In many of his posts about the matter, Brian argues that there is no such thing as analytic philosophy. In large part, I agree. Most of what is said about the putative difference is from an historical, sociological, and philosophical perspective, sheer nonsense (if Shoemaker is an analytic philosopher, so is Husserl). But I do think there is some difference between two kinds of something (there’s a bold claim for you). Soames attempts to make this distinction when he writes that analytic philosophy is characterized by “an elevation of the goals of truth and knowledge over inspiration, moral uplift, and spiritual comfort”. I reject Soames’s categorization, because it makes it sound like the options are to seek truth and knowledge or to find religion. I would rather mark it as the quite different distinction between, on the one hand, philosophy that treats phenomena apart from their cultural and historical context, versus philosophy that looks at phenomena mainly through an anthropological lens.
Here is a passage from Walter Benjamin’s essay, “On Language as Such and the Language of Man”. It’s an early essay, written in 1916, and it is not one of Benjamin’s influential works. But it nicely illustrates the distinction I’m trying to make:
It is therefore the linguistic being of man to name things…Why name them? To whom does man communicate himself?...Before this question can be answered we must again inquire: how does man communicate himself? A profound distinction is to be made, a choice presented, in face of which an intrinsically false understanding of language is certain to give itself away…Anyone who believes that man communicates his mental being by names cannot also assume that it is his mental being that he communicates, for this does not happen through the names of things, that is, through the words by which he denotes a thing. And, equally, the advocate of such a view can only assume that man is communicating factual subject matter to other men, for that does happen through the word by which he denotes a thing. This view is the bourgeois conception of language, the invalidity and emptiness of which will become increasingly clear in what follows. It holds that the means of communication is the word, its object factual, its addressee a human being. The other conception of language, in contrast, knows no means, no object, and no addressee of communication. It means: in naming the mental being of man communicates itself to God.
The rest of the essay consists of Benjamin’s explanation of
the last line of the quote. Benjamin argues that the first two chapters of
Genesis are meditations on the creative power of language; in the second
chapter of Genesis, Adam provides THE name for each thing; he is not just
arbitrarily and conventionally linking up sounds with things (“The human word
is the name of things. Hence it is no longer conceivable, as the bourgeois view
of language maintains, that the word has an accidental relation to its object,
that it is a sign for things…agreed by some convention”). Benjamin is not silly
enough to think that names are essential to things (“…the rejection of
bourgeois by mystical linguistic theory equally rests on a misunderstanding.
For according to mystical theory the word is simply the essence of the thing.
That is incorrect, because the thing in itself has no word, being created from
God’s word…”). He is clear that humans encounter objects, classify them
according to their knowledge, and then give the objects names (only for God, or
Adam before the Fall, is naming a creative act). The problem with the bourgeois
picture of language is that it completely divorces naming from the creative
act, thereby severing its connection to a certain kind of mystical power, which
is reflected in our deepest myths.
So Benjamin isn’t at all confused about metaphysics or the problem of intentionality. He just finds no interest in the question of how, by the use of language, one person can communicate something about the world to another. What’s interesting to him is how language is represented in human mythology, and what that reveals to us about the cultural significance of our practice of naming. This kind of question is one that is not apt to be taken up by a philosopher in the analytic tradition. Someone in my tradition might say that the issues that interest Benjamin are questions of anthropology rather than philosophy. Someone in Benjamin’s tradition might say that the issues that interest me are bourgeois.