Analytical – Continental Divide

Ok, this is something that has been bothering me for a while. What is with the analytical/continental divide in modern philosophy? It is getting out of hand, if you subscribe to a-phil mailing list you will know what I mean.

From my limited understanding of this issue it stems back to 1943 and Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy publication. Where in he is rather dismissive of continental philosophers and philosophy, saying something along the lines of they don’t practice “real” philosophy. Come on, lets look at this in context, 1943, Hitler rampaging through Europe, of course Russell is going to be dismissive, he bundled all Europeans into one boat and cast them asunder.

Really in my head it is all very petty. To misquote Shrek, “Come on now, can’t we all get along over a pint?”

Philosophy is philosophy regardless of which particular field you are researching/working in, as a relative newcomer to philosophy (in an official context) I find this whole issue rather perplexing. After all analytical philosophy has the same roots as continental. They are both philosophy. What is the problem? We are all supposed to be grown ups with open minds, yet this divide shows that a lot of philosophers are the elitist snobs the general public think they are.

My two cents worth… as a student of philosophy – not analytical, not continental, just plain old philosophy!



18 Responses to “Analytical – Continental Divide”

  1. 2 Nathan July 19, 2007 at 12:28 am

    Philosophy is philosophy I agree, though would you say that there is a difference between the outcomes of these philosophies?

  2. 3 Waz July 19, 2007 at 7:46 am

    Well technically there shouldn’t be… they are both a search for wisdom. Particular fields will of course search for different wisdom, but it is still wisdom!

    The real point that I am trying to make is along the lines that analytical philosophers are shunning/ignoring continental philosophers. At the recent AAP conference, a continental philosopher was presenting a rather esoteric paper about aesthetics and air (or something like that) and he was scheduled at 9am against a (as described in the emails) heavyweight analytical philosopher (name unknown). The continental philosopher did not have one person attend his paper, numerous reasons have been put forward for this, but the when I say no one, I mean no one, not even the chair of the session turned up! The chair was over at the heavyweight session! There are lots more examples but this one will do for now, if you need further clarification I will have to paraphrase all the emails (copyright and all that)


  3. 4 Simon July 19, 2007 at 9:19 am

    I went to the conference Waz and have been reading all the emails over the last few days; I think that the analytic/continental problem is a secondary concern, for that particular conference anyway. It was just badly organised. When you have a program that schedules six people against one another, at odd times, and with, in some cases, poorly written/published abstracts or outlines problems like this are bound to occur.

    I’d differ with you and Nath, too, over Philosophy just being Philosophy. If we judged this issue from a deontological perspective, say, then the qualities and virtues of all philosophy would need to be identical for philosophy to be philosophy. I don’t think that I need to proffer examples here to illustrate my point. Likewise, if we take a consequentialist perspective then the outcomes would need to be the same, or perhaps have the same goal; a point that Nathan mentions above.

    I don’t even think that the differing classical philosophies had the same goal in mind, unless we demand a literal reading of the term, let alone philosophies from other area of the globe. It is of little doubt that Plato’s ‘Republic’ and Kautilya’s ‘Arthasastra’, while both, certainly, are to be considered philosophical, argue based upon differing values or virtues and with different consequences in mind.

    If all philosophy is philosophy then how shall we define philosophy, for ‘love of knowledge’, at least in today’s society, doesn’t seem to be applicable; and, were we to undertake a sociological study of the philosophies, for example, then would we be able to include non-European ideas, for they, no doubt, have differing values, virtues, and consequences present.


  4. 5 waz July 19, 2007 at 9:40 am

    woo hoo… this is great so far… 🙂

    While each field of philosophy has a different focus, what is common is they are all trying to explain the world we live in. What I am thinking is that we can ALL learn from the other fields, NOT just from our specialization/interest.

    I wouldn’t count my self as a continental philosopher, but attending the MSCP winter school opened my eyes to other ways of looking things. I am saying we need to keep open minds to what other people are saying. In this day and age, why should we stay within a particular area, using your example Simon, Plato, Aristotle and others read more than just what they wrote and they wrote on a number of subjects. (can’t comment on the eastern philosophers as I haven’t got that far yet 😉 )

    One thing I will say from a personal point though is:

    What has this to do with philosophy? –>

    2) V (SK that p) > V(SBT that P)
    But because reliabilists just define knowledge as (SB R,T that p), we derive:
    (3) V (SK that p) > V (SB R,T that p). Therefore:
    (4) SK that p  df. SB R,T that p

    this means absolutely nothing to me…. it is a mathematical formula, I can’t read it, I can’t attribute meaning to it, it is just a formula!

    Philosophy for me is about theories and the search for meaning/wisdom/etc not proving that someones argument is not valid because the mathematical symbols used in logic make it so! Philosophy should be about discourse, talking, writing, exchanging words, not symbols!


  5. 6 Simon July 19, 2007 at 10:50 am

    Why can’t symbols be part of the discourse Waz? They can help with explaining abstract phenomena and, certainly, to decrease the verbosity of some arguments. I may not know what V represents in a given formal logic argument until I’m provided an explanation, however, I don’t know what tree means until I’m given a similar explanation. Further, the V could represent the concept tree, for example, which may be the same throughout various possible worlds even though the actual object tree is different throughout these worlds. The V may not be necessary for the concept tree but it is sufficient.

    I’m not so sure that philosophy must be defined by saying that it attempts to explain the world we live in, there are many other fields of academia and other careers such as science that attempt to do this too. I’m not too sure that we should limit philosophy temporally or spatially like this, certainly it is concerned with explanation, but I don’t think that philosophy necessarily needs a ‘this world’ or ‘this time’ clause attached to it; I think that this is what separates philosophy from other means of inquiry.

  6. 7 manwithoutqualities July 19, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Philosophy (of mind) as practised under the aegis of cognitive science, has long since dissolved the analytical/Continental divide. Chalmers is now as easily invoked as Heidegger, the latter being paradigmatic of what folks disparagingly call Continental philosophy. The real problem lies in environments where philosophies are uncritically assimilated. It thus become ideological and takes on a self-serving obscurity, posing as profundity.


  7. 8 manwithoutqualities July 19, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    Following on from Simon, I posted a comment on “what is philosophy” a few weeks ago:


  8. 9 waz July 20, 2007 at 9:07 am

    I pretty much agree with you about philosophy of mind, manwithoutqualities, the field is a great example of what philosophy should/could be. An area where no-ones theories are discounted because they come from the “wrong” side of the tracks/ocean/divide. In fact the area of philosophy of mind also crosses over into non-philosophical fields in its search for answers.

    It is a shining example for the rest of philosophy to strive for. hehe.

    Simon – exactly what you said. the symbols mean nothing without the explanation, so why have them? The writers should learn how to write, how to express their ideas in words, if they can’t then maybe pictures. Formulas like the examples belong in mathematics. Oh, and I like verbosity, I would much rather read 1000 words than a single line of symbols.

    You will have to explain your explanation of philosophy there Simon, what is the point of trying to explain a world that is not ours, a world that may or may not exist? I do understand the twin earth argument, that makes sense. But to extend it much further, into say a philosophy of Mars or Jupiter, well that is just silly! Who really cares if the other worlds are different, what we want to know about is our world!

  9. 10 Simon July 21, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    The world need not necessarily be ours Waz. The world need only be conceptually possible; not what philosophy would be like on Mars but more like: if on world A tree (t) =c and on world B, where the inhabitants speak the same language as those on world A, t=d then is t c or d if both a and b exist at the same temporal locations? Very basic outline, I know, but it serves the point. Thought exercises like these help us to understand the nature of reality in ‘our world’; why is t necessarily c?

    I’ll have to disagree with you Waz about using symbols in Philosophy. Maybe if I’m speaking about a concept that is existentially apparent, a priori, then symbols may be limited but when using a posteriori theses, abstract reasoning, and conceptual realities etc. then symbols, while possibly not necessary to prove a point, make doing so exponentially easier.

    Further Waz, what if symbols a -> n each refer to a thesis that is 1000 words long, should each thesis be explained in full? If these theses are to be used numerous times in a single argument then is it desirable to explain each thesis in full each time it is referred to?

    Don’t just take my word for it though Waz, have a look at Nobel Prize laureate Lord Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica from 1910, a landmark in the history of symbolic logic. I don’t know about you Waz but I’m certain that I’d never win a debate with Russell.

  10. 11 Nathan July 21, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Simon, there are a few problems as I see it (the first part of your last post).

    The world may not necessarily need to be [‘]ours[‘], as you suggest, however, it [the ‘world’] is the one we exist in. Any conception of a possible world is an idealism, not a ‘real’ (loosely defined) world. What does it matter if t=c in A and t=d in B in the same temporal location? It only emphasizes an idealism!

    Also, you argue that there is an intrinsic ‘nature’ to a reality that is knowable? Is ‘our world’ ideal? Any such postulation only minimizes phenomena of hiersein [to here-be; being-here].

  11. 12 Simon July 21, 2007 at 9:00 pm

    Idealism it may be but one of the fundamental illustrations of possible worlds is that they highlight how idealistic ‘our’ world, at least our conceptions of it, actually is.

    Is it the case that we assume we have no relationship, however tentative, with possible worlds as they are, or may be, only conceptually possible? Should we, therefore, conclude that our ‘knowledge’ be based upon phenomena that are only actually possible?

    Can you elaborate on your last comment a little Nath? How do you suppose, from what I’ve written above, that I assume reality is intrinsically knowable, or otherwise? I think you know where I stand on this, and my feelings about hiersein too, but I’m not sure I drew such a strong conclusion above.

  12. 13 Nathan July 21, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    Whether we find that ‘our’ world is very idealistic or not, depending on an idealism of possible worlds, can’t we infer from this an objectivity in Idealism? If so, is this ideal, objective ‘reality’ an ultimate ‘reality’? If so, then can we further postulate as to whom this ‘reality’ is ultimately ‘ideal’ for? You, me, everyone?

    I can’t say for absolute certainty whether or not we have no relationship with possible worlds as they are, or maybe, however possible, though, I will suggest that it is my opinion that we can only comport ourselves as hiersein within the world we find ourselves; our ‘knowledge’, therefore, ought only be based on phenomena that is disclosed to us [upon being-here in the world].

    As far as concluding you argue that there is an intrinsic ‘nature’ to a reality that is knowable, (however strong (or weak) conclusion you may have drawn), I can only answer that it is my interpretation of your argument: “Thought exercises like these help us to understand the nature of reality in ‘our world’”.

  13. 14 Simon July 22, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    “Thought exercises like these help us to understand the nature of reality in ‘our world’” need not mean that the reality in question is knowable, these exercises can be used equally to show how reality may not be knowable. Like your hiersein and knowledge that is disclosed to us, why is disclosure so important, and how, precisely, must this disclosure take place? There may be a lot the we, as humans, are cognitively closed to, should we settle for not attempting to explore this?

  14. 15 Nathan July 22, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    We can only understand what is not knowable within a context of understanding of what is knowable. Disclosure, then, takes place as hiersein and as disclosure takes place as hiersein, we are unable to escape exploration. Exploration is a conscious faculty and a faculty of conscious hiersein.

  15. 16 Me August 6, 2007 at 1:26 am

    Yes, there is only one philosophy – the ‘Western’, ‘European’ or the ‘Continental’ – it has always been that way since this philosophy’s inception. ‘Analytical’ philosophy is a 20th century mishmash for less-than-mediocre liberal logic-mongers that has gotten out of hand.

    I take Kant as the benchmark – people who dont really get the Kantian message of criticism (and hence also what happens in German philosophy after Kant), and who then start philosophizing, become analytical philosophers. It is a form of retrogression!

  16. 17 Ross June 16, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    The analytical/ contintental divide has three main points on which it hinges – 1. the positivism dispute, which does relate to Kant as the logical positivists historically used him as a punching bag, but things really got nasty by the sixties when you had the sociological positivism debates between people like the Popperians and the Frankfurt school. 2. the analytical regard for existentialism being insubstantial which relates back to the positivism dispute. And 3. the rejection of dialectical philosophies (including Hegelian and Marxism) by the analytical groups. This all has everything to do with the analytical rejection of metaphysics and abstractive methodologies as fundamentally meaningless based upon a verificationist criteria which were abandoned by logical positivism as the school eventually disbanded itself on the grounds that they themselves were, to put it into Ayers’ words, “mostly wrong.” Today we’re seeing a new form positivist revival which will probably prevent the synthesis between continental and analytical philosophy in the near future.

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