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Contemporary philosophy is the present period in the history of Western philosophy beginning at the end of the nineteenth century with the professionalization of the discipline and the rise of analytic and continental philosophy.
The phrase "contemporary philosophy" is often confused with modern philosophy (which refers to an earlier period in Western philosophy), postmodern philosophy (which is a term associated specifically with continental philosophy), and with a non-technical use of the phrase referring to any recent philosophic work. However, the phrase "contemporary philosophy" is a piece of technical terminology in philosophy that refers to a specific period in the history of Western philosophy.
History of contemporary philosophy
The professionalization of philosophy
Professionalization is the social process by which any trade or occupation establishes the group norms of conduct, acceptable qualifications for membership of the profession, a professional body or association to oversee the conduct of members of the profession, and some degree of demarcation of the qualified from unqualified amateurs. Founded in 1900, the American Philosophical Association became the main professional organization for philosophers in the United States.
The Analytic/Continental divide arises
Contemporary continental philosophy began with the work of Franz Brentano, Edmund Husserl, Adolf Reinach and Martin Heidegger and the development of the philosophical method of phenomenology. This development was roughly contemporaneous with work by Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell inaugurating a new philosophical method based on the analysis of language via modern logic (hence the term "analytic philosophy").
Analytic and continental philosophers often hold a disparaging view of each others respective approach to philosophy and as a result work largely independent of each other. While analytic philosophy is the dominant approach in most philosophy departments found in English-speaking countries (e.g. United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia), as well as Scandinavia, continental philosophy is prevalent throughout the rest of the world (e.g. France, Germany). Some contemporary philosophers argue that this division is harmful to philosophy, and thus attempt a combined approach (e.g. Richard Rorty).
Analytic and continental philosophy share a common Western philosophical tradition up to Immanuel Kant. Afterwards, analytic and continental philosophers differ on the importance and influence of subsequent philosophers on their respective traditions. The German idealism school which developed out of the work of Kant in the 1780s and 1790s and culminated in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is an important development in philosophy's history by many continental philosophers, but was repudiated by Russell, Moore, and many analytic philosophers.
The analytic program in philosophy is ordinarily dated to the work of English philosophers Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore in the early 20th century, building on the work of the German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege. They turned away from then-dominant forms of Hegelianism (objecting in particular to its idealism and purported obscurity) and began to develop a new sort of conceptual analysis based on recent developments in logic. The most prominent example of this new method of conceptual analysis is Russell's 1905 paper "On Denoting", a paper that widely seen to be the paradigm of the analytic program in philosophy.
Although contemporary philosophers who self-identify as "analytic" have widely divergent interests, assumptions, and methods--and have often rejected the fundamental premises that defined the analytic movement between 1900 and 1960--analytic philosophy, in its contemporary state, is usually taken to be defined by a particular style  characterized by precision and thoroughness about a narrow topic, and resistance to "imprecise or cavalier discussions of broad topics."
Some analytic philosophers at the end of the 20th century, such as Richard Rorty, have called for a major overhaul of the analytic philosophic tradition. In particular, Rorty has argued that analytic philosophers must learn important lessons from the work of continental philosophers. While others, such as Timothy Williamson, have called for even stricter adherence to the methodological ideals of analytic philosophy:
We who classify ourselves as "analytic" philosophers tend to fall into the assumption that our allegiance automatically grants us methodological virtue. According to the crude stereotypes, analytic philosophers use arguments while "continental" philosophers do not. But within the analytic tradition many philosophers use arguments only to the extent that most "continental" philosophers do [...] How can we do better? We can make a useful start by getting the simple things right. Much even of analytic philosophy moves too fast in its haste to reach the sexy bits. Details are not given the care they deserve: crucial claims are vaguely stated, significant different formulations are treated as though they were equivalent, examples are under-described, arguments are gestured at rather than properly made, their form is left unexplained, and so on. [...] Philosophy has never been done for an extended period according to standards as high as those that are now already available, if only the profession will take them seriously to heart.
The “crude stereotypes” that Williamson refers to in the above passage are these: that analytic philosophers produce carefully argued and rigorous analyses of trivially small philosophic puzzles, while continental philosophers produce profound and substantial results but only by deducing them from broad philosophical systems which themselves lack supporting arguments or clarity in their expression. Williamson himself seems to here distance himself from these stereotypes, but does accuse analytic philosophers of too often fitting the critical stereotype of continental philosophers by moving "too fast" to reach substantial results via poor arguments.
At its height, existentialism was as much a popular mainstream trend and literary phenomenon as it was a philosophical movement. From top-left clockwise: Kierkegaard
The history of continental philosophy is taken to begin in the early 1900's because its institutional roots descend directly from those of phenomenology, As a result, Edmund Husserl has often been credited as the founding figure in continental philosophy.
The term "continental philosophy", like "analytic philosophy", marks a broad range of philosophical views and approaches not easily captured in a definition. It has even suggested that the term may be more pejorative than descriptive, functioning as a label for types of western philosophy rejected or disliked by analytic philosophers. Nonetheless, certain common themes have been seen to typically characterize continental philosophy:
- First, continental philosophers generally reject scientism, the view that the natural sciences are the best or most accurate way of understanding all phenomena.
- Second, continental philosophy usually considers experience as determined at least partly by factors such as context, space and time, language, culture, or history. Thus continental philosophy tends toward historicism. Where analytic philosophy tends to treat philosophy in terms of discrete problems, capable of being analyzed apart from their historical origins.
- Third, continental philosophers tend to take a strong interest in the unity of theory and practice, and tend to see their philosophical inquiries as closely related to personal, moral, or political transformation.
- Fourth, continental philosophy has an emphasis on metaphilosophy (i.e. the study of the nature, aims, and methods of philosophy). This emphasis can also be found in analytic philosophy, but with starkly different results.
Continental philosophy is also often characterized by its critics as lacking the rigor of analytic philosophy. A common response to this criticism is that it may reflect a misunderstanding of the point or nature of continental projects. For instance, the two camps can be seen as operating within fundamentally different frameworks (cf. language-games), which in turn call for distinct sets of rules. One might also argue that the rigidity characteristic of analytic approaches is necessarily grounded in certain basic assumptions (e.g., on the nature of truth, language, or propositions) that cannot even be questioned within the rigid framework that already assumes them.
- Experimental philosophy - An emerging field of philosophical inquiry that makes use of empirical data—often gathered through surveys which probe the intuitions of ordinary people—in order to inform research on long-standing and unsettled philosophical questions.
- Logical positivism - The first and dominate school in analytic philosophy for the first half of the 20th-century.
- Ordinary language philosophy - The dominate school in analytic philosophy in the middle of 20th-century.
- Postanalytic philosophy - Postanalytic philosophy describes a detachment and challenge to mainstream analytic philosophy by philosophers like Richard Rorty.
- Deconstruction - An approach (whether in philosophy, literary analysis, or in other fields) where one conducts textual readings with a view to demonstrate that the text is not a discrete whole, instead containing several irreconcilable, contradictory meanings.
- Existentialism - Existential philosophy is the "explicit conceptual manifestation of an existential attitude" that begins with a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.
- Phenomenology - Phenomenology is primarily concerned with making the structures of consciousness, and the phenomena which appear in acts of consciousness, objects of systematic reflection and analysis.
- Poststructuralism - Structuralism was a fashionable movement in France in the 1950s and 1960s, that studied the underlying structures inherent in cultural products (such as texts), post-structuralism derive from critique of structuralist premises. Specifically, post-structuralism holds that the study of underlying structures is itself culturally conditioned and therefore subject to myriad biases and misinterpretations.
- Postmodern philosophy - Postmodern philosophy is skeptical or nihilistic toward many of the values and assumptions of philosophy that derive from modernity, such as humanity having an essence which distinguishes humans from animals, or the assumption that one form of government is demonstrably better than another.
- Social constructionism - A central concept in continental philosophy, a social construction is a concept or practice that is the creation (or artifact) of a particular group.
- Critical theory - Critical theory is the examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities.
- Frankfurt School - The term "Frankfurt School" is an informal term used to designate the thinkers affiliated with the Institute for Social Research or who were influenced by it.
Footnotes and references
- ^ http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=4281 Steven Hetcher, Norms in a Wired World, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 432pp, Reviewed by Stefan Sciaraffa, University of Arizona
- ^ http://www.medialens.org/bookshop/guardians_of_power.php David Edwards and David Cromwell, Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media, Medialens, 2005, Ch. 11
- ^ See, e.g., Michael Dummett, The Origins of Analytical Philosophy (Harvard University Press, 1994), or C. Prado, A House Divided: Comparing Analytic and Continental Philosophy (Prometheus/Humanity Books, 2003).
- ^ See for example Moore's A Defence of Common Sense and Russell's critique of the Doctrine of internal relations,
- ^ "...analytic philosophy opposed right from its beginning English neo-Hegelianism of Bradley's sort and similar ones. It did not only criticize the latter's denial of the existence of an external world (anyway an unjust criticism), but also the bombastic, obscure style of Hegel's writings." Peter Jonkers, "Perspectives on twentieth century philosophy: A Reply to Tom Rockmore," 
- ^ Ludlow, Peter, "Descriptions", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2005 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL=http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2005/entries/descriptions/
- ^ a b See, e.g., Brian Leiter  "'Analytic' philosophy today names a style of doing philosophy, not a philosophical program or a set of substantive views. Analytic philosophers, crudely speaking, aim for argumentative clarity and precision; draw freely on the tools of logic; and often identify, professionally and intellectually, more closely with the sciences and mathematics, than with the humanities."
- ^ Rorty, Richard. (1979) Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.
- ^ Williamson, Timothy "The Philosophy of Philosophy"
- ^ Hubben, William. (1952) Four Prophets of Our Destiny.
- ^ E.g., the largest academic organization devoted to furthering the study of continental philosophy is the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy.
- ^ Glendinning, The Idea of Continental Philosophy, p. 12.
- ^ The following list of four traits is adapted from Michael Rosen, "Continental Philosophy from Hegel", in A.C. Grayling (ed.), Philosophy 2: Further through the Subject, p. 665.
- ^ Simon Critchley, Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, p. 115.
- ^ Critchley, Continental Philosophy, p. 57.
- ^ Solomon, Robert C. (1987). From Hegel to Existentialism. Oxford University Press. pp. 238. ISBN 0195061829. http://books.google.com/books?id=3JA3vyj4slsC&pg=PA238.
- ^ Robert C. Solomon, Existentialism (McGraw-Hill, 1974, pages 1–2)
- ^ D.E. Cooper Existentialism: A Reconstruction (Basil Blackwell, 1999, page 8).
- Andrew Cutrofello, Continental Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction. Routledge (2005)
- Dummett, Michael Origins of Analytical Philosophy. Harvard University Press (1996)
- Floyd, Juliet Future Pasts: The Analytic Tradition in Twentieth-Century Philosoph Oxford University Press (2001)
- Glendinning, Simon The Idea of Continental Philosophy Edinburgh University Press (2006)
- Glock, Hans-Johann What is Analytic Philosophy?. Cambridge University Press (2008)
- Prado, C. G. A House Divided: Comparing Analytic and Continental Philosophy Humanity Books (2003)
- Martinich, A. P. Analytic Philosophy: An Anthology (Blackwell Philosophy Anthologies). Wiley-Blackwell (2001)
- Martinich, A. P. A Companion to Analytic Philosophy (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy). Wiley-Blackwell (2005)
- Simon Critchley, Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press (2001) ISBN 0-19-285359-7
- Soames, Scott, Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, Volume 1: The Dawn of Analysis. Princeton University Press (2005)
- Soames, Scott, Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, Volume 2: The Age of Meaning. Princeton University Press (2005)
- Stroll, Avrum Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy. Columbia University Press (2001)
- Williamson, Timothy The Philosophy of Philosophy (The Blackwell / Brown Lectures in Philosophy). Wiley-Blackwell (2008)