Analytic vs. Continental Philosophy

A few weeks ago I was stopped in mid-sentence when I was asked what fundamental differences are there between Continental and Analytic Philosophy.  I paused for a moment and asked myself the same question.  It seems that I was at a loss for words.  The razor-sharp distinctions with which I always treated the two approaches became as dull as gumdrops as I rapidly work through the issues in my head.  Obviously, there are differences as every philosopher will attest; however they appear to be a bit foggy.

As an undergrad I came to think what divided the two was geography.  In other words, if you’re doing “Continental” philosophy you’re doing philosophy common to the continent which happens to refer to Europe.  Therefore, your interests would be in philosophers like Hegel, some of Kant, Nietzche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, Gadamer, Foucault, Derrida, and others.  All of whom are representatives of Germany, France, and Denmark.

Generally speaking, Analytic Philosophers like Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Austin, Moore, Carnap, and Quine (just to name a few) are not of “the continent” (with the exception of Wittgenstein who happens to be Austrian and Frege German).  The problem I have with making the geographical distinction is not that it doesn’t pass the test of consistency.  Rather, geography doesn’t determine a particular philosophers approach.  What we do find is the reverse where Philosophers of the same geographical region represent different approaches to philosophy.  For example, Aristotle and Plato are both considered ancient Greek philosophers and differed on many points.

If a geographical distinction is as fruitless as I am suggesting that it is then perhaps we can find a functional difference as some have suggested.  After all the designator “Analytic” comes from a function of linguistic analysis which is something Analytics enjoy doing among.  However, we find Continental philosophers are not restricted from and often will analyze language as well.

So how do we distinguish the two?  As I said above there is a difference.  We usually notice it when we come across it.  Many philosophy departments tend to place great emphasis on one or the other.  The differences can’t be lineage or influence since they both have the same lineage.  Influences have shown to cross philosophical approaches.  Both Husserl (Continental) and Moore (Analytic) were influenced by Brentano.  Many would be surprised to know that Derrida (Continental) was influenced by J.L. Austin (Analytic).  Both approaches are primarily influenced in different degrees by Hegel and Kant.  Moreover, all are a “footnote to Socrates”.

The only distinctions I find useful are differences over style.  Analytic philosophers tend to place greater emphasis on argumentative clarity, formal logic and logical precision.  They tend to be more aligned with the sciences and mathematics.  Continental philosophers tend to be more literary, less reliant on formal logic, and are more concerned with political, social, and cultural issues.  I realize there are some like Brian Leiter who would like to see a more substantive divide.  Perhaps that’s a reasonable request.  Until that happens we ought to work at understanding the other side opposed to trying to distinguish it.

Jean-Paul Sartre & the Self-Deception of Bad Faith

sartreSelf-Deception in the Existential philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre takes the terminology of what Sartre calls bad faith. Below is an excerpt from Sarte’s Being And Nothingness.

“Good faith seeks to flee the inner disintegration of my being in the
direction of the in-itself which it should be and is not. Bad faith
seeks to flee the in-itself by means of the inner disintegration of
my being. But it denies that it is itself in bad faith. Bad faith seeks
by means of ““not-being-what-one-is”” to escape-from the in-itself
which I am not in the mode of being what one is not. It denies
itself as bad faith and aims at the in-itself which I am not in the
mode of ““not-being-what-one-is-not.”” If bad faith is possible, it
is because it is an immediate, permanent threat to every project of
the human being; it is because consciousness conceals in its being a
permanent risk of bad faith. The origin of this risk is the fact that
the nature of human consciousness simultaneously is to be what it
is not and not to be what it is.”

Here Sartre contrasts both “good-faith” and “bad faith”. According to Sartre there is a tension between GF and BF which is similar to what he means by “Being” and “Nothingness” (the title of the book) or to put it another way facticity and liberty.  Also, the “in-itself” refers to what man ought to be or facticity.

According to Sartre the tension between BF and GF becomes unbearable with the realization of BF that man has the liberty to self-authenticate or be what he wants. In such a case he will go so far as to lie to himself about GF in order to adopt the liberty in BF. Such is the reason Sartre says “… the nature of human consciousness simultaneously is to be what it is not and not to be what it is.

Such an attitude is what I referred to earlier as self-deception.