Returns, Divides, and Bridges


900_a capriccio river landscape with washerwomen near a ruined bridge

I am going to start writing on this blog again since I no longer have an immediate philosophy community and it’s at least one way to not go completely insane.

What is occupying my time these days is trying to work through the analytic/continental divide (instead of merely talking about it as a problem to be eventually overcome or that is hopeless). I have talked about the divide before but now for the last 2+ years I have been writing a book on the British Idealist F.H. Bradley. I have written a bit on him (here and here) but not so much on why I think he is important for the split.

The age-old split between the many and the one is a huge conceptual part of the break that Moore and Russell made against Bradley, Bosanquet, Green and the other ‘mystical’ British Idealists. The problem is is that the pluralism of the analytics is often not stated outright and instead emerges sideways through the use of terms like common-sense. In a similar fashion, the notion that there is something like self-evident or common sensical plurality for the early analytic thinkers is totally anathema to the British Idealists – since it seems to be a posit that denies that it is a mental activity.

This notion of mental activity is derived in part from Kant and from Hegel and will of course be rejected by much of the phenomenological tradition (the tension being marked by the myth of the given) with the strange consequence being that far too many analytic philosophers see continental philosophy as almost equatable with phenomenology and hence philosophers of mind can see their own unacknowledged assumptions as simply a matter of course, a methodological necessity.

But of course the very break away from continental philosophy (in its British Idealist form) was not merely the adoption of a new method and a renewed connection to the physical sciences but more a scientific (or really logic-like) stance. But because this stance became so popularized and associated with positivism far too many continental philosophers associate analytic philosophy as such with a defense of positivistic sciences.

This asymmetrical misrecognition (between phenomenology and positivism) is the tempting shape of the argument to trace partially because it is tractable in terms of the ‘big’ debates (Cassier-Carnap-Heidegger or Searle-Derrida or Ayer-Bataille-Merleau-Ponty) or in terms of the opposition of explanation (logical) and description (experiental).

Post-Speculative Realism many people have pointed out how the return to metaphysics in the 1980s and 90s culminated in both traditions in the early 2000s. Speculative Realism and the ontological turn on the continental side and the explosion of neo-Quinean approaches on the analytic side point to more and more adventures into metaphysics and ontology. But even this apparent similarity is muddled by the different approaches to history in both traditions. The very discussion of returns or turns in the continental tradition notes its more constructive relation to its own history whereas in the analytic tradition it is a discourse of problems that is largely ahistorical other than as very basic terminology borrowing.

I think that in the background a more closely knit relation can be made within the discourse of logic and the social dimension of thought. The analytic returns to German idealism (especially Hegel in the work of Brandom for instance) in a sense makes a historical return to a time before the split. This return carries the threat of a de-metaphysicalization of Hegel (see critiques from figures such as Brady Bowman) in the name of a kind of collective pragmatism.

The stakes of the metaphysical in relation to the pragmatic index a strand of thought that has long been abandoned and has not been properly reactivated in the approach of the analytic and the continental. Thinkers such as C.I. Lewis, Peirce, Bosanquet, and Royce saw idealism and pragmatism as necessarily connected and saw how idealism could be the underlying structure for a logic or system of signification that was neither a transcendental nor a modern logic in any strict sense. This strand brings to light not only questions of ethics in relation to the logical (something that Royce was especially interested in) but also the importance of logic which is not indifferent to its content (which in turn has import regarding the question of existence, the ‘x’ of ‘there is x).

The question of the status of logic, the question of what really the line is between the analytic and the speculative (as James Bradley renames the analytic/continental divide) is perhaps what has come to a head with the work of Irad Kimhi. It is difficult not to look at the response to Kimhi and his work as not mirroring (but in a way different respective to the split) the reception of Meillassoux. Both thinkers in short texts grapple with the capacity of thought to either escape the bounds of the subject or to reestablish that the metaphysical cannot leave the psychological. The fact that the former is a continental thinker and the later an analytic one is perhaps one of the more hopeful cross-overs of the divide.



One Response to “Returns, Divides, and Bridges”

  1. 1 Time Melted Toy Brain | Naught Thought

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