Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars A very well-written albeit unconventional introduction, 5 Jan 2014
This review is from: Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
This excellent series has quite a few unexpected, even idiosyncratic entries, this one included. That is either one of the charms of the series, or is downright frustrating, depending on one's point of view.

This entry is not the straightforward introduction to the themes, works and thinkers of continental philosophy that you might expect. Instead, Critchley describes the divide between Analytic and Continental philosophy, how it came about and how he believes it can be bridged. He makes no apology for offering such an unconventional introduction. He sprinkles the text with phrases such as "in my opinion", "my claim is", "my suggestion is", and so on. He openly allows that he is making a personal contribution to an ongoing debate, rather than attempting an objective introduction to a philosophical tradition.

Many years ago, at University, I was surprised to hear a French girl talk scathingly of British philosophers, saying that they were interested only in linguistic analysis and not in real-world problems, unlike Continental European philosophers. I was dumbfounded, thinking of Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Bentham, Mill, Russell...you don't get much more involved in political and social issues than that. After reading this book, I have a better idea of how she formed that view. It is an example of the divide, the mutual incomprehension, that Critchley describes.

Part of his thesis is that, in the English-speaking world, the divide is a manifestation of the wider cultural divide between the Arts and Science, which CP Snow talked about, the "two cultures" problem.

Critchley goes so far as to suggest that there is no point in writing like Heidegger and Derrida in English, because our cultural background is so different. I have to say I found this the least convincing part of his argument.

He continually talks of the need to bridge the gap between the two traditions and his starting point for this agenda is Mill's phrase, "I believe in spectacles, but I think eyes are necessary too", spectacles being the logic that brings things clearly into focus and eyes our immediate experience of the world.

The most extreme reaches of this divide, Critchley calls "scientism" and "obscurantism", the lunatic fringes of the two sides.

His casual dismissal of what he refers to as "obscurantism" is a little too sweeping for my taste: astrology and "sitting under pyramids holding crystals", fair enough - but yoga? That's too dismissive.

The inclusion as an appendix of the System-Programme of 1796, a fragment thought to have been written by Hegel, is interesting.

So this is not what most readers will want as an introduction to Continental philosophy, but it is a thought-provoking, informative contribution to a debate that is central to modern philosophy.
[PeterReeve]
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Peter Reeve
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