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Sunday
Jul222012

Does cultural cognition explain the conflict between the analytic and continental schools of philosophy?

Andrew Seer poses this interesting question:

I am new to this type of academic literature so please forgive me if you have stated something similar to my question in one of your papers. My question concerns the topic of philosophy and Science viewed through the lens of Cultural Cognition.

 In contemporary philosophy there are two camps that are rivals. Analytic philosophy in one corner and Continental Philosophy in the other. This wiki page does a good job explaining the differences between the tow.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contemporary_philosophy. 

 So my question to you is this, could this bitter divide be do in part to some psychological element that could be explained by Cultural Cognition. Example, certain academics could have a world view that is more in favor of Social Criticism and thus more Continental in thought ( more likely to read Jacques Derrida or Slavoj Zizek for fun).

 Or lets take the other side of the coin there mindset is more in line with Analytical (more likely to read John Searle or Daniel Dennett for fun). Of course, this difference in mind set could be due to something that Cultural Cogitation could predict or explain. 

 I feel that if there is something to this, it could help academia open its eyes to possible biases that it could have. I know I have heard plenty of comments from people who study "Hard Sciences" on how the "Soft Sciences" are not real sciences. Or people who study "Soft Sciences" say that the "Hard Sciences" don't give a crap about the human condition. 

 Do you have any thoughts on this matter?

My response -- which I invite others to amend, extend, refine, repudiate, etc:

Short answer: No. Wait -- yes. Actually, no -- but the "no" part is less important than the "yes" part.

Longer answer:

A. I wouldn't be surprised if one could relate the appeal of analytic vs. continental philosophy to values of some kind in individuals who study philosophy. But there's no reason to expect that the nature of the predispositions and the instrument for measuring them would be at all like the ones that are featured in our theory, which was designed to explain a phenomenon that has nothing to do with that controversy. I bet Red Sox fans are more likely to perceive that Bucky Dent's 1978 homerun was actually foul than are Yankees fans. But I doubt that one could show that the cultural cognition worldivews predict any such thing. Compre They Saw a Game with They Saw a Protest.  

B.  In addition, the framework best suited for explaining/predicting the relative appeal of the two philosophies would likely involve cognitive mechanisms different from the ones that figure in studies of cultural cognition. In particular, the relationship between the values in question and the philosophical orientation might not involve motivated reasoning but rather some analytical (as it were) affinity between the corresponding sets of values and philosophical orientations. By analogy, "individualists" probably find the philosophy of Ayn Rand more persuasive than that of John Rawls; but that's likely b/c there is some overlap in the relevant normative judgments or empirical premises in the paired sets of values and philosophical positions.

C. Nonetheless, I wouldn't be surprised if one could show that commitments to one style or another of philosophy dispose individuals to biased processing of information relating to the value or correctness of that style; e.g., one might find that those who are drawn to analytic philosophy are more inclined to credit some proposition ("The moon is made of green cheese") if it is attributed, say, to Searle than Derrida. But that sort of finding would be more helpfully explained in terms of more general mechanisms of social psychology (ones relating, say, to "confirmation bias" or "in group preference") than cultural cognition, which itself can be understood as a special case of those, one distinguished by the contribution that the motivating dispositions it features is making to the operation of those dynamics.

Consider, again, "They Saw a Game," which, like cultural cognition, involves "motivated cognition" founded in "in group" allegiances, but which involves commitment to groups distinct from the ones that figure in cultural cognition.
 

Better yet, consider work that shows that *scientists* are vulnerable to one or another sort of bias -- including confirmation bias -- based on predispositions. Not cultural cogntion, although cultural cognition might involve some of the same mechanisms. E.g., Koehler, J.J. The Influence of Prior Beliefs on Scientific Judgments of Evidence Quality. Org. Behavior & Human Decision Processes 56, 28-55 (1993); or Wilson, T.D., DePaulo, B.M., Mook, D.G. & Klaaren, K.J. Scientists' Evaluations of Research. Psychol. Sci. 4, 322-325 (1993).

D. So if your goal is to test the hypothesis that debates in philosophy are being driven off course by cognitive biases motivated by precommitment to one or another style of philosophizing, the sorts of studies referred to in (C) -- along with the cultural cognition ones -- might supply nice templates or models of how to go about this. I suspect such a project would be very provocative and enlightening and would serve the end you mention of showing that the debate in philosophy has taken an unfortunate turn. I bet you could do the same w/ the debates on "what's a science" etc.  

The resulting work would be related to but wouldn't strictly speaking *involve* "cultural cognition" -- but that's okay. The goal is to learn things & not to score points one for one's pet theory. That's your point -- no? 

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Reader Comments (2)

I've had similar thoughts (and I'm not the only one) about the differences between scientists on kin selection (individualists) versus group selection (communitarians), with David Sloan Wilson trying a one-man expressive overdeterminism. I heard one evolutionary theorist proclaim in a Q&A that he had never had an altruistic impulse in his life, and for him that proved that altruism in humans is illusory :) I believe him in his self-report, but I don't accept it as proof of much beyond that.

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIsabel Penraeth

Isabel-- agree entirely that there is strong link between cultural/ideological styles & positions of scholars involved in debates about group vs. individ selection evolution. The link seems pretty straightforward in the "evolutionary psychology/anthropology" domain, but even in more conventional evolutionary biology there are pretty strong ideological/cultural dividing lines; Stephen J. Gould's theories (even when he wasn't trying to punch out E.O. Wilson) always seem to have a satisfying socialist/collectivist aftertaste!
The division in economics, of course, is very very very very much aligned w/ that one.
Cool point about the expressive overdetermination -- I'm eager to read linked materials!
--dmk 38

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

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