Expanding Philosophy By “Re-Appropriating the Slur that it Is to Be Called ‘Analytic'”


Anthony Booth, reader in philosophy at the University of Sussex, called his 2017 book Analytic Islamic Philosophy, yet he doesn’t think there is much to the division between analytic and Continental philosophy.

[Afraz Golnaz, untitled]

In an interview with Richard Marshall at 3:16am, he says:

Given the various historical ‘turns’ that ‘analytic’ philosophy has been through (such that it is now completely kosher and apparently not contradictory to talk about ‘analytic metaphysics’)I don’t think there’s anything left to the term ‘analytic’ than denoting adherence to the following very board norm: make your work understandable to others, via the use of accepted conventions for writing, such that its results can be assessed. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who is seriously working on a topic or a figure that is paradigmatically considered to be ‘continental’ (e.g. Sartre or Heidegger) who would reject that norm. They may abide by slightly different conventions for writing—they may put greater emphasis on historical scholarship, or to close reading—but they follow the conventions in order to be understood by peers and such that their work may fairly be assessed as scholarship. 

He notes that this minimalist understanding of analytic philosophy “may leave some fearing that analytic philosophy is colonising other traditions in a domineering way. Hence why being an ‘analytic Nietzschean’ is often used as a slur.” (For one version of this view, see this post.)

Why, then, give his book the title he did? He answers:

That the book is called Analytic Islamic Philosophy is a political statement. I am re-appropriating, and owning, the slur that it is to be called an ‘analytic’ so-and so.

I have found scholarship in Islamic philosophy to have hitherto been overly geared towards philology and textual exegesis. The gatekeepers to that sub-discipline have made it the case that one has to get into, and show the credentials of being capable of grasping, the minutiae of issues concerning translations, for example, in order to be allowed to have a voice. I think this is partly responsible then for the exclusion of Islamic philosophy from the curriculum in modern UK and US philosophy departments—philosophers, qua philosophers, are deemed not to be allowed to say anything about it. They are only allowed to speak about it qua historians or philologists. More importantly this attitude tacitly attributes to Islamic philosophy the idea that it contains nothing philosophically worthwhile. That it is merely an item of curious exotica, to be explored over a port at an oriental studies event. I’m afraid I find that attitude rather a racist one, and the term ‘analytic’ is meant to denote a departure from it.

My aim is to show respect to Islamic philosophy by treating it as something that can inform and transform my own tradition. ‘Analytic’ here then also denotes a methodological commitment in the history of philosophy—the giving of maximum hermeneutical priority to the principle of charity and of philosophical engagement with texts over poring over textual and historical details. That’s not to say that the latter aims are not valuable and necessary ones, just that the former trump them. 

The remainder of the interview is an informative discussion of ways Islamic philosophy speaks to issues of concern to contemporary analytic philosophers. Read the whole thing here.


Related: “Two Models for Expanding the Canon

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