What is Continental Philosophy?

Kareem Khalifa Department of Philosophy Middlebury College

I. II. Failed definitions Critchley’s Wisdom-Knowledge Distinction III. Historicity IV. Critique, Praxis, and Emancipation V. Scientism versus Obscurantism

I. Failed Definitions
• The Continental-Analytic “Split” • Bad Labels • Bad Caricatures

and philosophy Major Figures Caricature . Quine. structuralism. Husserl. Neurath. Popper. Frankfurt School. science. Moore. speech-act pragmatics. Marxism. Austin. Derrida Blurs line between poetry religion. pragmatism. ordinary language analysis. phenomenology. Foucault. Heidegger. logical positivism. Freud. poststructuralism Hegel. Sartre. Carnap. Nietzsche. critical theory. existentialism. Wittgenstein. Marx. Hempel.The “Split” Continental Major movements idealism. hermeneutics. naturalism Russell. psychoanalysis. and philosophy Analytic logical empiricism. Sellars Blurs line between mathematics.

naturalism are generally regarded as alternatives to analytic philosophy • So the labels aren’t correct. – Pragmatism.Are the labels correct? • “Continental” is a misnomer – Many key analytic figures are from Germany and Austria • “Analytic” is a misnomer – Widespread consensus that there is no such thing as an analytic truth. .

Set Theory (Badiou) – Much of contemporary science studies is Continental in its theoretical orientation (Latour. . “Frictionless spinning in the void” (McDowell).Are the caricatures correct? • Continental philosophers use mathematical tropes and scientific concepts – Topology (Deleuze. Pickering) • Analytic philosophers use literary and religious tropes and concepts – The “Mystical” (Wittgenstein). “Joycean machines” (Dennett) • So the caricatures aren’t correct. Lacan).

II. Critchley on the split • Knowledge versus Wisdom • Suggested amendment: – Forms of Rationality versus Value of Cultural Practices .

. – “Practical” concern about how to lead a good life. – “Theoretical” concern about how one can be rational in accepting that things are the way they are. – Paradigm: Science • Continental philosophers concerned with wisdom.Knowledge versus Wisdom • Analytic philosophers concerned with knowledge. typically construed as life of reflection.

Foucault is interested in how forms of knowledge: • Arise under specific social conditions • Serve as vehicles for controlling people – Ex. Habermas is interested in how scientific knowledge presupposes several practical interests .Virtue of Critchley’s Distinction • Continental philosophers are concerned with wisdom • They are also rarely concerned with knowledge independent of wisdom – Ex.

art. poverty. God. just war. justice. etc. and religious questions – Analytic studies of morality. – These don’t seem terribly “scientific” or “epistemic” – These also seem important for leading a good life. etc. social.Problem #1 with Critchley’s formulation • Analytic philosophers are concerned with ethical. political. . applied ethics (bioethics. law. democracy.). music. aesthetic.

. – “Life” has both a cultural and a biological sense.Problem #2 with Critchley’s formulation • Search for Wisdom ≈ Search for “meaning of life” • “Meaning of life” is unfortunate phrase – “Meaning” has a long history in analytic philosophy.

beliefs. doctrine. etc. social and political philosophy). action. the concern is with providing reasons for a belief. ethics. traditions.Proposed modification to Critchley • Analytic philosophers are concerned with forms of rationality – Regardless of the topic (science. folkways. . or policy • Continental philosophers are concerned with the value of cultural practices – A more precise gloss on what’s meant by the “meaning of life” – Cultural practices include lifestyles.

Historicity • • • • • Recap.III. and lingering ambiguities Historicity Distance Assessment of Critchley’s historicity Alternative account of historicity .

government. Continental philosophy = philosophy concerned with the value of cultural practices • However. such as science. biomedicine.Recap and a lingering problem • Thus far. . etc. analytic philosophy is also concerned with the value of cultural practices. law.

Husserl’s problem of other minds. External world.Differences in method • Analytic philosophy is concerned with conceptual problems – Ex. the objectivity of moral claims • Continental philosophy is concerned with contextualized problems – Ex. the objectivity of Marxist moral claims . Heidegger’s conception of the external world. other minds.

– For the latter issue. we need rigorous argumentation that can tell us whether or not it is rational to believe in an external world .The “biography objection” • Contextualizing problems conflates biography and history with philosophy – Heidegger’s thinking that the external world is knowable doesn’t tell us that the external world actually is knowable.

Historicity: the argument against “pure” conceptual problems • The historicity claim: a person’s beliefs. now it is considered the most central concept in philosophy of science . and problems are influenced by (“embedded” in) his/her historical context – This includes philosophers – Ex. values. Most analytic philosophers of science from the 18th through the early 20th century believed that causation was a metaphysically dubious concept.

The limits of the historicity claim • The historicity claim justifies contextualizing problems only if: – There is always a significant “distance” between us and the people (philosophers) we interpret • i..e. only if our assumptions are very different than theirs • If not. then we can treat their problems as identical to our own • Call this the “distance claim” .

so sometimes the “biography objection” is wellplaced .Do historicity and distance justify contextualizing problems? • Both the historicity and the distance claims depend on historical and social-scientific facts about us and the people we study • The historicity claim is probable • The distance claim is contingent. one can contextualize problems productively • It does not show that one must always do so. depending on who we’re interpreting • Thus. this shows only that in certain cases.

A stronger historicity claim • Recall: analytic philosophy is concerned with forms of rationality • Forms of rationality depend on historical context – To be continued on Thursday… • So analytic philosophy should contextualize problems – Though perhaps not in the same way as Continental philosophy .

and emancipation – Crisis – Historicity again – Tradition . praxis. Critique. and emancipation • • • • Recap and lingering problem The two cultures solution Critique of the two cultures solution A better solution: critique. praxis.IV.

Recap and Problem. Redux • Recap: Continental philosophy contextualizes problems concerning the value of cultural practices • Problem: How does one contextualize a problem? How does one solve that problem? .

The Two Cultures: Critchley’s view •Bentham •Concern with truth •Critically destructive •Social change/reform •Progressive •“Analytic” •Coleridge •Concern with meaning •Hermeneutically reconstructive •Traditional •“Continental .

spiritual •Hermeneutical •Social reclamation •Traditional •“Continental” .The Two Cultures: My view •Bentham •Concern with rationality •Pragmatic •Critical •Social change/reform •Progressive •“Analytic” •Coleridge •Concern with cultural values •Artistic.

The Two Cultures: contextualizing and solving problems • Continental philosophy contextualizes problems concerning the value of cultural practices using quasi-artistic and –spiritual hermeneutical methods. • It solves those problems by reclaiming certain traditions that have been lost or forgotten .

• How do we reconcile these dichotomies? . – Critical by being hermeneutical. etc. and aesthetic – Critical of forms of rationality by hermeneutically reconstructing them as presupposing values of cultural practices.Problems with “The Two Cultures” model • Continental philosophy typically aims to be: – Progressive by reclaiming traditions. spiritual. – Pragmatic.

Critique. and Emancipation: The Common Solution • Key idea: We reorient ourselves of our traditions to affect social change • We can thus overcome the dichotomies of the two cultures model • We can also elaborate how to contextualize and solve problems about the value of cultural practices . Praxis.

Contingent (because of historicity claim). Bad/Problematic. and Can be changed for the better (emancipation) .Crisis • Producing a crisis (critique) consists of making people aware of the fact that some present set of practices (praxis) is: – – – – Taken for granted.

i. and praxis • If the historicity claim is correct. our cultural practices (praxis) may have been different.. culture. Thus. and society” (64). • • . in that if history had been otherwise. This invites us to think about how our practices might have been better. to critique our practices. historicity implies that the human being is “a finite subject embedded in an ultimately contingent network of history. historicity. then all human experiences are contingent.e.Critique.

Tradition • • • One can recover something from a past tradition that heightens awareness of a contemporary problem. It is contrasted with a dogmatic reception. or sedimented experience of tradition. taken for granted. Resolves many of the “Two Cultures” dichotomies • . This is a critical confrontation or (using Husserl’s term) reactivated experience of tradition.

– Bad/Problematic. and – Can be changed for the better by having a reactivated experience of the tradition from which they arose .What is Continental Philosophy? The Ultimate Answer! • Continental philosophy argues that certain cultural practices are: – Taken for granted. – Contingent.

Scientism versus obscurantism • Continental philosophy of science • Anti-science versus Anti-scientism • Anti-science as obscurantism .V.

and – Can be changed for the better by having a reactivated experience of the tradition from which they arose . – Problematic. – Contingent.Continental philosophy of science • Continental philosophers often hold that science consists of a set of practices that: – Are easily taken for granted.

Example: Heidegger • Science looks at physical objects in abstract and theoretical ways and “forgets” the practical value that they have in everyday practices. mundane. impersonal. inauthentic. • Thus. etc. • This is one expression of how modern human existence is routinized. . we need to remind ourselves of how objects exist for us in everyday practice.

– Exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy. and the humanities) • Science can be good – Cures for diseases • But it also can be bad – Pollution • Critiques of scientism are often confused with critiques of science.Scientism and Science • Scientism is (by definition) bad. the social sciences. .

– Ex. and furthermore.g. there is no way that these assumptions can be justified scientifically.: Habermas critiques scientism on the grounds that it takes for granted the interests underlying the search for scientific knowledge .Ways of critiquing scientism • • – – It privileges knowledge at the expense of wisdom.. It fails to recognize that science and technology play a role in alienating human beings from the world. By disenchanting the world By turning all objects into commodities that can be traded without full appreciation of the deeper values they possess beyond a market structure • It fails to recognize that science has its own set of unjustified assumptions. e.

” (118) – . More precisely. that is somehow of a higher order.The Slippery Slope to Obscurantism • • Scientism’s faults are not science’s faults Failure to appreciate this leads to obscurantism: – A style characterized by deliberate vagueness or abstruseness typically opposed to the spread of knowledge or the exchange of ideas. but essentially occult. Critchley characterizes this as “the rejection of the causal explanations offered by natural science by referring them to an alternative causal story.

VI. and can be changed for the better by having a reactivated experience of the tradition from which they arose • Analytic philosophy argues that certain forms of thinking are more rational than others • These need not compete with each other . contingent. Conclusion • Continental philosophy argues that certain cultural practices are: – Taken for granted. problematic.

Useful connections • Continental philosophers must show that it is rational to accept that a cultural practice is taken for granted. problematic. • Analytic philosophy must examine the historicity of forms of rationality. and capable of improvement. • Productive disagreements distance claims and biography objections • Checks and balances against analytic philosophy’s scientistic tendencies and continental philosophy’s obscurantist tendencies . contingent.

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