Analytic & Continental Philosophy

Yesterday the Australian philosopher Paul Patton was featured on Australia’s Philosopher’s Zone radio program. First, let’s give a huge round of applause to Australia for having a radio program devoted to philosophy.


I’ve met Paul Patton a few times and I have always been impressed.  The main point he makes here is that the analytic / continental division in philosophy is part and parcel of the larger division in intellectual circles between science and the humanities. Patton notes that as a higher ed administrator in a research university he has come up against the perplexity of scientists who wonder just what new knowledge the humanities are discovering.  At the same time, Patton makes an impressive case that the humanities’ sort are much more engaged in the real world problems of actual peoples, especially those who have been marginalized, like the Australian aboriginal people.

Patton also notes a difference between analytic and continental philosphers over what is taken as given and taken for granted.  Analytic philosophers often take rights as given, and then they worry — quite rightly — over how such rights ought to be distributed.  [Edit: should read how goods should be distributed on the basis of these rights, not rights distributed.] Continentals worry about how such rights might, or might not, emerge at all, especially in contexts where “the other” is barely recognized as worthy of recognition.

I have been working between these traditions, mostly from the continental side but also mostly trying to engage the issues that analytic political philosophers care about more than continental philosophers seem to do.  This always gives me a sense of vertigo or imbalance. Currently I am finishing up an article on democratic “epistemology” though I feel like I am hardly getting off the ground because I can hardly recognize what epistemology, in the usual sense, has to do with democratic deliberation. I have to constantly do a self-check: am I on Neptune or are these other folks on Neptune?  Fortunately I have had lots of experience on planet earth with people actually engaged in democratic life so that I can pause and say to myself: I have something to say here.

In the end, the analytic / continental divide is best checked by  lived experience — not a seminar in modal logic.