Jeffrey A. Bell, Andrew Cutrofello, Paul M. Livingston (Eds.): Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide

Jeffrey A. Bell, Andrew Cutrofello, Paul M. Livingston (Eds.): Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide Book Cover Jeffrey A. Bell, Andrew Cutrofello, Paul M. Livingston (Eds.): Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide
Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy
Jeffrey A. Bell, Andrew Cutrofello, Paul M. Livingston (Eds.)

Reviewed by: Marcos Silva (Federal University of Alagoas, Brazil)

One of the many ideas that will remain with the reader after reading this very thought-provoking book edited by Bell, Cutrofello and Livinston is how some themes can become outdated even in philosophy. The troublesome distinction between analytic and continental philosophy which animated many discussions in the last century is gradually fading away. Now it is more a matter of ideology and institutional division than a philosophical problem. Moreover, we should be suspicious of the very origin of this divide. The enthusiastic consensus that this divide provoked throughout the last decades is by no means a matter of geography; furthermore, the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy is neither an exhaustive nor exclusive criterion for what matters in philosophy or for what it means to seriously engage in philosophical discussions. Conant shares the following provocative observation:

‘[It is] no more promising a principle for classifying forms of philosophy into two fundamentally different kinds than would be the suggestion that we should go about classifying human beings into those that are vegetarian and those that are Romanian’ (p. 17).

As the editors point out, the arbitrariness of the distinction followed an increased specialization of philosophical work in many highly nuanced sub-areas of research and motivated much ‘dissension, mutual distrust, and institutional barriers to the development of common concerns and problems among working philosophers and so has significantly limited, in many cases, the range and fruitfulness of philosophical discussions and debates’. (p. 2)

It is not an exaggeration to say that it is a timely book with a political message. This book encourages a high-quality examination of a more pluralist, cosmopolitan and tolerant way of doing philosophy. It also encourages engaging in fruitful dialogue with influential philosophers of the past and with contemporary interlocutors from different traditions. The international community will profit significantly from this book.

It offers a very comprehensive overview of recent relevant literature through the discussion of unexpected, but welcome, pairs of philosophers, such as Putnam and Foucault, Derrida and Davidson, Heidegger and Wittgenstein, Husserl and Tarski, Arendt and McTaggart, and Austin and Deleuze.

The volume will inform and educate new generations of philosophers to see how the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy may be unjustified, outdated and, in some cases, pointless when trying to address several important contemporary philosophical debates about robust problems concerning culture, mind, language, logic, subjectivity, politics and rationality.

Conant, Braver, McCumber, Livinston, Rovane, Zahavi and Satne deliver top-quality contributions to both the history of philosophy and to contemporary discussions, ranging from philosophical methodology to metaphysics.

I myself began as an undergrad fascinated by Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and then turned to (early) Wittgenstein and Frege. But now, through the recognition of some deficiencies in methodologies and perspectives in professional analytic philosophy, I am realizing the need to come back to other authors from a continental tradition because some present stereotypes are prejudicial and unable to address natural research demands without much institutionalization. Of course, some form of scientific naturalism or even of acritical realism should not be the only forms of intellectually valuable position open to a serious analytic philosopher.

In Chapter I, the editors show great optimism in their introduction regarding the volume’s potential to develop what they call ‘synthetic philosophy’; however, no other contribution in the volume even mentions this notion of a synthetic philosophy. This is supposed to run beyond the divide in which the contributions operate, i.e. in a context wherein the divide is no longer assumed to limit philosophical thought. The editors entertain the possibility of the two streams running together by illustrating some of the genuine emerging possibilities for synthetic philosophy today.

While the volume is expected to be pluralist and open-minded, there is no clear reason why so many of the contributors are from the US on the table of contents.

Some absences may be noted in the volume. While there are some discussions on anti-representationalism (broadly construed), there is no discussion at all about enactivism, which is a very important approach to contemporary philosophy of mind. No contribution even mentions philosophical problems in developing artificial intelligence. There are some peripheral discussions about Hegel, but no substantial investigation of the recent phenomenon of an analytic reading of Hegel. There is just one contribution that touches the important contemporary issue of non-classical logics, but not a single contribution about intuitionism and its possible connections with computer science through the philosophically significant Curry-Howard isomorphism. The relations between logic and philosophy could have been investigated, e.g. some lines of constructivism like the one championed by Dummett and its roots in Brouwer, Schopenhauer and Kant. Moreover, the only contribution on non-classical logic (i.e. on paraconsistent logic) seems to have forgotten all other paraconsistent traditions in this very philosophically seminal discussion on rationality and limits of language and thought.

The volume is divided into four parts and includes fourteen chapters. In what follows I will briefly address each contribution.

The first part of the book deals with methodologies and begins with a contribution by James Conant. He opens with a very lucid and critical evaluation of history and the main line of discussions in the analytic tradition. Since the Introduction is presented as Chapter I, Conant’s paper, ‘The Emergence of the Concept of the Analytic Tradition as a Form of Philosophical Self-Consciousness’, comprises Chapter II. In this paper he argues that there is no philosophically significant contrast to be drawn between the traditions. He observes as follows: ‘Contemporary analytic philosophers have begun to recognize that their tradition has nourished stereotypes about its differently minded (non-analytic) neighbors that were as uninformed as they were dismissive, regarding them as, for example, sloppy and overwrought’. (p. 49) Conant sheds light on the very idea of an analytic tradition in philosophy, tackling some salient aspects of its ideology and internal rituals of excommunication as some authors crossed an invisible line of typical methodology and issues and were more susceptible to the ‘fuzziness of thought, liberal employment of metaphors, extravagance of expression: to corrupt the youth, inspire imitation, and lead the next generation astray’ (p.34). Analytic philosophy’s relation to the rest of the history of philosophy and the history of analytic philosophy as a new form of philosophy are also investigated at length in his paper.

Conant presents and discusses an impressive list of quotes, which he includes chronologically. He shows Moore, Russell, early Wittgenstein, Carnap, Schlick, Austin, Ryle, late Wittgenstein, Strawson and Quine addressing the nature of analytic philosophy and its methods. It is interesting that Frege and Ramsey were not mentioned in this list.

They also maintain that Deleuze’s explicitly temporal modes of analysis and reflection on the basis of sense can be seminally connected to the sort of pragmatical conceptual-analytic methodology of Austin’s variety of ‘ordinary language’ philosophy. They summarize the following general question: ‘How could standards of correctness of use and necessary relations of implication be established by merely empirically existing entities with roles governed, at best, by empirical laws?’ (p. 61). Although the bridge built by the authors seems to me justifiable, the pragmatical touch given by Austin and Deleuze for this new view on conceptual analysis can be applied to several different philosophers. Some considerations, for instance, are incredibly close to Wittgenstein’s famous position that meaning is use.

Chapter IV presents Catarina Dutilh-Novaes’s paper ‘Conceptual Genealogy for Analytic Philosophy’, where she defines and defends a methodology of historical and conceptual ‘genealogy’ inspired by Nietzsche and Foucault, contrasting it to a Hegelian sort of historicism. Analytic philosophy frequently embraced what could be taken as a general ahistorical and anti-historical conception of philosophy, whereas historical analysis is always important for continental philosophers. She argues that a conceptual genealogy can be very seminal for conceptual analysis in an ‘analytic’ mode too, and makes a case for a future development of this tradition based on an historically informed analysis. She then provides a good overview of her recent work in which she systematically applied her proposed analytic genealogy to problems related to medieval philosophy and philosophy of logic. She writes that her paper ‘should not be seen as a systematic discussion of the concept of genealogy as such, but rather perhaps as a “methodological manifesto”’ (p. 102).

Chapter V opens the volume’s second part with David Woodruff Smith’s contribution, ‘Truth and Epoché: The Semantic Conception of Truth in Phenomenology’. In his paper, Smith examines in detail how the formal analysis which grounds Tarki’s semantic conception of truth for specific formal languages can be systematically applied to a more general phenomenological analysis of truth as it occurs in experiencing consciousness. He tries to accommodate both authors without prejudice towards some phenomenological topics that seem to be deprived of linguistic status. Smith holds that a realistic attitude towards realism can be compatible with some traditional topics of Husserlian phenomenology. He explores a model of truth in intentional experience, working within a broadly Husserlian model of intentionality which is central to Husserl’s conception of phenomenology, while drawing on a broadly Tarskian model of truth which is central to Tarski’s conception of semantics in logical theory.

Since there is no contribution on enactivism in the volume, we might see his statement that, ‘today it is a commonplace in philosophy of mind and perception that the content (or meaning) in a thought or perception is defined by appropriate truth or satisfaction conditions’ (p. 112) with some suspicion. Here let us turn to the ‘language’ of intentional consciousness, i.e. the structure of intentional experiences bearing structured meaning contents (p. 116). The question then is ‘why that?’ One of the main topics in some enactivist approaches to philosophy of mind is to negate Smith’s presuppositions on the representational content of our basic perception. I have doubts whether both Tarski and Husserl would commit to that thesis as well: ‘my act of thinking that Husserl was Moravian, with the content <Husserl was Moravian>, is true if and only if Husserl was Moravian. Thus, my thinking that Husserl was Moravian truly reaches out to the situation or state of affairs that Husserl was indeed Moravian. What could be simpler? What more is there to say about truth?’ (p. 118) Simple or not, Smith’s account seems to work properly with true elementary propositions, but it is revealing that he does not even mention how he could apply it to issues concerning complex facts, false elementary propositions and true negated propositions.

Chapter VI presents Jeffrey A. Bell’s paper ‘From Difference-Maker to Truthmaker (and Back)’, in which the author examines how the phenomenon of truth might have realist but nevertheless pre-linguistic foundations in a realist metaphysics of underlying difference. He investigates how some problems recently discussed by analytic philosophers regarding the form and nature of ‘truthmakers’, as the difficulties associated with explaining the relationship between a non-propositional truthmaking world and the propositions that describe this world, should be addressed from a Deleuzian realist standpoint using an underlying metaphysics of differentiation or ‘difference-making’. Bell states that, ‘it is precisely the nature of identity itself that needs to be accounted for if we are to explain the relationship between a non-propositional reality and the propositions this reality makes true.’’ (p. 142).

Chapter VII presents Lee Braver’s very interesting paper ‘Reasons, Epistemic Truth, and History: Foucault’s Critique of Putnam’s Anti-Realism’. Braver considers the relationship between Putnam’s ‘internal realism’ as a special kind of anti-realism and Foucault’s philosophical project of historical genealogy. Braver recognizes in both philosophies some influence from Kant’s rejection of realism and defence of transcendental idealism. For Braver,

 ‘both locate the starting point of modern thought, including their own work, in Kant’s rejection of realism, i.e., the view that the world possesses an inherent, defined essence with the concomitant definition of knowledge as the mind passively copying this structure. This rejection shifts the topic of epistemology and metaphysics from the intrinsic organization of mind-independent reality to the organizing principles of experience and knowledge, thus founding what has become known in analytic circles as anti-realism’ (p. 151).

Demonstrating that they are working on similar topics can enable dialogue and show how desirable such interactions would be since each tradition can employ the distinctive insights and strengths they have developed to criticize and contribute to the other on topics both are interested in. Braver also argues that, in defending an anti-realist approach to truth and history, Foucault’s position is more fruitful than Putnam’s as it advances important topics about the recognition of meta-ethical and normative problems posed by realist attitudes and positions. Braver further argues that Foucault and Putnam aim at naturalizing asymmetric power relations. As a result, Foucault offers better tools to cope with political and ethical stakes in anti-realist projects.

Samuel C. Wheeler III’s contribution in Chapter VIII, titled ‘Metaphor without Meanings: Derrida and Davidson as Complementary’, addresses how the different versions of the analysis of language’s structure developed by Davidson and Jacques Derrida actually led the two philosophers to complementary views about the relationship of metaphor to metaphysics. Wheeler investigates some of the ways in which these two philosophers’ respective considerations of metaphor unite them in the critique of metaphysical assumptions about meanings as substantial entities correlative to words. As Wheeler acknowledges,

‘What they have to say about metaphor is therefore quite different from accounts that view meanings as trans-linguistic entities. Derrida’s (1971) “White Mythology” and Davidson’s (1978) “What Metaphors Mean” are the best works on metaphor I know of. While the issues about metaphor these essays discuss are quite different, these essays agree on some fundamental theses about language and meaning’ (p. 172).

In this vein, we may call Wheeler’s paper a heroic attempt to connect two very difficult texts about a difficult issue. Derrida’s work is very enigmatic and sometimes pretentious; on the other hand, Davidson’s work is sometimes too lean, displaying, however, some important and difficult technicalities. I doubt that the knowledge of both texts increases with Wheeler’s contribution to this volume. Derrida’s text is so hard to understand that it requires a whole text of its own. I also really doubt that ‘Davidson thus would agree with Derrida’s characterization of the metaphors he discusses as “catachreses”’ (p. 183).

Chapter IX opens the third part of the volume on metaphysics and ontology. In his essay ‘Why is Time Different from Space?’, John McCumber investigates some classical metaphysical problems regarding the very nature and relationship of time and space. He uses a seminal perspective informed both by the outcomes of twentieth-century phenomenological analyses and by ‘analytic’ thinking about the problems of tense, change and becoming. From a Kantian framework of space and time, he states that

‘the issue of how, and so that of why, space differs from time is embedded in a variety of other, and deep, issues. Understanding why space and time are different may require tackling such other preliminaries as whether their distinction is apparent or real, why representations are sorted into inner and outer ones, why space and time can or must be ordered serially, what action is, and what it means for components of space and time to be compatible and incompatible with each other’ (p. 197).

McCumber is really provocative and critical about the Kantian tradition regarding the distinction between space and time, but in no place does he address the typical Kantian problem of the applicability of mathematics in our experience. What would be the consequence of his arguments for the indistinction between space and time for the nature of geometry and arithmetic and their application in our daily perception and activities?

Chapter X presents Paul M. Livingston’s paper ‘Wittgenstein Reads Heidegger, Heidegger Reads Wittgenstein: Thinking Language Bounding World’. He discusses the two philosophers who seem to be responsible, in the analytic and continental variants of contemporary philosophy, respectively, for the so-called linguistic turn. Livingston presents some very interesting, though brief and rare, examples of these two philosophers’ commentaries on each other. Livingston argues that both share a deep recognition of the problems about the relationship of sense to the structure and totality of the world as such. These problems are not simply concerning language as an historical phenomenon or as a formal structure, but are rather about our radical finitude, contingency and intramundality. Livingston states that, ‘Wittgenstein and Heidegger share a significantly broader and more general question of the relationship of language and world that remains open, and probably remains with us even today’ (p. 228). Livingston poses very interesting questions, such as the following about the problems of limits: ‘How is a being in the world nevertheless capable of grasping something of the world as a whole in which it exists, if it is capable of doing so at all?’ (p. 238). However, we might have the impression that he is addressing two great philosophers by using inadequate periods in the development of their thoughts. As some works have concluded, the most seminal comparison between Heidegger and Wittgenstein should be drawn using the former’s early philosophy and the latter’s late philosophy. However, Livingston addresses texts from Wittgenstein’s early philosophy and Heidegger’s late philosophy.

Chapter XI presents Graham Priest’s brief but very interesting paper, ‘The Answer to the Question of Being’, where he argues that an answer to Heidegger’s top problem regarding the meaning and truth of being can be found by drawing on the resources of non-classical (in particular, paraconsistent) logic. Priest reformulates Heidegger’s problem into the question of what makes anything be. In this vein, the ground of Heidegger’s aporia and its implications are some expected and deep contradictions in his existential inquiry. Priest then shows that being is an object and not, and then applies his paraconsistency machinery. Priest states that,

‘Heidegger was right, then, in his conclusion that one cannot say anything about the being of an object (even though one can)! And in case one thinks this is some peculiarity of Heideggerian philosophy, it is worth noting that the very same situation occurs in some paradoxes of self-reference’ (p. 256).

One of the lines that make Priest’s contribution seminal for contemporary problems in philosophy of logic is his proposal to connect Heidegger’s difficulties in his early philosophy to some paradoxes of self-reference. He amends the problem appealing to a certain construction concerning unity and its possibility, in the shape of his gluon theory. What Priest unfortunately omits in his contribution is that there are several approaches to paraconsistency which do not need to assume any real contradiction; other variants are much more deflationist and anti-realist, as they hold that contradictions are to be found within theories, among information and conflicting rules, but not in objects out there in the world.

Chapter XII opens the fourth and final part of the book on values, personhood and agency. Carol Rovane’s essay examines the problem of how to understand the possible rationality of genuine disagreement on values between distinct cultures or traditions by discussing challenges in characterizing relativism. Rovane presents a very interesting contribution regarding relativist challenges to morality. She addresses the consequences of assuming what she calls ‘Unimundialism’—the thesis of a single world—contrasting it to a multimundialist approach to morality in which there is an irreducible multiplicity of worlds. She addresses what is involved in multimundialism, providing distinctive and valuable resources for the logical, practical and metaphysical consideration of ethical issues and debates. She argues that the contrast between moral relativism and a robust metaphysical realism is a never declared presumption. Furthermore, she also argues that this presumption has fuelled significant anxiety among analytic philosophers, who tend to worry that if relativism is true then there are no real normative constraints on belief—or, as the most well-worn, if imprecise and airy, cliché has it, anything goes (p. 261). As a result, she holds that the opposition is false objectivity and relativism. Although universality and objectivity receives much attention in her essay, we do not see any talk about necessity.

Chapter XIII presents Andrew Cutrofello’s paper, ‘Revolutionary Actions and Events’, in which he addresses the work of Hannah Arendt, Alain Badiou and David Lewis, among others, thereby considering the structure of politically transformative events. Those are ontological entities that bring fundamental structural changes in existing political communities and regimes. He discusses revolutionary actions and events using a theoretical framework more commonly used to think about normal actions and events, namely, John McTaggart’s distinction between A series and B series representations of time. He states as follows: ‘Representing Arendt’s council system in set theoretic terms makes it easier to compare her conception of revolutionary actions to Badiou’s conception of revolutionary events’ (p. 291). Although Badiou’s ontological reading of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory  is just assumed and is not explained or even critically discussed by Cutrofello, it is a welcome surprise, typical of this volume, to have Goedel, Cohen and Cantor being addressed in a paper on politics. It is likewise refreshing to see Arendt’s view of revolutionary actions being discussed with McTaggart’s A and B series and Lewisian possible worlds ontology and modal realism.

In Chapter XIV, Zahavi and Satne’s essay, ‘Varieties of Shared Intentionality: Tomasello and Classical Phenomenology’, really shows how some strands in analytic philosophy of mind and language and classical phenomenology can profitably work together. As they state, ‘There are many ways in which we can be together, have joint goals, share intentions, emotions and experiences. However, current accounts tend to explain these different ways of being-together in terms of one single form of collective intentionality’ (p. 305). They face this problem by addressing both contemporary anthropological research and classical phenomenology to consider the foundations of the collective intentionality at the basis of communities. Their contribution fosters dialogue between some analytic authors, such as Tomasello, Brandom and Davidson, and authors that belong to the classical phenomenological tradition, including Walther, Schutz and Husserl. Zahavi and Satne convincingly make the case for the existence of some seminal overlaps between their philosophies, showing how they could complement each other in the elaboration of a more nuanced theory of shared activities and human rationality. The connections between Davidson’s triangulation, Brandom’s account of mutual recognition and Husserl’s theory of intersubjectivity are striking indeed.