Category Archives: Philosophy Series

Philosophy #34: Continental Philosophy

Continental philosophy refers to a set of traditions of 19th and 20th century philosophy from mainland Europe. Continental philosophy includes the following movements: German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, French feminism, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, and some other branches of Western Marxism. Continental philosophers generally reject scientism, the view that the natural sciences are the best or most accurate way of understanding all phenomena. Continental philosophers often argue that science depends upon a “pre-theoretical substrate of experience, and that scientific methods are inadequate to understand such conditions of intelligibility.” Continental philosophy usually considers the conditions of possible experience as variable: determined at least partly by factors such as context, space and time, language, culture, or history. Continental philosophy typically holds that conscious human agency can change the conditions of possible experience: “if human experience is a contingent creation, then it can be recreated in other ways.” Thus 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. This tendency is very clear in the Marxist tradition (“philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it”), but is also central in existentialism and post-structuralism. Continental philosophy has an emphasis on metaphilosophy. In the wake of the development and success of the natural sciences, continental philosophers have often sought to redefine the method and nature of philosophy. In some cases, such as German idealism or phenomenology, this manifests as a renovation of the traditional view that philosophy is the first, foundational, a priori science. In other cases, such as hermeneutics, critical theory, or structuralism, it is held that philosophy investigates a domain that is irreducibly cultural or practical. And some continental philosophers, such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, or Derrida, doubt whether any conception of philosophy can be truly coherent.

Philosophy #33: Analytic Philosophy

Analytic Philosophy

In the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Scandinavia, Australia, and New Zealand, the overwhelming majority of university philosophy departments identify themselves as “analytic” departments. Analytic philosophy is often understood as being defined in opposition to continental philosophy. The term “analytic philosophy” can refer to a tradition of doing philosophy characterized by an emphasis on clarity and argument, often achieved via modern formal logic and analysis of language, and a respect for the natural sciences. In this sense, analytic philosophy makes specific philosophical commitments: 1) The positivist view that there are no specifically philosophical truths and that the object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts. This may be contrasted with the traditional foundation that views philosophy as a special sort of science, the highest one, which investigates the fundamental reasons and principles of everything. As a result, many analytic philosophers have considered their inquiries as continuous with, or subordinate to, those of the natural sciences. 2) The view that the logical clarification of thoughts can only be achieved by analysis of the logical form of philosophical propositions. The logical form of a proposition is a way of representing it (often using the formal grammar and symbolism of a logical system) to display its similarity with all other propositions of the same type. However, analytic philosophers disagree widely about the correct logical form of ordinary language. 3) The rejection of sweeping philosophical systems in favor of close attention to detail, common sense, and ordinary language.

Philosophy #31: Transhumanism

Transhumanism is an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as study the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies.

Philosophy #29: Tautology

Tautology is an unnecessary repetition of meaning, using dissimilar words that effectively say the same thing. A rhetorical tautology can also be defined as a series of statements that comprise an argument, whereby the statements are constructed in such a way that the truth of the proposition is guaranteed, or that the truth of the proposition cannot be disputed, by defining a dissimilar or synonymous term in terms of another self-referentially. Tautologies play a role in analytic discussions of logic and what it is possible to know.

Philosophy #25: Scientism

Scientism refers to a belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints. Scientism describes the dogmatic endorsement of scientific methodology and the reduction of all knowledge to only that which is measurable.

Philosophy #24: Romanticism

Romanticism was an artistic revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature. Romanticism placed new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror, terror, and awe – especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature. Romanticism was rooted in the German Sturm und Drang movement, which prized intuition and emotion over Enlightenment rationalism.

Philosophy #23: Realism

Realism is the belief that reality is independent of our conceptual schemes, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc. Philosophers who profess realism state that truth consists in the mind’s correspondence to reality. Realists tend to believe that whatever we believe now is only an approximation of reality and that every new observation brings us closer to understanding reality.

Philosophy #22: Rationalism

Rationalism is any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification. In more technical terms, it is a method or a theory in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive. Different degrees of emphasis on this method or theory lead to a range of rationalist standpoints, from the moderate position that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge, to the more extreme position that reason is the unique path to knowledge.

Philosophy #21: Physicalism

Physicalism is a philosophical position holding that everything which exists is no more extensive than its physical properties; that is, that there are no kinds of things other than physical things. According to physicalism, the language of physics is the universal language of science and, consequently, any knowledge can be brought back to statements on the physical objects. In contemporary philosophy, physicalism is most frequently associated with the mind-body problem where it holds that all that has been ascribed to “mind” is more correctly ascribed to “brain” or the activity of the brain.