Prof. Dr. Mike Sandbothe
in: The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Vol. 18, no. 1 (2004) (in print).
A House Divided: Comparing Analytic and Continental Philosophy. C.G. Prado. Amherst: Humanity Books, 2003. Pp. 329.
The much needed essays in A House Divided, while calculated to clarify the fundamental differences and similarities between analytic and Continental philosophy, will certainly provoke impassioned responses rather than serve as a manual for distinguishing the two traditions. Useful, fascinating, illuminating, these essays offer genuine insight into the evolution and history of the split in philosophy, but as valuable as these essays may be, there are still some problems with this volume. First and foremost is the selection of philosophers. Not Alvin Goldman, Roderick Chisolm, Ernest Sosa, or Alvin Plantinga, but Carnap, Quine, Strawson, and Davidson represent the analytic tradition in this book. This latter group of philosophers, which holds that metaphysics is no more true than poetry (Carnap: see Allen, 48); that concepts are cultural constructions instead of prediscursive givens (Quine: see Matthews, 159); that "metaphysics is subordinated to experience" (Strawson: see Stocker, 284); and that truth is a concept that needs to be "reinvented" in relation to its cultural context (Davidson: see Sandbothe, 253); is certainly much more amenable to the Continental approach than the former group.
Put simply, the essays in this volume are primarily Continental or anti-analytic, which is not necessarily a problem. But because the volume subtitle suggests a comparison of the two traditions, and not a clear endorsement of one over the other, unsuspecting readers may be a bit surprised when they discover that many of the essays seek to expose "the intellectual limitations of the whole 'analytic' movement" (Allen, 55) or to demonstrate that "the analytic tradition is intentionally bankrupt" (Babich, 92). For instance, Richard Rorty, who is more anti-analytic than Continental, claims that analytic philosophers treat the Concept like an immutable Idea, an ahistorical precept "which philosophical analysis can hope to pin down." By contrast, conversational (instead of Continental) philosophers treat the concept like a person, "never quite the same twice, always developing, always maturing" (21). Since Rorty rejects the existence of "an overarching ahistorical framework" (27), he sees philosophy, not in terms of accurately signifying or representing metaphysical concepts, but in terms of the conversation that philosophers can and do have with one another (28). And for Rorty, only when we abandon the "barren scholasticism" (29) of the analytic tradition will this conversational style of philosophy be possible.
Barry Allen and Babette E. Babich follow Rorty's lead by also casting analytic philosophy in an unflattering light. For Allen, analytic philosophers have deluded themselves. Given their valorization of science and logic, they naively assume that "the logical syntax of science" (52) is philosophically trustworthy. But were analytic philosophers able to understand that knowledge is poiesis (55), a provisional and experimental conception of the world, they would realize that behind science is a "rationalist will-to-order" (54), a "Platonic-Christian subordination of thought to a 'duty to truth'" (55). To make knowledge dynamic and liberating, therefore, it is necessary to reject the analytic philosopher's "totalitarianism of 'order'" (51) and to embrace the Continental philosopher's idea of knowledge as creative experiment.
Babich pens perhaps the most relentless and fascinating critique of the analytic tradition. Analytic philosophers pride themselves on being logical, rigorous, and clear, which is their not so subtle way of denouncing Continental philosophers as illogical, sloppy, and incoherent. For Babich, however, the analytic philosopher's virtues would be serious vices for the Continental philosopher. Humans and life are profoundly ambiguous, and since Continental philosophers seek to articulate the messy conditions of human living, "unclarity belongs to the essence of what it is that Continental philosophers do" (92). In other words, analytic philosophers may be rigorous and clear, but they have thereby "renounced contact with the world" (74), while Continental philosophers may reject systematic clarity, but they have thereby established a more intimate connection with everyday living.
Certainly not all the essays are as anti-analytic as Rorty's, Allen's, or Babich's. Many compare and contrast the two traditions, but these tend to be more Continental than analytic. Indeed, two of the strongest essays in the volume subtly suggest that Quine and Davidson could be neatly placed in the Continental tradition. For example, Richard Matthews intelligently and convincingly brings together Heidegger and Quine, demonstrating that for both philosophers "Logical and empirical propositions are primarily to be understood as pragmatic inventions," that "Neither Quine nor Heidegger think that one can provide any justification for the background theory with which we interpret the world," and that "for both Quine and Heidegger there is no non-normative argument to be made for logic or empirical science" (176). C. G. Prado writes a brilliant essay that reads Searle and Foucault against one another. In this essay, Prado cogently details Foucault's sophisticated and insightful critique of truth, arguing that Foucault's work ultimately displaces Searle's view of "truth conceived of as accurate representation" (206). And yet, while Foucault triumphs over Searle, it is Davidson who is the real hero of this essay, for he intelligently demonstrates why "nothing can count as a reason for holding a belief except another belief" and therefore "rejects 'as unintelligible the request for a ground or source of justification'" (207) for a belief system.
While it might seem that Matthews and Prado give the analytic tradition its philosophical due, such is not the case if we note how the first three essays of the volume distinguish analytic from Continental philosophy. Truth as normative construct, concepts as historically variable, the correspondence theory of truth as obsolete, logic and science as ungroundable fictions; such is the stuff that Continental philosophy is made of, so by demonstrating that Quine and Davidson implicitly adopt such views, Matthews and Prado implicitly make Quine and Davidsion Continental philosophers.
This tendency to privilege Continental philosophy is obvious in other essays. For instance, David R. Cerbone writes an astute analysis of Husserl's inside-out phenomenological approach to consciousness and Daniel Dennett's outside-in heterophenomenological approach, which is a perspectival approach to consciousness seen from the multiple angles of "the external theorizer" (120). While Dennett criticizes Husserl and phenomenology, Cerbone convincingly demonstrates that Dennett does not understand Husserl or phenomenology and that "the heterophenomenologist stands in need of phenomenological (indeed Phenomenological) criticism" (135). So for Dennett's science-based approach to consciousness to work, he must start with phenomenology, which is Continental philosophy's intellectual point of departure. Mike Sandbothe focuses his analysis on the longstanding debate between Rorty and Davidson about truth. For Sandbothe, this debate models Rorty's view of philosophy as conversation, because the two philosophers have for two decades been "contributing to the creative reinvention of our understanding of truth," and were analytic philosophy to attend to this debate, it could play a "potentially pioneering role in reshaping our future understanding of ourselves" (255). Both Cerbone and Sandbothe see much hope for analytic philosophy, so long as it adopts some of Continental philosophy's fundamental premises.
The four remaining essays admirably juxtapose the two traditions, offering genuine insight into the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches and suggesting ways to initiate dialogue and interaction. Sharyn Clough and Jonathon Kaplan examine the possibility of social justice "within a framework of foundationless knowledge" (140). Using Wittgenstein and Davidson to articulate their position, they demonstrate how both writers succeed in making strong "normative claims" despite their refusal to appeal to objective standards, because they "focus on the pragmatic preconditions for communication [that] emerges from a linguistic perspective, a hallmark of the so-called analytic tradition," but also how both move "towards analyses of the particular cultural and social traditions we inherit, and hence towards historically motivated understandings of the use of meanings and knowledge-claims" (150), hallmarks of the so-called Continental tradition. Barry Stocker offers a unique way of comparing the two traditions. Strawson and Heidegger wrote books on Kant, and by analyzing the way the two approach Kant, Stocker concludes that the decisive differences between the two traditions "is in what is given priority": "productive imagination and synthesis" for Continental philosophers and "understanding and cognition" (285) for analytic philosophers. But for Stocker, the most effective philosophy will incorporate both. Edward Witherspoon concludes the book with an insightful essay on Carnap and Heidegger. Focusing on Heidegger's concept of Nothing and Carnap's critique of Heidegger, Witherspoon identifies the central philosophical conundrum that plagues both traditions. Prior to logic or thinking is the undifferentiated "world." Given the way humans process information, they must conceive of the "world" as an entity, but such a conception falsifies the world. What then are the conditions for thought in light of our awareness of thought's necessary falsification of that which it cognizes? Put differently, how are we "to bring these conditions of thought together as a thinkable unity" (319)? For Witherspoon, Continental and analytic philosophers can find common ground in clarifying and then seeking to answer these questions, questions that continue to plague both traditions. As for initiating a productive dialogue between the two traditions, Bjorn Torgrim Ramberg offers a model of understanding and interpretation based on the writings of Davidson and Gadamer. For Ramberg, genuine philosophical progress can occur, not by finding common ground between Continental and analytic philosophy, but by highlighting the incongruities in the motivations and objectives of both traditions. Central to Ramberg's view is that intellectual progress occurs, not by accumulating verifiable truths that everyone can accept, but by using each tradition's constructed truths "as steps on the way to new questions" (230). Such a way of philosophizing, Ramberg contends, would enable us to "see things in richer and more nuanced ways" (232).
While I certainly find the essays in this book valuable and insightful, it would have been stronger had the title more clearly indicated the anti-analytic or pro-Continental orientation of many of the essays or had the book contained some anti-Continental or staunchly pro-analytic essays. And yet, despite these limitations, this is certainly a book that will benefit many philosophers in both traditions for many years to come.