Skip to main content

What is Continental vs Analytic Philosophy?

Analytic philosophy follows in the tradition established by the great
late-nineteenth and early-twentieth philosophers Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell. It is marked by a focus on questions about the nature of language, meaning and thought, and on questions about how the mind relates to the world.

An example of such a question is: ‘Is the meaning of a name just the object in the world to which that name refers?’ On the one hand, it might seem obvious that the answer is ‘yes’. After all, we might think, a name's function is to pick out particular objects in the world, and so it is natural to think that those objects are their meanings. On the other hand, there is a reason to think the answer is ’no’. After all, names like ‘Santa Claus’ seem to be perfectly meaningful. But they do not pick out any object in the world. So, what, then, is the meaning of a name?

Analytical philosophers have tended to pursue these questions through methods of argument and proof similar to those used in mathematics and logic.


Continental philosophy is a discipline that draws on a range of distinct but related traditions of European philosophy, exemplified by such philosophers as Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, and 20th century French thinkers such as Sartre, Foucault and Deleuze.

Continental philosophy is often characterised by a focus on certain themes; including history, politics (particularly the politics of gender and sexuality), the self and self-consciousness, freedom, desire and the will. The techniques of continental philosophy are as wide-ranging as its subject-matter, from close historical analysis of texts, to creative reading of ancient and modern literature, to reflection on one’s own lived experience.

Questions that one might find addressed in continental philosophy are, for example: ‘Has philosophy traditionally focussed too exclusively on the being of objects in its understanding of being?’, ‘Are there different modes of being?’, and ‘Is our everyday understanding of ourselves mostly inauthentic and, if so, what would an authentic existence be?’