The following from a German sociologist (my comments are in blue):
Perhaps you know the old joke: Analytic philosophers think that continental philosophy is not sufficiently clear; continental philosophers think that analytic philosophy is not sufficient.
Having just reread the Kritik der reinen Vernunft, I don't see Kant as an analytic philosopher. Hegel and Nietzsche certainly belong to the continental tradition. And none of the philosophers of the 20th century, who really matter to me, can be called an analytic philosopher. Doesn't "analytic" simply mean after Wittgenstein and in his tradition?
BV: As I see it, there was no analytic-Continental split before the 20th century. So classifying Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche in terms of that split is only marginally meaningful. But it is safe to say that Kant is more congenial to analytic philosophers than Hegel and Nietzsche are.
When did the split come about and what is it about?
If I were were to select two writings that best epitomize the depth of the Continental-analytic clash near the time of its outbreak, they would be Heidegger's 1929 What is Metaphysics? and Carnap's 1932 response, "On the Overcoming of Metaphysics Through the Logical Analysis of Language." In fairness to Carnap, let us note that his Erkenntnis piece is more than a response to Heidegger inasmuch as it calls into question the meaningfulness of all metaphysics. And in fairness to Heidegger, we should note that he thinks he is doing something more radical than metaphysics. Metaphysics for Heidegger is onto-theology. Metaphysics thinks Being (das Sein) but always in reference to beings (das Seiende); it does not think Being in its difference from beings. The latter is Heidegger's project.
The following are widely regarded as Continental philosophers: Franz Brentano, Alexius von Meinong, Kasimir Twardowski, Edmund Husserl, Adolf Reinach, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Edith Stein, Roman Ingarden, Max Scheler, Martin Heidegger, Nicolai Hartmann, Gabriel Marcel, Ortega y Gasset, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus.
Note that the above are all Europeans. But being European is not what makes them 'Continental.' Otherwise Gottlob Frege, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Rudolf Carnap would have to be lumped in with them. And of course there are Continental philosophers who do not hail from Europe. So what makes the above authors 'Continental' as opposed to 'analytic'?
It is not easy to say, which fact supplies a reason to not take too seriously talk of 'Continental' versus 'analytic.'
Note that all of the Continentals I mentioned engage in analysis, some in very close, very careful analysis. (Ever read Husserl's Logical Investigations?) And please don't say that they don't analyze language. Ever read Brentano? Gustav Bergmann accurately describes Brentano as "the first linguistic philosopher." (Realism, 234) Roderick Chisholm's paraphrastic approach was influenced significantly by Brentano. No one would lump Chisholm in with the Continentals.
Will you say that the Continentals mentioned didn't pay close attention to logic? That's spectacularly false. Even for Heidegger! Ever read his dissertation on psychologism in logic?
Perhaps you could say that the Continentals mentioned did not engage significantly with the ground-breaking work of Frege, widely regarded as the greatest logician since Aristotle. I think that would be true. But does this diffeence suffice to distinguish between Continental and analytic? I don't think so: there are plenty of philosophers who write in a decidedly analytic style who do not engage with Frege, and some of them oppose Frege. Take Fred Sommers. You wouldn't call him a Continental philosopher. And while he engages the ideas of Frege, he vigorously opposes them in his very impressive attempt at resurrecting traditional formal logic. And yet he would be classified as analytic.
A Matter of Style or of Substance?
According to Michael Dummett,
What distinguishes analytical philosophy, in its diverse manifestations, from other schools is the belief, first, that a philosophical account of thought can be attained through a philosophical account of language, and, secondly, that a comprehensive account can only be so attained.
[. . .]
On my characterisation, therefore [Gareth] Evans was no longer an analytical philosopher. He was, indeed, squarely in the analytical tradition: the three pillars on which his book [The Varieties of Reference, Oxford, 1982] rests are Russell, Moore and Frege. Yet it is only as belonging to the tradition -- as adopting a certain philosophical style and as appealing to certain writers rather than to others -- that he remains a member of the analytical school. (Origins of Analytical Philosophy, Harvard UP, 1993)
For Dummett, then, what make a philosopher analytic is not the style in which he writes: clear, precise, careful, explicitly logical with premises and inferences clearly specified, free of literary pretentiousness, name-dropping, rhetorical questions, and generally the sort of bullshitting that one finds in writers like Caputo and Badiou. Nor is it the topics he writes about or the authorities he cites. What makes the analytic philosopher are the twin axioms above mentioned.
The trouble with Dummett's criterion is that it is intolerably stipulative if what we are after is a more or less lexical definition of how 'analytic' and 'Continental' are actually used. An approach that rules out Gareth Evans and Roderick Chisholm and Gustav Bergmann and Reinhardt Grossmann and so many others cuts no ice in my book. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?)
A Matter of Politics?
I don't think so. Look again at my list. Sartre was a decided leftist, a Stalinist in his later phase. And Camus was on the Left. But everyone else on my list was either apolitical or on the Right. Heidegger was a National Socialist. Latter-day Continentals, though, definitely slouch Leftward.
A Matter of Academic Politics?
This may be what the Continental versus analytic split comes down to more than anything else. As Blaise Pacal says, with some exaggeration, "All men naturally hate one another." To which I add, with some exaggeration: and are always looking for ways to maintain and increase the enmity. If you are entranced with Heidegger you are going to hate the Carnapian analytic bigot who refuses to read Heidegger but mocks him anyway. Especially when the bigot stands in the way of career success. Although so many Continentals are slopheads, there is no asshole like an analytic asshole.
A Matter of Religion?
No, there are both theists and atheists on my list. And of course there are plenty of analytic philosophers who are theists.
A Matter of Attitude toward Science?
This has something to do with the split. You can be a Continental philosopher and a traditional theist (von Hildebrand, Edith Stein, et al.) and you can be a Continental philosopher and a conservative (Ortega y Gasset), but is there any case of a Continental philosopher who is a logical positivist or who genuflects before the natural sciences in the scientistic manner? I don't think so.
Talk of 'analytic' and 'Continental' philosophy is not particularly useful. It would be better to speak of good and bad philosophy. But what are the marks of good philosophy? That's a post for another occasion.
Back to my correspondent:
I see philosophy more in terms of art than in terms of science. This is not saying that some arguments are not better than others or that one cannot distinguish different degrees of plausibility. But the overall conception (what Heidegger calls "Seinsverständnis) is more - and something essentially different - than the sum of of plausibilities or the logic consistency of the argumentation. There is, or so it appears to me, a 'chanelling' of truth that resembles more the mystical experience than the scientific recognition. Of course I've read Wittgenstein, but why should I spend precious life time reading, say, Gilbert Ryle or Saul Kripke, when I can read Hegel's Wissenschaft der Logik?
BV: As I am sure my reader knows, Hegel's Wissenschaft der Logik (Science of Logic) has been dismissed as Begriffsdichtung, conceptual poetry. So I am not surprised that he sees philosophy more in terms of art than in terms of science. His attitude is defensible: why read Kripke who is of interest only to specialists in logic and the philosophy of language and who has no influence on anything beyond those narrow precincts when you can read Hegel and come thereby to understand the dialectical thinking which, via Marx and Lenin, transformed the world?
There is also the problem that attempts to bring philosophy onto the "sure path of science" (Kant) have all failed miserably despite the Herculean efforts of thinkers such as Edmund Husserl. He attempted to make of philosophy strenge Wissenschaft, but he could not get even one of his brilliant students to follow him into his transcendental phenomenology. (I don't consider Eugen Fink to be a counterexample.) There is no reason to think that philosophy will ever enter upon the sure path of science. This is a reason to content oneself with the broader, looser, fuzzier approach of the Continentals.
Only if philosophy could be transformed into strenge Wissenschaft would we perhaps be justified in putting all our efforts into this project and eschewing the satisfaction of our needs for an overarching and spiritually satisfying Weltanschauung; we have no good reason to think philosophy will ever be so transformed; ergo, etc.
When Adorno was in Oxford, he wrote in a letter home: "Here it's always just about arguments." Most of his colleagues there did not even understand what he was missing. And that's the divide!
BV: That is indeed a good part of what the divide is all about.
Well, of course this ignorance of the analytic tradition has in my case also to do with cultural nationalism. The philosophical departments here are more and more forgetting about the great German tradition. Thinkers like Hegel or Schelling, let alone Heidegger, are hardly taught anymore. I'm against this, I'm Deutsch and proud of it. Actually I want - and for me that's another reason to be against illegal immigration - Germany to become again a hotspot of art and philosophy!
BV: I agree! When as a young man I spent a year in Freiburg im Breisgau, I was there to study Kant and Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. To my romantic young self Germany was, in the words of Heinrich Heine, das Land von Dichter und Denker, the land of poets and thinkers. You Germans can be justifiably proud of your tradition. Without a doubt, Kant belongs in the philosophical pantheon along with Plato and Aristotle. It is indeed a shame that the analysts are suppressing your great tradition.
As for illegal immigration, if looks from here as if Angela Merkel is a disaster for Germany. Language, borders, and culture are three things every nation has a right to protect and preserve. There is nothing xenophobic or racist about it.