Isn’t the analytic/continental divide a 20th-century curiosity?

Dear all,

Isn’t the analytic/continental divide a 20th-century curiosity? Isn’t it time to question the esprit de corps of some ‘analytic philosophy’ departments?


I am studying the genealogy of the notion of esprit de corps from a multiple perspective: philosophy, conceptual history, discourse analysis and political thought. Esprit de corps is a fighting spirit and feeling of distinction among members of a closed group who proudly define themselves in opposition to something they combat and/or want to defeat. It can be a progressive or a conservative force. It can affect all spheres of society, including the academia.

I have found that esprit de corps is an expression that has appeared in French military discourse in the late 17th century and slowly became a multifaceted global concept, discussed in sociology, politics, and ‘continental philosophy’ (related to the analytic philosophy notions of group agency, collective intention, and collective self-awareness, among others). Today for example, the idiom is also used daily by the US and global media, in matters related to the military, sports, politics, communities, etc. (see the ‘esprit de corps tracer’:

In all its denotations, esprit de corps remains an agonistic notion. For Deleuze and Guattari, esprit de corps is a ‘war machine’, a subsidiary principle sometimes efficiently used by communities or rebellious groups, sometimes displayed by dominant groups in order to maintain their privileges.

Recently, I have asked the Stockholm Center for Ethics of War and Peace if they thought I could apply for their one-month visiting fellow scheme and the Director’s answer was the following: ‘Thank you very much for your email, and your interest in our scheme. However, SCEWP focuses on philosophical work on the analytic tradition, and I do not think that your area of research would fit with our research aims.’

Not so long ago, I also applied for a workshop on collective self-awareness, organised by the University of Vienna department of philosophy. From their program, it is easy to understand that the question of collective self-awareness should, as far as they are concerned, be addressed by analytic philosophers. I was very kindly invited to attend if I so wished, but not to give a talk: ‘Your proposal was excellent, but for this occasion we are looking for something that addresses systematic questions more [as if systematic questions should not be informed by social, historical, political and other data]. We hope to organize something on conceptual history at some point though and would very much like you to participate then!’

Yet, this is how they had articulated their call for papers: ‘There has been a growing philosophical interest in Collective Intentionality in recent decades, but the topic of collective self-awareness is still in its infancy. How do we experience ourselves as acting and perceiving jointly? How do we know what we believe, intend, feel and value as members of informal groups? And how do institutional actors such as universities, parties and governments know their minds?’ The entire conceptual history of the concept of ‘esprit de corps’, from Montesquieu to Bourdieu, from Durkheim to Deleuze, addresses similar questions.

Today, it seems that many analytic philosophers have a strong esprit de corps indeed, and it is understandable humanly and politically that they wish to keep their dominant privilege in many philosophy departments. However, shouldn’t we consider the analytic/continental divide as a 20th-century dusty curiosity? Isn’t it time to acknowledge that human relations and group politics understood in a wide sense are driven by the irrational as much as the logical, and that a hyper logical approach is interesting by not sufficient to encompass the complexity of this world? May be ‘continental philosophy’ is sometimes para-rational or multi-focused because the world is so?

I have to mention that I do not think that all analytic philosophers are acting in the same manner. A great deal of them are probably open to a hybridation of philosophical approaches. The conference that I am organising at the University of Edinburgh (CRAG December 2015) has invited all traditions of thought, and we have received tremendously rich proposals of papers, from all disciplines, including analytic philosophy. There is hope!

Best wishes
Luis de Miranda

Posted in Ideas and Papers, Pop culture.

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