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Analytic and Contintental Philosophy (Means and Methods)

October 3rd, 2007 | 2 min read

By Keith E. Buhler

There has been much talk lately amongst my philosophy friends about “analytic” vs “continental” philosophy.  Analytic is characterized as desiring clarity of terms and exactitude of expression; continental as desiring fuzzy multi-dimensional terms and wholism of expression. They say that analytic philosophy elevates reason above personal experience and disdains emotion and inattention to detail; continental elevates personal meaning above clear truth and disdains attention to detail.

But it is not ‘clarity vs vagueness’ or ‘argumentation vs appeals to emotion’ that characterizes the difference between “analytic” and “contintental philosophy.” Anyone who proceeds from biased and unreflective assumptions towards glorious and gaseous speculation will not earn the title of philosopher at all, but propagandist, sophist, dolt, or (worse yet) an average intellect.

Analytic philosophy, since Kant and Descartes, has become focused on method. Philosophy must be concerned with methods, but this is not all. It must also be concerned with starting points and ending points. That is, it must examine it’s own unquestionable foundations upon which all her questions stand and it must consider those every-day decisions towards which it tends.

The mind goes from conclusion #1 to a question, and examination to conclusion #2. Conclusion #1 we call an assumption or postulate or presupposition or hypothesis; conclusion #2 we call a theory, an idea, a system, a schema, a possible truth, a ‘philosophy’, or oftentimes simply ‘the next hypothesis.’ The question and examination in between is often called analytic philosophy. If this is truly what ‘analytic philsophy’ is, then ‘continental philosophy,’ which encompassess all three stages of inquiry, from hypothesis, to examination, to renewed hypothesis, (thesis, dialectic, synthesis), is obviously superior. But this distinction does not hold.

The “analytic philosophy” I denegrate is that which begins in error, falsehood, ignorance, blindness, and hubris and proceeds from there with almost mathematical precision to conclusions that are as petty and irrelevant as they are valid. The analytic philosophy I praise, the true analytic philosophy, is that which begins in truth and morality then proceeds with precision, clarity, exactitude of terms, and strict adherence to the rules of reason towards truth no less than validity. As Chesterton points out, we need truth to find truth. Mere logic, with its valid inferences, will not take us anywhere definite until we start somewhere definite. And this starting point is, by definition, not chosen logically.1. The human mind was designed for apprehension of ‘common sense’ or ‘intuitive’ truths. 2. It was not designed for beginning with wild inhuman and monstrous “truths”. 3. It was designed for truth-seeking (and truth-finding) by careful reasoning, not merely for word-reference calculation which ignores human flourishing. These three postulates (which may be false) are necessary and brute facts, assumed at the time that the search for truth begins. We desire to know, and our desire begins around that which we (pre-logically) believe to be relevant and important for human flourishing.
Thankfully, we do not have to choose between “accurate but not relevant” and “relevant but not accurate.” We may reject (and must reject!) both unphilosophic errors. We must dwell intellectually on that which is relevant and accurate, accurate and relevant, proceeding to that which is both true and which is useful to human happiness. Wisdom, of which philosophy unqualified is the love, means seeking and discovering not just validity but the truth, and by whatever means necessary, until that beloved be found.