Looking over my breakdown of the analytic versus continental philosophical divide, I think I sort of come off like a dismissive analytic philosopher. Part of that is my schooling–in most American universities, continental philosophy is considered more a branch of the Comparative Lit department than “real” philosophy–but I should really stress that it doesn’t reflect my views at all.
Here’s where I stand: I’m glad that I was schooled the analytic method because it really helps you be a logical, organized thinker. And I like selected works of analytic ethics–Rawls, for example, and Sharon Street’s done some interesting work in metaethics.
But a lot of the continental stuff I’ve read just hits me on a much more visceral level. Their concerns–especially the concerns of the existentialists–are much closer to my own. I just can’t summon up the same level of enthusiasm regarding whether or not Mary knows all the facts about the color red.
This semester I got to take “Existentialism and Phenomenology” with John Richardson, a respected Nietzsche scholar. In my last recitation, a student asked him why he choose to teach a fairly marginalized field of philosophy at NYU, and his answer helped me clarify where my own interests lay a little bit more.
What Richardson does–and what he asked us to do in the papers we wrote for his class–is apply the analytic method to continental subjects. That isn’t to knock how, say, Nietzsche approached his subject matter. I think there’s a lot to be said for accessibility (for a non-academic audience) and resonant, if overwrought, imagery. But the analytic method is the best way to put a philosophical proposition to the test. My continued interest in philosophy is sustained by the notion that its logical rigor and the continental school’s artistry and most potent ideas don’t have to be mutually exclusive.