"Continental philosophy includes the following movements: German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism (and its antecedents, such as the thought of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, French feminism, psychoanalytic theory, and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and related branches of Western Marxism" (WP:Continental Philosophy)

What were the most significant historical influences of continental philosophy? (See also this question.)

  • @CesarGon I made major revisions to your question. I added more examples and shifted focus to "major contributions" since that seems (to me at least) to be a more tractable and less subjective concept than "genuinely valuable contributions". It seems to call more for a report on the consensus of the practitioners of the discipline rather than individual value judgments (the problem with the original formulation, IMHO, was the "what do you think are the valuable contributions" aspect, which seemed to make it primarily opinion based). Feel free to rollback if you think I've changed too much.
    – Dennis
    Jul 20, 2013 at 20:02
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    Dennis, great work. --Briefly: I'd prefer not to re-litigate the science wars here if that's at all possible. Keep in mind we -- that is, participants in the SE community -- share an ethos with Wikipedia, so we have to strive for balanced presentations. :)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jul 20, 2013 at 20:03
  • That said, I'm still a little worried about the framing here; asking for any contributions of an entire family of thinkers seems plainly ironic. --I might mention in passing that, at least as currently formulated, 'continental' is pretty grossly under-specified. I'm tempted to say even pejoratively simplified here. --It just doesn't seem particularly constructive (balanced/proportionate) to frame the concern this way.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jul 20, 2013 at 20:06
  • So maybe we could try to explore a little bit what sort of answer you might be looking for, perhaps by specifying what kind of technical or theoretical contribution would be most interesting or exciting to learn about for you. --A little bit more about what you understand 'continentalism' to be might help move this into constructive territory as well. Providing a more definite theoretical context, perhaps with citations from the texts you mentioned, might also help maximize the likelihood of getting a great answer :)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jul 20, 2013 at 20:12
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    @JosephWeissman I think that is fair, but the pejorative simplification is just inherent to the entire analytic/continental dichotomy. Neither group is homogenous enough to warrant the labels (and many "analytic" philosophers share more of an intellectual tradition with "continental" philosophers (and vice-versa)). I think this question could be read simply as "I've heard a lot of bad stuff about continental philosophy from non-practitioners, what do the practitioners think are the best work of their fields."
    – Dennis
    Jul 20, 2013 at 20:13

1 Answer 1


Marx through turning Hegel 'upside-down' has huge historical importance on literature, art, economics & most obviously politics. A great deal of the history of the 20th century would not be understandable without it.

Freuds discovery of the unconscious & dream hinterland helped propel surrealism as a significant art movement, psycho-therapy, David Lynchs film career, advertising & the use of effective propaganda by the state & big business.

Fanons philosophy of the Native was crucial in the theoretical discourse of the anti-colonial movement (as amplified by Sartre). He was taught by Aime Cesaire a left-leaning poet from Martinique who studied in France and a founder of the 'negritude' movement which included Leopold Senghor, president of Senegal.

Derrida (who was born in Algeria) through subversion of the semiotics as channelled by Gayatri Spivak is important to a lot of activism around voicing the subordinate position of the subaltern - "can the subaltern speak" - this term itself is taken from Gramsci, an italian marxist thinker & activist.

Levi-Strauss through his structural anthropology and field-research in the Amazon made intellectuel space for mass indigenous movements possible - for example in south america, and india.

Lyotard turned modernism on its head - after Nietszches derailment of the grand narrative of Christianity - helping to derail the grand narrative of modernism - of truth & progress. He moved the 'society of the Spectacle' - the preliminary investigation into the new media by the situationist Guy Debord where simulcra takes the place of reality in recognition of the heightened importance of media.

The Kantian notion of the observer being implicated in the observed had ramifications in the philosophy of quantum physics aka the copenhagen interpretation. His revitalisation of the idea of Aristotelean categories was significant enough that the founders of Category Theory (in mathematics) named their discipline after it. (Although not traditionally counted as a continental philosopher, as he is not a modern one) Liebniz ideas on the relativity of space by way of Mach influenced Einstein.


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