Tuesday, January 21, 2003

The Philosophical Divide

So, I've been reading a lot of post-structural theory lately. And it's making it a bit difficult or uncomfortable to actually be in the world. I'm unsettled, so-to-speak. But this has led me to (re)consider analytic philosophy - and why it's not a plausible alternative for me. And it has also reminded me that I disagree with certain assumptions in cognitive science and the philosophy of mind - which automatically puts me at odds with related approaches to emerging technologies.

Much has been made of the differences and divisions between analytic and continental philosophies, and I certainly got my fill of it while my partner was completing his thesis in the philosophy of social science. I used to think the problems were overstated - there is good and bad in both, and they share common origins that are often overlooked. But as I continue my own research, I sometimes find the need to pick a side in the debate. And so I fall on the Continental side (no surprise to anyone who has actually read the content on this site). Still, I will qualify that, and say that hardcore versions of both analytic and continental philosophies turn me off.

That doesn't mean I don't appreciate analytical philosophy. And I have even greater appreciation for post-analytic thought and philosophies that attempt to span the divide. I quite enjoy reading Nick Bostrom's stuff - but that might be because I think he's witty. (For example, you've gotta love someone who can posit meaning in "its revolutionary culturally-negotiated postmodern quantum-metaphysical radical ontologico-semantic self-conceited dialectic aquatic textuality.") And he keeps me honest. I also appreciate aspects of pragmatism, although American pragmatists like Richard Rorty don't appeal to me.

But when it comes to cognitive science and philosophy of mind - like the work of Paul Churchland - I couldn't disagree more. I want to say that sort of thinking weirds me out - a statement or position anathema to analytics. (After all, where's the logic in that?) I imagine Churchland responding to such a statement with "Anne - clearly there are some incorrect connections happening in your brain right now". And then he would tell me what the correct connections are, because - really - I'm coded for optimal performance. And in the end, both of our brains would simply be following the rules that nature set out for us, and our conversation would comprise electrical impulses and feedback loops.

I'm no anti-realist or hardcore idealist, but this cannot possibly be the extent of my/our existence. I have no problem with this being a part of "what it all means," but I don't agree with the distance and absolute certainty of some cognitive science and analytical philosophy. In the end, and despite the fear it arouses in me, I prefer the intimate and the uncertain.


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