Types of Philosophy: A Serioues Jest?
Type 1So, there you have it – the secret to understanding philosophy is out of the bag! I expect comments from British folks aimed at trying to tighten up my arguments by putting them into syllogistic form, from Americans trying to get me to explain why this typology matters in concrete terms, from Germans presenting alternate typologies, and from the French explaining to me why language is too full of slippage for this sort of typology to be helpful. ;-)
The British are, by history and – perhaps – by natural inclination (whatever that means), mercantile in orientation. Thus, their philosophy bears a striking resemblance to accounting: ledgers must be balanced, sums figured, and columns put neatly in order. There is a place for everything, and everything ought to be in its place. They have given us analytic philosophy.
Americans are the great achievers. They build large bridges and buildings, and sometimes it seems that they (alright, “we”) do it just for the fun of it. Scratch that, I know we sometimes do it just for the fun of it: exhibit A, Las Vegas! In any case, what matters here is weight supported, office space provided, and financial return garnered. Our philosophical gift to the world is pragmatism.
Crossing the pond once again, we return to Europe and cast our eye across Germany. The Germans are, paradoxically, great poets and scientists. As poets they are fascinated by stories, mythologies, and big, sweeping ideas; as scientists, they tend to work out these mythologies and ideas in a very comprehensive and precise way. In essence, their poetic side dreams up ways to explain the world, and their scientific side goes to work making those ideas make sense. Quintessential German philosophy is speculative idealism.
Finally, the French. Ah, the French! France is the land of sommeliers and chefs. They enjoy producing and consuming the finer things in life in a relaxed, convivial environment. Given that environment, they tend to be in great moods when they philosophize, and seldom alone. French philosophy is characterized by two thinkers sitting in a Paris café with lattes and cigarettes, bandying about big ideas in an effort to pull one over on their companion. Conversely, it is an exercise in dismantling these big ideas. Thus, the French have given us structuralism and deconstruction.