Anna Brożek & Jacek Jadacki (Eds.): At the Sources of the Twentieth-Century Analytical Movement

At the Sources of the Twentieth-Century Analytical Movement: Kazimierz Twardowski and His Position in European Philosophy Book Cover At the Sources of the Twentieth-Century Analytical Movement: Kazimierz Twardowski and His Position in European Philosophy
Poznań Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities, Volume: 118
Anna Brożek and Jacek Jadacki (Eds.)
Hardcover ꬳ129
x + 345

Reviewed by: R.A. Goodrich (ACHE Chapter of the Society for the History of Emotions – University of Melbourne & ADI Philosophy & History of Ideas – Deakin University)

At the Sources of the Twentieth-Century Analytical Movement is explicitly drawn from the 2016 Krakow-based Naroidowe Centrum Nauki research project headed by Jacek Jadacki on Kazimierz Twardowski’s place in Polish culture and European philosophy (see ). Notwithstanding the title and subtitle of this collection, virtually half its fourteen contributions focus upon Twardowski’s and his students’ role in Polish intellectual life and philosophical enquiry, initially in Lwów (also known as Lemberg and nowadays as Lviv) from 1895 and twenty years later in Warszawa (Warsaw).

Readers curious about the fate of philosophy in twentieth-century central Europe’s killing field will be amply rewarded. Seven chapters partly or wholly focus upon the formerly partitioned Poland onwards such as those by Jan Wolénski (66ff. & 143ff.), Mariusz Grygianiec (124ff.), Anna Brożek (156ff., 221ff. & 236ff.), Ryszard Kleszcz (212ff.), and Marcin Będkowski (250ff.) as well as Tadeusz Szubka’s “Opening Word” (5-11) and Part One of the co-editors’ “Closing Word” (267-306). Collectively, the treatment of Polish philosophers here demonstrates a marked departure from the first, frequently republished English-language monograph by Henryk Skolimowski (1964) which regards Polish philosophers described by him as analytical to be definable by their approach to language. He noticeably tends to sidestep not only their analyses of scientific knowledge, but also their application of techniques drawn from the logico-linguistic realm.

For non-Slavic readers, who at best may have some familiarity with, for example, Roman Ingarden or Jan Łukasiewicz in translation, might wonder why so many others included by the editors remain largely ignored outside Poland. Do they share the fate of so many Slavic-speaking intellectuals prone to neglect because, in the words of Norman Geschwind, their “important confirmed scientific observations,” and “in other fields as well,” “could almost be expunged” from the knowledge nowadays of contemporary scholars for relatively predictable reasons (1974: 19)? These include “neglect of work written in a foreign language, neglect of work done by someone in a different field, excessive reliance on the authority of certain towering individual figures” (1974: 19). Should Geschwind’s concern be considered exaggerated, the recent proliferation of works by and about Twardowski nonetheless warrants careful appraisal. As Gilbert Ryle concludes in the case of Twardowski’s teacher, Franz Brentano:

Ours is an age of posthumous literary magnification. Reprintings chase reprintings; commentaries chase commentaries; unpublished writings … are forever being assembled into … collected editions which publishers …  unload on to libraries. (1976, p. 15)

Three overlapping issues repeatedly associated with Twardowski figure throughout the Brożek and Jadacki anthology under review. The first issue centres upon what Twardowski meant by “scientific” philosophy. The second concerns his seminal distinction between “actions” and “products” emanating from his 1894 thesis undertaken in Vienna. Whilst probing both issues, we will include the roles of psychology and logic Twardowski subsequently attributed to philosophical enquiries. Thereafter, we shall conclude by critically exploring the presumption that the twentieth century “analytical movement” to which Twardowski and his circle contributed is principally distinguished by its “general methodological attitudes” (274).


Szubka’s opening contribution immediately launches us into the theme of “scientific philosophy.” He includes different European views that emerged from the ’twenties and ’thirties. For example, Rudolf Carnap of the Vienna Circle is baldly summarised as seeing philosophy not as a way of conducting a (“natural”) science but of “elucidating” it by “investigating its language and logic” (5). Hans Reichenbach (1951) of the Berlin Society for Empirical (or Scientific) Philosophy construes scientific philosophy in terms of analysing the results of the physical sciences, the knowledge acquired falling short of certainties associated with the “principles of logic and mathematics” (13). Moreover, he believes that “scientific philosophy advances” by “performing logical analysis” and “avoiding metaphorical and pictorial language” (14). Yet, Szubka continues, Reichenbach remains wedded to “the verifiability theory of meaning” which reductively commits itself to “bare direct observation” and therefore cannot accommodate the interpretation of such evidence needed to develop a scientifically significant “body of systematic knowledge” (15).

Szubka confronts readers with the “startling” fact that Twardowski himself did not undertake “a detailed and systematic account” of scientific philosophy (6). Instead, he appears to “implement … those ideas of Brentano … he considered as undeniably correct” and pursuing them in clear and exact language as the “rigorous academic discipline” of scientific philosophy demands (7). Szubka locates four basic trajectories within Twardowski’s view of scientific philosophy:

[a] In his essay on Friedrich Nietzsche, Twardowski (1895, p. 380) concludes with the exhortation that “scientific philosophy will continue to demand severely and unrelentingly that the first condition of philosophical investigation is precision of expression.” In a later foray into philosophical discourse, Twardowski (1920, p. 258) claims that “our thought, especially when it is abstract, manifests itself from the beginning in verbal attire, having the most intimate connection with expressions of speech,” so that obscurity of expression is purportedly tantamount to obscurity of thought.

[b] In his essay probing psychology, physiology, and philosophy, Twardowski (1897, p. 60) declares that the “term ‘philosophy’ designates a group of sciences,” amongst which figure ontology, logic, and epistemology. In his later 1929 Polish Philosophical Society address, Twardowski (1931, p. 274) emphasizes that scientific (or “critical”) philosophy is opposed to metaphysical systems claiming to be “scientifically well-founded” and possessed of indubitable “objective status.”

[c] In his inaugural Polish Philosophical Society address, Twardowski (1904, p. 47) remarks  that, “in the area of facts which is the subject matter of philosophy,” “continuous peer control is indispensable” amongst colleagues; indeed, their collaboration, by bringing different perspectives to bear upon the problem involved, needs “to occupy the foremost place.”

[d] The first trajectory above is recast in terms of fallacies besetting philosophers and scientists alike when Twardowski (1921, pp. 262 & 263) pinpoints the tendency to reify logical and mathematical symbols: “symbols and the operations performed on them, originally the means to an end, become … an end in itself,” ultimately ignoring what “the symbols (being the signs of things in  the broadest sense of the term) symbolize.”

At this juncture, more questions emerge than answers. Has Twardowski provided us with an unequivocal account of “scientific” philosophy? Szubka concludes that the very notion of scientific philosophy is ambiguous, noticeably sliding between philosophy as “conforming to the general pattern of scientific investigations” and as engaging with “the results of the sciences themselves” (20). Is Twardowski’s fourfold trajectory above specifically applicable to “analytical” philosophy? Again, Szubka reminds us from the outset that, although the “idea” of the scientific and the analytical might well be “inextricably connected,” the self-description of individual philosophers and the various intellectual movements which they advocated were not always so bound (3; cf. 5-6). We shall examine some alternative conceptions of the analytical movement in our concluding section.


Twardowski’s action-product distinction, his most influential argument amongst analytical and phenomenological philosophers about the nature of judgement, receives repeated attention. Chapters by Maria van der Schaar (25ff.) and Sébastien Richard (79ff.) respectively re-examine the distinction’s relevance by considering not only its antecedents in the writings of Bernard Bolzano (1837) and Franz Brentano (1874), but also its re-interpretation by Friederike Moltmann in recent years who is fully familiar with Anglo-American analytical conceptions of propositional truths and cognitive acts. By contrast, another chapter by Jan Wolénski (50ff.) traces the successive modifications of Twardowski’s distinction before examining how Polish philosophers, especially Kazimierz Ajdukiewicz, Tadeusz Kotarbiński, and Alfred Tarski, applied them. Given limits upon length, we shall specifically focus upon the challenging critique mounted by van der Schaar. Before doing so, we shall briefly pinpoint Twardowski’s manner of conceptualising the distinction particularly but not exclusively in his 1912 “Actions and Products” paper.

Discriminating actions from products—czynności and wytwory in the Polish, fonctions and produits in the French, Funktionen and Gebilde in the German versions discussed by Wolénski (52-53)—has been crucial to the “sciences” Twardowski identifies as philosophy, especially those characterized as logical or epistemological. Moreover, according to Arianna Betti, “Actions and Products” neatly exemplifies “the method which has become now strongly associated with analytic philosophy” (2014, §3.2). Without fully summarising its classificatory details, two modes of analysis Twardowski only partly deployed are worth considering as regards the intersection of analytical and phenomenological enquiry. The first involves the syntactic-semantic analysis of language and the second, an analysis of the use and users of language.

Firstly, the distinction’s logical differences are supposedly demonstrated linguistically with verbs exemplifying mental (as well as physical and psychophysical) actions (1912, §10-12) and their corresponding nouns exemplifying the results (or products), demonstrated by “judge” and “judgement” or “think” and “thought” respectively (1912, §1; cf. §8-9). Judgement in the sense of an action is used in a psychological sense whereas judgement in the sense of the result or product of an action operates in a semantic if not logical sense (1912, §14). Without promoting an explicit actions-products distinction, Twardowski could well have remained trapped in the turn-of-century Psychologismus-Streit. It was a dispute that quickly engulfed Brentano in so far as he was seen to uphold psychologistic arguments of the following kind. If logic, for instance, is the theory of judgements and inferences, if judgements and inferences are mental categories, and if mental categories form the subject-matter of psychology, then logic is part of psychology. Or again, if psychology is defined as the science which investigates laws of thought and if logic is a discipline which investigates only a subset of laws of thought, then logic is part of psychology.

Secondly, in his 1894/1895 Vienna lectures on logic, when dealing with the mental or psychological actions being directed towards their objects, not their contents or subject-matter, Twardowski considers the difficulty arising when predicating judgements or propositions about mythical, imaginary or fictional objects or states-of-affairs. He consequently contends that all judgements can assume an existential (Existenziell) or a relational (Beziehungs-) form expressed positively or negatively (1894/1895, pp. 118ff.). A judgement exists as long as there is someone performing the corresponding act of judging which Twardowski identifies as “non-enduring” (1912, §23). So how can a set of judgements or propositions endure beyond the action producing them? They can endure when a spoken expression of them is materially transformed, for example, into writing, thereby no longer being an event, but becoming an independent thing or artefact (1912, §26-27). The spoken expression or utterance of the judgement counts as the sign of the judgement and the judgement counts as the meaning of the expression or utterance. This, of course, is by no means a singular phenomenon because spoken expressions or utterances cause other judgements either in another person or the same person at different times (1912, §32 & §34). Should we commit ourselves to a single meaning of a sign and not to a multiplicity of meanings affecting those upon whom it had acted, Twardowski assumes we have in effect entered a process of “abstraction performed on concrete mental products” (1912, §39). In other words, the process of abstraction results in a second-order psychological act focused upon the actual first-order mental activity before it. However, this raises a dilemma. Quoting van der Schaar, either the act of abstraction “presupposes an identical meaning that gives direction to our act of abstracting, or it is merely a psychological act” thwarting our capacity “to reach an identical meaning for different subjects on different occasions” (35). In short, “the relevant act of abstraction cannot occur without presupposing an abstract identity” (35).

Appealing to singular or unique meaning of expressions or utterances leads Twardowski to the imaginary (or “surrogate”) use of the language of judgements or propositions. In other words, not all judgements are produced by acts of actual judging; instead, they can result from actions of presenting. This, as Twardowski (1912, §43) acknowledges, is manifested by actors in wordless moments expressing emotions by means of gestures and postures in the context of drama which are no more than imaginary, mimicked or pretended (a point further elucidated by van der Schaar (34)). Admittedly, “Actions and Products” mainly targets the logical use of language. Following Twardowski (1912, §44), take, for example, the context of teaching patterns of reasoning in formally valid deductive arguments. We can present instances of false or fanciful judgements or propositions to demonstrate cases of affirming the antecedent (modus ponens) or denying the consequent (modus tollens):

            If all hexagons are square, then all squares are circular [Cpq]

            All hexagons are square [p]

            Therefore, all squares are circular [q]

           If all animals have vertebrae, then all vertebrae have purple indentations [Cpq]

            Not all vertebrae have purple indentations [Nq]

            Therefore, not all animals have vertebrae [Np]

Van der Schaar acknowledges how Moltmann’s recent essays, employing “ample linguistic evidence,” aim, like Twardowski, to portray that “the notion relevant to logic and philosophy in general is the product, not the act or the proposition” by giving “an account of semantics, propositional attitudes and truth” (36). But van der Schaar wishes to shift our attention to acts of inferring without invoking Twardowski’s problematic notion of abstract propositions. Nor does she wish to rely upon Moltmann’s appeal to propositional attitudes whose (attitudinal) objects are shared, whose properties “may have more than one instance” and hence “abstract,” and whose predication can apply to “more than one object” and hence “general” (39). “What Lucantonio feared was hoped for by Larisa” (cf. 38; a case overlooked by Moltmann (2017, pp. 274-275)) is not simply a proposition or judgement made, let alone an abstract one, but a proposition being true such as “that their cousin Alyssa will arrive next weekend.” Van der Schaar next probes whether we can, according to Twardowski and Moltmann, understand “judgements as bearers of truth or falsity” (40). Doubt emerges whenever we assert a judgement because “it seems more appropriate to call [it] correct or incorrect” (40). If our assertion, in response to the question of how we know, can be justified, then it is correct and such “an epistemic notion of correctness is one of the roles of truth” (40). The other notion can be found when explaining what makes a proposition true as distinct from merely valid as used in logical inferences (see our modus ponens and modus tollens examples above). If the “connectives” of objects and contexts are open to proof, then the “semantic role” of correctness comes to the fore as a bearer of truth (40).

Later, when reviewing theories of knowledge, Twardowski overtly claims that “Logic occupies itself with judgements as products” (1925, p. 186). Van der Schaar immediately questions the inferential relations based on prior judgements made and the judgement made in conclusion:

What are these inferential relations? Do they obtain independently of the judging agent? And what is the product of an act of inferring? … Can we give a unified account of logical inference for cases where we judge the premises … [and] where we merely take the premises as examples without them being judged? (41).

Aware that German distinguishes between schliessen (“to infer” (although also translatable in English as “to conclude … to connect … to deduce … to imply,” etc.)) and Schluss (“inference” or “conclusion”), van der Schaar identifies the act of inferring to be an epistemic act in which the act “has brought us from known premises, former judgements made, to a known conclusion, a new judgement made” (42). This, in turn, leads her to at least three crucial contentions in an effort to complete Twardowski’s act-product distinction regarding the concept of inference:

[a] Firstly, “former judgements made … function as a justification of the conclusion, but as such they are not part of the conclusion, that is, of the product of the act of inference in the strict sense” (42).

[b] Next, “we may also question the act of inference itself. Was the act in order? We distinguish valid from invalid inference schemata [sic] …. An inference rule such as Modus Ponens we know to be valid on the basis of our understanding of implication …. If it is not, if we have made a mistake in the application of the rule, we are not entitled to call it an act of inference: there is merely a purported act of inference … We thus see that implicit in our description of a mistake in inference the notion of rightness of the act …. We now see … a third role of truth: the rightness of the act …. [which] seems to capture the normative role of truth … (44).

[c] Thirdly, “Unlike truth and correctness, rightness does not have an equal conceptual counterpart, such as falsity or incorrectness. The opposite of rightness is APPEARANCE, a form of absence; here the contrast between appearance and reality is at stake …. Only when the act turns out not to be a true act of inference, we can say that it merely has a psychological value” (44-45).

Adapting a logico-linguistic critique of Ryle by Alan White (1971), let us end this second section by re-contextualising inference beyond its treatment by Twardowski and van der Schaar. To infer cannot be categorized as if it were identical with to judge or to think. It does not operate temporally as do the latter pair. Lucantonio could gradually or eventually come to think or judge something; he could ask Larisa or even himself to think or judge something and either of them may subsequently do so. Granted, Larisa may take a considerable time when subsequently thinking or judging whereas Lucantonio takes very little time to do so. But what Lucantonio cannot do is ask Larisa or himself to infer. In other words, to infer cannot be used within a first- or second-person imperative to issue a command or an instruction, an admonishment or a request.

Next, inference does not adhere to the same logical category as judgement or thought. It does not convey the same consequences as do the latter pair. Larisa can more or less explain Lucantonio’s actions, behaviour, or discourse by reference to his judgement or thought that something is (or is not) the case, but not because of his inference that something is or is not. Lucantonio can of course have the same thought or judgement repeatedly, but, just as he cannot repeat the same discovery, he cannot repeat the same inference. This holds although an inference, like a discovery, can be included as part of a reported theory. After all, reporting an inference is not an act of making an inference any more than repeating the report on various occasions is repeating the inference. In short, for Lucantonio to repeat his or another’s inference is not an act of inferring twice.

Although Larisa often infers from something previously or currently experienced, known, or perceived, an act of inferring is not the accomplishment or culmination of a task. She might vacillate between drawing inferences cautiously or rapidly yet often make them on justifiable grounds. For Lucantonio impatiently then to declare “You cannot infer that” is to deny her a logical right or to announce “You must not infer that” is to issue her a logical warning. But has he implicitly presumed here that to infer is a passage towards or a process of reaching a particular point of view? If so, he has misunderstood that to infer is to accept or adopt a point of view which seems to Larisa to explain past or present clues or evidence (but not argumentative premises) such that what she infers contrasts with what she already believes, experiences, or perceives. For example, we could envisage that Larisa might well say to Lucantonio, “From your continuing silence about Alyssa’s planned visit next weekend, I infer that you have no objections.” The reverse, by contrast, would not constitute an act of inferring, but rather an act of deducing a proposition or one of predicting an event: “From your lack of objections, I deduce—in fact, I predict—that you will remain silent.” Not all acts of reaching a conclusion are acts of inferring.


This final section begins with what contributors collectively understand by the third theme of the Brożek and Jadacki anthology, namely, the nature of the analytical movement. Consider Wolénski’s personal aside that his practice is “governed by analytic way[s] of doing philosophy” (51). This remark is made in the context of his realisation that “the majority of problems analyzed in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of language begin with a remark that, for example, we should distinguish science ([or] language) as an activity,” the “results and expressions” of which function “as products of related actions” (51). As summarised in the abstract to his third chapter, Richard pursues the problem of and alternatives to “two traditional conceptions of propositions in analytic philosophy” (79). Both conceptions postulate that propositions are “mind-independent entities,” and hence “intersubjectively sharable,” which operate as “the primary bearers of truth, the meanings of sentences and the objects of propositional attitudes” such as belief and doubt (79). Building an alternative principally based upon the theory of meaning promulgated by Roman Ingarden (1931 & 1937) (85-88; cf. Richard 2021, pp. 158-163), Richard concludes that it “should be confronted with the traditional problems faced by propositions” (91), leaving it open whether this invitation is mainly directed at analytical philosophers. Mariusz Grygianiec’s sixth chapter comprises an account of Tadeuz Czeżowski’s report in the early ‘fifties of how members of the Lvov-Warsaw School such as Kazimierz Ajdukiewicz, Tadeusz Kortarbiński, and Stanislaw Leśniewski understood “the issues of persistence and identity of objects through time” (125). Grygianiec’s investigation of the central debate over “the problem of internal change (whether qualitative or mereological)” makes only passing allusions to “analytical” philosophical references by Elizabeth Anscombe and Karl Popper in the ’fifties (131, n. 5 & 133, n. 7) and Roderick Chisholm and David Lewis in the ’seventies and ’eighties (125). On one interpretation of being “at the sources of the twentieth-century analytical movement,” none of the four represent the early movement in the ways, say, a Gottlob Frege, a Bertrand Russell or a Ludwig Wittgenstein did.

As hinted in our introduction, many contributions do not overtly explore the nature, let alone the sources, of the analytical movement. For example, the fourth chapter by Dariusz Łukasiewicz on Twardowski and methodological and ontological Psychologismus avoids labelling those discussed from Descartes onwards as analytical. Instead, he mentions “empiricist projects” and “German idealistic philosophy” (96 & 97), “phenomenologists” and “naturalists” (101 & 102). Arkadiusz Chrudzimski’s fifth chapter explores the formation of “idiogenetic” theories of emotions—that is, where emotion is regarded as a fundamental kind of mental phenomenon—in the thinking of Brentano and Anton Marty. Only when he draws comparisons with contemporary Anglo-American philosophers are “pragmatists and anti-realists” mentioned (116); Polish reception to different strands of pragmatic thinking associated with Charles Peirce and William James form the topic of Brożek’s eighth chapter (156ff.). The closing chapters—Ryszard Kleszcz on rationality (207ff.), Brożek again but selectively upon formal and informal logic amongst notable figures in the Lvov-Warsaw School (221ff.), and Marcin Będkowski on the pedagogical dimension connected with the latter—whilst discussing the role of logic and science do not explicitly examine the analytical movement as such.

The editors’ close their anthology with a lengthy appraisal of the significance of Twardowski in Poland and beyond. Before a bibliographical reckoning of Twardowski’s works and influence, their “Closing Word” begins by endorsing the opening paragraph of Betti (2014) (267). She ties Twardowski to Anglo-Germanic analytic philosophers in two ways. Firstly, the distinction in his 1894 thesis “between the content and the object of a presentation” within Brentano’s “theories of the intentionality of mental acts” is “a psychological, non-platonistic counterpart of Frege’s distinction between sense and reference.” Secondly, Twardowski “belonged to a tradition of non-idealistic German-language philosophy” originating with Bolzano and indirectly “influenced … Moore and Russell’s transition from idealism to analytic philosophy.” Subsequently, when rationalising membership of the Lvov-Warsaw “science school,” the editors quote a 2016 interview with Bogusław Wolniewicz, a politically controversial philosopher, who regards it as “determined by two factors”: an animating “common spirit” and an “‘apostolic succession’ … entered … only through contact with the master,” namely, Twardowski (276). What characterizes the analytical movement beyond any component schools adhering to it is left unsaid.

By now, the predominantly allusive character of contributors’ references summarised above suggests that “analytical movement” not only operated in highly heterogenous contexts. Possibly for that reason, it is also constantly attributed to individuals outside Poland such as Frege and Russell or, often more implicitly, to Polish individuals variably associated with the Lvov-Warsaw School such as Ajdukiewicz and Łukasiewicz. With that in mind, we might at first be tempted to resort etymologically to, say, the ancient Attic and Ionic Greek ἀνᾴλῠσις (an unloosening) or ᾀναλύω (to unloosen) in order to establish a commonality. Next, we may equally be tempted to collect lexical definitions of what “analysis” has typically come to signify no matter the domain of enquiry, for example, separating something into its component parts or tracing something to its source and thereby discovering the general principles underlying individual phenomena.

However, a more nuanced approach to dominant kinds of analysis beckons. When considering the formative years of analytical philosophy, especially debates in the early ‘thirties within the Cambridge School and the Vienna Circle, Michael Beany proposes that “three core modes of analysis” functioning singly or jointly can be discriminated (2000, p. 97). In chronological order of their deployment, the “regressive mode” aimed “to identify the ‘starting-points’ … by means of which something can be ‘explained’ or ‘generated’,” that is, a set of “first principles,” “premisses” or “causes” as the means of solving “a given problem (e.g. construct a particular geometrical figure, derive a particular conclusion or explain a particular fact)” (2000, p. 98). Secondly, the “decompositional mode” was “concerned to identify the components—as well as [logical] structure—of something” typically focused even nowadays upon the constituents of a concept or a proposition (2000, p. 98). Thirdly, the “interpretive mode,” which “emerges explicitly in the twentieth century,” is said to paraphrase or “‘translate’ something into a particular framework” (2000, p. 98). In other words, this mode of analysis “presupposes a particular framework of interpretation” and hence “preliminary work is done in interpreting what it is we are seeking to analyse … before we engage in other processes” leading us towards the “more fundamental” (2000, p. 98). Beany concludes:

there is an intricate and continually shifting web of conceptions of analysis involved here, which sometimes combine effectively and sometimes pull apart, and it is this complex and contested web that characterizes, and will continue to characterize, analytic philosophy. (2000, p. 114)

Perhaps this, in turn, underpins why Michael Potter amongst many others finds that “it is surprisingly hard to find a coherent cluster of views that would be subscribed to all those twentieth-century philosophers … taken to belong to the analytic tradition” (2008, p. 69).

Does the difficulty of unequivocally identifying a philosophical movement on the grounds of its pursuit of a distinctive set of topics, problems or methods lie elsewhere? The above-mentioned reaction against Germanic idealism, initially associated with Kant and Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, is one shared not only by the analytic and phenomenological movements, but also by the other two major philosophical movements pursued during the twentieth century, the marxist and the pragmatic. Nor are any of these philosophical movements confined to a specific location let alone a specific language. Occasionally, we find it convenient to talk of geographical and/or linguistic subsets of a movement such as Italian marxist philosophy; at other times, we label a movement by the name of the person initiating novel philosophical methods such as Descartes and his 1637 Discours de la méthode: Pour bien conduire sa raison, & chercher la verité dans les sciences.

That said, is it feasible to identify a philosophical movement by what it excludes rather than includes? Stephen Gaukroger, for example, nominates the failure to use history as a resource for philosophy when no longer “dealing with the pressing intellectual problems of the day—not least in science, religion, and politics” (2011, p. 423). He ends by mapping the twentieth-century terrain as follows:

philosophy, in both its analytic and phenomenological versions, has been shaped by a Kantian conception of philosophy as an a priori enterprise, exploring conceptual, by contrast with empirical, problems …. [T]he dominant view in the twentieth century has been that philosophy, at least in those areas considered to be its core, are self-contained …. And when it does engage with another discipline, such as science for example, it does it in the form of a ‘philosophy of science’, something that abstracts from and stands above the empirical content of science, and considers epistemological and methodological questions that are independent of whatever content the scientific theories have. (2011, pp. 423-424)

Also worth noting is that Gaukroger’s paper, not unlike Beany’s above, focuses upon homogenizing views that were particularly heightened entre-deux-guerres. The analytical movement, it seems, then decontextualised the content of past philosophy “as if the issues” predecessors engaged, “the reasons they had for raising them, the way they approached them, and the expected outcomes of philosophical enquiry, exactly matched modern concerns” (2011, pp. 407-408). Modern concerns were “considered timeless, deemed to have transcended the contingencies of their formulation,” and unhampered by “translation and transmission” (2011, p. 408). Whether all analytical and phenomenological projects, Twardowski’s included, can be similarly accused remains open to debate.

Finally, another kind of omission when accounting for twentieth-century philosophical movements is the role of institutional definitions. This has been overlooked by Brożek and Jadacki’s anthology, notwithstanding Twardowski’s third trajectory concerning intellectual collaboration and critique listed in our first section. Recognising, say, the analytical movement distinctively from an individual’s perspective might well prove problematic for someone being unaware that he or she had entered the terrain of that movement without a philosophical framework or theory to indicate it. Is part of the reason for this situation explicable by re-applying the stance taken by Arthur Danto (1964) before being reconceptualised by George Dickie (1974) with respect to the so-called “artworld”? Here, echoing Danto, the terrain is “constituted” as analytic by virtue of intentionally presented “theories” of or hypotheses about the analytical movement (1964, p. 572). That is, “one use of theories, in addition to helping us discriminate [the analytical] from the rest,” consists in making the analytical movement “possible” (1964, p. 572). Encountering a new class or category of topics, problems, or methods is “analogous to the discovery of a whole new class of facts anywhere, viz., as something for theoreticians to explain” (1964, p. 572). Indeed, the history of philosophical movements is marked by “conceptual” revolutions where a “widely credited theory is being threatened in such a way that all coherence goes” (1964, p. 573)—especially since evolving intellectual movements cannot be defined in terms of necessary and sufficient criteria. Theorists of philosophical movements have to relate their philosophical audience, community, or “world” to what the movement comprises by “an emphasis upon newly significant features” of what has previously been accepted and by providing “quite different accounts of their status” (1964, p. 573). It remains open to members of the philosophical audience, community or “world” to construe the theorist’s role historically or philosophically. To draw upon R.G. Collingwood’s familiar distinction, “In reading the historians, we ‘consult’ them” to cull knowledge we lack; when “reading the philosophers, we ‘follow’ them” to “understand what they think” and “reconstruct … the processes by which they have come to think it” (1933, p. 211). In other words, “What we demand of the historian is a product of his [or her] thought; what we demand of the philosopher is his [or her] thought itself” so that we commit ourselves to reconstructing “the same experience” the philosopher had intellectually engaged (1933, pp. 211-212).

Dickie mitigates Danto’s apparent circularity by reconstruing Danto’s appeal to a “world” as referring to “the broad social institution in which works … have their place” (1974, p. 29). This enables Dickie to accommodate the fact, also recognised by Gaukroger (2011), that the context of institutions varies, sometimes “associated” with “religion,” sometimes with “the state” (1974, p. 30). The expected roles of practitioners, audiences, and their venues are “defined by the traditions” developed within institutions “as an established way of doing and behaving” (1974, p. 30; cf. p. 36). So, whenever Dickie calls a “world” an institution, he is “saying that it is an established practice,” each of whose “systems has had its own origins and historical development” and “each of which furnishes an institutional background for the conferring of … status on objects within its domain” (1974, pp. 31 & 33). At least two conclusions relevant to philosophical movements follow. Firstly, there are no limits on the number of “systems” or traditions under a “generic conception” of philosophy; these, in turn, providing sufficient “elasticity” where “even the most radical” kind of “creativity … can be accommodated” (1974, p. 33). Secondly, the concept of “conferring status” need not be as clear as that within legal institutions “where procedures and lines of authority are explicitly defined and incorporated into law” (1974, p. 35). Counterparts in the “world” of philosophy “are nowhere codified,” yet “there is a practice and this defines a social institution” where “every person who sees [her- or] himself as a member … is thereby a member” who can potentially act on behalf of others (1974, pp. 35-36).

At the Sources of the Twentieth-Century Analytical Movement balances historical data and philosophical provocations for its Anglophone readership. Perhaps, apart from a thorough proofreading, a future re-issue of the collection would benefit by confronting what is meant by the notion of the “analytical movement.”


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Brentano, Franz. 1874. Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkte / Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint [2nd edn. 1924]. Edited by Oscar Kraus & Linda McAllister; translated by A.C. Rancurello, D.B. Terrell & L.L. McAllister. London & New York: Routledge, 1995.

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Ingarden, Roman. 1931. Das literarische Kunstwek / The Literary Work of Art. Translated by G.G. Grabowicz. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973.

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Moltmann, Friederike. 2017. “Cognitive Products and the Semantics of Attitude Verbs and Deontic Modals.” In Act-Based Conceptions of Propositional Content: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives. Edited by Friederike Moltmann & Mark Textor, 254-289. New York: Oxford University Press.

Potter, Michael. 2008. “The Birth of Analytic Philosophy.” In The Routledge Companion to Twentieth Century Philosophy. Edited by Dermot Moran, 43-75. London & New York: Routledge.

Reichenbach, Hans. 1951. The Rise of Scientific Philosophy. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Richard, Sébastian. 2021. “De Significatione: The Brentano-Ingarden Axis.” In Philosophy of Language in the Brentano School: Reassessing the Brentanian Legacy. Edited by Arnaud Dewalque, Charlotte Gauvry & Sébastian Richard, 143-167. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

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Jeremy Arnold: Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory

Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory Book Cover Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory
Jeremy Arnold
Stanford University Press
Paperback $28.00

Reviewed by: Ben Turner (University of Kent, UK)

Disagreements over the nature of the divide between continental and analytical philosophy are perhaps as common as disputes between these two parts of the discipline. A consequence of the heterogeneity of understandings of this division is that attempts to cross it are often isolated cases rather than widespread philosophical practices. Jeremy Arnold’s Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory represents one such attempt to construct a bridge between the two traditions within political philosophy rather than philosophy as such. In doing so he makes two claims: that ‘political theorists and philosophers ought to engage in…cross-tradition theorizing’ and that what he calls ‘aporetic cross-tradition theorizing is a viable and attractive mode of cross-tradition theorizing’ (14). In contrast to what Arnold calls the synthetic mode, which seeks to unify the two traditions within a single theory, the aporetic mode highlights the incompatibilities between the two traditions and shows how neither can give exhaustive accounts of political concepts. Arnold’s claim that the aporetic mode is a desirable mode of thinking across traditions is compelling due to the strength it lends to arguments in favour of theoretical and methodological pluralism in political theory. However, one might question the extent to which the aporetic mode is truly as agnostic with respect to method as it is intended to be.

Before moving to an overview and evaluation of the argument that Arnold makes in favour of the aporetic mode, it is worth highlighting the complexity that is added to the task of defining the divide between continental and analytic schools when it is examined within political philosophy. Within philosophy, one can begin from clear historical examples, as Arnold does (1-3), in which divisions between Husserl and Heidegger, on the one hand, and thinkers such as Ryle, Russel, Carnap and Frege, on the other, were established in the early to mid 20th century. It is a more complex task to identify the manner in which this division was transferred to political philosophy because of what Arnold acknowledges as the discipline’s ‘capacious’ character (5). Oscillation between the terminology of ‘political theory’ and ‘political philosophy’ indicates nominal differences which unfold in a variety of ways, such as the distinction between those based in philosophy departments and those in political science departments or the way political science and political philosophy are differentiated. In addition to the continental/analytical axis, political philosophy or theory is also divided along another axis which distinguishes it from political science or philosophy more broadly.

Arnold’s argument is situated within this definitional quagmire and is admirable for the clarity of the position which it articulates. Political theory, for Arnold, emerges in the context of the influence of European emigres to America upon normative debates regarding the crisis of liberalism and methodological debates regarding behaviourism in political science (4-5). Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, and Eric Voegelin are pivotal in the constitution of political theory insofar as they carried with them a set of continental influences that were critical of both liberalism and positivism, such as Heidegger, Nietzsche and Weber. Political philosophy, in contrast, has a simpler genealogy. It ‘has its institutional home primarily in philosophy departments, which in the Anglophone world are largely analytic’ (4). Normative political philosophy owes as much to its proximity to analytic moral philosophy as it does to debates about the nature of the political (6-7). Consequently, two different approaches to liberalism arise from these historical circumstances (7-8). Politically, liberalism is criticised by political theorists and endorsed by political philosophers of continental and analytic dispositions respectively. Methodologically, analytic political philosophers put great stock in the content of intuitions, particularly those of a liberal variety, whereas continental political theorists are more likely to scrutinise the ideological basis of these intuitions due to their scepticism of dominant liberal values.

That political philosophy is largely analytic and political theory is largely continental is cemented by Arnold’s articulation of three key differences within the contemporary unfolding of these historical trajectories. First, analytical political philosophers engage in justifying resolutions to problems found within political concepts, whereas continental political philosophers are more concerned with highlighting the impossibility of this enterprise (9). Second, this leads to differences in ‘style, interdisciplinarity and canon’ (11). An eclectic canon of references in the case of continental political philosophy–such as psychoanalysis, literature, film studies and neuroscience–leads to a wider diversity of argumentative styles, whereas a more tightly honed argumentative style is characteristic of analytic philosophy’s lesser use of interdisciplinary materials (11-13). Third, where analytical political philosophers work within a framework that is at the very least sympathetic to modernity and seeks to correct its wrongs, continental political theory is largely critical of the consequences of modernity (13-14).

Arnold’s overview of these differences is striking because it shows how Beyond the Great Divide is as much about bridging the divide between political theory and political philosophy as much as it is about the division between continental and analytic thinkers. To establish aporetic cross-tradition theorizing as the most desirable way of bridging this gap, Arnold argues that both traditions offer something to the study of political phenomena. Political phenomena are dense: a single concept, such as freedom, is not only defined by historical complexities and a range of practical interpretations; theorists which try to explain them bring their own normative and explanatory baggage to these problems (14-15). For Arnold, these dense concepts cannot be exhausted by a single theory. Consequently, each tradition responds to different elements of political problems–analytic political philosophers engage in the conceptual justification of reasons for the legitimacy or acceptability of particular political practices or expressions of power, whereas continental political philosophy highlights the historical, cultural or social contingency of those concepts and often the impossibility of any ‘final’ justification for them. More often than not these are incompatible philosophical trajectories. Aporetic cross-tradition theorising is justified with reference to the intellectual payoff of utilising both traditions to investigate dense phenomena.

Arnold gives three reasons for this. First, if political phenomena are dense and if the methods and approaches within the two traditions that approach them are irreconcilable, then no single approach can exhaust the complexity of the concepts studied within political theory. Synthetic cross-tradition theorising can only fail in the face of the fact that ‘dense phenomena contain irreconcilable elements, elements we cannot eliminate and cannot unify’ (17). The aporetic mode, in contrast, recognises that we cannot resolve these tensions. Second, the aporetic mode turns this irresolvability into a virtue. Different phenomena and conceptual approaches have a range of intellectual needs. By navigating across these approaches, the aporetic mode seeks to ‘discover the limits of our intellect’ insofar as a single account will never be exhaustive of political phenomena (19). Third, Arnold argues that the aporetic mode has ‘at its ethical core the demanded of the singular, embodied, all-too-real coerced individual, the simple demand for justification, for an answer to “why?”’ (20). If analytic political philosophy is often abstract and ignores concrete individuals in its justification of particular concepts and if continental philosophy focuses on the contingencies of concepts and eschews justification, then neither, for Arnold, can truly live up the simple fact that political practices involve individuals who need to be addressed with a justification for the exercise of power. If these approaches are translated into the aporetic mode, this can lead to ‘a powerful expression of the unrealizable but valuable ethical and political ideal of answering to this person’s subjection to power with reasons this person can accept’ (21). With this third claim Arnold switches from a methodological to an ethico-political register that addresses what he perceives as a deficiency common to both traditions: their abstraction from justifications that are acceptable to everyday individuals.

This argument is established over two main sections. The first consists of an overview and critique of two approaches to synthetic cross-tradition theorizing, realist political philosophy and the work of Stanley Cavell, whilst the second consists of two examples of aporetic cross-tradition theorizing, comparing Philip Pettit and Arendt, and John Rawls and Jacques Derrida. The first section discusses the difficulty of finding a justification for state violence in both realism and Cavell, whereas the second discusses freedom as found in Pettit and Arendt, and justice as found in Rawls and Derrida. Arnold’s aim across these chapters is to move from the deficiencies of the synthetic mode of cross-tradition theorizing to an advocation of the aporetic mode, whilst also producing meaningful insights into the thinkers and topics covered.

The first substantive chapter of the book deals with realism. According to Arnold,  the realist critique of moralism in political philosophy represents an example of synthetic cross-tradition theorizing. The goal of this synthetic enterprise is the production of claims to legitimacy based on terms that would be acceptable to those individuals rather than on pre-political moralistic arguments of the kind articulated by figures like Rawls, Cohen or Nozick. Realists seek to provide political rather than pre-political accounts of justification and of legitimacy. Ultimately, Arnold argues, the synthetic mode is not up to this task. This claim is based on the argument that realists do not adequately distinguish between state legitimacy and the legitimacy of state violence. This difficulty arises as much from realism’s synthetic method as it does from the intellectual problem of legitimacy.

Realism is synthetic insofar as it combines the need for justification and legitimacy characteristic of the analytic tradition with an attention to context, history and conflicting interpretations of political events characteristic of continental thought. One might lose a particular political battle over the interpretation of, say, whether the state is legitimate in imposing a particular form of taxation, but those who disagree with such an account may still find its terms acceptable (39). In the case of state violence, however, Arnold argues that interpretation does not provide a strong enough case for legitimating that violence in terms that an individual could accept–for it is likely that there are multiple competing interpretations within which state violence is not legitimate. Moreover, if in these interpretations state violence is not agreeable to the individual who is subject to it, then it can only be justified in pre-political terms which realists reject (41). By synthesising the analytic justificatory impulse with the continental emphasis on interpretation and conflict, realists end up satisfying neither demand in the case of state violence (47). Rather than trying to synthesise these two demands, Arnold argues that instead the aporia represented by the tension between the need for justification and its impossibility should be embraced as a core element of realist theorising about legitimacy.

Violence is also the political issue at stake in Arnold’s critique of Cavell. In Cavell’s reading of the social contract tradition, our participation in community implies complicity with the exclusions that are a necessary part of social life (49-50). Cavell diverges from the classical aim of the contract, to justify state violence through consent, in order to explore how we are morally compromised by our participation in unjust societies. Arnolds’s reading of Cavell makes two claims. First, he argues that Cavell’s focus on social violence is too general to make sense of the specificity of political issues relating to consent. Second, the focus on consent as membership of a community rather than the authorisation and legitimation of state action and violence means that Cavellian consent cannot account for this integral part of the ‘“grammar” of political consent’ (52). Arnold makes this case by emphasising the role that the community plays in underpinning the search for reasons in Cavell. Claims to reason find their transcendental conditions in community and draw on the distinct grammar of those communities (58). However, for Arnold Cavell does not provide sufficient detail for articulating the grammar of a specifically political community because consent is primarily an issue of complicity with social violence that arises from one’s participation in community as such (62-3). Consent merely implicates one in social violence within a particular community but does not expressly authorise the legitimate use of violence by the state.

This reading of Cavell continues the line of argument found in the previous chapter on realism, however, the link between synthetic cross-tradition theorising and the criticism of Cavell’s work is less clear. When considered as a form of cross-tradition theorising, realism falls short of providing a convincing justification of state violence because its synthetic method fails to reconcile the justificatory project of analytic political philosophy with continental political theory’s emphasis on interpretation. Within Arnold’s critique of Cavell, however, method is at a distance from the problem of legitimacy. Cavell utilises a synthetic method which treats philosophical texts as texts and not simply as examples of political argumentation: a continental method is synthesised with analytical texts. Arnold argues that this method falls short insofar as by reading texts ‘as texts we will often fail to take them seriously, on their own terms’ (75). Cavell’s method fails to treat analytical texts on their own terms precisely because he treats them as texts and not as pieces of philosophical argumentation. There is no disputing that this is a salient issue in an account of why cross-tradition theorising in the aporetic mode is superior to the synthetic mode. However, the criticism of the substance of Cavell’s account of violence and consent is at a remove from this methodological complaint: one might criticise the category of social violence without recourse to a critique of synthetic cross-tradition theorising. Thus, while both of these points stand it does not appear that the account of legitimacy in Cavell is essential to pursuing the project of advocating for aporetic cross-tradition theorising, and the point against the synthetic mode is somewhat weakened as a result (an issue that we will return to).

Following this critique of Cavell, The Great Divide shifts gear into advocating openly for aporetic cross-tradition theorising. In contrast to the first two chapters, where realism and the work of Cavell were taken as examples of synthetic cross-tradition theorizing, in the remaining chapters Arnold seeks to engage in aporetic cross-tradition theorizing himself.  It is here that Arnold turns to the work of Arendt and Pettit on freedom and Rawls and Derrida on justice. Each of these chapters represents an attempt to demonstrate the viability of the aporetic mode by showing ‘that a crucial feature of the concept theorized by a representative of one tradition cannot be harmonized with another crucial feature of that concept when theorized from the other tradition’ (76). The account of Arendt and Pettit spans two chapters which deal with freedom as such and political freedom respectively. At issue in both is the problem of control: whether it concerns freedom in general or political freedom, Pettit and Arendt’s respective approaches to control do not fully explain the density of the concept of freedom. As such, an aporetic approach is necessary to do justice to the complexity of freedom as a dense concept.

For Pettit freedom in general is understood in terms of responsibility. Responsibility gives a richer understanding of freedom than accounts which focus on the rational control of one’s actions or the ability to align one’s actions with second-order desires (volitional control) because, in Pettit’s account, freedom as responsibility requires the agent to exert ‘discursive’ control over the connections between their actions (81). Responsibility arises from the ability to give an account for the links between actions, for which rational and volitional control are necessary but not sufficient conditions. For Arnold, this leaves three common questions about freedom unanswered: what is its value, can freedom be spontaneous, and to what extent can we distinguish between acts that are considered as free because we exercise them consciously and those that arise from ‘virtual’ control or habit (84-9). These criticisms are introduced to facilitate the transition to Arendt’s concept of freedom, wherein freedom has a clear value: the capacity to create something new. Moreover, free acts must not be guided or dictated by others or by the self. They must be spontaneous (92-5). Free acts create something new under conditions of spontaneity while also maintaining that this act is intelligible to others. Arendt’s account of freedom shows, in contrast to liberal theories of non-interference, that a lack of control of the sovereign self is valuable for free action. While Arnold is more critical of Pettit than Arendt he is not dismissive of the former: the purpose of this comparison is to highlight that freedom as control and freedom as a lack of control represent irreconcilable accounts of freedom that nevertheless both have something valuable to say about freedom as a dense concept.

This insight is pursued further in Arnold’s account of specifically political forms of freedom in Pettit and Arendt. Both accounts fail to exhaust the permutations of political freedom as a dense concept. Pettit elaborates upon the conditions of freedom as non-domination, where republican institutions are intended to ensure that political decisions and forms of interference are non-dominating insofar as they track the interests of citizens (106-7). Freedom is conditioned as citizens can be subject to interference so long as their interests are tracked, and thus enhanced, by government action (106-8). In contrast, Arendt is concerned with institutions that support isonomy, or the ability to participate in unconditioned ‘disclosive’ action that reveals something about the world and that makes it meaningful to others (124-5). Isonomy is Arendt’s response to the conditions of modernity in which the ability of all to participate in political action is negated by conditions of alienation from both oneself and the world (125-7). Arnold’s account is intended to bring out the difference between Pettit and Arendt in sharp relief. Arendtian political freedom is incompatible with the kind of interference Pettit describes, no matter how non-dominating it intends to be, and the republican theory of non-domination would require a degree of self-control and control by the state for actions to be classed as free that would be unacceptable for Arendt.

As we already know, the aim of this account of Pettit and Arendt is not simply to state that they have different accounts of freedom. Instead, Arnold aims to show how they each run into difficulties that provide meaningful insights about the nature of freedom as a dense concept. While he seeks to distance himself from the difficulties associated with positive liberty that also plague forms of republicanism, Pettit fails to eliminate them. The classic critique of positive liberty is that aligning the state with the interests of citizens in a way that shapes the liberty of those citizens requires interference which, in Rousseau’s famous words, forces those citizens to be free (109-11). Pettit’s version of political freedom is intended to avoid the problems of republicanism in the Rousseauian and Kantian traditions, but for Arnold the state fostering of discursive control ends up repeating the problems of positive liberty. Arendt is faced with the opposing problem. A political entity based on the ideal of isonomy might have as its aim the defence of the right to unconditioned action, but it is difficult to conceive of an institution which could both create and maintain a political space while also refraining from controlling actors within those spaces (132-45). A synthetic account of freedom in Pettit and Arendt would attempt to iron out these issues by combining their opposed approaches into a single system. Arnold’s case, however, is that there is more value in treating them as distinct and irreconcilable approaches that are plagued by their own problems. If political concepts are dense, then a single, synthetic account would still fall short of the impossible goal of unifying several perspectives in a way that exhausts the complexity of political concepts.

The same approach is applied in Arnold’s reading of Rawls and Derrida, where he focuses on their attempts to provide non-metaphysical accounts of justice. Arnold gives an account of the changes that Rawls’ makes to his system between Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism, focusing on the stability of the principles of justice chosen from behind the veil of ignorance. In Theory of Justice they are chosen according to rational principles shared by all individuals, whereas in Political Liberalism the definition of society used to guide deliberation within the original position represents the fundamental ideas of constitutional democracies (143-144). For Arnold, this non-metaphysical justification made with reference to historical conditions fails as it invests the historical trajectory towards liberalism with metaphysical significance for considerations of justice (154-5). Derrida’s account of justice suffers from the opposite problem. Here the question posed by Arnold is how one can move from a quasi-metaphysical account of justice to a historical account of its permutations? Arnold does an admirable job of simplifying the aporias within Derrida’s understanding of justice: justice requires the absolute singularity of the decision, as it is ‘owed to a singular other’, but it must occur through the application of rules which are not singular (163). Justice, therefore, is irreducible to history but must be realized within it. The issue that Derrida runs into here, according to Arnold, is the necessity of law in this process. Why must justice take place through legal institutions? This is clarified with respect to Derrida’s account of forgiveness: even though no act of forgiveness can live up to the forgiving of the unforgivable, we would nevertheless still recognise an act of forgiveness as participating in this unreachable ideal form. This is not true of justice: it is manifestly clear that legal institutions do not just live up to the ideal of justice because it requires an unconditioned decision on behalf of the other, but also because some legal institutions would not be considered to be just in any manner. Bridging the gap between justice and history is difficult for Derrida, insofar as it is unclear why justice as a quasi-metaphysical idea must be realised in the factual institution of law (169).

In Arnold’s account, both Rawls and Derrida fail to produce non-metaphysical conceptualisations of justice. The former turns to history but by doing so transforms its contingencies into metaphysical justifications, whereas the latter fails to provide a convincing reason for the link between a quasi-metaphysical form of justice and the historical fact of law. Again, a synthetic account of justice would eradicate this complexity. The density of the relationship between metaphysics and politics can only be fully appreciated in an aporetic mode where the need to dispense with metaphysics must co-exist with the necessity of metaphysical grounding (170). This problem cannot be overcome, and therefore a synthetic approach to it will necessarily fail in its attempt to do so.

Arnold concludes with three reasons why the model of aporetic cross-tradition theorizing demonstrated across the accounts of freedom and justice in Pettit, Arendt, Rawls and Derrida is a desirable one. First, the aporetic mode is more viable than the synthetic because it refuses to treat political problems as ‘solved,’ whereas the synthetic mode attempts to resolve political problems despite the impossibility of this task in the face of dense concepts (172-5). A brief example is given here of how calls for reparations from the accumulation of American wealth through slavery are characterised by complex and contradictory elements of historical and metaphysical justifications which an aporetic form of theorising might make sense of. Second, aporetic theorising challenges the cloistering of intra-tradition debates and opens political theory to new discussions and the discovery of new problems (178-179). Third, and similarly, it fosters an ethic of openness and responsiveness to the differences between approaches to political theory as a discipline and a recognition of how what is common within one part of the discipline may, in fact, pose a serious intellectual problem in another.

Arnold’s case for the aporetic mode is a compelling one, particularly in the context of methodological developments in political theory that call for comparative methods that refuse the possibility of exhaustive, synthetic theoretical enterprises. However, we might consider the extent to which aporetic theorising, while appealing, is truly agnostic with respect to the traditions that it attempts to treat equally. If we take Arnold’s own definition of analytic political philosophy, it would appear that the aporetic method is something that most analytical thinkers would view as defeatist obfuscation. Contrastingly, this method fits very neatly into the continental perspective which seeks to press problems in order to uncover aporias rather than resolve them.[1] Aporetic cross-tradition theorising may draw on both traditions, but it could be said to do so from a broadly continental perspective that focuses on the value of intellectual aporias. Of course, Arnold’s perspective is an account of the intellectual characteristics of analytic political philosophy as a tradition. Justification may be an aim of this tradition as a whole, but individual thinkers would most likely accept the point that no single account will exhaust a particular political problem or phenomena. Understood in this way Arnold is brought back to the agnostic ground between continental and analytical perspectives, as the eponymous aporia of the aporetic approach could be seen to represent a claim about intellectual inquiry rather than the nature of political problems.

However, Arnold does hold to the stronger version of this claim which stresses that dense political concepts cannot be fully explained. This is noteworthy because density does not necessarily have as its consequence a total failure of explanation. While analytical thinkers may indeed accept that no single account exhausts the density of concepts, this tradition as a whole would be more receptive to the gradual unpacking and explication of dense concepts across multiple, competing accounts of the phenomena they represent. Here complexity is not insurmountable. In contrast, continental thinkers would be more likely to hold to a thicker understanding of complexity in which both the phenomena and the explanation are equally complex, and which must be integrated into the very nature of political inquiry. Density in the analytic tradition is a concern for the political philosopher, whereas in the continental it is the political itself which is dense and thus complexity is a concern for both the theorist and the political agent. We might also note here that Arnold’s account of the problem of the return of metaphysics faced by the post-metaphysical political theories of both Rawls and Derrida is a quintessentially a continental way of thinking about these problems. Indeed, it is one that is explored within Derrida’s own work. While Arnold might be seen to be agnostic with respect to the two traditions, insofar as he characterises political problems themselves as aporetic he could be seen to be a ‘continental’ thinker.

Leaning to one side or the other of the divide is not necessarily a problem for Arnold’s position. Analytic or continental thinkers engaging in cross-tradition theorising have to start from somewhere. However, this unacknowledged propensity towards one side rather than the other belies challenges that face the argument made in The Great Divide. While political phenomena are treated as dense, one might also note that the divide between analytic and continental thinkers is itself a dense and complex concept. Arnold does not give the impression that he is of the opinion that his account of the difference between the two traditions is the only one. However, the multiplicity of ways of distinguishing between the two traditions is a problem that is not dealt with in the course of the defence of aporetic cross-tradition theorizing. Moreover, if the division between the two traditions is contested, one might also contest the division between synthetic and aporetic modes of cross-tradition theorising. The aporetic and synthetic modes are not necessarily opposed or mutually exclusive: one might engage in aporetic inquiry and recognise elements of two thinkers that can be synthesised, or one might engage in a synthetic inquiry that highlights incompatible aspects of two systems of thought.

Arnold’s conclusions are pre-empted with the claim that while cross-tradition theorising is taking place between political theory and other disciplines, there is a lack of cross-tradition theorising that ‘moves between’ analytic and continental political theory (171). This advocation of the aporetic mode takes the above points for granted: the difference between the two traditions is simple rather than complex, that the complexity of political phenomena is by necessity irreducible to explanation, and that synthetic and aporetic methods represent mutually exclusive methodological alternatives. The case for taking the aporetic path is a convincing one insofar as it presents methodological pluralism as a worthwhile goal. However, if disciplinary pluralism is our aim, then the most fruitful approach may be to commit more fully to the methodological agnosticism that Arnold sets out. While synthetic theorising may fail in the particular case of realist accounts of legitimacy, it is not clear that this rules out in advance the impossibility of situations where synthetic theorising is more beneficial than aporetic theorising. As noted above, the gap between the critique of Cavell’s claims about violence and his textual method indicates that such an approach may be fruitful insofar as Arnold does not present a convincing argument as to why Cavell’s failure to account for state violence is necessarily a result of his synthetic method, instead of a result of a disagreement about legitimacy itself.

Understood in this way, political theory might be best served by an understanding of synthetic and aporetic modes of cross-tradition theorising that sees them as tools to be used as appropriate for the political and conceptual challenges facing the theorist. Such an approach would go some way to alleviating the way that Arnold leans towards a more continental approach in his advocation of an aporetic method and would further the ethos of disciplinary pluralism that implicitly underpins his argument. I do not wish to suggest that any of these objections invalidate Arnold’s argument–far from it. The value of The Great Divide is that it makes space for further discussion about how political theory navigates its own disciplinary divides, and for this it is a laudable intervention.

[1] Here I refer to the work of Thomas J. Donahue and Paulina Ochoa Espejo, to which Arnold also refers. See: ‘The analytical–Continental divide: Styles of dealing with problems,’ European Journal of Political Theory, 15:2 (2016): 138–154.

Mauro Antonelli, Federico Boccaccini (Eds.): Franz Brentano, Routledge, 2018

Franz Brentano Book Cover Franz Brentano
Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers
Mauro Antonelli, Federico Boccaccini (Eds.)

Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl, Harald A. Wiltsche (Eds.): Analytic and Continental Philosophy, De Gruyter, 2016

Analytic and Continental Philosophy. Methods and Perspectives. Proceedings of the 37th International Wittgenstein Symposium Book Cover Analytic and Continental Philosophy. Methods and Perspectives. Proceedings of the 37th International Wittgenstein Symposium
Publications of the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society – New Series (N.S.), Volume 23
Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl, Harald A. Wiltsche (Eds.)
De Gruyter
Hardcover 149.95 €
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