Thursday, May 5, 2011

French Philosophy Stood on Its Head

Via Bernard Girard, I learn of the appointment of Claudine Tiercelin to replace Jacques Bouveresse in the philosophy chair at the Collège de France. Tiercelin is a student of American pragmatism, with books on C. S. Peirce and Hilary Putnam. Bernard reports that Tiercelin has been interviewed by Mediapart, to which I am not a subscriber, but he reproduces enough of the interview to give the flavor, and quite a savory flavor it is. A sample:

Cela commence par un hommage appuyé à son prédecesseur : “je fais d’abord suite à Jacques Bouveresse que je tiens, sans aucune espèce de nuance, pour le plus grand philosophe français des cinquante dernières années.” Exit les Derrida, Badiou, Deleuze, Foucault et autres Jean-Luc Marion! Elle continue en s’étonnant que jamais l’on ne cite Jules Vuillemin, Gilles Gaston Granger, Emile Meyerson, Jacques Herbrand, Jean Nicod ou Jean Largeault. “Je suis, ajoute-t-elle, toujours abasourdie, quand j’entends aujourd’hui parler de philosophie «française», de devoir constater que personne ne juge indécent de ne pas simplement «évoquer» ces très grands noms à cette occasion.” Exit Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas et tous les heidegeriens. Quant à ceux qui se piquent d’éthique, elle leur réserve une de ses meilleures piques : “Je crois vraiment qu’il faut se méfier comme de la peste de «l’éthique» quand elle est devenue, comme c’est apparemment le cas pour certains philosophes, un véritable fonds de commerce. Mais comme disait Peirce, pour déverser la philosophie à la louche, il y a toujours eu des marchands de soupe à tous les coins de rue.

This could be fun. Of course I note that Bouveresse held similar views as to the wrong turn taken long ago by "French philosophy" (à bas le Heidegger français!), without noticeable effect on le grand public. But Mme Tiercelin seems to have a taste--nay, a zest--for polemic, which may rouse some philosophers from their dogmatic slumbers.

Many of her papers are available here.


Kirk said...

Hey, maybe they'll discover William James. That'd be great.

Steven Rendall said...

Or John Dewey. --Thanks for bringing this to our attention. As an old philosophy major and a sympathizer with American pragmatism, I'm very glad to see that this line of thought is finally getting some genuine recognition in France. I remember studying at Lille in 1961-62, where all my professors knew about was Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger, and all I knew about was Hume, Kant, and the pragmatists.

AlexB said...

Just to add another anecdote...

I studied philosophy at Paris Pantheon-Sorbonne 1 in 2006-7. My abiding memories are of more openness to analytical philosophy than continental philosophy.

Although there was of course a Hegel study group, there was also a Wittgenstein study group.

The star lecturer was Jocelyn Benoist, who spent an entire semester on J L Austin's How To Do Things with Words (the previous semester having been spent tracing speech act theory's precedents, from Aristotle to Bolzano to Frege and Russell).

Charles Travis, the Wittgenstein scholar, was invited to give an important guest lecture series on the Late Wittgenstein's continuity with regards to the early Wittgenstein and Frege ("7 leçons sur les Recherches Philosophiques de Wittgenstein").

In political theory, Jean-Fabien Spitz gave a year's set of classes (packed attendance) in straight-forwardly analytical theory, centering on Rawls, Dworkin, and Sandel.

Pierre-Yves Quiviger's philosophy of law course ended its narrative with Alasdair MacIntyre and Dworkin (although it did pass through Carl Schmitt).

Of course, I do not know whether this is representative of the other "facs" in France, but Paris 1 is an important educational institution, and I heard very little mention of any of the Continental bogeymen.

AlexB said...

I should add... when French philosophers speak of "French Theory", they use the English term, saying something like "le French Theory". To me this is partial evidence that the whole concept (at least, its perceived dominance in France) is in fact an English-speaking world creation.

I suppose the French philosophers who make it across the Atlantic are those who are most different from the US's "home-grown" philosophy. Those who admire and study American philosophy don't get brand recognition in the US, and anyway would perhaps duplicate what American scholars do very well already. But that doesn't mean they do not exist.

My impression of the French philosophical education in general is that it is mostly Greeks and early moderns. Sartre, for example, is taught in Literature classes, rather than Philosophy.

(I've perhaps been overstating my case, but there certainly is a case to be made; I'm sure the truth is in between the two.)