Courtesy of Brian Leiter.  Here's noted historian of ancient philosophy (and much else) Jonathan Barnes on Contintental Philosophy:

[M]ost philosophers who belong to the so-called analytical tradition are pretty poor philosophers. (Most academics who do anything are pretty poor at doing it; and philosophy, or so it seems to me, is a subject in which it is peculiarly difficult to do decent stuff. A modestly competent historian may produce a modestly good history book; a modestly competent philosopher has no reason to publish his modest thoughts.)   But there's a big difference between the analyticals and the continentals: what distinguishes the continental tradition is that all its members are pretty hopeless at philosophy. Myself, I've read scarcely a hundred continental pages. I can't see how any rational being could bear to read more; and the only question which the continental tradition raises is sociological or psychological: How are so many apparently intelligent young people charmed into taking the twaddle seriously?

Why bother indeed with straw men, they take so much time to construct, just to knock down in the end.


4 thoughts on “Twaddle”

  1. That’s only stranger given what he says just before it in the interview.

    ‘Now there’s a question… I can’t think it matters a rap whether all these people are called philosophers or not, and I can’t give very much sense to the phrase “mode of philosophizing”. But there surely are different traditions – if a tradition is defined in terms of a sequence of heroes. Frege, Russell, Austin, Davidson…; Hegel, Heidegger, Sartre, Derrida… There are a few cross-dressers: Husserl, Wittgenstein…;’

    At least that last image is not likely to ever leave my mind……..

  2. The funny part is Barnes’s own admission that he has “scarcely read more than 100 continental pages.” And yet, all continental philosophers are hopeless at philosophy. I suspect that there might be a bit of hyperbole in Barnes’s tone that is getting lost in the transcription of the interview, but, nonetheless, why even say that? I am at times disgusted with the style of certain continental philosophers, but no less than the style of certain analytic philosophers. As far as the content difference between the two traditions is concerned, a case could be made that the answer to the only question analytic philosophy raises is merely trivial or false.

  3. jcasey, thanks for pointing that article to us.
    Barnes actually fits his own description quite well:
    “But surely, you will cry, moral philosophy must impinge on Real Life? After all, we do ethics – as Aristotle says – in order to become good, don’t we? And surely logic must impinge? Isn’t it the science of reasoning? And don’t we all want to reason as sharply as we can? – Well, glance about at our colleagues. There’s Professor W, who has written some brilliant pieces on ethics: Is he more honourable in his philandering than my neighbour Bernard? And there’s Professor D, the most competent logician of the age: Are his practical reasonings better regulated than those of my neighbor Brian? The answers are: No, and No. Moreover, I incline strongly to think that ethics, as it’s done by philosophers, is more likely to confuse than to enlighten non-philosophers, and that logic, as it’s done by logicians, tends to produce logic-choppers rather than reasoners.”
    He also adds that “No doubt I’m a crusty old cynic. In any case, I don’t believe that professional philosophy has much to offer non-philosophers on non-philosophical matters. Why should it have?”
    I wonder how many “philosophers” share his view. How pathetic is to have a career that serves no one but yourself? Barnes seems to me a living contradiction. The same comment Chesterton makes about Nietzsche seems to apply here: “To preach egoism is to practice altruism. “

  4. Sigh. This type of strawman-baiting is largely responsible for the continued exacerbation of the so-called “analytic-Continental divide.” It’s doubly unfortunate that it should come from so noted a philosopher.

    I wonder how many “philosophers” share his view. How pathetic is to have a career that serves no one but yourself?
    The fact that you truly wonder that tells me you probably haven’t read a lot of philosophy.

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