Continental vs. Analytic Philosophy (Chase and Reynolds)

“The term ‘continental…is taken to have pejorative overtones (and certainly has something of a pejorative origin); the term ‘analytic’ has been taken as self-commending.” (Analytic versus Continental, Chase and Reynolds 257 n.1) This is not surprising when one considers that “the term ‘continental philosophy’ was bestowed from without in much the same manner as the English idea of a ‘continental breakfast’” (8). And: “Analytic philosophers…generally self-identify as such (as do continental philosophers in Anglo-American countries)” (145).

I suspect that a great many people were previously unaware that the term “philosophy” can refer without notice to two very different practices and disciplines. (Actually three, if you consider study of the great names of the distant past—Plato, Kant, etc.—to be a different activity as well. This is really what the general public thinks of as philosophy.) Especially if you do not read primary philosophical works directly but still find it influencing your life, perhaps by applying philosophical concepts to your own field or reading popularizing works, you may not even have realized you were in one camp or the other, so great is the extent to which each side often simply ignores the other. To give you an idea of the depth of the divide: “A broad theme of the book is that there is a quasi-unity undergirding each tradition (even the ‘motley crew’ that is continental philosophy), in terms of the methodological norms each has adopted, which makes it difficult for those in each tradition to take seriously the work carried out in the other.” (6) And there is a “very real disdain…that many analytic philosophers feel for continental philosophy and that many continental philosophers feel for analytic philosophy… Academic philosophers, journals, conferences, publication series and even entire publishing houses very often live entirely within one or the other tradition… [P]hilosophers simply inhabit their own tradition without really attending to the other… The divide is…familiar wherever a confirmation theorist meets a constructivist, or a poststructuralist meets a positivist, in myriad debates about the significance of Michel Foucault’s work or the scope of covering law explanations… Arguably, the analytic-continental divide has underwritten methodological incomprehension and rejection between different camps in sociology, history, anthropology, literary theory, archaeology and many other fields.” (4) And especially relevant to the sort of misunderstandings that can attend to a term like “personal identity”: “Each tradition…harbours distinctly different attitudes as to what are the more significant philosophical issues and questions.” (7)

The authors also offer a guide to “indicia” of each tradition. Analytic: “united by a chain of causal influences across time (analyitcs read Russel, Carnap, Quite and so on), but also by various overlapping commitments to the linguistic turn, the rejection of metaphysics, the claim that philosophy is continuous with science, a reductive approach to analysis, the employment of formal logic, a focus on argument and a concern for clarity…the use of thought experiments, the direct appeal to intuition, the reliance of reflective equilibrium, the preparedness to use a range of naturalizing devices and so on.” Continental: “a wariness about aligning philosophical method with common sense; a ‘temporal turn’ that encompasses both ontological issues and an emphasis on the historical presuppositions of concepts and theoretical frameworks; an interest in thematizing intersubjectivity; an anti-representationalism about the mind; and investement in transcendental arguments and, more generally, transcendental reasoning; a concern with the relation between style and content; a critical and non-deferential (or transformative) attitude toward science; and an ‘anti-theoretical’ attitude to ethico-political matters.” To this I would add a few names that the average educated person might recognize from each tradition. Analytics include Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, Kuhn, John Rawls, Saul Kripke, John Searle, Robert Nozick, Peter Singer, Daniel Dennett and Michael Sandel, plus the philosophers I cite in this work. Continentals include Heidegger, Nietzsche, Sartre, Adorno, Marcuse, Simone de Beauvoir, Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, Judith Butler, and Slavoj Zizek. There is some crossover; for example, a lot of people who otherwise would identify with the continental will nonetheless likely know, for example, Peter Singer’s work. As the authors say, “[t]here are places (such as ethics and feminist philosophy, and perhaps some parts of the philosophy of mind) where the two traditions come closer and even perhaps sometimes overlap”. (3) So too with Kuhn, whose philosophy of science has been seen to support the continental “critical and non-deferential attitude toward science.”

Continental versus Analytic: Arguments on the Methods and Value of Philosophy, by James Chase and Jack Reynolds, Mcgill-Queen’s University Press (2010)

Published on October 18, 2016 at 6:42 am  Comments Off on Continental vs. Analytic Philosophy (Chase and Reynolds)  
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