Analytics Continentals and Modern Skepticism --Terry Pinkard

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Record: 1 Title: Analytics, continentals, and modern skepticism [a]. Authors: Pinkard, Terry Source: Monist; Apr99, Vol. 82 Issue 2, p189, 29p Document Type: Article Subject Terms: *ANALYSIS (Philosophy) *PHILOSOPHY, European *SKEPTICISM Abstract: Argues that there is a common experiential core at work in analytic and continental philosophy, and that much of what motivates both analytical and continental philosophy is a similar and very particularly modern sense of skepticism. Distinctions betwe
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  Record: 1   Title:  Analytics, continentals, and modern skepticism [a]. Authors:  Pinkard, Terry Source:  Monist; Apr99, Vol. 82 Issue 2, p189, 29p Document Type:  Article Subject Terms:  *ANALYSIS (Philosophy)*PHILOSOPHY, European*SKEPTICISM Abstract:  Argues that there is a common experiential core at work in analytic andcontinental philosophy, and that much of what motivates both analytical andcontinental philosophy is a similar and very particularly modern sense of skepticism. Distinctions between analytical and continental philosophy;Development of post-Kantian German idealism; Philosophy in a universitycontext. Full Text Word Count:  12687 ISSN:  00269662 ANALYTICS, CONTINENTALS, ANDMODERN SKEPTICISM [A] By now continental philosophy has long since ceased to be a geographical term; thereare continental philosophers in the Midwestern United States. Likewise, analytical philosophy is now widely practiced in most areas where academic philosophy ispracticed. Moreover, many of the old jabs at each side have lost much of their force.The idea of a pox on both their houses--that analytical philosophers are a bunch of small-minded logic choppers, and continental philosophers are a bunch of woolyminded gasbags--has long since failed to carry the punch it once did. What I want tosuggest here is that they are both the same type of philosophy in one crucial,determining aspect: That one of the key experiences of modem philosophy, maybe eventhe great motivating experience of modem philosophy, is that of a certain type of skepticism, the idea that we both collectively and individually are prone to foolourselves, be misled by conclusions that are attractive but unsupportable, or be misledeven by our own experience and ways of thought to come to conclusions that turn outlater to be insupportable. Certainly something like this underwrites the motivationalpower in those parts of contemporary philosophy that can be called analytic or are atleast inspired by the analytical philosophers of the first two thirds of the twentiethcentury. Why else the careful attention to argument, the constant recasting of theses so  that their implications can be better viewed, the deep ethos of attacking papers given bycolleagues with a barrage of counter-examples, and of subjecting our colleagues toruthless, sometimes unforgiving examination? What often seems perhaps petty to thosemore irritated than enlightened by analytic philosophy--that it is only tedious logic-chopping or academic in the worst sense niggling--is inspired by a brooding sense of skepticism, a sense that without such very intensely rigorous policing of our argumentsand our explications, we are simply too prone to slide off into assertions that feel good,that may even seem to some of us like really very deep matters, but which, alas, may oncloser inspection or in the light of later hindsight just turn out to be dreadfully false.Better to jump on the arguments now than to be embarrassed by them later.What I am proposing here is that there is a common experiential core at work in analyticand continental philosophy, and that much of what motivates both analytical andcontinental philosophy is a similar and very particularly modem sense of skepticism--one that shares with its classical counterparts a certain experience of having gotten itwrong but which is articulated in a much different institutional and cultural contextthan classical skepticism. In fact, I would suspect that any academic philosopher whohas gotten this far has already started to raise several worthy questions in his or her ownmind. Shouldn't we be skeptical about such large-scale distinctions as analytical and continental in the first place? After all, was Wittgenstein, an Austrian teaching inGreat Britain, a continental ? Was Karl Popper, another Austrian, not a continental ?Why is the Vienna Circle not counted as part of continental philosophy? Why is Fregean honorary Anglo-American?What is the difference? When people speak of continental philosophy, they generallymean all those parts of philosophy that were influenced by and took themselves to beresponding to German post-Kantian philosophy (whether they were Germansthemselves, or French, or Russians teaching in France). The beginning of continental philosophy in this sense thus has to do with Kant's legacy. Kant is the last figure to beshared by both the so-called analytical and continental traditions (although heactually joined the canon in American philosophy relatively late), and it is with Fichteand Mill that the break occurs.l Out of Mill comes a long line of Anglophone thought;out of Fichte comes a long line of continental thought. Neither tradition relies muchon the concerns or language of the other. Neither, so it seems, really has much use forthe other. For various cultural reasons, many of them of philosophical importancethemselves, the post-Fichtean line of thought was taken up on the continent and thepost-Millian line of thought was taken up in Britain, the United States, and otherAnglophone countries.What is most striking historically about both traditions is that both of them failed ratherspectacularly to accomplish what the founders of those traditions set out to do: Makephilosophy into something like a science on a par with mechanics and physics. Theyoung Russell was quite clear in his ambitions to make philosophy into a rigorousscience that could take its place alongside the other sciences in the university and couldproudly say that, just like physics, it had finally solved certain problems and was nowworking on solutions to others. Likewise, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel eachclaimed that their systems were sciences (at least in the sense of Wissenschaft) anddeserved a place at the table at the newly reformed modern universities alongside theother sciences.  What I want to propose here is that we can trace a line of intellectual heritage in bothtraditions to thinkers who, while each being revered in their own traditions, eventuallydeclared that ambition on the part of academic philosophy to become a science to be aspectacular failure. Wittgenstein was the end of one line of thought; Heidegger of theother. In some ways, thinking about the purpose or value of continental philosophythus requires us to evaluate that line of thought and how successful we takeWittgenstein's and Heidegger's results to be. I want to suggest-and in the confines of ashort essay, it can be little more than a suggestion, not in any way a full-blownargument--that there's both more and less to the story than many of its adherents havetaken it to be.I shall tell a large-scale story about these traditions that will violate, at least at theoutset, some of the canons of analytical philosophy. I shall come back at the end to saywhy violating those canons should be taken seriously. Idealism's Move: the I-We Problem To look at idealism's trajectory, it is perhaps helpful to begin with what has come to bevirtual orthodoxy among a huge segment of contemporary American philosophers. It isnow commonplace to recite the lines that all epistemic claims are in principle revisable,that reliance on any type of given in the justification of knowledge is in principle adoomed project, and the image of Neurath's boat has become the metaphor of choice:We are at sea, and we must repair the boat while we are underway without ever beingable to put into dry-dock. The metaphor is supposed to highlight that what counts for usas given can only be provisional, and in principle we can always throw any claim intoquestion although not the whole epistemic scheme at once. Ultimately, what we decideto keep and what we decide to jettison can only be determined by some reference towhat our interests are, what can help us along our metaphorical voyage.But there are a number of questions that could be asked about the metaphor, such as:How are orders given on the ship? Do we have any idea where the ship is going? Or is it just on a meaningless voyage?[2] More to the point, though, we might ask: Who is the we in the phrases, we can throw anything into question, we have to decide whatcan provisionally count as given, and so on. The quick answer--it's just us--will notquite do, since it seems that the we here is serving in a kind of normative capacity, asa final self-reflexive arbiter for what will count and what will not count for us. It isprobably the case that not everyone who uses the metaphor thinks that everything reallyis provisional; they do not really mean that we are the final arbiters, but instead meanthat there is indeed something else constraining our decisions and choices which is notitself a matter of choice or decision, such as the rules of rationality or even some bruteinterests that perhaps are supposedly as unalterable and unmovable as sense data used tobe said to be. Maybe so, but the metaphor itself quite clearly suggests that there are noconstraints except for the ones we put upon ourselves, that everything can be throwninto question, that all our claims and procedures are only provisional, even if somethings by now seem fairly well set into place.Thus, it seems that the following alternative is being suggested to us: Either the we that is behind these claims is just us taken as a contingent collection of individualsand whatever we decide to say is in order; or the we that is behind these claims andrevisions is some kind of idealized we, not the empirical we that might be the object  of sociological or psychological study. It seems unlikely to be the former, for that wouldbe the kind of full fledged relativism that most of the proponents of the metaphor wouldbe at pains to deny, although some people (such as Richard Rorty) seemed to havebitten the bullet on that one and decided that issues of rationality are really just matterssettled by some kind of brute cultural fiat, what we have just happened to find ourselvesaccepting. However, to others it does not quite seem plausible to say that what we areentitled to say depends entirely on what we say we are entitled to say, since it alsoseems to beg the whole issue about who is getting to say this, and how it could be that we (or whoever it is) could bestow that kind of normative status on its own utterances.But if it is not that, in what sense could it be an idealized we?This problem was central to those dealing with the aftermath of Kantian transcendentalphilosophy, with the ensuing problems that arose when the post-Kantian idealists,particularly Fichte and Schelling, tried to come to terms with what an idealist positionwould look like if we dropped Kant's notion of unsynthesized intuitions --that is,dropped Kant's idea that there could be a given element in knowledge that played anepistemic, normative role in putting constraints on what we could assert or thatknowledge consisted in the application of some conceptual form to some neutralsensuous content. [3] As Robert Pippin has argued, the problem of the intrinsicrevisability of all epistemic claims made its first and most forceful appearance inFichte's attempts to complete the Kantian project without reliance on anything likeunsynthesized intuitions.[4] Although Fichte's way of putting the point may not havebeen the most perspicuous, what he was after in the way he spoke of how the I positsboth the not-I and itself as positing the not-I was some way to highlight the core ideathat the inherent revisability of all epistemic claims throws us back into questions aboutthe nature and status of that which is doing the revising and evaluating in the first place,and if we are to accept nothing as epistemically given, including the experience of theself itself (the experience of our own activities of revising and holding fast to someclaims), then we need to have some such conception of how the I that does this evergets going in the first place and how, after getting going, it manages to orient itself, tofigure out where it is going. That in trying to formulate such issues matters get a littleout of sorts and the language that is used itself becomes a bit forced is perhaps notsurprising.Pragmatism in many fundamental ways grew out of the set of problems that the idealistshad put on the table. The pragmatists, at least in their Peircean and Deweyian branches,took themselves to have resolved Fichte's dilemma without having to engage in the kindof intellectual acrobatics so characteristic of German idealism. For them, knowledgewas to be conceived as a self-correcting, communal enterprise; we always begin fromwhere we are, and we correct bits and pieces of the edifice as we are going along; ourcriteria for doing so has to do with what satisfies our interests, and our intereststhemselves change over time as we develop new means of satisfying them.Dewey especially argued that the srcinal idealist issue--Kant's notion of the conditionsof the possibility of our experience--had already begged the question, since it bothpresupposed a certain description of experience and left unclear just whose experiencewe were describing; moreover, Dewey argued, experience itself had changed in light of the changes in modernity itself. [5] The Peirce-Dewey line of pragmatists thusconcluded that once we abandoned the idea that there are certain, given epistemicconstraints on our evaluative practices that we apprehend in some spectator-like fashion,
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