The disciplinary identity of philosophy is in question. So says John McCumber in “Reshaping Reason”, where he makes a serious argument with evidence of trends pointing toward a sort of Hegelian synthesis in American philosophy to overcome the “Fantasy Island” of analytic thought and the “Subversive Struggle” of continental thought.
"Fantasy Island" and "Subversive Struggle" are McCumber’s well-reasoned nicknames for the two schools. Here are his two primary criticisms of the schools: (1) analytic thought traps itself in present tense language, ignoring the substantive insights of Hegel and Heidegger about the temporal present-past-future structure of thought or the subject; (2) continental thought dooms itself by pretending that it can continue to talk intelligibly while getting rid of the concept of true statements, irrespective of social construction -- that’s why so much continental philosophy is bad.
McCumber gives to the analytic tradition that philosophy must cede ground to science on much of its old territory, but insists that there is one job (at least one, but he discusses others) only philosophy is uniquely situated to do, and that is the “situating” of reason and knowledge as such, especially their being situated in time. It’s a very Hegelian idea: after science, philosophy becomes the practice of understanding — to be sure, with handy dandy new post-Fregean analytic conceptual tools — the historical becoming and meaning of knowledge in the context of the present. This is a job that can actually have relevance for the public (you know, all those weird people outside the walls of academia?).
In contrast to Hegel's important but mainly retrospective concept of philosophy's task, Heidegger’s contribution to temporalizing philosophy is recognized as especially relevant to the future orientation, to questions of possibilities before us. But McCumber does not let Heideggerians off the hook for ignoring the importance of inferential logic to the coherence of what they may offer.
McCumber is only claiming to point in a promising direction, he does not offer a specific solution to the deep problemitization of truth by continental philosophy, for example. But he does argue convincingly that a new group of American philosophers are coming up who are addressing the problem in a way to give hope for the future prospects of philosophy as a relevant discipline that might return to public engagement. This includes for example the analytic-trained Robert Brandom who has been busy producing work yielding an extraordinary synthesis of Frege and Hegel. Paul Redding is another notable philosopher who explains how analytic thought for its own internal dialectical reasons is having to reconsider Hegel against whom the discipline was superficially defined by Russell.
Where does Whitehead’s work fit in with what you are saying?
With respect to the analytic school, ANW’s early work in logic certainly speaks to his understanding of the need for robust consistency of meaning, so that one should, on this account alone, be disposed to seriously look into his later work.
On the continental side of things, Whitehead’s focus on the actualities of past/present/future and nature of causality in time predate and surpass Heidegger’s incomplete effort. Also, similarities of his thoughts on naturalism as organism also predate and surpass another existentialist, Merleau-Ponty. And finally, the wholehearted embrace of ANW’s process as prefiguring ‘difference’ for Deleuze – all these observations certainly point to a body of work that already addresses your concerns for the advance of philosophy in the 21st century.
Does McCumber bring up how ANW is an American pragmatist who bridges both analytic and continental schools?
Also, you did not address my Rorty question earlier, and I think he had something to say on the topic of philosophy’s future.
Tom McDonald says
I get the impression that Whitehead was very influenced by Hegel and was essentially trying to give an English, analytical expression Hegel’s progressive view of knowledge. Surely that is the route by which Whitehead came to his famous “footnotes to Plato” description of Western philosophy. That’s not to give Hegel all the credit either. In fact, I was just reading Hobbes in depth for the first time, and I am struck at what is now clear to me one of Hegel’s most significant influences. That happens when you’re steeped in a certain theorist, the works they studied jump out like seeing for the first time the original image under a piece of opaque tracing paper.
I recall how much I loved learning about Berkeley and Hegel in Phil 101. I am sure that it is the resonance of my understanding of the dialectic advance in Hegel with the creative advance to novelty in Whitehead’s emergentism that helped me slog through ANW for the last several years.
But Whitehead said he never read Hegel. He was closely aligned with Broad, Morgan, and esp. Alexander – emergentists all. To the extent that Hegel influences emergence, Hegel influenced ANW.
As long as you continue to ignore all of my questions and comments and thus avoid any opportunity of engaging a philosophic discussion whereby both parties might discover something new, might I submit the text in the Coda of _Proust Was a Neuroscientist_ as one more attempt at a functional combox.
Here, Jonah Lehrer provides a very cogent description of the middle way between analytics/positivists and continental/postmodernists. He invokes C P Snow, Whitman, Virginia Wolf, Karl Popper, and others to call for a Rorytian pluralim,. Of course, a Pirsigian observation of the classic/romantic, science/art dichotomies serves just as well to illuminate the simple truth that ‘it takes all kinds.’
While on Lehrer’s book, I heartily recommend the first chapter on Walt Whitman where the Jamesian embodied consciousness that Whitehead so elaborately developed is quite brilliantly discussed by the author. Whitman was profoundly aware that we are firstly affective creatures.
Of course, you can simply continue ignoring this engineer, if you wish.