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Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

By Simon Critchley (Author)
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Item description for Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) by Simon Critchley...

In this enlightening new Very Short Introduction, Simon Critchley shows us that Continental philosophy encompasses a distinct set of philosophical traditions and practices, with a compelling range of problems all too often ignored by the analytic tradition. He discusses the ideas and approaches of philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Habermas, Foucault, and Derrida. He also introduces key concepts such as existentialism, nihilism, and phenomonology, by explaining their place in the Continental tradition.
The perfect guide for anyone interested in the great philosophers, this volume explains in lucid, straightforward language the split between Continental and Anglo-American philosophy and the importance of acknowledging Continental philosophy.
About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Oxford University Press, USA
Pages   149
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7" Width: 4.42" Height: 0.44"
Weight:   0.4 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jun 7, 2001
Publisher   Oxford University Press
Edition  New  
ISBN  0192853597  
ISBN13  9780192853592  

Availability  4 units.
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More About Simon Critchley

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Simon Critchley is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex, England. He is the author of The Ethics of Deconstruction and Very Little...Almost Nothing. He is co-editor of Re-reading Levinas; Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings; and editor of Blackwell's Companion to Continental Philosophy. Peter Dews is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex. He is the author of Logics of Disintegration and of The Limits of Disenchantment.He is editor of Jurgen Habermas, Autonomy and Solidarity: Interviews and of Habermas: A Critical Reader.

Simon Critchley was born in 1960 and has an academic affiliation as follows - University of Essex, International de Philosophie, Paris University of.

Simon Critchley has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Radical Thinkers
  2. Studies in Continental Thought (Paperback)
  3. SUNY Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
  4. Very Short Introductions

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > General
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > Modern
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > Movements > Existentialism

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Reviews - What do customers think about Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)?

An ambitious attempt at a synthesis...  Sep 14, 2007
Since the early twentieth century, two major schools or viewpoints have bisected the philosophical landscape. Logic and Science, with their multitudinous formulas and quest for the incorrigible foundation of knowledge - the "fountain of truth" - dominates the "analytic" school with geographical associations in Great Britain and The United States. Hop across the channel and the aptly named "Continental" philosophy predominates. Associated mainly with France and Germany, this school focuses on historical and textual analysis and speaks in terms of "crises" such as nihilism or human emancipation through art or culture. This outlook has bequeathed Existentialism and Deconstruction to the world. Whereas the less lofty "analytic" philosophy has stayed confined to academia, "Continental" philosophy has sprouted world celebrities such as Jean-Paul Sartre. Analytic's closest analogue is Bertrand Russell. These two schools experienced a major schism that evolved throughout the twentieth century into a relationship of outright malice. Until very recently, many university students that studied one learned nothing substantial about the other. Some have undoubtedly emerged from Anglo-American philosophy departments with no idea of what cogitations stirred in Francophone or Germanophone brains, and vice versa. The multicultural synthesis and fusion crazes that have pervaded so much of academic and mainstream culture have apparently not infiltrated philosophy departments. Contemporary philosophy thus begs the question: "love of which wisdom?"

Anyone attempting to stride the goliath chasm between these philosophic modes faces considerable challenge. The differences in terminology, methodology, perspective, and theme insinuate different fields, not sections of a whole. Those conversant in Quine or Putnam might struggle with Husserl or Heidegger. Connoisseurs of Foucault or Gadamer might flinch at the formalism of Kripke or Strawson. Frustration and ire on both sides might swell and burst (well, it has). Something akin to a paradigm shift seems to exist in the waters of the channel. Luckily, the curious and adventurous have this small book. Those who wade in Anglophone waters will learn much about their friends (or enemies) on the continent. They may even learn something about their own domain. This 140 page book allows for a safe and objective ankle wetting.

Author Simon Critchley argues that both schools of thought have their pros and cons. Even dangers. The extreme analytic side can succumb to scientism. In this state science is seen as the only, or at least so dominant as to be the only, mode of valid knowledge available to humans. In simpler terms, "if it ain't science it ain't knowledge." Conversely, Continental leanings and tippings can foster what Critchley called "obscurantism." This results in an all-out rejection of scientific method or "the X-Files Complex" where the paranormal and pernicious become foundations for human existence. This book argues that a "middle path" exists between these two viewpoints; one that avoids the excesses of both.

The book uses a dominant methodology of Continental philosophy, "historicity," to explicate Continental philosophy. Tracing the split back to Frege and Husserl, and ultimately back to Kant, the ultimate dividing point between the analytic and continental schools lands on dual interpretations of Kant's work. One encompasses the epistemological and metaphysical arguments of "The Critique of Pure Reason" and stops there. The other moves on from the 1st Critique and examines the problems arising from "The Critique of Judgment," Kant's 3rd Critique largely ignored outside of Continental contexts. Continental philosophy, according to Critchley, jumps off from the dualisms of Kant's system. The search for "some higher, unifying principle" begins along with the German Idealism of Fichte, Schelling, Hegel and onwards to Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, and Heidegger. By this view Kant becomes a central figure, if not the central figure, of Continental Philosophy.

From this point on, "Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction" covers voluminous ground. This includes: Mill's dichotomy of Coleridge and Bentham ("Two cultures in philosophy"); Critique, praxis, and emancipation; the "Oldest System Programme of German Idealism" (included as an appendix); Husserl and philosophy as crisis; Russian (political) and Nietzschean (the implications of the "death of God") nihilism; the classic "misunderstanding" between Carnap and Heidegger (they accuse each other of being metaphysicians); phenomenology as the "pre-theoretical layer"; the state of Continental philosophy in 2001 (Critchley does not paint a rosy picture here).

Given the Herculean ambitions of this tiny treatise, philosophical beginners will probably not comprehend every sentence or reference in this book. That shouldn't stop anyone. Critchley's ultimate hope, as outlined in the final section, is that philosophy may once again interact with culture. Along the way he not only gives an intriguing outline of Continental philosophy, but also suggests ways that the Analytic and Continental traditions could function as a unity. Though the book remains engaging and challenging throughout, its main hope seems far off. But maybe a new generation, inspired by books like this, can rethink the old vicious dichotomies into a new dynamic synthesis. Or perhaps they'll just find new ways to hate one another. Hopefully a desire for mutual understanding will prevail.
Quite good  Aug 26, 2006
I agree with other reviewers who point out that this is not an introduction to Continental Philosophy, in any ordinary meaning of 'introduction.' But it is a heartfelt attempt to defend that tradition for what is valuable in it and generally given short shrift in Anglo-American analytic philosophy: namely a concern with the once-traditional Big Questions concerning the meaning of life, what it means to lead a good life, what constitutes wisdom as contrasted with mere knowledge, and so forth. Most of the book is concerned with describing the failure to communicate that developed between these two philosophical cultures, and with suggesting how that gap might be bridged to the benefit of both (Critchley believes that both sides have lately become somewhat exhausted). He thinks the best chances for a mutually-rejuvenating middle ground, or even partial synthesis, might be found in a pragmatic phenomenology which could, perhaps, be equipped to take an active part in the world. The hope would be to thus rescue philosophy from being mostly a parochial exercise in historical commentary or detailed exegesis of no conceivable interest outside some tiny community of sub-specialists. Philosophy should, he writes, "form an essential part in the life of a culture, in how a culture converses with itself..."

I do think that if such a bridging occurs, it will mostly be built from one bank. Specifically, it will most likely occur as analytic philosophers decide to take on the Big Questions themselves, or at least to tackle the job of deciphering the writings of their Continental counterparts who have. That is something devoutly to be wished for, because although the Continentals have taken on those questions, they have tended to do so in prose that is virtually unreadable. I think a distinction has to be made between taking on certain questions vs. doing a good job of taking them on. For Analytic philosophers to declare the concerns of Continental Philosophy to be meaningless may have been a good breakaway tactic at one time; now maybe it's time now to go back and start digging through those stables.
A Collapsed Star  Jul 28, 2006
I do enjoy most of these short introductions. As a layman interested in Philosophy I will often read one to see if I want to delve deeper into the topic being discussed. This book is analogous to a collapsed star: small, but heavy and dense. Some of the reviewers of this book seem to have significant backgrounds in Philosophy, which, to me, prompts the question "Why read a little introductory book on the subject if you are not a novice?"

I assume this is written for folks who are unfamiliar with a lot of philosophical concepts, and want a fairly easy introduction to a topic. I didn't like this book at all, and at its conclusion I decided to try again. I reached into my book case and pulled out a book on the same topic that was much bigger: "Continental Philosophy since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self", by Robert C. Solomon. Easy to read, lucid, informative and quite enjoyable. I would suggest Solomon's book to anyone wanting an introduction to this subject.
Good Essay  May 8, 2005
Exactly, not an introduction, but a very (extremely!) informative discussion of the continental/analytic split + overview of philosophy since Kant. I've been studying CP for about a year now and this is the first book I've read to really (really!) put the subject in perspective (historically, and otherwise).
Exploring Continental Philosophy's History and Aims  Mar 7, 2005
General Review of Book Series: I have to admit it: I am a fan of these little books. It's my dirty little secret. These short introductions provide one with a pocketsize, portable introduction to a wide variety of topics. With a light tone and a surface skim of the issues, these little guides provide one with the general overview one might expect in a small survey course. Naturally, there are downsides. Are these guides comprehensive? Heavens no! Do they take time to dig deeply into the issues? Not generally. But are they a good resource to use if you want to get your feet wet before you dive in? Yes. When used properly, these little guidebooks can allow what might start out as a casual curiosity to develop into a more in-depth research project. In fact, all of these introductions provide references and suggestions for further reading.

Simon Critchley's _Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction_ does not exactly deliver what it promises. Like other reviewers, I must also agree that this book is not a true introduction. Rather than providing an overview of the philosophers working in the Continental tradition, this work reads as an interpretive essay, trying to both break down traditional stereotypes surrounding "Continental philosophy," while offering an argument for trying to close the gap that currently exists among professional philosophers. In simpler terms, this text tries to locate Continental philosophy, identify its history and origins, and explicate some of its chief motivations in relation to the history and motivations of the other towering professional description in the field: analytic philosophy.

Overall, despite the fact that a general knowledge of analytic and Continental philosophy is needed to grasp the arguments of this book, I found it a wonderful text for outlining some of the historical splits in the past two centuries in the field of philosophy. As a student of analytic philosophy, I found that Critchley's text provided me with intellectual hooks upon which to place various thinkers. In the past, I have always been a little unsure how to approach philosophers working in the spooky "Continental" tradition. Now, I have some sense of where these philosophers are coming from and how their goals and aims differ from the tradition that I am most familiar with, though nothing even approaching comprehensive understanding is contained in this introduction. Of course, given the fact that this book clocks in at around 130 pages, this is not surprising-nor is it a true goal of this edition.

In closing, if you are somewhat versed in the field of philosophy, I believe you will find this text a light read and very informative. Critchley's argument for closing the gap between these two traditions, by reminding ourselves of the importance in asking questions of both truth and meaning, is therapeutic and, in my opinion, a step in the right direction.

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