Friday, June 10, 2022

The Continental/Analytic Divide Is Alive and Well in Philosophy: A Quantitative Analysis

A major sociological divide in recent Anglophone philosophy is the divide between philosophers who see themselves as working in the tradition of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, and Derrida -- so-called "Continental" philosophers -- and those working in the tradition of Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Quine -- so-called "analytic philosophers". This division is reflected, in part, in journal citation patterns. You might wonder about this history of this. Was Philosophical Review always allergic to Nietzsche? Or is that a relatively recent phenomenon? And how extreme is the phenomenon? Do leading Continental figures get at least some play in the top analytic journals, or are they almost entirely excluded?

I first looked at this issue quantitatively ten years ago. Today's post is a reanalysis, with new and updated data.

The "big three" Anglophone philosophy journals -- all of which have been leading journals since the first decade of the 20th century -- are Philosophical Review, Mind, and Journal of Philosophy (formerly Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods). All currently lean heavily "analytic". Recent journal rankings also tend to classify Nous (founded 1967) as similarly prestigious. All are also indexed in JStor, along with a diverse group of 135 other philosophy journals, many of which are not as sociologically aligned with the analytic tradition.

What I've done is to look, decade by decade, at the rates at which the names of central analytic and Continental philosophers appear in these "big 4" journals compared to other journals.

Compare, first, Nietzsche and Frege -- foundational figures for both traditions, both born in the 1840s. The crucial measure is the percentage of articles in which each figure is mentioned in the big four vs. the percentage in which each is mentioned in the remainder. For methodological details see this note.[1] For a clearer view of the charts below, click them.

As you can see, through the 1940s or 1950s the Nietzsche lines stay more or less together and the Frege lines stay more or less together. This means that Nietzsche and Frege are mentioned about equally frequently in the big four (actually big three, back then) journals as in other journals -- Nietzsche in about 5% of articles throughout the period and Frege in about 2%.

Starting in the 1960s or 1970s, the dashed and solid lines are clearly separated -- a separation that increases through the 1990s. Since the 1990s, the separation has remained quite large. Note how often Frege is mentioned in the big four journals in the 1980s through 2010s -- in about 20% of all articles. Outside the big four, he's mentioned in about 6% of all articles. Also outside the big four, Nietzsche is mentioned about as often as Frege -- in about 5% of articles. But in the big four, he is mentioned in only about 1% of articles by the 2000s and 2010s.

In the period from 2000 to 2019, Nietzsche is mentioned only 20 times among 1760 articles in the big four. If you were to read every article published in the big four journals, you would see his name mentioned on average in only one article per year. That's remarkably infrequent for such a historically important figure!

A similar story holds for Heidegger and Wittgenstein -- leading early figures in the Continental and analytic traditions, respectively -- and both born in 1889. (Again, click chart for clarity.)

Starting in the 1950s, Wittgenstein is notably more favored in the big four than in the others, though the difference isn't extreme. Starting the 1940s, Heidegger is slightly disfavored by the big four relative to the others, with the difference getting large by the 1980s and continuing to increase up to the present. In the 2010s, Heidegger is mentioned in 0.7% of articles in the big four (5 times total in 764 articles) and in 6% of articles in the remaining journals (1474/26084).

Okay, how about the Continentals Sartre (b. 1905), Foucault (b. 1926), and Derrida (b. 1930) vs. the analytics Quine (b. 1908), Chisholm (b. 1916), and Putnam (b. 1926)? The graph is a little crowded but the following should be evident: The muted-color analytics show higher in the Big Three (solid lines) than in the remaining journals (dashed lines), while the bright-color Continentals show the reverse pattern -- and the spread is much more evident in the past few decades than it was mid-century. (There's a bit of false-positive noise for Foucault and Putnam, but not enough to mask the general trend. Russell I have chosen to exclude entirely due to false positives.)

Here's one way of thinking about it. In the bulk of JStor philosophy journals, representing a mix of journals with Continental vs. analytic vs. eclectic perspectives, these six figures are all broadly similar in importance in recent decades, as shown by the fact that the dashed lines end up all bunched in the middle range of about 2-7% in the most recent decades. But if we look at the big 4 analytic journals, the analytic figures loom large, especially Quine, while the Continentals are near the floor -- Derrida and Foucault in particular being almost 0% (each has 4 mentions total in the period from 2000-2019, i.e., about once in each journal across the whole period).

The effect is even clearer if we take averages of trend lines for the five Continentals versus the five analytics:

In the 2000s and the portion of the 2010s that has so far been indexed in JStor, the words Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Foucault, and Derrida appeared in 48 articles total among 1760 big four journal articles (2.7%). Thus, the big four journals have included, on average, less than one article per journal per year that even passingly mentions any of these five authors.

Maybe an analysis of leading Continental journals would reveal a similar trend, with Nietzsche and Heidegger mentioned in a substantial percentage of articles and Frege and Wittgenstein hardly mentioned at all -- or maybe not. But even if not, the exclusion of leading Continental figures from the top analytic journals shows that the Continental/analytic divide remains sociologically important.

ETA, 12:05 p.m.

Could it be a result of the fact that the big four journals don't publish much ethics and some of the Continental figures mainly had their impact in ethics? I don't think so. If we look for ethics-specific journals among the top journals of philosophy "without regard to area" in Leiter's most recent poll (a bit dated), only Ethics and Philosophy and Public Affairs rank among the top 25. A disjunctive search for Nietzsche or Heidegger or Sartre or Foucault or Derrida shows only 38 hits total for the 17 year period from 2000-2016 -- again about one mention of any of these five authors per journal per year.


[1] Names include a truncation symbol, e.g., "Nietzsche*", which includes "Nietzsche's" and "Nietzschean", except for "Putnam", to exclude false alarms for the publisher "Putnam's sons", and except for the disjunctive search described in the penultimate paragraph. Percentages are divided by a representative universe of articles including the search term "the". Only English-language articles are included. Reviews and minor documents are excluded by limiting the results to "articles" in JStor. Although the search terms run through 2019, JStor only covers through the mid-2010s for many journals, including the big four.


Howie said...


A few possibly helpful points:
1) thinkers usually splash onto the scene, their impact deep and wide, then they are absorbed into the tradition with a few paradigms or approaches.
2) That's my interpretation of your findings
3) Compare psychology and Freud v Pavlov/Skinner/Watson
4) Either we'd discover something similar or something very different.
5) Also compare sociology or sociology v economics

Arnold said...

Is the sociological relation of quantitative analyses to qualitative description today..., the sociological relation of Copernicus to Socrates then...

That philosophy may have divided then... learn to know then to understand now...

Elliot said...

Recent “analytic” work on esp Nietzsche and Hegel, arguably the two most conventionally loathed continental figures, is observably growing more abundant, and the analytic reconciliation with Hegel especially so, which is especially important because arguably Hegel was the source of the split in the first place: Frege preceded Russell and Moore but Russell and Moore consciously and explicitly set out to work against the spirit of Idealism, which they took to be, in a word, nonsense, and from context clues and remarks in various places one can safely assume they were largely concerned with Hegel (although Fichte, Schelling, and a few Anglophone figures like FH Bradley were surely in the mix.) All this to say that sure, the dominant pattern still…dominates, but (in my view healthy) signs of a reconciliation are sprouting up and have been for some years.

Arnold said...

Even global analytics accepts...
...humanities re-cognition, it is on a planet now...

That continental populations view Just-What the other continental populations view...
...with the same functions behaviors and survive and live...

Work in reconciliation and thanksgiving fit well in this Unknown place...