The Great Divide: Concerning the Battle Between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

[Editor's Note: We're happy here to present a first blog post for us by Rian Mitch (submitted in response to our recent call for more bloggers). Rian was one of the voices on our Deleuze Not School discussion, whom we met when he took us to task via email for our slipshod treatment of Derrida on ep. 51. He consequently has been leading a Derrida Not School group.]

A recurrent topic on PEL has been the distinction between the analytic and continental schools of philosophy. In this NY Times Opinionator piece from last year, Gary Gutting, chair of the philosophy department at Notre Dame, gives an account of the history of this division. Gutting himself decides to play it almost neutral, allowing a historic reduction of the origins of both continental and analytic philosophy. This article does little good if you're trying to decide where you stand, but it does provide insight into the ridiculous shouting match between the two schools.

Though it seems contrived, this split between Americans/British (Analytics) and the rest of the world (Continental) is an ongoing issue in the professional world (and the fact that some deny that the distinction is legitimate at all is part of the debate itself). One could question whether Gutting's slant is correct, with his opinion of an analytic superiority obviously impacting his words; you'd likely want to check out a few more articles and authors for yourself before following his lead. Still, the article provides some value in sketching out the strengths and weaknesses of each of the schools. Gutting suggests a few areas where each of the schools could take a lesson or two by addressing the overlapping areas of interest in modern day philosophy. Overall, the article gives some nice groundwork to feel your way around this aspect of philosophical discourse today.

Read the NY Times piece.

-Rian Mitch


  1. Profile photo of Wayne Schroeder says

    I missed this post by Rian until now. I appreciated a couple of responders from the commentary section (quoted below) on the divide between Analytic vs Continental which can be described in many ways. What I notice is that we all seem to have a preferential way of thinking more one way than the other, perhaps the difference between the logical and intuitional, or a more basic cut to how we think, with the best being able to use either as relevant. This basic preference seems to be the egg that comes before the chicken, although we think we are being correct, or objective depending on our preference. The next time I’m at the store I think I will order an egg and a chicken and see which one comes first. In any event, I hope this divide in thinking can continue to be mutually informative, as opposed to oppositional.

    chris brooklyn, ny:
    Analytics seem to want “Truth,” while continentals want to understand “truthS,” and sometimes create new ones. Analytics seek to make language “clear” so to get at “the Truth,” while continentals see language as productive of “truthS.” Two different ways of looking at the role of philosophy in the world.

    Alex, Pennsylvania
    This article seems to be less about bridging the gap between the traditions and more about how/why continental philosophy should become more analytic. Language is often inadequate for the task at hand. Being and Time is a prime example of this. When language is not up to the task one can either go another direction (ignoring whatever obscurity is there) or try to articulate the best one can (even though this may be an impossible task). In a quest for clarity isn’t it possible that something can be ignored or covered up? Is the obscure not worthy of discussion?

    Moreover, the suggestion to simply read “analytic commentaries” seems to open up worlds of possible errors. What if the interruption in the commentary is unusual, unhelpful, or worst obscure? How are commentaries to elucidate texts if the audience of the commentary doesn’t have first hand experience with the primary text? This would be like doing historical analysis with secondary sources because primary sources are obscure (perhaps in a different language?). Or instead of reading Plato simply reading what Roman commentaries have to say. Commentaries can be helpful and clarifying, but primarily when one ‘knows what’s on the table’ or as some experience with the primary text. This piece is not a bridge, it’s a reduction to homogenization. Obviously, this is a slight exaggeration, but someone who works on “contemporary French philosophy” as a specialty should have a better appreciation for the significance of difference.


  1. […] Peter Hacker does not abide nonsense. In his January article “Why Philosophy” Hacker puts in his cross-hairs ideas taken seriously by politicians, scientists, and the intelligentsia in general. Let’s get to the specifics in a minute – the general outline is relevant to anyone hoping to grok the never-ending attempt to define philosophy. Perhaps this attempt never ends because there’s no exhaustive definition available, or perhaps the activity is perpetual because of distinct approaches and traditions even within the “Eurocentric” philosophical tradition (see Rian Mitch’s post on the Analytic/Continental Divide). […]

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