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John Drabinski

For what it's worth, I've always gotten a chuckle out of the alleged rigor in and of the appeal, while hinging so much of it on a terrible analogy. Philosophy is nothing like physics. Or barely at all, and insofar as the analogy has any purchase at all, it is in a small corner of the discipline. Maybe that's the point, though. To make the corner small and exclusive, because the entire history of white Western philosophy can't be matched to "physics." Or maybe that's also the point, which reminds me of a joke Terry Horgan used to make when I was in grad school at Memphis: "ancient philosophy? Oh, you mean Frege?"

In the end, you can see (at least in the U.S. context) the terms of philosophy's slow fade from academia in such a provincial idea of disciplinary purity, this shaming of cross-disciplinary appeal and influence (something no decent art history, literature, or history professor would claim).

I found this to be a sad and pathetic affair. I remember it well. Admittedly, I have my stakes: Derrida has deeply influenced by work, and this sort of configuration of what's "real" philosophy has exceptional racialized effects (it makes nearly the entire black intellectual tradition non-philosophical). It is for me a kind of Donald Trump moment for the discipline. All bombast and xenophobia, very little content.

Not that you asked!

Lorenzo Peña

We were not a heterogeneous bunch (or an eclectic collection) but a set of philosophers regarding ourselves as belonging to the analytical tradition started by Frege and Russell. Clarity and rigour are a methodological canon shared by most philosophers before Kant. But Frege raised up that ideal to a higher level of standards.
On the other hand many French philosophers in the 20th century have followed the path of obscurity, gibberish, gratuitous and often cryptic statements without logical connection. I have both read and heard Derrida (I am half French myself). Horrible!

Schliesser, Eric

Thank you for your comment. A former student of Leo Apostel is always welcome, Dr. Lorenzo. Your co-signers are not all analytical philosophers. For example, Karl Schuhmann (a great philosopher-scholar) was not and a few others also not. You hereby confirm my claim that some of you probably lack familiarity with the work of some of your distinguished (and not so distinguished) co-signers.

Frege is swell -- too bad about his virulent anti-semitism [so odd to mention him while dissing other people's politics!] --, but your claims about pre-Kantian ideals are phoney gibberish (unless you think neo-Platonism [in many ways the dominant paradigm between Plato and Kant, if we include the Islamic philosophers] is all about clarity). But yeah, scholasticism also embraced rigor!

I leave your other comment for the amusement of more serious students of French philosophy.

Schliesser, Eric

Drabinski, philosophy is not fading from academia. But you do well on a soap-box; you make a natural blogger.

Carlo Ierna

"What is not noted is that it is extremely unlikely that these signers had read much of each other. (Obviously there are exceptions!"
I'm pretty sure that the exceptions overshadow the rule here. Smith, Haller, Mulligan, Schuhmann, Simons, Willard, and Wolenski were quite certainly very much aware of each other's works, given their numerous collaborations, publications in the same collections and journals, and overlapping interests. You manage to produce a list of topics that seems to pull them apart, but at the core they are all share an interest in the School of Brentano, realist phenomenology, and early Husserl, focusing on (formal) ontology, mereology, and logic, and sharing the idea of philosophy as science present in most Austrian philosophers. Both from a philological-historical as well as theoretical-systematical viewpoint their work is miles apart from Derrida's. I can very well imagine that they would not recognize what he did as "philosophy", just like Freud and Skinner might not recognize each other as "psychologists". Nevertheless, the letter does not say "Derrida is bullshit", though undoubtedly some of the signatories might well have thought so, it says "Whatever Derrida is doing, is not suitable to be recognized as a paragon of philosophy by a leading university". Whether Derrida's works "stretch the normal forms of academic scholarship beyond recognition" or contribute creatively to expand our horizons, i.e. whether or not it is at all philosophy, is quite a different assesment from giving him a very public and official seal of approval, setting him up as an exemplar.
Compare this incident to the local one to which we owed our two "Doctoraris". Albert Heijn was certainly a highly successful and visible businessman, but should he therefore be a dr. h.c.?

"It is sometimes noted that it is extremely unlikely that most of the signers had read much more of Derrida than I had by the time I left graduate school."
For a detailed critical discussion of Derrida by one of the signatories, preceding the affair, see e.g. Mulligan 1991 ( http://philpapers.org/rec/MULHNT ).

"I note that it is more revealing about the commitments of the signers than either about Derrida or the politics of honorary award granting." While I agree with your conclusion, it is quite an open door. I disagree mostly with your criticism of the signatories, with what you think they did and didn't know or intended. I'm sure you don't need to justify your new-found approval of Derrida by disapproving of his critics, at the risk of turning your arguments against yourself. I don't think you've read much of or about the signatories, otherwise you would have known how much of a open door it is to try to read into the letter a "tacit" and "implicit" support of philosophy as "normal science" and as "a serious enterprise", when there are quite a number of articles in which such positions are explictly taken and advocated (e.g. Mulligan-Simons-Smith "What’s wrong with contemporary philosophy?" in Topoi (2006) 25:63–67, but there are examples preceding the affair).

Schliesser, Eric

First, I agree that quite a few share an interest in the "School of Brentano, realist phenomenology, and early Husserl, focusing on (formal) ontology, mereology, and logic, and sharing the idea of philosophy as science present in most Austrian philosophers." (I thought I had said that in my post.) But that's 'analytical philosophy' only in a very extended sense of 'analytical.' And I sincerely doubt that this school was very well read by some of the other signers that don't fit this shared orientation. (I welcome genuine evidence to the contrary, but will remind you that Barry Smith's piece -- to which I link -- makes quite clear how little interest there was in his kind of work among analytical philosophers.)
Second, I am not defending Derrida; I am defending the use by Derrida by others. You would think that purportedly rigorous thinkers can grasp that simple distinction; that they do not suggests they are in grip of party politics. I am attacking the insipid and dangerous arguments of this letter. (In fact, my post clearly states that Derrida may well have deserved this kind of response.)
Yes, I am familiar with Mulligan's fine criticism of Derrida. It reminds me of the sort of paper that aims to show that Leibniz did not understand Plato--there is a sense in which it's all true and a sense in which it misses the point. (And, yes, I am also familiar with Claude Evans's work--he is a much valued former colleague.)
Finally, on the normal science stuff--I analyzed the letter not their other works for present purpose. I wouldn't use this letter to say anything about Quine's philosophy, although I think it gives a nice entry into his philosophical politics. But if I am misreading the letter, I would welcome learning that.

Carlo Ierna

Dear Eric,

You said that "They are an eclectic mix", but nearly half are actually a closely knit scholarly community.

"And I sincerely doubt that this school was very well read by some of the other signers that don't fit this shared orientation." I'm sure that at least Mugnai and Röd were well aware of the group I mentioned above. However, I think this is already more than suffcient to show that your initial judgment that "it is extremely unlikely that these signers had read much of each other" was a bit rash.

"only in a very extended sense of 'analytical.'", here we must agree to disagree. The idea of an exclusively "anglo-american" analytical philosophy is far too restrictive and historically inaccurate. Just look at Dummett: "A grave historical distortion arises from a prevalent modern habit of speaking of analytical philosophy as "Anglo-American". ... this terminology utterly distorts the historical context in which analytical philosophy came to birth, in the light of which it would better be called "Anglo-Austrian" than "Anglo-American"." Even the name itself probably originates with Stout's translation of Brentano's "Descriptive Psychology" as "Analytical Psychology" (as proximal cause, the distal cause is the analogy to chemical analysis which was also made by all involved).

What exactly is "insipid" and "dangerous" about their arguments? Is your problem with their claim that philosophy should have standards at all or with which standards they believe are the right ones? I'm sure the problem is on my end, but it is not at all obvious to me that their arguments are "self-serving, self-reinforcing, and conservative". After all, the signatories hardly represent "the establishment" and were not even successful. It's not like they could hire or fire anyone or act as gatekeepers for grant applications on a European level. So when you say "political" you cannot mean "institutional politics" since there were no European level institutions and they did not belong to a single local institute. Nor do they represent a hidden agenda, since both in the letter and their publications such ideas are openly endorsed and critically (as opposed to dogmatically) discussed. Why, to echo Derrida himself, would their thoughts about the nature of philosophy, not be philosophy but politics? If you take the letter as a dogma or the expression of a conspiracy, then you are indeed, in my opinion, reading it wrong.

Eric Schliesser

Look at your own language: you attribute to me a 'conspiracy' claim...there is not a shred of evidence you can point to that I think that about this letter. (I also do not think it expresses a shared 'dogma,' but that is a more subtle matter.) What's even the point of suggesting that I make such a charge (except De-legitimation?)?

I agree that there is core (although I am unsure even it is a common school) that is a relatively close-knit community (and I did not deny that [and it is pretty obvious from Smith's narrative about the letter]) -- I had not explicitly stated that so welcome your attempt at precision--, but to call it 'analytic' is revisionary in large extent (and I am perfectly fine with the European branches of analytical philosophy--nobody denies that Polish logicians and Viennese/Prague (etc.) positivists fit in. ['Analytical philosophy' in the modern sense was coined by Ernest Nagel in 1936, although there certainly were all kinds of analysists before him.] Leaving aside coinage, Husserl is simply not an analytical philosopher; if you want to treat Brentano as an important ancestor to analytic philosophy that's perfectly fine with me fww.
Yet, from the fact that there is such a core it does not follow that the signers all read each other. (And if you look at Smith's narrative about how he put together the list it's clear he also tried hard to recruit signers from outside that core. Again I pointed to the paper in my piece.)

On the agenda of the piece, I cite the authority of Smith (undoubtedly some signers had nothing to do with that agenda). He could be wrong and misremembering or I could be misunderstanding him. Maybe you should read his interview?

On the evaluation of the arguments of the letter, undoubtedly judgments will differ, but my arguments about it do not rely on sociological claims about "establishment" or "gatekeepers" (or grant-making bodies). Rather, I quoted the text. And all I did was to point to some tensions and tendencies within the text.

Their thoughts about philosophy are philosophy, their thoughts about awards published as a letter to the editor (that is aimed at a wider public) are a species of politics; I called it 'philosophical politics.' Feel free to call it another name, but to call it 'philosophy,' well...our paths must part.

Lorenzo Peña

Frege's reactionary political views are neither here nor there. His logical and philosophical output is what matters (from a philosophical point of view). Admittedly his examples betray his horizon, once you are aware thereof. But so many philosophers of all obediences and schools have been politically objectionable! Derrida himself, borne in Algeria, was not a partisan of Algerian freedom fighters. His "hostipitalité" concept, while purportedly pro-immigrants, conceals a deep disdain for a thorough open-door policy towards immigrants. And many other "French theory" thinkers (or rather writers) are definitely reactionary. Please, let politics alone when talking about philosophy.

Eric Schliesser

Lorenzo, we agree, in fact, that there is plenty of political ugliness to be found in all schools. But you can't praise Frege while dissing Derrida *because it reminds you of Dada (see your own letter)*, which was a movement that fused art and politics in non-trivial ways (it's your example not mine). (Or did you use 'Dadaist' because it sounded nice?) That is to say your own letter is political in all kinds of ways not the least of which it is a self-consciously public intervention to prevent a public recognition. It may also be philosophical (although I have noted some ways it's pretty sloppy as philosophy), but don't deny your own political gesture (it just looks foolish--I am an analytical philosopher, by the way, so feel kind of embarrassed on your behalf).

Lorenzo Peña

When you sign to a letter you are not supposed to know about co-signers, their credentials, motivations or background. Of course I was deeply imbibed with Quine's work (I hope the whole of it). I was and remain a Quinean of sorts.I was acquainted with the work of Ruth (whom I knewpersonally), David Armstrong and several other signatories, mainly the Anglo-Saxons. We analytical philosophers outside the Anglo-Saxon world were parias, poor dissidents, "despised and rejected and acquainted with grief". Derrida's exaltation was a bonus for our oppressors

Eric Schliesser

I fully believe you that there were "oppressors" and that "analytical philosophers" were akin to "poor dissidents" etc. That strikes me as true (and well grounded in history); it's important background to the letter. But that also lends credence to my claim that this letter is properly understood as an instance of philosophical politics.
[And YES OF COURSE cosigners of such letters are not supposed to have read everything or anything by each other.]

Lorenzo Peña

But, of course, Eric, the letter belonged in ACADEMIC politics; it did not aimed to be a philosophical output.
When philosophers have a pronouncement on matters of academic policy, or whatever else, they are prone to reason in a philosophical way, more or less, to such an extent as the context allows and demands it.
I signed the letter; hence you are right that it was mine, at least up to a point. However I had not written it. Probably my own draft would have been different and maybe stronger.
However it would not have been a philosophical essay.
For me signing the letter was an act of selfdefense against the antianalytical establishment.
But as regards the gist of the matter, not the details, I still think the letter was quite right: Monsieur Derrida did not deserve such a distinction. His works deserve to be let to the "oubliettes de l'histoire".

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