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In "Continental Philosophy", the author, Simon Critchely, briefly reviews the two competing/antagonistic main streams - so-called "analytic" and "Continental" -- of Anglo-European-American philosophy of the last 250+ years. This slim volume (like all of the VSI volumes I've read -- about 7-8) is a good, clear and well written introduction to a very interesting topic, but, in this case, just not exactly the one intimated in the title. One needs to already know a bit about each stream of thought in order to get the full value of the book, and so a better title might be "Introduction to the Analytic/Continental Philosophical Dispute". But this is a quibble.
The story begins with Kant (or, more accurately, Kant's response to Hume's sceptism). Kant, a pivotal figure in Western philosophy, sought to demonstrate the limits of 'pure' reason as a basis for our scientific knowledge about the world (which, he argued, depends on pre-analytic categories such as time and space). Kant later attempted to provide a rational basis for other areas of philosophical concern - previously and primarily justified on the basis of religion -- e.g., ethics, morality, aesthetics.
After Kant (or because of him, some might say), particularly as 'Science' began to explain more and more about the world that had previously been the purview of philosophy (and religion), Western philosophical thought split into two main streams:
-- "analytic", using "Science" as a model, and which focused on logic and reason as the primary tools of philosophical inquiry and defined the areas of legitimate philosophical investigation as ridding language (and thought) of ambiguities (philosophy becomes the "handmaiden" of science); and
-- "Continental", which focused on a number of areas dealing with ethics, morality, "meaning of life" types of isssues.
Kant's grounding (now seen as a unsuccessful) of morality in reason nevertheless removed an important traditional structural support for morality, etc., that had permeated much of Western thought (religion, in particular Christianity). With this started the thread of "anxiety" in Western European/American religious/philosophical thinking concerned with finding a replacement for religious faith as the basis for morality, meaning of life, etc. Kant, in Nietzsche's view, comes to be viewed as the thinker who exposed 'nihilism' as a problem, and much of Continental thinking, especially since Nietzsche, has been an attempt to deal with the 'anxiety' caused by 'nihilism'.
There is much in Critchley's book about the battles that have, since Kant, raged on this topic, with "analytic" philosophers (many of whom in fact were, geographically anyway, "continental", e.g., Frege, the founder of the 'analytic' movement, and the Vienna Circle, the best known 'analytic' school) claiming that Continental philosophers wrote (and thought) gibberish, while Continental philosophers claiming that analytic philosophers were caught in an ever-shrinking space of fruitful inquiry. The distinctions, obviously, aren't crystal clear, and some notable thinkers have either been in both schools at different times in their lives (e.g., Wittgenstein) or have sought to provide a synthesis (usually grounded in some form or "pragmatism") of the two ways of thinking (e.g., Cavell and Rorty).
Critchely, a Reader in Philosophy at the University of Exeter and Directeur de Programme at the College International de Philosophie (in Paris) has an unusually good professional perch from which to survey the (oftentimes contentious) debates that have plagued the two competing schools (each of which, at least on the "Continental" side has numerous 'sub-schools'), certainly for the past 100 or so years. Critchley's perspective on the debate is quite even-handed and conciliatory. He points out the places where 'analytic' philosophers have made mistakes (e.g., arguing against metaphysics through the "verificationist principle" of meaning, with the foundation of that principle itself ultimately being shown to be metaphysical) and where Continental philosophers have been at best -- one suspects intentionaly -- obscure and in the case of some (notably Heidegger) positively harmful -- as apologists for totalitarianism.
He ends the last two chapters in the book pointing out the respective dangers of each side ("scientism" by the 'analytics' and "obscurantism" by the 'Continentals') and proposing a "third way" that reconciles the 'analytic' and 'Continental' streams, suggesting that a "careful" phenomenology can show that many of the questions about man's "primary and most significant access to the world" are not resolvable by 'analytic' methods, but are not helpfully elucidated either by many of the cryptic, aphoristic, metaphoric writings of the principal adherents of the 'Continental school.
This is a great, condensed review of a very important debate within Western thought over the past 250 years, which continues today. Well worth reading.