21 June 2006

David Chalmers and I

David Chalmers, analytic philosopher extraordinaire, has a weblog. Under the section "frivoloties" I found a quiz to gauge your philosophical bent. Chalmers scored in a similar fashion to me.

You scored as Postmodernist. Postmodernism is the belief in complete open interpretation. You see the universe as a collection of information with varying ways of putting it together. There is no absolute truth for you; even the most hardened facts are open to interpretation. Meaning relies on context and even the language you use to describe things should be subject to analysis.

Postmodernist: 69%. Cultural Creative: 63%. Existentialist: 56%. Modernist: 44%. Materialist: 38% (!). Idealist: 38%. Romanticist: 31%. Fundamentalist: 25%.

I also scored as a Postmodernist.

Postmodernist: 94%; Cultural Creative: 75%; Existentialist: 63%; Modernist: 56%; Materialist: 38%; Romanticist: 38%; Fundamentalist: 31%; Idealist: 31%.

What does this mean? On-line quizzes are pretty superfluous things (frivolities); but overlooking the simplicity, reductiveness and unreliability of them, the similarity between Chalmer's and my results may show one of two out of a plenitude of things.

A) I am an analytic philosopher. I'm not sure that this conclussion follows from--or even if it is a consequence of--the quiz scores. I think Chalmers is an analytic philosopher; but I'm not sure. Which leads me to my next point.

B) Analytic and continental philosophy aren't so far apart. They obviously are. However, as Husserl tried to show in his Crisis of European Sciences that Kant didn't really know Hume, that Berkeley, Hume and Kant were all gradations on the same hillside and that Hegel and scientific positivism need each other (and only become intelligible to each other vis-a-vis): I mean to say, in the words of Kanye West, "The way Kathy Lee needed Regis, that's the way I need Jesus." While it's a debatable claim that Kathy Lee really needed Regis (the current state of affairs would suggest she does) and I'm making no claim to needing Jesus, my claim is that continental and analytic philosophy can kind of keep each other honest.

It may be because my native language is American (i.e., I speak no non-English languages [What do you call someone who speaks several languages? Multilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bi-lingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.]) and I only read very very contemporary analytic philosophers on the Internet, but it seems to me that continental philosophers get ripped on frequently and unfairly. Here are some things from the Philosophical Lexicon, edited by my favorite philosopher of science, Daniel Dennett.
derrida. From a old French nonsense refrain: "Hey nonny derrida, nonny nonny derrida falala."

foucault, n. A howler, an insane mistake. "I'm afraid I've committed an egregious foucault."

godel, adj. Said of a contribution: fundamental. (See Kleene.)
The first two are the only continental-referencing references in the work, I think. I have a good sense of humor, and some Derridian points are especially unclear and vexing in some ways; and some of the things Foucault says are prima fascie unintelligent (i.e., his reporting on Iran) or quite disconcerting/of dubious validity. The work is compiled by a certain circle of specialists for a certain circle of specialists (i.e., analytics). Har har. Derrida out thinks just about anyone currently writing about "qualia". (So does J.L. Austin.)

I threw in that third entry, godel, since I thought it quite funny. The particular arrangement of words aren't that funny; what I mean is that
Gödel (if Rebecca Goldstein's book can be trusted) created his two incompleteness theorems as a response to the logical positivist environment of the Vienna Circle, which he was part of briefly. A quiet man, Gödel kind of stewed in the back of the room as he watched inferior intellects drawing out a model of science and math that was merely descriptive. Gödel reacted against David Hilbert's formalist movement.
According to the formalist, mathematics is a game devoid of meaning in which one plays with symbols devoid of meaning according to formal rules which are agreed upon in advance. It is therefore an autonomous activity of thought. There is, however, room to doubt whether Hilbert's own views were simplistically formalist in this sense
The formalist movement is not a failure, per se. And I don't really know anything about mathematics. But according to Goldstein,
Gödel was repulsed by the notion of math that was devoid of meaning; i.e., Gödel was a type of Platonist, and he believed that there were mathematical concepts over and above human understanding, of which humans could partake to some unknown (but limited) extent. I.e., that there are mathematical truths that we know to be truths, yet we cannot prove them such. Apparently, this is Gödel's interpretation of his two incompleteness theorems (again, from Goldstein). What this all means to me is that the Vienna Circle in some ways spawned modern analytic philosophy. And this Gödel character, whom the Philosophic Lexicon seems to laud, fucking hated where all this analytic philosophy was going. And moreover, Goldstein asserts that analytic philosophy has more or less hijacked and misconstrued Gödel's position. Do analytics want to side with postmodernist and ciritical theorist Roland Barthes and say that the author is dead? Do they?

How did I get on this tangent? Yes. Analytic philosophy is much different from continental. But again, in the (paraphrased) words of Husserl: We must speak of philosophy, not various competing schools of philosophy, each of which shall be killed off by another. I'm afraid there is no type of Darwinism for philosophic thought--just caprice and fashion.