Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Rockmore, Tom. "Remarks on the Structure of Twentieth Century Philosophy." METAPHILOSOPHY 35.4 (2004): 466-478.

The first step in considering the structure of twentieth century philosophy is to limit the discussion in identifying the important philosophical movements, those that must be included on any list of what went on in that period. In one sense the answer is simple enough. If we limit the question for the moment to roughly the last hundred years, we know that towards the beginning of the twentieth century, at a time when other philosophical tendencies were in the ascendant, three important movements emerged independently, movements which for different reasons rapidly came to dominate the debate: American pragmatism, so-called continental philosophy, and Anglo-American analytic philosophy. These three tendencies are very different, independent, and cannot be reduced to each other. Much of the discussion over the ensuing century takes the form of a contest for hegemony between them fought out in the philosophical space. Each of these tendencies has its own undeniable charms. It would be a mistake not to be knowledgeable about one or the other. It would be just as mistaken to think that one has a decisive advantage over its philosophical competition. I further think that at a minimum all three of them must be taken into account to have any hope of arriving at a viable understanding of the evolution of the recent debate. Anything less, an account which fails to consider one or another of these tendencies, presents a false view of the debate in the twentieth century. In different ways and to different degrees, these three tendencies have dominated the philosophical debate since they emerged. Their fortunes have been very varied. As a result of a variety of pressures, after they emerged each of them later changed in ways that perhaps could not have been foreseen. Analytic philosophy, which for about a half century has clearly been the dominant tendency in English-speaking countries, although that may be changing, emerged in part through a struggle against British idealism in England. This struggle was pioneered by Russell and Moore, classmates at the University of Cambridge and the thinkers most responsible for the emergence of analytic philosophy in England. Ever since Frege, analytic philosophy has been concerned with the semantic problem under the heading of reference (or what Russell called denotation). About a century later, analytic philosophy seems to be in the process of abandoning a theoretical approach to reference, hence the very problem as originally understood, while turning to pragmatism and curiously to Hegel. In different ways, for Quine, Putnam, Rorty, and Brandom, though not for McDowell a neo-analytic form of pragmatism is increasingly seen as the most viable alternative to a formal theory of reference. Continental philosophy emerged in Husserl’s breakthrough to phenomenology and continued through Heidegger, then later through such others as Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer, and Derrida. Yet understood as phenomenology it was severely tested by Heidegger, and seems, with some exceptions, to have sharply declined after his death. Heidegger’s theories, which he officially constructs on his reading of Husserl – Being and Time, his major work, is dedicated to Husserl – seem less to continue than rather sharply to oppose a number of central tenets of Husserl’s position, such as reduction, essential intuition, and the claimed link to Cartesianism. There is a lot of confusion about what ‘phenomenology’ means. Yet if the truth be told, Heidegger contributes less to prolonging than to putting an abrupt end to what has been called the phenomenological movement. Although there are still many philosophers committed to phenomenology, it is unclear that, beyond the term, they share anything approaching a central doctrinal commitment. Pragmatism, which is the only indigenous American philosophical movement, nearly came to a halt when Dewey died. Although it was still studied after Dewey, there was little original work from the time of his death in 1952 until, say, the end of the 1970s, when it was taken up and transformed by a number of important analytic thinkers. It has lately been revived in very different form, mainly through Rorty’s efforts, through the migration, or conversion, of such analytic stalwarts as Quine, Putnam and Rorty to neo-analytic pragmatism. Peirce, the inventor of pragmatism, was a strong critic of Cartesian epistemological foundationalism, which he criticized in a series of articles in the 1880s. Pragmatism, which emerged in the wake of Peirce’s canonical critique of Descartes, has always been a very pluralist movement centered on the concern to continue the discussion of knowledge on a non-foundationalist basis (see Rescher 2000). Yet neo-analytic pragmatism arguably consists in a collection of theories which bears little direct relation to the views of Peirce, who founded the movement. In simplest terms, pragmatism has now split into scholarly discussion of first-generation American pragmatists such as Peirce, James and Dewey, and so-called neo-analytic pragmatism, including such thinkers as Rorty, Putnam, and now Brandom, concerned to appropriate selected pragmatic themes for their analytic concerns, on the other. . . . For the rest of this essay, please visit the following URL: http://www.arsdisputandi.org/index.html?http://www.arsdisputandi.org/publish/articles/000128/index.html.

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