“I do not believe, as Gary Gutting (a philosopher whom I truly respect) recently pointed out, that the ‘continental-analytic gap will begin to be bridged only when seminal thinkers of the Continent begin to write more clearly,’ but rather that it will happen only when the imperialistic approach of analytic philosophy is left aside to allow other styles to emerge and educate without being attacked, dismissed, and, most of all, marginalized.” — Santiago Zabala, coauthor of Hermeneutic Communism and author of, among other works, The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy
Analytic Philosophy’s Fire Alarm
Anyone who questions or raises doubts over analytic philosophy’s role or significance today indirectly pulls a fire alarm in our framed democracies, our culture, and our universities. The doubter will immediately be attacked theoretically, academically, and probably also personally. This has happened to me (and many other continental philosophers) on several occasions. It does not bother me at all. It’s just a pity things are this way. The books, essays, and articles that set off the alarm are not meant to dismiss analytic philosophy but simply to remind everyone it’s not the only way to philosophize. My concern is educational (given the prevalence of analytic programs in universities), political (given its imperialistic approach), and also professional (for the little space given to continental philosophers in academia). The point is that we are not even allowed to generalize or be ironic, an essential component of philosophy as Gianni Vattimo and Slavoj Zizek show in their practice.
The problem is not that John Searle was honored by George W. Bush in 2004 (with a National Humanities Medal) or that the research of other analytic philosophers is often funded by government grants but rather that these grants are not always distributed among other traditions. After all, philosophers are not supposed to simply analyze concepts in their university offices but also to engage with the political, economic, and cultural environments that surrounds them, as Judith Butler, Peter Sloterdijk, and Simon Critchley have done so well for years.
Sure, one must defend one’s philosophical position, but it’s not a matter of truth or honor. In philosophy and the humanities in general it has never been about being correct or on the right side of history but rather interpreting differently in order for the “conversation to continue,” as Richard Rorty used to say. This conversation is probably also what drove another great American philosopher, Arthur Danto, to stress the “value of letting go.” After all, “philosophical disagreement,” he said, “is not so important” because the “important thing is to be able to start over again someplace else.” But in order to start over someplace else, it’s necessary to overcome not only metaphysics, which some analytic philosophers have managed to do, but also its “imperialistic approach,” as Jacques Derrida once said. It should not come as a surprise that the French philosopher, who was among the first to point out analytic philosophy’s political ambitions, often set off this fire alarm with his deconstructionist approach. This is probably why in 1990 a group of analytic philosophers attempted (without success) to convince Cambridge University that honoring the French master was a mistake.
The positive aspect of this alarm is that it indirectly gathers together people concerned with philosophical education, plurality, and style. When any of these three features are ranked, restricted, and imposed we can see the analytic/continental divide emerge. Those of us who share the concern that ranking departments and imposing certain philosophical styles harm the discipline are relegated, as Michael Marder correctly pointed out, “to the margins of the profession” and are seen as concerned with insignificant philosophical problems. But marginalizing these continental academics in favor of a scientific training in problem-solving approaches in formal and symbolic logic not only restricts students’ interest in the plurality of philosophy but also permits the value of the discipline to be determined by universities rather than the philosophers who teach in them.
Following this corporate ranking approach, students interested in feminist theory, hermeneutics, or animal studies are not as likely to study with such specialists as Amy Allen, Georgia Warnke, or Mathew Calarco because they don’t teach in top-ranked universities. But how can students become protégés of other philosophers (as Kant was of Martin Knutzen, Hans-Geog Gadamer of Martin Heidegger, Judith Butler of Maurice Natanson) if the relation is determined by university ranking rather than by student interest?
The same problem affects professors, who, instead of being asked to engage in research to publish books (as most philosophers have done throughout the history of philosophy), are now pressured to expose their results in articles (like scientists). Just as Adorno, after the Second World War, became alarmed that music had to be cut in order to fit the temporal limits of the industrially produced LP, today we should also be alarmed that philosophers are forced to cut books into articles to fit the requirements of the ranked journal industry.
But this is not simply a matter of education and research; it’s also about style. After all, when Danto was asked why he began to study Nietzsche in the sixties his response touched not only on Nietzsche’s philosophical insights but also on the fact that “he didn’t write like an accountant, the way most analytical philosophers did.” If recalling this ironic statement sets off a fire alarm today, then the gap between analytic and continental philosophers is still alive, and anyone in agreement with Danto (as I am) will be attacked.
In sum, I do not believe, as Gary Gutting (a philosopher whom I truly respect) recently pointed out, that the “continental-analytic gap will begin to be bridged only when seminal thinkers of the Continent begin to write more clearly,” but rather that it will happen only when the imperialistic approach of analytic philosophy is left aside to allow other styles to emerge and educate without being attacked, dismissed, and, most of all, marginalized.