As is well known (to philosophers), perhaps one of the most controversial, often even acrimonious , splits in modern philosophy is the one between the so-called “analytic” and “continental” approaches. 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).
Analytic philosophy refers to a style of doing philosophy characteristic of the contemporary British empiricists, like G.E. Moore and Bertrand 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  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.”
Continental philosophy — the name deriving from the fact that its leading figures have been German or French thinkers — is seen as a more discursive, even polemical, way of doing philosophy, often characterized by not exactly an extremely transparent way of exposing one’s ideas, and more concerned with social issues than its analytic counterpart.
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? Richard Rorty  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.” Then again, Rorty was notorious for that sort of not entirely helpful quipping.
Perhaps the first thing that becomes obvious when comparing analytic and continental works is their difference in style. As D.E. Cooper  put it, “We know where Quine or Derrida belongs, before grasping what he is saying, from the way he says it. Or consider the fact that much continental writing can be parodied in a way that analytical generally cannot.” More charitably, N. Levy  puts it in terms of style, characterizing continental philosophy as more “literary” as opposed to the clearer but more rigid analytic style. 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 humanistic (and often critical of science). Another consequence is in the type of work produced within the two traditions, as well as their intended audiences: with the usual caveat that there are plenty of exceptions, analytic philosophers prefer scholarly papers to books, and aim them primarily at a very restricted set of specialists; continentalists, instead, 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 putting the philosopher in the role of a cultural critic with broad appeal).
I find Cooper’s analysis of the two modes of philosophic discourse particularly convincing, though I will integrate it with the one proposed by Levy, 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 largely absent in the former, styles that are in turn underlined by a fundamental difference in mood between practitioners of the two traditions (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 ).
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, Derrida, etc.). But it is the sort of thing that hardly any analytical philosopher dabbles in, and when they do — as astutely observed by Cooper in the case of Bertrand Russell — it is in an “off duty” mode, as if the thing had no 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 (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 predictably 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 theme — 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 out right any form of Cartesian dualism as little more than a medieval superstition, and even 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 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 been up for grab for years now.
For Cooper these three thematic differences are themselves rooted in 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, it can reasonably be argued) as a model for philosophy itself. Just consider Russell’s  classic essay, “On the scientific method in philosophy.” Continentalists, on the contrary, tend to be markedly anti-scientistic  (if not downright anti-science), and are instinctively suspicious of claims of objective knowledge made by a cadre of experts. Just think of Foucault’s  classic work on madness. From the continental point of view, philosophers of science like Popper  are hopelessly naive when they look (and think they found) simple logical rules that can determine the validity of scientific theories, and they 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  The Atheist Guide to Reality one is cheerfully encouraged to embrace nihilism because that’s where fundamental physics leads. Imagine how Camus would have reacted to that one.
So far, I do find Cooper’s analysis largely on target. It also provides Levy’s point of departure, to which he adds an interesting, if in my opinion debatable, twist. Somewhat ironically, Levy uses Thomas Kuhn’s  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 as beeing the first to take seriously the social-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 denied vehemently).
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. a paradigm that frames philosophy in terms of logic and language. As in normal science, analytical philosophers therefore specialize in highly circumscribed “puzzles,” and Levy is ready to grant (though he leaves the notion unexplored) that such philosophy makes progress. 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. It 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 weaknesses.
A case study: philosophy of science vs science studies
Contra Levy, I do think that there is quite a bit that can be done to reconcile analytical and continental approaches, combining them into an expanded view of philosophy that has both depth and breadth, and is concerned both with specific technical “puzzles” as well as with broad socio-political issues. I will use the contrast between philosophy of science (analytical) and “science studies” (more continental) as an example of where the contrast lies and how to overcome it. Not everything will be rosy in the picture that I propose, as what some analytical philosophers have been doing may turn out to be somewhat irrelevant, while what some (extreme) continentalists have been arguing will reveal itself as pretty close to nonsense on stilts.
Let us begin with a thumbnail sketch of the two approaches to the study of the nature of science. Philosophy of science, as it has been understood throughout the 20th century, is concerned with the logic of scientific theories and practices, which range from broad questions about science at large (say, whether falsifiability of scientific theories is a valid criterion of progress) to fairly narrowly defined problems within a given special science (e.g., the concept of biological species, ). In other words, philosophy of science is a standard type of analytical practice, where one is concerned with the logic of arguments and the logical structure of concepts, in this case those deployed by scientists in the course of their work.
Science studies — as I am using the term here — is a bit more fuzzy, as it includes a number of approaches to the study of science that are not necessarily directly compatible with each other. These include philosophers who use what may be termed an ethnographic approach to science , those who are interested in cross-cultural comparisons among similar types of science laboratories , and of course those who take a feminist approach to scientific epistemology , among others. What these authors have in common is a focus on the social and political dimensions of science, which is seen primarily as a human activity characterized by ideologies and issues of power.
The clash between the two perspectives has led to the infamous “science wars” of the 1990s, of which the iconic moment was represented by the highly embarrassing (for the continental/postmodern side), and yet also somewhat overplayed, “Sokal affair” . As is well known, New York University physicist Alan Sokal, fed up with what he perceived (largely, it must be said, rightly) as postmodernist nonsense about science, concocted a fake paper entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” submitted it to the editors of the prestigious postmodernist journal Social Text, and managed to get it published before exposing it as a hoax. While certainly shaming for the editors in question, and a highly visible black mark for a whole way of criticizing science, the import of the affair should not have been as large as it turned out to be. Sokal himself recognized that one can hardly impugn an entire tradition of scholarship on the basis of one editorial mistake, particularly given that Social Text is not even a peer reviewed publication. Nonetheless, one can understand the frustration of scientists (and of analytical philosophers of science) in the face of, for instance, extreme feminist epistemology, where one author boasts (with precious little to back up her extraordinary claim) that “I doubt in our wildest dreams we ever imagined we would have to reinvent both science and theorizing itself” ; or of another’s embarrassingly scientifically naive, almost tragicomical re-interpretation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity .
What got lost in the kerfuffle is that of course science is both an epistemic activity that at least strives (and has been historically remarkably successful) for a rational use of evidence and a social activity with inevitable ideological, political and even personal psychological components playing a non inconspicuous part in it. In some sense, this is nothing new. John Stuart Mill, one of the early “philosophers of science” (in the broadest sense of the term, which of course was not in use at the time) was well aware of the fallibility of science as a human enterprise , which brought him to the conclusion that the best science is the result of collective cross-criticism. But Mill was also very much a philosopher of science in what would later become the analytical sense of the term, for instance engaging in a famous debate with William Whewell on the nature of induction .
It is also not the case that 20th century philosophers of science completely ignored the social (and even historical) dimension of science. That is what made Kuhn’s famous work so notable (and controversial). And of course let us not forget (however much at times one would wish to) the radical critique of science produced by enfant terrible Paul Feyerabend . While neither Kuhn nor Feyerabend can reasonably be considered part of the postmodern-continental tradition, they have both been invoked as forerunners of the latter when it comes to science studies — Feyerabend would have likely been pleased, while Kuhn certainly wasn’t. Both of them made points that should serve as part of a blueprint for an expanded philosophy of science, albeit not necessarily following the exact lines drawn by these two authors. For instance, Feyerabend was simply being irritating when — in what sounds like a caricature of postmodernism — he said that the only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths, or when he wrote “three cheers for the fundamentalists in California who succeeded in having a dogmatic formulation of the theory of evolution removed from textbooks and an account of Genesis included” . Then again, he did realize that the fundamentalists from California would in turn soon become a center of power and cause their own problems: “I have no doubt that they would be just as dogmatic and close-minded if given the chance.” A more equitable assessment of the situation might be that religious fundamentalists are much more likely than mainstream scientists to be dogmatic and close-minded, but that this doesn’t mean that scientists cannot be or have not been.
Kuhn — who interestingly started out as a physicist, moving then to history and philosophy of science — contrasted his descriptive approach to understanding how science work with Popper’s more traditional prescriptive one. While Popper (and others) pretended to tell scientists what they were doing right (or wrong) based on a priori principles of logic, Kuhn wanted to figure out how real science actually works, and one sure way of doing this is through historical analyses (the other one, taken up by many scholars in the continental tradition, is to do sociology of science). The reason he became a precursor of a certain type of science studies, and at the same time got into trouble with many in philosophy of science, is that his model of normal science equilibria punctuated by paradigm changes does not have an immediate way to accommodate the idea that science makes progress. This was not, apparently, Kuhn’s intention, hence his 1969 postscript to clarify his views and distance himself from a postmodern reading of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Again, though, it seems to me that in Kuhn as in Feyerabend there is a tension that is not really necessary: one can reasonably argue that science is a power structure prone to corruption if left unchecked, and yet not go all relativist and say that it is no different than a fundamentalist church. Equally, one can stress the importance of both historical and sociological analyses of science without for that reason having to throw out logic and epistemology.
Can, then, the insights and approaches of philosophy of science and science studies be reconciled to forge a better and more comprehensive philosophy of science? Yes, and this project has already been under way for close to three decades, a synthesis that constitutes a good example of (conceptual) progress in philosophy. While there are a number of scholars that could be discussed in this context, not all of them necessarily using the same approach, I am particularly attracted to what Longino  calls “reconciliationists,” a group that includes M. Hesse , R. Giere , and P. Kitcher .
Giere, for instance, applies decision theory to the modeling of scientific judgment, which allows him to include sociological parameters as part of the mix. His approach led him to formulate a broader theory of the nature of science from a perspectivist standpoint . The analogy introduced and develop by Giere is with color perception: there is no such thing as an absolutely objective, observer-independent, perception of color; and yet it is also not the case that color perception is irreducibly subjective. This is because the perception of color is the result of two types of phenomena: on the one hand, color is the outcome of observer-independent phenomena such as diffraction and wavelength of incident light on physical objects with certain surface characteristics; on the other hand, it is made possible by the brain’s particular way of interpreting and transducing external stimuli and internal electrical signals. Similarly, science is a process by which the objective, mind-independent external world is understood via the psychological and sociological factors affecting human cognition. The result is a (inherently subjective, yet often converging) perspective on the world. A nice compromise between the “view from nowhere” assumed by classical philosophers of science and the irreducible relativism of postmodern science studies.
Hesse’s  approach is intriguing in its own right, and builds on W.V.O. Quine’s famous concept of a “web of knowledge” (as opposed to, say, an edifice of knowledge, an image which raises endless and futile questions concerning the “foundations” of such edifice: ). Hesse reaches even further back, to the work of Duhem as presented in the latter’s The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, even though modern scholars recognize important distinctions between the views of Duhem and those of Quine in this respect . The basic idea is to build a Duhem-Quine type web of belief, some of the elements of which are not just scientific facts and theories, but also social factors and other criteria that go into the general practice of science: “there is [thus] no theoretical fact or lawlike relation whose truth or falsity can be determined in isolation from the rest of the network. Moreover, many conflicting networks may more or less fit the same facts, and which one is adopted must depend on criteria other than the facts: criteria involving simplicity, coherence with other parts of science, and so on” [23: 1974, 26]. This is an expansion of the famous underdetermination thesis to include logical (coherence), aesthetic (simplicity) and sociological considerations. While it is far more permissive than perhaps a strict logical positivist might like, it is certainly no nudge in the direction of Feyerabend-like methodological anarchism, and much less is it of any comfort to epistemic relativism.
What I have presented here, of course, is but a sketch of a large and continuously evolving field within the broader scope of philosophy. Nevertheless, I think I have made a good argument that analytical and continental approaches to the study of science can both be pruned of their excesses or dead weight, as well as that the best of the two traditions can (indeed, should) be combined into a more vibrant and relevant conception of philosophy of science. As a bonus, we have also encountered what I think is a compelling example of how philosophy makes progress.
Massimo Pigliucci is a biologist and philosopher at the City University of New York. His main interests are in the philosophy of science and pseudoscience. He is the editor-in-chief of Scientia Salon, and his latest book (co-edited with Maarten Boudry) is Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem (Chicago Press).
 Levy, N. (2003) Analytic and continental philosophy: explaining the differences. Metaphilosophy 34:284-304.
 Dummett, M. (1978) Can analytical philosophy be systematic, and ought it to be? In: Truth and Other Enigmas. Duckworth, p. 458.
 Rorty, R. (1991) The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy. In: Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth. Philosophical Papers, Volume 1. Cambridge University Press, p. 23.
 Cooper, D.E. (1994) Analytical and continental philosophy. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 94:1-18.
 Why Phi Needs XPhi, by Mark O’Brien, Scientia Salon, 16 May 2014.
 Russell, B. (1918) On the scientific method in philosophy. In: Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays. Longmans, Green and Co.
 On scientism, see: Staking positions amongst the varieties of scientism, by Massimo Pigliucci, Scientia Salon, 28 April 2014.
 Foucault, M. (1961 / 2006) History of Madness. Routledge.
 Popper, K. (1963) Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. Routldedge.
 Rosenberg, A. (2011) The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions. W.W. Norton & Company. For a critique of the book, see my review of it for The Philosopher’s Magazine.
 Kuhn, T. (1963) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
 See, for instance: Brigandt, I. (2003) Species Pluralism Does Not Imply Species Eliminativism. Philosophy of Science 70:1305–1316. / Ereshefsky, M. (1998) Species Pluralism and Anti-Realism. Philosophy of Science 65:103–120. / Pigliucci, M. (2003) Species as family resemblance concepts the (dis-)solution of the species problem? BioEssays 25:596–602.
 Latour, B. and Woolgar, S. (1986) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton University Press.
 Traweek, S. (1988) Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists. Harvard University Press.
 Keller, E.F. (1983) A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. W.H. Freeman. / Longino, H. (1990) Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry. Princeton University Press.
 Sokal, A. and Bricmont, J. (2003) Intellectual Impostures. Profile Books. See also, by Alan Sokal, What is science and why should we care?, Scientia Salon, 26 March 2014, 27 March 2014, and 28 March 2014.
 Harding, S. (1989) Value-free research is a delusion. New York Times, 22 October.
 Latour, B. (1988) A relativistic account of Einstein’s relativity. Social Studies of Science 18:3-44.
 Longino, H. (2006) The social dimensions of scientific knowledge. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
 Whewell, W. (1847) Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. John W. Parker. / Mill, J.S. (1874) A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation. Harper & Row.
 Feyerabend, P. (1975) Against Method. Verso.
 Feyerabend, P. (1974) How to defend society against science.
 Hesse, M. (1974) The Structure of Scientific Inference. University of California Press. / Hesse, M. (1980) Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science. Indiana University Press.
 Giere, R. (2010) Scientific Perspectivism. University of Chicago Press.
 Kitcher, P. (1993) The Advancement of Science: Science Without Legend, Objectivity Without Illusions. Oxford University Press.
 Fumerton, R. (2010) Foundationalist theories of epistemic justification. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
 Ariew, R. (1984) The Duhem thesis. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 35:313-325.