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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: February 2011

6 - The Continental Divide


But neither faction of the philosophical divide – Anglo-American or continental – can claim to be on the side of the angels.

Richard Kearney

Philosophers have never been immune to name-calling. Occasionally, however, their domestic disputes have relevance beyond the seminar room and the department lounge. In these instances, the quarrels of professional thinkers are windows onto much larger intellectual and cultural phenomena; they reveal that philosophy, far from being removed from the world in which it is pursued, stems in fact directly from it. Even when philosophers conceive of their work in the most abstract and (politically) neutral terms, their ties to the larger world around them occasionally catch and reflect the historical spotlight, like fishing strings suspending talent-show angels in midflight. At first glance, philosophers seem to float free of the world entirely, but look again and one might glimpse the tethers that keep them in place.

Heidegger was a polarizing philosopher in the twentieth century. His legacy divided his profession into two antagonistic camps – so-called analytic and continental philosophies, respectively. Consequently, a good many of the profession's quarrels had to do with him and his work. If Heidegger cannot be seen as the cause of the continental/analytic split, he certainly served as its most frequent point of contention. Disputes about academic philosophy's place and purpose were often disputes that touched upon his work. Such disputes show no sign of abating.

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