Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Iain Thomson - Bridging Continetnal and Analytic Philosophy with a Synthetic Integration of All Philosophical Models

This is an intriguing essay - it deserves more thought than I have been able to devote to it thus far. So for now, I offer it up for your evaluation and entertainment (that is, if you, like me, find these things entertaining). The article is posted at Academia.edu, but it was published originally in the The Southern Journal of Philosophy in the June 2012 Issue.
Iain Thomson is Professor of Philosophy and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of New Mexico. He is the author of Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education (Cambridge University Press, 2005), and Heidegger, Art, and Postmodernity (Cambridge University Press, 2011). His essays have appeared in leading scholarly journals, essay collections, and reference works, and his work has been widely reprinted and translated into seven languages. He is currently writing a philosophical biography of Heidegger as well as a study of Heidegger’s phenomenological understanding of death and its philosophical impact.
Full Citation:
Thomson, I. (2012, Jun). In the Future Philosophy Will Be Neither Continental nor Analytical but Synthetic: Toward a Promiscuous Miscegenation of (All) Philosophical Traditions and Styles. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Volume 50, Issue 2.

Abstract: In this paper, I suggest that the important philosophy of the future will increasingly be found neither in the “continental” nor in the “analytic” traditions but, instead, in the transcending sublation of (all) traditions I call “synthetic philosophy.” I mean “synthetic” both in a sense that encourages the bold combinatorial mélange of existing styles, traditions, and issues, and also in the Hegelian sense of sublating dichotomous oppositions, appropriating the distinctive insights of both sides while eliminating their errors and exaggerations, and thereby creating new syntheses in which the old oppositions are transcended.

“In poetry, which is all fable, truth still is the perfection.”
—Shaftesbury, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times(1)
For this special fiftieth anniversary issue of The Southern Journal of Philosophy, I have been invited to address the question of the future of “continental philosophy” in light of its past and present, with the suggestion that I might do so by way of the broader question: “What is philosophy?”(2) Since I must be brief, I shall spare you the standard qualifications and cautionary remarks. Of course it is difficult to make general claims about the future of philosophy from my own limited, local, and individual perspective—but where else could I make them from? The antiscientistic gamble of phenomenology is precisely that one’s own personal experience might have broader importance (and so amount to more than an arbitrary generalization from a statistically insignificant sample size). The only way to find out if such a gamble is a good one is to articulate one’s views publicly and then see how others confirm, contest, or modify them. In that spirit, then, and well aware of the dangers inherent in prognostication (the calculable and incalculable risks one inevitably takes with its performative dimension), let me share a few thoughts on a topic I have long lived with and through. I shall not pretend that these thoughts—though long written on the back of my mind, as it were—amount to more than a quick sketch meant (maieutically, poietically) to help discern the broad outlines of a philosophical future already struggling to arrive.

As one of fourteen philosophers from five continents addressing the future of continental philosophy, I will focus primarily on the philosophical scene I know best, the one where I received my own training—from such diverse teachers of “continental philosophy” as Hubert Dreyfus and Jacques Derrida. I risk the ingratitude of initially mentioning only two of my wonderful teachers because, besides being famous philosophers (and deservedly so, as two of the most brilliant hermeneuts ever to walk the earth), Dreyfus and Derrida also happened to be the leading representatives of the “analytic” and “continental” wings of “continental philosophy” in America.(3) From the perspective of a student deeply immersed in the study of Martin Heidegger, it was clear that their important work on Heidegger was complementary, and both generously encouraged my efforts to combine and build on their distinctive insights. I think the fruits of those efforts show them to have been worthwhile, yet it quickly became clear to me that the ecumenical, big-tent vision of philosophy they both encouraged was not widely shared in the profession. I remember being disillusioned, for example, by witnessing the mirror-image, allergic reactions that could be provoked by appealing sympathetically to Derrida at a meeting of the American Philosophical Association or to Dreyfus at a meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy.(4)

Indeed, my own repeated experiences (some of which I have discussed elsewhere) of being “too continental” for the proudly “analytic” and “too analytic” for the ideologically “continental” eventually taught me that the “continental philosophy” label is political: it gets used by the narrow-minded on both sides of the continental–analytic divide in order to exclude people who do not sufficiently resemble them, to rationalize largely ignorant decisions about what they will read, who they will hire, and so on.(5)

Rejecting the thoughtless exclusions of extremists on both sides of the divide, I have learned to embrace being something of a philosophical coyote—that is (in the “tri-cultural” terms of New Mexico), a border-crosser, smuggler, and trickster. For, I have become convinced that the most innovative philosophical issues and approaches will always be discovered by those who are not afraid to steal across the borders between the established territories. Today I would like to take a step toward generalizing this perspective by suggesting that the important philosophy of the future will increasingly be found neither in the “continental” nor in the “analytic” traditions but, instead, in the transcending “sublation” of (all) traditions that I shall call “synthetic philosophy.” In order to help motivate this synthesis (which is all I can really hope to do here), I shall provide a brief overview of the traditional philosophical opposition that stands in need of such dialectical resolution.

Read the whole article.

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