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.

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Posted by Keith E. Buhler

One Comment

  1. Here’s something out there that I’ve wondered about for awhile – namely our division between emotion and rationality. Today, we consider the two mutually exclusive. Emotion is value rich, but the connotation is that there is no necessary correlation to the real world, and that the subject is moved by something other than itself. On the other hand, rationality is that which correlates to the outer world and is moved by itself, but pretty much believes in no value, except the value of itself.

    However, my thought is that the dichotomy is false; essentially there are not two distinct parts of the soul, feeling and thinking, that bear no necessary relationship to each other. What we are missing is the Platonic notion that the mind reasons because it loves. Rationality and (part of) emotion are two sides of the same coin, two views on the soul’s progress towards the something other than itself that it loves.

    Thus, emotion can be considered a name for the fact that we are seeking something other than ourselves, something outside of us. This is where the connotations of value and external mover come from. Consequently, it also covers more than just the mind’s desire; it includes the spirited and the bodily desires. Rationality is the means by which we move towards the object that our mind desires, and as such connotates self movement and truth.

    So, to tie this back into your post, I’d say the dichotomy between analytic and continental philosophy is analogous to the dichotomy between rationality and emotion, in need of the same solution – a realization that the faculties of the soul are unified in seeking the object of its desire.

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