Hans-Johann Glock’s What is Analytic Philosophy? is a thorough, widely researched meta-philosophical survey of the historical origins, ‘doctrinal’ developments, current state and possible future permutations of ‘analytic philosophy’ — a term that Glock uses always with caution arguing that it is ‘neither a geographical nor a linguistic category’ and that ‘analytic philosophy should be explained in terms of family resemblances. What holds analytic philosophers together is not a single set of necessary and sufficient conditions, but a thread of overlapping similarities (doctrinal, methodological and stylistic)’. Careful in not taking for granted any definition, Glock however argues that
The analytic/continental distinction colours philosophical perception even among those who do not regard it as absolute. More generally, there is no gainsaying the fact that the idea of a distinct analytic philosophy continues to shape the institutionalpractice of philosophy, whether it be through distinct journals, societies, job advertisements or institutes.
Indeed, the book is especially good when it comes to give an account of the dynamics of the split between the two traditions from within the German-speaking world, essentially arguing that analytic philosophy is as geographically ‘continental’ as its continental cousin — both in its historical origins and in its present state — and when very clear-headedly criticizing analytic philosophers themselves for failing to recognize the existence of high-profile analytic philosophers working in non-Anglophone countries (being Glock German himself). He writes
On the basis of my reasonably well-developed acquaintance with the various sides of these linguistic and philosophical divides, I entirely acceptthat the analytic emperor does have clothes. And although many of its original sources were Germanophone, the bulk of its contributions to philosophical understanding have come from Anglophones.This is no excuse, however, for the notable failure of many analyticphilosophers to pay due attention to figures and ideas that hail from beyond their philosophical, their linguistic or their national horizons….The exclusionary demeanour of the Anglophone mainstream is indisutably an intellectual disadvantage when the grounds of exclusion arelinguistic or geographic rather than philosophical.
and, stressing the ‘indifference and condescension with which many Anglophones greet non-Anglophone philosophy’ he argues that
This holds not just of those contemporaries who indulge in hackneyed jibes at the ‘continentals’. It also afflicts some (first-time) visitors to the continent who note, with genuine surprise, that some of the natives are neither Hegelians, nor Heideggerians, nor postmodernists, and may even be capable of intelligent questions and objections.
and concludes by noting that
Here is the problem however. Whilst very rightly condemning the limited horizon of Anglophone analytic philosophers the subtext of Glock remark essentially perpetuates the ideal of the very existence of colourful, native continentalists (perhaps wearing a turtleneck sweater, sipping a glass of wine and a brandishing a baguette?). His critique of ‘cultural stereotyping’ tells us: ‘Not all continent-dwellers are continental philosophers!’ but pretty much supports the stereotype ’…but those that are continental philosophers are hardly capable of deploying an argument’. His snipe to Derrida is one of many in the book (Derrida’s arguments are predictably dismissed as and reduced to linguistic puns and obscure turns of phrases, mistaking as usual an employment of language and logic stretched to the limits of expressibility with ‘French’ nonsensical playfulness – perhaps Glock should read the very clear and concise account of Derrida’s logic by Graham Priest, someone that of logic and argumentative clarity knows a thing or two) and, more generally, the feeling throughout the whole book — whenever he mentions continental philosophy (particularly Heidegger, whose ‘”ontological analysis” or “analytic of Being”…is supposed to reveal the meaning of existence’)– is that of someone trying as hard as possible to keep a straight face and not to burst out laughing.
His patronizing attitude comes out most clearly in the final chapter (dealing with the ‘Present and Future’ of philosophy) where — expressing clear skepticism towards attempts to ‘reconcile’ the two traditions on the grounds of the many notorious past examples of failed dialogue (as a basic list he mentions: Ryle’s review of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit; Carnap’s attack on Heidegger’s ‘The Nothing noths’; the 1958 Royaumont encounter between British and French philosophers; Bar-Hillel’s attack on Habermas’ appropriation of speech act theory; the spat between Searle and Derrida over Austin’s speech act theory and the alleged ubiquity of writing; the protests against Derrida’s honorary degree in Cambridge and the aftermath of the Sokal hoax) — he writes that
This is most unfortunate for an author which — even when openly being a partisan of analytic philosophy — moves some firm and clearly argued critiques to this tradition, in particular on the counts of ‘scholasticism, disengagement from other disciplines and the public, factionalism and the exclusionary demeanour towards non-Anglophone and non-analytic philosophy’. If the passage above is not an example of exclusionary (if not downright patronizing) demeanour I don’t know what it is. Of course, the fame of continental philosophy is not a complete fabrication of arrogant analytics, but has got some very solid grounds. And also, Glock’s is not an out-and-out celebration of his (analytic) tradition either (in the context of his critique of self-referentiality he introduces an amusing footnote noting that in the analytic literature
But the point is that the perpetuation (quite literally, since above he’s reporting Diego Marconi’s opinion) of these sweeping, uninformed (if not downright facile) stereotypes regarding continentals in an ambitious, authoritative and fairly recent (published in 2008) monograph, directed mainly towards an analytic audience is quite lamentable. Glock’s ‘historical’ apparatus is extremely well researched when it comes to analytic philosophy, but this level of scholarship is not matched by an equally informed (at least) outline of what continentalists were actually trying to do some decades ago and of what they are up to today.
Glock concludes arguing that
What the analytic scene needs is not a deliberate switch to continental, traditionalist or pragmatist modes of thought, but analytic philosophy in a different vein: engaging and engaged instead of scholastic and isolationist, collegial, undogmatic and open minded instead of factionalist and exclusionary.
Indeed. And open-mindedness usually involves trying to overcome tradition-inherited stereotypes. In this otherwise excellent book, there is very little ‘open-mindedness’ when it comes to at least suspend one’s judgement regarding the alleged chronic obscurantism which plagues that funny bunch of continental philosophers.