Transgressing Continental Limits

One of the reasons I find myself independent from many Continentals is the rejection of universal insight, or to put it in more starkly ambiguous terms “the universal” (or if we were to speak Hegelian for a moment, then the “absolute”), as if apprehending some universal ultimately threatens particularity and difference. This secret explains why I often call on the methods of analytic philosophy or what has been claimed with what I am doing with Scheler since my departure from SIU. To take values seriously, I am inclined like David Enoch to account for their substantive reality in my experience, but also beyond it. To move beyond, however, is to reconcile oneself to a type of thinking that engages the metaphysical. And while I am logically consistent with the person that has infected most if not inspired my recent thinking on a number of topics in philosophy, we should also note Scheler left phenomenology eventually for speculation beyond experience.

Most of the reactions against phenomenology have been twofold (and I will remind people that the following post cannot help but generalize a lot since we are dealing at the level of abstraction about methods). First, almost all of Continental philosophy has embraced and echoed Heidegger’s thinking about metaphysics. Metaphysics is regarded as a useless endeavor, it makes claims beyond the historical limitations of language and context about notions that developed in time and human history. As such, one cannot make metaphysical claims about reality at all, especially if those claims posit a distinction between appearance versus reality. These notions, concepts, or ideas cannot be extricated from these limiting conditions and as such, one cannot theorize as I do about “moral experience” and the relevant ontology of those concepts (such as value ) unlike analytic philosophy in which one can talk about the concept of agency, moral responsibility, and practical reason as such. The second thing is that phenomenology opened us up to the talk of subjectivity, and so its cursory talk opened us up to the fact that philosophy must not focus on anything beyond the co-relational structures of the conjoined act-object structure. Phenomenology established the limits of focusing on the here-and-now while at the same time becoming what it faulted in others, and the development of phenomenology sheds the overwhelmingly Husserlian baggage.

To advocate moral realism transgresses the limits of everything beyond Heidegger’s embrace and development of Continental philosophy and moves my thinking to the unrecognizable. My thinking is unrecognizable to the Continental because advocating moral realism cannot be reconciled within the framework of hermeneutic suspicions that nform Continental training. To claim that some values are objective invites criticism of the binary from deconstructionist colleagues. To claim that some values are objective invites criticism from postmodernists in that I am privileging and possibly constructing a foundation for moral subjectivity for all human beings. With that, some object to the insipid universal subjectivity at the heart of phenomenology itself. To claim that some value are objective invites the Levinasian suspicion that I am “duped by morality” as he warns in Totality and Infinity. To claim that some moral norms are universal for communities is hubris, possibly entrenching the wrong types of values that make us sick a la Nietzsche. To claim that some values are objective only reinforces the implicit conditions of my former bourgeoisie life (because as an adjunct I am not too sure how bourgeoisie I am despite the theoretical want of Marxists to lay that at my feet as an ethicist).  To speak of values as such is so…so analytic.

The unrecognizability is also due to the fact that we have inherited the biases of our teachers. What philosophy is and how it is shaped becomes habituated in our approaches from the training we receive and what they reinforce. I had a hard time convincing several of this project in graduate school, too. Many, if not all, have fought historically tooth-and-nail for Continental philosophy to be its own enterprise, and they were trained to think analytic philosophy wrong for abstracting concepts from history, language, and context. Not only that, but, the limits of philosophy also invoked the power relationships about how philosophy developed during the last fifty years.

I  find these realist intuitions in anyone that takes experience seriously rather than obsessing about limits to which most if not all Continental philosophy is slowly becoming. Continental philosophy is reacting to the the transgressions done to it in its name, and reiterates the dogma of the limit in so many ways. Think about the reaction to speculative realism. Some have drawn lines in the sand, and some have embraced Meillassoux’s want for ancestral statements. The embrace is a want for a speculation to make claims about that which is not mediated, that which is beyond. One can easily see why the religious or theological turn in phenomenology has occurred. People are tired of asserting the limit and understanding the implications of those limitations in philosophy at large. Asserting and defending the limits of philosophy has been the implicit agenda structuring all Continental thought since moving beyond phenomenology. My embrace of realist intuitions for irreducible elements of moral experience is perhaps more conventional than transgressing limits of mediation inspired by Heidegger, but because it concerns values (unlike ancestral statements about life on Mars where no human has been) the transgression is more noticeable.


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