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« Why zombies are inconceivable (short version) | Main | A strange controversy »

June 10, 2008


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The analytic/continental divide did not exist prior to the 1930s, so there has not been two hundred years of continental philosophy for Barnes to dismiss.

A lot of people trace the divide back to german idealism, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche & other 19th c figures, even if the analytic side can't be said to really get going until at least Frege. But even if it wasn't technically until Russell for the analytics, part of the point of their tradition is that they're not historically minded (as Barnes made clear, they consider "history of philosophy" an entirely separate enterprise from "philosophy" proper) whereas the continental side is very interested in previous texts, and the continuing history of human thought...

Aaron Boyden

Thank you for mentioning Marx; he does a good job of highlighting the problem with extending the analytic/continental divide back before the 1930s. While it's probably the case that in the late 20th century it was more common for continental philosophers than analytic philosophers to be Marxists (though there have certainly been analytic philosophers of Marxist inclination even in recent times), if you try to extend the divide to the early 20th century you must confront the problem that this situation is reversed. An early 20th century Marxist was more likely to be someone we'd place on the analytic side of the divide than on the continental side.

Speaking of philosophers of Marxist inclination, Russell is remarkable for how he tracked the evolving situation in philosophy; he became a clear example of analytic philosophy in his old age (though he retained his Marxist leanings), but in his younger days, he was quite familiar with the work of idealists and took it very seriously. He largely disagreed with the idealists from the beginning, of course, but my position isn't that philosophers didn't disagree with one another prior to the 1930s. It is rather that philosophy wasn't sharply divided into two camps with virtually no communication between them prior to the 1930s, and enough that is characteristic of analytic and continental philosophy is a product of that isolation to make the labels far more misleading than helpful when applied to figures prior to the development of that isolation.

I do find it mildly ironic that the continental philosophers who claim to be so much more historically minded seem to be just as ignorant of the history of the analytic/continental divide as analytic philosophers.


I, for one, view the analytic/continental distinction as lasting from the 1930s up to the present day.

Hegel, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Marx are 19c philosophers that were respected (albeit dispised) in what would later be called proto-analytic, analytic philosophy before the 1930s. Hegel and Schopenhauer had the ear of the British idealists, Kierkegaard influenced Wittgenstein, and Marx was studied in England before the world wars.

The 1930s saw the rise of the Vienna Circle on one hand, and Heidegger's Zeitgeist in Germany, and that's the origin of the split. (The bitter paper by Rudolph Carnap against Heidegger, being one of the major causes)

Jim Farmelant

To some extent the analytic/continental divide was reproduced within academic Marxism in eastern Euope. In eastern Europe during the 1960s and 1970s sophisticated academic Marxist philosophers tended to look towards either continental philosophy or towards analytic philosophy for tools for interpreting Marxism. For example in Poland, starting after 1956, there emerged humanist interpretations of Marxism such as that of Leszek Kolakowski which emphasized the writings of the "young Marx" and which drew upon phenomenology and existentialism for interpreting these writings. By the 1960s this approach to Marxist philosophy gained official status when Adam Schaff, who was basically
the "house philosopher" of the Polish Communist Party endorsed it.

On the other hand, there also emerged in the 1960s and 1970s the Poznan School which drew upon the analytic philosophy of the Lwów-Warsaw School in the interpretation of
Marxism. The Poznan School, among other things, developed an adaptationist version of historical materialism that was not unlike the one that G.A. Cohen and his fellow Analytical Marxists
were developing at roughly the same time in the UK and US. In contrast with the humanist Marxists, the Poznan School placed great emphasis on the scientific status of Marxism and they drew upon the latest developments in the philosophy of science in this pursuit.

It is my understanding that parallel developments in academic Marxist philosophy took place in other eastern European countries during the same time period too.

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