Carl's Reviews > Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction

Continental Philosophy by Simon Critchley
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's review
Sep 24, 2007

liked it
bookshelves: philosophy, culturecriticism
Recommended for: Beginners in philosophy
Read in September, 2007

Finally finished-- you can see my initial review below, which probably still stands fairly well. I probably should have given it one more star, but I thought he short-changed Continental philosophy at the end with a dismissive mention of concepts such as the Real in Lacan which he apparently thinks are obscurantist causal explanations-- but then again I think this is a big part of the criticism of many of these schools of thought, so I'll withhold judgement for now. The book as a whole was a tad weird to me, as I was more in need of an intro to Analytic philosophy, so it felt a bit like an Intro to myself-- except I'm still a beginner in Continental philosophy, and a bit of the periphery as a literary-critic/philologist (if I'm allowed to use those two terms in the same sentence). I still prefer my side, but I appreciate the call for improved communication and respect between the two sides.

Decided to finally start reading this. Looks interesting so far. Being at Berkeley and in literary studies, I'm very much on the side of what is here called "continental philosophy". The book is primarily a contrast between analytic philosophy and the more phenomenological/hermeneutic (and now poststructuralist) continental trends of philosophy. The author is intent on healing the gap to some degree and creating a mutual respect between the two traditions, identifying them not just with national differences but with differences within the academic cultures of the English speaking world. On the analytic side of things there is science (and scientism), a concern with epistemology, and a focus on meaning. On the "Continental" side of things there is hermenuetics, a concern with ontology, phenomenology, and a focus on meaning. He even refers to the latter as "romantic-hermeneutics"-- a side which I fall very strongly on the side of. Unfortunately my closest friends tend to fall on the other side (or rather, on the side of science, engineering, etc), which has led to a growing cognitive dissonance in my interactions with them, even during friendly exchanges (this despite the fact that I think science and technology are pretty cool, and I think I do a good enough job at not making snide comments or assumptions about their fields). Frusterating! The "other side" always seems so cocky, hard-headed, and condescending to me-- but everynow and then I think I see that attitude coming out of an insecurity and a belief that "my side" is exactly the same way-- and alot of us are. There are some real jerks in the world of critical theory. Plus, while the "sciency" side of things is ostensibly that concerned with truth, the foundation of truth, what truth is, how we know truth, is certainly tied to a significant degree to ontology, human meaning, etc, which is the realm of the humanities (and cognitive science, psych, etc, but they straddle the border and see themselves as belonging more to the science side of things)-- so you get these "softies" from the humanities often commenting on the hard(er) sciences, using lingo refined by decades or even centuries of discussion, much of which is totally outside the experience of the "scientists", and of course this is going to sound both condescending and confused to the other party. I do think that the humanities have something particularly important to tell us in this world of the technologization, commodification, etc, of human ontology/culture, whatever, but in terms of my personal relationships I don't see this gap being bridged any time soon-- much of what there is to explain is admittedly pretty esoteric, and I'm still learning so much myself. In any case, I've strayed from the topic of two types of philosophy in opposition to two cultural trends in opposition, which I suppose is what the book is about anyway. Can you tell that this has been bugging me more and more lately?
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message 1: by michael spencer (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:34PM) (new)

michael spencer Good job, Carl. I'm proud of you. I will restrain the philologist/philosopher within me. :)

message 2: by Carl (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Carl You know, I always wanted to see myself as a philologist, but that term means so many different things that I'm not sure what to do with it-- on the one hand I could define it in opposition to linguistics, saying that a philologist is someone who does not go into language as a total system but instead focuses on a specific language and texts in that language, attempting to understand those texts-- but I could also define it in opposition to literary criticism, as is often done now (I read a really good collection of articles on the subject of reconciling the differences between the two, but all in Swedish), then I have to say that philology is more of a nitty-gritty details arena in opposition to the interpretive strategies of lit crit. And of course there are differences in the usage of the term between the different academic traditions, even between American and English, I think. My dissertation is feeling extremely "lit-crit" these days, as the starting point is Interart theory and Ekphrasis, but I'm hoping to pull in some other disciplines more befitting a Medievalist-- certainly there will be some New (or Material) Philology, Oral theory, and Cultural Anthro.
What did you focus on when you majored in philosophy? Are you on the more analytic side, or continental? Do you have any recommendations for a lit-crit guy who wants more of an intro to the analytic traditions? I've heard Richard Rorty bridges the gap a bit, but the little I've heard of his work doesn't appeal too much to me-- but I should probably give him a try (right after I finish reading some Gadamer).

message 3: by Carl (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Carl One more comment on my own review: I was reading the translator's intro to Gadamer's "Truth and Method" when I ran across an interesting note. The translator lists a bunch of words in the German which are built on the root "Bild", form, image, etc, but when, which translated to English, show no such connection: for example, Bildung, Bild, Urbild, Vorbild, Abbild and Einbildungskraft become culture (or cultivation, cultivated), form/image/picture, original, model, copy, and imagination, respectively. Normally I figure these sorts of differences are just the typical problems of translation, but now that I think about it, it seems to me that in English, where we have such a mix of etymological origins for our words (Anglo-Saxon, Norse, Latin, Greek, French, German, Celtic[?]) such connections between abstract or "specialty" words are either not apparent in the structure of the word, or are distanced from everyday language by being (often) in another language. I could be wrong-- correct me if I am! But it does seem to me that other languages (I feel confident of this in the case of latin, german, Icelandic, and I think Swedish, though Swed does a lot of borrowing as well) feature this compound-play, this visible relationship between the words involved, to a greater extent than English,certainly in philosophical discourse. Now I don't want to go for a hard-core Sapir-Whorf thesis here (especially now that I've found out that their theory was racist in motivation-- or so I am told by a grad student in Linguistics who insists that no one really believes their theory any more), but it seems to me that this could be connected to the differences in analytic vs continental philosophy which this book talks about-- after all, though analytic philosophy has its origins in the continent (the book mentions Wittgenstein, at least), it is primarily an English language phenomenon these days (and if I remember correctly later Wittgenstein shares a lot of similarities of interest with phenomenology-- but maybe there are some crucial differences that I just haven't gotten yet.) Could it be that the apparent semantic independence of terms in English philosophy promotes a view of such phenomena, the matter of study or the tools of the trade, as discrete units, fixed and independent data, while the obvious semantic dependence/interrelatedness of such terms in Continental languages promotes the idea of meaning and communication as a more organic, holistic endeavor which is in flux and involves more of the linguistic play of Continental philosophy (for example, Derrida's extreme liberties with the language-- though I don't read French and shouldn't comment), which translate so poorly into English? Of course, an easier and more obvious explanation for such differences would be to point out that Analytic philosophy is more problem based and, from what I understand, relatively uninterested in literary texts, while Continental philosophy has always been very much concerned with literature, art, etc, and has integrated those fields into the philosophical pursuit-- kind of like the difference between psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Is it any wonder that literary theorists have embraced Continental Philosophy and psychoanalysis, rather than the other two? Not that anyone I know would swallow these or any other theoretical approach uncritically, but these two are certainly more fit for the hermeneutic occupation of lit crit.
Opinions? Those more knowledgable than I (or less so), feel free to weigh in and tell me where I'm horribly mistaken, or where there might be some redemption for my analysis.

message 4: by michael spencer (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:34PM) (new)

michael spencer Rorty will in fact bridge the two for you. However, when it comes to analytic, to be honest, he won't give you much help there. You would have to know what he's 'bridging'. ;) Here is a relatively short list of people you cannot ignore on the analytical side:

Bertrand Russell
G.E. Moore
A.J. Ayer
Gottlob Frege
Gilbert Ryle
Ludwig Wittgenstein (my favorite!)

The Analytics are sometimes tied even to the pragmatism streaks in C.S. Lewis, interestingly enough - though Pragmatism as a school is almost entirely separated out from it.

Enjoy! :)

message 5: by michael spencer (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:34PM) (new)

michael spencer Oh, by the way, here is a good site for all things philosophical should you desire it:

message 6: by Carl (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:35PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Carl What about Charles Taylor? Or at least I think I got the name write. I have the impression that he is from the analytic camp, but is quite friendly with the phenomenologists.

message 7: by michael spencer (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:35PM) (new)

michael spencer I've not heard of him - perhaps this is to my academic shame. Do you know what he has contributed, by chance?

message 8: by Carl (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:35PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Carl I heard about him when I started to audit (couldn't finish) a course by Hubert Dreyfus on Merleau-Ponty. I just looked Taylor up on Wikipedia and it calls him a "post-analytic" philosopher and gives a list of his work. Hubert Dreyfus, incidentally, has some of his articles available online here:
Dallas Willard, who does more of a transcendental phenomenology (from what I understand), is also online, where you can read both his Christian and philosophical works.

message 9: by Conrad (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:35PM) (new)

Conrad What about Quine and Popper? And what about Imre Lakatos? No one ever remembers Imre Lakatos.

Also, it seems like one of the funny things about being a philologist is you never end up paying much attention to philology. Look at Nietzsche - according to some, he ended up rejecting language as a means of communication altogether, preferring some kind of barbaric yawp, or maybe just deferring to his own syphilis...

message 10: by Carl (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:37PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Carl That's a good point-- I'm pretty sure Nietzche isn't the only philologist I've heard of who left it behind. I've heard of Quine and Popper, but not of Lakatos, I have to admit. But then, I've never even taken an intro to Philosophy course. Not quite sure how that happened. I'm paying for it now.

message 11: by michael spencer (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:37PM) (new)

michael spencer Carl, worry not - at least in Santa Barbara, you would have had to brave logic rules and overviews before ever touching linguistcal philosophy. :)

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