Continental Philosophy


What is continental philosophy?

Existentialism, phenomenology, critical theory, and structuralism all represent what is now called “continental philosophy.” Existentialism is a philosophical perspective on the world, which begins from the standpoint of one individual in ways that apply to all individuals. Phenomenology is a more abstract and systematic development of the processes of individual knowing and understanding. (Existentialists have tended to be more literary than phenomenologists.) Critical theory is a twentieth-century development of the theoretical methodology of Marxism. Structuralism is an application of a number of continental traditions to social criticism, resulting in analyses of social structures.

One thing they all have in common is that their original foundational ideas came from European thinkers. But more than geography is at stake with this name. Continental philosophy is often contrasted with Anglo-American analytic philosophy, which has dominated in twentieth-century philosophy departments in American colleges and universities, since philosophy became a profession in higher education during the 1930s. It should be noted that what is true of American academic philosophy departments has not been true of English, French, and German departments in the United States, which over the twentieth century welcomed continental philosophy into their curricula. Moreover, continental philosophy is not alone in its stepchild status among American professional philosophers, because the same thing happened to American philosophy, also known as pragmatism, after the 1950s.


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