Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Babich, Babette E. "On the Analytic-Continental Divide in Philosophy: Nietzsche's Lying Truth, Heidegger's Speaking Language, and Philosophy."

(From A House Divided: Comparing Analytic and Continental Philosophy. Ed. C. G. Prado. New York: Humanity Books, 2003. 63-103.) . . . What are we doing and what do we mean when we name a being defined utterly beyond human comprehension? Can we think of God? What do we think of when we think we do? How can we know something we cannot know? Can we conceive a divinity, a being greater than which is not to be imagined, an infinite, omnipotent, self-caused creator of the world and everything in it? Or is our monotheistic thought of God, as Nietzsche wondered if it might be, nothing more than a de-deification of a god-filled world, a "monotono-theism" [74] - as Nietzsche named it - little better than, and more than half way to the disenchanted universe of a science bent on replacing divinity with a singularity at the beginning: the big bang as the boy scientist's idea of God. The rationalistic justification of atheism however is itself only another kind of "better knowing." As Nietzsche would say the claim to know and the claim not to know are both overweening claims, presuming in each case to know too much. And the question of freedom, tied to the question of self or the subject, who is it that speaks whenever one speaks? One is not transparent to oneself, one has no more certain knowledge of oneself than one has of the universe, of the past or the future. If one wills one's subjugation is one less or no less subject? If we have discovered mirror neurons, have we solved the problem of consciousness or do we merely presume it, once again? If there are unconscious motivations, if we are beings whose thoughts are manifestations of brain and body functions, what can be said of freedom? What is an illusion, what is truth? what is lie? Nietzsche, who began to raise questions of this kind, as we have seen, reaped a harvest of contradictions in his philosophy - but more insights into the nature of truth and indeed of human beings who use language to think about truth than many other, more sanguine and clear philosophers. To questions like these, and certainly to ones far better framed, analytic philosophers have answers, rather a lot of them, carefully repeated in the literature. For their part (and this should be kept in mind when reading authors like Heidegger and Nietzsche), continental philosophers tend less to answer or conclude inquiry than to compound their own (and our responding) questions - adverting to ambiguity, unclarity, complexity and all the detail that ultimately is required to begin to think philosophy as the meaning of life. It is significant that of the analytic answers given, none would seem to have purchase or staying power, not even for the analysts themselves. Hence and seemingly having exhausted their own mandate and with it their own project, analytic philosophy has begun to turn toward continental philosophy. Not, alas as rapprochement, not by inviting practitioners of continental philosophy to join the discussion, but only and all by themselves, and as if bored to tears by their own analytic themes, taking up the themes (and the names, like Nietzsche, like Heidegger and Deleuze) of continental philosophy. For the analytic tradition is intentionally bankrupt (this is the internal logic of the analytic method) but although rendered moribund at its own hand, within the profession (aka academic and editorial control) it enjoys the power of the majority or dominant tradition. To keep itself going it means to seize (but not to "think") the spiritual capital of a tradition whose own authority is denounced as that of non- or "bad" philosophy. The claim then, as it may be heard from Brian Leiter to Simon Critchley and Manfred Frank but also in almost every analytic book and review on the topic, is that anything continental philosophy can do, analytic philosophy can do better, much better.What makes it so much better is, it goes without saying in this assertion, its much vaunted clarity. But it is a claim that remains ultimately unclear, not only because unclarity belongs to the essence of what it is that continental philosophers do (and because unclarity, the very idea, is anathema to analytic philosophy) but also because the analytic method is ineliminably self-dissolving: whatever it takes into its mind, it ends up clarifying, that is, in Skorupksi's and not only Skorupski's account of it: analyzing away. Analytic philosophy as the clarification of questions or as the enterprise of problem solving works elegantly for idle problems of logic - one thinks of Russell's "tea-table" [75] - or for crossword and other puzzles (or within a closed system or defined universe of variables) but it may be that there is still yet more in heaven (and out of it) than dreamt of in such a philosophy. And continental philosophy in its best practitioners still does know this. Although there has yet to be an authentic conversation between analytic and continental philosophy, so that one justifiably speaks of a dubious estrangement - it still seems to the present author that the best way to resolve this estrangement is not to deny to acknowledge differences between one's own and another's language and theoretical concerns, all for the sake of a "conversation," if we may use Gadamer's all-too ordinary language for this indispensable and fundamentally hermeneutic engagement of one scholar with another. Not in spite of the differences but because of these differences, we might begin by speaking to one another, recognizing the divide between analytic and continental, and so including both in philosophic discourse. Read the rest here: http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/babich02.htm.

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