My Personal History with the Analytic/Continental Divide

static1.squarespaceI’ve been invited to write about the legacy of William James’s Pragmatism (1907) and what if anything can it say about “settling” the Analytic and Continental Divide since his pragmatism is proposed as settling metaphysical disputes. The Divide has been with me for a LONG TIME, and apart from moral realisms, it’s one thing I feel I’ve experienced personally (for good and for bad as a professional philosopher). As far as I know, I may be the only one of my colleagues who was obsessed with it to the point of personal choice in graduate education. I chose to attend Simon Fraser to get an analytic MA after being scared shitless that I couldn’t follow the very uber-Continental conversations in the University of Essex’s MA in Continental philosophy. I lasted two months studying Kant with Espen Hammer and really awful and rather unclear graduate seminar with Peter Dews on the history of a moral world order. At the time, everyone was obsessed with Alain Badiou’s book On Evil. Then, I decided to work in phenomenology and write on Husserl who I had been reading more earnestly than I would let on with my colleagues at Simon Fraser. In fact the personal alienation I was made to feel and felt with the snide comments about “Continental philosophy” very much made me want to get out of there. I even made contact with a group of graduate students at Think Cafe in Point Grey (just outside UBC’s main campus) who had formed “the Continental Underground.” They met off campus to read Continental philosophy free from the onslaught of their colleagues, so the dogma was pretty bad on both ends of Vancouver.

When I had came to SIU, the dogma was in reverse, but not as prominent. Still, I took almost exclusive course work in Phenomenology and all Ethics courses. My first few years I wanted to wage war, and soon found myself also “not Continental enough” and “too analytic.” For two years, I’d argue with a colleague that Jamesian pragmatism committed a form of psychologism, and that being a student of Husserl, I could see this as clear as day. Interesting that I am writing this piece, and consequently now think that many Husserlian claims are full of shit. Next, I’m pretty sure there’s one professor who thinks it odd to put Scheler into conversation with metaethics, yet this seems (still to this day) to be an exciting way to engage Scheler’s ideas since both Scheler and metaethicists are responding to similar if not the same concerns. Apart from me, I did not know the SIU institutional histories that have been waged for the soul of pragmatism, yet I ran into them personally and in my scholarship (e.g., see my reactions to Talisse and Aikin or Misak’s horrible reading of James to which I must respond to eventually). These histories constituted perhaps some of the reactions to my analytic upbringing I got from colleagues that have forever filtered their perceptions of me and what contexts I didn’t know I was navigating when I arrived, the legacies of Pierce and Dewey (especially Dewey since we had the entire archive of Dewey’s writings and some of the best Dewey scholars on the planet).

Since then, I have corresponded with many the world over about the AP/CP Divide, but it’s always somewhere in the back of my mind. As I look out onto PhDs my age in Facebook, there was a time when I was rather hopeful that it didn’t matter anymore. For the most part, my experience is that it doesn’t. Then again, my analytic friends are all from that very analytic SFU experience who are sympathetic even if they don’t philosophically agree with anything I say. The Divide is really only a concern now for those Analytics where prestige bias and those legacies matter (fueled forever by the politics of the PGR no less) and maybe the placement officers from very Continental schools that are not gatekeepers in the profession or may have access to alternative placement networks.

I find myself very much now attracted to system-builders, and most recently have found myself falling in love with Ortega y Gasset, Whitehead, John McDermott’s process-oriented William James but most prominently in the field of my attention is Edgar Sheffield Brightman who I found both through Randy Auxier’s suggestion and Rufus Burrows work on personalism and Martin Luther King. I have no idea where I am going half the time in these thinkers, carried on by explorations into the various ontologies of God and value that attracted me to James and Scheler, but I know eventually that these thinkers will come together in a new constellation. Currently, I am reading Bowne’s Personalism (1908) and Brightman’s A Philosophy of Religion (1940), and Robert Corrington’s Deep Pantheism (2016). The farther I travel into these thinkers, the more I know I am adding to the legacy of American philosophy to include attention to Boston personalism eclipsed by the legacies of American pragmatism in much the same way that Scheler is eclipsed by the legacy of Heidegger scholarship. The farther I go…I also know that the Divide really means nothing to me anymore, but it has taken a very long time to shed.


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