I'm going to start with a synopsised summary of analytic and continental philosophy taken from wikipedia:
Analytic philosophy is a term for a style of philosophy that may be characterised by an emphasis on clarity and argument. It often incorporates analysis of language, and a respect for the natural sciences. It is committed to the idea that the object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts, and also that philosophy should be continuous with those of the natural sciences. Key names would include Wittgenstein, John Searle, Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker.
Continental philosophy includes movements such as phenomenology, existentialism, structuralism and post-structuralism (don't worry if you don't know what they are). Philosophers who subscribe to this approach are said to generally reject scientism, the view that the natural sciences are the best or most accurate way of understanding all phenomena.
From the early 20th century until the 1960s, continental philosophers were only intermittently discussed in British and American universities. However, with post-modernism (a continental idea) in the 1970s and 1980s, university departments in film, literature and the fine arts have increasingly incorporated ideas from continental philosophers into their curricula.
At least, this is how it's characterised in wikipedia. I've got a bunch of other opinions on how one can characterize continental philosophy that aren't so charitable. But the fact that it rejects science as a means to understand phenomena is probably a good starting point.
Here are two short clips. The first is of an analytic philosopher, Steven Pinker who discusses free will (ignore the text pop-ups and the Dawkins bit at the end):
And the second is Slavoj Zizek discussing the Universe (he's continental):
In both cases, I tried to find something brief, but long enough for you to get the flavor of their approaches.
OK. Now, now you'll be forgiven if you find Zizek interesting and charismatic. But read the following extract from Searle in a comment he made about Derrida and see if Zizek also fits Searle's description: "anyone who reads [Derrida's] texts with an open mind is likely to be struck by the same phenomena that initially surprised me: the low level of philosophical argumentation, the deliberate obscurantism of the prose, the wildly exaggerated claims, and the constant striving to give the appearance of profundity by making claims that seem paradoxical, but under analysis often turn out to be silly or trivial."
Derrida responded by saying that Searle had misunderstood him, Searle (and others) responded back by saying that this is a long-running excuse for his bullshit (though he didn't phrase it like that)
Since I don't have the patience to make this blog flow more smoothly, I'm just going to put all my thoughts into a series of bullet points. So this is...
REASONS WHY CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY BUGS ME:
- Continental philosophy rests on the assumption that the more difficult an idea is to understand, the greater the reward will be when you do finally grasp it. Even if the mind 'rewards' itself when a difficult concept is grasped, that's not the same as being enlightened with a profound truth
- Using specialist terms and thinking in novel, counter-intuitive ways does not elevate your thoughts above those of everyday people. It's more difficult (and ultimately more useful) to use the same language and framework of thought as everyone else, and still say something insightful
- Some continental person responded to Pinker's clip on youtube and said the following: "Freewill is an IDEALIZATION of our mental faculties. Moral theory requires that, much like how mathematics has figures such as perfect 2-D circles which could not possibly exist in reality." That's what I'm talking about - total cobblers. It's not even a coherent sentence
- I heard the continental accusation of science as being "bougeois". Whoever thinks that is a big fat loser
- Continental philosophy has a powerful aroma of name-dropping and the snooty "Europeans are smarter than English speakers" attitude. Check a list of continental names some time - they are great to drop into a conversation (e.g. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre)
- Zizek is colourful, animated and has a charming speech impediment. His video is hard to understand, yet somehow seems clever and internally consistent. So one comes away feeling like there is profound truth and wisdom in there, but one also has to keep watching it over and over to properly grasp if there is actually anything meaningful. I've not figured it out yet, and I've watched this clip a few times. Pinker, on the other hand, not only did I enjoy the first time but I understood it too
- Continental philosophy is far more responsible than analytic philosophy for making most people feel like their not brainy enough to have anything to do with Philosophy
WHY MIGHT PEOPLE LIKE CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY IN THE FIRST PLACE?
- Continental Philosophers tend to have fertile minds and be well read. It fuels creative thought. If it could be a branch of the arts, on some level this might not be so bad. But to claim that it's more connected to the world than analytic philosophy is a bad idea. Aesthetics should be difficult to grasp, but thought should be clear and articulate. That's not dogmatism, it's sense
- The ideas are sometimes interesting. But continental philosophy subordinates explaining phenomena in place of being interesting. There is an intuitive feeling that we should resist common assumptions and accepted wisdom, and also that we should develop new terms and use words in a different way. I agree with that stuff, but it can, and has been taken too far by continental philosophers - any Lacan clip would prove my point on this one better than the Zizek clip
- I do sometimes enjoy listening to philosophers of the continental strain and occasionally feel enriched after contemplating them. I like this clip of Derrida discussing love, for example. But there are far more ideas that fun to believe, or fun to try to understand, but little more
So there you go, that's my feeling. Hit me!