bad poetry are limited to the Weblog thread.

  41. ben wolfson Says:

    It’s his brother, I think, not his wife.

  42. Eric Lee Says:

    I know this is quite aside from the main point of this thread, but:

    ‘Jean-Luc Marion also has a pretty trenchant criticism of Derrida in Reduction and Givenness, though it seems to me that he ignores Derrida’s arguments in Given Time, The Gift of Death, and Speech and Phenomenon altogether.’

    I would grant Speech and Phenomena, but as Reduction and Givenness was originally written in the French in 1989, how could Marion be ignoring Given Time and Gift of Death, which were published in 1991, and 1992, respectively? Perhaps you’re thinking of the English publication of R&G which came out in 1998? Not a big point, really, I was just wondering if I missed something.

  43. Eric Lee Says:

    p.s. Derrida has a footnote about Reduction and Givenness in Given Time, which is why I ask.

  44. larvalsubjects Says:

    Eric, no I was think of Being Given as well. It’s been a number of years since I read any Marion, so I’m no doubt running things together in my mind.

  45. bjk Says:

    Maybe this isn’t the place, but this is a critique of Derrida that I think Leiter references, though I wasn’t able to verify that.

    http://www.unige.ch/lettres/philo/enseignants/km/doc/HowNotRead1.pdf

    This struck me as a particularly uncharitable and irrelevant objection:

    “Derrida returns again and again
    to the link between his concept of structure and death:

    The relationship with my death (my disappearance in general) thus lurks in this [Husserl’s] determination
    of being as presence, ideality, the absolute possibility of repetition. The possibility of the sign is this
    relationship with death. The determination and elimination of the sign in metaphysics is the dissimulation
    of this relationship with death, which yet produced signification. (VP, 60; SP, 54)

    It is hard to see why death alone should enjoy this privilege. After all, one of the ways in
    which death can occur is through the absence of oxygen or the presence of poison. So the
    possibility of the sign is this relationship with oxygen and poison. And it seems likely that
    signs can be used by human brains and by brains made of plastic. So the possibility of the sign
    is also this relationship with plastic.”

  46. cynic librarian Says:

    I’m glad to see this thread still trhiving, though it looks like I’m about to add comments to its dog ends. BTAIM I wonder what leiter is thinking by something that he was mulling over several years ago re the historian Quentin Skinner’s avowed liking for Foucault. In that posting Leiter seems poo-pooh the idea that Skinner could “really” be in league with Foucault. It’s just an abstract relationship, nothing really essential, and all that. Skinner has reaffirmed his liking for Foucault in more recent writings, as have close associate of his; see James Tully’s remarks in “Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics.” I don’t have time right now to go into why it makles absolute sense for how Skinner can see parallels between his own work and that of Foucault; I’d only mention that they relate to what Tully calls politics and power.

    What this has to do with Leiter is the following: it seems that Leiter is incredulous that Skinner might find deep affinities with Foucault. It also seems that Leiter has much respect for Skinner to believe this. No doubt this has to do with Skinner’s revolutionary use of analytic philosophy and speech act theory in historiography.

    If this is true, then I wonder what Leiter makes of Skinner’s recent remarks (the last few years) that he also finds affinities with Derrida! This statement caused much stir among historians, both Skinner’s enemies and friends. Yet, he has never backed off (to my knowledge) from that acknowledgement. Skinner’s imprimatur on Derrida’s work is even more surprising if you look at it from this angle: it was John Searle (THE major theoretician of speech act theory) who circulated that infamous petition to ban Derrida from receiving an honorary degree from Cambridge.

    All of this leads off in directions I do not have the time to deal with now. I wonder whether Leiter is even familiar with this history? Does it make a difference? Is it, perhaps, something else that’s bugging Leiter about Derrida than his Cheshire grin?

  47. Alex Says:

    I think the big elephant in the room with this entire debate is that it seems to me that though I think Derrida is a decent philosopher, the debate in continental philosophy at least from my perspective has moved on. Surely Leiter knows that the big names now are Deleuze and Badiou, and of course, Zizek.

  48. Sam C Says:

    OK: I suggested that it the Philosophical Gourmet Report’s ranking of philosophy departments isn’t a priori ridiculous, and asked what better survey method Leiter should be using. I’ve had what look like a couple of answers to that question.

    The PGR is an anonymous, quantitative reputational survey of UK and US philosophy departments, by the staff of UK and US philosophy departments. It summarises what members of the profession think of their peers as scholars and graduate-level teachers. My view is that it does a good job at its stated task.

    Larvalsubjects, if I’ve got this right, thinks that the survey is intrinsically biased: ‘It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that if the people you consult with these surveys are primarily analytic, continental is going to be at an inherent disadvantage.’ I don’t buy this, because it begs the question against (what I’ve suggested is) Leiter’s central contention, that ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ are not distinct and incompatible ways of doing philosophy, with wholly different standards, and necessarily biased against one another. Leiter thinks there’s only one standard: scholarship. You can’t just assume that away, if you want to engage with what Leiter’s doing and arguing. And the ‘two worlds’ hypothesis is pretty implausible on its face: we’re managing to disagree productively, after all, as do the differently-focussed members of any number of philosophy departments, including mine.

    Roman, on the other hand, thinks that the PGR can’t, in its nature, give an accurate report on the quality of scholarship on the continental traditions: ‘Since most philosophers in the US do not work on continental figures, they are not likely to be especially familiar with work by people who do.’ This claim strikes me as absurd. A glance down Leiter’s current advisory board offers Frederick Beiser, Michael Rosen, Allen Wood and Pierre Keller, just to pick out the names I, a non-expert in this field, recognise. For another instance, people who work on Kant’s ethics in US and UK departments include, off the top of my head, Onora O’Neill, Christine Korsgaard, Paul Guyer, Thomas Hill, Allen Wood, Henry Allison and Jens Timmerman.

    So, I come back to my earlier comment: the fact that an investigative method gives results you dislike or find surprising is not a criticism of that method. That’s why we do surveys: because the results aren’t always obvious beforehand. One would be foolish to base her decision about graduate school on nothing but the PGR, as Leiter himself says, but it’s one useful tool among others. The idea that the PGR is a vanguard party in the class war between analytic and continental is a rather silly conspiracy theory.

  49. larvalsubjects Says:

    Larvalsubjects, if I’ve got this right, thinks that the survey is intrinsically biased: ‘It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that if the people you consult with these surveys are primarily analytic, continental is going to be at an inherent disadvantage.’ I don’t buy this, because it begs the question against (what I’ve suggested is) Leiter’s central contention, that ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ are not distinct and incompatible ways of doing philosophy, with wholly different standards, and necessarily biased against one another. Leiter thinks there’s only one standard: scholarship. You can’t just assume that away, if you want to engage with what Leiter’s doing and arguing. And the ‘two worlds’ hypothesis is pretty implausible on its face: we’re managing to disagree productively, after all, as do the differently-focussed members of any number of philosophy departments, including mine.

    There are actually quite different standards. Many continentals would argue that Anglo-American standards of scholarship are quite low due to the notable absence of historically informed engagement with primary materials. For instance, it is not uncommon for Anglo-American scholars to engage with, say, Plato simply at the level of the text as if the text can be read without carefully acquainting oneself with the Greek language, Greek history, mythology, political events occurring at the time of writing, etc., etc., etc. It looks to me like Leiter himself approaches Nietzsche in this ahistorical way from the descriptions of his work on Nietzsche, though I cannot say for certain. These different conceptions of scholarship have a good deal to do with differing philosophical positions on the nature of language, texts, cognition, and so on.

    The solution to the problem is very simple: 1) Leiter should step down from his role with the Gourmet report, handing it entirely over to a committee (too many of his own personal idiosyncrasies enter into the report, even with the improvements that have been made in recent years). 2) Include a greater number of continentalists on the committees in evaluating continental programs. The names listed are almost entirely weighted towards Kant and post-Kantian German idealism. Where are the phenomenologists? Where are the Heideggerians? Where are the experts on contemporary French philosophy? Where are the critical theorists? Moreover, given that Kant plays an equally important role in Anglo-American/Analytic thought (just think Brandom), simply doing research on Kant is not sufficient to qualify one as a continentalist.

    So, I come back to my earlier comment: the fact that an investigative method gives results you dislike or find surprising is not a criticism of that method. That’s why we do surveys: because the results aren’t always obvious beforehand. One would be foolish to base her decision about graduate school on nothing but the PGR, as Leiter himself says, but it’s one useful tool among others. The idea that the PGR is a vanguard party in the class war between analytic and continental is a rather silly conspiracy theory.

    Again, the issue isn’t that the results are disliked but that the methodology is deeply problematic. Leiter has been quite vocal as to what he thinks of continental philosophy in general. The fact that he was initially doing these rankings on his own and then later selecting those who make the rankings is deeply troubling. All of this goes back to a point Socrates was fond of making: If you want to do well in the Olympic games are you going to go to the trainer who has trained successful athletes in these games or the average man on the street? Clearly you’ll go to those persons that have expertise in the field. This is exactly what Leiter hasn’t done, thereby stacking the deck in advance.

  50. Roman Altshuler Says:

    Alex: I’ll second most of what larvalsubjects has said above. I don’t think many people would think of Beiser, Wood, Korsgaard, or Allison as continental philosophers. All of them are, in my view, fine scholars, but even Leiter doesn’t seem to count Kant among the “continental” camp (he only includes the 19th and 20th centuries). I doubt (though I don’t know) that any of the people you listed are especially familiar with Deleuze or Gadamer, for example. So I am not really sure what you find absurd about my claim. It seems fairly obvious that the majority (though not all) of PGR respondents are not competent to judge the quality of scholarship on continental figures, nor do they have much interest in or knowledge of this scholarship, and therefore when they rank departments, they are likely to leave out those departments that focus on this work.

    Aside from larvalsubjects’s note on two different standards (which, by the way, requires a few qualifications, since of course there are analytic-oriented philosophers who are quite thorough historical scholars–see Alex’s list of Kant scholars), there are also different subjects of study. So even if there were not different standards for analytic and continental philosophy, it would still be true that most PGR respondents would not be familiar with a good deal of continental scholarship even though they might consider this good scholarship if they read it. But there are different standards. Doing good phenomenology is different from doing good analytic philosophy.

    I should add, though, that I am not especially opposed to the PGR. What I dislike is that it is taken as listing the best departments in terms of quality of scholarship rather than in terms of the mainstream visibility of department members. Nothing in the methodology (as far as I can see) could yield rankings based on quality. But that is precisely the reading Leiter encourages. For example, a few months ago somebody was quoted as saying that the PGR leaves out some good continental departments like Stony Brook and Penn State. Leiter’s response (aside from being typically condescending and acerbic) was to insist that SB and Penn are not good departments, but actually very weak departments. But what backs this claim? It can’t be the PGR itself, since (1) it can’t judge quality, and (2) since the criticism was specifically of the PGR’s methodology, Leiter can’t refer to PGR results in defending it without begging the question. So: it is his personal opinion that departments he doesn’t seem to know anything about are “weak.” He presents this opinion as objective fact that everyone should recognize in order to accept the PGR as valid. You don’t see a problem?

    cynic librarian: Leiter doesn’t seem to have the same feelings about Foucault as about Derrida. He’s recently claimed that Foucaultian methodology is a genuine viable philosophical approach (although he immediately went on to say that there are few competent people doing it today).

  51. Adam Says:

    I just had an epiphany. Sam C says that the standard is scholarship. Yet most analytic philosophy isn’t “scholarly” — it’s carrying forward the overall project by answering outstanding questions, pointing out new complications, etc. The parody view of analytic philosophy is that no one reads anything from before about ten years ago. There are historical scholars, of course, but they’re not the ones driving the field — the emphasis is on moving the project forward.

    In continental philosophy, there is more emphasis on scholarship, but in turn, that scholarship is immediately part of doing philosophy in the continental style. Leiter thinks that Derrida is “unscholarly,” but that’s apples to oranges — in principle, he’s doing precisely what analytic philosophers do with their own near-contemporaries, reading them as philosophers, showing unintended consequences of their arguments, etc. He respects traditional scholarship as a way of keeping his work from totally going off the rails, but to let traditional scholarship have the last word is to consign the classics of philosophy to the past.

    Critchley might not be much of a “scholar,” but it’s clear that his primary goal is to do philosophy in the present. Judging him solely as a scholar is, in effect, consigning the continental tradition(s) to the past — and under the analytic regime, that’s exactly what they are.

    The overall irony is that Leiter’s self-proclaimed “continental” orientation gives him further leverage to help support a system that marginalizes contemporary continental work.

    And Sam C, this isn’t a conspiracy in the traditional sense — more of a “Foucauldian” type of conspiracy, without some center organizing agent. Even Leiter isn’t the organizing agent here — his work simply reflects and reinforces institutional dynamics that were in place long before he came along.

  52. Alex Says:

    Roman, I presume you are talking to Sam C, not I? I didn’t list any Kant scholars, or if i did it was a slip of the keyboard.

    I have to support what Adam said above. This seems to tally with my general thesis about the broad difference between continental and analytical philosophy: that analytical philosophy (since Russell onwards) uses hard science as its model, and continental philosophy in general uses the more human, soft sciences. This observation can be bourne out geneologically if we look at figures in the canon: Ayer, Frege et al, compared to, say, Marx and Freud et al. This is immediately evident when one reads a paper in an analytic journal, it reads much more like a scientific journal than a continental philosophy article. Broad brush stokes, mind you.

  53. Roman Altshuler Says:

    Alex: Oops! Sorry, I was talking to Sam C. Your short message was right above his longer one, and I’m not a careful reader :) My bad.

  54. ben wolfson Says:

    Roman—I wouldn’t really be surprised at all if Wood, at least, knows something about Gadamer or Deleuze. (If Dave Maier were here, he’d mention that bit at the end of Davidson’s (not that you’ve mentioned Davidson, but he is basically an analytic guy) essay on Gadamer that ends with a big quotation and the statement “I agree.”.) He knows a lot.

  55. Craig Says:

    Roman – Regarding Strauss: that he wrote on Schmitt is true, that Schmitt is the only contemporary that Strauss wrote on is un-true. All the same, this story gets passed around a lot. In addition to his “Note” on Schmitt’s Concept of the Political, Strauss published work on both Heidegger and Kojeve while they were alive. He also wrote a book on Weber – a near contemporary.

    Cynic – Regarding Skinner: even the most superficial reader of Skinner’s The Foundations of Modern Political Thought and of Foucault’s work – especially the works of the mid- to late-seventies – can see, if not an “influence” of Foucault on Skinner, then, at least, a concern with nearly identical problematics. To prop up Skinner in an effort to attack Foucault is just nuts. Readers of footnotes will note that Skinner has an ongoing dialogue with his contemporaries in France – he even cites someone as little read in English as Castoriadis (on the imaginary) and Lefort (on the history of reading Machiavelli). At the same time, people who read Foucault on modern power and the state, but don’t read Skinner on the same are negligent.

    As for the issue at hand, I couldn’t give a fuck. Leiter is a more popular but less verbose version of Holbo. And, of course, I’m a sociologist; not a philosopher!

  56. Roman Altshuler Says:

    Craig: apologies if I got it wrong! I trust those damn introductory essays to books more than I should. I’d love to read anything Strauss wrote on Heidegger (seriously, who DOESN’T want to read that?). References?

    Ben: My goal was cerainly not to disparage Alan Wood’s breadth of scholarship. I’m a fan. But: would you be entirely happy with ratings of continental philosophy departments done by him? Frankly, I have deep respect for many of the people Leiter got to rank continental departments for the PGR, but I don’t buy the results for a second.

  57. Daniel Says:

    In the interest of being relevant to this thread, Davidson mentions that he hadn’t read Gadamer until late in his career. So I’m not sure that the passage from “Gadamer and Plato’s Philebus” is relevant, here.

    (I’m forced to wonder if ben wolfson didn’t confuse me with Dave Maier, given that I’ve mentioned the Davidson/Gadamer passage repeatedly in Valve comment threads, and I can’t recall Duck having pointed it out. But perhaps I simply am overlooking something.)

    I’d be rather surprised if Beiser hadn’t read Gadamer, given that he’s written on Hegel’s historicism, and I’ll be damned if Wood hasn’t. Deleuze I wouldn’t place bets on being read, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Wood has mentioned him somewhere. I can see why Deleuze fans are antsy about the rankings, though. For most of the areas of specialization on the PGR (philosophy of mind, metaphysics) it’s not too hard to feel that the people polled are among the top figures in the field. I’m not at all sure I’d say that the folk Leiter has reviewing departments for their strength in “continental” areas are similarly strong.

    Strauss has an essay on Heidegger in “Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism”: “An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism”; it wasn’t as good as I expected, but it was alright. Actually wasn’t bad as an introduction to Heidegger, I’d think, and it makes clear how forceful Strauss felt the guy was. I’m sure there’s more than that one short essay, though. The essay on Strauss in History of Political Philosophy (the purple book) implies that Heidegger was quite important for Strauss, as I recall; I read an interview with Gadamer somewhere that echoed this claim. The basic idea was that Heidegger & Nietzsche had done a fine job of showing that modern thought ended in nihilism, and so the problem was to see what could be done despite this. (I may have some of the details a bit off; it’s been a while since I found reading Strauss to be a gripping experience.)

  58. bjk Says:

    This has degenerated, but I’ll be glad to contribute. Strauss never wrote on Heidegger, the essay referred to above is pasted together from two different lectures that Strauss never intended to publish. He also wrote one chapter in Natural Right and History on Weber. He did write an essay on Husserl that appears at the beginning of Platonic Political Philosophy, and an essay on Hermann Cohen that appears at the end.

    The internet’s premiere site for Straussiana is here.

    http://nrh.blog-city.com/

  59. Dave2 Says:

    Alex:

    Sam Kripke?

  60. Dave2 Says:

    Adam:

    What do you mean by ‘scholar’ and ‘scholarly’? If someone does nothing but cutting-edge add-to-the-field research, is s/he not a scholar?

  61. Sam C Says:

    I’ve left it a bit long to reply to this (first sunny weekend in ages here, so no inclination to sit inside typing), and in any case I’ve probably said all I had to say on these topics. Just a few brief last remarks from me, then I’ll shut up:

    1. As has already been pointed out, the claim that non-continental thinkers don’t pay attention to historical context is nonsense.

    2. Adam and I were apparently using ‘scholarship’ in different senses: I just meant it as careless shorthand for ‘whatever makes a good academic philosopher’.

    3. The list of names on the PGR site is the advisory committee, not all of the people who fill in the surveys. The latter’s a much larger group, and Leiter doesn’t publish their names, so far as I know. Any claims about their expertises are speculative at best.

    4. Sorry, but I still don’t believe in the conspiracy, Foucaultian or otherwise. Continental figures and continental styles of thought are influential and widely-discussed in the academy. Some people think (e.g.) Derrida is crap. Some people think that about Russell, too. No-one can give everything its due, or be sympathetic to everything worthwhile.

  62. Adam Says:

    Given the fact that analytic philosophy bases itself on the hard sciences (whether legitimately or not), it doesn’t make sense that someone pushing the field forward is the same as a “scholar.” Was Einstein a great scholar of physics, for instance? Or is a contemporary mathematician who discovers a new proof a “scholar” of math?

  63. Craig Says:

    Interestingly enough, apparently it is possible to say “Bakhtin was a great scientist” in Russian.

  64. bjk Says:

    This was too much work, but here is the list of Leiter’s raters for continental philosophy:

    Maudemarie Clark, Niezsche

    David Dudrick, Nietzsche?

    Paul Franks, – German idealism

    http://philosophy.utoronto.ca/people/profile.html?id=344

    Charles Guignon, – early Heidegger, psychotherapy

    http://www.cas.usf.edu/philosophy/guignonstatementuv.htm

    Pierre Keller, – Kant, early phenomenology

    http://www.philosophy.ucr.edu/people/keller_p.html

    Sean Kelly, – early phenomenology

    Michelle Kosch, German idealism

    http://www.arts.cornell.edu/phil/faculty/kosch.html

    Brian Leiter, – Nietzsche

    Rudolf Makkreel,- Kant and Dilthey

    Stephen Mulhall,- Wittgenstein, early Heidegger

    http://users.ox.ac.uk/~newc0929/

    Beatrice Han-Pile, Foucault

    http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/%7Ebeatrice/

    Peter Poellner – Nietzsche

    http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/philosophy/staff/poellner/

    Michael Rosen – Hegel

    Mark Sacks, Kant

    http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/%7Emsacks/

    Richard Schacht – Nietzsche

    Julian Young.- Nietzsche

    It’s mostly Nietzsche, early phenomenology, and German idealism. No French phenomenology, one Foucault, no Derrida or Deleuze. IN what sense is this 20th or 21st century continental? It’s certainly a weird definition that leaves out most of what happened after 1935.

  65. ben wolfson Says:

    Daniel: maybe I am. I know that Maier’s referred to Gadamer at least on his own site, and I just might have a tendency to attribute references to Davidson to him, since he’s always on about Davidson.

  66. Roman Altshuler Says:

    Also note that Leiter has separate rankings for “Kant and German Idealism,” and for the somewhat odd category of “19th Century Continental Philosophy After Hegel” (the evaluators are mostly the same, which in itself seems problematic). So quite apart from the question of whether these figures properly belong to “continental philosophy,” the rankings for 20th C. Continental philosophy (obviously) cannot include Nietzsche or German Idealism. Many of the evaluators here are excellent scholars and well informed about contemporary work; their interests are (at least in some cases) fairly broad. For example: Julian Young has written more books on Heidegger than Nietzsche (including later Heidegger), and Sean Kelly doesn’t just do early phenomenology: he is one of the people who use phenomenology in contemporary work, which I think is one of the most vibrant areas of continental philosophy today. But contemporary phenomenology is still underrepresented on this list. So is almost everything French (psychoanalysis? Feminism?). And where, oh where, is the whole tradition of Marxim and Critical Theory, still one of the bastions of contemporary continental work?

  67. cynic librarian Says:

    Adam, Before–like Leiter–failing you, I’d ask you to substantiate the view that analytic philosophy bases itself on science. Perhaps you are thinking of Russel’s later thought? (Okay that was a softball.) But …. I await your answer.

  68. bjk Says:

    I knew that about Julian Young. Just wanted to see if anybody’s paying attention. And to point out how Nietzsche heavy the evaluators are. Notice that Leiter’s own department makes it into in the third group in continental philosophy, even though the UT website has no listing for CP and one of the two continentalists is Leiter, who says CP doesn’t exist.

  69. jholbo Says:

    Adam: “Given the fact that analytic philosophy bases itself on the hard sciences (whether legitimately or not), it doesn’t make sense that someone pushing the field forward is the same as a “scholar.”

    Sweet Sam Kripke on a stick, who gave you THAT fact, may I ask? (You need to get yourself a better class of fact to get given. Is what I’m saying.)

  70. Adam Says:

    I got the idea from John Emerson.

  71. jholbo Says:

    No. I’m sitting here studying the major works of Elwood Husserl and Melvin Heidegger. (Your mileage may vary.)

  72. Adam Says:

    Yeah, I remember one of these threads where someone accidently called him GFW Hegel. We ragged on that guy for months.

  73. Alex Says:

    Come on, analytical philosophy takes it model of practice far more from hard science than from sociology et al. I can see Adam’s point, there are scientists who work at the cutting edge of research and there are writers who might be better called ‘scholars of science’ working on the history of science.

  74. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Are you now suggesting, in your drunken stupor, that phenomenology bases itself on blues? Cause I don’t get it and I know how you just love to teach me. Let’s skip the Socratic part though and just jump to the end.

  75. Adam Says:

    For the record, Holbo’s referring to a mistake made by Alex above — it’s Saul Kripke, not Sam. Dave2 corrected Alex on this. Apparently, it’s now “funny” for him to screw up the first names of great continental philosophers. Overall, it’s part of a Holbonic two-pronged attack — on my broad characterization of analytic philosophy and on petty details that are symptomatic of our general ignorance of analytic philosophy.

    Personally, I think there should be more philosophers named Saul — more people named Saul, in fact. It’s an underused name. Other than Saul Bellow, I can’t think of another famous Saul in modern times.

  76. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    What a poorly constructed joke!

    Saul Williams is a poet/hip-hop musician.

  77. Alex Says:

    Yeh its a good Holbonic tactic, real rigorous and suchlike. Sorry about my error, should have picked it up earlier.

    Just to defend myself on account of a general ignorance of analytical philosophy, I was taught philosophy at undergraduate level at an very much analytic department, and my training at this time in philosophical theology was by two tutors who have feet in both camps, one is a trained mathematician (!?! etc). And one of my interests is Wittgenstein. So there.

  78. Daniel Says:

    I once read a short monograph on Hegel which referred to him throughout as “Georg Hegel”. It also cited the Bailee translations of the Phenomenology, for some Goddamn reason; the book was written in the past ten years.

    Suffice to say, it was not a very good book.

    Apparently Heidegger’s brother looked a lot like him. They’d get confused for each other at parties and such. Rudiger Safranksi’s biography recounts one such incident: After a public lecture Martin had just delivered, as everyone was leaving, someone asked his brother a question which he couldn’t make heads nor tail of. He responded “It is the ‘stell’ of the ‘Gestell.'” This was taken to be a quite satisfactory response.

  79. jholbo Says:

    Apparently Hegel’s wife called him ‘Herr Doktor Professor Hegel’. Or possibly, in an intimate moment, ‘Professor Hegel’. Very impertinent to call him what his own wife could not.

    As to the rigor of my joke: if you can think of a more rigorous joke about Husserl being named Elwood, I’m all ears. No wait, it has come to me – in an epiphany in every was as rigorous as Kotsko’s own (see above): “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re performing the epoche.”

  80. Adam Says:

    “Driving forward,” etc. — yes, a good connection. Doubtless this is your backhanded way of saying that I’m grossly mischaracterizing analytic philosophy in my epiphany as well.

    Perhaps you need to set aside some time and tell yourself, “For the next X weeks, I am going to say things in as straightforward and concise a manner as possible.” Just as an exercise. I would of course never ask you to abandon your Holbonic style altogether, but taking a break might well bring about — well, an epiphany.

    The other strategy would be for you to “go through the fantasy,” identify with your symptom, and just plain become Derrida.

  81. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    But Holbo! Is there really ‘the’ epoche?!

    That was a better joke. So one point to Holbo. Two points to Kotsko for the ‘become Derrida’ line.

  82. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    For the record the bad joke I referred to was the one where you tried to zing Alex for getting Kripke’s name wrong. It was only bad because the context was all off. The Blues Brothers thing, well, I just thought you were kind of high.

  83. jholbo Says:

    No. ‘Sweet Sam Kripke on a stick’ does NOT require a specific context to be funny. Bob’s your uncle, in all possible worlds, so far as this joke goes. (You cannot fail, that is. And I am also, you appreciate, nodding to Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, by way of emblematizing my solid procedure. Names are things of power.)

    I do think the level of discussion of analytic philosophy has been … insufficient in point of scholarly rigor, given that the point was to upbraid lack of such. But perhaps we can take this up another time.

  84. Adam Says:

    You think I was saying that analytic philosophy is bad because it’s not “scholarly”? I was just saying that to me, it seems like “scholarly” is not the appropriate word to use for the work that drives the field in analytic philosophy — just as it seems to me to be inappropriate to use the word “scholarly” to characterize mathematicians or logicians who work on present outstanding problems. I wasn’t saying that all analytic philosophers are hacks or something.

  85. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Maybe in some non-space that doesn’t require context, but in the real world it does. I really don’t want to argue about something so silly though, so in the interest of your ego, ‘Oh, right, of course.’

    The discussion wasn’t really so much about analytic philosophy, so of course it wasn’t very rigorous.

  86. Alex Says:

    I think the point of the debate was that what is “scholarly” is not necessarily the same in two separate traditions of philosophy. For example, it might be said that while it is more than acceptable for a continental philosopher to write a work concentrating almost wholly on commentating on another figure of the canon and bringing others into discussion with them (eg Derrida plus some other figure, possibly one you would not have put Derrida with), this kind of thing is less common in analytic circles. Also, at least seemingly, like science, Analytic philosophy seems to be more about recent papers and the arguments therein, than whole book exegesis. Hence, in part, the scientistic style.

  87. jholbo Says:

    I object to the inference that runs: since analytic philosophy is ‘based on the hard sciences’, therefore it is not scholarly (but some other sort of thing). It’s the old Calvin writing his report problem: you’ve only got one fact, and you made it up. Bats, the big bug scourge of the skies. (And stepping back to the effect that bats may be very nice bugs, in their buggy way, doesn’t fix the problem.)

    Suppose I said: ‘this fellow, Jerry Derrida, his stuff is all based on poetry. Therefore it isn’t scholarly.’

    How impressed would you be?

    Do you really think that Anglo-American philosophy, as it is practiced today in the academy, is mostly math and logic? No. You don’t think that. So why act like you think so?

    I’m not being snarky. I’m being reasonable AND snarky.

  88. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    No, I think it’s mostly math and logic and brain science.

  89. Adam Says:

    John, As frequently happens in our discussions, I’m willing to be proven wrong, but your objections seem to me to be so mixed up with strange misunderstandings that I don’t know how to assess your claims. Specifically, you seem to be unclear about the nature of an analogy.

  90. Craig Says:

    Would anyone be happier if the word “hard science” was replaced with “technological”? It seems to me that the areas in which analytic philosophy excels (philosophy of mind, language and applied ethics) are amenable to “technological” solutions. Figuring out the differing functions of the definite and indefinite articles, along with the ways in which they refer to objects, is a technological rather than a scientific question. And it is the sort of question the Deleuze or Foucault was not about to ask. However, you can imagine legions of junior analytic philosophers doing that. Likewise, the continental tradition remains – and this is quite ironic given Holbo’s “Holbocrates” pose [that tends to resemble Meno or Gorgias or Thrasymachus more so than the Philosopher himself for what it is worth] – the only place in which the nature and meaning of Justice itself can be asked (or Law or the Good or what have you]. Analytic philosophy, however, is ready to ask – and more than willing to answer – whether or not it is okay to eat meat, wear fur, and clone organs.

  91. Sam C Says:

    ‘Likewise, the continental tradition remains … the only place in which the nature and meaning of Justice itself can be asked (or Law or the Good or what have you).’

    Sorry, can’t let this fantastical claim pass. The ‘nature and meaning of justice itself’ is one of the main topics of contemporary political philosophy in UK and US departments, and much of that work isn’t ‘continental’ in style, traditions or focus. Rawls’s A Theory of Justice is the founding text for an enormous literature on justice. Similarly, there is a vast amount of not-obviously-continental work on the law and the good. Good grief, man, do you have even the first idea of the work you’re traducing?

  92. Alex Says:

    I (and I think Adam too) aren’t saying that analytical philosophy is based on the hard sciences, in the sense that it grew out of them etc.

    Lets get down to brass tacks on this, rather than share rather pointless to and fro jokes.

    What I am saying is that in style and in the sources it borrows from (for example, the brain sciences), it tends more generally to adopt a style and occasionally method linked to the hard sciences, rather than to social sciences such as psychoanalysis, critical theory et al. I think that it would not be hugely uncontentious to say, at least in the pop conception, that it is at least percieved as being far more friendly to the natural sciences than its continental cousin. And in general terms, it tends to dialogue far more with them, and generally toward the harder end.

    This, I think, can be bourne out genealogically. As a historical mode, analytical philosophy broadly began with Russell and Moore in the 1890s, rejecting the idealism and synthesis of the dominant Hegelian school, for realism and analysis. Russell’s writings, particularly later on tended towards a form of scientism, which restricted the role of philosophy to ironing out logical or epistemological problems with its basis. Post-Wittgenstein, the logical positivists attempted an even stronger claim regarding what is true, a radical empiricism and the infamous “verification principle” – restricting philosophy mainly to “the logic of scientific language”. Later, Quine, although rejected the two famous dogmas of empiricism, believes that philosophy is continuous with science in aims and methods, yet has a wider scope, though it essentially attempts to study the same thing, the human subject, a naturalised epistemology. I doubt you could see this genealogy as particularly problematic.

    With reference to the philosophy of mind, this is far clearer. Considering Dennett, Searle, The Churchlands, Searle and almost any figure you would care to mention is concerned with advances in computer science, cognitive science, evolutionary psychology et al and the importance it has for philosophical questions.

    I think that an analytical philosopher, defending analytical philosophy, would often say that one of the great aims of it is not an attempt to make philosophy science, or make it a super-science, but to adopt the very best elements of science, being clarity and rigour and small piecemeal statements rather than overarching systems.

    There are many more ways that I could argue that this is the case. For example, a question largely of style. Picking up a copy of an analytical philosophy journal it is far more like a science journal than one in the humanities. It gives little historical perspective, but gets straight to analysing the arguments at hand, who stated them and proposing corrections. Take this start of a paper, from Desire as belief, Lewis notwithstanding by Ruth Weintraub.

    1. Introduction: Lewis’s Proof
    In two curiously neglected papers, Lewis (1988, 1996) claims to reduce
    to absurdity the supposition that (some) desires are belief-like. My aim is
    to explain the significance of this claim, and rebut the proof.
    Lewis construes (and attempts to refute) the claim within a Bayesian
    framework (Jeffrey 1983). He assumes that agents assign probabilistic
    degrees of belief (credences) and values to propositions, which jointly
    satisfy the following axiom (ADDITIVITY), where the Ai’s are a partition
    of A:

    I am sure I don’t need to quote a similar continental paper getting underway too show the difference.

    I did laugh at Jerry Derrida though.

  93. Craig Says:

    Rawls presents a technological solution to the problem of justice (“veil of ignorance,” “the best off can only increase their fortunes if it renders the worst off better,” and so on) and not an inquiry into the Just itself. Rawls falls within the purview of my comments. The positivist and post-positivist origin of contemporary analytic philosophy puts it directly in the tradition of technological solutions to solvable problems. It’s no wonder that liberalism is the official ideology of analytic philosophy! These are Nietzsche’s last men!

  94. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Sam C.,

    I’m not sure you understand what Craig is saying, and with whom I provisionally agree with regard to this technological thing. He isn’t saying the word ‘justice’ or the study of something we can call justice doesn’t go on in analytic philosophy. But rarely are the big texts into this realm ‘justice-in-itself’ like you get in some of Derrida’s texts. Or Henry’s texts where he examines Life as it manifests itself. These kind of high metaphysical questions tend to be deployed at a lower level in analytic philosophy. Which is fine; in many ways I think English language Continental philosophy needs to deal more explicitly with ‘problems’ rather than commentary. Though commentary is often a way of doing just that, a great deal of Continental dissertations tend to be ‘Three Guys and Why I Like Them’ (that’s Adam’s joke).

    But, hey, aside from scholarship how do you define the two tendencies (and I like to think of them more as tendencies than a real divide).

  95. Craig Says:

    I’d note, as an aside, that I fully agree with Strauss’ tactic of closely reading and commenting on the classics as a means of retrieving the essential questions. And, yes, APS correctly glosses my position. But I’m glad to see that Sam thinks I’m a complete dolt who hasn’t had the misfortune of reading Rawls, Nozick, Cohen, Kymlicka, and so on and so forth. My technological position, by the way, also speaks to why Anglo-Americans are far more comfortable with Habermas and Honneth than with Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, etc.

  96. Adam Says:

    Almost 100 comments — go team!

    In the spirit of comity, let me clarify what I meant with my shorthand phrase that analytic philosophy is more based on science. What I mean is that analytic philosophy is part of a broader movement — that includes the human sciences — that attempted to replicate the successes of the hard sciences in “softer” fields such as psychology, sociology, etc.

    Although I understand that logical positivism (properly so called) was but a particular moment in the development of analytic philosophy, the general form of what can broadly be called positivism — dividing up the field into individual plots to cultivate exhaustively, the sense that genuine “progress” can be made through the consistent application of particular methods (e.g., particular forms of argumentation), etc. — still seem to me to characterize the analytic approach to philosophy.

    Obviously historical scholarship is done in analytic settings, and obviously one must know the field in order to contribute to the broader analytic project, but it still seems to me that the leading analytic philosophers are not primarily scholars — they are directly writing “primary sources” in a way that even the most creative “continental” philosophers are not doing.

    Even though I am not familiar in detail with analytic philosophy, I am willing to grant that, by their own standards, they genuinely are making progress, etc., and more brodaly that what they are doing is worthwhile. I never intended to call the value of analytic philosophy into question, but only to challenge its hegemony and the ways Leiter’s rankings reinforce said hegemony.

    Relatedly, John Holbo, an analytically trained philosopher, seems to advocate a form of positivism as the normative approach for all academic disciplines, most notably literature. The problem with Theory in English departments isn’t so much that it’s “romantic” as that it amounts to a kind of compulsory romanticism — only a few people can genuinely pull off romanticism, and so everyone else’s energies would be better directed in a more or less positivist direction (Moretti, etc.). As it stands, Holbo argues that compulsory romanticism has resulted in work that is pretty bad as romanticism and that isn’t very useful in other ways — that is, there is no shared project to which it is contributing.

    Why Holbo so strenuously objects to the characterization of analytic philosophy as broadly positivistic is, therefore, mystifying to me. But you know what they say: Worauf man nicht sprechen kann…

  97. jholbo Says:

    Craig: “Would anyone be happier if the word “hard science” was replaced with “technological”?”

    Yes. This just goes to show how overrated happiness is, as an intellectual virtue. (Such a sorry spectacle it presents, in a case like this one.)

    Adam: “Why Holbo so strenuously objects to the characterization of analytic philosophy as broadly positivistic is, therefore, mystifying to me.”

    Because it isn’t, broadly, positivistic? I think you may be confusing ‘positivistic’ and ‘piecemeal’. But that, too, would be still in serious need of qualification.

    Look, the basic problem here, as I see it, is that the following chain of reasoning is problematic: ‘I don’t know what analytic philosophy is like. I haven’t read much, but here’s what’s wrong with it’. The problem comes with the third step. How can you know what’s wrong with analytic philosophy if you don’t know what it is. (Not to sound like Socrates, twitting Meno – who is notoriously slow to pick up on the sorts of considerations I’m always emphasizing – but there you have it.)

    Alex: “I think that an analytical philosopher, defending analytical philosophy, would often say that one of the great aims of it is not an attempt to make philosophy science, or make it a super-science, but to adopt the very best elements of science, being clarity and rigour and small piecemeal statements rather than overarching systems.”

    I’ll buy that.

    You would have to add that lots of people within the Anglo-American tradition would disagree with the idea that philosophy can take the natural sciences as a model. But at least Alex is trying to get the history right. That’s important in this case.

  98. Adam Says:

    John, I’m not critiquing analytic philosophy. If you’re taking “something other than ‘scholarly’ in the strict sense” as an insult, you are reading in something that I am absolutely, totally not intending.

  99. Adam Says:

    As a courtesy to us, John, can you please either supply us with an idea of what you think analytic philosophy is or point us toward an article that you consider reliable? (I’ve already read Scott Soames’ history of analytic philosophy in America.)

  100. ben wolfson Says:

    ‘Three Guys and Why I Like Them’ (that’s Adam’s joke).

    I read a dissertation recently that was basically exactly this. Really frustrating since it was more like “Three Guys and Why I Like Each of Them, But I Won’t Tell You What They Have to Do with Each Other”.

    Later, Quine, although rejected the two famous dogmas of empiricism, believes that philosophy is continuous with science in aims and methods, yet has a wider scope, though it essentially attempts to study the same thing, the human subject, a naturalised epistemology.

    This isn’t really to the point, but there was a colloquium talk at Stanford last year given by a historian of analytic philosophy about Quine (which was very interesting). During the Q&A session afterwards, one of the professors (who studies phil. of physics and, I think, Husserl) remarked that some of the quotations given from Quine were the kind of things that the village atheist could have produced.

  101. jholbo Says:

    Adam, as with ‘bats, the big bug scourge of the skies’, the problem isn’t so much the scourge part as the bug part. That is, the problem isn’t (so much) that your view of what goes on in Anglo-American philosophy departments is insulting; rather, it doesn’t fit what goes on in Anglo-American philosophy departments.

    You are taking a technical slice and construing it is an adequate paradigm for the whole. And then you reproach these folks for mistaking a technical slice for the whole. As Wittgenstein says, we predicate of the subject matter what lies in the mode of presentation. You have a narrow view of analytic philosophy. So analytic philosophy looks to you like a narrow view.

    I’m not going to tell you what article to read, since no one article could qualify you to advance what looks to me like a strong false consciousness theory about what is going on in Anglo-American philosophy. You are saying that Anglo-American philosophers don’t themselves understand what they are up to. (The time for asking for a decent intro article is long past, by the time you are making such claims.) It’s good that you have read the Soames, which is a good text to start with, but you pretty clearly disagree with Soames’ assessment of the character of Anglo-American philosophy. I would say Soames view is rather narrow, but you seem to think that really what is going on is a lot narrower than he thinks. So you might start by suggesting what it is that gives you a better handle on it than Soames has (or I have got). He would never say, for example, that philosophy is ‘based on natural science’. He would say something more like what Alex said, which is much weaker, and (this is crucial) acknowledgment of which has the effect of making analytic philosophy less distinct from, say, the post-Cartesian line of modern philosophy. Not to mention the post-Platonic line in ancient philosophy. Analytic philosophers admire science. Well, that is actually pretty traditional in philosophy. So what is it that makes analytic philosophy distinctive?

    You write:

    “Although I understand that logical positivism (properly so called) was but a particular moment in the development of analytic philosophy, the general form of what can broadly be called positivism — dividing up the field into individual plots to cultivate exhaustively, the sense that genuine “progress” can be made through the consistent application of particular methods (e.g., particular forms of argumentation), etc. — still seem to me to characterize the analytic approach to philosophy.”

    But on this view, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant – they’re all ‘positivists’. Even worse, I take it they are ‘analytic philosophers’. Do you really mean to hand over the whole tradition to analytic philosophy, wholesale? I presume not. This isn’t a gotcha. There is a larger point to be made here, having to do with the fact that, post-Kant, there appears – almost for the first time – a significant line of philosophy that is comprehensively skeptical about method and progress and reason and all that stuff. (Skeptical in a spirit that makes them distinct from, say, the ancient Skeptics, I might add.) This is the counter-Enlightenment, running from the German post-Kantians and Romantics through Nietzsche, on to Heidegger and onwards. After 200 years it is venerable and impressive and nothing to be lightly set aside, to say the least. But it really is a departure from the main line, going back to Plato. (It isn’t by accident that Heidegger said so himself, in effect. And Nietzsche.) Scott Soames would, I think, be a lot more intelligible to our name-brand philosophical ancestors than Heidegger. Descartes and Hume and Kant would get into the spirit of what Soames is up to more readily than they would get into Nietzsche. It would be less of an intellectual wrench. (This is a large claim. You don’t have to accept it. It isn’t terribly well defined, but I think there is significant truth to it.)

    Hint: one thing that distinguishes analytics from the tradition is that, by and large, they don’t believe in the possibility of Systems. Or rather, they believe in the possibility of getting by without them. The rejection of Hegel is key, in this regard.

    I think one unfortunately side-effect of this sort of analytic-continental wrangling is that it makes partisans of the continental side sort of cluelessly polemical about the history side (seems to me Craig suffers from this). A standard line is to declare analytic philosophy to be a narrowly technical departure from the tradition. Maintenance of this line needs assiduous cultivation of a skewed view of history, so it seems to me. Since continental-types tend to pride themselves on being good historians, I think they should be a bit more careful about this.

  102. Adam Says:

    I’m hearing mixed messages from you, John.

  103. jholbo Says:

    Well, I’m not perfect you know.

  104. jholbo Says:

    I think I see what might seem inconsistent in what I wrote. (But, oh, the glorious consistency beneath the surface!) But you tell me.

  105. Craig Says:

    John, I’m well read in twentieth century writing (“scholarship”) from both “Continental” and “Analytic” schools of philosophy on Spinoza and Hobbes. While it is no doubt potentially misleading to extend my reading of interpretations of and commentaries on late seventeenth century philosophers to the entire output of the Analytic approach to the history of philosophy, I nonetheless feel rather confident in my assessment: Analytic historians of philosophy – or those specializing in canonical figures – have comparatively little of interest and insight to contribute. I’ll give but a few examples: Gauthier’s book on Hobbes, Bennett’s book on Spinoza, Cohen’s book on Marx. (I recognize that each is taken to be a classic.)

    Of course, the comeback will be: “These aren’t analytic philosophers!”

    (By comparison, I’d note that there is interesting work being done by people who aren’t clearly “Analytic” or “Continental” – Nadler, Yovel, etc.)

  106. Alex Says:

    “You are saying that Anglo-American philosophers don’t themselves understand what they are up to.”

    Get thee back to a hermeneutics class if you think this is what Adam is going. I see Adam as saying pretty much what I am saying which I don’t think is problematic and I don’t think you think is problematic.

    It seems to me that your specific problem is that analytical philosophy is said by Adam not to be scholarly, where he defines scholarly as something more akin to what literary scholars do, which is look at the primary texts of others, read them, often creatively, and with an appreciation of the surrounding history. Where as analytic philosophers, like scientists, engage with arguments and produce there own primary texts. I don’t see this either as at all problematic. One of my favourite things about analytical philosophy is this getting straight down to it mentality. One of my least favourite things about analytic philosophy is this lack of historical context.

    As I said, I was trained in an analytic department, in part by J.L. Mackie’s daughter, in a department which is virulently analytic – a staff member published a polemic called “The Vacuity of Postmodernist Methodology”. I would presume my exposure to analytical philosophy is greater than Adam’s, but I see no problem with his characterisation of discourse in the subject as I have experienced it. In general, we were never introduced to a figure by analysis of their writings directly, but rather by analysis of their argument divorced from its context and largely logicised. Historical context was lacking from any description, and only a vague one in a course on metaethics. The reading lists are generally papers, not full books. Figures great and small popped up with specific arguments and counters to those arguments – much more similar to the way science is taught, where one doesn’t bother with 20 minutes on Boltzmann’s context. It is notable though anecdotally that my girlfriend’s housemate who was a good member of this department and is going on to do an MA, who is fairly ignorant of the history of philosophy and arguments of philosopher outside those he has been specificly presented with, arguing in a “debate” regarding, say, ethics. Most analytical philosophers study what is the most recent argument on said subject, and are highly unlikely to return to, say, Plato and read him again, but are more likely to be interested in what x latest guy had to say, much like a scientist, who doesn’t bother reading Newton on gravity.

    I should say that I am afraid I have to agree with Craig regarding scholarship of Nietzsche in the 20th century. Analytic readings of Nietzsche seem to fail to appreciate his use of literary genre and attempt to hammer his writing into specific predefined philosophical categories (eg realist, idealist, relativist, existentialist etc), where as his position (if he has one) is outside these. Continental readings tend to be more interesting and more right. Like the natural sciences, I can’t seem to doubt that any definition of analytical philosophy would have to include what is found here, a natural conservatism, much like the natural conservatism found in science, in that all statements and progress are piecemeal and any change is resisted. Whereas, in the 20th century at least, continental philosophy has not been, but has tied itself, for better or worse, to a number of literary and political avant gardes. This, of course, is not exhaustive.

    You John seem to spend a lot of time policing peoples discourse regarding analytical philosophy, since you are an analytical philosopher, and saying that people don’t understand you. I think I have a fair grasp of what analytical philosophy is, how it works and what its strengths and weaknesses are, though I don’t consider myself an analytical philosopher. Yet in the past have spent equal and perhaps greater amounts of time telling people what is wrong with “theory” in general (Theory’s Empire anyone) and continental philosophy and specific continental philosophers. Your rhetoric strategy is both paternalistic and often patronising. While continental philosophers are incapable of even characterising basic things about analytic philosophy, such as its relation to natural science, you are more than capable of characterising whole discourses and figures of continental philosophy, even when people who are more expert on these areas claim you are mistaken.

    For example, on Zizek, who you should note, I am not a particular fan of at all, I do see where Adam is coming from on this one in the recent spat – in fact your response betrays the fact you are an analytic philosopher – pointing the finger at x slip up here, and y slip up there is the classic mode of analytic argument, which there is nothing wrong with. But it is what you do afterwards that seems uncharacteristically analytic, claiming that x slipup here and there renders the entire figure (eg Zizek, Derrida) as rubbish.

  107. jholbo Says:

    In my defense, my style is a strictly external device, deployed in self-defense. No one gets the high-hand from me who didn’t give it first.

    Here’s the deal: if you address me in a civil and respectful manner, I will be civil and respectful. The fact that I will otherwise give you the high-hand is supposed to be a motivation to be civil. Since I can be extremely annoying. (Admittedly, this threat regime doesn’t seem to work very well. Maybe I should make the tit-for-tat terms of the deal clearer.)

    Alex: “While continental philosophers are incapable of even characterising basic things about analytic philosophy, such as its relation to natural science, you are more than capable of characterising whole discourses and figures of continental philosophy, even when people who are more expert on these areas claim you are mistaken.”

    The difference between me on continental philosophy and Adam K. on analytic philosophy is that I’ve spent years studying continental philosophy – concentrating on it, teaching it, writing about it. Adam has not devoted years of his life to reading books and books about analytic philosophy. Nor does he claim otherwise.

    I also don’t ever claim that a single slip-up means I can just rubbish someone with impunity. Find a place where I have done so, and I will apologize. (And thank you for providing me with the opportunity, in the bargain. Because it is true: we all slip sometimes.)

    As to ‘policing the discourse': how so? I criticize, it’s true. But I don’t make arguments from authority.

  108. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    You know, this was originally a post about Leiter and Continental philosophy that was forced to become a comment thread on analytic philosophy. Since none of us study analytic philosophy, as Holbo has pointed out numerous times now, can we just stop. Though he isn’t making that argument from authority. Even when he says, ‘The difference between me on continental philosophy and Adam K. on analytic philosophy is that I’ve spent years studying continental philosophy – concentrating on it, teaching it, writing about it. Adam has not devoted years of his life to reading books and books about analytic philosophy.’ Holbo is many things, but only Craig policies the discourse. And sometimes Adam. And sometimes myself.

    In my defense for not studying analytic philosophy – my areas are philosophy of religion and philosophy of nature/environmental philosophy. The stuff where interesting things are happening with this, in my opinion, is among Continental philosophers. The analytic discourse tends to stick to a pretty bad technological reading of ethics in both fields and with regard to philosophy of religion creates a taxidermy of abstractions (show me a theist in the world that is not in a philosophy department – it is easier to know what it is like to be a bat). I think this is in part due to a kind of allergy against sociology and a bad case of physics envy (such that sciences like ecology aren’t given as much attention in analytic/non-Continental influenced philosophy of nature that I’ve read/perused). I’ve been getting really interested in the materialist debates in philosophy of mind though, so I may have to suck it up and read it.

  109. Sam C Says:

    Craig: I don’t think you’re a dolt, but you said something which was obviously bollocks, and I called you on it. It’s still bollocks, despite hand-waving about ‘justice in itself’. OK, you don’t find the Rawlsian approach to justice interesting: fine. You didn’t get much out of Gauthier, Bennett or Cohen: also fine. But these reports on your personal taste tell us nothing about the nature and value of different traditions and styles of philosophy, or even about whether Gauthier’s any good. They just tell us about your intellectual failings. We all have them – it’s my problem that I’ve never got much out of Derrida, for instance. But moving from ‘I didn’t see the point of Rawls’ to ‘analytic philosophy doesn’t have anything to say about justice’ is daft. And it isn’t made any less daft by inventing the topic of ‘justice in itself’ as distinct from what non-continentals study. That just adds up to ‘only continentals study justice in a continental way’. So no, the comeback isn’t ‘but these aren’t analytic philosophers’ – I don’t much care whether they are or not, and don’t think that the category is of any great interest. The comeback is, again, stop talking bollocks.

  110. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    ‘You didn’t get much out of Gauthier, Bennett or Cohen: also fine. But these reports on your personal taste tell us nothing about the nature and value of different traditions and styles of philosophy, or even about whether Gauthier’s any good. They just tell us about your intellectual failings.’

    Right, and we can apply this to the Leiter report as well. Only the Leiter report is writ large. Only ideology blinds you to this being its character, thinking for some reason that a survey is anything worthwhile.

  111. Adam Says:

    John, You seem to be insisting on a strong literal reading of “based on science,” even though I clarified that that (imprecise) statement was a shorthand and spelled out what I meant. You also seem to be applying a really specific definition of “positivistic,” even though I said I was using it in the broad sense of the word that can be associated with the rise of the classic German-style research university. I don’t think that a circle of philosophers got together and said, “Hey, you guys know how cool physics is? Let’s do the exact same thing with philosophy!” I wasn’t claiming that such a thing had happened.

    So as I’ve said before in this thread, your apparent misunderstanding (or misconstrual, for some unknown rhetorical/Socratic end) of what I’m saying makes it very difficult to tell if I am in fact actually wrong. Of course you know more about analytic philosophy than I do, and I’m interested to learn — but I can’t correct my mistakes if you’re off in some corner correcting a straw-man version of what I’m saying. Especially when you then go on to characterize analytic philosophy in a way that I understand to be very similar to my own clarified understanding.

    If the very claim that analytic philosophy represents a particular school of philosophy rather than directly embodying the mainstream of the philosophical tradition is a “misunderstanding,” however, I’m content to “misunderstand.” It’s very rhetorically clever that you’re reversing the normal argument — analytic philosophy is broad, whereas continental philosophy is the deviation — indeed, too clever. In particular, disallowing metaphysics and philosophical systems makes it very difficult for me to see how analytic philosophy is following directly in the footsteps of Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Spinoza, etc., etc.

    You’ve made an argument in favor of analytic philosophy being the standard-bearer for the mainstream of the tradition as a whole — I’m not convinced. It’s not a matter of me “misunderstanding,” unless we’re to accept the “to know it is necessarily to love it” approach to analytic philosophy but reject it when it comes to, say, Derrida.

  112. bjk Says:

    To return to the thread topic, if you were ever wondering if Brian Leiter has the emotional maturity of a 15 year old who thinks life, including academia, is just like high school:

    I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this, by the way. It looks legit though.

  113. Sam C Says:

    “Right, and we can apply this to the Leiter report [?=PGR] as well. Only the Leiter report is writ large. Only ideology blinds you to this being its character, thinking for some reason that a survey is anything worthwhile.”

    Eh? Because I think that Craig’s glib dismissal of a huge field and several classic texts is silly, I should also think that the considered views of several hundred of my colleagues and peers are silly? Craig hasn’t so far demonstrated any particular grasp of the material he’s dismissing (I’ll be interested to see if he can, for instance, back up the claim about Gauthier, since I work on Hobbes – this is a challenge, Craig). Leiter’s respondents are demonstrably experts in their fields. Where’s the comparison?

    And what are you on about, suggesting that ‘only ideology’ makes me think that surveys are worthwhile? Of course asking people what they think is worthwhile, if what you want to know is what people (are willing, anonymously, to say that they) think. Are you seriously suggesting it isn’t?

    And what, exactly, is this ideology you’re diagnosing me with? At the moment, it just sounds like ‘disagreeing with APS’, which doesn’t look much like class-consciousness to me.

  114. Craig Says:

    Sam, you are conflating two separate points: first, whether or not analytic philosophy can be characterized as “technological” rather than “scholarly” and, second, whether or not I have read widely – that is, in both “continental” and “analytic” traditions – in the history of philosophy. Whether or not I have read Cohen, Gauthier, Cohen etc is independent of my assessment of them. For what it is worth, my problem with them is their technical approach which reduces their reading to an attempt to solve problems technologically: Gauthier is an outstanding example in this case. I’d point, for instance, to his treatment of Hobbes natural laws as an example – he is happy to include or exclude laws insofar as they contribute (or not) to his own argument. His exclusion of Hobbes prohibition against drunkeness is especially important in this regard.

  115. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Oh dear! Sorry, thinking that a survey is necessarily worthwhile. There seems to me to be enough sufficient evidence to throw doubt on the PGR (Leiter Report – and it is still in a very real way Leiter’s baby) and certainly enough to throw doubt on the level of respect it is given amongst APA types (i.e. the majority of American philosophers). The ideology line was mostly a joke because I see a real inconsistency to what you’re saying.

  116. Sam C Says:

    Craig: I have no strong view about the technological character of analytic philosophy, since I don’t think ‘analytic philosophy’ is a useful category except as a label for a movement of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. The term certainly isn’t much use in describing what’s currently going on in philosophy departments. I was objecting, first, to your ridiculous claim that only thought in the continental tradition(s) addresses the meaning and nature of justice; second, to your dismissal of some specific, classic texts. You now claim, bizarrely, that ‘Whether or not I have read Cohen, Gauthier, Cohen [sic] etc is independent of my assessment of them.’ This is only true if you don’t mind your assessment being uninformed. Your attempt to back up your characterisation of Gauthier is equally peculiar: in the first place, Leviathan chapters xiv and xv list 19 laws of nature, and none of them is a prohibition on drunkenness. In the second, even if Hobbes does assert such a law (where?), you need to explain how that law is problematic for Gauthier’s characterisation of the laws of nature. Third, even if you do that, you’ve shown that there’s a problem with Gauthier, not that he has ‘little of interest and insight to contribute’: if you could show the latter with a single criticism, think what would result for, e.g., Derrida or Zizek. Fourth, Gauthier’s project is to produce a ‘best version’ of Hobbes’s argument, and he can therefore, quite legitimately, follow the line of coherence and ignore Hobbes’s own mistakes and asides. Why should he be doing just what you want to do with Hobbes?

    APS: I’ve never claimed that the PGR is perfect or that its rankings are completely authoritative, just that it does a decent job at what it sets out to do (and I don’t have any influence over the APA). The evidence offered here for systemic bias depends on an idea which I’ve objected to several times, that there are distinct styles of philosophy with wholly different standards, such that there are ‘analytic’ practitioners who can’t pass any reasonable judgement on the work of ‘continental’ ones. One reason for doing mass surveys is precisely to avoid the effects of our own individual bias and ignorance, but saying that we individually have such failings is not the same as agreeing that analytic and continental are armed camps facing each other across no-man’s land. So, while I now see what you were getting at, I don’t think there’s any inconsistency in what I said.

  117. Craig Says:

    Sam, you might want to re-check your copy of Gauthier and Hobbes alike. From Gauthier (I’m reading from page 57 of the paperback edition to the original 1969 edition of his book):

    “After listing those laws of nature which are conditions of peace, Hobbes mentions ‘other things tending to the destruction of particular men; as drunkeness [my emphasis], and all other parts of intemperance [my emphasis]; which may therefore also be reckoned amongst those things which the law of nature hath forbidden; but are not necessary to be mentioned, nor are pertinent enough to this place’ (E.W. iii, p. 144). Hobbes often speaks as if he equated laws of nature with conditions of peace. But his general definition does not contain this restriction, which would rule out precepts such as that against drunkeness. However, these further laws of nature play no significant role in Hobbes’s moral theory, and none at all in his political theory. Perhaps we might lable them rules of personal prudence.”

    Now, superficially, Gauthier is correct: these are inessential addendum – afterall, Hobbes clearly says so. But, on a closer reading, Hobbes says that we don’t need to mention them, but we do, afterall, go on to mention them. If they, in fact, did not need to be mentioned and were “inessential” and played no part in his “moral or political theory” then Hobbes would have no reason to mention that they need not be mentioned. But, clearly, he does mention them – he’s purposefully drawing our attention to them.

    Let’s pose a question to Gauthier – one he doesn’t even consider – if they are inessential, why are they raised? And why are they raised in what has been identified as one of the essential parts of the book? Why would he raise them as neither “moral” nor “political” but “natural”? What purpose, given the entirety of Hobbes’ project, could the inclusion of such laws play?

    This, I charge, is a common move in much analytic work on canonical figures: the so-called “dross” is thrown away in order to provide a “purified” version of the thinker under consideration. A version which more resembles the interpreter than the interpreted text – as you clearly recognize in your comment. As I’ve said, this is all fine, but it is neither scholarship nor particularly good historical work. Rather, it immediately falls into the progressivist technological discourse of resolvable problems that characterizes most analytic philosophy.

  118. Roman Says:

    Craig: I’m confused. Looking at that passage, it seems fairly reasonable to interpret it in this way: Hobbes has listed those natural laws necessary for peace. Those are the important ones for him, since he is after all writing a book of political philosophy. But why is peace the desired end? Because peace is conducive to self-preservation. All natural laws are moral laws, and they are all laws that ultimately contribute to self-preservation. Hobbes wants to point out that there are ways in which individuals might destroy themselves even within a commonwealth; these do not concern the commonwealth, though the particular human beings should be concerned about them. So, Hobbes (1) mentions these laws in passing, so as to point out that morality has a wider scope than just grounding a political body, and (2) points out that, since he is concerned with the grounds of a political body, the other moral laws are not of interest to him.

    Moreover, one can read the “mention” claim thus: there are lots of laws against intemperance, like the prohibition on drunkenness, but we don’t need to mention them all. Hobbes is just pointing out that he is not going to talk about laws of this kind, and he gives drunkenness as an example of the sort of thing he is not going to talk about. This seems to me to be at least a perfectly natural reading of Hobbes, and I don’t buy your claim that “on a closer reading, Hobbes says that we don’t need to mention them, but we do, afterall, go on to mention them.” I’m not really sure why you think that is a “closer reading.” But, in any case, it seems wrong: Hobbes does not “go on to mention them.” At this point, he’s already done with them. He’s pointed to a class of laws, stated that we don’t need to mention the particular ones, and moved on to a discussion of the laws of nature in general.

    This, really, is what Gauthier seems to say (I haven’t read him, so I’m judging by your post). These other laws of nature play no role in Hobbes’s political theory (since they do not pertain to peace), and no significant role in his moral theory (which also seems true, since Hobbes doesn’t seem to be very concerned with them). (I’m not sure where you get the claim that Hobbes raises these natural laws that are neither moral nor political. They’re certainly not political. But I don’t see Hobbes–or Gauthier–saying that they are not moral. Gauthier only says that they are not *significant* for Hobbes’s moral theory, which is at least a quite natural reading of the text.)

    So, it’s a little confusing what you dislike about Gauthier. At least, I really can’t see from your example. What you quote him as saying seems eminently reasonably. Why SHOULD he be so concerned with these particular laws? Maybe his interest in the text lies elsewhere (like, for example, in the sorts of things that Hobbes thinks are important). Or do you mean that to be a good scholar one should take up every single detail in a text and examine every conceivable implication of it? I actually have met some people who do that, and it doesn’t make for very good scholarship. It makes for a mess: if you have no organizing principles by which to decide which bits of a text are more important and which are less important, you’re not likely to produce a very coherent reading. Maybe you think the issue of drunkenness really is crucial for Hobbes, but you haven’t explained why you think so, and in any case I think one could just follow Hobbes on the issue and still be a good Hobbes scholar.

    Is a reading that leaves out some (apparently) insignificant features in order to focus on (what the interpreter believes to be) the important features thereby not scholarly? Is it typical of analytic philosophy as opposed to continental? No way. Will an interpretation necessarily end up, to some extent, mirroring the particular concerns (prejudices) of the interpreter? Well, yes. That’s hardly an analytic failing, but the nature of interpretation. Do continental philosophers, on your view, have no principles of selection whatsoever? Do they not decide which aspects of a text to care about and which ones to ignore? Of course some interpreters are too focused on their prior concerns and don’t pay attention at all to the horizon of the text: those are bad scholars. But we find them on both sides. If you’re scouring a text just to find some supplements and remainders, you are not likely to produce a better interpretation than someone scouring a text just to find some overlooked arcane argument against compatibilism. And as one would expect, we find both analytic and continental intepreters producing some good interpretations, and occasionally some very bad ones.

    In other words, attention to some aspects of a text over others is a ubiquitous and necessary part of interpretation. It does not, by itself, imply any “progressivist technological discourse.”

  119. jholbo Says:

    Adam, it was probably not fair for me to place the weight of the thread on your shoulders, as it were. It contains, on the whole, a number of sweeping negative judgments whose owners are doubtfully entitled to them (to my mind).

    “John, You seem to be insisting on a strong literal reading of “based on science,” even though I clarified that that (imprecise) statement was a shorthand and spelled out what I meant. You also seem to be applying a really specific definition of “positivistic,” even though I said I was using it in the broad sense of the word that can be associated with the rise of the classic German-style research university.”

    Here I tried to bring out the problem with my analogous ‘based on poetry’ case. Suppose I said ‘continental philosophy is based on poetry’. What would that mean? (In the maximally loosest sense, it might be true. But what can you do with such a thing?) So you generalized, with ‘positivistic’. I WAS using a really specific definition of ‘positivistic’ – namely, the one I thought you had provided for the ocassion. It seemed to me to have the unwanted implication that nearly every philosopher outside the continental mainline is a positivist. Here it seems to me important that people have a tendency to slight analytic philosophy by hinting that it is somehow narrow, so that ignoring it is quite warranted – such a narrow thing it is. Analytic philosophy is not the unique heir to the Western tradition, but if you think Anglo-American philosophy is narrow, as it stands, you really ought to say the same of the tradition, going back to Plato. (Reductio ad absurdum on the argument that the character of analytic philosophy warrants ignoring it.)

    I guess I felt that you were sliding between nodding to the parody view of analytic philosophy, as you do above, and subscribing to it, from which point of view it’s true that analytic philosophy looks pretty parodic.

    Mostly I just felt that a thread like this, under a post title like that, could do with a bit of knocking around. But now we’ve done that, so no need to stand it back up to knock it down again.

    I am not so much concerned that people should think well of analytic philosophy as that they should be more agnostic about it, since most people who work in continental philosophy don’t really study analytic philosophy. The same goes in the other direction, of course.

    Craig, I think in reading analytic philosophy you may be guilty of the inverse procedure to the one you criticize: what is distinctive and good about analytic philosophy is thrown away, leaving you with a drossified technological product you can then pillory, in satisfactory fashion. You are free to proceed that way, but you shouldn’t mistake your product for the original. That makes not just for bad historicism but bad presentism. You miss what people are currently up to. You aren’t wrong that analytics are puzzlers and small problem fetishists. And this has problems (though it also has virtues.) But, again, this is a tendency that has strong roots going back to Plato. I also doubt that ‘technological’ is the word for it, although I realize there is precedent for using this term this way.

  120. Sam C Says:

    Roman’s said almost everything I’d want to, but more elegantly than I would have (nicely done, Roman).

    Craig: I stand by my original claim that Hobbes does not list a prohibition of drunkenness as a law of nature – what he’s doing in the passage you quote is acknowledging that, on his general (and subversive) definition of ‘law of nature’ as a rational maxim of self-preservation, many pieces of advice (don’t drink too much; don’t smoke; use suncream) would count as laws of nature in addition to the nineteen laws he’s specified. However, he’s not interested in all such maxims, only those which are required for civil peace, and it’s those which he lists as (properly) laws of nature. So, Hobbes did have a straightforward reason for mentioning drunkenness: it’s an example which makes a point clear (just as ‘use suncream’ was for me, above – doesn’t mean that suncream is of any importance to my main point). The sentence directly before the one you quote is ‘These [laws just listed] are the laws of nature dictating peace for a means of conservation of men in multitudes; and which only concern the doctrine of civil society.’ Hobbes gives a definition of ‘law of nature’ and then refines it; drunkenness is an example of what’s left out by the refinement, and is never mentioned again in a relevant context (although intemperance is, once).

    So, Gauthier seems right to follow Hobbes in putting it, and other mere prudent advice, to one side. And whether or not he’s right, that you disagree with him about this particular point hardly shows that he has ‘little of interest and insight to contribute’. Even if the point about drunkenness is the key to an entirely new reading of Hobbes (perhaps drawing on xxxi.40, ‘natural punishments’, which is the other place Hobbes mentions intemperance), you haven’t shown that Gauthier’s worthless, just that there are many different ways of reading Leviathan. And who’s surprised by that?

    What I’m objecting to in general is your apparent belief that there’s only one legitimate way of reading texts – your way – and that anyone who does anything else (who dares to investigate Hobbes as raising interesting problems and seeking answers to them, for instance) can be dismissed.

    I think that Gauthier offers many insights into Hobbes: on the connection between his mechanistic psychology and his politics, on the rationality of being moral, etc. I don’t think he offers all possible insights – how could he? I’d be interested to know what you think insight into Hobbes would be – perhaps you could give an example? Or is ‘Hobbes mentions drunkenness once, explicitly as an example of what he’s not interested in, but really because that’s the key to his thought’ an example? I’m not impressed, if so.

  121. Adam Says:

    John, In the past, I had an uninformed polemic against analytic philosophy. Now I’m more agnostic, leaning in a positive direction — in particular, philosophy of mind stuff seems really interesting and important, and obviously no continental people are doing that.

    I’m much more agnostic, leaning in a negative direction, on your characterization of analytic philosophy, since you simply contradict everything I’ve heard from other sources (including Soames, who would seem to be pretty authoritative), without offering any positive alternative — and when you do offer a positive description, it always seems to me to basically accord with what I already understand of analytic philosophy.

    I am not agnostic, however, about the value of continental philosophy, and I think it’s really obvious to anyone who studies continental philosophy that Leiter’s rankings in that category don’t even pass the laugh test. And I also think that, returning to the main point of the post, Leiter’s post responding to Critchley was utter shit — on basically every level.

    As for the main title, it just popped into my head and I thought it was funny. If there was a referent, it was to Leiter’s personal lack of argumentative rigor in the post in question.

  122. Roman Says:

    Adam, I’m curious about this: “philosophy of mind stuff seems really interesting and important, and obviously no continental people are doing that.” Philosophy of mind strikes me as one of the most interesting areas of analytic-continental interaction, because so many phenomenologists have gone in that direction, working through Husserl and Merleau-Ponty with a generous amount of cognitive science. Of some of them you could say that they are analytic (Dreyfus, for example), but there are many others who seem to be more on the continental side (though I do think this is an area where the distinction doesn’t apply particularly well).

  123. Adam Says:

    Roman, I stand corrected.

  124. jholbo Says:

    “since you simply contradict everything I’ve heard from other sources (including Soames, who would seem to be pretty authoritative)”

    Hmmm, my point was supposed to be that what you were saying didn’t sound like Soames, since he would never say ‘based on science’. He would say something more nuanced, and around we go again. In what way, exactly, have I contradicted Soames, do you find?

    (Really what I’m curious about, though, is what Craig is going to have to say in response to what seem like good arguments from Roman and Sam C.)

  125. Adam Says:

    You explicitly said that you thought Soames was too narrow. And you continue to insist on a strong reading of “based on science” even after I have admitted it was an imprecise thing to say and have clarified what I meant — this latter is extremely frustrating to me.

  126. Craig Says:

    Yes, there is much to say to both Sam and Roman – too much for a comment. (I try to avoid letting comments reach Holbonic proportions.) It’ll have to be done in a post – perhaps to Long Sunday – as they raise issues about theory of reading, of writing, and, more narrowly, Hobbes interpretation.

    However, one comment of Sam’s can be immediately dispensed with: his assertion that I hold the position that there is one reading of any text; viz.,, mine. This is clearly false. I’ll elaborate on this later in the other post, but I take it to be axiomatic that there are any number of readings possible. However, plurality of interpretations (or, more importantly, values – but that is neither here nor there) immediately raises the question of their relative worth and their use. (I don’t mean this in a narrow “utilitarian” sense.) There certainly is a subjective component in claiming that, for instance, Strauss’ reading of Hobbes is better than Gauthier’s or Macpherson’s. But this, clearly, does not suggest other readings aren’t possible and aren’t valuable – I’d point to Tuck, Skinner, Pocock, Somerville. Meanwhile, Schmitt’s reading isn’t particularly good, but certainly is interesting.

  127. jholbo Says:

    Adam, the problem was that either you were saying ‘based on science’ – which is not going to work – or you were saying ‘positivistic’, which might be a distinctive feature; but you then defined that in an unsatisfactory way. Specifically, a much too broad way. If you want to clarify what you meant by ‘positivist’, in the face of my reasons for not accepting your usage, feel free. Or we might drop it and take it up on another occasion.

    Re: Soame’s narrowness. Ah, yes. I see. I was a bit unclear. Fair enough. What I would say is this: Soames and I would agree, broadly, about a number of basic features of the history of Anglo-American philosophy, while disagreeing – rather severely – about the goodness and badness of certain developments (which we might still characterize in similar ways). And he would draw the circle considerably tighter in places. And he wouldn’t have much use for anything outside it, whereas I would have more use for things outside it.

    So I would draw the circle in one place, and Soames in a slightly different place. It seemed to me that you hadn’t yet drawn the circle, but you were drawing implications (analytic philosophy not scholarly) that required you to have done so more clearly.

  128. Alex Says:

    John,

    This appears to me to be one of the examples of the type of discourse you like to employ from time to time, which seems both uncharitable and unhelpful. Adam said that analytical philosophy was “based on science”, then he and I have nuanced this over-bold and inaccurate statement to something more subtle and more accurate. Yet despite this nuancing, you continue to harangue him for his early statement. You say above that you allow people there slip-ups, give Adam his slip-up which was what you originally objected to. A little generosity would not go amiss.

  129. Adam Says:

    I’d be happy to just adjourn this comment thread.

  130. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Would there be a chilling effect if I shut down the comments? Would I care?

  131. jholbo Says:

    No, and no.

  132. jholbo Says:

    Alex, I hope I am not being uncharitable. I gave you credit for having a reasonable take on analytic philosophy. I told Adam that his first shot didn’t make sense and his second was clearly too wide. Adam’s response to that has been to harp on how I’m hung up on his first take, which I’m not. So how is this uncharitable on my part? But you’ll have to answer fast, because Anthony is going to close the thread.

  133. cynic librarian Says:

    Adam, I knew I could trust you to come through with a relatively decent synopsis of hos analytic philosophy tries to be a science. I am sorry to have taken so long to respond. If you saw the circumstances under which i work, you’d weep (unlikely) or laugh (probable).

    Anyway, this a throny issue within the discipline itself. I think Tugendhat is right when he writes that few practitioners of analytic philosophy (AP) have taken the time to place the method and issues of the discipline in historical or philosophical persepctive. Tugendhat rectifies that situation in his work “Analytic and Traditional Philosophy.”

    Ostensibly an introduction to AP, it is much more and is quite provocative in its conclusions. In a nutshell, he asserts that AP is the pre-eminent science described by Aristotle in Metaphysics but that it correctly (AP) identifies the problems and methods which Aristotle only vaguely hinted at but was unable to carry through, given his emphasis on the object or “being as being.” For Tugendhat, the problematic for this new ontology, (he calls it the successor to ontology) is “what does it mean to understand a sentence.”

    I know this is going to be cryptic and I don’t necessarily agree here with Ernst, but it sure is provocative and the presentation and argumentation is probably the best example of AP that you’ll find outside of major AP texts by Russell, Wittgenstein or Strawson et al.

    The reason that I find Ernst’s take on AP important is that he’s one of the only AP philosophers to seriosuly understand and undertake to integrate AP with Heidegger. (He studied under Heidegger for some time. In fact, he even dedicated this book to him.)

    I was going to go into Habermas’ notion that AP (or philosophy in general) should serve as a mediating interpreter between science and the everyday public, but as I say, the circumstances I work under are laughable, though my keyboard is drenched with tears.

    I wlso wanted to go into the nasty little things that Wittgenstein used to say about scientism and the pretenses of Russell’s latter years. W verged on despising R but probably laid off because of their earlier friendship. W found all efforts to resuce all cultural activities to a scientific paradigm as barbarian. This from a guy who patented a deisgn for a jet engine in the early 1900s, designed a gauge to deliver medicine during WWII, but who also called mathematics an anthropolgical phenomenon (I paraphrase, badly I think).

  134. Fido the Yak Says:

    Marion’s criticism of Derrida is in the first chapter of Reduction and Givenness, about page 33 or 34 (I don’t have it handy, but cited it in a discussion not too many months ago). IIRC, Marion faults Derrida for misreading Husserl on the topic of intuition and signification, and his citations back that up pretty strongly. However, the take-away is that Derrida didn’t go far enough in his critique, which Marion approves of. I thank Sinthome once again for recommending that book.

    On the topic of evaluating readings of philosophy I’m kind of bothered by sloppiness, more bothered by tediousness, and really bothered by incivility.

  135. Sam C Says:

    I guess this thread is running to a natural close, but I’ll just mention that the reason I accused Craig of ‘belief that there’s only one legitimate way of reading texts’ is that he 1) identified analytic philosophy with a particular, problem-solving approach to texts; 2) named some classic examples of that approach; 3) said that such examples have ‘little of interest and insight to contribute'; and 4) offered an example of what he thought was real insight into Hobbes, the point about drunkenness which Gauthier puts to one side (rightly, in my view). This looked – and still looks – like the claim that the problem-solving approach is in general worthless, while Craig’s preferred, somewhat Straussian approach is productive. And that was what I was objecting to.

  136. cynic librarian Says:

    Not to add fuel to the fire here, but I think the Straussian “method” of reading texts has been debunked and pretty much discarded to the dustbin by Pocock and Skinner. In fact, Skinner doesn’t even spend the time of day responding to his Straussian critic in “Skinner and His Critics.” Pocock has taken on the Straussians in a work I haven’t had a chance to read. From what I understand, it’s pretty definitive in dismissing the Straussian readings of history.

    As far as method is concerned, you probably can’t get more methodological than the historigraphical (study of historical texts) proposed and implemented by Skinner and Pocock. Following Searle’s speech-act theory, combined with Geertz’s work in deep grammar (a term borrowed from Wittgenstein), they are able to idenitfy intnetions within texts that illuminate the political intent of any text from within its context. In this way, they shed light on unasked questions about the texts and their authors but also to elaborate historical occurrences that were unknown before. Pocock’s study of the Georgian era and the rise of capitalism is classic in this regard.

    As a final note, both Pocock and Skinner stress that their method is only amnong many others. They realize, that is, that there are other possible readings of the texts, accounting perhaps for Skinner’s supposed linking of his historical research with the method of Derrida.

  137. Craig Says:

    Skinner rejecting say, Mansfield or Jaffa, isn’t the same as Skinner rejecting Strauss himself. It’s comparable to writing-off Hegel because you read an article or two by Zizek. It’s a non-starter and certainly not definitive. As for Strauss himself, he died before Skinner (and Pocock and Laslett) entered into their most productive phases in the mid-seventies. What is the paper of Skinner’s that you’re referring to? Isn’t there some tension between the claim that there are many methods of reading texts and the claim of a definitive refutation of one style of reading? That Strauss’ hermeneutics aren’t very useful in reading Foucault or Laclau is granted; but I think Strauss has a strong case for reading pre- and early-modern texts. The fact remains – as Strauss points – Montesquieu could have been drawn and quartered had he openly attacked the monarchy. The same fate doesn’t await Balibar.

    Turning to Skinner and Pocock’s method, I think we need to distinguish the history of political philosophy – what they do – from political philosophy proper – what Strauss claims to do. Skinner and Pocock are very good on drawing connections between thinkers and schools – what we used to call semiosis – but they aren’t so good on detailed readings and interpretations of particular texts. Call it another version of the diachronic/synchronic distinction, if you will.


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