A classic joke from 1929 about the difference between French, German and English philosophy runs as follows:
A Frenchman, an Englishman, and a German each undertook a study of the camel.
The Frenchman went to the zoo, spent half an hour there, questioned the staff, threw bread to the camel, poked it with the front of his umbrella, and, upon returning home, wrote an essay for the papers, full of sharp and witty observations.
The Englishman, taking his tea basket and a good deal of camping equipment, went to set up camp in the Orient, returning after a sojourn of two or three years with a fat volume full of raw, disorganized, and inconclusive facts which nevertheless had real documentary value.
As for the German, he was filled with disdain for the Frenchman’s frivolity and the Englishman’s lack of metaphysical ideas, and so he locked himself in his room, and there he drafted a multi-volume work entitled: The Idea of the Camel Derived from the Concept of the Ego.
Now, in MBTI and Jungian terms, can you guess which nationality corresponds to which type?
– The Frenchman‘s approach – the short, sharp and witty article, which had taken no more than an afternoon to research and write – corresponds to Extroverted Intuition, or Ne. The two types which use Ne the most are ENTP and ENFP. This is the approach of Michel Foucault, Gilles DeLeuze, Fernand Braudel, Luc Ferry and others.
– The Englishman‘s approach – spending several years in the field, compiling scores of raw data and then publishing it in a large bulky volume – corresponds to Introverted Sensation, or Si. The two types which use Si the most are ISTJ and ISFJ. However, with respect to demographics, ISxJs rarely become philosophers. The basis of the English method instead appears to have been formed by INTP types, who are often philosophically inclined and who also use Si. The “English Method” appears in the works of Charles Darwin and Adam Smith. (Darwin actually wrote a two-volume work full of disorganized details about acorn barnacles.)
– The German method – shielding yourself off from the world in order to see the psychological and metaphysical factors behind our immediate experience of reality – corresponds to Introverted Intuition, or Ni. The two types which use Ni the most are INTJ and INFJ. This is the approach of Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, G.W.F. Hegel, Ludwig Wittgenstein, C.G. Jung and others. – That is why Marx said that even though he admired Darwin’s findings, his work was “enveloped in the crude English method.”
To give you an immediate example of the contrast, it has often been said that Nietzsche and Darwin delved into the same philosophical problems, but that each did so using his own method.
For many years, the German method was valued at a premium and considered the true approach to philosophy. However, in the 20th century, as the sciences become able to explain more and more of the domains of philosophy, the philosophies of Marx, Nietzsche, Hegel and the rest began to fall apart: The great speculative approach simply could not withstand the onslaught of incoming facts. As such, Thomas Hobbes spoke for many INxJs when he said that “all generous minds have a horror of what are commonly called ‘Facts.’ They are the brute beasts of the intellectual domain.” – On the sidelines, the works of Karl Popper helped finish them off, as he pointed out that the works of Marx, Hegel and others could never be proven or dis-proven, and as such they held little real value for our understanding of reality.
The 20th-century demise of the German method then paved the way for the primacy of the French method (1960-2000): Here the so-called postmodern Frenchmen arrived at the scene to say that while we cannot place our trust in the great German systems, nor can we place our trust in science. Thus, postmodern philosophers like Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze and others positioned themselves as a sort of middlemen who would pick and choose tidbits of scientific facts and tidbits from the remnants of the German systems and synthesize these into a branch of critical postmodern philosophy. However, being critical of everything leads to a sort of anti-philosophy, or nihilism, and so postmodern philosophy mostly ended up claiming that we cannot know anything for sure.
Since 2000, however, the postmodern vision has been increasingly discredited, and as A.C. Grayling said, a lot of the future progress in philosophy now depends upon the future progress of the natural sciences. In later years, a lot of English and American-born ENTPs have actually taken it upon themselves to take the “raw, disorganized, and inconclusive facts which nevertheless have real documentary value” produced by the English method and to relay them to the public in accessible books on popular science. While these books present themselves as science books, they actually contain a great deal of speculation, and so they are still in some sense philosophy books. These are the books of Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley, to name but a few.
So does this mean that the days of philosophy are coming to an end? Hardly. Though philosophy can be said to have become less and less important in the course of the last 50 years, and though politicians are cutting back on philosophy grants, there will always be fields which are open for speculation by those who adopt the life of the scholar: At the time of Heraclitus and Parmenides, a prime question of philosophy was whether the world was round or not, or whether it was all made out of some single substance. Since then more and more fields of study have left the domain of philosophy and entered the domain of science. But as our scientific knowledge grows, new questions open up, giving us new philosophical disciplines like Evolutionary Psychology, the Philosophy of Quantum Physics, and so on.