Thursday, October 21, 2010

Frankfurt on analytic philosophy

My dissertation advisor sent me this quote from Harry Frankfurt. It's encouraging to read a philosopher of such stature reflecting the same confusions and frustrations that dog me every time I go to a philosophy conference...
I have tried to stay closely in touch with problems and with lines of thought that I can recognize and appreciate not only as a professional philosopher but also-- and particularly-- as a human being trying to cope in a modestly systematic manner with the ordinary difficulties of a thoughtful life. It is sometimes claimed that the analytic philosophy in which I was educated, and to whose ethos and canons of intellectual style I still endeavor more or less to adhere, possess certain new and especially powerful tools and techniques, which allegedly enable it to achieve an invaluable penetration and rigor but which inevitably also distance it from the uninitiated. I have no idea what these remarkable tools and techniques are supposed to be, and I am pretty sure that I do not possess them.

It is true that serious work on the problems of human life and thought, although it begins in common sense, must necessarily enter into painstakingly detailed investigations of a variety of unfamiliar puzzles and complexities. The results of these investigations could not be easy to comprehend unless they were shallow; and how would that be worthwhile? On the other hand, the results do not have to be arcane; and I cannot imagine what special tools and techniques they might be thought to require. Surely one need not have been trained in a very distinctive philosophical tradition or skill in order to be able to think clearly, to reason carefully, and to keep one's eye on the ball.