Thursday, March 03, 2005

The tedium of analytical philosophy

Richard Rorty has a nice piece on why analytical philosophy is so, er, hermetic. It's a wide-ranging article that mainly deals with how analytical philosophy became fascinated by such recondite issues, eschewing the traditional philosophical efforts to systematize and moralize.

But what struck me most about the article was a little aside near the end where Rorty points out that it's really too soon to tell what history will make of the analytical philosophical tradition. "Nobody in 1904," Rorty observes, "would have predicted that Frege and Nietzsche were the only two philosophers of the late 19th century whose writings would still be studied intensively in 2005."

This observation caused me to ask myself, What philosophers of the late twentieth century are our great-great-grandchildren most likely to still study? That is, which late twentieth century thinkers will readers a hundred years from now consider to as speaking to their own contemporary concerns. Unfortunately, answering this question requires speculating recklessly about what the primary philosophical concerns of the early twenty-second century will be. (In darker moods, I wonder whether anyone will read philosophy or anything else a hundred years from now.) But it's the kind of topic that's fun to think about anyway.

The two late twentieth century philosophers most widely discussed today are probably Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. But I wonder very much whether these two, especially Derrida, will still be considered interesting a century hence, except as historical figures. My guess is that in moral philosophy, John Rawls and Isaiah Berlin will still be read, maybe Peter Singer too (!). Thomas Kuhn will almost certainly still be read with profit. Among social philosophers it's much harder to guess, but one has to figure that Foucault's star can only wane. But who knows -- maybe history will recognize Peter Sloterdijk as the greatest philosopher of the late twentieth century.

We can at least hope so.

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