Dec 242011

Brian Leiter

A really good interview with Nietzsche scholar and opinionator Brian Leiter appears in 3:AM Magazine, where he drops pithy quotes on Obama, Nietzsche, Marx, and Foucault.

But he also appears to have a new argument to sell. Leiter advocates a new way to divide the philosophical canon, not into “contintentals” or “analytics,” but rather into “naturalists” and “anti-naturalists”. You can also listen to Leiter’s argument on the latest Philosophy Bites episode, where Nigel Warburton thankfully pushed back a bit.

It seems to me that Leiter focuses too much on outlier examples to deny the boundaries of the “continental” and “analytic” camps. Sure, perhaps Marx wouldn’t have thought much of Derrida (though who can say, and what kind of an argument is that, really?). But that doesn’t mean they weren’t both united as students of Hegel, and therefore assignable to a certain intellectual camp. I mean, Heidegger didn’t think much of Sartre, either, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t more similar than different when compared to Frege and Russell. Not all Republicans agree on all points with their fellow Republicans, but they can still sense when a Democrat has entered the room; there’s a reason these camps evolved in the first place. Continue reading »

Aug 162010

Leiter approves of a recent “very successful” post on the New York Times’ philosophy blog about “reclaiming the imagination.” His wrath has been appeased … for now.

Here’s the gist of the piece: Imagination has survival value because it allows one to choose the best plan by running through possible consequences. This is meant to be a response to the (imaginary) interlocutors who “downplay the cognitive role of the imagination” by restricting its role to discovery rather than justification. Rather: “… imagination is not only about fiction: it is integral to our painful progress in separating fiction from fact.” The author is a logician, and is apparently is unaware of the self-parody involved in his assumption that if imagination were involved only in discovery and fiction, it would somehow be debased. But he’s also worried about justifying the ways of philosophy to science, or at least “Critics of contemporary philosophy,” who (remaining unnamed but amply imagined) claim that philosophy “loses touch with reality.” Self-flagellation before and alms-begging from the scientific royals (note the use of the word “painful” in opposition to “playful”).

There’s the further irony that the kind of (painful) caution that makes this piece — as one commenter notes — an exercise in “stating the obvious” is just as bad for the reputation of philosophy as airy (and imaginative) speculation (read the other scornful comments as well).

Ahh, ye self-hating philosophers: grow some balls (figuratively, in your imagination) and stop apologizing. You’re damned either way, so you might as well have the courage of your convictions.