Clarity, continental philosophy, and bullshit
I posted this under the Nigel Warburton interview below, but thought it also worth posting properly…
There’s a sort of Hegelian story about reason, the Enlightenment, the French revolution and the Terror, and later, with Lyotard etc., the Holocaust, to which many in the continental tradition sign up.
On this story, reason, as understood by Enlightenment thinkers – and also by today’s analytic tradition – is in reality something rather crude and, to some extent, oppressive (even just another form of power). Indeed, it is reason (thus understood) and the Enlightenment that are ultimately responsible for the horrors of both the guillotine and Auschwitz.
I guess that’s what anonymous is alluding to when he connects philosophical clarity to “the Terror”?
There’s a certain sort of “continental” bullshit artist that, having become familiar with this narrative, then plays the following game:
1. Alludes knowingly to the narrative, so that those also familiar with it can feel clever and “in the know”, while those unfamiliar with it feel excluded and ignorant (a bit like when a clique are all intimately familiar with a particular film, and keep riffing on it and referencing to it, while those not familiar with the film are excluded)
2. Never clearly explains the narrative, because then someone might spot that it is, in fact, 95% bullshit.
3. Peppers their discussion with lots of historical references – the more obscure the better – so as to impress the layperson with their sophistication and learning.
4.”Critiques” analytic philosophers from the perspective of this narrative, suggesting they are unsophisticated, coercive, insensitive to the historical nuances, etc. etc., but without ever bothering actually to provide any justification for any of these charges at all.
5. When challenged or questioned, talks jargon, or switches to some other feature of the narrative, so that their opponent quickly becomes confused and loses track of the conversation, while those familiar with the narrative can again share a feeling of cleverness and being “in the know”.
I used to give these people the benefit of the doubt – after all, I thought, perhaps they really are on to something. I tried to figure out what this something might be.
But having become rather more familiar with this narrative myself recently, and the five techniques outlined above, it has become increasingly clear to me what a bunch of wa**ers these people really are.
Not all “continental” philosophers, by any means. But there are certainly a few…
Of course, analytic philosophy has its own brand of wa**er.