According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Differences Between Analytic v. Continental Philosophy

Analytic v. Continental Philosophy

The Philosopher's Beard, Essays in philosophy, politics, and economics
September 20, 2010

Analytic philosophy is rationalistic: rigorous, systematic, literal-minded, formal (logical), dry, and detached. It is modeled on physics and maths and is particularly popular in the Anglo-Saxon world.

Continental philosophy is humanistic: reflexive, literary, essayistic, charismatic. It is modeled on literature and art and is particularly popular in France, Germany, and Latin America.

These two traditions dominate contemporary philosophy, and they are largely mutually incomprehensible. This is unfortunate since their strengths and weaknesses are somewhat complementary.


The strengths of analytic philosophy are its universal scope, clarity and public accountability. It is concerned with universal principles and their interactions and implications. It tries to explain as much as possible with as little as possible in the way of assumptions. This is basically the scientific model, and incidentally also explains why analytic philosophy has much in common with neoclassical economics in its formal modelling approach - both are modelled on physics. It tries to systematise knowledge: setting each contribution within a framework that acts as scaffolding and allows others to easily comprehend it and build on it (or identify the design flaws and tear it down). It aspires to a model of public reasoning in making clear claims of universal validity based on an explicit and systematic rational justification that are in principle comprehensible and acceptable to all, and to which anyone may raise an objection in the same way and be assured a fair hearing.

But its weaknesses are in its lack of self-reflection. There is an assumption of progress and of an efficient 'market for ideas' (the current conversation incorporates everything of any importance, so why bother reading anything from more than 5 years ago). There is an assumption that philosophical analysis consists only in the efficient transmission of arguments, in language that should be as transparent as a 'window pane' (as Orwell put it). There is an assumption that ideas can be analysed independently of their context, of who made them and what they intended - the impulse to abstract, which can easily become an impulse to superficiality. There is an assumption that logical validity is sufficient for actual significance, that producing yet another finely turned distinction is a real contribution to human knowledge.


The strengths of continental philosophy are its direct concern with the human condition, its ambition, its reflexivity, its concern with the media as well as the message. Unlike analytical philosophy it does not assume that people are rational and then move on from there. It directs itself inward, to trying to understand how people work and why, and it does so with reference to traditions in the social sciences (particularly sociology, and anthropology) and the humanities (psychoanalysis, literature, art). It asks big and impossible but thrilling questions, like why is there something rather than nothing (hence its alternative name 'metaphysical philosophy'), but the answers usually relate insightfully to us, not physics. It is alert to the place of the author and his or her interests in the questions s/he asks and the way s/he answers. The text is never detached from the author as a contribution to knowledge in the abstract. It pays attention to the construction of the texts themselves, to how rhetorical elements are employed in the business of persuading particular people rather than providing neutral arguments that anyone, even Martians, would see the same way.

Its weaknesses are its insularity, arrogance, and lack of perspective. Because it lacks a common framework continental philosophy is fragmented between different traditions requiring long apprenticeships to master (similarly to the social sciences and humanities). Texts in continental philosophy have the same problem as in the disciplines they model themselves on: by deliberately incorporating the difficulties of their subject into the manner of their presentation they require particular effort from the reader to understand. They can be dazzling tours de force in which every element seamlessly links with every other and the whole conveys multiple levels of meaning. Or, much more frequently, every sentence is a turgid jargon filled ordeal written at German length and apparently in German grammar, that seems to deliberately insult the reader with its elaborate opacity that one always suspects may be hiding nothing but bullshit.

There is a prima donnaish quality to many continental philosophers (in contrast to the pettifogging bureaucrat tendency of the analytic), as if they understand themselves as 'artists' who should behave, as the Romantics taught us by example, as natural geniuses unconstrained by normal conventions of etiquette and morality. At all costs one must avoid the 'iron cage of rationality'. Despite claiming that interpretation is everything, continental philosophers are notoriously bad at appreciating criticism - at submitting to interpretation by others - because they see the exercise of power everywhere. They are often overcommitted to the truth of their own approach and exhibit impatience with other perspectives and traditions and decline to take them seriously. They often seem to talk past each other, and not merely the analytic philosopher.

The focus on the particular comes at the expense of the universal, but this also leads to a lack of perspective: they can miss the forest for the trees. They can overattend to the construction of a text for example, and miss the argument (Why does the author say 'man' and not 'person'?). Insight is not a substitute for balanced argument, but this is often forgotten when for example education is considered only through the lens of power (conclusion: education is oppressive).The microscope of interpretation can reveal much detail but seems arbitrarily employed and no-one seems interested in putting the resulting jigsaw together.


Philosophy needs insight as well as clear argument, the universal as well as the particular. No-one should wish for philosophy to be 'healed' into one unified approach, but we would certainly benefit from trying a bit harder to understand each other, at least sometimes.

Check out the excellent discussion of the analytical-continental split on BBC radio's

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A defective analytical division

January 24, 2011

The Analytic vs. Continental divide of Philosophy is analytically imprecise (category conflation) and unilateral (the distinction is a product of the auto-entitled Analytic, not of the so called Continental philosophy).

The term “Continental” applied to a philosophical branch is found at least as early as 1840, in John Stuart Mill’s essay “On Bentham and Coleridge”, where he contrasts the Kantian-influenced thought of «Continental philosophers» with the English empiricism of Bentham:

«The father of English innovation both in doctrines and in institutions, is Bentham: he is the great subversive, or, in the language of continental philosophers, the great critical, thinker of his age and country. (…)» – Mill, John Stuart (1950), “On Bentham and Coleridge“, pp. 104, 133, 155.

In 1945, Bertrand Russell legitimates «two schools of philosophy, which may be broadly distinguished as the Continental and the British respectively», a division he saw as operative «from the time of Locke» [Bertrand Russell, "A History of Western Philosophy", p. 643-647] .

Russell is, perhaps, the first to systematize the points of divergence between the these two types of philosophy – Continental vs. British:

(1) in method, deductive system-building vs. piecemeal induction;
(2) in metaphysics, rationalist theology vs. metaphysical agnosticism;
(3) in ethics, non-naturalist deontology vs. naturalist hedonism;
(4) in politics, authoritarianism vs. liberalism.

Several reviewers considered that book defective, full of simplifications, overgeneralizations and omissions, showing that Russell had no tolerance for systems of thought that do not conform to his preferences.

For instance, Russell carelessly misrepresents Nietzsche, who he labels (and libels) and dismisses as a proto-Nazi:

«I shall therefore assume that he [Nietzsche] regards conquering aristocracies and their descendants as biologically superior to their subjects, as men are superior to domestic animals, though in a lesser degree. What shall we mean by “biologically superior”? We shall mean when interpreting Nietzsche, that individuals of the superior race and their descendants are more likely to be “noble” in Nietzsche’s sense: they will have more strength of will, more courage, more impulse towards power, less sympathy, less fear, and less gentleness. (…) Suppose we wish—as I certainly do—to find arguments against Nietzsche’s ethics and politics, what arguments can we find? There are weighty practical arguments, showing that the attempt to secure his ends will in fact secure something quite different. Aristocracies of birth are nowadays discredited; the only practicable form of aristocracy is an organization like the Fascist or the Nazi party.» - Russell, “History of Western Philosophy“, chapter about Nietzsche.

Russell himself admits to not being an expert on any of the philosophers with the possible exception (he immodestly adds) of Leibniz; also, he sets for himself an individualistic and historicist purpose:

«A few words of apology and explanation are called for if this book is to escape even more severe censure than it doubtless deserves. Apology is due to the specialists on various schools and individual philosophers. With the possible exception of Leibniz, every philosopher of whom I treat is better known to some others than to me. If, however, books covering a wide field are to be written at all, it is inevitable, since we are not immortal, that those who write such books should spend less time on any one part than can be spent by a man who concentrates on a single author or a brief period. Some, whose scholarly austerity is unbending, will conclude that books covering a wide field should not be written at all, or, if written, should consist of monographs by a multitude of authors. There is, however, something lost when many authors co-operate. If there is any unity in the movement of history, if there is any intimate relation between what goes before and what comes later, it is necessary, for setting this forth, that earlier and later periods should be synthesized in a single mind. The student of Rousseau may have difficulty in doing justice to his connection with the Sparta of Plato and Plutarch; the historian of Sparta may not be prophetically conscious of Hobbes and Fichte and Lenin. To bring out such relations is one of the purposes of this book, and it is a purpose which only a wide survey can fulfil. There are many histories of philosophy, but none of them, so far as I know, has quite the purpose that I have set myself. Philosophers are both effects and causes: effects of their social circumstances and of the politics and institutions of their time; causes (if they are fortunate) of beliefs which mould the politics and institutions of later ages. In most histories of philosophy, each philosopher appears as in a vacuum; his opinions are set forth unrelated except, at most, to those of earlier philosophers. I have tried, on the contrary, to exhibit each philosopher, as far as truth permits, as an outcome of his milieu, a man in whom were crystallized and concentrated thoughts and feelings which, in a vague and diffused form, were common to the community of which he was a part. This has required the insertion of certain chapters of purely social history. No one can understand the Stoics and Epicureans without some knowledge of the Hellenistic age, or the scholastics without a modicum of understanding of the growth of the Church from the fifth to the thirteenth centuries. I have therefore set forth briefly those parts of the main historical outlines that seemed to me to have had most influence on philosophical thought, and I have done this with most fullness where the history may be expected to be unfamiliar to some readers-for example, in regard to the early Middle Ages. But in these historical chapters I have rigidly excluded whatever seemed to have little or no bearing on contemporary or subsequent philosophy. The problem of selection, in such a book as the present, is very difficult. Without detail, a book becomes jejune and uninteresting; with detail, it is in danger of becoming intolerably lengthy. I have sought a compromise, by treating only those philosophers who seem to me to have considerable importance, and mentioning, in connection with them, such details as, even if not of fundamental importance, have value on account of some illustrative or vivifying quality. Philosophy, from the earliest times, has been not merely an affair of the schools, or of disputation between a handful of learned men. It has been an integral part of the life of the community, and as such I have tried to consider it. If there is any merit in this book, it is from this point of view that it is derived.» - Russell, “History of Western Philosophy”, foreword.

Later, in his autobiography, Russell described his “History of Western Philosophy” as a work of social history, asking that it be treated in such a manner.

In “Short History of Modern Philosophy “, Roger Scruton analyses it:

«Bertrand Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy” is amusing, but suffers from defects… First, it deals largely with ancient philosophy, and is curt and selective in its treatment of the post-Cartesian tradition. Secondly, it is dismissive towards all those philosophers with whom Russell felt no personal affinity. Thirdly, it shows no understanding of Kant and post-Kantian idealism.»

In spite of that, the statements of that book were taken too seriously by some followers and, nowadays, traces of such a russellian division remain truth or dogma for many philosophers….

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Analytic philosophy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Analytic philosophy (sometimes analytical philosophy) is a style of philosophy that came to dominate English-speaking countries in the 20th century. In the United Kingdom, United States, Canada,Scandinavia, Australia, and New Zealand, the vast majority of university philosophy departments identify themselves as "analytic" departments.[1]

The term "analytic philosophy" can refer to:
In this latter, narrower sense, analytic philosophy is identified with specific philosophical commitments (many of which are rejected by contemporary analytic philosophers), such as:
  • The logical positivist principle that there are no specifically philosophical truths and that the object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts. This may be contrasted with the traditionalfoundationalism, which considers philosophy to be a special science (i.e. discipline of knowledge) that investigates the fundamental reasons and principles of everything.[7] Consequently, many analytic philosophers have considered their inquiries as continuous with, or subordinate to, those of the natural sciences.[8]
  • The principle that the logical clarification of thoughts can only be achieved by analysis of the logical form of philosophical propositions.[9] The logical form of a proposition is a way of representing it (often using the formal grammar and symbolism of a logical system) to display its similarity with all other propositions of the same type. However, analytic philosophers disagree widely about the correct logical form of ordinary language.[10]
  • The rejection of sweeping philosophical systems in favour of attention to detail,[11] or ordinary language.[12]
According to a characteristic paragraph by Bertrand Russell:

"Modern analytical empiricism [...] differs from that of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume by its incorporation of mathematics and its development of a powerful logical technique. It is thus able, in regard to certain problems, to achieve definite answers, which have the quality of science rather than of philosophy. It has the advantage, in comparison with the philosophies of the system-builders, of being able to tackle its problems one at a time, instead of having to invent at one stroke a block theory of the whole universe. Its methods, in this respect, resemble those of science. I have no doubt that, in so far as philosophical knowledge is possible, it is by such methods that it must be sought; I have also no doubt that, by these methods, many ancient problems are completely soluble."[13]

Analytic philosophy is often understood in contrast to other philosophical traditions, most notably continental philosophy, and also Indian philosophy, Thomism, and Marxism.[14]

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Continental philosophy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Continental philosophy is a set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe.[1][2] This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and traditions outside the analytic movement. Continental philosophy includes the following movements: German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism (and its antecedents, such as the thought of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, French feminism, psychoanalytic theory, and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and related branches of Western Marxism.[3]

It is difficult to identify non-trivial claims that would be common to all the preceding philosophical movements. The term "continental philosophy", like "analytic philosophy", lacks clear definition and may mark merely a family resemblance across disparate philosophical views. Simon Glendinning has suggested that the term was originally more pejorative than descriptive, functioning as a label for types of western philosophy rejected or disliked by analytic philosophers.[4] Babette Babich emphasizes the political basis of the distinction, still an issue when it comes to appointments and book contracts.[5] Nonetheless,Michael E. Rosen has ventured to identify common themes that typically characterize continental philosophy.[6]

First, continental philosophers generally reject scientism, the view that the natural sciences are the only or most accurate way of understanding phenomena. This contrasts with many analytic philosophers who consider their inquiries as continuous with, or subordinate to, those of the natural sciences. Continental philosophers often argue that science depends upon a "pre-theoretical substrate of experience" (a version of Kantian conditions of possible experience or the phenomenological "lifeworld") and that scientific methods are inadequate to fully understand such conditions of intelligibility.[7]

Second, continental philosophy usually considers these conditions of possible experience as variable: determined at least partly by factors such as context, space and time, language, culture, or history. Thus continental philosophy tends toward historicism. Where analytic philosophy tends to treat philosophy in terms of discrete problems, capable of being analyzed apart from their historical origins (much as scientists consider the history of science inessential to scientific inquiry), continental philosophy typically suggests that "philosophical argument cannot be divorced from the textual and contextual conditions of its historical emergence".[8]

Third, continental philosophy typically holds that human agency can change these conditions of possible experience: "if human experience is a contingent creation, then it can be recreated in other ways".[9]Thus continental philosophers tend to take a strong interest in the unity of theory and practice, and often see their philosophical inquiries as closely related to personal, moral, or political transformation. This tendency is very clear in the Marxist tradition ("philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it"), but is also central in existentialism and post-structuralism.

A final characteristic trait of continental philosophy is an emphasis on metaphilosophy. In the wake of the development and success of the natural sciences, continental philosophers have often sought to redefine the method and nature of philosophy.[10] In some cases (such as German idealism or phenomenology), this manifests as a renovation of the traditional view that philosophy is the first, foundational, a priori science. In other cases (such as hermeneutics, critical theory, or structuralism), it is held that philosophy investigates a domain that is irreducibly cultural or practical. And some continental philosophers (such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, the later Heidegger, or Derrida) doubt whether any conception of philosophy can coherently achieve its stated goals.

Ultimately, the foregoing themes derive from a broadly Kantian thesis that knowledge, experience, and reality are bound and shaped by conditions best understood through philosophical reflection rather than exclusively empirical inquiry.[11]

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