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Philosophy Today. Philosophy 1 Spring, 2002 G. J. Mattey. The Great Divide. Most contemporary philosophers follow one of two approaches “Continental” philosophy “Analytic” philosophy Continental philosophy is more influential on the European continent

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Philosophy Today

Philosophy 1

Spring, 2002

G. J. Mattey

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The Great Divide

  • Most contemporary philosophers follow one of two approaches

    • “Continental” philosophy

    • “Analytic” philosophy

  • Continental philosophy is more influential on the European continent

  • Analytic philosophy is predominant in the major research universities in the English-speaking world

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Analytic Philosophy

  • Analytic philosophy developed from attempts in the early 20th century to make our concepts precise

  • The model of this procedure was science

  • Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970) was a leading positivist, who held that what is not analytic or scientifically verifiable is meaningless

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) eventually held that analyses do not yield precise results and held that philosophy is merely therapeutic

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Analytic Philosophy Today

  • Emphasis in contemporary analytic philosophy is on language and meaning, and meaning is understood as a relation between language and objective reality

  • Thus, understanding the structure of language is what reveals the structure of reality

  • We now have powerful symbolic tools to aid us

  • Saul Kripke (1940- ) led a revival of metaphysics by making hyper-scientific concepts precise

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Continental Philosophy

  • Immanuel Kant’s “Copernican revolution” made the human point of view primary

  • This revolution was carried on German philosophers in the 19th century, culminating in Nietzsche

  • In the early 20th century, Edmund Husserl invented “phenomenology”

  • This was developed by Martin Heidegger and Sartre into “existentialism”

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Continental Philosophy Today

  • Work in phenomenology and existentialism continues to be done

  • The main thrust in continental philosophy today follows Nietzsche

    • Michel Foucault (1926-1984) understood knowledge as practice, and practice as based on relations of power

    • Jacques Derrida (1930- ) promotes “deconstruction” and opposes “logocentrism”

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Academic Culture Clash

  • Analytic philosophers accuse continental philosophers of sloppy, or even meaningless, thinking

  • Continental philosophers accuse analytic philosophers of petty narrowness and detachment from real human concerns

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Roots of the Clash

  • The clash between contemporary continental and analytic philosophers is foreshadowed in the clash between the Sophists and Socrates

  • The Sophists emphasized the use of language as a tool to further human interest, but not as revealing an objective reality

  • Socrates demanded an account of the real form which provides the meaning of the use of concepts

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Formal Philosophy

  • Symbolic logic allows the formulation of philosophical statements and arguments in a rigorous, unambiguous format

    • Leibniz was the first philosopher to try this

    • Russell’s 1905 “On Denoting” showed its great potential

  • Probability calculus is a formalization of principles of inductive reasoning

    • Decision theory is based on probability calculus

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What Analytic Philosophers Do

  • Conceptual analysis is done in the style of the Euthyphro

    • E.g., knowledge is justified true belief that is not accidental

  • Philosophical theories are constructed in the style of Utilitarianism or Grounding of the Metaphysics of Morals

  • Much activity is directed at the question of the possibility of analysis and theorizing

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Reflective Equilibrium

  • Mill posed the problem of the analysis of ethical judgments

    • We need to know what right and wrong are before we can judge an act right or wrong

    • But scientific method requires that we know particulars first

  • Nelson Goodman proposed a solution

    • Begin with our beliefs about particulars

    • Determine how well they conform to general beliefs

    • Reflectively adjust the two kinds of beliefs until they reach a state of equilibrium

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Issues in Metaphysics

  • Most current issues in analytic metaphysics are the same as the classical issues

    • Are universals and numbers real, or are concrete particulars the only reality?

    • Is causality only constant conjunction or a real relation?

    • Can things be other than what they actually are, or are they determined to be what they are?

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  • Many philosophers are attracted to the view that the human mind is a material entity

  • But there are problems in explaining mental activity as identical to brain states, etc.

  • A proposed solution is that mental activity supervenes on physical states of the body

    • Two brain states of the same type cannot differ with respect to the associated mental activity

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Issues in Epistemology

  • How should knowledge be analyzed?

  • Should we approach knowledge inside-out (Descartes, Hume, Russell) or outside-in, so that human knowledge is a natural development to be studied scientifically?

  • How do we make sense of the persuasive power of philosophical skepticism?

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  • We seem to assume that we have knowledge ordinarily but take back that assumption when thinking of skeptical arguments

  • This can be explained by claiming that we have knowledge in the ordinary context but lose it in the skeptical context

  • This is similar to Hume’s view that we have belief in the ordinary context and lose our confidence when thinking of skeptical arguments

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Issues in Ethics

  • Ethical investigations tend to be centered on one of three levels

    • Meta-ethics concerns questions about the nature of moral values and how they can be known

    • Ethical theories include utilitarianism, Kantianism, and Aristotelian-style virtue ethics

    • Moral problems (e.g. abortion) are discussed in their own right or in relation to theories

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The Difference Principle

  • John Rawls has proposed a conception of justice as fairness

    • In the case of distributive justice, justice is fair distribution of the goods of society

  • But what is fair?

    • We should conceive of ourselves as in a position of ignorance regarding our position in society

    • In such a position, it would be reasonable for each of us to require that if a distribution is unequal, it must help the least advantaged

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  • Has analytic philosophy made any progress?

  • Philosophical problems, analyses and theories are subject to much more sophisticated and detailed treatment

  • They tend, however, to be examined piecemeal, and not as part of a broader theoretical context

  • Philosophers seem as far from agreement on more basic issues as they ever have been, even with all the new tools at their disposal