Photo of Dr Oliver Downing

Dr Oliver Downing

University Teacher Philosophy


The Analytic-Continental Divide

The majority of my philosophical research engages – on one level or another – with the analytic-Continental divide. As anyone with even a passing interest in philosophy will be well aware, contemporary academic philosophy is broadly demarcated and dominated by two distinct and antagonistic traditions: analytic and Continental. Clearly, there are many valuable philosophical approaches and perspectives which do not fit neatly into this divide, and one would certainly not to dismiss such approaches in characterising contemporary academic philosophy as such. Nonetheless, it’s clear that – to a large extent – the contemporary philosophical academy is dominated by the analytic-Continental divide and a certain form of tribalism which has formed around the divide. I am particularly interested in philosophical perspectives which apprehend the divide as meta-philosophical and sociological, rather than deriving from substantive philosophical differences, and seek to critique and destabilise the divide with a view to producing a symbiotic and more holistic philosophical discourse. The areas of philosophy with which I have engaged with a view towards attempting to construct a more inclusive philosophical discourse include: the philosophy of emotions (especially the philosophy of love); dialectical materialism (i.e., the underlying philosophical perspective of structural Marxism, Lacanian and Žižekian psychoanalysis and Badiouian set theoretical ontology, etc.); and process philosophy.

The Philosophy of Emotions, especially the Philosophy of Love

Within the sphere of the philosophy of emotions, I am principally interested in philosophical perspectives on love. In line with my interest in the analytic-Continental divide, my research on the philosophy of love has maintained an acute awareness of the segregated manner in which analytic and Continental philosophers have attempted to theorise love, and sought to demonstrate how a greater engagement between philosophers from both traditions would produce a much more cohesive and viable theory of love than has hitherto been produced by each tradition in isolation. In more precise terms, my research has identified a key set of aporia which pervade contemporary analytic philosophies of love, and has argued that these aporia derive from a widespread doxa of subjectivity as personal, autonomous and intentional agency which pervades analytic/Anglophone traditions of philosophy more generally. With a view to resolving these aporia, I have sought to demonstrate how a dialectical materialist ontology and theory of subjectivity – which draws upon the French traditions of Maoist and Althusserian Marxism, Lacanian and Žižekian psychoanalysis, and Badiouian set theoretical ontology – could stand as an alternative basis for a philosophy of love which would avoid many, if not all, of the recurrent problems at stake in the current analytic philosophical literature on love.

The Philosophy of Extreme Sports and Self-Harm

I maintain a nascent interest in philosophical perspectives on extreme sports – in particular, the potential theoretical relationship between extreme sports and self-harm. More precisely, I am interested in how clinical perspectives on self-harm have shifted from conceiving of self-harm as an unequivocally negative phenomenon towards acknowledging that it can perform a useful function for those who engage in it. I am specifically interested in how the significance that this shift in understanding of self-harm could have for the way in which we view a wide variety of ordinary human activities. For instance, under the percipient understanding of self-harm, extreme sports – such as ice swimming, Ironman triathlons, and ultramarathons, etc. – which could be understood as intentionally harming the body in a way which performs a similar psychological and/or affective function as self-harm per se. Going forward, I am interested in how examining such activities through the lens of the more percipient understanding of self-harm could dramatically realign our understanding of the relationship between self-harm and all manner of ordinary human activities, and how, as such, self-harm (broadly construed) could be understood to play a necessary and integral role in human subjectivity.

Research Collaborations

Richard Shield, Robert Booth

Project: ABC+

The ABC+ is a collaborative project which aims to identify and contribute to sub-fields within philosophy which have the potential to build bridges between the analytic and Continental traditions. ABC+ is envisaged as a distinct approach to contemporary philosophy which seeks to address the intersection of the two central traditions in Western academic philosophy as a matter of priority. ‘ABC+’ stands for ‘Analytic-Bridge-Continental +,’ and is a name which is multifaceted in its intention. In the first instance, the acronym ‘ABC’ demonstrates a respectful and equal recognition of both the analytic and Continental traditions with a view towards bridging them, and where the order of reference is dictated purely by alphabetical correspondence. That these letters are also the first three of the alphabet also alludes to the sense in which the ABC+ project is something which seeks to return philosophy back to basics, viz., to the idealized philosophical ethos which William Blattner describes as a spirit of ‘open-mindedness, the suspension of judgment until arguments and evidence have been considered, and hospitality towards those bearing alternative perspectives, ideas, and arguments,’ etc.
The inclusion of the ‘+’ symbol further underlines this commitment to a hospitable philosophical ethos: our adoption of this is in the spirit of LGBTQ+ which indicates an enthusiastic inclusion and acceptance of the plurality of categories which may not be currently recognized by the analytic-Continental topography. In this vein, ABC+ also seeks to include all areas of philosophy which may be excluded by the analytic-Continental dichotomy (for instance, feminist, Eastern, Marxist, phenomenological, existentialist, environmentalist and pragmatist, etc.) in a future pluralistic philosophy. Moreover, ABC+ seeks to challenge the underrepresentation of currently-marginalized demographics in the Western academic context in terms of race, gender, (dis-)ability, class, age and sexuality, and to ask how their underrepresentation may come to bear on the analytic-Continental divide and vice versa.
In a practical sense, though, the ‘+’ indicates our recognition that metaphilosophical musings on the analytic-Continental divide are insufficient, and that any bridge-building between the analytic and Continental traditions must be enacted primarily philosophically. In this sense, any progression requires the concept of ABC plus a particular area of philosophical inquiry.
The first part of this project focused on process philosophy as an area of philosophy which has remarkable potential to build bridges between the analytic and Continental traditions: in 2016, we held the ABC+ Process Philosophy conference at the University of Liverpool and collated a collection volume of essays on the topic which is due for publication in 2019. During the next several years, we plan to continue the project with ABC+ conferences and/or collected volumes on a variety of themes, such as: critical realism and emotions.