From the mail bag:
I'm a new reader of your blog and about two years into my own layman's study of philosophy. By that I mean I'm just reading whatever strikes my fancy as best as I can and building up a sort of mental repertoire. It's equally exciting and frustrating. Are there any so-called 20th century Continental philosophers you like?
Although some commentators would consider some of the following philosophers to belong to the 19th century, they and their influence extend into the 20th. Here then is my list of (some) 20th century Continental philosophers who are well-worth close study.
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, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus.
What is a Continental Philosopher Anyway?
Note that the above are all Europeans. But that 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.
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 did not engage significantly with the ground-breaking work of Frege, undoubtedly the greatest logician since Aristotle. I think that would be true. But does it 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 a Matter 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 is a decided leftist, a Stalinist in his later phase. And Camus is on the Left. But everyone else on my list is either apolitical or on the Right. 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.