Philosophy Itself — III

Analytic vs Continental[for a brief explanation of this ongoing series, as well as a full table of contents, go here]

Analytic vs. Continental?

As is well known, perhaps one of the most controversial, often even acrimonious (Levy 2003), splits in modern Western philosophy is the one between the so-called “analytic” and “continental” approaches. Even though lately the fashion in philosophical circles is actually to deny outright that there is any meaningful distinction to be made in this context, I think to ignore this aspect of modern philosophizing would do a disservice to the field and to its practitioners. And as it will soon be clear, plenty of people keep making interesting comments on the analytic-continental distinction even though it allegedly does not exist (e.g., Mulligan et al. 2006).

To simplify quite a bit, the split has become apparent during the 20th century, though it can be traced back to the immediately post-Kantian period (with Kant himself often depicted as straddling the two traditions). Analytic philosophy refers to a style of doing philosophy characteristic of the modern British empiricists, like Moore and Russell, with an emphasis on argument, logical analysis, and language, and it is what one finds practiced in many (though by no means all) philosophy departments in the United States and the UK. Michael Dummett (1978, 458) famously said that the “characteristic tenet [of analytic philosophy] is that the philosophy of language is the foundation for all the rest of philosophy … [that] the goal of philosophy is the analysis of the structure of thought [and that] the only proper method for analysing thought consists in the analysis of language.” However, Cooper (1994) rightly points out that this is only partially helpful when it comes to distinguishing analytic philosophy, especially in the light of recent developments, such as the rise of “analytic metaphysics” (Chalmers et al. 2009). Continental philosophy — the name deriving from the fact that historically its leading figures have been German or French thinkers — is seen as a more discursive, even polemical, way of doing philosophy, often characterized by a not entirely transparent way of presenting one’s ideas, and more concerned with social issues than its analytic counterpart (though, again, there are plenty of exceptions).

There are two questions that concern me here: how can we understand the nature of the split and what it says about philosophy in general? And to what extent is some of what is going under the heading of continental philosophy sufficiently different from the core discipline and its tools that we might want to think of it as a different type of activity altogether? Richard Rorty (1991, 23) famously answered the second question somewhat categorically, foreseeing a day when “’it may seem merely a quaint historical accident that both bear the same name of ‘philosophy.’” I’m not so sure.

Perhaps the first thing that becomes obvious when comparing analytic and continental works is their difference in style. As Cooper (1994) puts it, “We know where Quine or Derrida belongs, before grasping what he is saying, from the way he says it.” Levy (2003) characterizes continental philosophy as more “literary” as opposed to the (allegedly) clearer but more rigid analytic approach. As we shall see in a moment, this difference in style also points toward a deeper division between the two modes of doing contemporary Western philosophy: one more “scientific” (and science-friendly), the other more humanistic (and often critical of science). Another consequence manifests itself in the type of work produced in the two traditions, as well as in the makeup of their intended audiences: with the usual caveat that there are a number of exceptions, analytic philosophers increasingly prefer scholarly papers to books (as do scientists, nowadays), and aim them primarily at a very restricted set of specialists; continentalists, by and large, prefer books which, at least to some extent, are meant to engage the general educated public, not in the sense of being introductions to philosophy, but in that of fashioning the philosopher in the role of a cultural critic with broad appeal.

I find Cooper’s (1994) analysis of the two modes of philosophical discourse particularly convincing, though I will integrate it with the one proposed by Levy (2003), who also builds on Cooper, and of course with my own considerations. According to Cooper, the best way to understand the difference between analytic and continental styles is in terms of three themes present in the latter and either absent or of reduced importance in the former, and to realize that the different styles are in turn underlined by a fundamental difference in mood between practitioners of the two traditions. [6]

The three themes identified by Cooper are: cultural critique, concern with the background conditions of inquiry, and what for lack of a better term he calls “the fall of the self.” Cultural critique is perhaps the chief activity continental philosophers are associated with in the mind of the general European public, particularly in France (think Foucault and Derrida). This it is the sort of thing that relatively few analytical philosophers dabble in, and when they do — as astutely observed by Cooper in the case of Bertrand Russell and his social and anti-war activism — it is in an “off duty” mode, as if the thing had little connection with their “real” work as philosophers.

As far as the second theme is concerned, both analytic and continental philosophers are preoccupied with the conditions for inquiry and knowledge, but from radically different perspectives. As I shall elaborate upon below, philosophy of science (which is for the most part firmly planted in the analytic tradition) approaches the issue from the point of view of logic and epistemology, with talk of logical fallacies, validation of inferences, testability of theories, and so on. On the other side we have “science studies,” a heterogeneous category that includes everything from philosophy of technology to feminist epistemology, with more than an occasional dip into postmodernism. Here the emphasis is on science as a source of power in society, on the social and political dimensions of science in particular, and on the construction of knowledge in general.

The third of Cooper’s themes — the “fall of the self” — is also shared by the two traditions, in a sense, but again the two approaches are almost antithetical. Analytical philosophers generally tend to have a deflating if not downright eliminativist attitude toward “the self,” dismissing outright any form of Cartesian dualism as little more than a medieval superstition, and in some cases arriving at what some of them think is a science-based conclusion that there is no such thing as “the self” or even consciousness at all, yielding something that looks like a strange marriage of cognitive science and Buddhist metaphysics. Continental philosophers do not mean anything like that at all when they talk about the self, the death of the author, or the death of the text — though what exactly they do mean has in many instances been more difficult to ascertain.

For Cooper these three thematic differences are in turn rooted into a fundamental difference of philosophical mood: to put it a bit simplistically, analytic philosophers are sons (and daughters) of the Enlightenment, and they are by and large very sympathetic toward the scientific enterprise, even to the point of using it (wrongly, I will submit later in the book) as a model for philosophy itself. Just consider Russell’s (1918) classic essay, “On the scientific method in philosophy.” Continentalists, on the contrary, tend to be markedly anti-scientistic (in some cases, to be honest, downright anti-science), and are instinctively suspicious of claims of objective knowledge made by cadres of experts. Just think of Foucault’s (1961) classic work on madness. From the continental point of view, philosophers of science like Popper (1963) are hopelessly naive when they look (and think they find) logical rules that can determine the validity of scientific theories, and authors in the continental mode would argue that too much emphasis on a scientific worldview ends up discounting the human dimension altogether — ironically, philosophy’s original chief concern (at least according to Plato). Indeed, if one reads, say analytical philosopher Alex Rosenberg’s (2011) The Atheist Guide to Reality one is cheerfully encouraged to embrace nihilism because that’s where fundamental physics leads to (in his opinion). Imagine how Camus would have reacted to that one.

Cooper’s analysis also provides the point of departure for Levy’s, which leads the latter to add an interesting, if in my opinion debatable, twist. Somewhat ironically, Levy uses Thomas Kuhn’s (1963) ideas on the nature of science as a way to separate the analytical and continental modes of philosophizing. I say ironically because Kuhn is claimed to some extent by both camps: among philosophers of science (analytic) he is credited to have been the first to take seriously the historical-cultural aspects of science, not just the logical-formal ones. From the perspective of science studies (continental) he is associated with having dismantled the idea of objective progress in science, an “accomplishment” he himself vehemently denied.

Levy’s idea is that analytic philosophy has modeled itself as a type of activity akin to Kuhn’s “normal,” or “puzzle-solving,” science, i.e. science working within an established paradigm, deploying the latter to address and resolve specific issues. The paradigm Levy has in mind for analytic philosophy is chiefly the result of the works of Frege and Russell, i.e. an approach that frames philosophy in terms of logic and language. As in normal science, analytical philosophers therefore specialize on highly circumscribed “puzzles,” and Levy is ready to grant (though he leaves the notion unexplored) that such philosophy makes progress — in a way similar to that, say, of evolutionary biologists working within the Darwinian paradigm, or physicists operating under the Standard Model (sans the empirical data as far as philosophy is concerned, naturally). However, this depth of scholarship inevitably trades off against an inability to address broadly relevant issues (just like in normal science, according to Kuhn).

That’s where — in Levy’s analogy — the contrast with continental philosophy becomes evident. The latter functions rather in a perpetual state of Kuhnian revolution, moving from one paradigm to the other (presumably, without ever experiencing significant periods of puzzle-solving in the middle). In a sense, argues Levy, continental philosophy models itself after modernist art, where the goal is not to make progress, at least not in the sense of gradually building on the shoulders’ of previous giants, but to completely replace old views, to invent fresh new ways of looking at the world.

The trouble with this model, as Levy himself acknowledges, is that it makes the two philosophical modes pretty much irreconcilable: “If this [view] is correct, we have little reason to be optimistic that AP [analytic philosophy] and CP [continental philosophy] could overcome their differences and produce a new way of doing philosophy that would combine the strengths of both.” But perhaps such pessimism is a bit hasty. Let us consider one possible way in which the two traditions may be merged into a third way that emphasizes the strengths of both and minimizes their respective weaknesses.


[6] We are, of course, talking about philosophical mood, not the psychological profiles of the individuals involved — though that would perhaps be an excellent topic of research for experimental philosophers.


Chalmers, D., Manley, D. and Wassermann, R. (eds.) (2009) Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology. Oxford University Press.

Cooper, D.E. (1994) Analytical and continental philosophy. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 94:1-18.

Dummett, M. (1978) Can analytical philosophy be systematic, and ought it to be? In: Truth and  Other Enigmas. Duckworth.

Foucault, M. (1961 / 2006) History of Madness. Routledge.

Kuhn, T. (1963) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.

Levy, N. (2003) Analytic and continental philosophy: explaining the differences. Metaphilosophy 34:284-304.

Mulligan, K., Simons, P. and Smith, B. (2006) What’s wrong with contemporary philosophy? Topoi 25:63-67.

Popper, K. (1963) Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. Routldedge.

Rorty, R. (1991) The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy. In: Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth. Philosophical Papers, Volume 1. Cambridge University Press.

Rosenberg, A. (2011) The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions. W.W. Norton & Company.

Russell, B. (1918) On the scientific method in philosophy. In: Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays. Longmans, Green and Co.


42 thoughts on “Philosophy Itself — III

  1. Björn Carlsten

    How would political philosophers hailing from the analytic tradition fit into these various categorization schemes? They do seem to be more widely read outside their own narrow expertise (I’m thinking economics and political science here) than other specialist philosophers.


  2. brodix

    ” Levy is ready to grant (though he leaves the notion unexplored) that such philosophy makes progress — in a way similar to that, say, of evolutionary biologists working within the Darwinian paradigm, or physicists operating under the Standard Model (sans the empirical data as far as philosophy is concerned, naturally).”


    “In a sense, argues Levy, continental philosophy models itself after modernist art, where the goal is not to make progress, at least not in the sense of gradually building on the shoulders’ of previous giants, but to completely replace old views, to invent fresh new ways of looking at the world.”



  3. SocraticGadfly

    Massimo, can we really say the division has much root in the 19th century? Utilitarianism was the dominant British philosophy, and in the US, near the end of the century, pragmatism has a degree of mental kinship, if not actual connection. Utilitarianism is, IMO, as much a system-building philosophy as Hegelianism and Hegelian-Kantian followups were on the continent. And, continental logical positivism had some degree of influence on the later analytic trends.

    I guess that, really, I’d say sharp distinctions don’t start, as seen in modern terms, until around World War II. Per Levy’s referencing Kuhn, I think the analytic tradition has had some degree of paradigm modification, if not necessarily outright shifts.


    Rosenberg? Having read him myself, and Tweeted or G+’ed to you … ugh.


  4. Adam Voight

    The most recent universal common ancestor of European philosophy was the debate / relations between MIll, Husserl, and Frege concerning the foundations of formal sciences. If you read the early Heidegger, this was precisely what drew his interest away from divinity school and into philosophy (see his grad school application writings). Even much of the “later Heidegger is still focused on this: especially “The Question Concerning Technology”, but also the Nietzsche lectures, most of which return to this theme in the final sections of each volume.

    This is precisely what I find most valuable in him, and the only Heidegger scholar who builds on this is Hubert Dreyfus, who is thus more of an analytic thinker than a continental, in spite of the fact that much of the blame for Continental thought lies with the later Heidegger.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. synred

    In a sense, argues Levy, continental philosophy models itself after modernist art, where the goal is not to make progress, at least not in the sense of gradually building on the shoulders’ of previous giants, but to completely replace old views, to invent fresh new ways of looking at the world.

    –I have to admit I just don’t get Jackson Pollock or Mondrian. Picasso I mostly like ,e.g.., bike-bull above.


  6. Patrice Ayme

    Socratic: Racism was born from trying to justify slavery, and the re-establishment of slavery in the New World, was born out of greed. Much of British and American philosophy in the “analytic” tradition seems to be interested by cultivating an obsession with insignificant details which are relevant to the big picture only inasmuch as they enable the participants to forget the big picture.

    When facing a philosophy, one should ask what are the main messages. In the case of the richest philosophers, such as Plato, Aristotle, Abelard, Buridan, Montaigne, Descartes, etc. there are many main messages, depending upon which field of cognition one is considering.

    The main message of analytic philosophy, it seems to me its main message is that it is a giant, brainless red herring. It occupies its participants with nothingness, in other words, its nihilism incarnated.

    Russell was scathing about “New Philosophy” (aka “linguistic”, or “analytic’ philosophy, and not to be confused with French “New Philosophy” of the 1970s-2000s, which is its exact opposite.

    Russell said: … “[analytic philosophy] seems to concern itself, not with the world and our relation to it, but only with the different ways in which silly people can say silly things. If this is all that philosophy has to offer, I cannot think that it is a worthy subject of study. The only reason that I can imagine for the restriction of philosophy to such triviality is the desire to separate it sharply from empirical science. I do not think such a separation can be usefully made.”

    I just point out that the ultimate motive is much more sinister: it is to make ALL of philosophy NOT a “worthy subject of study”. And this is why, exactly, analytic philosophy is so popular in the materially richest universities… in the Panama Papers countries (the Obama administration set-up the modern Panama machinery in 2012, with a “Treaty to Promote Trade”; Panama thus directed tax evasion and worse trafficking towards British and US dominions…).

    It should be called greed logic, not analytical logic… Or how to think very hard about nothing, with the effect of forgetting about everything important.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Björn Carlsten


    I imagine it would be possible to indict our entire intellectual tradition–and not merely philosophy, but science and the arts and humanities as well–by employing similar guilt-by-association-rhetoric. Russel doesn’t have very kind words for Plato’s political philosophy, for example, and what with all philosophy being footnotes to Plato…

    What would be more persuasive to me would be a demonstration or plausible line of argument showing how Hume’s ideas inevitably lead to racism or slavery-apologetics.

    If something like that isn’t forthcoming, I’d be happy to denounce Hume’s racist views (which, sadly enough, were commonplace back then), while still respecting his wisdom in other domains. Much as I respect Darwin’s scientific accomplishments, while bemoaning his Victorian attitudes about race, and enjoy listening to music by Mozart, even though some of his operas exhibit misogyny (Cosi fan Tutte) and racism (the Magic Flute).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Björn Carlsten

    Or, a correction: I wouldn’t be *happy* at all to denounce Hume’s racist views, because I think it’s extremely sad that someone so otherwise brilliant could be so catastrophically mistaken about something we today would and should regard as an obvious evil.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. John Keller

    I think we have to admit that any individual conclusion, or style, could find a home in either camp. There is revolutionary AP (Quine, Kripke) and “normal science” CP (most CPists, of course). There is literary/non-rigorious AP (no comment!) and rigorous CP (Husserl). There is historical AP and non historical CP. There is anti-realist AP and realist CP. And so on. The difference is in what gets taken for granted when it is not the main topic of discussion. In general at least, AP takes realism for granted (in texts not about realism), and in CP antirealism is taken for granted (in texts not about realism). (What kind of realism? Pretty much every kind. Weird, eh?) This difference, I think, is (among?) the most important.

    I worked this view out in a bit more detail on the first page of this:


  10. synred

    The very semantics “analytic” philosophy versus “continent”, is insulting, and unwarranted. First several German philosophers were partisans of infamy, and deeply anti-democratic, not to say vociferous racists: Herder, Kant, Heidegger… To put them in the same bag as the best French philosophers smear the latter with infamy.
    –from Patrice

    Nietzsche not so much:

    From an unused draft for Ecce Homo, (trans. W. Kaufmann, Appendix)

    And from what side did all great obstructions, all calaities in my life emanate? Always from Germans. The damnable German anti-Semitism, this poisonous boil of nevrose nationale [national neurosis], has intruded into my existence almost ruinously during that decisive time when not my destiny but the destiny of humanity was at issue. And I owe it to the same element that my Zarathustra entered this world as indecent literature – its publisher being an anti-Semite. In vain do I look for some sign of tact, of delicatesse, in relation to me: from Jews, yes; never yet from Germans.

    From ‘storm front’ of all places!

    I gather his anti-Semitic sister Elizabeth edited ‘Will to Power’ after his insanity to make it appear more consist with ‘Germanic’ thought.

    In a quick note to his friend Overbeck, right before Nietzsche’s insanity:
    “Just now I am having all anti-Semites shot.”

    When he went nuts Nietzsche scribbled anti-anti-Semitic notes in cray (W. Kaufman some place) in contrast to Luther who wrote massive anti-Semitic screeds when he went nuts. These are never mentioned by Lutherans.

    Still Nietzsche did engage in racialized languages (but didn’t seem dislike Jews):
    from Nietzsche’s Will to Power (trans. W. Kaufmann), s. 864
    Esprit: quality of late races: Jews, Frenchmen, Chinese. (The anti-Semites do not forgive the Jews for possessing “spirit” – and money. Anti-Semites – another name for the “underprivileged.”)
    –and this even from the Elizabeth edited ‘Will to Power’.

    –on ‘Storm Front’ some of the comments seem to indicate a distrust of translation by ‘Kaufman’

    So not all German philosphers were in the racist camp.

    See also Edith Stein who was murder by the Nazi at Dachau. She was a fellow student of Husserl with and critic of Heidegger.


  11. synred

    Darwin on race

    Much as I respect Darwin’s scientific accomplishments, while bemoaning his Victorian attitudes about race,
    –from Bjorn C.
    I have watched how steadily the general feeling, as shown at elections, has been rising against Slavery. What a proud thing for England, if she is the first European nation which utterly abolish is it. I was told before leaving England, that after living in slave countries: all my options would be altered; the only alteration I am aware of is forming a much higher estimate of the Negros character. It is impossible to see a negro & not feel kindly toward him; such cheerful, open honest expressions & such fine muscular bodies; I never saw any of the diminutive Portuguese with their murderous countenances, without almost wishing for Brazil to follow the example of Haiti; & considering the enormous healthy looking black population, it will be wonderful if at some future day it does not take place. ― Charles Darwin to Catherine Darwin (May 22 – July 14 1833) The Correspondence of Charles Darwin Vol. 1 1821-1836 (1985), pp. 312-313

    –Of course Darwinism was misused by Nazi’s and others, but Darwin himself was very advanced for his time.

    His Cousin Francis Galton not so much. He made major contributions to statistics often motivated by racist theories! In the end statistics helps debunk racism, though still sometimes misused in to promote it (“The Bell Curve”). Poor Francis does not get the credit he deserves for regression-to-the-mean, etc. because he founded Eugenics though he did not participate (maybe just because he was dead) in some of its more spectacular abuses.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Björn Carlsten


    Oh, I know Darwin was much less of a racist than his compatriots and contemporaries, but there are still very uncomfortable passages in his works for the modern reader. For instance, from the Descent of Man,

    “It seems at first sight a monstrous supposition that the jet-blackness of the negro should have been gained through sexual selection.”

    “The resemblance of Pithecia satanas with his jet black skin, white rolling eyeballs, and hair parted on the top of head, to a negro in miniature, is almost ludicrous.”

    Both quotes are from the 2nd edition, from chapter XIX under the heading “COLOUR OF THE SKIN.”

    But regardless of Darwin’s thoughts about race, my point was simply that it shouldn’t matter as far as his scientific accomplishments are concerned, with the exception being if the entire theoretical edifice were to rest on indefensible racist propositions (which evolution doesn’t).

    Liked by 1 person

  13. SocraticGadfly

    Patrice, I know the history, but, again, irrelevant. Let’s try to stay on topic, as I act like junior Massimo. (Ditto for others, as we wandered fairly off topic fairly quickly on Massimo’s previous post and he closed comments.)


  14. synred

    So I couldn’t find that 1st quote in the Kindle version, but there’s plenty of ammunition for your point in XIX:


    Differences between man and woman—Causes of such differences and of certain characters common to both sexes—Law of battle—Differences in mental powers, and voice—On the influence of beauty in determining the marriages of mankind—Attention paid by savages to ornaments—Their ideas of beauty in woman—The tendency to exaggerate each natural peculiarity.

    Darwin, Charles (2011-03-24). The Descent of Man (Kindle Locations 9828-9831). . Kindle Edition.

    I gather DofM went through a lot of additions so that likely explains why I’m having trouble.

    Incidentally, both DoM and Origin are available free on Kindle. You don’t need to own a Kindle, you an get an app for your PC free.


  15. synred

    Darwin on race: I ‘ve search second addition for ‘Colour’. Unfortunately, Kindle only gives you first 100 hits in book, so it didn’t get to XIX. I’d like to look at this in context.

    A lot of the ‘data’ contributing to DoM is from rather explicitly racist sources (‘explores’ and such.)

    Still it’s pretty easy to show Darwin as a ‘man of his time’ in this chapter. He was none-the-less in way advance of many of his contemporaries. And his hope that the public would vote for a party eliminating slave-trade was fulllfilled.

    As this is related to attitude of philosphers toward race, I don’t think it is irrelevant.

    Wasn’t Darwin after all a ‘natural philosopher?’


  16. Björn Carlsten


    I never suggested it was OK to be a racist back in the day, only that it was widespread, and that it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that even great thinkers fall prey to it.

    It was a moral failing–a great moral failing–of Hume’s that he was racist, but that has zero bearing on his other intellectual contributions, for which he’s justifiably well-regarded. As I said before, I can only see Hume’s views on race being relevant if they significantly contributed to his thought, or if his famous arguments hinge on racist presuppositions.

    As to your suggestion that I attempted to “smear” Darwin with being racist, I think saying he had a Victorian attitude about race is not only accurate, but a very mild charge to level. You need to read Darwin with rose-tinted glasses to miss the racist language he occasionally employs. Yes, he was progressive for his day, as admitted, but as a plain reading of his works show, he was far from perfect in this regard.


    May I suggest you search this page , it should contain the passage I cited. It’s from a different edition, I think.


  17. brodix


    Here is an interesting article making the point that racism was not so much an attempt to validate slavery, but deliberately manufactured to keep poor whites and blacks separate, as device for social control.
    View at

    Philosophy, in this case, does seem more an effort to pick through the detritus of history and try to rationalize it.


  18. synred

    Colour of the Skin.—The best kind of evidence that in man the colour of the skin has been modified through sexual selection is scanty; for in most races the sexes do not differ in this respect, and only slightly, as we have seen, in others. We know, however, from the many facts already given that the colour of the skin is regarded by the men of all races as a highly important element in their beauty; so that it is a character which would be likely to have been modified through selection, as has occurred in innumerable instances with the lower animals. It seems at first sight a monstrous supposition that the jet-blackness of the negro should have been gained through sexual selection; but this view is supported by various analogies, and we know that negroes admire their own colour. “With mammals, when the sexes differ in colour, the male is often black or much darker than the female; and it depends merely on the form of inheritance whether this or any other tint is transmitted to both sexes or to one alone. The resemblance to a negro in minature of Pithecia satunas with his jet black skin, white rolling eyeballs, and hair parted on the top of the head, is almost ludicrous.


  19. marc levesque

    So good Spock is analytical and evil Spock is continental 😉

    “But perhaps such pessimism is a bit hasty. Let us consider one possible way in which the two traditions may be merged into a third way that emphasizes the strengths of both and minimizes their respective weaknesses”

    I’m looking forward to your next post!

    Liked by 2 people

  20. nannus

    The analytic/continental divide seems quite problematic. The term “continental philosophy” seems to have originated in the “analytic camp” (who actually introduced this term, when, and for what reason? A historical analysis is necessary here). I have not come accros such a distinction within Germany, for example, I only bumped into it when starting to read English philosophy texts. On the other hand, in German 19th and 20th century philosophy, I see a great variety of quite different schools, currents and approaches.

    I think one can compare this distinction to the vertebrate/invertebrate distinction in biology. “Invertebrates” are not a natural clade, they are a hodgepodge of different groups of animals, some of which are closely related to vertebrates. In a similar manner, some analytic philosophers seem to have created a “not-us” group and called it “continental”. I don’t think this is a very usefull concept. It blurres the multitude of quite different directions, currents and traditions,. Within all these different schools, the analytic tradition is just one (or even several( among many, not a fundamentally different and very special one, just as the vertebrates are only one branch of the deuterostomes which are just one branch of the bilaterians, and so on.

    In biology, vertebrate biologists put their own phylum on a special level besides a rest-group that is actually very diverse and shows varying degrees of relatedness to the vertebrates.

    In philosophy, analytical philosophers did something similar by giving themselves special status and throwing a number of other schools and approaches into a rest-group pot of “continental philosophy”. This distinction blurs the rich structure within what is called “continental”. It also seems to be connected with a claim of superiority. It is an example of centrism.

    In this respect it is similar to the East/West distinction, in which we have a “we-group” of western philosophy and a “rest group” of “eastern philosophy” that actually consists of rather different things. In such centristic views, one branch of something (usually the branch one is sitting on) is given special prominence, be it “Western Culture”, “European Culture”, “Western Philosophy”, “Analytic Philosophy” or “Vertebrate animals”.

    Liked by 5 people

  21. synred

    Hume and Prejudice

    Robert Palter Hume Studies Volume XXI, Number 1 (April, 1995) 3-24.

    Your use of the HUME STUDIES archive indicates your acceptance of HUME STUDIES’ Terms and Conditions of Use, available at

    According to this article, Hume’s reputation as a racist depends largely on to versions of a footnote:

    I am apt to suspect the negroes, and in general all the other species

    of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally

    inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other

    complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in

    action or speculation.

    I am apt to suspect the negroes to be naturally inferior to the whites.

    There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor

    Even any individual eminent either in action or speculation


  22. davidlduffy

    Effective Altruism and Animal Liberation might be two examples of social engagement/criticim that directly arises from analytic style philosophy, if one takes the old utilitarian v. Germano-Coleridgean split as the same thing.

    “out right”-> “outright”


  23. Alan White


    I’m waaaay behind on this series–and I intend to catch up–it looks really interesting–but I simply could *not* wait to compliment you on the two Spock portrayals!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Massimo Post author


    “How would political philosophers hailing from the analytic tradition fit into these various categorization schemes? They do seem to be more widely read outside their own narrow expertise”

    Indeed, they represent another model of how contemporary philosophy should be done, in my opinion.


    “can we really say the division has much root in the 19th century?”

    No, the split is usually traced to Kant, 18th century. But of course there are precursors for almost everything, and the “divide” is not at all clear and sharp, either temporally or geographically. Still, I do think that calls for disregarding it as useless are a bit strange, given how some authors on the two sides really are so clearly different. Nobody would suggest that Russell and Derrida were doing the same thing, whatever it is that they were doing.


    “Racism is wrong, but xenophobia/ethnocentrism as a justification for slavery is acceptable?”

    This discussion of race yesterday was, in my opinion, entirely off topic and not particularly productive. As a result Patrice has been blocked from the forum for a month.


    “So good Spock is analytical and evil Spock is continental 😉 ”

    I knew someone was going to comment on that one! Well, I didn’t make up the image, and I guess I yielded to the temptation to use it, even though it is a bit at odds with my call for ecumenicism between the two sides. Then again, I have always been fascinated by “evil” Spock…


    “The analytic/continental divide seems quite problematic. The term “continental philosophy” seems to have originated in the “analytic camp””

    Sure, it is problematic, and I’m hoping that eventually the two traditions will merge again, retaining the “analytic” strength of one and the focus on relevance of the other. But as I said above, “problematic” doesn’t mean meaningless, I think. Which means that I disagree that it isn’t a useful concept / divide, it really does pick different styles and concerns by philosophers who seem to think very differently. Though as you say, there are plenty of “analytic” philosophers on the Continent, and plenty of “continental” ones outside of it. I think the same goes for the East/West tradition: yes, taken at face value it is simplistic, but it does pick on real geographical and historical differences. At any rate, as I wrote in the OP, I’m interested in understanding the various forms and traditions and retaining the best in each, not in ranking and excluding.

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