A Theory of Divides

Barry Smith

Paper read at the conference:
Bridging the Analytic-Continental Divide,
Tel Aviv University, January 1999
Some would conceive philosophy as being divided into Analytic and Continental. This, as John Searle points out, is rather like conceiving America as being divided into Business and Kansas. Searle’s wise saying has not, as yet, received the theoretical attention it deserves. In both cases we have a certain domain, which is conceived as being divided into two parts, one defined in spatial terms, the other defined in terms of objects, practices or features widely spread through some spatial area.

What follows is a theory of such divides (a general, ontological theory of us and them, of here and there, of the Hegemonic Colonizing Self and the Indigenous Colonized Other). It begins with a simple mereotopological account of the sorts of divisions which are possible in the spatial domain, focusing especially on examples derived from geopolitics. It moves from there to investigate how this account would have to be extended to do justice in realist fashion to the ontology of divides in general, and concludes with a brief defense of the realist approach to large-scale social aggregates against deconstructionist criticisms.

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