About the project

While French or French-speaking authors (from Bergson to Levinas) have produced influential philosophical works all along the twentieth century, analytic philosophy has gradually imposed itself as the dominant paradigm on the international philosophical scene, to the point where French philosophy—and the wide range of ideas it continues to inspire—is often reduced to a local—if exemplary—expression of the “continental” mindset. There is no doubt that this situation has generated much mischaracterization on both sides, but rather than winding up the discussion in a Sokalian fashion by acknowledging a gap between two incommensurable frameworks, the correct conclusion to be drawn is that it is no longer possible to inherit contemporary French philosophy, to study and discuss it, and in the best case to add new chapters to its trend (in whatever language or context), without confronting and possibly challenging analytic views and debates.

This is a demanding task. It requires on the part of those working in the field of contemporary French philosophy and who have already familiarized themselves with various analytical schools, that they train a new generation of researchers—a generation which not only will have thorough knowledge and understanding of 20th century French philosophers, but will also be able to formulate their insights and support their cause in the new analytic context.

Beyond strategic justifications, it is clear that a comparative approach to French sources would foster a better understanding of the authors of the “continental” canon, while sharpening our intuition of what we consider to be their most important contribution to contemporary thought. As a matter of fact, the two traditions are not so entrenched as one may think. Bergson, who was famously criticized by Russell, discussed Einstein’s theory of relativity and read Schlick’s early works on the same issue; Wahl and Merleau-Ponty had exchanges with Ayer and Strawson; Derrida engaged in a rather harsh but stimulating polemic with Searle. Other combinations come to mind: Cavaillès/Carnap, Lyotard/Wittgenstein, Deleuze/Frege, Rorty/Foucault, Hacking/Foucault, Putnam/Levinas, etc. And it may de added that today, a lot of people, on each side of the ocean, are indeed working in a way that blurs the frontiers (in various ways): let us quote, among others, and without committing ourselves to any of them, Badiou, Brandom, Cavell, Descombes, McDowell and Petitot.

The ultimate goal of this proposal is to contribute to the education of a new generation of students and young researchers who will be able to combine in their work two cultures and traditions: French contemporary philosophy and analytic philosophy. The program is targeted at master students and junior researchers preparing their PhD or involved in postdoctoral research. It also concerns confirmed scholars on both sides who would like to intensify and consolidate transatlantic exchanges involving colleagues with a scientific background or previous training in both philosophical cultures. In order to offer the kind of complementary formation aimed by our “bicultural” project, we are planning the following actions. (These are of course only tentative proposals which need to be improved and corrected, as well as completed by new suggestions.)

1) Binational conferences and workshops (1 to 3 days) held in the US or in France, focusing on particular authors or specific topics from the perspective of both cultures. Projects of that kind are currently being developed: the SIREL is planning a conference about “Levinas and analytic philosophy”, and a conference about “Lyotard and language”. The latter will naturally meet analytic concerns, considering that Lyotard directly refers to Frege, Kripke and Wittgenstein. A one-day workshop on “Concept and intuition” is already scheduled for June 2012, as part of the seminar “Philosophie française et philosophie analytique au 20e siècle” organized by E. During, F. Fruteau and J.-M. Salanskis (IREPH research team, Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense — CIEPFC research center, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, http://www.ciepfc.fr/spip.php?article247). These conferences will more generally bear on a wide variety of aspects of contemporary philosophy, with a particular focus on topics intersecting analytic and French traditions in the domains of epistemology, philosophy of language, ethics or politics.

2) Summer schools (1 to 2 weeks) on topics relevant to the general aim of the program, but involving a more didactic approach. Examples: a) Summer school on moral analytic philosophy, including a comparative examination of authors such as Bergson, Jankélévitch, Ricœur and Levinas, who have dealt with moral issues; b) Interdisciplinary summer schools on the philosophy of mind, neuroscience and their relation to metaphysical or phenomenological inquiries into the mind-body problem from the French perspective (Bergson and Merleau-Ponty, among others, have addressed “cognitive” issues long before they were identified as such); c) Summer school on French historical epistemology (Bachelard, Koyré, Canguilhem…) and analytic epistemology (from the Vienna Circle to more recent post-analytic or pragmatist trends); d) Summer school on the philosophy of language, with special focus on contributions from authors like Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault or Lyotard.

3) Student and postdoc exchanges between collaborating institutions: students   will spend one academic semester in the US if they are French, or in France if they are American, in order to take courses on topics especially relevant for bridging the gap between the two traditions. Credit approval should be negotiated among partner institutions. Shorter visits (1 week to 3 months) will also be supported for students who would like to meet young researchers or confirmed scholars working on topics related to their own research projects or to attend the various academic events described in sections 1) and 2).

  • Publications and translations.
  • Website and video conferencing.

This proposal will build on the expertise of coordinators belonging to two institutions: the University of Paris Ouest – Nanterre on the French side and Purdue University on the American side. Two sister philosophical societies, SIREL (http://www.levinas-society.org/) and NALS (http://sirel-levinas.org/), sharing a common vision regarding the promotion of Levinas studies, will provide the backbone of the proposed project. NALS and SIREL have collaborated on a regular basis in the past five years. In 2010, the joint NALS-SIREL international conference “Readings of Difficult Freedom” organized in Toulouse, France, has been attended by more than 300 scholars coming from 41 different countries. Since 2007, a yearly “Special Raissa and Emmanuel Levinas Lecture”, sponsored by SIREL, is held during the NALS Annual Conference.


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