March 04, 2003

Post analytic philosophy

Christopher Robinson has made some remarks in passing on the move to post analytic philosophy in Anglo-American culture. These remarks are loosely connected to a previous post called Transgressing analytic philosophy

Chris says:

"... post-analytic philosophy did not come about as a result of a synthesis with continental philosophy. Rather, post-analytic philosophy is a consequence of a single book, Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. The book was perceived to be an attack on analytic philosophy by an analytic insider. This is an overstatement. Nevertheless, the effect of this book and the essays Rorty published the following year as Consequences of Pragmatism was to create a huge crack in the foundation of analytic philosophy. Professionally, philosophy remains an analytic game in the US."

Good point. But more needs to be said.

Certainly Rorty's early work opened the doorway to hermeneutics and Gadamer, whilst his reworking of American pragmatism reunited philosophy with a literary culture. This opened up a space for philosophy to explore different kinds of writing that trangressed the Quinean view, that philosophy of natural science was philosophy period and the history of philosophy was junk. In the space opened up by Rorty in the Anglo-American philosophy institution, philosophy was no longer centred around philosophical method, perennial philosophical problems, philosophy having to find a secure path to science or a style based on clarity and rigor.

Of course, this turning away from scientific, analytic philosophy was seen to be little more than flakey wimps walking away from philosophy to embrace literary chit chat and become imprisoned by the forces of unreason. What it amounted to was a rejection of a particular disciplinary conception of what a professionalized philosophy should be as an academic speciality and culture. To put it in Wittgenstein's language, a 'picture held us captive.' That picture was a materialist metaphysics constructed by a unified natural science reduced to physics.

However, Rorty was not the only figure. Many toiled in the analytic vineyard in the noonday sun to show that we were only looking at a picture not absolute truth. Dewey, Wittgenstein, Kuhn, Putnam, Charles Taylor come to mind. Their labors suceeded in breaking the stranglehold of a science-centred expert culture in the liberal university; a culture obsessed with its theory of everything written in a few equations, a hostility to the common life and a big contempt for a literary culture.

What was not mentioned by Chris was the poor job market for philosophers who had gained their PhD's. Many in Australia who had felt the winds of change, had a rough time doing their PhD's. See Farewell to a Hail of Dead Cats for my own. For a different but equally bad experience, see Jonathon Delacour's My brush with academia at an art school. Many similar stories can and should be told.

Many of us in the philosophy institution started reading the classic texts of continental philosophy, then working with these ideas prior to postmodernism but we found that we could not obtain tenured jobs. The analytic philosophers had a stranglehold on the small job market up to the 1980s and the old foggies hung on for dear life to get the super. Dorothea expresses this well here. She says:

"See, this is where the comparisons between academia and “industry” fall down for me. When people wipe out of industry, what happens? They have to find another job, more often than not in industry. This people-recycling effect as a matter of course creates pockets of incompetence and burnout.

Academia, on the other hand, is supremely competent at ignoring the people it maltreats and dumps. I mean, supremely. These guys are good. Out of sight, out of mind—after all, the only ones who wipe out are the ones who deserve to, right? Right?

And the dumpees don’t end up back in academia. They go to “industry,” because they have no other choice. And they typically do so silently; strident wipeouts like me are extremely rare."

Well said. 'Things would change the old guard said. You just hang on, do some research and part time teaching and a job will come your way when we all retire. Hope is the key." Then the liberal university went corporate and the new managers downsized the humanties because they were not good at bringing the money in. So a generation was was left hung out to dry. Little is publicly said about that though.

And the upshot of all this change? Philosophy then has to find its feet in the common life outside the academy. It returns to where it was in the nineteenth century, prior to the analytic movement in the 20th century. And thats how I read the big picture in Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations----philosophy's heart and soul lies in the everyday language and conventions of our common life.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at March 4, 2003 09:11 AM | TrackBack

I've blogged in response to this here in my lacking preferment post at


does html work in this comments boxes??

Posted by: meika on March 4, 2003 12:43 PM

when you need to fill in the name email and url. it works. I can access your blog by clicking on your name.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson on March 4, 2003 01:43 PM

Can someone provide the contact address for "Chris Robinson." He knew a very good friend of mine, Larry DeCamp. I too, believe that he was a modern socrates and I want to thank
Chris for posting a tribute to this special man on the Web.

Posted by: Stephanie McSpirit on June 30, 2003 07:05 AM
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