Posted tagged ‘school’

What does it mean to ask the question of philosophy?

March 2, 2008

One evening, after my continental philosophy seminar, I went out to dinner with the professor. He knew that I had been feeling conflicted about the direction of my philosophical studies. He wasn’t worried that I was going to ditch my interest in music and aesthetics for logic, rather he was concerned that I wanted to do phenomenology without being a continental philosopher. I told him that this was definitely not true, it wasn’t that I wanted to do phenomenology without being a continental philosopher, rather I wanted to understand the implication of phenomenology on philosophy of mind (and philosophy of music). He said, that’s what I just said, you want to be a phenomenologist without being a continental philosopher. To this I replied, hunh, then maybe I don’t know what a continental philosopher is. He said, I think that you don’t, but (ever the pedagogue) why don’t you tell me what you think it is.

Ok, I said, I will.

Continental philosophy is that type of philosophy, traditionally originating with Husserl, that is studied by continental philosophers. It includes phenomenology, philosophical hermeneutics, certain (all?) types of critical theory, deconstruction, and postmodernism. Then, ever the wise ass, I said, what do you think it is?

I’m glad you asked, he said, because you have it all wrong. None of those philosophical movements that you have mentioned need to be continental philosophy. Continental philosophy is not a type of philosophy it is a style of doing philosophy that eschews argumentation for descriptions and readings. That is what continental philsophy is.

In other words, I said, as soon as I attempt to break down Derrida’s essays into arguments I have left the area of continental philosophy for analytic philosophy.

That is correct!

But, I said, I’m interested in bridge building. I want to put Merleau-Ponty in dialogue with Dennett, and Derrida in dialogue with Davidson.

Impossible because they are dead! And you cannot step out of the analytic-continental divide. Philosophers cannot be discussed outside of a tradition. This does not mean that that I cannot discuss Quine or Ryle or that Dennett can’t discuss Merleau-Ponty, rather that when I do (or he does) I do it as a continental philosopher. So you are more than welcome to relate Dennett to Merleau-Ponty, but will you be doing that as an analytic philosopher or as a continental philosher?!

I don’t know. I just want to be a philosopher, I said while somewhat whimpering.

You have to choose, he said, if you are going to be a philosopher you must be one or the other. It is impossible to leave the distinction behind.

Hunh, I said, I hadn’t realized that.

And that was the end. Actually there was a discussion about Rorty, and SPEP versus the ASA and exiting the binary distinction, but it got repetitive.