Fall 2020 - Graduate Course Descriptions

Brown, Matt
Discipline and Number
HIST 6381 Section 001
T Time 4:00 PM - 6:45 PM
Course Title
Analytic/Continental Div

Description of Course:

From the late nineteenth century into the middle of the twentieth century, the discipline of philosophy has undergone a major disciplinary division into two movements or schools: “Analytic Philosophy” on the one hand and “Continental Philosophy” on the other. The names reveal little about the nature of the two sides of the divide, as “Analytic Philosophy” refers to a method, logical or linguistic analysis, which is no longer widely practiced among so-called “analytic philosophers,” and “Continental Philosophy” refers to the European Continent, though practitioners from either school can be found in strong numbers on either side of the geographic boundary. Analytic philosophy is the mainstream of the discipline, particularly in the Anglophone world, but continental philosophy is a sizable and vocal minority with strong ties to other disciplines in the humanities. The divide also leaves out various traditions of philosophy that do not fit with either side, such as American Pragmatism, Process Philosophy, and traditional speculative philosophy. There are many conflicting explanations for what the divide amounts to, and little agreement about what constitutes the identity of either school.

This course is about the history and the historiography of philosophy, and particularly with the formation of this divide within the discipline. We will engage philosophically with those who are considered “founding figures” of the tradition. We will also explore competing explanations from philosophers and intellectual historians about the causes, reasons, and nature of the divide, as well as exploring the significant common ground between thinkers in the tradition. This includes a shared desire for a revolution in philosophy away from traditional metaphysics, shared interests in logic and its meaning for philosophy, a strong reaction against psychologism in philosophy, and an appreciation of the philosophical significance of language.

Is the analytic/continental divide a matter of philosophical methodology and the relative importance of language or subjective experience? Is it better understood as differing attitudes about the relevance of the history of philosophy to philosophy or of differing emphases on logic and science vs art and politics? Or is the difference largely political? If the latter, is the politics of the divide best understood as a flight of left-wing analytic philosophers from the rise of fascism and Naziism on the continent, and the complicity of major continental philosophers with the latter? Or is the significance of analytic philosophy best understood in terms of the depoliticization in the face of both Nazi and anti-communist/McCarthyist persecution? These are examples of some of the historiographical disputes this course will investigate.

This course is cross-listed under two course descriptions:

PHIL 6314 Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Philosophy This course will focus on major thinkers, texts, and movements within nineteenth and twentieth-century philosophy.

Students with a primary interest in Philosophy will benefit from the close reading of foundational texts of the 19th and 20th centuries and the exploration of different interpretations of the formation of their discipline, focused on a divide that still resonates in contemporary philosophical practice.

HIST 6381 History of Modern Thought Introduction to and examination of the authors and texts influential in shaping modern Western culture since 1800. The course will treat philosophy as well as social, political, and religious thought during particular periods.

Students with a primary interest in Intellectual History will benefit from learning about modes of historiography of philosophy coming from both the disciplines of History and Philosophy, as well as sharpening their skills at the close reading of philosophical texts and historiographical analysis.

Required Texts:

Required Texts:

Articles and other excerpts will be provided as PDFs via eLearning.

Course Requirements/Evaluation Criteria:

The primary assignment for this class is a Term Paper. Students will have two options for the topic of their paper:

  1. Historiographical Paper – These papers will focus on evaluating different explanations for some aspect of the analytic/continental divide in philosophy, typically focusing their paper on one major explanation or two competing explanations. Students will attempt to support or problematize and existing interpretation or synthesize explanations through evaluating historiographical arguments and narratives, using primary source evidence from published and possibly unpublished sources, and possibly through original research. Use of primary sources will need to engage closely with the arguments and structures of the text, but the focus of these papers will be on evaluation of historical explanations in the secondary literature. (This option is recommended for but not limited to HIST 6381 students.)
  2. Interpretive Essay – These papers will focus on close interpretive work at the intersection of analytic and continental philosophy. Such essays should begin by identifying a moment where there is an actual dialogue or at least a thematic convergence between at least two philosophers working on either side of the divide, either historically and in retrospect, or after the solidification of the divide within the discipline. They should identify at least one key work by each figure, and provide a close reading of those works in light of one another. Such essays should articulate a thesis that concerns the convergence, disagreement, or significant contrast between the thinkers and use textual evidence to support it. The significance of this thesis should be established by brief reference to the secondary literature, but the focus will be on the textual interpretation. (This option is recommended for but not limited to PHIL 6314 students.)

Attendance and participation will also be factored into your grade.

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