Sunday, June 16, 2013


I have been thinking about this topic and will post again on it later. Let us prepare by highlighting a crucial passage from Terrence, which I would love to hear more about:

Jason was using a sort of imagistic conceptual shorthand to situate and qualify a certain problematic. In Continental circles this is done all the time, and you can’t understand a single word of such thinkers if you don’t understand this dance between concept and image. This allows one to say much in a few words....
This pulsation between image and concept is not just decorative but I think it has a quite important function – that of permitting communication across incommensurable paradigms. An analytic approach often insists on commensurability, and feels that remarks coming from a radically different frame of reference are somehow uncivil, aggressive, or even violent and also ridiculous or nonsensical. The Continental approach (but I would argue that this is the case for the pragmatists as well) just does not see such closure of and incommunicability between theories that are semantically very different, precisely because they see another pragmatic dimension that makes communication both possible and potentially fruitful (dare I say enjoyable?). 

 I am not familiar with Deleuze, and would invite an explanation of image/concept. What I do want to discuss is what I think I am doing and the reaction to this style of communication. Terrence is right to locate it as a  continental style insomuch as that expository technique is common in continental philosophy and much less so in other traditions, especially when combined with continental's emphasis on a thorough grounding of the history of philosophy, which is required to recognize and properly understanding such references.

What I am doing is alluding to a historic problematic in the history of philosophy, preferably one all discussants recognize, and offer an implicit analogy between the current problem (a question) or problematic (a structured way of thinking a problem). In this case, it was Nietzche and the ascetic will as a response to the death of God by privileging scientific thinking, which is analogous to the contemporary problem/problematics of "scientism."
Concerning the reactions to this style of communication, I wish to turn to what Terrence says about analytic philosophy, "An analytic approach often insists on commensurability, and feels that remarks coming from a radically different frame of reference are somehow uncivil, aggressive, or even violent and also ridiculous or nonsensical. " I concur that he has identified both the theoretical and practical problem. Analytic philosophy does insist on commensurability between traditions if for no other reason that the truth is univocal. (Perhaps, but can it be thought as univocal?) Yet what analytic philosophy doesn't "get," and analytic philosophers with whom I've had this conversation at conferences over the years don't get, is that they took the other fork in the road after Kant. That is, analytic philosophy either denied the problematicity of the First Critique per the limitations of human knowledge, or insisted that philosopher's only "study the concept." I recall the latter approach being trumpetted at an eastern APA keynote a few years ago, although the speaker wrote "philosophy" and not "analytic philosophy," the only tradition for which that is true. In contrast, continental philosophy and post-Peircean Americanist philosophy took different paths after Kant and birthed the notion of irreducible subjectivity: we cannot divorce the truth from the subject that thinks it, yet this separation is precisely a founding motivation of analytic philosophy. I'm talking about you, Russell, Moore, Frege, etc ... and one doesn't need to agree with those theses in order to be within their historical grip. Yes, there are sub-traditions of analytic, e.g., feminism, certain Wittgensteinians, Mark Johnson and recent neuro-philosophy, etc. that would disagree, but "some dissenters" is very different from a whole tradition founded on that and other differences, continental or analytic, ... at least 150 years before the dissenters, e.g., analytic feminists, ever arrived. In the case of the Americanists, especially the pragmatists, Peirce played the role of a Husserl  fifty years before Husserl offered his insights to continental philosophy.

What's the point? The point is that continental and select Americanist thought reject commensurability. They do so not as a simple given, but in responses to logical and reasoned limitations on human knowledge. The way to overcome this is not to find the "singular truth," but to share in a tradition of philosophy, which also means that one shares in a circumscribed practice of thinking a concept: one can think the concept wrongly even if one apprehends its definition. If one does not recognize this, then they in fact assimilate one tradition to another: they assume commensurability and thereby do violence. Wonder why we're still talking about this? Violence.

When I make a reference to Nietzsche's aesthetic will before a continental audience, I expect them to begin applying that concept to the current situation in ways that I could never explicate fully, and may only explicit sufficient at great and prohibitive length. It would be a very "analytic" move to require formal logical explication of that concept, in part because few outside of analytic philosophy even suppose that is possible and thus would not make the demand. Instead, we implicitly negotiate an analogical argument. Within analytic philosophy, what I just said is scandalous and would be an obvious case of "unclear" thinking, for analytic philosophy prides itself on "clarity" and "precision." Yet that "clarity" and "precision" comes at the cost of accepting premises that continental and post-Peircean Americanist think to be fundamentally indefensible. I think Terrence's naming of this as "analytic liter-mindedness" apt.

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