By Jon Cogburn
I'm still processing the interesting comments on my post about Babette Babich's views about the analytic/continental split.* As is often the case, J. Edward Hackett's intervention (first comment on the thread) has been quietly gnawing at me (albeit not in an unpleasant way) for a few days now. This morning I figured out what was so interesting about it.
After noting that as a student he didn't see the radical difference between what people were doing at Dusquene and at the Pittsburgh History and Philosophy of Science center, Hackett brings up a challenge he would make to some of his continental friends:
What's more, I have asked on occasion for Continental friends to tell me why I should embrace the historical/hermeneutic nature of understanding. In effect, I am asking for why I should accept the "thesis." This is an alien move, one built upon arguing rather than simply interpreting texts to favor or find wisdom in them. I've always been dissatisfied with Heideggerians telling me that I need to embrace the historicity of understanding while they themselves assume their own phenomenological efforts sufficient to assume there's a historical limit to the understanding.
This is a really interesting contrast. Forgive me for engaging in chiasmus, but I think it can be expressed as that between the historicity of understanding and the understanding of historicity. Hackett's continental friends, following late Heidegger's historicist anti-foundationalism, assailed analytic philosophers for treating understanding as somehow outside of history.
Moreover, Hackett's point is interestingly related to the early Schelling's distinction between natural and transcendental philosophy. Transcendental philosophers tried to derive a philosophy of nature from the powers of the transcendental subject to cognize. Schelling argued that one must also derive the transcendental subject from the philosophy of nature. This latter project would show how the subject arises out of nature.
What's weird is that the analytic/continental split tends to split both ways along these lines. With Schelling's nature philosophy, continentals tend to be historicist, rejecting the a prioristic nature of transcendental philosophy. This is what Hackett faced with his graduate school interactions with Heideggerians. But, against Schelling's nature philosophy, they tend to be such radical anti-naturalists that they have a difficult time making sense of the non-anthropocene except in terms of how it relates to the human. Quentin Meillassoux's After Finitude cannot be understood unless you have a sense of the tension between these two tendencies. Meillassoux himself ends up making a point very similar to Hackett's. If everything is historically situated then the transcendental subject itself is historically situated, but then we must be able to talk about a history that transcends the transcendental subject. Though he doesn't invoke Schelling, Meillassoux presents "correlationism" as an unstable mixture of transcendental and nature philosophy.
On the other hand. Analytic philosophers tend to be naturalists, but also are much more comfortable themselves using a prioristic methods that (at least according to a tradition that includes Schelling, Nietzsche, C.S. Lewis, John McDowell, and Alvin Plantinga) which naturalism seeming cannot justify.
Schelling's middle period of identity philosophy was an attempt to articulate a position that would justify both transcendental and naturalistic reasoning. If we replace "naturalistic" with "historical" we can see how J. Ed Hackett would have phenomenology play a similar role. He continues the above with:
For me, the contact or bridge-building is in the fact that some theses can be about what we experience or put an experience of something front and center. When that happens, one can dissolve the borders of what authors narratively say and what the thesis is. The concern with experience, however, can only work with phenomenology.
I would amend this by insisting on another Schellingian maneuver,** one recapitulated by Graham Harman's appropriations of Husserl and Heidegger. That is, once the transcendental self is understood as a thing in the world, then it is clear that phenomenology is the metaphysics of the self. Then the extent to which one is anti-anthropocentric will be exactly the extent to which one's phenomenology can be mined for a guerilla metaphysics. Schelling, of course, wasn't content to stop there, as this speculative maneuver was the basis of his argument for the existence of an autonomous nature philosophy, which identity philosophy later had to reconcile with transcendental philosophy. But identity philosophy itself was a failure. Perhaps the speculative maneuver is in itself enough to reconcile the transcendental and the natural, or as in Hackett's case, the transcendental and the historical.
[*If grading hadn't intervened, I would have responded to all of the comments by now. Barring other similarly unpleasant interventions, I should be caught up with fun stuff like this in the next few days!
**FWIW I think that Schopenhauer actually does a better job than Schelling at this. Phenomenology reveals that the self is will. But then since the self is in the world we can conclude, contra Hume's arguments against this very thing, will is in the world.]