Continental Philosophy

Definition of Continental Philosophy

Continental Philosophy is a style of thinking that started in Europe which asks, ‘What is it to be human?’ and ‘How should we live our lives?’ Imagine a group of friends deeply discussing ideas about life, society, and why things are the way they are – that’s kind of what Continental Philosophers do. They dive into big questions about existence, the society we live in, and the many different ways people experience life.

Another way to think of Continental Philosophy is like it’s a huge map of the things people care about, but instead of cities and roads, it’s about thoughts and beliefs. It’s not always about finding the right answers. It’s more about asking the right questions, exploring ideas about human nature, how we make choices, and the rules we live by in society. If we compare it to a puzzle, Continental Philosophy is interested in why we create puzzles in the first place, what each piece represents, and how they all connect to show a bigger picture of human life.

Types of Continental Philosophy

Think of Continental Philosophy like a tree with many different branches. Each branch goes in its own direction, but they’re all part of the same tree. Here are a few of these branches:

  • Phenomenology: This is like paying close attention to the movie of your own life, seeing how each scene feels and what it means.
  • Existentialism: Questions why we’re here and encourages us to live life as we choose, not just following the crowd.
  • Critical Theory: It’s like having a bird’s eye view of society and trying to fix the unfair parts
  • Post-Structuralism: This questions the very walls and floors of the world built with words, shaking up our understanding.
  • Deconstruction: Picture taking apart a Lego build to see how each block works and what other shapes it might form.
  • Hermeneutics: Like being a detective with old letters, figuring out the story behind the words.

Examples of Continental Philosophy

Here’s a look at some real-world examples of Continental Philosophy:

  • Thinking about how a painting makes us feel and the big ideas it makes us think about is phenomenology. This is a way to understand not just the art itself, but the deeper effects it has on us.
  • An existentialist might write a book or give a speech on why it’s important for us to make our own choices and find our own purpose in life, instead of living the way others say we should.
  • Critical theorists could investigate a TV show or a news article to reveal how it shows the unfairness in the way people are treated, based on things like wealth or where they come from.
  • A post-structuralist might explore a poem and show how every person reading it might see a different meaning because of their own life story.

Why is Continental Philosophy Important?

Continental Philosophy is sort of like the glasses we put on to see the world differently. It’s crucial because it can help us understand deep and challenging ideas. Through its questions and debates, this type of philosophy invites us to be bold, to challenge what’s considered ‘normal’ or ‘given’. It opens the door to assessing what it means to be just, to value freedom, or to respect human rights – all of which can lead to everyone being treated better and fairer in the world.

For instance, when philosophers discuss freedom, their ideas can influence people to stand up for their rights. Or, when they debate about the best way to live, it can guide us to think more about our own life choices. And the excitement doesn’t stop there. Because Continental Philosophers often involve history, art, and culture in their talks, their ideas can inspire new movies, books, and even laws that shape how we live together. It’s not just academic – it’s the fuel for change in our everyday world.

Origin of Continental Philosophy

Rewind to a couple of hundred years ago in Europe, thinkers like Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx started asking some big questions that shook the foundations of how people understand the world. This was the birth of what we now call Continental Philosophy. Fast forward to after the second world war, and English-speaking countries began to notice that the way they did philosophy was different from how it was done in continental Europe. Hence, the term ‘Continental Philosophy.’

Controversies in Continental Philosophy

Not everyone agrees about Continental Philosophy. For one thing, there is a kind of sibling rivalry with Analytic Philosophy, which is like a cousin who focuses more on logic and word puzzles. Some people think these two philosophies should learn from each other more, while others say they are just too different.

Another debate is about how tricky the language in Continental Philosophy can get. Some think it’s unnecessarily complex, while others say that to get to the heart of deep issues, you need a complex kind of talk.

Other Important Aspects of Continental Philosophy

What’s unique about Continental Philosophy is that it dances with the past, believing our history plays a huge role in how we see things today. Reflecting on bygone times gives Continental Philosophers insights that help explain the now and shape the future. Besides, this philosophical style is not shy about linking arms with other subjects like psychology and the arts, making use of stories, music, and movies to unfold its ideas and keep evolving.

To wrap things up, imagine Continental Philosophy like a big, beautiful quilt. Each square tells a story about us as people, our communities, and life’s big mysteries. Despite its complexity, its aim is truly beautiful – to look deeply into life and to seek out paths to make it more meaningful. Whether we find ourselves debating about what’s right, critiquing a beautiful piece of music, or just thinking about what makes us us, Continental Philosophy gives us the tools to examine our existence and maybe even enrich the world around us.

Related Topics

Continental Philosophy touches on many areas that are fascinating to explore further:

  • Modernism & Postmodernism: Like fashion trends, philosophies change over time, and these movements reflect that change in how we see art, culture, and truth.
  • Feminist Philosophy: This shares big questions about justice and equality, focusing on women’s experiences and voices throughout history.
  • Philosophy of Art (Aesthetics): It’s all about diving into why we think something is beautiful or moving, much like Continental Philosophy does with experiences and art.
  • Social and Political Philosophy: Similar to critical theory, this looks at how we live together and the rules we make, like how Continental Philosophy thinks about society and justice.
  • Psychoanalysis: A branch of psychology that’s like exploring a deep ocean of our minds, much like how Continental Philosophy explores consciousness.


In conclusion, Continental Philosophy isn’t just about fancy terms and big books. It’s a way to look at the very core of our existence – to question, explore, and understand what it means to be human. With its roots in enquiries about life, society, and human behavior, Continental Philosophy encourages us to challenge the everyday and envision what could be. It’s about seeking to understand ourselves and our world, from the art we create to the choices we make, and through this understanding, perhaps we can make the world a friendlier, fairer place for everyone. Each one of us engages in this philosophical quest whenever we wonder why things are as they are, or when we dream about what they could be. Continental Philosophy is not just a set of ideas from Europe; it’s a vital tradition that continues to spark discussions that matter in our modern lives.