‘aquinas amongst the analytics’

I can identify with this:

My formal education in philosophy was entirely in the analytic mold and I am grateful for that since it introduced me to the power of analysis and rigorous argumentation; but that mold is also a somewhat shallow one. This is not to do with the issue of religion per se, but rather with the narrowing of intellectual sources. When people were trained in classical culture, or literature, or history, or the arts, and especially if they had been introduced to unfamiliar and seemingly strange ways of thinking, their imaginations were more developed and they were less inclined to take the ruling ideas and values of their own time as obviously correct. My first philosophy classes were taught by David Hamlyn and concerned the pre-Socratics. Their strange and oracular remarks immediately ignited my imagination and I still return to them when jaded by the often flat and featureless forms of contemporary philosophy. Among analytic philosophers those I most admire have imagination and are open to diverse sources of insight into human nature and reality: Anscombe, Kripke, McDowell, MacIntyre, Nagel, Putnam, Taylor, Williams – each draws, not always announcedly, on sources outside the brief and narrow canon of analytic philosophy.

My very first philosophy class was an upper–division philosophy of science course I managed to weasel my way into as a sophomore transfer student. The professor was a rarity in two respects: He was a Republican, and—as he put it—the last logical positivist standing (likely not true, though probably true enough). While logical positivism proper didn’t make much of an impact on me, the analytic method did. (My first philosophy paper was a of inductive reasoning.) If it weren’t for an adolescence steeped in Plato (with forays into other thinkers, Kierkegaard especially), I probably could have been completely absorbed within the typical borders of that tradition. It is impressive, seductive, and highly effective. Philosophers and theologian–philosophers who dismiss analytic philosophy in some sort of vague fashion do so at their peril. In fact, I find it hard to take them very seriously, suspecting—perhaps unfairly in some cases—that their dismissals are an excuse to not have to learn the disciplines of analytic thought— especially formal logic. (I think formal logic is often overrated as a philosophical tool, but learning it is a tremendous asset— it expands your mental horizons.)

I have some stuff that’s been on the back–burner for way too long regarding metaphysical Aristotelianism in analytic philosophy; it probably won’t see the light of day any time soon, but the fact that it is a feature of the ‘scene’ shows that the possibilities of analytic thought are far wider than its detractors imagine.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “‘aquinas amongst the analytics’

  1. I generally agree, at least in terms of the worthiness of the discipline and its advantages especially with regard to “expanding mental horizons” and so forth. And I find Anscombe interesting and sometimes insightful even if she suffers from the outlandish overconfidence analytic phil types are so given to embrace with wanton orgiastic abandon. But, after thinking a few positive thoughts about them, I think of Perry Robinson, the Ortho-apologist hack, who trained in analytics, and then I think, holy shit, analytic philosophy is so easily used to push whatever motherload of nonsense one wants. I think this especially true when they veer into politics where I have yet to see it operate effectively.

    I liked Steven A Long’s Natura Pura, especially the chapter (“On the Impropriety of Treating Theology’s Handmaiden like an Analytic”) tying the gracing away of nature (my phrase) / theologizing away of nature so embraced by much of 20th century Catholicism to the embrace of analytics so common among Catholic thinkers during that time.

    • Well, the PhD glut ensures an ample supply of quacks of all stripes.

      The problem with analytic method in politics—which I think is a particularly good example—is that there aren’t really any items which can be usefully analyzed as sentences in any sort of broad way, so if you pretend that there is broad application, you just have a pompous justification for consensus politics— which are very consensus among philosophy departments (in my experience, vicarious & otherwise), other than some philosophers holding some pet single issues.

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