Continental and analytical philosophy

Some interesting comments on this all too often tired debate:

Brian Leiter has claimed that the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy, whatever its merits might have been forty years ago, is no longer useful. Gualtiero Piccinini responds, arguing that there is a real distinction and that it goes like this:

Analytic philosophy is a set of overlapping traditions whose founding fathers are Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Moore, whose exemplars include works by Carnap, Quine, and Kripke (among others), whose main sources of authority are logic, mathematics, and science, and whose core concerns include what there is and how we can know it.
Continental philosophy is a set of overlapping traditions whose founding fathers include Hegel, Nietzche, and especially Heidegger (or a subset thereof, depending on the specific sub-tradition), whose exemplars (besides Heidegger) include works by Gadamer, Foucault, and Derrida (among others), whose main sources of authority are art and hermeneutics, and whose main concerns include understanding “the human condition”.

So Piccinini draws the distinction in three areas: founding fathers, sources of authority, and core concerns.


3 Responses

  1. Hm. Interesting as far as it goes, and of course there will be lots of people quarreling to get onto the list.

    Is hermeneutics a source of authority?

    I rather think that one of the things distinguishing the continental tradition is a concern for the political effects of one’s philosophy. It is interesting to note that Foucault wanted to draw on analytic philosophy for his politics. Personally I came to Foucault in order to work out the practical and political implications of Wittgenstein, so I rather think things get fuzzy from the 1980s onwards.

    Is Badiou continental or analytic for example? He seems to have continental founding fathers with analytic sources of authority and core concerns.

  2. Well they take it further on the original website but I know people don’t tend to click through in postings (according to the webstats provided by WordPress.)

    Interesting that you should mention Badiou. I just bought my first Badiou book (Ethics). It’s in a Verso series edited by Slavoj Zizek (which just happens to include 5 Zizek books–what are the ethics of that then, hm). The Intro (by translator Peter Hallward) notes that Badiou is the “only serious rival of Deleuze and Derrida for that meaningless but unavoidable title of ‘most important contemporary French philosopher'” (I guess this was written a little while ago).

    Still that doesn’t necessarily mean anything and I bought it more for the subject matter and to see what he is about than those kinds of reasons (also: it says it is his accessible work for the beginner).

    PS: Wikipedia calls Hallward the leading commentator on Badiou, fwiw. One comment that stands out: terror is the assertion of a truth that does not permit opposition. I’ve been thinking about why I find that definition so useful this morning.

  3. Ah, caught red handed!

    For the record, I rather think the analytic/continental divide is most helpful when thought of as a cluster of philosophical moves, strategies, and problems, rather than as a hard and fast identity. Don’t ask me which I am, and do not ask me to remain anglo-american!

    But the blog does say that analytical philosophy is only concerned with meaning, which is not entirely just. Say rather that it can be suspicious of boiling down questions of truth to questions of being.

    Badiou’s the interesting one because, like Frege, Wittgenstein et al, he grounds his philosophy in mathematics. But he definitely fits into the continental tradition in most other ways.

    But perhaps his impatience with phenomenological traditions of ethics (Levinas’ disciples) is shared over a greater number of disciplinary boundaries!

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