...but in a world with lots of blogs run by people with varying levels of knowledge, sometimes stupidity finds an audience, and innocents need to be warned. The only thing that Babette Babich knows less about than the Continental traditions in post-Kantian European philosophy is what is going on in Anglophone "analytic" philosophy, but on neither topic is she an informed or reliable commentator. As one commenter correctly remarked:
I think you do the Continental Philosophy tradition a serious disservice by raising this (to my mind very important) topic in the context of a rant by Babich and one of her acolytes. She’s well known to try to discredit speakers at Continental Philosophy conferences by insulting them on Twitter (sometimes with the retort that they are secretly “Analytic”, and sometimes with more mundane insults). She’s barely taken seriously by Continental Philosophers anymore, except for a small die-hard crop of apologists who are thankfully diminishing in numbers fast.
And another patient commenter, Jonathan Mitchell, responds effectively on the "merits" of this intellectual muddle:
As someone who writes on Nietzsche I find much of what Babich has to say quite poorly motivated (for reasons I will explain below). But first I want to start by quoting Babich’s definition of ‘continental philosophy’:
The question the interviewer sets up is this:
“CC If, as I am suggesting, logical argumentation is at the heart of the analytic methods, can you express the essence of the continental practices in philosophy?”
“BB: Continental philosophy includes a historical sense, a sense of historical context which it does not name ‘the history of philosophy.’ If Heidegger writes about Anaximander he is not reflecting on philosophy’s history as if this were a thing once done, passé, whereas we now, today, do some other sort of thing when we ‘do’ philosophy. At the same time the continental tradition also emphasizes everything that has to do with context, with interpretation, as a difference that makes all the difference.”
For starters, there is no obvious reason why one can’t study philosophy with a ‘historical sense’, where this involves paying due attention to historical context, and at the same time be involved in ‘logical argumentation’, if by the later one is taken to mean providing reasons, arguments and evidence for the claims one makes (especially, but not least, claims of exegesis). The two would only seem mutually exclusive if one had an incredibly narrow understanding of what ‘logical argumentation’ amounted to (i.e. equivalent to applying the most abstract of formal logical methods which is not the trend in Nietzsche studies!).
The reality is that if one reads much of the secondary literature on Nietzsche (one of Babich’s supposed specialties) one usually finds one of two approaches, often in tandem. (1) Detailed attention to the texts, where this includes an important sense and understanding of historical content and (2) the relating of claims and ideas in those texts to contemporary issues (e.g., normative ethics, meta-ethics, etc). Now Babich most likely would have an objection to (2), and while I believe this to be an incredibly valuable and fruitful approach to the history of philosophy, we can just grant her that this is ‘anachronistic’ for the sake of argument, since the really important point is that it is in fact fallacious to claim that what she does is (1). Having read (or at least tried to read) her book on ‘Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Science’ one quickly finds out two things: that Babich does not think that one really needs to study or cite philosophy of science to pronounce on Nietzsche’s views on the philosophy of science, and that there is a striking lack of historical sense or attention to the historical context.
So what exactly is going on here? The following is my own pithy diagnosis. There are a number of philosophers, primarily influenced by reading a lot of post 1960’s French Philosophy (of which the worst is no doubt Deleuze et al), who want to be able to pronounce on figures in the history of philosophy without actually having to argue for, or defend, exegetical claims about them. Often these figures (whether it be Nietzsche or anybody else) serve as proxy-philosophers, providing a supposed historical authority, for an odd (and increasingly outdated) form of grandstanding. It, understandably, is irksome to them that their work is not cited as much as so called ‘analytic studies’, and the motivation for their desire to tribalistically carve up the profession is (as Nietzsche himself would have been quick to realize) fueled by ressentiment. In this context, it is telling that Brian Leiter, a figure who crops up in the interviews a number of times, is no doubt thought to be something of an exemplar of this so called ‘analytic coopting’ of continental philosophy. What Babich fails to note, since it would reveal the problematic nature of much of what she says (and her identification with her own definition of continental philosophy), is that Leiter’s 2002 book involved a whole chapter providing precisely the kind of historical context that is lacking in her study of Nietzsche (and indeed similar studies).