I have been in Madrid, Spain for nearly a week now. From this stay I have made some generalizations, of which the philosophy related ones I´d like to share here. Notions of what Philosophy “is” are different in Spain, and perhaps this applies to all of continental Europe as well. Here, the Philosopher is closer to what I would consider, back in the States, an anthropologist, sociologist, literary theorist, or even amateur psychologist. Back home, Quine is the standard, here it is Foucault. Get into a conversation about Philosophy with an English speaking native and you´ll be likely discussing literary theory, capitalist oppression, or the recent unfolding of history. Here, Philosophy of Langauge, of Mind, of Science, of Mathematics, of Logic, and non-political ethics simply are nowhere to be found. Unfortunate.
However, the average Spaniard is more likely to have heard of Nietzsche, Benjamin, Heidegger, Foucault, and Adorno. The Spanish teach their children the virtues of art much more than Americans do and it is usually through discussions of art that people here hear of the said philosophers. In Spain, philosophers are better respected than they are in the States. There is a respect of the willingness to spend so much time reading, thinking, discussing and writing. No burger flipping jokes here. The philosopher is held in high regard, he is a public intellectual.
I´ll close with this photo that I took today from an exhibit called “Atlas” at the Museo Reina Sofía. Those are the type of bar room conversations I have gotten into, even at the English pub.