Open Journal of Philosophy
2011. Vol.1, No.1, 16-21
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ojpp.2011.11003
A Plea for Agonism between Analytic and
Continental Philosophy*
Robrecht Van d e rbeek e n
Faculty of Fine Arts, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
Received June 23rd, 2011; revised July 10th, 2011; accepted July 17th, 2011 .
Sinc e the ri se of analytic philosoph y, a vi rtual Berlin wall s eems to b e inserted with respect to c ontinenta l phi-
losoph y. If we t a k e int o acc oun t th e diff eren c e b etw een b ot h t radi ti on s conc ern i n g the r esp ec t i ve subj ec t -m att er s,
the pi vot a l goals, th e mod es of inqu i ry and sch ola rsh ip , th e seman ti c idi oms, th e meth od ologic a l app roa ches , the
ongoing discussions, the conferences and publications etc., it is hardly an overstatement to say that both tradi-
tion s evolve i nsula ted and have a confli ct ing relat ion. From a meta-ph ilosop hica l stanc e, the com mon and prim a
facie reply to this split is the encouragement of merging inclinations. I argue for another strategy. Based on a
discussion of the intrinsic differences and their importance, I’m inclined to conclude that unification coincides
with a loss of authenticity, blurring the critical potential of both traditions. Hence, we are better of endorsing
agonistic pluralism between analytic philosophy and contemporary continental philosophy. The plurality of
points of view renders several opportunities for productive critiques and fruitful cross-overs between both tradi-
tions. Alas, the susceptibility for these innovations is vastly counteracted due to a widespread attitude of antipa-
thy, ignorance and occasional vulgarisation.
Keywords: Agonism, Continental Philosophy, Ana lytic Philosophy
Since the rise of analytic philosophy, a virtual Berlin wall
seems to be inserted with respect to continental philosophy.
From a meta-ph ilosop hical stan ce, the common an d prima facie
reply to this split is the encouragement of merging inclinations:
two should become one1. Another option is simply to deny the
split based on a typical but cheap philosophical trick: the im-
possibility to clearly define the divide. Yet, in this paper we
argue for another strategy. Since unification coincides with a
loss of authenticity, blurring the critical potential of both
traditions, we are better off endorsing agonistic pluralism
between analytic philosophy and contemporary continental
philosophy. In order to do so, a discussion of the split is needed.
This, at the same time, enables us to confute attempts of denial.
In section 1, we first discuss the distinction between the two
contemporary traditions focussing on problems concerning
denotation. Section 2 brings a general analysis of the negative
implications of unification based on a preliminary outline of the
difference between the both traditions. In section 3, we elabo-
rate on our argument against unification by taking a closer look
at some characteristics of both traditions and their antagonistic
nature. We show that the difference in intellectual interest and
pivotal goals of research impedes unification, reducing it to an
ideological misfit. Finally, we conclude that an agonistic plu-
ralism needs to be considered as an alternative and productive
strategy. As far as lo cal cross-ove rs are concern ed, th e plurality
of points of view renders several opportunities for fruitful en-
counters be twee n both tra ditions. Alas, the susceptibility f or these
innovations is vastly counteracted due to a widespread mutual
attitude of antipathy, ignorance and occasional vulgarisation.
Note that it is not the aim of this paper to argue in favour of
one of the above mentioned traditions. Although neutrality in
this matter clearly is a difficult and even a suspicious claim, we
try to avoid a normative discussion as much as possible in fa-
vour of a meta-philosophical stance that allows us to under-
stand the relation between both traditions.
Note also that this meta-philosophical enterprise implies such
a general scope that simplifications and even platitudes are
inevitable. Hence, no matter how accurate, the distinction be-
tween two traditions remains a facile one. Even a general dis-
tinction in terms of two “traditions” in contemporary philoso-
phy is open to discussion. For instance, those contemporary
continental philosophers that are adherents of the “multiple”
and “difference” will no doubt make strong and justified re-
servetions when their work is considered to be part of one
overall tradition. In order to overcome criticism due to the dis-
putable general scope, I suggest conceiving our talk about the
two traditions as a talk about two commonplaces: both the
“analytic philosopher” and the “continental philosopher” are
clichéd platonic ideas that help us to fix our mind. In this way,
we also want to prevent debates about the fact that some phi-
losophers do or do not belong to either of both traditions.
*This paper was prepared for “transdisciplinarity and the Unity o
Knowledge”, June 2-6, 2007, in Philadelphia, PA, USA, a program o
the Metanexus Institute (
1Today, more and more philosophers of both traditions seem to sym-
athise with this idea. It is, for instance, the underlying view in many o
the pap ers in th e reader: Leit er (Ed.) (2 004 ), The Future of Philosophy.
The good n ews about th e rise of what I call un ification ism is that b oth
traditions are becoming more willing to take each other seriously.
Two Traditions: Denoting the Janus of
Contem porary Philosop hy
By way of a preliminary indication of both traditions, we can
mention the following. Contemporary continental philosophy is
founded in the work German philosophers, from Kant till Hei-
degger, and is mainly associated with French philosophy, psy-
choanalysis, existentionalism, phenomenology, structuralism
and it’s deconstructivism. Recent representatives are e.g., Gilles
Deleuze, Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou. Analytic philosophy,
on the other hand, emerged from logical positivism and is
largely dominated by logic, philosophy of science and philoso-
phy of language. It readdresses some metaphysical questions in
an Anglo-Saxon manner, mainly relying on conceptual analysis
and common-sense argumentation. It particularly focuses on
specific topics like e.g. colours, properties, Universals, mind/
body, perception, consciousness and causation.
If we take into accoun t the di fferen ce bet ween bo th tr adition s
concerning the respective subject-matters, the modes of inquiry
and scholarship, the semantic idioms, the methodological ap-
proaches, the ongoing discussions, the conferences and publica-
tions etc., it is hardly an overstatement to say that both tradi-
tions evolve insulated and have a conflicting relation.
The fact that we have two distinguishable areas of contem-
porary philosophy is well-known and undisputed. Problems
arise, however, when we try to pin down this distinction. In
what follows, we mention some problems concerning designa-
tion in t erms of “continental ” and “analytical” and give reasons
why such a denoting is appropriate after all.
Especiall y in Eu rope there is a tendency to gather all sorts of
Anglo-Saxon philosophical research including logic, philoso-
phy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind,
etc. in terms of “analytic” philosophy. This is less the case in
the US; in the naming of departments for instance, the oppose-
tion between “philosophy” on the one hand, and “history of
philosophy” is usually employed. This is quite ironic since this
implies, strictly speaking, that only analytic philosophy is real
philo sophy because t he dep artment “ph ilosoph y” represents but
analytic philosophy. Hence, continental philosophical research
is already considered to be a part of history. Similarly, the
prominent American Philosophical Association, APA, dis-
cusses, at least for a very long period, but analytic philosophy.
Systematically using the adjective “analytic” can avoid such
sly manipulations. Moreover, this adjective properly indicates
an overall feature of what is gathered under this designation,
being analysis i.e. conceptual analysis. Defined in its broadest
sense, conceptual analysis is the method of disclosing or
working back to what is more fundamental by means of which
something can be explained (which is often then exhibited in a
corresponding process of synthesis)2.
Speaking in terms of a “continental” tradition, on the other
hand, is less obvious for several reasons. Firstly, as already
mentioned above, continental philosophy concerns a heteroge-
neous set of scholarship and views. For instance, while con-
sulting dictionaries of philosophy, one gets the strong im-
pression that “continental” stands for all the rest3, that is to say,
all explicitly non-analytically oriented philosophy. Secondly,
contemporary continental philosophers contest the idea that
there is something like a unified continental tradition. The
continental tradition rather gathers movements that often expli-
citly emphasize their mutual opposition, e.g. phenome- nology
versus constructivism. The declaration of such anti- theses,
which no doubt has an important canvassing effect, can lead to
the excessive effect of denying any kinship between move-
ments in the continental tradition. Thirdly, “continental” origi-
nally is a geographic reference (i.e. a toponym) that is out-
moded. For instance, Slavoj Žižek and Richard Rorty are
clearly part of the continental squad. Both write in English, the
first lives in Argentina and the latter in the US. Pioneers of
analytic philosophy, on the other hand, often are originally
from the co nt inent , e.g. Ger man y before th e Seco nd Worl d War.
Moreover, for some decades continental philosophy is quite
popular in the US and nowadays analytic philosophy is mush-
rooming all over Europe.
Apart from these caveats about the label, “continental” is
semantically striking for the very reason that contemporary
continental research is in the first place a continuation of
traditional continental philosophy. That is to say, contemporary
contin ental views fo cus on the classical p hilo sophical q uestions .
They are also to be understood as repercussions on transcen-
dental philosophy or Hegelian worldviews and they can only be
comprehended in accordance with the covering discussion on
the possibility the “subject”, “truth” and “objectivity”. Analytic
philosophy, on the other hand, started from a radical rift and
rejection of continental philosophy. The very declination
operated as a reviving factor of a new tradition with the
ambition to renew and even restart history of philosophy. The
alliance between traditional and contemporary continental
philosophy, the indispensability of the latter for the former,
together with the fact that analytic philosophy forms its identity
in a negative relation with the continental tradition, are
sufficient reasons to use the adjective “continental” in opposi-
tion to “analytic”4.
Why Unificationists Are Barking up
the Wrong Tree
The unificationist’s dream remains also persistent in con-
temporary scientific thought. Besides the religious reminis-
cences (that are probably typically Western) we have to ac-
knowledge that the idea of a theory of everything has an ap-
pealing feature: the possibility of one big coherent and com-
patible body of knowledge. However, regardless the virtue of
such a goal, which generally is the underlying final aspiration
of philosophical or scientific research, it often distracts us from
the fact that there is a difference between the end and the means
of inquiry. Aiming for unification does often have a thwarting
effect on the progress of inquiry since it elicits rash genera-
4Critchley & Schroeder (1998: p. 4): Although there i s no conse nsus on
the precise origin of the concept of Continental philosophy as a profess-
sional self-description, it would seem that it does not arise as a de-
cription of undergraduate and postgraduate courses in philosophy
before the 1970s. […] the term Contin ental ph ilosophyreplaced the
earlier formulations, “Phenomenology or Phenomenology and Ex-
istential Philosophy.” […] The reason why Phenomenology is re-
laced with Continental Philosophy is not absolutely clear,but i
would seem that it was introduced to take account of the various
so-called poststructuralist Francophone movements of thought tha
were increasingly distant from and often hostile towards phenomenol-
ogy: to a lesser extent Lacan, Derrida, and Lyotard, and to a greate
extent Deleuze and Foucaul
2According to Jackson (1998: 31-3), the role of conceptual analysis is
to mak e explici t our ‘folk th eory’ abou t a given matt er, eluc idatin g ou
concepts by considering how individuals classify possibilities. For an
interesting discussion on the conceptions of analysis in analytic phi-
losophy, see Beaney (2003).
3A similar blurred conce
t seems to be a ‘continental’ b r eakfast.
lisations and melting pots. In short, unification can restrain the
creative power of disagreement and the (occasional) critical
disclosure while facing odds.
In order to support this claim against unification, we will ar-
gue that the difference between both traditions is definitely not
restricted to formal aspects or uses of language. Starting from a
historical approach, we will elaborate on two general meta-
physical mechanisms. These mechan isms learn us ho w to com-
prehend the difference between both traditions.
Another approach than denotation to investigate the distinc-
tion between the two traditions is the historical one. There is a
bulk of literature that introduces (and at the same time wants to
endorse5) analytic philosophy by way of describing its origina-
tion. Here we often find a focus on historical delineation that is
meant to serve as an etiological explan ation. Usu ally, one takes
Brentano’s linguistic analyses of intentionality as a starting
point, due to its significant impulse for the development of
philosophy of language. Others will refer to Carnaps influential
anti-metaphysical treatises. According to Carnap, ontological
talk results fro m an inaccu rate use of statements i n the material
(or real) mode rather than the formal (or linguistic) mode. Still
others emphasize Russell’s well-known defences of logicism
and his radical anti-historicism. These influences obviously
contributed to the success of analytic philosophy. However, it is
nonsensical to dispute their impact or predominance since such
debates rest on the false belief that there only is one real cause
that brought analytic philosophy into being. History of phi-
losophy is full of evolutions that are significant for the origina-
tion of analytic philosophy. Even if we are sympathetic to the
idea of a single innovating event, why then not travel back fur-
ther into history and consider, for instance, the impact of the
transcendental turn? Is it an anachronism to call Kant the first
analytic philosopher? And what about Aristotle?… And Socra-
For a proper understanding of the rise of analytic philosophy
it is more beneficial to gather different instructive traces rather
than trying to pin down one crucial historical shift. Another
important trace which is o ften left ou t of scope i s th e role of th e
emancipation of the (natural) sciences. The success of the sci-
ences which led to its liberation from philosophy, clearly pro-
voked opposite reorientations within philosophy. Continental
philosophy took the challenge to provide in a full and alterna-
tive project (albeit pseudo-scientific). Analytic philosophy tries
to find a valuable position on the right side of the sciences (with
the risk of turning into pseudo-philosophy).
The Pendulum
In order to understand the split in contemporary philosophy,
we can also take a step further than just scouting history. From
a hermeneutical point of view, we can mention at least two
interesting jointed mechanisms that enable us to map the two
The first mechanism is what we can call the pendulum be-
tween dogmatism and scepticism that sways the history of phi-
losophy. It is the quest for truth, so to speak, together with the
dissident attitude of each new generation that resulted in a suc-
cession of reactive lines of thoughts generating a rotating flux
of dogma and scepsis. When we now turn to the boom of Mod-
ern philosophy, being a summit of dogmatism, we can notice
two complex reactions instead of one single reaction of plain
scepticism. Nevertheless both traditions tend to be subject to
occasio nal dogmatic skepti cism.
The first reaction: within the continental tradition, scepticism
occurs under the form of deconstruction and post-structuralism.
This scepticism is vital for contemporary continental philoso-
phy, it is a reactive generating force. This so-called “postmod-
ernism” encompasses a new phase of Enlightment which aims
at the unmasking of the illusionary confidence of modernity
(with respect to knowledge, ethics and society) and its false
consciousness. In its vulgar version, alas endorsed by many
analytic philosophers, postmodernism is a barbarious relativism
that sometimes also is hold responsible for the lack of Enlight-
ment or th at fact that is st ays away.
The second reaction: the analytical tradition, on the other
hand, is characterized by a rift rather than an extension. It initi-
ated with a rad ical scepticis m towards Mod ern philosoph y as a
whole. At first, metaphysics was dispensed with entirely in
favour of methodological and linguistic inquiries. Logical posi-
tivism is endorsed, so to speak, in order to prevent a dreaded
slippery slope into hazy and woolly contemplations. Later on,
when it became clear that the neopositivist’s empiricism is
overly severe, analytic metaphysics emerged under the form of
naturalism and pragmatism, especially stimulated by the criti-
cisms of Goodman, Quine and Putnam. Due to the evolution of
hedged central discussions on topics like (mental)causation,
laws of nature and intentionality, these ontological positions
came under strong attack. As a result, recent analytic meta-
physics is an interesting but fragmented plurality of conflicting
and partial views.
In sum, analytic philosophy starts with a rejection of Modern
philosophy which is almost instantly replaced with a new dog-
matism that disintegrated eventually. With some delay, distrust
disappeared and metaphysical discussions resumed in a new
and optimistic fashion. However, like contemporary continental
philosophers, analytic philosophers finally might derive similar
metaphysical skepticism as a result, this skepticism is not
viewed as a methodological presumption. On the contrary, it is
the recognition of the lack of a proper methodology of meta-
physics that springs skepticism. Nonetheless, the final aim for
analytic philosophy remains to eliminate or resolve the tra-
ditional questions of philosophy.
Taking Turns
Our second mechanism concerns escaping a metaphysical
deadlock by means of a jump to a new intellectual order. That
is to say, in order to prevent stagnation, often a “turn” is made
in the position towards the being of the ground of truth. Bluntly
put, this “ground” is to be understood as the rock of wisdom,
the foundation that is supposed to generate a truly philosophical
worldview. Taking a “turn” towards the being of the ground,
subsequently, does not simply mean the replacement of one
particular, assumed ground for another, but a shift in opinion on
the possibility and general characteristics of such a ground.
As for contemporary continental philosophy, it often takes
the impossibility of a single, identifying ground as a starting
point. However, this doesn’t necessary lead to the melancholic
conclusion that philosophy is a vain endeavour. As for Deleuze,
for instance, in his What is philosophy?, the phi losophical chal -
lenge becomes to deterritorialize, that is, to break loose from
5See for instance Dummett (1994) or Gloch (Ed.) (1997).
any fixed ground. Philosophy has to create and reinvent con-
cepts, embracing the Multiple instead of the One, Becoming
instead of Being, Difference rather than Identity. Deleuze thus
takes an affirmative and vitalist stance in which the impossibil-
ity or the absence of a single ground is turned into a positive
metaphysical condition: free your mind! Apart from Deleuze’s
plea for nomadism, also other representatives of contemporary
continental philosophy clearly took this “turn to difference”,
albeit i n an affirmative or a negative mann er.
The analytical tradition, on the other hand, took a “turn to
methodology”. Wittgensteins’ Tractatus probably is the most
representative example in this respect. For Wittgenstein, as for
many other analytic philosophers, philosophy basically consists
in clarifying how language can be used. The hope is that when
language i s used clearly, we have a prop er method th at enables
us to dissolve philosophical problems. The obverse of this view
is that the limits of formal language are to be understood as the
limits of our world.
Therefore, Wittgenstein agues for the installation of a prohi-
bition on philosophical inquiry due to the lack of proper
method. Without such a method, no (reliable) argumentation,
hence no certain knowledge. Note that, following Wittgenstein,
analytic philosophy does not assume the impossibility of a sin-
gle ground but starts form the perception that adequate formal
instruments to form or find a such a ground are (still) absent.
That is why a limit is imposed. Transgressing it leads to a loss
of rationality. As analytic philosophy progresses, boundaries
might be moved, shedding light of reason on new topics6.
Methodology takes such a central stage, however, that it of-
ten occupies the place of the ground, eclipsing it, becoming an
methodism. When argumentation itself becomes an ultimate
goal, there obviously is the risk of neglecting some important
subject-matters or theoretical perspectives. Consequently, there
is the risk of the enforcement of a zero-tolerance towards un-
supported or underdeveloped ideas regardless how innovative
or useful they are or can be.
The difference in turn between the two traditions also gener-
ates a very different attitude towards truth. Contemporary con-
tinental philosophy reflects on the consequences of the absence
of a single ground and guards for lapses due to our persisting
desire for objectivity and a firm ground. Truth (with capital “T”)
is to be approached in a therapeutic manner. Even the assump-
tion that all philosophers face (can onical) universal ph ilosophi-
cal prob lems, as it is the case in the discussi ons in analytic ph i-
losophy, is considered to be suspicious. Unlike analytic phi-
losophers, conflicting information is not necessarily a contra-
diction that we need to overcome or dispend with. Contempo-
rary continental philosophers endorse a completely different
attitude towards inconsistencies. An inconsistency can possibly
be transformed into a paradox that opens up new creative per-
spectives an d that somehow enables u s to speak the i mpossible.
Mapping both Traditions While
Stressing Differences
In this section, we elaborate on our metaphysic remarks.
While discussing the relation of both traditions with respect to
history and to the sciences, we can uncover several differences
between both traditions. This brings us to the importance of
intellectual agonism. Of course, agonism is not a universal
merit. But in the case of contemporary philosophy, where at-
tempts to unification runs the risk of loosing the “soul” of one
or both traditions, we can emphasize the importance of agonism.
Less unification can be more.
(No) Vacation from History?
As we have said before, for a proper understanding of con-
temporary continental philosophy we should take into account
its relation with the history of philosophy. In our view, it is not
just an extension of, and a reflection on history. Especially the
(ontological) differences throughout history get primary atten-
tion. Historicism with respect to truth and the human way of
being is, in a way, the sceptical core of contemporary contin ent-
tal philosophy. Campbell (2001) brings an appealing elabora-
tion on this issue. He defends the idea of a covert metaphysical
dif- ference that propels the clash between analytic and conti-
nental philosophy. According to Campbell (2001: p. 343),
Analytic philosophers are latter-day Platonists, for whom the
way out of confusions and error is to insist that the content of
genuine knowledge both can and must be cast in sentences of
proper logico-linguistic form. For continental philosophers, on
the other hand, precisely what has bedevilled Western philoso-
phy is its being an extended series of footnotes to Plato. Rather,
philosophy must turn to history in order to see how its concept-
tual necessities have themselves arisen under particular histori-
cal and cultural conditions.
In the case of analytical philosophy, on the other hand, the
absence of references to history of philosophy is striking. For
instance, the reader of Sorell & Rogers (Eds.) (2005) revolves
around the following ‘controversial’ question: can history of
philosophy be relevant for analytic philosophy, given its anti-
histo rical and unh istori cal n ature? The fact th at su ch readers are
published by Oxford University Press confirms the historical
ignoran ce of analytic phil osoph y. Of course, there are histo rical
links. For instance, consider so-called Platonism in the phi-
losophy of mathematics, or the so-called Cartesian view in the
philo sophy of mind. But even when such references occu r, they
only serve as tags for a (controversial) opinion and in such
cases there certainly is no genuine interest in an exegesis or
elaboration of the philosophy of Plato or Descartes. Analytic
philosophy, so it seems, wants to write its own history.
The different relation of both traditions toward history of
philosophy does reveal a different underlying attitude7. In gen-
eral terms, we can state that contemporary continental philoso-
phy wants to question and critically analyse any given thought.
Unlike analytic philosophy, there is a tendency to continuously
readdress the classical philosophical questions, not with the
intention to find a final answer, but to generate new insights
and to l earn about th e cultural, social and hist orical rel ativity of
our knowledge. This also explains the vast interest in history of
7For an interesting interpretation of both traditions towards truth, see
Reynolds (2006). He tries to encompass the difference between both
traditions starting from the difference in structure of sadistic and
masochistic symptomatology. Reynolds argues that the analytical tradi-
tion evinces the more sadistic tendencies and the continental tradition
the more masochistic tendencies, based on their relation to the law in
terms of truth.
6For this reason, Žižek (1991: p. 173) states that analytical philosophy
does n ot “ta ke its elf seriou s enough ” sinc e it sti ll believ es in a “myste -
rious X” that always breaks away, without realising, according to Žižek
that it already found what there is to be found and what it is looking for
its own
philosophy. Following this line of thought, it is no exaggeration
to state th at, accordin g to contempo rary continen tal philo sophy,
the task of philosophy is to unfold opinions, examine presuppo-
sitions as well as possible consequences. To search, not for
truth whatsoever, but for interesting and critical views even if
they are disputable.
Accord in g to Del eu ze (1 990: p. 19 6 ), for in stan ce, doin g phi -
losophy is creating and reinventing concepts. Furthermore,
creating is not just communicating opinions. It requires a resis-
tance to compl y with co mmon se n se, resi stin g to p reten d and to
be confident. This attitude, in comparison with analytic phi-
losophy, results in the opposition between interpretation rather
than discussion, displacement rather than argumentation, sub-
version rather than legitimization and creation rather than defi-
nition. This attitude alas also entails an excess with respect to
the continental strand: the cult of the oeuvre of canonical fig-
ures, the uncritical preoccupation and exaltation of idolized
intellectuals, the overexpose of a conceptual language, the se-
duction of controversial but obscure aspirations, the overly
heralding the impossibility of knowledge together with the
importance of difference as d ifference, etc.
Pseudoscience Vs. P seudophilo sophy?
In 2.2, we discussed that analytic philosophy took a turn to
methodology. While doing so, natural science is a primary sub-
ject-matter and at the same time it fulfils an exquisite exem-
plary role. Contemporary continental philosophy, on the other
hand, rather has focus on literature and art, due to their interest
in parti cular and symbol ic stori es. There are so me references to
natural science, of course, but most of them go wrong when
they are meant to legitimize the scientific quality of a theory. In
most of these cases however, and this remark is often over-
looked by analytic philosophers, such references do not serve as
a legitimization but as a exemplification. In these cases, it is the
metaphorical value that counts.
For similar reasons, Rorty (2004: pp. 21-23) sees analytic
philosophy as a kind of conceptual handmaiden of science that
“wants to get things right”, while contemporary continental
philosophy aims for (cultural) critique. Although analytic phi-
losophy seems to have a virtuous intention, Rorty is pessimistic
about its future. Briefly put, his argument is this: “getting
things right” presupposes something that is constant and stable.
However, if concepts change with changes in culture, there is
no getting things right in conceptual analysis. Hence, analytic
philosophical discussions are arcane, contingent and scholastic
Rorty’s scepticism is disputable because it relies on a rather
logical positivist interpretation of analytical philosophy. It also
shows that the contempt that many analytic philosophers bear
to contemporary continental philosophy easily can be returned.
The primacy of accuracy of analytic philosophy no doubt is
significan t. Contemporary anal ytic ph ilosophy freed itself for m
the narrow positivist stance. Nevertheless, there is a headstrong
optimism with respect to method and there are reasons to be-
lieve that this optimism is overrated. Methodological chaos, or
opportunism even, is not an exception in the discussions of
analytic philosophy. A diversity of methodological tools is
customary concerning criteria of legitimacy (e.g. thriftiness,
simplicity, robustness, compatibility with sciences, comple-
teness, plausibility) as well as concerning instruments for ar-
gumentation (e.g. conceptual analysis, generalisations based on
paradigmatic examples, intuitive constructs, scientific findings,
thought experiments). This diversity is not in se a problem.
Rather, the problem is that there is no consensus on which
methods are (contextually) appropriate. Metaphysicians often
criticize their opponents on methodological grounds. But while
doing so, they often only discuss those criteria which are in
their own advantage, using different standards depending on the
topic at hand.
Compared with contemporary continental philosophy, ana-
lytic philosophy has a quite opposite philosophical attitude. In
general terms, we can state that analytic philosophy preferably
wants find answers to philosophical problems rather than in-
vestigate the same questions over and over. It has a strong be-
lieve in common sense and aims for standard discussions that
are meant to be accessible and conveniently arranged. Also,
while analytic philosophers believe that methodologically they
can work unproblematically with abstract ideas and their
relationships, continental philosophers share the belief that
thought cannot be abstracted away from historical, social,
psychological and ontological preconditions. Philosophy must
struggle with this impos sib il it y.
In its turn, this underlying attitude can entail excesses. For
instance, due to the preoccupation with their own familiar
methods, analytic philosophers sometimes share the false belief
that (contemporary) continental philosophers do not bother for
any argumentation and that they do not apply any method. In
this way, a large tradition of philosophical engineering is ne-
glected, e.g. Descartes sceptical method, Kants transcendental
method Hegels dialectic method, Nietzsche’s genealogical
method, Foucaults archaeological method, Derrida’s decon-
structivist method, etc. Also the merits of methodological in-
struments like, metaphors, aphorisms, and anecdotic references
are completely ignored .
Secondly, the emphasis on method can bring about sly dis-
tortions. For instance, there often is tendency to insert some
kind of pidgin-logic in order to formalize the discussed theses.
Such insertions can evoke the illusion of simplicity and clarity
while masking the complexity of the respective subject-matter.
As an example, take the increasing presence of mathematical
models in the theory of causation which diverts the discussion
from a philosophical/conceptual one to a pseudo-scientific/
technical one. In other cases, doing philosophy sometimes is
reduced to the instrumental task of testing theories to their co-
herence and framing new ones for testing. As regards content,
significance gets ignored in favour of a simplistic right/wrong
mentality. Finally, based on this mentality, philosophical in-
quiry that does not fit the same standards is hastily rejected and
unfairly excluded. In sum, the distress to reassure by means of a
self-imposed clarity can have narrowing and offensive effects.
Conclusion: Some Truths Only Come with a
Split Tongue
Based on our previous findings, it seems that pluralism is
here to stay. Depending on our conception of pluralism how-
ever, this conclusion can be a constructive one. In order to
elucidate this claim, we refer to an ongoing opposition in poli-
tical philosophy between agonistic pluralists on the one hand
and so-called consociational and deliberative democrats on the
other. Agonism implies providing the opportunity to express
disagreements. It does not assume that conflicts are harmful by
definition and that every conflict can be eliminated given
sufficient time for deliberation and rational agreement. In other
words, it does assume that conflicts can have a non-rational or
emotional component which should not be neglected and that
they can have a productive contribution in the long run. Hence,
agonism is opposed to aspects of consociational theories
becaus e the latter wants to mute c onflict throu gh elite consensu s
and it is also oppo sed to delib erative theories becau se the latt er
relies on an overly rationalist picture of the aspirations of
Both respective aspects are important with respect to a
radical pluralism in contemporary philosophy between the two
traditions. Like consociational democrats, unificationists unila-
terally aim for consensus and for a compatibility all the way
down. While doing so, they neglect the negative effects of such
expectancies on the production of inquiry as well as the
accuracy and the revealing power of philosophical views. Like
deliberative democrats, on the other hand, unificationists easily
tend to forget that competing views or theories often are
accompanied with psychological tensions or (hidden) political
agitations that represent important relational elements. Masking
them, pretending that they are negligible, often is in itself a
severe form of abuse of power or authority.
For these reasons, an agonistic pluralism is no doubt a
productive strategy within contemporary philosophy. Note that
agonism is not simply the celebration of antagonism. Agonism
is to be situated in between mutual reciprocity and hostile
controversy. The Greek “agon” refers to an athletic contest
oriented not merely toward victory or defeat, but emphasizing
that struggle cannot exist without the opponent. Victory through
forfeit or default, or over an unworthy opponent, comes up
short compared to a defeat at the hands of a worthy opponent.
Hence an agonist discourse is not just a conflict, it acquires
respect and concern.
In our view, desirable agonist interactions come in two sorts.
Firstly, there are constructive critiques that shed a different
light on commonly accepted lines of reasoning, their presuppo-
sition s and their deficits. By way of example we can refer to the
bulk of critiques, inspired by a Heideggerian point of view, on
(early) discussions in cognitive science and philosophy, with
respect to artificial intelligence. These critiques attacked the
naïve beliefs concerning computational mental processes and
rational awareness. A similar example: the criticisms on phi-
losophy of mind or the theory of action with respect to the na-
ïve beliefs concerning the notion of a subject, an actor, and
(rational) intentionality.
Secondly, we have the transferences of idea’s and analyses
between theoretical discussions in order to extend the ongoing
debate. The most representative example in this respect is the
rise of pragmatism in analytic metaphysics, which is influenced
by the on goin g debates in continen tal phi losophy so me decades
ago. Fo r some smaller-scale and more actu al examples, see th e
Prado (2003). The central theme of A House Divided, is to ex-
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traditions. In spite of Babel’s confusion, this reader contains
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