Continental Philosophy refers to a set of traditions of 19th and 20th Century philosophy in mainland Europe. It is a general term for those philosophical schools and movements not included under the label Analytic Philosophy, which was the other, largely Anglophone, main philosophical tradition of the period.
As a movement, Continental Philosophy lacks clear definition, and may mark merely a family resemblance across disparate philosophical views, its main purpose being to distinguish itself from Analytic Philosophy, although the term was used as early as 1840 by John Stuart Mill to distinguish European Kant-influenced thought from the more British-based movements such as British Empiricism and Utilitarianism.
Continental Philosophy, then, is a catch-all label incorporating such Continental European-based schools as German Idealism, Kantianism, Hegelianism, Romanticism, Phenomenology, Existentialism, Marxism, Deconstructionism, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Hermeneutics, French Feminism, and the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School.
Although many consider that the distinction between Continental and Analytic Philosophy is misleading or even worthless, some common "Continental" themes can be identified:
- It generally rejects Scientism (the view that the natural sciences are the best or most accurate way of understanding all phenomena).
- It tends towards Historicism in its view of possible experience as variable, and determined at least partly by factors such as context, space and time, language, culture and history.
- It typically holds that conscious human agency can change these conditions of possible experience, and tend to see their philosophical inquiries as closely related to personal, moral, or political transformation.
- It tends to emphasize metaphilosophy (the study of the subject and matter, methods and aims of philosophy itself, or the "philosophy of philosophy").