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Who Is a Continental Philosopher?

In the debate over continental philosophy a few posts back, there was some question as to which philosophers fell under the rubric of continental philosophy. In the eyes of many observers, indeed, a certain strain of French thought has come to stand for the entire field. Both positive and negative attention have been focused around Derrida, Lacan, Foucault, etc., to the exclusion of many, many others.

So I was glancing through the Blackwell Companion to Continental Philosophy (1998) on Google Books tonight, edited by Levinas evangelist and Leiter nemesis Simon Critchley. Even Critchley and co-editor William Schroeder relegate that French strain to just one corner of a large tradition, and most of the names are far less contentious. Rather than trying to answer what continental philosophy is, I think it’s better just to look at these names to get a sense of what the field encompasses.

Part I: The Kantian Legacy:.

1. The Context and Problematic of Post Kantian Philosophy: Frederick C. Beiser (University of Indiana, Bloomington).

2. Kant: Robert B. Pippin (University of Chicago).

3. Fichte: Ludwig Siep (Universitat Munster).

4. Early German Romanticism: Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis: Ernst Behler (University of Washington, Seattle).

5. Schelling: Jean Francois Courtine (Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris).

6. Hegel: Stephen Houlgate (University of Warwick).

Part II: Overturning The Tradition: .

7. Feuerbach and the Young Hegelians: Lawrence S. Stepelevich (Villanova University).

8. Marx: Michel Henry (University of Montpellier III).

9. Kierkegaard: Merold Westphal (Fordham University).

10. Schopenhauer: Robert Rethy (Xavier University).

11. Nietzsche: Charles E. Scott (Pennsylvania State University).

12. Freud: John Deigh (Northwestern University).

13. Bergson: Pete A. Y. Gunter (North Texas State University).

Part III: The Phenomenological Breakthrough:.

14. Neo Kantianism: Steven Galt Crowell (Rice University).

15. Husserl: Rudolf Bernet (Louvain Catholic University).

16. Scheler: Manfred S. Frings (The Max Scheler Archives, Des Plaimes).

17. Jaspers: Kurt Salamun (University of Graz).

18. Heidegger: John D. Caputo (Villanova University).

Part IV: Phenomenology, Hegelianism and Anti Hegelianism in France:.

19. Kojeve: Stanley Rosen (Boston University).

20. Levinas: Hent De Vries (University of Amsterdam).

21. Sartre: Thomas R. Flynn (Emory University).

22. De Beauvoir: Kate Fullbrook (University of the West of England) and Edward Fullbrook (freelance writer).

23. Merleau Ponty: Bernhard Waldenfelds (Ruhr Universitat Bochum).

24. Bataille: Robert Sasso (University of Nice).

25. Blanchot: Paul Davies (University of Sussex).

Part V: Religion Without The Limits of Reason:.

26. Franz Rosenzweig: Paul Mendes Flohr (Hebrew University).

27. Martin Buber: Maurice Friedman (San Diego State University).

28. Marcel: Philip Stratton Lake (Keele University).

Part VI: Three Generations of Critical Theory:.

29. Benjamin: Rebecca Comay (University of Toronto).

30. Horkheimer: Gunzelin Schmidt Noerr (Frankfurt am Main).

31. Adorno: Hauke Brunkhorst (Frankfurt am Main).

32. Bloch: Hans Dieter Bahr (University of Vienna).

33. Marcuse: Douglas Kellner (University of Texas at Austin).

34. Habermas: Thomas McCarthy (Northwestern University).

35. Third Generation Critical Theory: Max Pensky. (SUNY, Binghampton).

Part VII: Hermeneutics:.

36. Schleiermacher: Ben Vedder (University of Tilburg).

37. Dilthey: Rudolf A. Makkreel (Emory University).

38. Gadamer: Dennis J. Schmidt (Villanova University).

39. Ricoeur: Richard Kearney (University College, Dublin).

Part VIII: Continental Political Philosophy:.

40. Lukacs: Gyorgy Markus (University of Sydney).

41. Gramsci: Ernesto Laclau (University of Essex).

42. Schmitt: G. L. Ulmen (Telos Press Ltd).

43. Arendt: Robert Bernasconi (Memphis State University).

44. Lefort: Bernard Flynn (Empire State College, SUNY).

45. Castoriadis: Fabio Ciaramelli (University of Naples).

Part IX: Structuralism and After:

46. Levi-Strauss: Marcel Henaff (UCSD, California).

47. Lacan: William J. Richardson (Boston College).

48. Althusser: Jacques Ranciere (University of Paris VIII).

49. Foucault: Paul Patton (University of Sydney).

50. Derrida: Geoffrey Bennington (University of Sussex).

51. Deleuze: Brian Massumi (McGill University).

52. Lyotard: Jacob Rogozinski (University of Paris VIII).

53. Baudrillard: Mike Gane (Loughborough University).

54. Irigaray: Tina Chanter (Memphis State University).

55. Kristeva: Kelly Oliver (University of Texas at Austin).

56. Le Doeuff: Moira Gatens (University of Sydney).

A reasonable list. It definitely has a French bias, but it’s not too bad. If compiled today, it would probably include Agamben, Badiou, and Negri too.

The unforgivable omission is Ernst Cassirer, who is only mentioned twice in the Neo-Kantianism article and once in passing by Beiser (whose work I very much like). Schlegel, Schiller, Saussure, Bourdieu, and Barthes also seem rather important.

Given the inclusion of a bunch of cultural and sociological thinkers, sociologists Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Georg Simmel should definitely be on this list.

Other worthy omissions: Humboldt, Brentano, Croce, Mauss, Lowith, Valery, Fanon, Bachelard, Blumenberg, Apel, Eco, Bouveresse, and Virilio. (Not that I like all of them.)

Also notable is how much of a catch-all Part II is for pretty much anything influential that was going on in the 19th century that wasn’t Frege or Comte. To some extent, the whole book is a catch-all! Do Rosenzweig and Levi-Strauss have anything in common? This is why it’s better to look at lists than definitions. Continental philosophy as it is today is very much an ex post facto definition, unlike analytic philosophy, which Bertrand Russell and the Vienna Circle very much constructed as a systematic tradition that has had a fairly strong continuity. This is an important point.

At any rate, it’s not until the final section of the table of contents that you get into seriously disputed territory. So I think it is completely feasible that one could completely trash most or all of the people in the last section and still be an enthusiastic proponent of “continental philosophy,” whatever it is.

[Here is an attempt at embedding the iframe from Google Books. Not sure how long this will work given the recent overturning of the opt-out settlement with publishers. No, I’m not planning to read the book.]

1 Comment

  1. Apologies for putting this here, but it’s just as relevant to this one as to the older post I was looking for… another item on the continental/analytic divide, at the level of writing:


    (also, a side question about your blog’s appearance; I only just noticed that some posts that I took to have embedded Google Books features, were in fact your own writing; the presence of vertical and horizontal scroll bars threw me (and remain, for me, problems for the reading)–are they supposed to be there, or are they a byproduct of my work-mandated use of IE7?)

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