It seems as though Analytic philosophy is dominating in my country. Could you give me an argument for preferring Continental over Analytic philosophy, and vice versa, their relative strengths and weaknesses. I'd like to understand both sides of the argument.


Here is the introduction to the biography of Pink Floyd taken from Wikipedia:

Pink Floyd were an English rock band formed in London. They achieved international acclaim with their progressive and psychedelic music. Distinguished by their use of philosophical lyrics, sonic experimentation, extended compositions and elaborate live shows, they are one of the most commercially successful and influential groups in the history of popular music.

This would correspond to the analytic style of describing concepts.

Now here is the introduction to the biography of Pink Floyd taken from Allmusic.com:

Some bands turn into shorthand for a certain sound or style, and Pink Floyd belongs among that elite group. The very name connotes something specific: an elastic, echoing, mind-bending sound that evokes the chasms of space. Pink Floyd grounded that limitless sound with exacting explorations of mundane matters of ego, mind, memory, and heart, touching upon madness, alienation, narcissism, and society on their concept albums of the '70s.

This description is closer in spirit to the continental style of describing concepts.

A proponent of the analytic style will argue that the second description is at best very difficult to understand, and requires someone to know a lot about Pink Floyd before hand at the very least for it to make any sense at all. They would accuse the author of the second definition of being "obscurantist". A "hard core" analytic philosopher, i.e. a logical atomist or a logical positivist will go even further, stating the the second description is meaningless all together (How does one go about "grounding limitless sound" with "exacting explorations"? And what exactly is "limitless sound" anyway?). The first description on the other hand is clear and unambiguous, and carries relevant information by it's logical and precise structure.

A proponent of the continental style will argue that the first description of Pink Floyd, for all of its clarity and unambiguity, fails to convey the true artistic impact of the band. The second description, which uses metaphors and subjective terminology in a way that analytic philosophers don't usually subscribe to, succeeds in giving a better feel for Pink Floyd's influence and it's perception among critics and the public, that a 'mere' analytic description can never convey.

Consider the following quote from Nietzsche (who is retroactively categorized as a continental philosopher) "Thus Spake Zarathustra":

I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment...

A proponent of continental philosophy would argue that there is no way to fully describe Nietzsche's overman (übermensch) using analytic, clear cut definitions à la Tractatus. You would be forced to use a metaphorical and subjective style if you wanted to convey the full meaning of the overman.


If you wanted to draw a line back into history, one could say that the analytic tradition descends from Aristotle and the continental from Plato.

The first is more discursive and rational, and the latter more literary and poetic; for example Plato uses myths, parables, metaphors and direct speech whereas Aristotle will give the arguments of several of his established predecessors and look at the question at hand in a distinctly rational mode that has a family resemblence to the mode of enquiring that goes under science now.

They are however both modes of thinking, and there is a cross-over between the two; after all, Aristotle was a student of Plato.


Analytic philosophy typically deals with narrowly defined topics with great precision, formal (or pseudo-formal) arguments, and aspirations to clarity. Continental philosophy is likely to take on more ambitious and significant topics, but often treats them solely in a poetic and allusive manner.

Analytic philosophy can be criticized for diminished ambitions and scope, resulting in pedanticism, and an obsession with tedious minutiae. Continental philosophy can be criticized for obscurity, and the tendency to sound good without saying anything that can be reliably understood, translated into well-formed arguments, or used to establish clear results. Both can be criticized for engaging almost exclusively with the academic world, to the exclusion of topics of wide general interest and understandability. (These criticisms, of course, do not apply universally --there are those on both sides who have transcended their peers' limitations.)

Some of the great achievements of each in recent memory are the creation of the science of modern logic for analytic philosophy, and the social and cultural impact of existentialism and deconstructionism for continental philosophy. To express it another way, continental philosophy has produced great art, and analytic philosophy has produced a great science.

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