On re-discovering the Analytic-Continental Divide

I’m currently in London following a three-day deep dive into continental philosophy at the Society of European Philosophy/Forum of European Philosophy Joint conference at Royal Holloway University in Egham (The text of my paper is available here).

The quality of both panels and keynotes was extremely high, with some particularly impeccable scholarship on display. Adrian Johnston delivered a wonderful keynote criticizing Robert Pippin’s use of Pittsburgh-style functionalism as a one-sided, anti-naturalistic reading of Hegelian subjectivity. Alison Stone presented a marvellously clear keynote on the implications of conceiving human finitude in terms of natality – the condition of being born – to correct Western Philosophy’s one-sided focus on mortality. Also memorable was  Jeffrey Bell’s limpid paper on Russell, Deleuze and Leibniz’s infinitesimal calculus, which used the concept of the differential to throw light on the dark phenomenology of microcognition. I also enjoyed Stella Stanford’s intricate discussion of the uncertain status of sexual difference in Aristotle’s classificatory biology; Tina Rock’s fascinating attempt to reconcile process metaphysics with a theory of truth (one of SEP-FEP’s rare attempts at constructive metaphysics ); Owen Alldritt’s lucid exegesis of Reza Negarestani’s Platonism, to name but a few. Obviously, these citations are partial and massively interest-relative and no way impugn the quality of the many other presentations I saw or did not see.

Attending the conference also had a salutary impact, reminding me that institutionally, the Continental/Analytic distinction is alive and kicking in the Academy, not least in the way professionals conceive and practice the discipline. As someone who doesn’t fit easily within either camp (I think of myself as both and neither) this came as a surprise – though this may also reflect my relatively peripheral academic status in an increasingly mixed department at the OU. The evidence was all around – in the focus on commentary and analysis of historical or contemporary texts rather than theory-construction or topic-based analysis. Personally, I have no problem with that emphasis. I’m about as shaky a historian of philosophy as one can get, so farming out exegesis allows less erudite folk like me endless and delicious opportunities for vampirism.

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