Continental philosophy

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Continental philosophy, in contemporary usage, refers to a set of traditions of 19th and 20th century philosophy from mainland Europe.[1] This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who found it useful for referring to a range of thinkers and traditions outside the analytic movement. Continental philosophy includes the following movements: German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism (and its antecedents, such as the thought of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, French feminism, and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and some other branches of Western Marxism.[2]



General characteristics

It is difficult to identify non-trivial claims that would be common to all the preceding philosophical movements. The term "continental philosophy", like "analytic philosophy", lacks clear definition and may mark merely a family resemblance across disparate philosophical views. Scholar Simon Glendinning has suggested that the term may be more pejorative than descriptive, functioning as a label for types of western philosophy rejected or disliked by analytic philosophers.[3] Nonetheless, Michael E. Rosen has ventured to identify common themes that typically characterize continental philosophy.[4]

Ultimately, the foregoing distinctive traits derive from a broadly Kantian thesis that the nature of knowledge and experience is bound by conditions that are not directly accessible to empirical inquiry.[9]

The term

The term "continental philosophy," in the above sense, was first widely used by English-speaking philosophers to describe university courses in the 1970s, emerging as a collective name for the philosophies then widespread in France and Germany, such as phenomenology, existentialism, structuralism, and post-structuralism.[10]

However, the term (and its approximate sense) can be found at least as early as 1840, in John Stuart Mill's 1840 essay on Coleridge, where Mill contrasts the Kantian-influenced thought of "Continental philosophy" and "Continental philosophers" with the English empiricism of Bentham and the 18th century generally.[11] This notion gained prominence in the early 1900s as figures such as Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore advanced a vision of philosophy closely allied with natural science, progressing through logical analysis. This tradition, which has come to be known broadly as "analytic philosophy", became dominant in Britain and America from roughly 1930 onward.[12] Russell and Moore made a dismissal of Hegelianism and its philosophical relatives a distinctive part of their new movement.[13]

Meanwhile in Europe at the turn of the 20th century, Brentano, Husserl, and Reinach were developing a new philosophical method of their own, phenomenology. Heidegger took this phenomenological approach in new directions, and, after WWII, Jean Paul Sartre developed Heidegger's ideas into a movement known as existentialism. In the 1960s, structuralism became the new vogue in France, followed by poststructuralism.

In general, during the 20th century, there was relatively limited contact between philosophers working in the Anglophone tradition and philosophers from the European continent working in the traditions of phenomenology, existentialism, and structuralism. Commenting on the history of the distinction in 1945, Russell distinguished "two schools of philosophy, which may be broadly distinguished as the Continental and the British respectively", a division he saw as operative "from the time of Locke".[14]

Since the 1970s, however, many philosophers in America and Britain have taken interest in continental philosophers since Kant, and the philosophical traditions in many European countries have similarly incorporated many aspects of the legacy of the "analytic" movement. Self-described analytic philosophy flourishes in France, including philosophers such as Jules Vuillemin, Vincent Descombes, Gilles Gaston Granger, François Recanati, and Pascal Engel. Likewise, self-described "continental philosophers" can be found in philosophy departments in the United Kingdom, North America, and Australia.[15] "Continental philosophy" is thus defined in terms of a family of philosophical traditions and influences rather than a geographic distinction. It remains relevant that "continental philosophy" is a contested designation, with many analytic philosophers laying claim to offer better "continental philosophy" than traditional continental philosophy, particularly at the level of graduate education. [16]


The history of continental philosophy (taken in its narrower sense) is usually thought to begin with German idealism.[17] Led by figures like Fichte, Schelling, and later Hegel, German idealism developed out of the work of Immanuel Kant in the 1780s and 1790s and was closely linked with both romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment. Besides the central figures listed above, important contributors to German idealism also included Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Gottlob Ernst Schulze, Karl Leonhard Reinhold, and Friedrich Schleiermacher.

As the institutional roots of "continental philosophy" in many cases directly descend from those of phenomenology,[18] Edmund Husserl has always been a canonical figure in continental philosophy. Nonetheless, Husserl is also a respected subject of study in the analytic tradition.[19] Husserl's notion of a noema (a non-psychological content of thought), his correspondence with Gottlob Frege, and his investigations into the nature of logic continue to generate interest among analytic philosophers.

A particularly polemical illustration of some differences between "analytic" and "continental" styles of philosophy can be found in Rudolf Carnap's "Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language", which argues that Heidegger's lecture "What Is Metaphysics?" violates logical syntax to create nonsensical pseudo-statements.[20] With the rise of Nazism, many of Germany's philosophers, especially those of Jewish descent or leftist or liberal political sympathies (such as many in the Vienna Circle and the Frankfurt School), fled to the English-speaking world. Those philosophers who remained—if they remained in academia at all—had to reconcile themselves to Nazi control of the universities. Others, such as Martin Heidegger, among the most prominent German philosophers to stay in Germany, embraced Nazism when it came to power.

Both before and after World War II there was a growth of interest in German philosophy in France. A new interest in communism translated into an interest in Marx and Hegel, who became for the first time studied extensively in the politically conservative French university system of the Third Republic. At the same time the phenomenological philosophy of Husserl and Heidegger became increasingly influential, perhaps owing to its resonances with those French philosophies which placed great stock in the first-person perspective (an idea found in divergent forms such as Cartesianism, spiritualism, and Bergsonism). Most important in this popularization of phenomenology was the author and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who called his philosophy existentialism. (See Twentieth-Century French Philosophy)

Recent developments in Britain and the US

From the early 20th century until the 1960s, continental philosophers were only intermittently discussed in British and American universities. However, philosophy departments began offering courses in continental philosophy in the late 1960s and 1970s. With post-modernism in the 1970s and 1980s, British and American philosophers became more vocally opposed to the methods and conclusions of continental philosophers. John Searle criticized Derrida, for example, and, later, assorted signatories protested an honorary degree given to Derrida by Cambridge University. Meanwhile, university departments in literature, the fine arts, film, sociology, and political theory have increasingly incorporated ideas and arguments from continental philosophers into their curricula and research. Continental Philosophy is also the central specialization in a number of North American Philosophy departments, including Boston College, Stony Brook University, Vanderbilt University, Emory University, Pennsylvania State University, University of Oregon, Villanova University, Duquesne University, New School University, and the University of Guelph. The most prominent organization for continental philosophy in the United States is the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (known as [SPEP][21]).

Notes and references

  1. ^ "As a first approximation, we might say that philosophy in Continental Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is best understood as a connected weave of traditions, some of which overlap, but no one of which dominates all the others." Brian Leiter and Michael Rosen, The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 2. See also Simon Critchley and William Schroder (eds.), A Companion to Continental Philosophy (Blackwell Publishing, 1998), p. 4.
  2. ^ The above list includes only those movements common to both lists compiled by Simon Critchley, Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 13 and Simon Glendinning, The Idea of Continental Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press, 2006), pp. 58-65.
  3. ^ Glendinning, The Idea of Continental Philosophy, p. 12.
  4. ^ The following list of four traits is adapted from Michael Rosen, "Continental Philosophy from Hegel", in A.C. Grayling (ed.), Philosophy 2: Further through the Subject, p. 665.
  5. ^ Simon Critchley, Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, p. 115.
  6. ^ Critchley, Continental Philosophy, p. 57.
  7. ^ Critchley, Continental Philosophy, p. 64.
  8. ^ Leiter & Rosen, The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy, p. 4: "While forms of philosophical naturalism have been dominant in Anglophone philosophy, the vast majority of authors within the Continental traditions insist on the distinctiveness of philosophical methods and their priority to those of the natural sciences."
  9. ^ As Robert Solomon notes, continental philosophers usually identify such conditions with the transcendental subject or self: "It is with Kant that philosophical claims about the self attain new and remarkable proportions. The self becomes not just the focus of attention but the entire subject-matter of philosophy. The self is not just another entity in the world, but in an important sense it creates the world, and the reflecting self does not just know itself, but in knowing itself knows all selves, and the structure of any and every possible self." (R. Solomon, Continental Philosophy since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self (Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 6.)
  10. ^ Critchley, Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, p. 38.
  11. ^ Mill, On Bentham and Coleridge (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1950), pp. 104, 133, and 155.
  12. ^ See, e.g., Michael Dummett, The Origins of Analytical Philosophy (Harvard University Press, 1994), or C. Prado, ed., A House Divided: Comparing Analytic and Continental Philosophy (Prometheus/Humanity Books, 2003).
  13. ^ E.g., Russell's comments in My Philosophical Development (Allen & Unwin, 1959), p. 62: "Hegelians had all kinds of arguments to prove this or that was not 'real'. Number, space, time, matter, were all professedly convicted of being self-contradictory. Nothing was real, so we were assured, except the Absolute, which could think only of itself since there was nothing else for it to think of and which thought eternally the sort of things that idealist philosophers thought in their books."
  14. ^ B. Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, (Simon & Schuster, 1945), p. 643 and 641. Russell proposes the following broad points of distinction between Continental and British types of philosophy: (1) in method, deductive system-building vs. piecemeal induction; (2) in metaphysics, rationalist theology vs. metaphysical agnosticism; (3) in ethics, non-naturalist deontology vs. naturalist hedonism; and (4) in politics, authoritarianism vs. liberalism. Ibid., pp. 643-647.
  15. ^ See, e.g., Walter Brogan and James Risser (eds.), American Continental Philosophy: A Reader (Indiana University Press, 2000).
  16. ^ Brian Leiter is most commonly associated with such claims and compiles the “Philosophical Gourmet Report: A Ranking of Graduate Programs in the English-speaking World” published online by Blackwell Publishers. Note the American Philosophical Association's censuring of the "Gourmet Report" and the controversy associated with that censuring.[citation needed] See, for a history of the analytic continental divide in the context of professional philosophy in the United States, Bruce Wilshire, Fashionable Nihilism: A Critique of Analytic Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), as well as the first chapter by Richard Rorty in Prado, ed., A House Divided.
  17. ^ Critchley, Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Solomon, Continental Philosophy since 1750, dates the origins of continental philosophy a generation earlier, to the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
  18. ^ E.g., the largest academic organization devoted to furthering the study of continental philosophy is the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy.
  19. ^ Kenny, Anthony (ed). The Oxford Illustrated History of Western Philosophy. ISBN 0-19-285440-2
  20. ^ Gregory, Wanda T. Heidegger, Carnap and Quine at the Crossroads of Language, and Abraham D. Stone. Heidegger and Carnap on the Overcoming of Metaphysics
  21. ^ Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy

Further reading

Analytic philosophy

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Analytic philosophy (sometimes, analytical philosophy) is a generic term for a style of philosophy that came to dominate English-speaking countries in the 20th century. In the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Scandinavia, Australia, and New Zealand, the overwhelming majority of university philosophy departments identify themselves as "analytic" departments.[1] Analytic philosophy is often understood as being defined in opposition to continental philosophy.

The term "analytic philosophy" can refer to

(a) a tradition of doing philosophy[2][3] characterised by an emphasis on clarity and argument, often achieved via modern formal logic and analysis of language, and a respect for the natural sciences.[4][5]

(b) certain developments in early twentieth century philosophy, such as the work of Bertrand Russell and Gottlob Frege, and logical positivism. In this sense, analytic philosophy makes specific philosophical commitments (some are rejected by contemporary analytic philosophers), in particular:[6]



The analytic movement, 1900–1960

Four key analytic philosophers. From top-left clockwise: Bertrand Russell, Peter Singer, Saul Kripke. Rosalind Hursthouse

In its narrower sense, "analytic philosophy" is used to refer to a specific philosophical program that is ordinarily dated from about 1900 to 1960.


The analytic program in philosophy is ordinarily dated to the work of English philosophers Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore in the early 20th century. They turned away from then-dominant forms of Hegelianism (objecting in particular to its idealism and purported obscurity)[13][14] and began to develop a new sort of conceptual analysis, based on new developments in logic.

Origins: Frege

Russell in his early career, along with collaborator Alfred North Whitehead, was deeply influenced by Gottlob Frege. Most importantly Gottlob Frege helped to develop predicate logic. This allowed a much wider range of sentences to be parsed into logical form. Frege was also a key figure in philosophy of mathematics in Germany at the turn of the 20th century. In contrast to Husserl's Philosophy of Arithmetic, which attempted to show that the concept of the cardinal number derived from psychical acts of grouping objects and counting them,[15] Frege sought to show that mathematics and logic have their own validity, independent of the judgments or mental states of individual mathematicians and logicians (which were the foundation of arithmetic in Husserl's "psychologism"). Frege's own work, the Begriffsschrift, developed the concepts of a specific form of modern logic by making use of the notions of the sense and reference[citation needed]. Frege further developed his philosophy of logic and mathematics in The Foundations of Arithmetic and The Basic Laws of Arithmetic where he provided an alternative to psychologistic accounts of the concept of number.

Like Frege, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead attempted to show that mathematics is reducible to fundamental logical principles. Their Principia Mathematica (1910-1913) encouraged many philosophers to take a renewed interest in the development of symbolic logic. In addition, Bertrand Russell adopted Frege's predicate logic as his primary philosophical tool, a tool he thought could expose the underlying structure of philosophical problems. For example, the English word “is” has three distinct meanings in predicate logic:

Russell sought to resolve various philosophical issues by applying such clear and clean distinctions, most famously in his analysis of definite descriptions in "On Denoting," in Mind 14 (1905): 479-493. Online text.

Ideal language analysis

From about 1910 to 1930, analytic philosophers like Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein focused on creating an ideal language for philosophical analysis, which would be free from the ambiguities of ordinary language that, in their view, often got philosophers into trouble. This philosophical trend can be called "ideal-language analysis" or "formalism". In this phase, Russell and Wittgenstein sought to understand language, and hence philosophical problems, by making use of formal logic to formalize the way in which philosophical statements are made. Ludwig Wittgenstein developed a comprehensive system of logical atomism in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. He there argued that the world is the totality of actual states of affairs and that these states of affairs can be expressed in the language of first-order predicate logic. So a picture of the world can be built up by expressing atomic facts in atomic propositions, and linking them using logical operators.

Logical positivism

In the late 1920s, '30s, and '40s, Russell and Wittgenstein's formalism was developed by a group of thinkers in Vienna and Berlin, who formed the Vienna Circle and Berlin Circle into a doctrine known as logical positivism (or logical empiricism). Logical positivism used formal logical tools to underpin an empiricist account of our knowledge of the world.[16] Philosophers such as Rudolf Carnap and Hans Reichenbach, along with other members of the Vienna Circle, held that the truths of logic and mathematics were tautologies, and those of science were verifiable empirical claims. These two constituted the entire universe of meaningful judgments; anything else was nonsense. The claims of ethics, aesthetics and theology were, accordingly, pseudo-statements, neither true nor false, just meaningless nonsense. Karl Popper's insistence upon the role of falsification in the philosophy of science was a reaction to the logical positivists.[17] With the rise of Adolf Hitler and National Socialism in Germany and Austria, many members of the Vienna and Berlin Circles were forced to flee Germany. Most commonly, they fled to Britain and America, which helped to reinforce the dominance of logical positivism and analytic philosophy in the Anglophone world.[18]

Logical positivists typically saw philosophy as having a very narrow role. For them, philosophy concerned the clarification of thoughts, rather than having a distinct subject matter of its own. The positivists adopted the verificationism, according to which every meaningful statement is either analytic or is capable of being verified by experience. This led the logical positivists to reject many traditional problems of philosophy, especially those of metaphysics or ontology, as meaningless.

Ordinary language analysis

After the War in the late 1940s and 1950s, analytic philosophy took a turn toward ordinary-language analysis. This movement followed in the wake of Wittgenstein's later philosophy, which departed dramatically from his earlier work. In contrast to earlier analytic philosophers (including early Wittgenstein) who thought philosophers should avoid the deceptive trappings of natural language by constructing ideal languages, ordinary language philosophers held that ordinary language already reflected a large number of subtle distinctions that had gone unrecognized in the formulation of traditional philosophical theories or problems. While schools such as logical positivism focus on logical terms, supposed to be universal and separate from contingent factors (such as culture, language, historical conditions), ordinary language philosophy emphasizes the use of language by ordinary people. Some have argued that ordinary language philosophy is of a more sociological grounding, as it essentially focuses on the use of language within social contexts. The most prominent ordinary language philosophers in the 1950s were Austin and Ryle. Some say[citation needed]that this movement marked a return to the common sense philosophy advocated by G.E. Moore.

Ordinary language philosophy often sought to disperse philosophical problems by showing them to be the result of misunderstanding ordinary language. See for example Ryle (who attempted to dispose of "Descartes' myth") and Wittgenstein, among others.

1960 and beyond

In the early 1950s, logical positivism was critically challenged by Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations, Quine in Two Dogmas of Empiricism, and Sellars in Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind. Following 1960, both logical positivism and natural language philosophy fell rapidly out of fashion[citation needed] and Anglophone philosophy began to incorporate a wider range of interests, views, and methods[citation needed]. Nonetheless, most philosophers in Britain and America still consider themselves to be "analytic philosophers."[1] Largely, they have done so by expanding the notion of "analytic philosophy" from the specific programs that dominated Anglophone philosophy before 1960 to a much more general notion of an "analytic" style, characterized by precision and thoroughness about a narrow topic and opposed to "imprecise or cavalier discussions of broad topics."[19] This interpretation of the history is far from universally accepted, and its opponents would say that it grossly downplays the role of Wittgenstein in the sixties and seventies. Peter Hacker[20], reflects the view of Wittgensteinians when he contends that much contemporary philosophy that calls itself analytic does not deserve the title. According to him[20] , in the mid 1970s, partly for economic reasons, philosophy’s centre of gravity shifted from Britain to the US, where Wittgenstein’s influence had never been well rooted. There, under the influence of the growing prestige of certain exciting scientific and technological developments, like computers, neurophysiology and Chomskyan linguistics, his powerful arguments were simply disregarded. “What from Wittgenstein’s perspective were diseases of the intellect, to many of which he had succumbed as a young man and which he had laboured long to extirpate, broke out afresh in mutated virulent forms.’ (Hacker p272).

Contemporary analytic philosophy

Although contemporary philosophers who self-identify as "analytic" have widely divergent interests, assumptions, and methods—and have often rejected the fundamental premises that defined the analytic movement before 1960—analytic philosophy, in its contemporary state, is usually taken to be defined by a particular style [21] characterized by precision and thoroughness about a narrow topic, and resistance to "imprecise or cavalier discussions of broad topics."[19] A few of the most important and active fields and subfields in analytic philosophy are summarized in the following sections.

Philosophy of mind and cognitive science

Motivated by the logical positivists' interest in verificationism, behaviorism was the most prominent theory of mind in analytic philosophy for the first half of the twentieth century.[citation needed] Behaviorists tended to hold either that statements about the mind were equivalent to statements about behavior and dispositions to behave in particular ways or that mental states were directly equivalent to behavior and dispositions to behave. Behaviorism later became far less popular, in favor of type physicalism or functionalism, theories which identified mental states with brain states. During this period, topics in the philosophy of mind were often in close contact with issues in cognitive science such as modularity or innateness. Finally, analytic philosophy has featured a few philosophers who were dualists, and recently forms of property dualism have had a resurgence, with David Chalmers as the most prominent representative.[22]

John Searle suggests that the obsession with linguistic philosophy of the last century has been superseded by an emphasis on the philosophy of mind,[23] in which functionalism is currently the dominant theory. In recent years, a central focus for research in the philosophy of mind has been consciousness. And while there is a general consensus for the global neuronal workspace model of consciousness,[24] there are many views as to how the specifics work out. The best known theories are Daniel Dennett's heterophenomenology, Fred Dretske and Michael Tye's representationalism, and the higher-order theories of either David M. Rosenthal — who advocates a higher-order thought (HOT) model — or David Armstrong and William Lycan — who advocate a higher-order perception (HOP) model. An alternative higher-order theory, the higher-order global states (HOGS) model, is offered by Robert van Gulick.[25]

Ethics in analytic philosophy

The first half of the twentieth century was marked by the widespread neglect of ethical philosophy and the popularity of skeptical attitudes towards value (e.g. emotivism). During this time, utilitarianism was the only non-skeptical approach to ethics to remain popular. However, as the influence of logical positivism began to wane mid-century, contemporary analytic philosophers began to have a renewed interest in ethics. G.E.M. Anscombe’s 1958 Modern Moral Philosophy sparked a revival of Aristotle's virtue ethical approach and John Rawls’s 1971 A Theory of Justice restored interest in Kantian ethical philosophy. At present, contemporary ethical philosophy is dominated by three schools: utilitarianism, virtue ethics, and Kantianism.

Another major development in the latter half of the twentieth century (c. 1970), has been contemporary ethical philosophy's overwhelming concern with practical applications, especially in relation to environmental issues, animal rights and the many challenges thrown up by advancing medical science.[26][27][28]

As a side-effect of the focus on logic and language in the early years of analytic philosophy, the tradition initially had little to say on the subject of ethics. The attitude was widespread among early analytics that these subjects were unsystematic, and merely expressed personal attitudes about which philosophy could have little or nothing to say. Wittgenstein, in the Tractatus, remarks that values cannot be a part of the world, and if they are anything at all they must be beyond or outside the world somehow, and that hence language, which describes the world, can say nothing about them. One interpretation of these remarks found expression in the doctrine of the logical positivists that statements about value — including all ethical and aesthetic judgments — are non-cognitive; that is, not able to be either true or false. Instead, it was held that they expressed the attitude of the speaker. Saying, "Killing is wrong," they thought, was equivalent to saying, "Boo to murder," or saying the word "murder" with a particular tone of disapproval. Social and political philosophy, aesthetics, and various more specialized subjects like philosophy of history moved to the fringes of English-language philosophy for some time.

By the 1950s debates had begun to arise over whether  — and if so, how — ethical statements really were non-cognitive. Charles Stevenson argued for expressivism, R. M. Hare advocated a view called universal prescriptivism. Phillipa Foot contributed several essays attacking all these positions, and the collapse of logical positivism as a cohesive research programme led to a renewed interest in ethics. Perhaps most influential in this area was Elizabeth Anscombe, whose landmark monograph "Intention" was called by Donald Davidson "the most important treatment of action since Aristotle", and is widely regarded as a masterpiece of moral psychology. A favorite student and close friend of Ludwig Wittgenstein, her 1958 article "Modern Moral Philosophy" introduced the term "consequentialism" into the philosophical lexicon, declared the "is-ought" impasse to be a dead end, and led to a revival in virtue ethics.

Analytic philosophy of religion

As with the study of ethics, early analytic philosophy tended to avoid the study of philosophy of religion, largely dismissing the subject as part of metaphysics and meaningless (a notable exception is the series of Michael B. Forest's 1934-36 Mind articles involving the Christian doctrine of creation and the rise of modern science). The collapse of logical positivism renewed interest in philosophy of religion, prompting philosophers such as William Alston, John Mackie, Alvin Plantinga, Robert Merrihew Adams, Richard Swinburne, David Alan Johnson and Antony Flew to not only introduce new problems, but to re-open classical ones, such as the nature of miracles and the arguments for and against the existence of God.[29]

Plantinga, Mackie and Flew debated the logical validity of the free will defense as a way to solve the problem of evil.[30] Alston, grappling with the consequences of analytic philosophy of language, worked on the nature of religious language. Adams worked on the relationship of faith and morality.[31]

Analytic philosophy of religion has also been preoccupied with Ludwig Wittgenstein, as well as his interpretation of Søren Kierkegaard's philosophy of religion.[32] Using first-hand remarks (which would later be published in Philosophical Investigations, Culture and Value, and other works), philosophers such as Peter Winch and Norman Malcolm developed what has come to be known as contemplative philosophy, a Wittgensteinian school of thought rooted in the "Swansea tradition" and which includes Wittgensteinians such as Rush Rhees, Peter Winch and D. Z. Phillips, amongst others. The name "contemplative philosophy" was first coined by D. Z. Phillips in Philosophy's Cool Place, which rests on an interpretation of a passage from Wittgenstein's "Culture and Value."[33] This interpretation was first labeled, "Wittgesnteinian Fideism," by Kai Nielsen but those who consider themselves Wittgensteinians in the Swansea tradition have relentlessly and repeatedly rejected this construal as caricature of Wittgenstein's considered position; this is especially true of D. Z. Phillips. [34] Responding to this interpretation, Kai Nielsen and D.Z. Phillips became two of the most prominent philosophers on Wittgenstein's philosophy of religion.[35]

Political philosophy

Current analytic political philosophy owes much to John Rawls, who, in a series of papers from the 1950s onward (most notably "Two Concepts of Rules" and "Justice as Fairness") and his 1971 book A Theory of Justice, produced a sophisticated and closely argued defence of a liberalism in politics. This was followed in short order by Rawls's colleague Robert Nozick's book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, a defence of free-market libertarianism. Isaiah Berlin has had a notable influence on both analytic political philosophy and Liberalism with his lecture entitled : Two Concepts of Liberty.

Recent decades have also seen the rise of several critiques of liberalism, including the feminist critiques of Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, the communitarian critiques of Michael Sandel and Alasdair MacIntyre (though it should be noted both shy away from the term), and the multiculturalist critiques of Amy Gutmann and Charles Taylor. Although not an analytic philosopher, Jürgen Habermas is another important — if controversial — figure in contemporary analytic political philosophy, whose social theory is a blend of social science, Marxism, neo-Kantianism, and American pragmatism.

Analytical Marxism

Another development in the area of political philosophy has been the emergence of a school known as Analytical Marxism. Members of this school seek to apply the techniques of analytic philosophy, along with tools of modern social science such as rational choice theory to the elucidation of the theories of Karl Marx and his successors. The best-known member of this school is Oxford University philosopher G.A. Cohen, whose 1978 work, Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence is generally taken as representing the genesis of this school. In that book, Cohen attempted to apply the tools of logical and linguistic analysis to the elucidation and defense of Marx's materialist conception of history. Other prominent Analytical Marxists include the economist John Roemer, the social scientist Jon Elster, and the sociologist Erik Olin Wright. All these people have attempted to build upon Cohen's work by bringing to bear modern social science methods, such as rational choice theory, to supplement Cohen's use of analytic philosophical techniques in the interpretation of Marxian theory.

Cohen himself would later engage directly with Rawlsian political philosophy in attempt to advance a socialist theory of justice that stands in contrast to both traditional Marxism and the theories advanced by Rawls and Nozick. In particular, he points to Marx's principle of from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

Maurice Cornforth was a student and friend of Wittgenstein, who embraced orthodox Dialectical Materialism and became the official philosopher of the CPGB. In the 1960s he renounced some of his more dogmatic views and attempted to reconcile Marxism with analytics.


Communitarians such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Michael Walzer and Michael Sandel advance a critique of Liberalism that uses analytic techniques to isolate the key assumptions of Liberal individualists, such as Rawls, and then challenges these assumptions. In particular, Communitarians challenge the Liberal assumption that the individual can be viewed as fully autonomous from the community in which he lives and is brought up. Instead, they push for a conception of the individual that emphasizes the role that the community plays in shaping his or her values, thought processes and opinions.

Analytic metaphysics

One striking break with early analytic philosophy was the revival of metaphysical theorizing in the second half of the twentieth century. Philosophers such as David Lewis and David Armstrong developed elaborate theories on a range of topics such as universals, causation, possibility and necessity, and abstract objects.

Among the developments that led to the revival of metaphysical theorizing were Quine's attack on the analytic-synthetic distinction, which was generally taken to undermine Carnap's distinction between existence questions internal to a framework and those external to it.[36]

Metaphysics remains a fertile area for research, having recovered from the attacks of A.J. Ayer and the logical positivists. And though many were inherited from previous decades, the debate remains fierce. The philosophy of fiction, the problem of empty names, and the debate over existence's status as a property have all risen out of relative obscurity to become central concerns, while perennial issues such as free will, possible worlds, and the philosophy of time have had new life breathed into them.[37][38]

Science has also played an increasingly significant role in metaphysics. The theory of special relativity has had a profound effect on the philosophy of time, and quantum physics is routinely discussed in the free will debate.[39] The weight given to scientific evidence is largely due to widespread commitments among philosophers to scientific realism and naturalism.

Philosophy of language

Philosophy of language is another area that has slowed down over the course of the last four decades, as evidenced by the fact that few major figures in contemporary philosophy treat it as a primary research area. Indeed, while the debate remains fierce, it is still strongly under the influence of those figures from the first half of the century: Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J.L. Austin, Alfred Tarski, W.V.O. Quine, and Donald Davidson.

Philosophy of science

Reacting against the earlier philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper, who had suggested the falsifiability criterion on which to judge the demarcation between science and non-science, discussions in philosophy of science in the last forty years were dominated by social constructivist and cognitive relativist theories of science.[dubious ] Thomas Samuel Kuhn is one of the major philosophers of science representative of the former theory, while Paul Feyerabend is representative of the latter theory. Philosophy of biology has also undergone considerable growth, particularly due to the considerable debate in recent years over evolution. Here again, Daniel Dennett and his 1995 book Darwin's Dangerous Idea stand at the foreground of this debate.[dubious ]


Owing largely to a Gettier's 1963 paper "What is Justified Belief?", epistemology saw a resurgence in analytic philosophy over the last 50 years. A large portion of current epistemological research aims to resolve the problems that Gettier's examples presented to the traditional justified true belief model of knowledge. Other areas of contemporary research include basic knowledge, the nature of evidence, the role of intuitions in justification, and treating knowledge as a primitive concept.

Schools of thought

Contextualism In epistemology, contextualism is the treatment of the word 'knows' as context-sensitive. Context-sensitive expressions are ones that "express different propositions relative to different contexts of use."

Epiphenomenalism In philosophy of mind, epiphenomenalism is a view according to which some or all mental states are mere epiphenomena (side-effects or by-products) of physical states of the world.

Functionalism In philosophy of mind, functionalism is a philosophical position holding that mental states (beliefs, desires, being in pain, etc.) are constituted solely by their functional role — that is, their causal relations to other mental states, sensory inputs, and behavioral outputs. Since mental states are identified by a functional role, they are said to be multiply realizable; in other words, they are able to be manifested in various systems, even perhaps computers, so long as the system performs the appropriate functions.

Logical atomism The theory holds that the world consists of ultimate logical "facts" (or "atoms") that cannot be broken down any further.

Logical positivism Logical positivism (or logical empiricism) is a school of philosophy that combines empiricism, the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge of the world, with a version of rationalism, the idea that our knowledge includes a component that is not derived from observation.

Naturalism Naturalism is the view that the scientific method (hypothesize, predict, test, repeat) is the only effective way to investigate reality. Most notably defended by W.V. Quine's with his work to reduce epistemology to psychology.

Neopragmatism Neopragmatism, sometimes called linguistic pragmatism, is a recent (since the 1960s) philosophical term for philosophy that reintroduces many concepts from pragmatism. It has been associated with a variety of thinkers, among them Richard Rorty, Hilary Putnam, W.V.O. Quine, Donald Davidson, and Stanley Fish though none of these figures have called themselves "neopragmatists".

Non-cognitivism In metaethics, non-cognitivism is the view that ethical sentences do not express propositions and thus cannot be true or false. Examples of this view emotivism, prescriptivism, quasi-realism, and expressivism.

Ordinary language philosophy Ordinary language philosophy is a philosophical school that approached traditional philosophical problems as rooted in misunderstandings philosophers develop by forgetting what words actually mean in a language.

Particularism Moral particularism is the view that there are no moral principles and that moral judgement can be found only as one decides particular cases, either real or imagined.

Physicalism In philosophy of mind and metaphysics, physicalism is a philosophical position holding that everything which exists is no more extensive than its physical properties; that is, that there are no kinds of things other than physical things. The term was coined by Otto Neurath in a series of early 20th century essays on the subject.

Quietism In metaphilosophy, the view that the role of philosophy is therapeutic or remedial. Quietist philosophers believe that philosophy has no positive theses to contribute, but rather that its value is in defusing confusions in the linguistic and conceptual frameworks of other subjects.

Virtue Ethics The contemporary revival of virtue theory is frequently traced to the philosopher G. E. M. Anscombe's 1958 essay, Modern Moral Philosophy and to Philippa Foot, who published a collection of essays in 1978 entitled Virtues and Vices.


  1. ^ a b See, e.g., [1], where Brian Leiter notes: "All the Ivy League universities, all the leading state research universities, all the University of California campuses, most of the top liberal arts colleges, most of the flagship campuses of the second-tier state research universities boast philosophy departments that overwhelmingly self-identify as "analytic": it is hard to imagine a "movement" that is more academically and professionally entrenched than analytic philosophy." See also John Searle's judgment (in Bunnin & Tsui-James (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy (Blackwell, 2003), p. 1): "Without exception, the best philosophy departments in the United States are dominated by analytic philosophy, and among the leading philosophers in the United States, all but a tiny handful would be classified as analytic philosophers."
  2. ^ See, e.g., Avrum Stroll, Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2000), p. 5: "[I]t is difficult to give a precise definition of 'analytic philosophy' since it is not so much a specific doctrine as a loose concatenation of approaches to problems." Also, see ibid., p. 7: "I think Sluga is right in saying 'it may be hopeless to try to determine the essence of analytic philosophy.' Nearly every proposed definition has been challenged by some scholar. [...] [W]e are dealing with a family resemblance concept."
  3. ^ See Hans-Johann Glock, What Is Analytic Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 205: "The answer to the title question, then, is that analytic philosophy is a tradition held together both by ties of mutual influence and by family resemblances."
  4. ^ H. Glock, "Was Wittgenstein an Analytic Philosopher?", Metaphilosophy, 35:4 (2004), pp. 419-444.
  5. ^ Colin McGinn, The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey through Twentieth-Century Philosophy (HarperCollins, 2002), p. xi.: "analytical philosophy [is] too narrow a label, since [it] is not generally a matter of taking a word or concept and analyzing it (whatever exactly that might be). [...] This tradition emphasizes clarity, rigor, argument, theory, truth. It is not a tradition that aims primarily for inspiration or consolation or ideology. Nor is it particularly concerned with 'philosophy of life,' though parts of it are. This kind of philosophy is more like science than religion, more like mathematics than poetry -- though it is neither science nor mathematics."
  6. ^ All three traits can be found in a characteristic paragraph by Bertrand Russell: "Modern analytical empiricism [...] differs from that of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume by its incorporation of mathematics and its development of a powerful logical technique. It is thus able, in regard to certain problems, to achieve definite answers, which have the quality of science rather than of philosophy. It has the advantage, as compared with the philosophies of the system-builders, of being able to tackle its problems one at a time, instead of having to invent at one stroke a block theory of the whole universe. Its methods, in this respect, resemble those of science. I have no doubt that, in so far as philosophical knowledge is possible, it is by such methods that it must be sought; I have also no doubt that, by these methods, many ancient problems are completely soluble." A History of Western Philosophy (Simon & Schuster, 1945), p. 834.
  7. ^ See Aristotle Metaphysics (Book II 993a), Kenny (1973) p. 230.
  8. ^ This is an attitude that goes back to Locke, who described his work as that of an "underlabourer" to the achievements of natural scientists such as Newton. In the twentieth century, the most influential advocate of the continuity of philosophy with science was Quine: see, e.g., his papers "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" and "Epistemology Naturalized".
  9. ^ A.P. Martinich, "Introduction," in Martinich & D. Sosa (eds.), A Companion to Analytic Philosophy (Blackwell, 2001), p. 1: "To use a general name for the kind of analytic philosophy practiced during the first half of the twentieth century, [...] 'conceptual analysis' aims at breaking down complex concepts into their simpler components."
  10. ^ Wittgenstein, op. cit., 4.111
  11. ^ Scott Soames, Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century Vol. 1 (Princeton UP, 2003), p. xv: "There is, I think, a widespread presumption within the tradition that it is often possible to make philosophical progress by intensively investigating a small, circumscribed range of philosophical issues while holding broader, systematic questions in abeyance. What distinguishes twentieth-century analytical philosophy from at least some philosophy in other traditions, or at other times, is not a categorical rejection of philosophical systems, but rather the acceptance of a wealth of smaller, more thorough and more rigorous, investigations that need not be tied to any overarching philosophical view." See also, e.g., "Philosophical Analysis" (catalogued under "Analysis, Philosophical") in Encyclopedia of Philosophy , Vol. 1 (Macmillan, 1967), esp. sections on "Bertrand Russell" at p. 97ff, "G.E. Moore" at p. 100ff, and "Logical Positivism" at p. 102ff.
  12. ^ See, e.g., the works of G.E. Moore and J.L. Austin.
  13. ^ See for example Moore's A Defence of Common Sense and Russell's critique of the Doctrine of internal relations,
  14. ^ "...analytic philosophy opposed right from its beginning English neo-Hegelianism of Bradley's sort and similar ones. It did not only criticize the latter's denial of the existence of an external world (anyway an unjust criticism), but also the bombastic, obscure style of Hegel's writings." Peter Jonkers, "Perspectives on twentieth century philosophy: A Reply to Tom Rockmore," [2]
  15. ^ Willard, Dallas. "Husserl on a Logic that Failed". Philosophical Review 89 (1): 52–53. 
  16. ^ Carnap, R. (1928). The Logical Structure of the World. ?. 
  17. ^ Popper, Karl R. (2002). The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Routledge.  ISBN 0-415-27844-9
  18. ^ Prominent amongst these were Ludwig Wittgenstein and Rudolf Carnap. Karl Popper might also be included, since despite his rejection of the label his method bears many of the hallmarks of the analytic tradition.
  19. ^ a b Analytic Philosophy [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
  20. ^ a b Hacker, P. M. S. (1996) Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth-century Analytic Philosophy . Oxford : Blackwell, .
  21. ^ See, e.g., Brian Leiter [3] "'Analytic' philosophy today names a style of doing philosophy, not a philosophical program or a set of substantive views. Analytic philosophers, crudely speaking, aim for argumentative clarity and precision; draw freely on the tools of logic; and often identify, professionally and intellectually, more closely with the sciences and mathematics, than with the humanities."
  22. ^ "Dualism" article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  23. ^ Postrel and Feser, February 2000, Reality Principles: An Interview with John R. Searle at
  24. ^ Dennett, Daniel C. (2001) "Are We Explaining Consciousness Yet?" Cognition 79 (1-2):221-37.
  25. ^ For summaries and some criticism of the different higher-order theories, see Van Gulick, Robert (2006) "Mirror Mirror — Is That All?" In Kriegel & Williford (eds.), Self-Representational Approaches to Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. The final draft is also available here. For Van Gulick's own view, see Van Gulick, Robert. "Higher-Order Global States HOGS: An Alternative Higher-Order Model of Consciousness." In Gennaro, R.J., (ed.) Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness: An Anthology. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  26. ^ Brennan, Andrew and Yeuk-Sze Lo (2002). "Environmental Ethics" §2, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  27. ^ Gruen, Lori (2003). "The Moral Status of Animals," in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  28. ^ See Hursthouse, Rosalind (2003). "Virtue Ethics" §3, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Donchin, Anne (2004). "Feminist Bioethics" in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  29. ^ Peterson, Michael et al. (2003). Reason and Religious Belief
  30. ^ Mackie, John L. (1982). The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God
  31. ^ Adams, Robert M. (1987). The Virtue of Faith And Other Essays in Philosophical Theology
  32. ^ Creegan, Charles. (1989). Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard: Religion, Individuality and Philosophical Method
  33. ^ Phillips, D. Z. (1999). Philosophy's Cool Place. Cornell University Press. The quote is from Wittgenstein's Culture and Value (2e): "My ideal is a certain coolness. A temple providing a setting for the passions without meddling with them.
  34. ^ "Fideism" article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  35. ^ Nielsen, Kai and D.Z. Phillips. (2005). Wittgensteinian Fideism?
  36. ^ S. Yablo and A. Gallois, Does Ontology Rest on a Mistake?, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 72, (1998), pp. 229-261+263-283 first part
  37. ^ Everett, Anthony and Thomas Hofweber (eds.) (2000), Empty Names, Fiction and the Puzzles of Non-Existence.
  38. ^ Van Inwagen, Peter, and Dean Zimmerman (eds.) (1998), Metaphysics: The Big Questions.
  39. ^ Ibid.


Further reading

External links

Jean-Luc Nancy

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Jean-Luc Nancy

Nancy in 2006
Full name Jean-Luc Nancy
Born July 26, 1940 (1940-07-26) (age 69)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Continental philosophy
Main interests Deconstruction

Jean-Luc Nancy (born July 26, 1940) is a French philosopher.

Nancy's first book, published in 1973, was Le titre de la lettre (The Title of the Letter, 1992), a reading of the work of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, written in collaboration with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. Nancy is the author of works on many thinkers, including La remarque spéculative in 1973 (The Speculative Remark, 2001) on G.W.F. Hegel, Le Discours de la syncope (1976) and L’Impératif catégorique (1983) on Immanuel Kant, Ego sum (1979) on René Descartes, and Le Partage des voix (1982) on Martin Heidegger. In addition to Le titre de la lettre, Nancy collaborated with Lacoue-Labarthe on several other books and articles. Major influences include Jacques Derrida, Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot and Friedrich Nietzsche.




Jean-Luc Nancy graduated in philosophy in 1962 in Paris. He taught for a short while in Colmar before becoming an assistant at the Strasbourg Institut de Philosophie in 1968. In 1973, he received his doctorate with a dissertation on Kant under the supervision of Paul Ricœur. Nancy was then promoted to Maître de conférences at the Université des Sciences Humaines de Strasbourg. In the 1970s and 1980s, Nancy was a guest professor at universities all over the world, from the University of California to the Freie Universität in Berlin. He has been invited as a cultural delegate of the French Ministry of External Affairs to speak in Eastern Europe, Britain and the United States. In 1987, Nancy received his Docteur d'état from the Université de Toulouse-Le-Mirail under the supervision of Gérard Granel and a jury including Jean-François Lyotard and Jacques Derrida. It was published as L'expérience de la liberté (1988).

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Nancy suffered serious medical problems. He underwent a heart transplant and his recovery was made more difficult by a long-term fight with cancer. He stopped teaching and quit participating in almost all of the committees with which he was engaged, but continued to write. Many of his best known texts were published during this time. An account of his experience, L'intrus (The Intruder), was published in 2000.

Nancy is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Strasbourg.

Filmmaker Claire Denis has made at least two movies inspired by Jean-Luc Nancy and his works. Many other artists have worked with Nancy as well, such as Simon Hantaï, Soun-gui Kim and Phillip Warnell[1]. Nancy has written about the filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami and featured prominently in the film The Ister.

Major works

Les Fins de l'homme

In 1980, Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe organized a conference in Cerisy-la-Salle on Derrida and politics entitled "Les Fins de l'homme" ("The Ends of Man"). The conference solidified Derrida’s place at the forefront of contemporary philosophy, and was a place to begin an in-depth conversation between philosophy and contemporary politics. Further to their desire to rethink the political, Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe set up in the same year the Centre de Recherches Philosophiques sur la Politique (Centre for Philosophical Research on the Political). The Centre was dedicated to pursuing philosophical rather than empirical approaches to political questions, and supported such speakers as Claude Lefort and Jean-François Lyotard. By 1984, however, Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe were dissatisfied with the direction work at the centre was taking, and it was closed down.[1]

During that period Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy produced several important papers, together and separately. Some of these texts appear in Les Fins de l'homme à partir du travail de Jacques Derrida: colloque de Cerisy, 23 juillet-2 août 1980 (1981), Rejouer le politique (1981), La retrait du politique (1983), and Le mythe nazi (1991, revised edition; originally published as Les méchanismes du fascisme, 1981). Many of these texts are gathered in translation in Retreating the Political (1997).

La Communauté désœuvrée

Nancy’s first book on the question of community, La Communauté désœuvrée (The Inoperative Community, 1982), is perhaps his best-known work. This text is an introduction to some of the main philosophical themes Nancy continued to work with. Nancy traces the influence of the notion of community to concepts of experience, discourse, and the individual, and argues that it has dominated modern thought. Discarding popular notions, Nancy redefines community, asking what can it be if it is reduced neither to a collection of separate individuals, nor to a hypostasized communal substance, e.g., fascism. He writes that our attempt to design society according to pre-planned definitions frequently leads to social violence and political terror, posing the social and political question of how to proceed with the development of society with this knowledge in mind. La Communauté désœuvrée means that community is not the result of a production, be it social, economic or even political (nationalist) production; it is not une œuvre, a "work of art" ("œuvre d'art", but "art" is here understood in the sense of "artifice").

"The community that becomes a single thing (body, mind, fatherland, Leader...) ...necessarily loses the in of being-in-common. Or, it loses the with or the togetherthat defines it. It yields its being-together to a being of togetherness. The truth of community, on the contrary, resides in the retreat of such a being." (Preface, xxxix).

La communauté inavouable (The Unavowable Community, 1988), a short work by Maurice Blanchot, was a response to Nancy’s work on community (and inspired as well by Georges Bataille, whose work on sovereignty is discussed in La communauté désoeuvrée). The dialogue between Nancy and Blanchot would continue until Blanchot's death.

L'Expérience de la liberté

Nancy's dissertation for his Docteur d'etat looked at the works of Kant, Schelling, Sartre and Heidegger, and concentrated on their treatment of the topic of freedom. It was published in 1988 as L'Expérience de la Liberté (The Experience of Freedom). Since then, Nancy has continued to concentrate on developing a reorientation of Heidegger’s work. Nancy treats freedom as a property of the individual or collectivity, and looks for a "non-subjective" freedom which would attempt to think the existential or finite origin for every freedom. Nancy argues that it is necessary to think freedom in its finite being, because to think of it as the property of an infinite subject is to make any finite being a limit of freedom. The existence of the other is the necessary condition of freedom, rather than its limitation.

Le sens du monde

Nancy addresses the world in its contemporary global configuration in other writings on freedom, justice and sovereignty. In his 1993 book Le sens du monde (The Sense of the World), he asks what we mean by saying that we live in one world, and how our sense of the world is changed by saying that it is situated within the world, rather than above or apart from it. To Nancy, the world, or existence, is our ontological responsibility, which precedes political, judicial and moral responsibility. He describes our being in the world as an exposure to a naked existence, without the possibility of support by a fundamental metaphysical order or cause. Contemporary existence no longer has recourse to a divine framework, as was the case in feudal society where the meaning and course of life was predetermined. The contingency of our naked existence as an ontological question is the main challenge of our existence in contemporary global society.

Être singulier pluriel

In his book Être singulier pluriel (Being Singular Plural, 2000), Nancy tackles the question of how we can speak of a plurality of a "we" without making the "we" a singular identity. The premise of the title essay in this book is that there is no being without "being-with," that "I" does not come before "we" (i.e., Dasein does not precede Mitsein) and that there is no existence without co-existence. In an extension from his thoughts on freedom, community, and the sense of the world, he imagines the "being-with" as a mutual exposure to one another that preserves the freedom of the "I", and thus a community that is not subject to an exterior or pre-existent definition.

“There is no meaning if meaning is not shared, and not because there would be an ultimate or first signification that all beings have in common, but because meaning is itself the sharing of Being.”

The five essays that follow the title piece continue to develop Nancy’s philosophy through discussions of sovereignty, war and technology, identity, the Gulf War and Sarajevo. Nancy’s central concern in these essays remains the "being-with", which he uses to discuss issues of psychoanalysis, politics and multiculturalism, looking at notions of "self" and "other" in current contexts.

Artistic analysis

Nancy has also written for art catalogues and international art journals, especially on contemporary art. He also writes poetry and for the theatre and has earned respect as an influential philosopher of art and culture. In his book Les Muses published in 1994 (The Muses, 1996), he begins with an analysis of Hegel’s thesis on the death of art. Among the essays in The Muses is a piece on Caravaggio, originally a lecture given at the Louvre. In this essay, Nancy looks for a different conception of painting where painting is not a representation of the empirical world, but a presentation of the world, of sense, or of existence. Nancy has published books on film and music, as well as texts on the problem of representation, on the statute of literature, on image and violence, and on the work of On Kawara, Charles Baudelaire, and Friedrich Hölderlin.


Nancy's text L'intrus formed the basis for French director Claire Denis's film of the same name.

He has written extensively on film, including The Evidence of Film, a short work on Abbas Kiarostami.

Nancy appears in the film The Ister, based on Martin Heidegger's 1942 lectures on Friedrich Hölderlin's poem "Der Ister" (published as Hölderlin's Hymn "The Ister"). The film focuses on the relation of politics, technology and myth.

Nancy also appears in Phillip Warnell's recent short film, Outlandish: Strange Foreign Bodies, 2009.

See also


  1. ^ For more detail on the reasons for the closure, see Lacoue-Labarthe & Nancy, "Chers Amis: A Letter on the Closure of the Political," in Lacoue-Labarthe & Nancy, Retreating the Political (London & New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 143–47.


Titles in French

English translations

Secondary literature

External links

Emmanuel Levinas

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Emmanuel Levinas
Full name Emmanuel Levinas
Born January 12 [O.S. December 30] 1906
Kovno, Russian Empire
Died December 25, 1995 (aged 89)
Paris, France
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Continental philosophy
Main interests Existential phenomenology
Talmudic studies · Ethics · Ontology
Notable ideas "the Other" · "the Face"

Emmanuel Levinas (French pronunciation: [leviˈna(s)]; 12 January 1906 - 25 December 1995) was a Lithuanian-born French philosopher and Talmudic commentator.




Emanuelis Levinas (later adapted to French orthography as Emmanuel Lévinas) received a traditional Jewish education in Lithuania. After WWII, he studied the Talmud under the enigmatic "Monsieur Chouchani", whose influence he acknowledged only late in his life.

Levinas began his philosophical studies at Strasbourg University in 1924, where he began his lifelong friendship with the French philosopher Maurice Blanchot. In 1928, he went to Freiburg University to study phenomenology under Edmund Husserl. At Freiburg he also met Martin Heidegger. Levinas became one of the very first French intellectuals to draw attention to Heidegger and Husserl, by translating Husserl's Cartesian Meditations and by drawing on their ideas in his own philosophy, in works such as his The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology, De l'Existence à l'Existant, and En Découvrant l’Existence avec Husserl et Heidegger.

According to his obituary in New York Times,[1] Levinas came to regret his enthusiasm for Heidegger, because of the latter's affinity for the Nazis. During a lecture on forgiveness, Levinas stated "One can forgive many Germans, but there are some Germans it is difficult to forgive. It is difficult to forgive Heidegger."[2]

After earning his doctorate Levinas taught at a private Jewish High School in Paris, the École Normale Israélite Orientale, eventually becoming its director. He began teaching at the University of Poitiers in 1961, at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris in 1967, and at the Sorbonne in 1973, from which he retired in 1979. He was also a Professor at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. In 1989 he was awarded the Balzan Prize for Philosophy.


In the 1950s, Levinas emerged from the circle of intellectuals surrounding Jean Wahl as a leading French thinker. His work is based on the ethics of the Other or, in Levinas' terms, on "ethics as first philosophy". For Levinas, the Other is not knowable and cannot be made into an object of the self, as is done by traditional metaphysics (which Lévinas called "ontology"). Lévinas prefers to think of philosophy as the "wisdom of love" rather than the love of wisdom (the literal Greek meaning of the word "philosophy"). By his lights, ethics becomes an entity independent of subjectivity to the point where ethical responsibility is integral to the subject; hence an ethics of responsibility precedes any "objective searching after truth".

Levinas derives the primacy of his ethics from the experience of the encounter with the Other. For Levinas, the irreducible relation, the epiphany, of the face-to-face, the encounter with another, is a privileged phenomenon in which the other person's proximity and distance are both strongly felt. "The Other precisely reveals himself in his alterity not in a shock negating the I, but as the primordial phenomenon of gentleness."[3]. At the same time, the revelation of the face makes a demand, this demand is before one can express, or know one's freedom, to affirm or deny.[4] One instantly recognizes the transcendence and heteronomy of the Other. Even murder fails as an attempt to take hold of this otherness.

In Levinas's later thought following "Totality and Infinity", he argued that our responsibility for the other was already rooted within our subjective constitution. It should be noted that the first line of the preface of this book is "everyone will readily agree that it is of the highest importance to know whether we are not duped by morality."[5] This can be seen most clearly in his later account of recurrence (chapter 4 in "Otherwise Than Being"), where Levinas maintained that subjectivity was formed in and through our subjected-ness to the other. In this way, his effort was not to move away from traditional attempts to locate the other within subjectivity (this he agrees with), so much as his view was that subjectivity was primordially ethical and not theoretical. That is to say, our responsibility for the other was not a derivative feature of our subjectivity; instead, obligation founds our subjective being-in-the-world by giving it a meaningful direction and orientation. Levinas's thesis "ethics as first philosophy", then, means that the traditional philosophical pursuit of knowledge is but a secondary feature of a more basic ethical duty to the other.

The elderly Levinas was a distinguished French public intellectual, whose books reportedly sold well. He had a major impact on the young Jacques Derrida, a fellow French Jew whose seminal Writing and Difference contains an essay, "Violence and Metaphysics", on Levinas. Derrida also delivered a eulogy at Lévinas's funeral, later published as Adieu à Emmanuel Levinas, an appreciation and exploration of Levinas's moral philosophy.

War experiences

Levinas became a naturalized French citizen in 1930. When France declared war on Germany, he was ordered to report for military duty. During the German invasion of France in 1940, his military unit was quickly surrounded and forced to surrender. Levinas spent the rest of World War II as a prisoner of war in a camp near Hannover in Germany. Lévinas was assigned to a special barrack for Jewish prisoners, who were forbidden any forms of religious worship. Life in the camp was as difficult as might be expected, with Levinas often forced to chop wood and do other menial tasks. Other prisoners saw him frequently jotting in a notebook. These jottings became his book De l'Existence à l'Existant (1947) and a series of lectures published under the title Le Temps et l'Autre (1948).

Meanwhile, Maurice Blanchot helped Levinas' wife and daughter spend the war in a monastery, thus sparing them from the Holocaust. Blanchot, at considerable personal risk, also saw to it that Levinas was able to keep in contact with his immediate family through letters and other messages. Other members of Levinas' family were not so fortunate; his mother-in-law was deported and never heard from again, while his father and brothers were murdered in Lithuania by the Nazi SS.[6]

See also

Selected writings by Levinas

A list of works, translated into English but not appearing in any collections, may be found in Critchley, S. and Bernasconi, R., (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Levinas (publ. Cambridge UP, 2002), pp. 269-270. Bibliography of English translations of Levinas's writings.


  1. ^ Levinas' obituary
  2. ^ Levinas, Emmanuel. Nine Talmudic Readings, trans. Annette Aronowicz. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. p. 25
  3. ^ "Totality and Infinity", p.150
  4. ^ For recent reflections on the ethical-political imports of Levinas' tradition (and biography), along with the examination of the notion of the face-to-face in relation to le visage, while taking into account the Levantine/Palestinian standpoint on conflict, see: Nader El-Bizri, "Uneasy Meditations Following Levinas," Studia Phaenomelnologica, Vol. 6 (2006), pp. 293-315
  5. ^ E. Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (Alphonso Lingis, transl. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press), p. 21.
  6. ^ Life and Career

Further reading

External links

Richard Rorty

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Richard McKay Rorty
Full name Richard McKay Rorty
Born October 4, 1931(1931-10-04)
New York City
Died June 8, 2007 (aged 75)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Postanalytic, Pragmatism
Main interests Philosophy of language, Philosophy of mind, Ethics. Metaphilosophy, Liberalism, Meta-epistemology
Notable ideas Postphilosophy, Ironism, Final vocabulary, Epistemological behaviorism

Richard McKay Rorty (October 4, 1931 – June 8, 2007) was an American philosopher. He had a long and diverse career in Philosophy, Humanities, and Literature departments. His complex intellectual background gave him a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the analytic tradition in philosophy he would later famously reject.




Richard Rorty was born October 4, 1931 in New York City to James and Winifred Rorty. Winifred was the daughter of Social Gospel theologian Walter Rauschenbusch. Rorty enrolled at the University of Chicago shortly before turning 15, where he received a bachelor's and a master's degree in philosophy, continuing at Yale University for a PhD in philosophy[1]. He served two years in the army, and then taught at Wellesley College for three years, until 1961.[2]

Thereafter for 21 years at Princeton University Rorty was a professor of philosophy.[2] In 1982 he became Kenan Professor of the Humanities at the University Of Virginia.[3] In 1997 Rorty became professor emeritus of comparative literature (and philosophy, by courtesy), at Stanford University.[3] During this period he was especially popular, and once quipped that he had been assigned to the position of "transitory professor of trendy studies".[4]

Rorty's doctoral dissertation, "The Concept of Potentiality", and his first book (as editor), The Linguistic Turn (1967), were firmly in the prevailing analytic mode. However, he gradually became acquainted with the American philosophical movement known as pragmatism, particularly the writings of John Dewey. The noteworthy work being done by analytic philosophers such as W.V.O. Quine and Wilfrid Sellars caused significant shifts in his thinking, which were reflected in his next book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979).

Pragmatists generally hold that a proposition is useful if employing it helps us understand or solve a given problem. Rorty combined pragmatism about truth and other matters with a later Wittgensteinian philosophy of language which declares that meaning is a social-linguistic product, and sentences do not 'link up' with the world in a correspondence relation. Rorty wrote in his Contingency, irony, and solidarity (1989):

"Truth cannot be out there—cannot exist independently of the human mind—because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own—unaided by the describing activities of humans—cannot.” (5)

Views like this led Rorty to question many of philosophy's most basic assumptions — and have also led to him being apprehended as a postmodern/deconstructionist philosopher. Indeed, from the late 1980s through the 1990s, Rorty focused on the continental philosophical tradition, examining the works of Friederich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jacques Derrida. His work from this period included Contingency, irony, and solidarity, Essays on Heidegger and Others: Philosophical Papers (1991) and Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers (1998). The latter two works attempt to bridge the dichotomy between analytic and continental philosophy by claiming that the two traditions complement rather than oppose each other.

According to Rorty, analytic philosophy may not have lived up to its pretensions and may not have solved the puzzles it thought it had. Yet such philosophy, in the process of finding reasons for putting those pretensions and puzzles aside, helped earn itself an important place in the history of ideas. By giving up on the quest for apodicticity and finality that Husserl shared with Carnap and Russell, and by finding new reasons for thinking that such quest will never succeed, analytic philosophy cleared a path that leads past scientism, just as the German idealists cleared a path that led around empiricism.

In the last fifteen years of his life, Rorty continued to publish voluminously, including four volumes of philosophical papers, Achieving Our Country (1998), a political manifesto partly based on readings of John Dewey and Walt Whitman in which he defended the idea of a progressive, pragmatic left against what he feels are defeatist, anti-liberal, anti-humanist positions espoused by the critical left and continental school, personified by figures like Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Foucault. Such theorists were also guilty of an "inverted Platonism" in which they attempted to craft over-arching, metaphysical, "sublime" philosophies—which in fact contradicted their core claims to be ironist and contingent. Rorty's last works focused on the place of religion in contemporary life, liberal communities, and philosophy as "cultural politics".

Shortly before his death, he wrote a piece called "The Fire of Life", (published in the November 2007 issue of Poetry Magazine)[5], in which he meditates on his diagnosis and the comfort of poetry. He concludes, "I now wish that I had spent somewhat more of my life with verse. This is not because I fear having missed out on truths that are incapable of statement in prose. There are no such truths; there is nothing about death that Swinburne and Landor knew but Epicurus and Heidegger failed to grasp. Rather, it is because I would have lived more fully if I had been able to rattle off more old chestnuts — just as I would have if I had made more close friends."

On June 8, 2007, Rorty died in his home from pancreatic cancer. [1][3][6]

Major works

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature

In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Rorty argues that the central problems of modern epistemology depend upon a picture of the mind as trying to faithfully represent (or "mirror") a mind-independent, external reality. If we give up this metaphor, then the entire enterprise of foundationalist epistemology is misguided. A foundationalist believes that in order to avoid the regress inherent in claiming that all beliefs are justified by other beliefs, some beliefs must be self-justifying and form the foundations to all knowledge.

There were two senses of "foundationalism" criticized in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. In the epistemological sense, Rorty criticized the attempt to justify knowledge claims by tracing them to a set of foundations (e.g., self-evident premises or noninferential sensations); more broadly, he criticized the claim of philosophy to function foundationally within a culture. The former argument draws on Sellars's critique of the idea that there is a "given" in sensory perception, in combination with Quine's critique of the distinction between analytic sentences (sentences which are true solely in virtue of what they mean) and synthetic sentences (sentences made true by the world). Each critique, taken alone, provides a problem for a conception of how philosophy ought to proceed, yet leaves enough of the tradition intact to proceed with its former aspirations. Combined, Rorty claimed, the two critiques are devastating. With no privileged insight into the structure of belief and no privileged realm of truths of meaning, we have, instead, knowledge as those beliefs that pay their way. The only worthwhile description of the actual process of inquiry, Rorty claimed, was a Kuhnian account of the standard phases of the progress of disciplines, oscillating through normal and abnormal periods, between routine problem-solving and intellectual crises.

After eliminating foundationalism, Rorty argues that one of the few roles left for a philosopher is to act as an intellectual gadfly, attempting to induce a revolutionary break with previous practice, a role that Rorty was happy to take on himself. Rorty suggests that each generation tries to subject all disciplines to the model that the most successful discipline of the day employs. In Rorty's view, the success of modern science has led academics in philosophy and the humanities to mistakenly imitate scientific methods. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature popularized and extended ideas of Wilfrid Sellars (the critique of the Myth of the given) and W. V. O. Quine (the critique of the analytic-synthetic distinction) and others who advocate the Wittgensteinian doctrine of "dissolving" rather than solving philosophical problems.

Contingency, irony, and solidarity

In Contingency, irony, and solidarity (1989), Rorty abandons specifically analytic modes of explication in favor of narrative pastiche in order to develop an alternative conceptual vocabulary to that of the "Platonists" he rejects. This schema is based on the belief that there is no worthwhile theory of truth, aside from a boring, non-epistemic semantic one (as Donald Davidson developed out of the work of Tarski). Rorty suggests that the task of philosophy should be distinguished along public and private lines. Private philosophers, who provide one with greater abilities to (re)create oneself, a view adapted from Nietzsche and which Rorty also identifies with the novels of Proust and Nabokov, should not be expected to help with public problems. For a public philosophy, one might turn to Rawls or Habermas.

This book also marks his first attempt to specifically articulate a political vision consistent with his philosophy, the vision of a diverse community bound together by opposition to cruelty, and not by abstract ideas such as 'justice' or 'common humanity,' policed by the separation of the public and private realms of life.

In this book, Rorty introduces the terminology of Ironism, which he uses to describe his mindset and his philosophy, though in later works he never really returns to it.

Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth

Amongst the essays in Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers, Volume 1 (1990), is "The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy," in which Rorty defends Rawls against communitarian critics and argues that personal ideals of perfection and standards of truth were no more needed in politics than a state religion. He sees Rawls' concept of reflective equilibrium as a more appropriate way of conceptualizing political decision-making in modern liberal democracies.

Essays on Heidegger and Others

In this text, Rorty focuses primarily on the continental philosophers Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida. He argues that these European "post-Nietzscheans" share much with American pragmatists, in that they critique metaphysics and reject the correspondence theory of truth. When discussing Derrida, Rorty claims that Derrida is most useful when viewed as a funny writer who attempted to circumvent the Western philosophical tradition, rather than the inventor of a philosophical (or literary) "method." In this vein, Rorty criticizes Derrida's followers like Paul de Man for taking deconstructive literary theory too seriously.

Achieving Our Country

In Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (1998), Rorty differentiates between what he sees as the two sides of the Left, a cultural Left and a progressive Left. He criticizes the cultural Left, which is exemplified by post-structuralists such as Michel Foucault and postmodernists such as Jean-François Lyotard, for offering critiques of society, but no alternatives. Although these intellectuals make insightful claims about the ills of society, Rorty suggests that they provide no alternatives and even occasionally deny the possibility of progress. On the other hand, the progressive Left, exemplified for Rorty by the pragmatist John Dewey, Whitman and James Baldwin, makes hope for a better future its priority. Without hope, Rorty argues, change is spiritually inconceivable and the cultural Left has begun to breed cynicism. Rorty sees the progressive Left as acting in the philosophical spirit of pragmatism.

Rorty and His Critics

On fundamentalist religion, Rorty said:

“It seems to me that the regulative idea that we heirs of the Enlightenment, we Socratists, most frequently use to criticize the conduct of various conversational partners is that of ‘needing education in order to outgrow their primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions’ ... It is a concept which I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own ... The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students ... When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank... You have to be educated in order to be ... a participant in our conversation ... So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours ... I don’t see anything herrschaftsfrei [domination free] about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft [domination] of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents ... I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause.”

‘Universality and Truth,’ in Robert B. Brandom (ed.), Rorty and his Critics (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 21-2.

On human rights

His notion of human rights is grounded on the notion of sentimentality. He contended that throughout history humans have devised various means of construing certain groups of individuals as inhuman or subhuman. Thinking in rationalist (foundationalist) terms will not solve this problem. We need to create a global human rights culture in order to stop violations from happening through sentimental education. He argued that we should create a sense of empathy or teach empathy to others so as to understand others' suffering.

Reception and criticism

Rorty is one of the most widely discussed and most controversial of philosophers of recent years,[7] and his works have provoked thoughtful responses from many well-respected philosophers. In Robert Brandom's anthology, entitled Rorty and His Critics, for example, Rorty's philosophy is discussed by Donald Davidson, Jürgen Habermas, Hilary Putnam, John McDowell, Jacques Bouveresse, and Daniel Dennett, among others.[8]

John McDowell is strongly influenced by Rorty, particularly by Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979).[9] In continental philosophy, authors such as Jürgen Habermas, Gianni Vattimo, Jacques Derrida, Albrecht Wellmer, Hans Joas, Chantal Mouffe, Simon Critchley, Alexander Bard, Esa Saarinen and Mike Sandbothe are influenced in different ways by Rorty's thinking.

Although Rorty was a hardened liberal, his political and moral philosophies have been attacked from the Left, some of whom believe them to be insufficient frameworks for social justice[10]. Rorty was also criticized by others for his rejection of the idea that science can depict the world.[11] One major criticism, especially of Contingency, irony, and solidarity is that Rorty's philosophical 'hero', the ironist, is an elitist figure [12]. Rorty claims that the majority of people would be "commonsensically nominalist and historicist" but not ironist. These people would combine an ongoing attention to the particular as opposed to the transcendent (nominalism), with an awareness of their place in a continuum of contingent lived experience alongside other individuals (historicist), without necessarily having continual doubts about the resulting worldview as the ironist does. An ironist was someone who: 1) "has radical and continuing doubts about her final vocabulary"; 2) "realizes that argument phrased in her vocabulary can neither underwrite nor dissolve these doubts"; and 3) "does not think her vocabulary is closer to reality than others" (all 73, Contingency, irony, and solidarity).

Rorty often draws on a broad range of other philosophers to support his views, and his interpretation of their works has been contested.[13] Since Rorty is working from a tradition of re-interpretation, he remains uninterested in 'accurately' portraying other thinkers, but rather in utilizing their work in the same way a literary critic might use a novel. His essay "The Historiography of Philosophy: Four Genres" is a thorough description of how he treats the greats in the history of philosophy.

As detailed in Contingency, irony, and solidarity, many philosophical criticisms against Rorty are made using axioms that are explicitly rejected within Rorty's own philosophy.[14] For instance, Rorty defines allegations of irrationality as affirmations of vernacular "otherness", and so accusations of irrationality are not only brushed aside, but are expected during any argument.[15]

Select bibliography

See also


  1. ^ a b "Richard Rorty, distinguished public intellectual and controversial philosopher, dead at 75" (Stanford's announcement), June 10, 2007.
  2. ^ a b [1]Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy
  3. ^ a b c "Richard Rorty, Philosopher, Dies at 75" (NY Times Obituary), June 11, 2007
  4. ^ Ryerson, James. "Essay: Thinking Cheerfully." The New York Times Book Review. July 22, 2007: p 27.
  5. ^ "The Fire of Life" by Richard Rorty
  6. ^ "Richard Rorty," (short obituary), June 9, 2007.
  7. ^ (Last sentence of the introduction)
  8. ^ Rorty and His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics): Robert B. Brandom: Books
  9. ^ In the preface to Mind and World (pp. ix-x) McDowell states that "it will be obvious that Rorty's work is [...] central for the way I define my stance here".
  10. ^ "Objectivity and Action: Wal-Mart and the Legacy of Marx and Nietzsche", A discussion of Terry Eagleton's attacks on Rorty's philosophy as insufficient in the fight against corporations such as Wal-Mart
  11. ^ "The failure to recognize science's particular powers to depict reality, Daniel Dennett wrote, shows 'flatfooted ignorance of the proven methods of scientific truth-seeking and their power.'"[2]
  12. ^ Rob Reich - The Paradoxes of Education in Rorty's Liberal Utopia
  13. ^ Richard Rorty (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  14. ^ Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN, p 44
  15. ^ Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN, p 48

Further reading




METAPHILOSOPHY 38 (1): 88-110 JAN 2007


PHILOSOPHY TODAY 49 (3): 236-244 FAL 2005

METAPHILOSOPHY 36 (3): 272-294 APR 2005



PHILOSOPHY TODAY 47 (4): 431-440 WIN 2003


PHILOSOPHY TODAY 46 (2): 185-192 SUM 2002





REVIEW OF METAPHYSICS 54 (1): 27-41 SEP 2000

METAPHILOSOPHY 31 (5): 529-546 OCT 2000



PHILOSOPHY EAST & WEST 50 (1): 90-91 JAN 2000

PHILOSOPHY EAST & WEST 50 (1): 56-89 JAN 2000


External links

Essays and Articles by Rorty
Book Reviews by Rorty
Obituaries, Eulogies and Memorials

Stanley Cavell

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Stanley Louis Cavell
Full name Stanley Louis Cavell
Born September 1, 1926 (1926-09-01) (age 83)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests Film theory

Stanley Louis Cavell (born September 1, 1926) is an American philosopher. He is the Walter M. Cabot Professor Emeritus of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University. Cavell is a 1992 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.




Born to a Jewish family in Atlanta, Georgia, Cavell first trained in music, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in music at Berkeley in 1947. Shortly after being accepted at Juilliard, he gave up studying music and changed to philosophy at UCLA and later at Harvard. His first teaching position was at Berkeley, but he returned to Harvard, where he became the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value in 1963. In 1997 he became Professor Emeritus.

Currently, Cavell resides in Brookline, Massachusetts.


Although trained in the Anglo-American analytic tradition, Cavell often engages in dialogue with the continental tradition. He is well known for his inclusion of film and literary study into philosophical inquiry.

Cavell has written extensively on Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin, and Martin Heidegger, as well as on the American Transcendentalists Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He has been associated with an approach toward interpreting Wittgenstein sometimes known as the New Wittgenstein.

Much of Cavell's writing incorporates autobiographical elements concerning how his movement between and within the ideas of these thinkers influenced and influences his own thinking.


Must We Mean What We Say?

Cavell first established his distinct philosophical identity with a collection of essays, entitled Must We Mean What We Say? (1969), a work which addresses topics such as language use, metaphor, skepticism, tragedy, and literary interpretation, with a view to ordinary language philosophy, a school of which he is a practitioner and ardent defender. One of his essays discussed Søren Kierkegaard's work The Book on Adler. The essay helped re-introduce the book to modern philosophical readers.[1]

The World Viewed

In The World Viewed (1971) Cavell looks at photography and film. He also writes on modernism in art, and the nature of media, where he mentions the importance to his work of the writing of art critic Michael Fried.

The Claim of Reason

Cavell is perhaps best known for his book, The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy (1979), which forms the centerpiece of his work, and which has its origins in his doctoral dissertation.

Pursuits of Happiness

In Pursuits of Happiness (1981), Cavell describes his experience of seven prominent Hollywood comedies: The Lady Eve, It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, Adam’s Rib, and The Awful Truth. Cavell argues that these films, from the years 1934–1949, form part of what he calls the genre of "remarriage," and he finds in them great philosophical, moral, and indeed political significance.

Cities of Words

In Cities of Words (2004) Cavell traces the history of moral perfectionism, a mode of moral thinking spanning the history of Western philosophy and literature. Having previously used Emerson to define the concept, this book suggests ways we might want to understand philosophy, literature, and film as preoccupied with features of perfectionism.

Philosophy the Day after Tomorrow

In his most recent collection of essays, Philosophy the Day After Tomorrow (2005), Cavell makes the case that J. L. Austin's concept of performative utterance requires the supplementary concept of "passionate utterance": "A performative utterance is an offer of participation in the order of law. And perhaps we can say: A passionate utterance is an invitation to improvisation in the disorders of desire."[2] The book also contains extended discussions of Friedrich Nietzsche, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, and Fred Astaire, as well as familiar Cavellian subjects such as Shakespeare, Emerson, Thoreau, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger.


  1. ^ Journal of Religion, vol. 57, 1977
  2. ^ Cavell, Philosophy the Day after Tomorrow (Cambridge, Massachusetts, & London: Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 19.


External links

See also

Samuel Beckett

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Samuel Beckett

Born Samuel Barclay Beckett
13 April 1906(1906-04-13)
Foxrock, Dublin, Ireland
Died 22 December 1989 (aged 83)
Paris, France
Pen name Andrew Belis (Recent Irish Poetry) [1]
Occupation Novelist, playwright, poet, essayist
Language English, French
Nationality Irish
Genres Drama, fictional prose, poetry, screenplays, experimental, absurdist fiction
Literary movement Modernism
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature

Samuel Barclay Beckett (13 April 1906 – 22 December 1989) was an Irish avant-garde writer, dramatist and poet. Beckett's work offers a bleak outlook on human culture and both formally and philosophically became increasingly minimalist.

As a student, assistant, and friend of James Joyce, Beckett is considered one of the last modernists; as an inspiration to many later writers, he is sometimes considered one of the first postmodernists. He is also considered one of the key writers in what Martin Esslin called "Theatre of the Absurd." As such, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.[2]

Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969 for his "writing, which—in new forms for the novel and drama—in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation".[3] Beckett was elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1984. He died in Paris of respiratory problems.




Early life and education

The Beckett family (originally Becquet) were rumoured to be of Huguenot stock and to have moved to Ireland from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes of 1598, though this theory has been criticised as unlikely.[4] The Becketts were members of the Church of Ireland. The family home, Cooldrinagh in the Dublin suburb of Foxrock, was a large house and garden complete with tennis court built in 1903 by Samuel's father William. The house and garden, together with the surrounding countryside where he often went walking with his father, the nearby Leopardstown Racecourse, the Foxrock railway station and Harcourt Street station at the city terminus of the line, all feature in his prose and plays. Beckett's father was a quantity surveyor and his mother a nurse.[5]

Samuel Beckett was born on Good Friday, April 13, 1906 to William Frank Beckett, a 35 year old Civil Engineer of Protestant Religion, and May Barclay (also 35 at Beckett's birth), whom Beckett had married in 1901. Beckett had one older brother, Frank Edward Beckett (born 1902). At the age of five, Beckett attended a local playschool, where he started to learn music, and then moved to Earlsford House School in the city centre near Harcourt Street. In 1919, Beckett went to Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh—the school Oscar Wilde attended. A natural athlete, Beckett excelled at cricket as a left-handed batsman and a left-arm medium-pace bowler. Later, he was to play for Dublin University and played two first-class games against Northamptonshire. As a result, he became the only Nobel laureate to have an entry in Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, the "bible" of cricket.[6]

Early writings

Beckett studied French, Italian, and English at Trinity College, Dublin from 1923 to 1927. While at Trinity, one of his tutors was the eminent Berkeley scholar and Berkelian Dr. A. A. Luce. Beckett graduated with a B.A., and—after teaching briefly at Campbell College in Belfast—took up the post of lecteur d'anglais in the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. While there, he was introduced to renowned Irish author James Joyce by Thomas MacGreevy, a poet and close confidant of Beckett who also worked there. This meeting was soon to have a profound effect on the young man, and Beckett assisted Joyce in various ways, most particularly by helping him research the book that would eventually become Finnegans Wake.[7]

In 1929, Beckett published his first work, a critical essay entitled "Dante...Bruno. Vico..Joyce". The essay defends Joyce's work and method, chiefly from allegations of wanton obscurity and dimness, and was Beckett's contribution to Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress, a book of essays on Joyce which also included contributions by Eugene Jolas, Robert McAlmon, and William Carlos Williams, among others. Beckett's close relationship with Joyce and his family, however, cooled when he rejected the advances of Joyce's daughter Lucia owing to her progressing schizophrenia. It was also during this period that Beckett's first short story, "Assumption", was published in Jolas's periodical transition. The next year he won a small literary prize with his hastily composed poem "Whoroscope", which draws from a biography of René Descartes that Beckett happened to be reading when he was encouraged to submit.

In 1930, Beckett returned to Trinity College as a lecturer. He soon became disillusioned with his chosen academic vocation, however. He expressed his aversion by playing a trick on the Modern Language Society of Dublin, reading a learned paper in French on a Toulouse author named Jean du Chas, founder of a movement called Concentrism; Chas and Concentrism, however, were pure fiction, having been invented by Beckett to mock pedantry.

Beckett resigned from Trinity at the end of 1931, terminating his brief academic career. He commemorated this turning point in his life by composing the poem "Gnome", inspired by his reading of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and eventually published in the Dublin Magazine in 1934:

Spend the years of learning squandering
Courage for the years of wandering
Through a world politely turning
From the loutishness of learning.[8]

After leaving Trinity, Beckett began to travel in Europe. He also spent some time in London, where in 1931 he published Proust, his critical study of French author Marcel Proust. Two years later, in the wake of his father's death, he began two years' treatment with Tavistock Clinic psychoanalyst, Dr. Wilfred Bion, who took him to hear Carl Jung's third Tavistock lecture, an event which Beckett would still recall many years later. The lecture focused on the subject of the "never properly born," and aspects of it would become evident in Beckett's later works including Watt and Waiting for Godot.[9] In 1932, he wrote his first novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, but after many rejections from publishers decided to abandon it; the book would eventually be published in 1993. Despite his inability to get it published, however, the novel did serve as a source for many of Beckett's early poems, as well as for his first full-length book, the 1933 short-story collection More Pricks Than Kicks.

Beckett also published a number of essays and reviews around the time, including "Recent Irish Poetry" (in The Bookman, August 1934) and "Humanistic Quietism", a review of his friend Thomas MacGreevy's Poems (in The Dublin Magazine, July–September 1934). These two reviews focused on the work of MacGreevy, Brian Coffey, Denis Devlin and Blanaid Salkeld, despite their slender achievements at the time, comparing them favourably with their Celtic Revival contemporaries and invoking Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and the French symbolists as their precursors. In describing these poets as forming 'the nucleus of a living poetic in Ireland',[10] Beckett was tracing the outlines of an Irish poetic modernist canon.

In 1935 — the year that Beckett successfully published a book of his poetry, Echo's Bones and Other Precipitates —, he was also working on his novel Murphy. In May of that year, he wrote to MacGreevy that he had been reading about film and wished to go to Moscow to study with Sergei Eisenstein at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. In mid-1936, he wrote to Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin, offering to become their apprentices. Nothing came of this, however, as Beckett's letter was lost owing to Eisenstein's quarantine during the smallpox outbreak, as well as his focus on a script re-write of his postponed film production. Beckett, meanwhile, finished Murphy, and then, in 1936, departed for extensive travel around Germany, during which time he filled several notebooks with lists of noteworthy artwork that he had seen, also noting his distaste for the Nazi savagery which was then overtaking the country. Returning to Ireland briefly in 1937, he oversaw the publishing of Murphy (1938), which he himself translated into French the next year. He also had a falling-out with his mother, which contributed to his decision to settle permanently in Paris (where he would return for good following the outbreak of World War II in 1939, preferring — in his own words — "France at war to Ireland at peace").[11] His was soon a known face in and around Left Bank cafés, where he strengthened his allegiance with Joyce and forged new ones with artists like Alberto Giacometti and Marcel Duchamp, with whom he regularly played chess. Sometime around December 1937, Beckett had a brief affair with Peggy Guggenheim, who nicknamed him "Oblomov" after the titular figure in Ivan Goncharov's novel.[12]

In Paris, in January 1938, while refusing the solicitations of a notorious pimp who ironically went by the name of Prudent, Beckett was stabbed in the chest and nearly killed. James Joyce arranged a private room for the injured Beckett at the hospital. The publicity surrounding the stabbing attracted the attention of Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, who knew Beckett slightly from his first stay in Paris; this time, however, the two would begin a lifelong companionship. At a preliminary hearing, Beckett asked his attacker for the motive behind the stabbing, and Prudent casually replied, "Je ne sais pas, Monsieur. Je m'excuse" ("I do not know, sir. I'm sorry").[13] Beckett occasionally recounted the incident in jest, and eventually dropped the charges against his attacker—partially to avoid further formalities, but also because he found Prudent to be personally likeable and well-mannered.

World War II

Beckett joined the French Resistance after the 1940 occupation by Germany, working as a courier, and on several occasions over the next two years was nearly caught by the Gestapo.

In August 1942, his unit was betrayed and he and Suzanne fled south on foot to the safety of the small village of Roussillon, in the Vaucluse département in the Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur region. Here he continued to assist the Resistance by storing armaments in the back yard of his home. During the two years that Beckett stayed in Roussillon he indirectly helped the Maquis sabotage the German army in the Vaucluse mountains,[14] though he rarely spoke about his wartime work.

Beckett was awarded the Croix de guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance by the French government for his efforts in fighting the German occupation; to the end of his life, however, Beckett would refer to his work with the French Resistance as 'boy scout stuff'.[15] '[I]n order to keep in touch',[16] he continued work on the novel Watt (begun in 1941 and completed in 1945, but not published until 1953) while in hiding in Roussillon.

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In 1945, Beckett returned to Dublin for a brief visit. During his stay, he had a revelation in his mother’s room in which his entire future literary direction appeared to him. This experience was later fictionalized in the 1958 play Krapp's Last Tape. In the play, Krapp’s revelation, perhaps set on the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire (though nothing in the play would substantiate this presumption) during a stormy night, and some critics have identified Beckett with Krapp to the point of presuming Beckett's own artistic epiphany was at the same location, in the same weather. However, most literary critics would caution against equating a character's experiences with those of their authors. Throughout the play, Krapp is listening to a tape he made earlier in his life; at one point he hears his younger self saying this: “...clear to me at last that the dark I have always struggled to keep under is in reality my most...” Krapp fast-forwards the tape before the audience can hear the complete revelation.

Beckett later revealed to James Knowlson (which Knowlson relates in the biography Damned to Fame[17]) that the missing words on the tape are "precious ally". Beckett claimed he was faced with the possibility of being eternally in the shadow of Joyce, certain to never best him at his own game. Then he had a revelation, as Knowlson says, which “has rightly been regarded as a pivotal moment in his entire career." Knowlson goes on to explain the revelation as told to him by Beckett himself: "In speaking of his own revelation, Beckett tended to focus on the recognition of his own stupidity ... and on his concern with impotence and ignorance. He reformulated this for me, while attempting to define his debt to James Joyce: 'I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding.'" Knowlson explains: "Beckett was rejecting the Joycean principle that knowing more was a way of creatively understanding the world and controlling it ... In future, his work would focus on poverty, failure, exile and loss -- as he put it, on man as a 'non-knower' and as a 'non-can-er.'"[17]

In 1946, Jean-Paul Sartre’s magazine Les Temps Modernes published the first part of Beckett’s short story "Suite" (later to be called "La fin", or "The End"), not realizing that Beckett had only submitted the first half of the story; Simone de Beauvoir refused to publish the second part. Beckett also began to write his fourth novel, Mercier et Camier, which was not to be published until 1970. The novel, in many ways, presaged his most famous work, the play Waiting for Godot, written not long afterwards, but more importantly, it was Beckett’s first long work to be written directly in French, the language of most of his subsequent works, including the poioumenon, a "trilogy" of novels he was soon to write: Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable. Despite being a native English speaker, Beckett chose to write in French because—as he himself claimed—in French it was easier for him to write "without style." [18]

Beckett is publicly most famous for the play Waiting for Godot. In a much-quoted article, the critic Vivian Mercier wrote that Beckett "has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What's more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice." (Irish Times, 18 February 1956, p. 6.) Like most of his works after 1947, the play was first written in French with the title En attendant Godot. Beckett worked on the play between October 1948 and January 1949.[19] He published it in 1952, and premiered it in 1953. The English translation appeared two years later. The play was a critical, popular, and controversial success in Paris. It opened in London in 1955 to mainly negative reviews, but the tide turned with positive reactions by Harold Hobson in The Sunday Times and, later, Kenneth Tynan. In the United States, it flopped in Miami, and had a qualified success in New York City. After this, the play became extremely popular, with highly successful performances in the U.S. and Germany. It is still frequently performed today.

As noted, Beckett was now writing mainly in French. He translated all of his works into the English language himself, with the exception of Molloy, whose translation was collaborative with Patrick Bowles. The success of Waiting for Godot opened up a career in theatre for its author. Beckett went on to write a number of successful full-length plays, including 1957's Endgame, the aforementioned Krapp's Last Tape (written in English), 1960's Happy Days (also written in English), and 1963's Play.

In 1961, in recognition for his work, Beckett received the International Publishers' Formentor Prize, which he shared that year with Jorge Luis Borges.

Later life and work

The 1960s were a period of change, both on a personal level and as a writer. In 1961, in a secret civil ceremony in England, he married Suzanne, mainly for reasons relating to French inheritance law. The success of his plays led to invitations to attend rehearsals and productions around the world, leading eventually to a new career as a theatre director. In 1956, he had his first commission from the BBC Third Programme for a radio play, All That Fall. He was to continue writing sporadically for radio, and ultimately for film and television as well. He also started to write in English again, though he continued to write in French until the end of his life.

Tomb of Samuel Beckett at the Cimetière de Montparnasse

In October 1969, Beckett, on holiday in Tunis with Suzanne, learned he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Suzanne, who saw that her intensely private husband would be, from that moment forth, saddled with fame, called the award a "catastrophe." [20] While Beckett did not devote much time to interviews, he would still sometimes personally meet the artists, scholars, and admirers who sought him out in the anonymous lobby of the Hotel PLM St. Jacques in Paris near his Montparnasse home.[21]

Suzanne died on 17 July 1989. Suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson's disease and confined to a nursing home, Beckett died on 22 December of the same year. The two were interred together in the Cimetière Montparnasse in Paris, and share a simple granite gravestone which follows Beckett's directive that it be "any colour, so long as it's grey."


Beckett's career as a writer can be roughly divided into three periods: his early works, up until the end of World War II in 1945; his middle period, stretching from 1945 until the early 1960s, during which period he wrote what are probably his best-known works; and his late period, from the early 1960s until Beckett's death in 1989, during which his works tended to become shorter and his style more minimalist.

Early works

Beckett's earliest works are generally considered to have been strongly influenced by the work of his friend James Joyce: they are deeply erudite, seeming to display the author's learning merely for its own sake, resulting in several obscure passages. The opening phrases of the short-story collection More Pricks than Kicks (1934) affords a representative sample of this style:

It was morning and Belacqua was stuck in the first of the canti in the moon. He was so bogged that he could move neither backward nor forward. Blissful Beatrice was there, Dante also, and she explained the spots on the moon to him. She shewed him in the first place where he was at fault, then she put up her own explanation. She had it from God, therefore he could rely on its being accurate in every particular.[22]

The passage is rife with references to Dante Alighieri's Commedia, which can serve to confuse readers not familiar with that work. At the same time, however, there are many portents of Beckett's later work: the physical inactivity of the character Belacqua; the character's immersion in his own head and thoughts; the somewhat irreverent comedy of the final sentence.

Similar elements are present in Beckett's first published novel, Murphy (1938), which also to some extent explores the themes of insanity and chess, both of which would be recurrent elements in Beckett's later works. The novel's opening sentence also hints at the somewhat pessimistic undertones and black humour that animate many of Beckett's works: 'The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new'.[23] Watt, written while Beckett was in hiding in Roussillon during World War II, is similar in terms of themes, but less exuberant in its style. This novel also, at certain points, explores human movement as if it were a mathematical permutation, presaging Beckett's later preoccupation—in both his novels and dramatic works—with precise movement.

It was also during this early period that Beckett first began to write creatively in the French language. In the late 1930s, he wrote a number of short poems in that language, and these poems' spareness—in contrast to the density of his English poems of roughly the same period, collected in Echo's Bones and Other Precipitates (1935)—seems to show that Beckett, albeit through the medium of another language, was in process of simplifying his style somewhat, a change also evidenced in Watt.

Middle period

The most famous work by Beckett; Waiting for Godot (in French En attendant Godot)

After World War II, Beckett turned definitively to the French language as a vehicle. It was this, together with the aforementioned "revelation" experienced in his mother's room in Dublin—in which he realized that his art must be subjective and drawn wholly from his own inner world—that would result in the works for which Beckett is best remembered today.

During the 15 years subsequent to the war, Beckett produced four major full-length stage plays: En attendant Godot (written 1948–1949; Waiting for Godot), Fin de partie (1955–1957; Endgame), Krapp's Last Tape (1958), and Happy Days (1960). These plays—which are often considered, rightly or wrongly, to have been instrumental in the so-called "Theatre of the Absurd"—deal in a very blackly humorous way with themes similar to those of the roughly contemporary existentialist thinkers, though Beckett himself cannot be pigeonholed as an existentialist. The term "Theatre of the Absurd" was coined by Martin Esslin in a book of the same name; Beckett and Godot were centerpieces of the book. Esslin claimed these plays were the fulfillment of Albert Camus's concept of "the absurd";[24] this is one reason Beckett is often falsely labeled as an existentialist. Though many of the themes are similar, Beckett had little affinity for existentialism as a whole.[25]

Broadly speaking, the plays deal with the subject of despair and the will to survive in spite of that despair, in the face of an uncomprehending and, indeed, incomprehensible world. The words of Nell—one of the two characters in Endgame who are trapped in ashbins, from which they occasionally peek their heads to speak—can best summarize the themes of the plays of Beckett's middle period:

Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. ... Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it's always the same thing. Yes, it's like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don't laugh any more.[26]

Beckett's outstanding achievements in prose during the period were the three novels Molloy (1951), Malone meurt (1951; Malone Dies) and L'innommable (1953; The Unnamable). In these novels—sometimes referred to as a "trilogy", though this is against the author's own explicit wishes[27]—the reader can trace the development of Beckett's mature style and themes, as the novels become more and more stripped down, barer and barer. Molloy, for instance, still retains many of the characteristics of a conventional novel—time, place, movement and plot—and is indeed, on one level, a detective novel. In Malone Dies, however, movement and plot are largely dispensed with, though there is still some indication of place and the passage of time; the "action" of the book takes the form of an interior monologue. Finally, in The Unnamable, all sense of place and time are done away with, and the essential theme seems to be the conflict between the voice's drive to continue speaking so as to continue existing and its almost equally strong urge to find silence and oblivion. It is tempting to see in this a reflection of Beckett's experience and understanding of what the war had done to the world. Despite the widely-held view that Beckett's work, as exemplified by the novels of this period, is essentially pessimistic, the will to live seems to win out in the end; witness, for instance, the famous final phrase of The Unnamable: 'I can't go on, I'll go on'.[28]

Subsequent to these three novels, Beckett struggled for many years to produce a sustained work of prose, a struggle evidenced by the brief "stories" later collected as Texts for Nothing. In the late 1950s, however, he managed to create one of his most radical prose works, Comment c'est (1961; How It Is). This work relates the adventures of an unnamed narrator crawling through the mud while dragging a sack of canned food, and was written as a sequence of unpunctuated paragraphs in a style approaching telegraphese:

you are there somewhere alive somewhere vast stretch of time then it's over you are there no more alive no more than again you are there again alive again it wasn't over an error you begin again all over more or less in the same place or in another as when another image above in the light you come to in hospital in the dark[29]

Following this work, it would be almost another decade before Beckett produced a work of non-dramatic prose, and indeed How It Is is generally considered to mark the end of his middle period as a writer.

Late works

Beckett's poster in Paris, France

Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, Beckett's works exhibited an increasing tendency—already evident in much of his work of the 1950s—towards compactness that has led to his work sometimes being described as minimalist. The extreme example of this, among his dramatic works, is the 1969 piece Breath, which lasts for only 35 seconds and has no characters (though it was likely intended to offer ironic comment on Oh! Calcutta!, the theatrical revue for which it served as an introductory piece[30]).

In the dramas of the late period, Beckett's characters—already few in number in the earlier plays—are whittled down to essential elements. The ironically titled 1962 Play, for instance, consists of three characters stuck to their necks in large funeral urns, while the 1963 television drama Eh Joe—written for the actor Jack MacGowran—is animated by a camera that steadily closes in to a tight focus upon the face of the title character, and the 1972 play Not I consists almost solely of, in Beckett's words, 'a moving mouth with the rest of the stage in darkness'.[31] Many of these late plays, taking a cue from Krapp's Last Tape, were concerned to a great extent with memory, or more particularly, with the often forced recollection of haunting past events in a moment of stillness in the present. Moreover, as often as not these late plays dealt with the theme of the self confined and observed insofar as a voice either comes from outside into the protagonist's head, as in Eh Joe, or else the protagonist is silently commented upon by another character, as in Not I. Such themes also led to Beckett's most politically charged play, 1982's Catastrophe, dedicated to Václav Havel, which dealt relatively explicitly with the idea of dictatorship. After a long period of inactivity, Beckett's poetry experienced a revival during this period in the ultra-terse French poems of mirlitonnades, some as short as six words long. These defied Beckett's usual scrupulous concern to translate his work from its original into the other of his two languages; several writers, including Derek Mahon, have attempted translations, but no complete version of the sequence has been published in English.

Though Beckett's writing of prose during the late period was not so prolific as his writing of drama—as hinted at by the title of the 1976 collection of short prose texts entitled Fizzles, which was illustrated by American artist Jasper Johns—he did experience something of a renaissance in this regard beginning with the 1979 novella Company, and continuing on through 1982's Ill Seen Ill Said and 1984's Worstward Ho, later collected in Nohow On. In the prose medium of these three so-called '"closed space" stories',[32] Beckett continued his preoccupation with memory and its effect on the confined and observed self, as well as with the positioning of bodies in space, as the opening phrases of Company make clear:

A voice comes to one in the dark. Imagine.

To one on his back in the dark. This he can tell by the pressure on his hind parts and by how the dark changes when he shuts his eyes and again when he opens them again. Only a small part of what is said can be verified. As for example when he hears, You are on your back in the dark. Then he must acknowledge the truth of what is said.[33]

Beckett wrote his final work, the 1988 poem "What is the Word" (also known by its French name, Comment dire), in the hospital and nursing home where he spent his final days. The poem grapples with an inability to find words to express oneself—a theme echoing Beckett's earlier work, perhaps amplified by his sickness late in life.


Samuel Beckett depicted on an Irish commemorative coin celebrating the 100th Anniversary of his birth.

Of all the English-language modernists, Beckett's work represents the most sustained attack on the realist tradition. He, more than anyone else, opened up the possibility of drama and fiction that dispense with conventional plot and the unities of place and time in order to focus on essential components of the human condition. Writers like Václav Havel, John Banville, Aidan Higgins and Harold Pinter [34] have publicly stated their indebtedness to Beckett's example, but he has had a much wider influence on experimental writing since the 1950s, from the Beat generation to the happenings of the 1960s and beyond. In an Irish context, he has exerted great influence on poets such as John Banville, Derek Mahon, Thomas Kinsella, as well as writers like Trevor Joyce and Catherine Walsh who proclaim their adherence to the modernist tradition as an alternative to the dominant realist mainstream.

Many major 20th-century composers, including Luciano Berio, György Kurtág, Morton Feldman, Pascal Dusapin, Scott Fields, Philip Glass and Heinz Holliger, have created musical works based on his texts. Beckett's work was also an influence on many visual artists, including Bruce Nauman, Douglas Gordon, Alexander Arotin, and Avigdor Arikha; Arikha, in addition to being inspired by Beckett's literary world, also drew a number of portraits of Beckett and illustrated several of his works.

Beckett is one of the most widely discussed and highly prized of twentieth century authors, inspiring a critical industry to rival that which has sprung up around James Joyce. He has divided critical opinion. Some early philosophical critics, such as Sartre and Theodor Adorno, praised him, one for his revelation of absurdity, the other for his works' critical refusal of simplicities; others such as Georg Lukacs condemn for 'decadent' lack of realism.[35]

American critic Harold Bloom pays attention to his atheism of Anglican source, compared with James Joyce's, former Catholic. "Beckett and Joyce shared the aversion to Christianity in Ireland. The two chose Paris and atheism."[36]

Since Beckett's death, all rights for performance of his plays are handled by the Beckett estate, currently managed by Edward Beckett, the author's nephew. The estate has a controversial reputation for maintaining firm control over how Beckett's plays are performed and does not grant licences to productions that do not strictly adhere to the writer's stage directions. Historians interested in tracing Beckett's blood line were, in 2004, granted access to confirmed trace samples of his DNA to conduct molecular genealogical studies to facilitate precise lineage determination.

Some of the best known pictures of Beckett were taken by photographer John Minihan, who photographed him between 1980 and 1985 and developed such a good relationship with the writer that he became, in effect, his official photographer. Some consider one of these to be among the top three photographs of the 20th century.[37] However, it was the theatre photographer John Haynes[38] who took possibly the most widely reproduced image of Beckett: it is used on the cover of the Knowlson biography, for instance. This portrait was taken during rehearsals of the San Quentin Drama Workshop at the Royal Court Theatre in London, where Haynes photographed many productions of Beckett's work.

Selected bibliography

Dramatic works











  • Whoroscope (1930)
  • Echo's Bones and other Precipitates (1935)
  • Collected Poems in English (1961)
  • Collected Poems in English and French (1977)
  • What is the Word (1989)
  • Selected Poems 1930-1989 (2009)


  • Anna Livia Plurabelle (James Joyce, French translation by Beckett and others) (1931)
  • Negro: an Anthology (Nancy Cunard, editor) (1934)
  • Anthology of Mexican Poems (Octavio Paz, editor) (1958)
  • The Old Tune (Robert Pinget) (1963)
  • What Is Surrealism?: Selected Essays (André Breton) (various short pieces in the collection)


  1. ^ Fathoms from Anywhere - A Samuel Beckett Centenary Exhibition
  2. ^ Rónán McDonald, ed., The Cambridge Introduction to Samuel Beckett, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, pg. 17, via Google Books
  3. ^ The Nobel Prize in Literature 1969
  4. ^ Cronin, 3–4
  5. ^ Samuel Beckett - 1906-1989
  6. ^ On his mother's side, he was descended from the Roe family. Beckett's Athletics - paper by Steven O'Connor
  7. ^ Knowlson, 106
  8. ^ Collected Poems, 9
  9. ^ Beckett, Samuel. (1906 - 1989) - Literary Encyclopedia
  10. ^ Disjecta, 76
  11. ^ Israel Shenker, 'Moody Man of Letters', The New York Times, 5 May 1956; quoted in Cronin, 310
  12. ^ This character, she said, was so looed by apathia that he "finally did not even have the willpower to get out of bed". (Quoted in Gussow 1989.)
  13. ^ Knowlson, 261
  14. ^ Knowlson, 304–305
  15. ^ The Modern Word
  16. ^ Quoted in Knowlson, 303
  17. ^ a b Knowlson, 1997, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett, pp. 352–353.
  18. ^ Knowlson, 324
  19. ^ Knowlson, 342
  20. ^ Knowlson, 505
  21. ^ Happiest moment of the past half million: Beckett Biography -
  22. ^ More Pricks than Kicks, 9
  23. ^ Murphy, 1
  24. ^ Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1969.
  25. ^ Ackerley, C. J. and S. E. Gontarski, ed. The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett. New York: Grove Press, 2004.
  26. ^ Endgame, 18–19
  27. ^ The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett: A Reader's Guide to His Works, Life, and Thought, 586
  28. ^ Three Novels, 414
  29. ^ How It Is, 22
  30. ^ Knowlson, 501
  31. ^ Quoted in Knowlson, 522
  32. ^ Nohow On, vii
  33. ^ Nohow On, 3
  34. ^ Chequer, Brad. "Beginning to End - Ending to Begin - or, Some Brilliance and Bullshit on Samuel Beckett". The Cutting Ball. 
  35. ^ Adorno, Theodor W. Trying to Understand Endgame [1961], The New German Critique, no. 26, (Spring-Summer 1982) pp.119–150. In The Adorno Reader ed. Brian O'Connor. Blackwell Publishers. 2000
  36. ^ Bloom, Harold. El canon occidental (tr. to spanish The Western Canon). Barcelona, 2005. Ed. Anagrama. ISBN 84-339-6684-7. p. 509
  37. ^ 1998 edition of The Royal Academy Magazine, the "Image of the century"
  38. ^ Photographer John Haynes's website



Primary sources

Secondary sources


External links

Maurice Blanchot

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Maurice Blanchot
Full name Maurice Blanchot
Born 22 September 1907
Devrouze, France
Died 20 February 2003 (aged 95)
Le Mesnil-Saint-Denis, France
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Critical theory
Main interests Death · Literary criticism
Moral philosophy
Political philosophy
Philosophy of language
Notable ideas "Le neutre"Two kinds of death

Maurice Blanchot (September 22, 1907, Devrouze, Saône-et-Loire  – February 20, 2003) was a French writer, philosopher, and literary theorist. His work had a strong influence on later post-structuralist theorists such as Jacques Derrida.




Blanchot's work is not a coherent, all-encompassing 'theory', since it is a work founded on paradox and impossibility. The thread running through all his writing is the constant engagement with the 'question of literature', a simultaneous enactment and interrogation of the profoundly strange experience of writing. For Blanchot, 'literature begins at the moment when literature becomes a question' (Literature and the Right to Death).

Blanchot draws on the work of the symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé in formulating his conception of literary language as anti-realist and distinct from everyday experience. Literary language, as double negation, demands that we experience the absence masked by the word as absence; it exposes us to the exteriority of language, an experience akin to the impossibility of death. Blanchot engages with Heidegger on the question of the philosopher's death, showing how literature and death are both experienced as anonymous passivity. Unlike Heidegger, Blanchot rejects the possibility of an authentic response to death, because (to put it simply) he rejects the possibility of death, that is to say of the individual's experience of death, and thus rejects, in total, the possibility of understanding and "properly" engaging with it.

Blanchot also draws heavily from Franz Kafka, and his fictional work (like his theoretical work) is shot through with an engagement with Kafka's writing.

Blanchot's work was also strongly influenced by his friends Georges Bataille and Emmanuel Levinas. Blanchot's later work in particular is influenced by Levinasian ethics and the question of responsibility to the Other. On the other hand, Blanchot's own literary works, like the famous Thomas the Obscure, heavily influenced Levinas' and Bataille's ideas about the possibility that our vision of reality is blurred because of the use of words (thus making everything you perceive automatically as abstract as words are). This search for the 'real' reality is illustrated by the works of Paul Celan and Stéphane Mallarmé.

His best-known fictional works are Thomas the Obscure, an unsettlingly récit ("[récit] is not the narration of an event, but that event itself, the approach to that event, the place where that event is made to happen", M. Blanchot in The Song of the Sirens) about the experience of reading and loss; Death Sentence; Aminadab and The Most High about a bureaucrat in a totalitarian state. His central theoretical works are "Literature and the Right to Death" (in The Work of Fire and The Gaze of Orpheus), The Space of Literature, The Infinite Conversation, and The Writing of Disaster.

The main intellectual biography of Blanchot is by Christophe Bident: Maurice Blanchot, partenaire invisible.

Brief biography


Little was known until recently about much of Blanchot's life, and he long remained one of the most mysterious figures of contemporary literature.

Blanchot studied philosophy at the University of Strasbourg, where he became a close friend of the Lithuanian-born French phenomenologist, Emmanuel Levinas. He then embarked on a career as a political journalist in Paris. From 1932 to 1940 he was editor of the mainstream, conservative daily the "Journal des débats". Early in the 1930s he contributed to a series of radical nationalist magazines, while also serving as editor of the fiercely anti-German daily "Le rempart" in 1933 and as editor of Paul Lévy's anti-Nazi polemical weekly "Aux écoutes". In 1936 and 1937 he also contributed to the far right monthly "Combat" and to the nationalist-syndicalist daily "L'Insurgé", which eventually ceased publication - largely as a result of Blanchot's intervention - because of the anti-semitism of some of its collaborators. Charges that Blanchot himself was the author of anti-semitic texts in the 1930s have yet to be properly proven and rely for the most part on unfounded allegations. (On the contrary, Blanchot is the known author of a number of texts attacking anti-semitism.) There is no dispute that Blanchot was nevertheless the author of a series of violently polemical articles attacking the government of the day and its confidence in the politics of the League of Nations, and warned persistently against the threat to peace in Europe posed by Nazi Germany.

In December 1940, he met Georges Bataille, who had written strong anti-fascist articles in the thirties, and who would remain a close friend until his death in 1962. During the occupation of Paris, Blanchot worked in Paris. In order to support his family, he continued to work as a book reviewer for the Journal des débats from 1941 to 1944, writing for instance about such figures as Sartre and Camus, Bataille and Michaux, Mallarmé and Duras for a putatively Pétainist readership. In these reviews he laid the foundations for later French critical thinking, by examining the ambiguous rhetorical nature of language, and the irreducibility of writing to notions of truth or falsity. He refused the editorship of the collaborationist Nouvelle Revue Française, for which, as part of an elaborate ploy, he had been suggested by Jean Paulhan. He remained a bitter opponent of the fascist, anti-semitic novelist and journalist Robert Brasillach, who was the principal leader of the pro-Nazi collaborationist movement, and was active in the Resistance. In June 1944, Blanchot was almost executed by a Nazi firing squad (as is recounted in his text The Instant of My Death).


After the war Blanchot began working only as a novelist and literary critic. In 1947, Blanchot left Paris for the secluded village of Eze in the south of France, where he spent the next decade of his life. Like Sartre and other French intellectuals of the era, Blanchot avoided the academy as a means of livelihood, instead relying on his pen. Importantly, from 1953 to 1968, he published regularly in Nouvelle Revue Française. At the same time, he began a lifestyle of relative isolation, often not seeing close friends (like Levinas) for years, while continuing to write lengthy letters to them. Part of the reason for his self-imposed isolation (and only part of it - his isolation was closely connected to his writing and is often featured among his characters) was the fact that, for most of his life, Blanchot suffered from poor health.

Blanchot's political activities after the war shifted to the left. He is widely credited with being one of main authors of the important "Manifesto of the 121", named after the number of its signatories, who included Jean-Paul Sartre, Robert Antelme, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Duras, René Char, Henri Lefebvre, Alain Resnais, Simone Signoret and others, which supported the rights of conscripts to refuse the draft in Algeria. The manifesto was crucial to the intellectual response to the war.

In May 1968, Blanchot once again emerged from personal obscurity, in support of the student protests. It was his sole public appearance after the war. Yet for fifty years he remained a consistent champion of modern literature and its tradition in French letters. During the later years of his life, he repeatedly wrote against the intellectual attraction to fascism, and notably against Heidegger's post-war silence over the Holocaust.

Blanchot authored over the course of his career more than thirty works of fiction, literary criticism, and philosophy. Up to the 1970s, he worked continually in his writing to break the barriers between what are generally perceived as different "genres" or "tendencies", and much of his later work moves freely between narration and philosophical investigation.

In 1983, Blanchot published La Communauté inavouable (The Unavowable Community) in response to, and as a critical engagement with, The Inoperative Community, Jean-Luc Nancy's attempt to approach community in a non-religious, non-utilitarian and un-political exegesis.

He died on February 20, 2003 in Le Mesnil-Saint-Denis, Yvelines, France.

Principal works

Principally fiction or narrations (récits)

Principally theoretical or philosophical works

Many of Blanchot's translators into English have established their own reputations as prose stylists and poets in their own right; some of the better known include Lydia Davis, Paul Auster, and Pierre Joris.

Further reading

External links