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.

Some Recent Papers On Method, Science, and Ethics

Souleymane Bachir Diagne
La Traduction Comme Methode
According to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in the pluralistic world in which we now live, there cannot be an overarching and vertical universal (universel de surplomb) anymore: we have now to find paths, methods, towards what he called, by contrast, a “lateral universality” (universalité latérale). When we consider the human tongues in their de facto plurality, none of them being by essence the language of the universal, that of philosophy and logos, we can see that one meaning of what is called “lateral universal” is translation. It could be said then, somehow, that, “translation is the language of languages” as the Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o wrote. The significance of translation as a method or path towards the “lateral universal” is the notion to be explored in this contribution.


Dagfinn Føllesdal
The Role of Arguments in Philosophy
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have been studied, commented upon and praised for more than 2000 years. What made their work so excellent? And what has made the philosophy produced by so many great philosophers after them insightful, inspiring and well worth studying? Their arguments. Arguments give insights, they help us see how “all weaves into one whole” to speak with Goethe, they “give unity to what was previously dispersed.” It is this “weaving together of what was dispersed” which is the core of arguments. This leads to a very inclusive notion of philosophy, where some of the finest works of art are philosophical. However, this openness to a wide variety of approaches to philosophy does not make all philosophy good philosophy. There are numerous kinds of weaknesses. Three examples are given, that illustrate the following three rules for good scholarship: (1) give proper credit, (2) familiarize yourself with fields outside philosophy that are pertinent to the problems you work on, (3) pay attention to work that has been done by others, especially when this work points to difficulties that you have not considered. These are trivial weaknesses, which should be spotted by editors and referees. Once they have been eliminated, we can concentrate on the arguments. It is the quality of arguments that distinguishes good philosophy from bad, and arguments come in many forms. We philosophers have a special responsibility for developing in ourselves and in others an ability to construct good arguments and to distinguish good arguments from bad ones. This is what Plato and Aristotle did, and it is a special challenge in our time when opinions more and more are shaped by mass media and not by arguments. We must teach good argumentation, and we must practice what we teach in our own philosophical work.
Maria Carla Galavotti
From the Philosophy of Science to the Philosophy of the Sciences
The philosophy of science took shape as an autonomous discipline in the first decades of the Twentieth Century in connection with the movement known as logical positivism or logical empiricism. According to logical empiricists philosophy of science ought to perform a “rational reconstruction” aimed at exhibiting the logical structure of scientific theories and inferential processes involved in the acquisition of scientific knowledge. While focusing on the syntactical and semantical aspects of scientific language, logical empiricists left out of the realm of the philosophy of science the sociological and psychological aspects of theory formation, as well as all methodological aspects belonging to experimentation. Starting from the early Sixties this conception gradually changed, and philosophy of science underwent a radical transformation, leading to a significant broadening of its scope. New issues and problems were addressed, belonging to fields neglected by the traditional approach. This paper sketches the main features of the discipline as it is understood today as opposed to its traditional outlook, and suggests that the term “philosophy of the sciences” is better suited than “philosophy of science” to describe its present state.
Keiichi Noe
Philosophy and Science after the East Japan Disaster
The severe accident at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant caused by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 was a typical disaster in the age of “trans-science,” which means the situation that science and politics are closely connected and inseparable. The stage of trans-science requires a philosophy of trans-science instead of a philosophy of science such as logical positivism. I would like to characterize norms for techno-scientists in the risk society as RISK, which includes Regulatory deliberation, Intergenerational ethics, Social accountability and Knowledge-product liability.
Dorothea Frede
Aristotle on the Importance of Rules, Laws, and Institutions in Ethics
In recent years rule-scepticism has been dominant among experts concerning Aristotle’s ethics. The present paper addresses three points that speak for this sceptical attitude: (i) Aristotle’s caveat against precision in ethics; (ii) the emphasis on the particular conditions of actions and on experience; (iii) the fact that moral education relies on habituation rather than teaching. At a closer look it emerges that all these considerations presuppose universal rules, laws, and institutions rather than exclude them, for they concern the adjustment of universal principles to particular cases. Knowledge of these principles may not be necessary in routine cases, but the emphasis on a master-science that provides the laws necessary for every well-functioning community and the appropriate education of the citizens shows that these principles are the indispensable foundation of both ethics and politics. It is Aristotle’s aim to provide the groundwork of such a master science that is the common concern of his ethics and politics.
Kostas Kalimtzis
Aristotle on Scholê and Nous as a Way of Life
My paper is an inquiry into the political significance of Aristotle’s concept of scholê, a word usually translated as ‘leisure.’ The words ‘school’ and ‘scholar’ are derived from scholê, which indicates a richness of meanings that go far beyond anything suggested by the word “leisure.” Perhaps taking up the subject as a political issue seems untimely during this troubled period of economic crisis. And yet, if seen from the perspective in which it was first raised, that is as a response to the question put forth by Socrates—‘what type of life is worth living?’—then inquiry into its nature may help us entertain the possibility that our economic and social ills have arisen from wrong answers that we have given to the Socratic question. Before examining Aristotle’s thoughts on leisure, I will first briefly turn to Plato’s concept of scholê so as to economically bring to the fore the difficulties involved when leisure is projected unto an entire republic as an overarching aim of public life.


Plato and Equality

Plato-raphaelI was reading Plato’s The Laws (again) and I noticed how certain concepts will impact me while others are read but no real internalization takes place at that time.  Recently I took notice to Plato’s critique-if you will- of equality in Athenian democracy.  Plato writes, “Indiscriminate equality for all amounts to inequality, and both fill a state with quarrels between its citizens.”

That’s fascinating especially when you think of democracy today in America.  We champion equality but no one feels like they are being treated fairly or equally.  Individuals with the drive to prosper feel as if the efforts are in vain because of government mandates and excessive taxation causing their efforts to be non-profitable.  Conversely those less fortunate blame the successful for their lack of profitability.  The result is a vicious cycle of various groups all claiming inequality.

What’s the answer?  Well for Plato it is an order that follows from a natural law theory but that’s a story for another blog post.

Euthyphro Dilemma and the Nature of God

Lets think about philosophy for a minute because I think there has been some confusion over some key metaphysical issues in theology. In Plato’s Euthyphro a dialogue takes places between Euthyphro and Socrates over the nature of piety. Euthyphro begins throwing out different definitions for piety which Socrates socratically dismisses in a way that only Socrates can. For our purpose we want to focus in on the second definition that Euthyphro gives. Here he says that “piety is what all the gods love, and impiety is what all the gods hate.” What is interesting is what Socrates says in response, “do the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious because they love it?”

Socrates’ question is one of those locus classicus questions some times referred to as the “Euthyphro Dilemma.” What Socrates is getting at if I might amplify is:
Q.1 God command X because it is morally obligatory.
Q.2 X is morally obligatory because God commanded it.
How one answers these questions has much to say about her understanding of God.

Q.1 assumes that X is independent of God. That is to say that moral actions are right or wrong in themselves. This was the understanding that both Socrates and Euthyphro both agree on, the gods love piety because it is pious. Having made their appeal for Q.1 necessarily means they must reject Q.2 on the basis that the god’s loving the pious does not explain why the pious is the pious. Or in our example above God commanding X does not explain X. Lastly, both Q.1 and Q.2 cannot both be true because to say that “God commands X because it is morally obligatory and X is morally obligatory because God commands it” is circular reasoning. In either case Socrates’ initial question goes unanswered. Namely, what is the nature of moral laws?

The problem is in Socrates’ question itself “do the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious because they love it?” It creates an either / or situation or false dilemma without the possibility of a third option. Namely, that the nature of morality is God Himself. God is moral and is the standard of morality therefore when it comes to moral laws He looks only to Himself. Q.1 fails to answer the question because it assumes moral laws are independent of God. If moral laws are independent of God then they exist outside of God requiring God’s obedience. Thus these moral laws would be deified above God and command His obedience. Moreover he would then lose His God like qualities and cease to be God. This latter view of the problem as a false dilemma was articulated early on by Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas. The bottom line is that God does not conform to nor does he create moral laws. Rather His very nature stands for them.

Virtue and Reason in Plato and Aristotle by A.W.Price

In Virtue and Reason in Plato and Aristotle, A. W. Price offers a comprehensive examination of the ethical and moral psychological views of antiquity’s two most celebrated philosophers. Price’s goal is to paint a general picture of the moral and psychological framework within which Plato and Aristotle place human action, while doing justice to all the persistently challenging details that continue to engage scholars of ancient philosophy. The result is a renewed appreciation of the insightfulness of Plato and Aristotle’s moral ideas, and of the closeness they often exhibit to our common moral and psychological experiences.  Read more.