Is there (still) a continental-analytic divide in philosophy?

Analytic-continentalby Massimo Pigliucci

As is well known (to philosophers), perhaps one of the most controversial, often even acrimonious [1], 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 [2] 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 [3] 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 [4] 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 [1] 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 [5]).

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 [6] classic essay, “On the scientific method in philosophy.” Continentalists, on the contrary, tend to be markedly anti-scientistic [7] (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 [8] classic work on madness. From the continental point of view, philosophers of science like Popper [9] 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 [10] 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 [11] 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, [12]). 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 [13], those who are interested in cross-cultural comparisons among similar types of science laboratories [14], and of course those who take a feminist approach to scientific epistemology [15], 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” [16]. 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” [17]; or of another’s embarrassingly scientifically naive, almost tragicomical re-interpretation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity [18].

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 [19], 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 [20].

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 [21]. 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” [22]. 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 [19] calls “reconciliationists,” a group that includes M. Hesse [23], R. Giere [24], and P. Kitcher [25].

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 [24]. 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 [23] 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: [26]). 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 [27]. 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).

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

[2] Dummett, M. (1978) Can analytical philosophy be systematic, and ought it to be? In: Truth and  Other Enigmas. Duckworth, p. 458.

[3] Rorty, R. (1991) The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy. In: Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth. Philosophical Papers, Volume 1. Cambridge University Press, p. 23.

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

[5] Why Phi Needs XPhi, by Mark O’Brien, Scientia Salon, 16 May 2014.

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

[7] On scientism, see: Staking positions amongst the varieties of scientism, by Massimo Pigliucci, Scientia Salon, 28 April 2014.

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

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

[10] 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.

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

[12] 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.

[13] Latour, B. and Woolgar, S. (1986) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton University Press.

[14] Traweek, S. (1988) Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists. Harvard University Press.

[15] 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.

[16] 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.

[17] Harding, S. (1989) Value-free research is a delusion. New York Times, 22 October.

[18] Latour, B. (1988) A relativistic account of Einstein’s relativity. Social Studies of Science 18:3-44.

[19] Longino, H. (2006) The social dimensions of scientific knowledge. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[20] 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.

[21] Feyerabend, P. (1975) Against Method. Verso.

[22] Feyerabend, P. (1974) How to defend society against science.

[23] 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.

[24] Giere, R. (2010) Scientific Perspectivism. University of Chicago Press.

[25] Kitcher, P. (1993) The Advancement of Science: Science Without Legend, Objectivity Without Illusions. Oxford University Press.

[26] Fumerton, R. (2010) Foundationalist theories of epistemic justification. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[27] Ariew, R. (1984) The Duhem thesis. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 35:313-325.

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73 thoughts on “Is there (still) a continental-analytic divide in philosophy?

  1. Thanks for helping to clarify a distinction that has always muddled me.

    Apropos of nothing much, I’m not sure why these discussion of philosophy here seem always to focus on philosophy of science, a rather minor sub-section of the whole. The phrase ‘of science’ in the final paragraph seems to be redundant.

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  2. I used to say that there were three categories in philosophy – sense, nonsense and gibberish. Hume being an example of sense, David Chalmers of nonsense and Derrida and Heidegger as examples of gibberish.

    I think there is a certain amount of truth in that jest.

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  3. Very interesting article, Massimo, and it is certainly good to hear of approaches to combining the strengths of both traditions.

    Even if a synthesis is achieved and grows in prominence, I think the divide is not going away. There are I think fundamental differences in the kinds of questions people find interesting and the kinds of answers they find satisfying. While I am very interested in analytic philosophy, I find continental philosophy boring and impenetrable, but I have friends who have precisely the opposite view.

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  4. This article gives me hope that this seemingly intractable divide can one day be bridged. Though I abhor the psychoanalysts, there are some in the so called continental tradition that I think are worth listening to, who make quite straightforward claims about the human condition that are amenable to some analysis….like when Nietzsche says that “God is dead,” he is making a statement about the withering away of religious feeling in many portions of western society, and how belief in god is no longer taken for granted. To me this is a valid insight, and I think that continental philosophy, when divorced by obscurantist jargon and the pretentions of Lacan, Derrida, etc, has much to offer the enterprise of philosophy and humankind. Thank you for this article.

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  5. I get the idea that those called “new pragmatists” (e.g. Huw Price, as well as Philip Kitcher) also advance a middle way “reconciling” AP and CP. What do you think of the “new pragmatism”?

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  6. Well this strikes me as exactly what Scientia is all about. I was glad to see you take such a sympathetic and even-handed stance. Three cheers.

    You might be interested in Sellars’ “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man” which addresses the issue in a slightly different way to which you may be nonetheless sympathetic. He uses the metaphor of bi-focal vision to describe how (much) Continental thought considers humanity in one aspect and (much) analytic and scientific thought focuses on it in another yet in such a way that a complete view must integrate both.

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  7. Great article Massimo,

    As someone firmly entrenched in the analytic tradition and my favorite aspects of philosophy dealing with mathematics, logic, and science, I do agree that a focus on the human aspect will always be important. However, this should never come at the expense of the quest for truth and understanding of how our mind-independent external reality operates. Too many in the continental tradition don’t even grant the existence of a reality external to humans (absurd considering we are an infinitesimal aspect of an enormous universe that has existed billions of years longer than people), and that is what scares me.

    I think the problem with Continental Philosophers is their need to couch everything in terms of people and their socio-cultural interactions. The thing is, the universe doesn’t care and doesn’t operate in terms of those interactions. They have to get over their need to have everything be framed in a human-centric way (I thought Copernicus took care of this centuries ago, but apparently the need still persists to put us at the center of everything). In addition, I honestly believe that a lot of the divide is on ideological lines. I think many in the continental tradition attempt to embrace cultural/epistemic relativism because thinking about absolute/objective truth might be akin to someone’s views being “superior” and bringing with it shades of imperialism/colonialism. This shouldn’t be a fear. Anyone with half a brain will recognize that if someone discovers a truth or has a society structured in a way that allows for maximal happiness and progress, they are not “superior” or “better,” they just happened to stumble upon it first.

    Philosophy is about trying to understands the world and peer through the haze to find what’s true and what’s false. Analytical philosophy seems much more concerned with carrying out that goal. Of course the human element should always be included, and scientists must remain vigilant in opposing any ideologies or biases that could poison the discipline.

    By the way if you want crackpot there are few things that hit the level of Luce Irigaray and her ideas (taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luce_Irigaray#Criticism):

    “Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, in their book critiquing postmodern thought (Fashionable Nonsense, 1997), criticize Luce Irigaray on several grounds. In their view, she wrongly regards E=mc2 as a “sexed equation” because she argues that “it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us”.[citation needed] They also take issue with the assertion that fluid mechanics is unfairly neglected because it deals with “feminine” fluids in contrast to “masculine” rigid mechanics. In a review of Sokal and Bricmont’s book, Richard Dawkins[7] wrote that, “You don’t have to be a physicist to smell out the daffy absurdity of this kind of argument (…), but it helps to have Sokal and Bricmont on hand to tell us the real reason why turbulent flow is a hard problem (the Navier–Stokes equations are difficult to solve).”

    Apparently she is a Director of Research in Philosophy somewhere in France. How that is possible is really beyond me.

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  8. Interesting. Personally, I think that the analytic-“continental” divide is a necessary outcome of the nature of philosophy as a trend toward more “coherence” in society’s ideas, a view of philosophy you seemed to promote in your response to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s attacks on the field. Analytic philosophy derives truths from common sense “beliefs” which themselves need no justification (exploring conceptual spacetime, another idea you have promoted); “continental” or synthetic philosophy attempts to affect common sense directly (through physical spacetime), thus granting its affinity with prescription (as opposed to description). More detail here, if you’re interested: http://amorabsurdi.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/affirmation-of-analysis/

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  9. For me, the invisible elephant in the room is the Wittgenstein of Philosophical Investigations and after. Massimo or whomever, where do you see these works fitting in the spectrum you have defined? I don’t find the analyticals saying anything I care about, and Derrida talking about what I care about but not in a way I find useful (the Foucault of madness etc. is better). But I still read and reread the Investigations and the Notebooks, and find much of value there. Anyone else?

    JG

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  10. Massimo’s approach to this subject covers most of the issues one encounters in discussions of “the divide.” I agree with David Ottlinger’s characterization of Massimo’s piece as “even-handed.” It is, for example, far superior to Gary Gutting’s article in The Stone two years ago; at least, in my opinion, it is.

    A different approach to this topic can be found in the article I cite below. Wittgenstein is mentioned several times, but it is the Tractatus, not the PI, Wittgenstein who is covered.

    http://philosophynow.org/issues/74/Analytic_versus_Continental_Philosophy

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  11. Let me apologize to those who follow the above link and are asked to “log in” to read it. Try a different approach if this is the case. Google “Kile Jones on analytic vs continental philosophy”. Your search should provide a link that allows you to read the article.

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  12. I think it was more a slur to criticize the Judeo-Christian paradigm, since only a slave morality would call meekness good. Thus, the meekest of all must be dead. But I’m just refering to the Genealogy and Beyond. What are your sources?

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  13. Massimo, thank you for a well-written article that deftly covers a lot of ground in a short space. The highlight was the insight (for me, at least) entailed in your exploration of this: “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.”

    Well done.

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  14. Yeah, I thought the same thing. I almost feel as though (the later) Wittgenstein *is* the bridge.

    He’s obviously considered a central figure in analytic philosophy (some might say that this is largely to do with the Tractatus, but his later focus on language is in line with what Massimo says above). But he’s central to continental philosophy as well, and I think that’s mostly from what you’d call his “anti-philosophy” viewpoints.

    What we need, I think, is a 21st century (later) Wittgenstein. A Wittgenstein who knows how an artificial neural network operates; a Wittgenstein who has studied cognitive linguistics.

    I think such a Wittgenstein would come to an even more rich “anti-philosophy” stance — one that recognized that progress in philosophy comes from the development of the ability to *conceptualize* problems, which is both an analytical and social phenomenon.

    I’ve had two ideas for books in the last year, and they both have to do with Wittgenstein. The first is a “dialog”, in which a CogSci/CompSci/Scientist/Philosopher goes back in time to 1951, visits Wittgenstein at the Bevins’ and gets his thoughts on developments subsequent to his death. The second is an actual dialog with PI itself — as if the 21st century Wittgenstein of my imagination is editing, annotating and interacting with the text of PI.

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  15. Peter,

    “I’m not sure why these discussion of philosophy here seem always to focus on philosophy of science, a rather minor sub-section of the whole. The phrase ‘of science’ in the final paragraph seems to be redundant.”

    Well, that’s simply because philosophy of science happens to be my field of specialty, so I feel more comfortable drawing examples from it. The idea is that these examples are actually representative of philosophy at large, not just philsci.

    Robin,

    “Hume being an example of sense, David Chalmers of nonsense and Derrida and Heidegger as examples of gibberish.”

    I’m not necessarily going to disagree, but don’t tell anyone…

    DM,

    “There are I think fundamental differences in the kinds of questions people find interesting and the kinds of answers they find satisfying.”

    Yes, but there are philosophers in the (broadly construed) analytic tradition that do take up, say, issues of social justice, for instance Rawls. So it’s complicated: it’s the kind of question, the approach one brings to them, and how clearly one writes. There is no intrinsic reason, in my mind, why so much continental writing has to be obscure.

    oxfordmovement,

    “I think that continental philosophy, when divorced by obscurantist jargon and the pretentions of Lacan, Derrida, etc, has much to offer the enterprise of philosophy and humankind.”

    Precisely. Now, as Maarten Boudry has recently argued here at SciSal, sometimes obscurantism is the result of lack of substance (Lacan may be a good example of that). But it’s not like a lot of analytic writing is crystal clear either.

    Philip,

    “What do you think of the “new pragmatism”?”

    Well, Americans are by far among those who take pragmatism very seriously, likely because it is their own distinctive philosophical tradition. I find much of value in the writings of, say, Kitcher (but not so much of Rorty), yet I don’t find the pragmatic approach too palatable. It’s a bit too much along the lines of “whatever works,” and I tend to be interested in the principled reasons of why some things work and others don’t.

    David,

    “He uses the metaphor of bi-focal vision to describe how (much) Continental thought considers humanity in one aspect and (much) analytic and scientific thought focuses on it in another yet in such a way that a complete view must integrate both”

    Interesting metaphor, thanks, I’ll look into it!

    pete,

    “Too many in the continental tradition don’t even grant the existence of a reality external to humans”

    Indeed, one of the things that does turn me off from continental writings is a widespread anti-science attitude. Which is really too bad, because some of those authors could offer a good counterbalance to an overly scientistic vibe that I see emanating from the analytic tradition.

    “I think many in the continental tradition attempt to embrace cultural/epistemic relativism because thinking about absolute/objective truth might be akin to someone’s views being “superior” and bringing with it shades of imperialism/colonialism.”

    Again, you have a point there. But, again, the more scientistic of the analyticals could benefit from a bit more realization that sometimes science is in fact used as an instrument of power to oppress minorities or other people.

    “she wrongly regards E=mc2 as a “sexed equation” because she argues that “it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us”

    Yes, I had come across that sort of crazy statement, and that’s really all I can say about it: it’s crazy.

    John,

    “I don’t find the analyticals saying anything I care about, and Derrida talking about what I care about but not in a way I find useful (the Foucault of madness etc. is better).”

    This is beginning to be my own summary of the situation, frankly. As for Wittgenstein, yes, he is definitely a bridge figure, and I think this accounts for why both analyticals and continentals hold him in high regard. I do wish he were a bit more clear for someone who famously said that the point of philosophy is to show the fly out of the fly bottle…

    Thomas,

    “It is, for example, far superior to Gary Gutting’s article in The Stone two years ago”

    Thanks, much appreciated.

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  16. As to the more general question posed by the title (rather than the more specific case study primarily discussed), the answer is simply that there never has been a divide except a sociological and, perhaps, stylistic one. Even the attitudes and concerns of major continental philosophers are not homogenous: Deleuze and Husserl are both very much pro-science and conceive of their projects in scientific terms. Habermas takes himself to be defending the Enlightenment.

    That there isn’t much of a divide will be apparent to anyone who is aware of the work of Samuel Wheeler III, Lee Braver, Hubert Dreyfus, or A.W. Moore (for some examples). All of them, quite lucidly, show how the concerns of continental and analytic philosophers have overlapped (even in arch-cases of both ‘traditions’ – Wheeler in particular shows how Derrida and Davidson can be put into a productive dialogue).

    To those remarking on Wittgenstein as a bridge figure, they might find Braver’s book on Heidegger and Wittgenstein of great interest.

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  17. Asher, I love your book ideas, especially a dialogue with PI from a sympathetic and contemporary perspective. Certainly Wittgenstein’s obscurantism is annoying, although as an admirer I prefer to think that he was reaching beyond the available tools at the time, rather than (re Lacan) seeking it. Hope you write the book.

    JG

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  18. although as an admirer I prefer to think that he was reaching beyond the available tools at the time, rather than (re Lacan) seeking it

    Yes! I think that’s exactly what was happening. In a sense, I feel like Wittgenstein would have come to see some “fly-bottles” as exactly such limitations of conceptual expression (rather than category problems or limits of formal systems). And some of the knowledge we’ve gained about cognition since his death might have provided a “language” for some of what PI was trying to get at.

    It’s almost ironic, his obscurantism, because there is no neat, clear way to dissolve the problems he was trying to dissolve – which creates another, sort of “meta fly-bottle” for him. He’s trying to skirt around all these linguistic/philosophical traps – like trying to catch something in your peripheral vision that disappears when you look straight at it – and so he’s talking around things, asking questions, alighting on things, flying off, alighting again.

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  19. Having come across this post through a link, I may be a bit of an outlier from the usual audience. However, I thought I would offer thoughts from a person trained in both the pragmatist and continental traditions, while holding basic familiarity with analytic philosophy as it was what I came to first.

    This summary of positions commits enough of the basic errors of such discussions that I ceased to continue to read it after the section naming analytic philosophers as the sons and daughters of the Enlightenment. Given that I didn’t see, at a brief glance, a comment to the contrary I felt an obligation to voice that. This summary of at least continental views is terribly over-simplistic and mostly rehashes the usual cliches. The same is largely true for the discussion of analytic. What I would really like to see in such discussions is an analysis of how each tradition trains its philosophers, as it is quite divergent. That would go a long way to explaining it to those who don’t have intimate experience with each.

    A constructive thought. What about the other traditions, such as pragmatism or the various philosophies of the Americas (assuming we stick to the western hemisphere)?

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  20. I question whether the output of “science studies” should count as “continental philosophy.” That writing touches on philosophy or philosophers doesn’t mean the writing is philosophy. While there may be a philosophical aspect to such extra-philosophy department writing, science studies, and “studies” programs generally, seem to be more along the lines of ideological “social science” than philosophy; e.g., patriarchy studies and white privilege theory would seem to be more social science in spirit than philosophy. So perhaps the discussion would benefit from greater clarification regarding what is supposed to count as continental philosophy.

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  21. A great article, and I couldn’t agree more with the call to combine analytic and continental approaches. And might I add: even outside of philosophy of science there are many of us who, for good or ill, take ourselves to be doing that already. The intersection between phenomenology and cognitive science is probably the most productive front on which this is taking place (the stuff people like Dan Zahavi, Dan Hutto, Shaun Gallagher etc. are doing) but many of us are doing what’s been variously described as ’cross-traditional’, ’post-analytic,’ ’meta-continental’ or simply ’pluralist’ work. And many of us are also using roughly the approach described here from Giere, giving irreducible subjectivity and the first-person perspective its due without lurching into antirealism or relativism.

    A somewhat useful cliché about the continental/analytic divide is that analytic philosophy trades in problems while continental philosophy trades in proper nouns. It’s not strictly true of course: look at the way problems generated by terms like ‘event,’ ‘gift,’ ‘Other’ have been theorised by continental philosophers, in ways that start to look alarmingly like research programs after a while. But like all clichés it has something recognisably true to it.

    The corollary of this cliché is that analytic philosophers tend to philosophise in an implicitly ahistorical way that continental philosophers are deeply suspicious of, while analytic philosophers consider too much focus on the texts of the past to be a waste of valuable time. It’s said that a certain Princeton philosopher had a sign on his door in the 80s that read “Just say no to the History of Philosophy.” Again, that stereotype has a lot weighing against it: plenty of analytic philosophers like to dive back into the Early Modern corpus in particular for insights. But one could argue many of them still ignore their own historical and social conditioning as they do so. Equally, too many continental philosophers have fallen into a sort of relativist cul-de-sac in which any and all truth claims are simply expressions of power.

    But the corollary already suggests a way forward: philosophise about problems with a serious view to answering them, but in a way that attends to the fact you are not the voice of timeless reason itself but a culturally, historically, and linguistically conditioned human being doing the social practice of disciplinary philosophy. I work on Kierkegaard a lot, and if he has one lesson for philosophers, it’s this: no matter how abstract you try to make yourself, you never stop being a finite human.

    That approach can turn out to be enormously enriching for both sides. Indeed, just being able to bring disparate literatures together, unconstrained by the us-and-them mentality, can be really productive. To use a somewhat immodest example, I have a book coming out next year with OUP (whose list skews decidedly analytic) on Kierkegaard and analytic philosophy of personal identity – folks like Parfit, Williams, Velleman, Schechtman, Johnston etc. – because I am clearly a masochist, but also because Kierkegaard is a ‘continental’ figure with things to say that people working on personal identity and the nature of reflexivity should find useful. But he can’t simply be absorbed wholesale into an analytic framework, so what emerges is (I hope) a genuine hybrid approach rather than just using continental texts as fodder for analytic discussions.

    Finally of course, we shouldn’t forget the third tradition: Eastern. Many cross-traditional philosophers draw on the rich and sophisticated classical Indian and Chinese philosophical traditions too, but the barriers to entry is much higher. But I hope the future contains a lot of philosophers who are equally (or at least comparably) comfortable drawing on Lewis, Lyotard, and Laozi.

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  22. I think that’s a bit off the mark and you’re reading too much in to the word “analytic” in analytic philosophy, equivocating it with Kant’s analytic/synthetic divide. While it’s true that you’re far more likely to find a foundationalist epistemology in analytic philosophy rather than continental philosophy, it’s by no means necessary, there are plenty who argue instead from coherentist or other positions. The divide is more due to the style of conducting philosophy and about what philosophy is/should be than it is about any ultimate conclusions or claims. There are plenty of analytic anti-realists, relativists, etc.

    More importantly your classification of analytic philosophy as relying on ‘common sense beliefs’ seems pretty far off the mark too. In fact much of analytic philosophy is about analysing said ‘common sense’ or ‘intuitions’ to test them against logic, to set them aside to analyse a problem academically and as impartially as possible.

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  23. Isn’t that kind of avoiding the point though, since it’s the Wittgenstein of Philosophical Investigations that continentals affirm, particularly in regards to language being indeterminate, and the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus that they reject?

    I’m not so sure Wittgenstein is the bridge the other poster below suggests he is. Seems to me that in his ‘early’ and ‘later’ periods respectively he represents radical polar opposite positions on the nature and role of language in philosophy.

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  24. Perhaps it has to do some with the fact that this site deals a lot with science as well, so there might be a leaning toward more “scientific” areas of philosophy.

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  25. Yes. Just because a “grand unified theory” of the two branches of Western philosophy may be created doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be worthy of study in their own right anymore, just as the finding in the sciences of a unified theory of relativity and quantum theory would make those unworthy of separate study. You can still study each in its own right while also being aware of the overarching unified framework. What I would hope for is that a unifying theory would lead to less antagonism, not to destroy the distinctiveness of the two traditions of philosophy or prevent one from asking the questions they want to ask or like to explore.

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  26. Funny that you should abhor the psychoanalysts but love Nietzsche, insofar as one of the things Nietzsche is most credited for is anticipating the core ideas of psychoanalysis.

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  27. Reblogged this on Emptinez and commented:
    Here is an excellent commentary on the difference(s) between analytic and continental philosophy. The analysis of their thematic focus and mode of inquiry is crucial to understand these different traditions of the same discipline -philosophy.

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  28. Thanks for the feedback. I understand that the divide is about process rather than ultimate conclusions or aims. However, the process of ‘testing common sense against logic’ is really the testing of a certain claim, which has been extracted from common sense, against assumed definitions which are essentially unquestioned for purposes of the analysis. In order to derive x from y, x must have some fixed content in the first place. ‘Academic’ and ‘impartial’ analysis is and should be partial to using words in their proper meanings, but their proper meanings are determined by custom (e.g., it is customary to refer to unmarried men as “bachelors” etc). Thus, analytic philosophy is and should be partial to a deeper notion of common sense, even when questioning widely held beliefs on, say, the existence of God.

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  29. On what’s between AP and CP, there’s one proposal from Rorty that I’m in tune with (perhaps because of my past career in developing domain-specific languages): ironism, in which contrasting and evolving “vocabularies” is the endeavor.

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  30. nomadologue,

    “the answer is simply that there never has been a divide except a sociological and, perhaps, stylistic one. Even the attitudes and concerns of major continental philosophers are not homogenous: Deleuze and Husserl are both very much pro-science and conceive of their projects in scientific terms. Habermas takes himself to be defending the Enlightenment.”

    You are correct in pointing out overlaps in concerns, but to deny the existence of a divide is to deny a fact that has caused much strife within philosophy departments all over the US for decades, and to which I have been direct witness. Maybe Derrida and Davidson can be put in a productive dialogue, as you say, but I assure you that Derrida has very few friends within the analytics — myself included, I must admit. As for attitudes toward science, again your specific counterexamples are correct, as far as I can see, but you are neglecting the “science wars” of the ‘90s, during which continentalists were squarely on one side and analytical philosophers of science on the other. And the dispute were extremely acrimonious.

    Jason,

    “This summary of positions commits enough of the basic errors of such discussions that I ceased to continue to read it after the section naming analytic philosophers as the sons and daughters of the Enlightenment”

    That comment comes not even mid-way through the essay, and yet you feel compelled to comment on something you have not, mostly, read. And which “basic errors” did I commit, exactly?

    “This summary of at least continental views is terribly over-simplistic and mostly rehashes the usual cliches. The same is largely true for the discussion of analytic.”

    I see no substance at all in this comment, I’m afraid.

    Paul,

    “I question whether the output of “science studies” should count as “continental philosophy.” That writing touches on philosophy or philosophers doesn’t mean the writing is philosophy.”

    Well, authors within science studies do think themselves as continental, not analytic, at the least those I talked to. As for writing philosophy, ah, well, that’s an interesting question, and it’s not limited to science studies either.

    Patrick,

    “The corollary of this cliché is that analytic philosophers tend to philosophise in an implicitly ahistorical way that continental philosophers are deeply suspicious of, while analytic philosophers consider too much focus on the texts of the past to be a waste of valuable time”

    I think that’s about right, and unfortunate in both cases.

    “we shouldn’t forget the third tradition: Eastern. Many cross-traditional philosophers draw on the rich and sophisticated classical Indian and Chinese philosophical traditions too”

    That’s right. In the book I’m trying to finish about progress in philosophy (Chicago Press) I do comment on that as well, though I then proceed to focus mostly on the Western tradition simply because I am not competent enough with the Eastern one. I have noticed, however, much more similarities between Eastern traditions and continental approaches (with obvious exceptions, such as the development of logic in India, and some Buddhist approaches). Any thoughts about this?

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  31. On the possible continuity between the two traditions, I’m struck by a half-flippant footnote by Jerry Fodor pertaining to pragmatism: “I suspect that much the same view is held by such Continental icons as Heidegger. But finding out for sure would require reading them, which I intend to continue assiduously avoiding”!
    I want to make two interrelated points. Firstly, I think that the complexity and urgency of certain domains of inquiry have forced a rapprochement between the two traditions. So psychiatry (the discipline, the science?) has generated a philosophical problematic which is simply too broad in scope to be exhaustively treated by, say, analytic philosophical techniques. Whilst Foucault and Thomas Szasz have played decisive roles in shaping much of the current agenda (see e.g. Jennifer Radden [ed] [2004] “The Philosophy of Psychiatry: A Companion”. OUP) there has been a call (indeed, an heroic demand) from some unlikely quarters that the technique of conceptual analysis be brought to bear on problems arising from the various (often unhappy) editions of both the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic & Statistical Manual” (APA/DSM) and the World Health Organisation’s “International Classification Diseases” (WHO/ICD). One such call comes from G. Stanghellini’s [2004] “Disembodied Spirits and Deanimated Bodies”, OUP. There Stanghellini extolls the “the courage of philosophy” (and he has conceptual analysis explicitly in mind, p.38ff) in the face of “the crisis of psychopathology”.
    Secondly, there seems to me (and I teach philosophy to French students although I’m English and my background is in analytic philosophy and also cognitive science) an asymmetry between the abilities of philosophers to work within the compass of either tradition. So, analytic philosophers as disparate as Bernard Williams and Ian Hacking, throughout their careers (this is no sudden whim) have explored deep commonalities between the two traditions. To a lesser extent, I’m inclined to cite Bas van Fraassen and Brian Cantwell Smith. But, and here’s the asymmetry, it’s harder to find examples of, say French philosophers who are openly sympathetic (or at least not dogmatically closed) to analytic or Anglo-American methods. I can cite Jacques Bouveresse. But in doing so the asymmetry is further compounded. Bouveresse has (and I find this both refreshing and courageous) lambasted his French colleagues for having so spectacularly (willfully) failed to understand not just the central issues at stake in the analytic (Anglo-American) tradition but also such indispensable and elementary tools as (e.g.) predicate and propositional calculus. (See, e.g., Bouveresse [2011] Essais VI: “Les lumières des positivistes”, Marseilles, Agone. Esp. Essay II, ‘Rudolf Carnap et l’heritage de l’Aufklarung’, pp.55-133.**) But any of Bouveresse’s books in the ‘Essais’ series reveal very strong links to what is often referred to as the British empirical tradition.
    Perhaps counter-examples can be cited to undermine the claimed asymmetry. And I’m no doubt guilty of taking post-1960s French philosophy as somehow paradigmatic of the continental tradition (that may be problematic: thus Habermas). But, that said, I’m also struck by something Foucault said: “I’m not a philosopher. Philosophers teach students the ideas of other people” (I’m paraphrasing; it’s somewhere in “Dits et Ecrits”). Bouveresse would, I think, gag on such hubris.
    **Difficulties inserting French characters using ‘Alt’ +. Nearly lost this text twice. So apologies

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  32. “You are correct in pointing out overlaps in concerns, but to deny the existence of a divide is to deny a fact that has caused much strife within philosophy departments all over the US for decades, and to which I have been direct witness.”

    This strife was what I intended to mark by stating that there was a sociological gap, so I definitely wasn’t trying to deny that. There have been plenty of disagreements, attacks, debate, discrimination and the like. I’m only claiming that little of that has to do with there being any significant philosophical gap between the two traditions. Much of the sociological gap is premised on a mistaken sense that there is a significant philosophical gap. There’s also a lot of hand-wringing over style, which has much more basis in fact (hence I acknowledge there is a stylistic gap), though less than analytics tend to think there is.

    “As for attitudes toward science, again your specific counterexamples are correct, as far as I can see, but you are neglecting the “science wars” of the ‘90s, during which continentalists were squarely on one side and analytical philosophers of science on the other. ”

    I’m not sure how I am neglecting anything. I was providing counterexamples in the continental camp to the characterization of continental philosophy as skeptical of science or anti-science. I was not giving a comprehensive characterization of continental philosophy, nor even suggesting that continental philosophy doesn’t have many participants who are skeptical of science or anti-science. The general point was also to show that continental philosophy is quite diverse by showing that it occupies both extremes in relation to science (just as it does on many issues) and so any attempt to characterize the whole in terms of limited subsets (like the science wars) is just misleading.

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  33. Deleuze and Husserl are both very much pro-science and conceive of their projects in scientific terms.

    It seems like part of the divide is about how philosophers like Deleuze and Meillassoux make use of science – or at least mathematics. They’re seen at least by some on the analytic side as using math in a freewheeling or nonsensical way.

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  34. Excellent writing as usual. Are you familiar with the historian of science at the U of T named Ian Hacking? He looks at the social contexts of discoveries and their social effects without the kind of relativist or subjectivistic extravagances you address. He investigates the history of science from the perspective of historical ontology: once new mathematics of chance and statistical analyses of mass behaviours (including human groups’) are worked out they become entangled in all sorts of social structures and by persons who were not familiar with the epistemological issues involved in the original discoveries. The misinterpretations and reworkings are then part of a conceptual and social fabric that has to be reworked or altered by informed critique or by the elaboration of new scientific discoveries. His studies of chance point out the weird paradox of breakthroughs in probability and statistics leading to “statistical fatalism” about individual cases. Adlophe Quetelet’s 1835 Sur l’homme et le développement de ses facultés, ou Essai de physique sociale gathered a number of observations about variability in the human population. But the long-term legacy of the book — abetted by Quetelet’s own interpretation of the “laws” dictating the behaviour of each “homme moyen sensuel” — was to promote a weird kind of determinism, as if the fact that x% of the population would commit suicide in a year could somehow inform you as to the chance of THIS person committing suicide, or to intimate that person Y was FATED to commit the act in question (admittedly it is the fault of popular reviewers and would-be “Naturalistic” novelists like Zola for enforcing that last impression). And while you are right in promoting higher standards in philosophy and the associated humanities, part of the reason for the humanities’ reluctance to incorporate the discoveries of this or that science into their work is a kind of embarrassment at the acceptance of the pronouncements off Quetelet, H. Spencer, H. Taine, A. Comte, H. Buckle and other 19th c. positivists as gospel by previous generations of social thinkers and scholars. Hacking’s “The Social Construction of What” is a good introduction to his critique of constructivist approaches (http://www.ualberta.ca/~cjscopy/reviews/what.html), and his specialist works The Taming of Chance and The Emergence of Probability are very stimulating.

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  35. “They’re seen at least by some on the analytic side as using math in a freewheeling or nonsensical way.”

    That would fall into the sociological divide that I try to acknowledge. That some continental philosophers have pro-science attitudes is what I was mostly trying to show, rather than that they have methodologies that all analytic philosophers would accept.

    I can’t speak to Meillassoux, but as to Deleuze I recommend anyone with doubts read Manuel DeLanda’s Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. He might not come out as doing the sort of rigorous, formal modelling that some analytic philosophers like but Deleuze did, in fact, have a good grasp on the mathematics he was using.

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  36. Yeah, I’m definitely not disagreeing with you there. It’s just interesting or maybe even ironic that a pro-science attitude ends up making the sociological thing worse, because “pro-science” is being seen by the other side as, “pro-using-science-inappropriately-as-a-speculative-plaything”.

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  37. You’re right, that is interesting and I hadn’t really thought about things that way! Thanks for clarifying, I definitely overlooked that!

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