Justin Erik Halldór Smith on the analytic-continental rift. As my recent work has drawn me more and more out of the continental and into the analytic tradition, I can’t help but sympathize with the assessment he borrows from Brian Leiter that the majority of people working in the former are producing work with lower standards of rigor. I’d include myself here, and I don’t think its anyone’s fault. Most of the brightest people I know work in continental philosophy. The problem is that less is expected and required of them. I certainly feel that way about my own intellectual development.
Smith suggests the rift is a symptom of the deeper divide between the cultures of the natural sciences and the humanities, the latter in its post-modern form having thoroughly purged itself of the trappings of its scientificity and even at times expressed skepticism about scientificity in general. If the humanities, and a fortiori work being done under the banner of continental philosophy, is to reassert itself now as the post-modern identity loses the last of its intellectual appeal and public respectability, it should do so by recognizing the distinct sort of scientificity it ought to pursue, one concerned not with knowledge of objective, attitude-independent truths about the external world, but with what Pete Wolfendale calls the realm of non-objective truths. At its most abstract, philosophy deals with those truths that, while independent of the particular attitudes of individuals and groups, are nonetheless true in virtue of the structure of attitude-having in general, or transcendental truths. The more concrete elements of the humanities, both in the philosophical/reflective and in their practical significance, then deal with the concrete cultural phenomena of that which is true because we take it to be true (for example, that a commodity has a specific value, or that a poem can be considered brilliant).
What is called for is a rescuing of the concept of truth from its post-modern degradation. There is a sense of truth indigenous to the humanities (or human sciences, really) that, when properly distinguished from the sort of truth pursued by the natural sciences, should avoid the problems diagnosed by continental philosophers throughout the 20th century. This does not mean advocating the sort of cavalier repurposing of the concept that Badiou undertakes, as he ultimately only continues the fraught tradition of employing a monolithic notion of truth whose lack of precision does little to overcome the rift within philosophy.