Saturday, February 01, 2003

Transgressing analytic philosophy

In previous posts I have mentioned the stranglehold that the school of analytic philosophy had over the philosophy institution in the now deceased liberal university. This was especially the case in case in Australia where the work of analytic philosophers was primarily directed at constructing a mechanistic materialism ( nature and people as machines) which had its roots in Descartes and modern physics.

Those who were keen on reading what analytic philosophy called continental philosophy were generally not taken seriously, found it very difficult to get full time jobs and were treated as outsiders. To be accepted in professional philosophy you had to work with the language game of scientific materialism, go all starry eyed about the great names of the analytic canon and work to contribute another brick in the edifice of knowledge about important philosophical problems.

So how did analytic philosophy become post analytic? It certainly did not come about through the work of continental philosophers. They were mostly ignored and, by and large, were content to explore continental philosophy, rather than engage in criticisms of the mechanistic research programme. Hence the development of the analytic/continental divide.

Richard Rorty offers a convincing explanation of the shift from analytic to post-analytic philosophy in his ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY AND TRANSFORMATIVE PHILOSOPHY paper. He says that the shift came about from self-criticism within the analytic school, through a criticism that chipped away at its foundations and calling its scientific pretensions--- of putting philosophy on the secure path to science----into question.

Rorty says that there is no need to ignore or avoid analytic philosophy as some of those who have embrace continental philosophy have done. The story he tells is about:

"...why you need to study certain selected analytic philosophers in order fully to appreciate the transformative possibilities which the intellectual movements of the twentieth century have opened up for our descendents....Analytic philosophy may not have lived up to its pretensions, and may not have solved the puzzles it thought it had. Yet in the process of finding reasons for putting these pretensions and puzzles aside it help earned itself an important place in the history of ideas."

In telling this story Rorty say that that the significance of German Idealism (Kant & Hegel) was that it cleared a path that lead us around empiricism. The significance of the transformation of analytic philosophy is that a cleared a path beyond scientism

What happens when the two paths away from empircism and scientism cross? Where does that lead us? What kind of philosophy can be found at such a cross roads?

A literary philosophy ---ie., one that works in the literary institution-- according to Rorty, but thats another weblog.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

1 & 1=?

What happens when you put Francis Fukuyama's 'the end of history' ( the best possible social order has been found and it is capitalist liberal democracy) and Samuel Huntington's 'clash of civilizations' (as the main political struggle of the 21st century) together?

Easy: the clash of civilizations is the end of history.

What does that mean?

It means that a militant fundamental Islam is the chief enemy of capitalist liberal democracy. So we get the remainders of the historical past (the forces of reaction or Islamo-Fascism ) needing to be overcome by an armed liberal social order.

It only takes a bit of jigging and a bit of Christian spin, and hey presto, out pops President Bush and the US neo-con republicians with their war on terror.

Who said philosophy was not useful?

Monday, January 27, 2003

Australia Day

Australia Day = nationality = nationalism. Its about the flag, the nation, the bonds that tie us as a people, the common culture; and, in these times of war, patriotism or love of country. On Australia Day nationality is seen as a good thing-----eg., we are proud to be Australian---and we celebrate Australia Day in a variety of ways. This an easy-going, relaxed and populist nationalism.

Two quick asides. First, the 26th of January is an odd choice because the nation had yet to be formed when James Cook landed. The nation only came into being with the federation of the colonies in 1901, the formation of the nation-state, and British colonialists turning into Australians. The moment of Federation would be the more appropriate date for celebration.

The moment of federation also evokes the principle of self-determination in order for Australia to achieve its own sovereignty. It invokes the nation state, a political community and citizenship.

Secondly, many dismiss nationalism as inherently bad, and they say that it should be rejected altogether. On their account nationalism is violent, ethnic irrational, barbarous, tribal, xenophobic, racist. On more extreme accounts nationalism leads to gas chambers, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. So nationalism is devoid of any emancipatory force that would serve the cause of human autonomy, freedom and self realization.

This ethno-nationalism has little connection with a multicultural, or culturally pluralist Australia, where there is a national majority and different minorities sharing a common public culture.

The proper response to this dismissal is to say that there are nationalisms and nationalisms. For instance, the nationalism of a super power such as the USA is different from that of Scotland, which is different from Serb nationalism, which is different from Australian nationalism. Not all these are an ethno-nationalism centred around ethnicity.

My interpretation of the populist understanding of nationality in Australia is that it is a form of cultural nationalism, which is based on a sense of belonging to the nation. When 'a sense of belonging' is unpacked it assumes that the nation is a community constituted by shared beliefs and mutual commitment. It holds that the nation is extended in history, connected to a territory and marked off from other communities by its distinct public character, which is generally defined in terms of a common language.

The limits of this populist nationalism are not hard to find. One limit in Australia is to the idea of the cohabitation of different nations within a single sovereign nation-state---eg. an aboriginal nation or a Greek nation. A multination state is Canada (Quebec) not Australia. Another limit is that, though we Australians easily accept a cultural nationalism (Australia versus England in cricket), we are more reluctant to embrace a nationalism that involves the political community and citizenship.