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School of Athens

These are the two main kinds of philosophy currently taught in academic philosophy.

Analytic, or Anglophone, philosophy, is practised mainly in British and U.S. universities but also, to some extent, in Scandinavia. Continental philosophy is practised in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and to some extent Ireland. At the same time, the division is not completely geographic. Many Anglophone philosophers have come from these countries and either emigrated or were taken up by Analytic philosophers, and most British and U.S. institutions also cover a certain amount of Continental philosophy. In addition, many German and French universities now have philosophers working in the anglophone tradition.

Notably, the very names "Continental" and "Analytic" or "Anglophone" are not agreed upon by many philosophers who may not see themselves as belonging to a certain grouping, yet most do agree there exists this division and that it became so in the twentieth century. Almost all Analytic philosophy is currently done in the English language, hence its other designator, Anglophone Philosophy. Continental philosophy, on the other hand, cannot be localised to any one language.

The most notable fact is that there are two kinds of philosophy at all, especially when one considers that, in the Western tradition, philosophy was the very theme that attempted to have no "locality" and to be the most general kind of discussion that was held between all nations. The division of philosophy into two camps is not so much because of some fundamental disagreement, but from self-isolation on both sides: most philosophers of both kinds do not read one another, and only discuss issues relevant to their own kind philosophy.

Respectively, each kind of philosophy does philosophy in such a different way and concerning different matters that communication between the two is problematic. The history of this division is not easy to ascertain but it is thought to have occurred in the 1920s. Others maintain it goes back to the Kant, ie, Kant being the last "great" philosopher that both sides read.

There are several different ways of seeing how these differences appear. There are different descriptions below which show that this underlying theme affects different characteristics of the two schools of western philosophy.

For a list of Anglophone Philosophers, see category:Analytic philosophers

For a list of Continental Philosophers, see category: Continental philosophers

Holism vs functionalism

Anglophone philosophy centers on certain universal problems and divides philosophy into different, almost incommunicable, areas such as, the Philosophy of Science, the Philosophy of Mind, the Philosophy of Language, the Philosophy of Mathematics, etc..

Continental philosophy tends to deal with these issues holistically and focuses instead upon key thinkers and their themes, such as questions of life, death, anthropology and the Other, sexuality, politics, the body, history and the value of universality.

The text vs the issue

The simple way of putting the difference may be this: most continental philosophers care first and foremost about traditional and current philosophic texts, the interpretations of them, and the progress or regress, seen through them of thought in general.

On the other hand, most in the Analytic tradition care first and foremost about theses and the reasons for and against accepting them as being true. The thesis is viewed as amenable to being either true, false, meaningless or subjectively true and usually entails an implicit rejection of those theses that are considered to be false, meaningless or merely subjective.

Continental philosophy is interested not so much in whether a certain definable thesis is true or false, but more, in what had been achieved by the great philosophers in history and of today, their truths but also their half-truths, and how to interpret and use these to "go beyond" or deconstruct them.

Differences in use of examples

In continental philosophy it is more common to reference a writer's literature, novels and poetry, or real-life examples from cafes, work, etc..

In Anglophone philosophy it is more common to use imaginative leaps and "science fiction" thought experiments to discuss the possibility of an issue.

Formal logic vs logic as logos

Analytic philosophy generally uses formal logic and formal logical argumentation in explaining questions. This includes such things as the law of excluded middle, the law of contradiction and argument style, for example eschewing an argument that is ad hominem, or an argument from authority, etc. There is also a newer terms for argumentation that Analytic philosophy considers faulty, and they are given as the "fallacy of ...", which offer a handy way of using a previously "proven" point again in another argument on another matter. Examples of such "fallacies" are: the naturalistic fallacy, and the genetic fallacy, though all fallacies may not be fully accepted, they are at least well known, and can be given as standard criticism of a theory to which a response might be already prepared.

Continental philosophy on the other hand tends to use the term Logic more loosely, or in the sense of the Greek word Logos, meaning discourse, or to make manifest what one is 'talking about'. It often considers logic and many philosophic concepts in general, as not having a neutral meaning. Each concept having a history of which today's concepts of logic, law, contradiction, are merely an instant of and are not necessarily those of tomorrow, each has its own history and hermeneutic problematics.

Descriptive vs critical

Anglophone philosophy often attempts to describe how things are in the world, how they must work or what might offer the most intuitive or "the best" description that can withstand fierce argumentative attacks. Because of this descriptive project, it often models itself on the empirical sciences or mathematics. Like the sciences, analytic philosophy generally avoids explicit political controversy, except in the specific branch of political philosophy.

Continental philosophy, on the other hand, operates in a critical mode, and assumes that the state of the world is not something that is to be merely described but is also changed by our understanding of it. It therefore tends to see politics as being important in all philosophy. While in the 19th century, continental philosophers such as Hegel and Marx described their form of criticism as "science," continental philosophy, in general, tends to adopt a critical view of Enlightenment science. However, some recent philosophers, in particular Deleuze and Badiou, have a positive attitude to science and mathematics.

Historical vs escaping tradition

The Nineteenth century is the key moment for looking at how Analytic philosophy emerged as a new way of thinking. For Anglophone philosophy the massive influence of Hegel on Universities in Europe and in Britain and the U.S. was too long and too claustrophobic. With Frege they saw a means of breaking also from an emerging psychologism and make a new start with a Philosophy of Language with a strong belief in formal logic and a science and mathematics that was logically groundable.

Thus Analytic Philosophy rejected Hegel and his ideas of sublation and speculative/concrete thought and attempted a return to the "firmer" ground of formal logic. Along with Hegel other figures from that century remain uninteresting for most of the Analytic tradition.

Continental philosophy, in contrast, always took up to some extent the challenge of previous philosophers as something to be given consideration, even if that was mostly in a critical manner. So for Continental philosophers, Hegel's ideas about history altering what is considered as "true", Marx's ideas that philsophy's goal is not the "interpretation" of the world, but the changing of the world, Nietzsche's ideas upon truth as interpretation and as the result of forces and will, and Heidegger's criticism of the Philosophy of Presence, are often addressed or form a background for discussion.

At the same time, in certain non-traditional areas of Anglophone philsophy, certain Hegelian ideas on history, though not under that name, have permeated through, eg, Kuhn, Quine.

As one can see, the question of history in philosophy and the history of philosophy are handled differently by both sides, each accused of being either, too historical or completely ahistorical.

Too historical or ahistorical

Continental philosophy, for some, may be seen as giving too much respect to previous philosophers in allowing them to set the terms of reference for modern discussions; thus it risks becoming a mere history of interpretations of the history of philosophy.

On the other hand, it has be suggested, that Analytic philosophy approaches history, if at all, in a disingenuous way; they are bound to keep repeating the same old answers given in the history of philosophy because they remain unconscious of how these same questions have been answered in the past.

While Anglophone philosophy has an Enlightenment attitude towards the past that tends to be mirrored by science and industry, Continental philosophy’s attitude towards its past tends to be mirrored by literature. However, both groups tend to read considerably more about their history than scientists might of their own. Moreover, both groups are more likely to consciously revive old ideas than scientists might.

Pejorative labellings

Though the differences between these two forms of Western Philosophy are marked mostly by both sides ignoring one another, at times they are rather pejoratively labeled.

Sometimes Analytic philosophy is described as boring, dry, un-engaged (politically) and concerned only with the veritas aeternitas. At times parsimoniously reifying concepts that are, in fact, more complexly related. Anglophone philosophy is ahistorical and wheels away at a sisyphusian task, forever condemned to a, as Hegel termed it, philosophia perennis.

Continental Philosophy has been described as willfully contradictory, obfuscated, overly rhetorical, and at times a sloppy conflater of unrelated issues. In its rejection of formal logic and formal argument, it has no grounds for agreement, and reads more like literature, or journalistic opinion, than rigorous argument.

However, it can be seen from the above sections describing their differences that such labeling is merely the extreme end of their usual activity. For example, Continental philosophy's holistic attempt to include all philosophy and the history of philosophy is bound to make reading it a difficult task and a risk of confating ideas. On the other hand, Analytic philosophy's breaking up of philosophy into various branches, e.g., the History of Ideas, the Philosophy of Mind, Political Philosophy, simplifies each area but also can lead to exclusions and risk a lack of synergy.

Commonality between Anglophone and Continental

Continental and Analytic philosophers tend to ignore one another.

Major founders of both traditions were trained not in philosophy but in mathematics (Russell, Frege, Husserl).

The issue of postmodern philosophy, and the issue of language which is associated with postmodernism, arose on both sides from Wittgenstein's ideas on Language-games, and Lyotard's use of this idea in defining the very term Postmodernism.

Both philosophies would count almost all major philosophers up to and including Kant, from pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, the Medievals, to Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, as being the fundamental thinkers and theme-setters for philosophy.

Both philosophies are academically centred, in that it is from the academy, the university, that they both gain respectability and publishing rights, notoriety etc. Exceptions are Nietzsche and Kierkegaard who were published independently and did most of their work well away from the university. They are most read in the Continental tradition.

Certain ideas have been given open coverage by both sides: Speech act theory, language-games, the idea of historical paradigms and the phenomenology of intentionality. There has also been some suggestion that by outright rejection or neglect of one another's position, they can "cherry pick" ideas from the other tradition and repackage them, without having to credit the originators of the ideas.

Key moments of the schism

Confrontation of Heidegger and Ernst Cassirer at Davos, Switzerland. A debate that showed how deep the Kantian crisis of the 1920s had become. The status of objectivity and inter-subjective or universal knowledge was at issue.
Heidegger wished to interpret Kant as an attempt at ontology, Cassirer, on the other hand, attempted to see Kant as providing no more work for philosophy other than that of filling out of a scientific and mathematical details and as a critique of aparatus of objectivity. Cassirer accused Heidegger of denying the possibility of non-subjective universal scientific knowledge.
The debate was also attended by Levinas and Carnap. Levinas, who viewed Heidegger as having won out, later remarked that this confrontation showed the "end of a certain humanism." Carnap, on the other hand, sided with Cassirer. This is how Heidegger wrapped up the discussion:
What matters to me is that you, Prof. Cassirer, take with you from this debate this one thing, namely, that you may have felt somehow (and quite aside from the diversity of positions of differently philosophizing men) that once again we are on our way to take seriously the fundamental questions of metaphysics. What you have seen here, writ small, namely, the differences between philosophers within the one-ness of a problem, suggests, however modestly, what is so essential and writ large in the controversies in the history of philosophy: the realization that the discerning of its different standpoints goes to the very root of all philosophical work.[1]
Carnap, accuses Heidegger of a "violation of logical syntax". Heidegger's language is based on a Greek rather than a mathematical understanding of logic.[2]
1940s 1950s
"The schism dates back to the 1940s and 1950s, when analytic philosophy took over at American universities, Rorty said. Before then, anglophone philosophy departments -- those in the United States, Britain and Scandinavia -- and non-anglophone schools -- in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and other European countries -- both focused on the study of philosophy from a historical perspective."[1]
Searle responds to a review of one of Derrida's books with accusations of obfuscation. Derrida replies with accusations of mis-reading.
Debate between Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky on Dutch Television.
The University of Cambridge awards an honorary doctorate to Derrida, A number of Analytic Philosophers, including W. V. Quine, sign a letter to try prevent the award being made.


(2003) C. G. Prado. A House Divided, NY: Amherst, Humanity Books. ISBN 1591021057.

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  1. Notes of Carl H. Hamburg, Tulane University at Davos, 1929
  2. Gregory, Wanda T. Heidegger, Carnap and Quine at the Crossroads of Language