Continental vs. Analytic

In the 20th century, the field of philosophy was under going some big changes. Science was playing a big role in the world and caused a big change here in America and in England. Other countries were rejecting this scientific view dividing the field of philosophy down the middle. This division amongst philosophers lead to a stylistic change in the way each sect decided to go about philosophy. Emerging from the 20th century were two terms, Analytic and Continental philosophy, the subject of our topic today.

So let’s get right down to it!

Analytic Philosophy

Analytic philosophy refers to a method of philosophy relying heavily on the virtues of logic. It dominated most English speaking countries, especially England and America from 1900-1960. Philosophers in this field were all about argumentation and attempting to clarify their arguments as much as possible. Analytic philosophy found a comfortable seat next to more scientific fields such as Mathematics and Physics. They adopted the belief that Philosophy was more closely related to the sciences then any other field. Most safely say that it all started with the ideas of Bertrand Russell. In his book The Problems of Philosophy, he sets out to explain and analyze issues within the field of philosophy. By doing so he turns to an idea that hadn’t been brought about for some time. Empiricism ( the idea that all knowledge is discovered via experience) found a major part within Analytic philosophy and from then on was the staple of the Analytic style — of course later on this was subject to change.

Analytic philosophy also spawned other movements within itself. Logical Positivism became a popular view that was forged from some of the ideas of Russell and Wittgenstein. Logical positivists were strict believers that Empiricism is the only method of doing philosophy and that no problem could be named solved unless it was solved through experience. Those who took part in this movement include The Vienna Circle. They didn’t seem to regard philosophy as having a large role within the world. Instead, they felt that philosophy is only concerned with the verification of thoughts. They found areas like metaphysics, meaningless and useless.

Another emerging idea was Emotivism. Ethics had always played a big role in philosophy, but some analytic philosophers were looking to refute that. Emotivism is the idea that all ethical claims are really only statements of emotion. For example: “Capital punishment is wrong.” can be translated to “BOOO CAPITAL PUNISHMENT SUCKS.”

A short list of notable analytic philosophers: Bertrand Russell, A.J. Ayre, Ludwig Wittgentein, G.E. Moore, The Vienna Circle, W.V.O. Quine

These are some of the basic themes that came out of Analytic philosophy, now let’s check out what the Continental Philosophers think.

Continental Philosophy

With an emphasis on such fields as Existentialism, Phenomenology, German Idealism, and Structuralism continental philosophy was taking shape outside of the analytic movement. Continental philosophy roots back to Immanuel Kant who contributed to what many call the beginning of continental philosophy, German Idealism. The term comes from the locations where those doing this kind of philosophy lived, Germany and France. Where analytic philosophy was taking place all over the place, continental philosophy was being mostly done in a centralized area of the European continent.

There are a few things that differ from that of continental philosophy as opposed to analytic. First of all, most continental philosophers reject the scientism that the analytic philosophers heavily rely on. They also rely on historcism in their work. This means that unlike analytic philosophers who look at a problem as an individual problem separate from time and those who posed the question, continental philosophers believe all philosophy should be done with a strong emphasis on where it came from. With a strong unity between theory and practice most philosophers in this field are considered to use their work as a personal or moral transformation and showing a very passionate demeanor towards their philosophy.

As the 20th century rolled around analytic philosophy was gaining a lot of notice. Through the 1900’s, especially after 1930, continental philosophy was rarely discussed. As the years passed by continental philosophers were continuing to get a bad rap from the opposing analytic philosophers. Recently though, continental philosophy is starting to see a comeback. Many fields of academia are incorporating more and more continental philosophy and many schools in North America are actually designing their departments specifically to that of continental philosophy.

A short list of notable continental philosophers: Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, Soren Kierkegaard, Jacques Derrida, Hegal


A lot of things went on between the divide of analytic and continental philosophy. In fact, there’s way too much to fit in one post about it! But nevertheless you can see the interesting  fundamental differences between the two types of philosophies. The future of philosophy still holds a lot of questions to hopefully be answered, but will we ever discover the “right” way to do philosophy? Personally, I don’t think so. Though, with a  statement like that, I’m sure the  analytic philosophers aren’t looking at me too highly :).

Until next time, keep thinking!

Posted in Philosophy.