Quora answer: What is the difference between Continental and Analytic philosophy?

May 22 2014

My churlish answer is that there is real philosophy and there is fake philosophy, and the ones who claim to be the real philosophers and to denigrate the others are the ones who are the most under suspicion. In other words the Analytical philosophers claim that Continental philosophy is fake philosophy, (meaningless and senseless) and that Analytical philosophy is the true philosophy while for the most part other Continental philosophers just get on with their work and have no concern for denigrating Analytical Philosophy. So it should be our suspicion that the ones claiming to be the real philosophers while running down others must have something to hide. And part of what they have to hide is that theirs is really the fake philosophy. Let us remember that analytical philosophy started out as an anti-philosophy saying that all metaphysics was an illusion. Continental Philosophy is merely the European Philosophical tradition getting on with its own evolution and its own concerns. It is Analytical Philosophy that took an anti-philosophical turn in England and then America, which was shaped by anti-communism of the McCarthy era more than anything else. Analytical Philosophers are specialists who have nothing to say about anything outside their speciality, while Continental Philosophy takes as its subject matter a wide swath of human culture as its materials such as literature, psychoanalysis,  western culture and society, politics, etc. See the writings of Zizek as an extreme example. In other words Continental Philosophy is engaged in the totality of our modern world and Analytical Philosophy is disengaged and aloof from the world in which they live for the most part, and really have nothing to tell us about anything outside their speciality. Yet they claim that Continental Philosophy is esoteric and incomprehensible and in the end meaningless and senseless, even though it is only Continental Philosophy which is attempting to make sense of the world in which we actual live in our postmodern times. For the most part the Analytical Philosophers can’t even be bothered to read the philosophy that they are criticizing and that they look down upon from their high positions ensconced in American and English academia. Of course if you do not read something, and you don’t try to understand it, then anything can be misconstrued as nonsense if you try hard enough to obscure its meaning by not understanding the tradition within which it is embedded. Meanwhile Continental Philosophy gets on with its work, and is in fact gaining ground while Analytical Philosophy is fading. And that is because English majors who need some basis on which to think about works of literature have taken up Continental Philosophy as a useful way of looking at Literature, and there are a lot more English programs in America than there are philosophy programs in Universities and Colleges.

Now that I have gotten my churlish answer out of the way, we can get down to cases and we can talk about the sense that Continental Philosophy does make and then use that as a contrast to Analytical Anti-philosophical Specialism that has flourished in American Academia. My own introduction to Continental Philosophy came as an undergraduate when I took courses on Heidegger and Husserl from Alfonso Verdu in the early seventies. Then I went on  to LSE UK to study Sociology and that was a time when Philosophy of Science was big at that school and it was the leader in that field. So naturally I decided to turn my own attention to Philosophy of Science as well and my dissertation title was “Structure of Theoretical Systems in relation to Emergence”. Basically I was taking as my starting point the work of G.H.Mead in The Philosophy of the Present on the nature of Emergence as a starting point for understanding paradigm and other discontinuous changes in the Scientific Tradition. There were no good models for why the Scientific Tradition changed at various scopes discontinuously. Examples of scopes are Facts, Theories, Paradigms (Kuhn), Epistemes (Foucault), Ontos (Heidegger’s epics of Being), Existences (Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, and Absolutes (for instance M. Henry in the Essence of Manifestation).  Since there were no answers to this in the normal English language philosophy works I turned to the Continental Works that were just then being translated into English and found that there were some attempts at answering this question. In the Continental Works of that time which were those of Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Derrida etc that were being translated in the Seventies there was the idea of the different kinds of Being that were in the process of being developed. It is this idea that the Analytical Philosophers find so inscrutable above all others. All Philosophy prior to the phenomenology of Heidegger in Being and Time thought that Being only had one modality which was Pure Being, or the Static Being of Parmenides. Heidegger introduced the idea that Being could have different modalities such as Process Being, or Becoming as well which we can trace back to Heraclitus. But even accounts like those of Hegel that are rooted in dynamism in theory, present the dynamics of thought as if it were itself Pure Being too, for instance in the Logic of Hegel where the dynamic is subsumed into a purely present telos. Heidegger was the first to say that there are different modes of Being Pure (present-at-hand) and Process (ready-to-hand) and to develop the implications of the equi-primordiality of these modes of Being. The problem of course was that Heidegger opened Pandoras Box and out of it spilled a plethora of different kinds of Being, such as Wild Being and Hyper Being as defined by Merleau-Ponty. Hyper Being was the same as the Being crossed out discovered by Heidegger and Differance defined by Derrida is differing and deferring. The question was how to understand these different kinds of Being that were being identified. Which ones were just different names for the same thing, and which ones were genuinely emergent phenomena?

My tact was to take Russell’s Higher Logical Type theory as the basis and to understand the different kinds of Being as Meta-levels of Being. And this in fact worked quite well in sorting out the confusion of the morass of images of the modes of Being that were being discovered. It turns out that there are only five meta-levels of Being and that they are fairly well defined by their different proponents within the Continental tradition. If you understand that the Continental Tradition is exploring the space of the possible modalities and aspects of Being and that is organized into emergent meta-levels by Higher Logical Type Theory then what seems incomprehensible about Continental Philosophy from an Analytical perspective makes sense and really does have meaning, if one just works hard at figuring out what that meaning is rather than just writing it off as incomprehensible without doing any work to understand it. The problem is that after Russell Logical Type Theory was rejected by the Analytical Tradition starting with Quine. So they lost the key by which Continental Philosophy could be decoded by the simpler minds that inhabit the speciality of Analytial Philosohy. They could not handle the ramification of Higher Logical Type Theory in their own tradition which was dreamed up to solve paradoxes by Russell. And what greater Paradox is Being which is a unique anomaly in Indo-European languages but which we take to be universally applicable to all cultures and worlds. Being is not universal but is in fact a linguistic anomaly and so when we go on to talk about the meta-levels of Being it is interesting that at the fifth meta-level there is a phase transition from Being to Existence. This, of course, was known by the Arabs who distinguished between Wajud (Existence) and Kun (Being) in their analysis of the Greek philosophical texts that was inherited by the Europeans in the Renaissance. The Arabs realized that Being had two components one that was related to what they called Existence (Wajud) and something that went beyond that which they gave the technical term of Kun (to make) that stood for the rest of Being beyond Existence. When this was translated into Latin during the Renaissance the word Existence was coined to stand for Wajud or Existence. So basically the modalities of Being are merely the stages of the devolution of Being as paradox into the core of Existence. But each stage is an emergent phase transition and thus has its own characteristics  and it is important to undersand these because they have such wide influence within our historical social construction of our worldview.

So what we have dealt with is the sense that the fundamental ideas of the Continental Tradition can make if we do enough work to understand them based on the tools that were thrown away by the Analytic Specialists. I had searched and searched for a good book about Higher Logical Type Theory that was explained so succinctly by Copi, and it turned out that that book is Logic of Sense by Deleuze. As far as I can tell the Analytic Tradition has not developed these ideas any further since they abandoned Russell’s concept of the ramification of Type Levels. Their objection to it was its seeming infinite possible ramification  But in fact in practice it does not rammify infinitely but there is in fact a finite number of levels (five to be exact) with respect to the Ultimate Idea of Being (Ultimate in its emptiness, and its generality of abstraction, and its significance and paradoxicality in our Indo-European languages). This means that Being is not equivalent to Cantorian Set Theory. Even Heidegger had this fear when he discovered the necessity of Being crossed out as a third kind of Being. But it has turned out that even Plato knew that this “third kind of Being” existed as seen in the Timaeus (cf Sallis Chrology). That is why Heidegger decided to turn against his own concept of Ontological Difference and developed the concept of Beyng (Seyn) as the dual of Being (Sein). Beyng is Strange, Unique and Onefold and most importantly what Being looks like without the striations of the meta-level modalities of Being under the influence of the difference of Ontological Monism between Being and beings. But in fact it is harder and harder to think the meta-levels of Being (which is equivalent to the various intelligibilities available within our worldview). These levels become exponentially harder to think until they become impossible to think and thus become the singularity of Ultra Being at the fifth meta-level which is the nature of Being as an existent. Badiou talks about ultra Being in terms of the advent of the Ultra One which eclipses the heterogeneity of the Multiple. Zizek on the other hand though his interpretation of Lacan via Hegel produces an anti-Derridian vision that attempts to comprehend the field of illusions related to the aspects of Being. Zizek and Badiou are a team developing philosophies that make sense of Ultra Being, just like Deleuze and Foucault was previously when trying to develop a philosophy at the limits of Wild Being. Prior to that was the team of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty which attempted to explore the implications of Heidegger’s new philosophy in different ways. It was Derrida who discovered how to interpret Being crossed out of Heidegger and thus sounded the death knell of structuralism by showing that it was just as unified as the level of formalism and that unity was itself questionable. The point is that this rediscovery of the kinds of Being in Continental Philosophy tells us a lot about our worldview that we would not be able to understand otherwise. It unites the disciplines of Formalism, Structuralism, Hermeneutics, Semiotics, Phenomenology, Dialectics, Psychoanalysis, Literary Criticism, etc. by the discovery that Being itself has a structure which is exposed by understanding it as an absurdity and then applying the higher logical types to it. The types at each level are the aspects of Being which are Identity, Presence, Truth and Reality. These ideas offer us a basis for a powerful critique of our culture and society, not to mention our tradition as a whole which has been entranced under the spell of Being since the beginning not realizing that from the point of view of all other languages what we have been indulging is is an illusion. But it is a powerful illusion, and that illusion is one that has had benefits. It is not for nothing that 60% of the world speaks an indo-European language of some kind. That is because those of us suffering under the illusion of Being have been successful at dominating all other peoples and destroying all other world that are different from our own, not to mention sending into oblivion myriads of languages though the domination of colonialization and now globalization. But this is the second world wide conquest by indo-europeans the first being with the genetic breading of horses to make them big that gave the indo-europeans a great advantage over all other tribes in ancient history and led to the first colonialization of the world by Indo-European speakers. History does repeat itself and so even though Being is an illusion it has powerful real world advantages, and I think it is worth studying why that might be the case, and have dedicated myself to that study for years. Both the Indo-europeans and those that they dominate need to understand this unusual efficacy of the anomaly of Being in the Indo-european language. Continental Philosophy is just a rediscovery of the details of this inner structure of Being that lurks under the surface and whose sign is the fragmentation of the roots of Being and Having in indo-european languages. What convinced me that it was important was when I discovered that the differences in the kinds of Being existed as the differences in the Gods associated with the Caste structure in the Vedas, as seen in the works of Dumazil. That prompted me to write a book about it called The Fragmentation of Being and the Path beyond the Void at http://works.bepress.com/kent_palmer.

Ultimately the difference between Continental Philosophy and Analytical Philosophy is that the former has broken through and has explored the internal structure of Being as the key to understanding the deep structure of our worldview, while Analytical Philosophy as an anti-philosophical speciality has decided to continue to dwell on the surface of Pure Being. They reject Hegel and Husserl and the rest of Continental Philosophy so that only Kant is shared between the two traditions. Analytical Philosophy has reduced its role to being the handmaiden of Science, while Continental Philosophy has taken on the task of understanding the underpinnings of our worldview as deeply as possible. One has made itself irrelevant to the challenges of the modern world, and the other is engaged in the problems of the modern world taking as its materials all elements of current culture and attempting to offer insightful explanations of them. One is fearful of politics and the other takes on the thorny issues of politics in our time. You did not see any Analytical Philosophers speaking at the occupy Wallstreet protests, but Zizek was there. We may not like what he says because he is a communist [The unbearable lightness of Slavoj Žižek’s communism] but he is engaged, he is thinking about contemporary issues and he is speaking out . . .


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