NO DEMARCATIONS: obscurantism is not a criterion

Some argue that since there is no “essence” to Continental Philosophy, it is a mistake to give any attention to those who try to set up a demarcation criterion between analytic and Continental traditions. This will to demarcation can only feed ideological discussions and impede philosophical progress that should be capable of a thought that simply ignores the distinction.

It is important to analyse the hype surrounding this distinction, which is often reduced to the willful obscurity of Continental philosophy as seen by analytics or the superficial logic games of Analytic philosophy as seen by Contientals. Different notions of obscurity and clarity are not just expressions of cultural differences but also of different ontologies. For example, clarity in a Deleuzian-style ontology (pluralist, diachronic, anti-essentialist) will not look like clarity in a more synchronic, monist ontology. Also, clarity in terms of sense is not the same as clarity in terms of signification.

The Continental style in philosophy, when it is not just hype, bluff or cultural conformism, explores one particular option in conceptual creation: using highly abstract conceptual vocabulary to name and elucidate the new concepts. The analytic solution is more hidden, in that it often prefers to re-affect ordinary words to convey the new concepts, but it finds itself constrained to give them a revised conceptual grammar. This second solution can give an impression of simplicity and clarity, masking an underlying complexity of thought.

In sum, what you gain on the vocabulary you lose on the grammar, and vice versa.

Nietzsche is a good case of Deleuze’s idea that we should be able to employ both styles, according to circumstances, making us “bilingual” in a single language. Nietzsche’s style creatively combines both clarity and obscurity in an evolving mixture, showing by example that this distinction is not a static either-or demarcation but a variable composition.

A bad case within Continental philosophy would be Laruelle, whose idiosyncratic use of highly abstract but relatively undefined terms creates a barrier to understanding, and an aura of  radicality and uniqueness that is undeserved.

On the analytic side a paradigmatic example would be Thomas Kuhn, whose clarity comes from a totally decontextualised conceptual vocabulary that allows him to present science as an autonomous practice of puzzle-solving. Nevertheless his vocabulary retained just enough connotative resonance to attract those interested in revolutionary change and those intent on setting up their discipline in terms of paradigmatic structure, all the while maintaining plausible deniability with respect to the radical and the conservative trends of interpretation.

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One Response to NO DEMARCATIONS: obscurantism is not a criterion

  1. landzek says:

    I wonder why what is so clear to me is obscure to so many others. And other stuff that is clear to me that is apparently presented to be so obscure.

    Like

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