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Review of McCumber’s Time and Philosophy: A history of continental thought

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• Is the world eternal? YES
• Do humans have contra-causal free will (i.e., can humans do otherwise)? NO
• Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? YES
• Do humans have souls? YES
• Are there natural rights? YES
• Is it morally permissible to eat meat? NO
• Is the unexamined life worth living? NO
• Is truth subjectivity? YES
• Is virtue necessary for happiness? YES
• Can a computer have a mind? YES
• Can humans know reality as it is in itself? YES
• Is hell other people? YES
• Can art be created accidentally? NO
• Can we change the past? NO
• Are numbers real? NO
• Is it always better to know the truth? YES

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Here is an interesting review of a survey of continental thought. The review offers some criticism, but on the whole seems favorable. I was taken by this account of the book’s unifying theme:

McCumber sets continental philosophy up against what he calls “traditional philosophy,” by which he understands, following Heidegger, “philosophy that locates true reality in an atemporal domain” (4). “Traditional philosophy” — whether in the form of Parmenidean Being, Platonic Forms, Aristotelian essences, Kantian transcendental structures of the human mind, or the logically manipulated world of propositions — places what is ultimately real in some timeless and unchanging realm. Continental philosophy, however, understands itself to be firmly situated within time and history while trying to understand things and actions that are themselves equally so situated within the temporal realm.

This intrigues me, but I think contemporary non-continental philosophers – specifically, philosophical naturalists – would scratch their collective heads and say, “Huh? You mean we’re locating true reality in an atemporal domain?” Indeed, anyone “non-continentalists” after and including the logical positivists would fight against that characterization. Of course, maybe they’re still going atemporal, despite their protestations, but the fact that they don’t want to be characterized in that way makes me think McCumber’s claim can’t be marking the deep division that exists today between the two camps. I keep thinking it has to do more with methodology (and probably politics) than with a specific content claims.



  1. Sandi says:

    I agree, different methods and jargon and there are always politics muddying the waters. In fact the very existence of “camps” positiv-ISTS, Heideggar-IANS, continental-ISTS and non-continental-ISTS and so on (and on and on…) have almost everything to do with the deep divisions that exist among the mulitiplicity of camps. Heideggar’s greatest fear was that his ideas would produce “Heideggarians!” While specialist and reductionary analysis have their place–that place is not in isolation, rather it is right beside intuition and wholistic approaches, in tandem with every other great thought :) That’s what I think anyways.


  2. Kleiner says:

    There is also the question as to whether or not Heidegger is right to claim that “traditional philosophy” has been atemporal (“the metaphysics of presence”). Must one read Aristotle that way? Is any reading of Aristotle that is more temporally dynamic (say, Gilson) then “continental”? I am with Huenemann, this just does not look like a tidy joint at which to divide the two camps.

    I think there are, as a broad generalization, political differences. I will note that my politics do not fit in all that well at a SPEP meeting. But groups like the ACPA have the reputation of doing a lot of continental philosophy and they are pretty conservative. I guess I am a continental philosopher (though I am not all that attached to the label), and I am not what you would expect out of a dinner conversation at a SPEP meeting.

    That leaves us with methodology, I suppose. Can we say that a difference lies in whether or not philosophy is a “science” (depending, of course, on how we define that term) and what counts as “clarity” and “argument”? Perhaps there is something to the old stereotypes that analytics are logic choppers and continentals are poets, even if those characterizations are ultimately unfair on both counts. I also think that sorting out content overlap and content differences might help. Both camps read Kant, Nz, Hegel, etc. But not many analytic philosophers bother with Heidegger and even fewer with Levinas or Derrida. On the flip side, continental philosophers really don’t read Russell, Quine, etc etc.

    Maybe the difference is like obscenity – you know it when you see it. If someone asks to see the difference, give them a Plantinga article on the religions/free will and then Heidegger’s phenomenology of religion or something from Levinas. There is a pretty obvious difference!


    • Sandi says:

      To unify seemingly very different aspects of the world, physics defers to symmetry–distinction without difference. I can see parralels for Philosophy. Yes the differences/distinctions are obvious but is there a unifying thread that binds the two camps, I think there is. And we need not anihilate either camp in the process, rather we need to examine the relationship BETWEEN them; how they relate to one another.

      Aristotle believed, “the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances. (1459a4)


  3. Dan says:

    I enjoyed Brian Leiter’s brief synopsis of the two:


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