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The distinction between intimacy and integrity seems to me likely the most enduring of the perennial questions. Thomas Kasulis coined it as a way of understanding the difference between modern Japan and the modern US. But I have noted that the same distinction seems to map well onto the distinction between supposedly masculine and feminine spheres of value – and also between ancient Indian and ancient Chinese thought. And beyond all that, I think it also helps us understand the most longstanding divide in the practice of philosophy in the 20th- and 21st-century West: the divide between analytic and continental philosophy.

Let us return to my most extensive reflection on the distinction to date. I noted that what really sets analytic philosophy apart from “continental” is a different assessment of what counts as good philosophy, as doing philosophy well. For analytic philosophers (Michael Sandel was my example, what matters is rigour of argument: a clear thesis, defences against potential objections, and most importantly transitions from premises to conclusion that would be valid in the terms of formal logic. For continental philosophers (like Jay Harris), what matters is depth of interpretation: understanding the philosophers one is reading, in terms of not just their stated positions and their explicit arguments for those positions but their unstated assumptions, placed in the context of the differing worldviews that give rise to their ideas.

Now let us examine the way Kasulis describes the epistemologies of integrity and intimacy. Arguments expressed in integrity terms are independent of the language in which they are expressed; what natural language expresses can be best expressed in terms of formal logic. For the relationship between person and language is external – and statements are true or false independently of both their language and who uttered them. (Intimacy or Integrity page 76) So to make (non-empirical) claims well, what we’re going to want is a logical argument whose formal structure is clear and transparent, articulated in a clear way that aspires to be independent of cultural background and worldview – the ideal, in short, of analytic philosophy.

By contrast, “within a context of intimacy the knower recognizes that one’s concepts and words were acquired through communal praxis.” (83) The fundamental unit of knowledge is not the statement or proposition, for knowledge on the intimacy model is often “dark” and unstated – Kasulis uses the example of a football player who knew exactly what to do in the game but, in a postgame interview, could say nothing of substance about how he knew or how he did it. (45-51) To understand is not to learn a set of logical relations between sentences or even external objects, but to create a relation between oneself and those from whom one is trying to learn. And this is what we find in “continental” philosophy. Those who practise philosophy in this way typically write their articles and dissertations on people rather than topics: ask a philosophy graduate student what her dissertation is on, and an analytic will usually say something like “I’m writing on meta-ethics”, where a continental would say “I’m writing on Habermas”. The point of continental philosophy is to understand not statements and arguments but people and worldviews. Hans-Georg Gadamer, whose work is greatly admired by “continental” philosophers and found befuddling by analytics, speaks of the ideal understanding as a “fusion of horizons” – it would be hard to imagine a phrase corresponding more closely to Kasulis’s intimacy ideal.

So it seems to me that the division of contemporary academic philosophy into analytic and continental philosophy is not merely an accidental eccentricity produced by the peculiarities of 20th-century Europeans. Rather, it reflects a deeper and more enduring division between human worldviews, one reflected in other times and places outside the West as well. Many people understandably try to wish the gap between traditions away: “let’s not bother with labelling thinkers as one or the other and just do philosophy!” But I would argue that a deeper understanding of the two shows that their differences cannot simply be ignored. They must instead be transcended, superseded.

Two closely related questions follow on the above: If this distinction is indeed as enduring in human thought as I’m tempted to think it is, why is it so enduring – why does it keep reproducing itself in unrelated places? And if it is so enduring, how could one possibly transcend or supersede it? They are very good questions. I don’t think I have answers to them yet. I’m looking.