continental philosophy

In my last article, I noted how the social justice movement utilizes critical theory as a means of identifying and tearing down what is considered to be the cultural elite.[1] Critical theory was developed as a means to emancipate groups of people, namely minorities, from social oppression at the hands of the socially privileged. By identifying social privilege in society, critical theory helps minorities seize power for themselves in order to assert their will on society and obtain what they desire. As a result, a cultural revolution is achieved in the spirit of Marxism.

As I have been peeling back the philosophical layers of the social justice movement, one should be able to see how these philosophical positions connect together. There is no ultimate truth about human nature (existentialism) leading people to assert their own subjective experience as truth (radical empiricism). This subjectivity of truth leads people to be suspicious of other people’s claims about reality (hermeneutic of suspicion) since one only has access to one’s own perception of reality. As a result, all claims are merely a creation of a particular individual or society and not a universal claim on humanity (natural goodness). One can only seek out and assert one’s power over others and society (power), which is accomplished by attacking those who hold cultural power (critical theory) and overthrowing their social hegemony (Marxism).

All of these philosophical positions can be summed up in one overarching philosophy: continental philosophy. This type of philosophy emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries primarily amongst philosophers who lived on the European continent. The term was coined to distinguish this kind of philosophy from the analytic philosophy of the Anglo-American world.[2] Analytic philosophy concentrates on a logical analysis of propositions and the linguistic meanings of their terms. Instead of creating a broad philosophical system, analytic philosophy concentrates on precisely defining and understanding more specific topics in a quest for truth.[3]

Continental philosophy takes a different approach. This philosophical system can be summed up by four characteristics.

  • A rejection of the view that natural science is the only or best way of understanding natural phenomena. Science depends on a pre-theoretical substrate of experience in order to operate.
  • This pre-theoretical substrate of experience is variable across time and culture. Philosophy and science cannot be understood outside of textual, linguistic, historical, and cultural factors.
  • The conditions for these experiences can be changed by human agency leading to an emphasis on personal, moral, and political transformation.
  • The nature of philosophy is either irreducibly relative to culture and practice or cannot even be achieved.[4]

In other words, philosophy and science are subjective cultural creations, not objective methods for understanding reality. Personal and cultural bias infects all philosophical and scientific claims rendering them unable to produce absolute truth for all people. As a result, no understanding of philosophy or science can achieve pride of place over others. Any claim otherwise is naïve.

This philosophical tradition, however, is incoherent. Continental philosophy claims that all philosophical/scientific claims and traditions are ultimately relative to the context of culture and history. As a result, no position deserves pride of place over others because no position is absolutely true; yet, Continental philosophy tacitly implies that it is absolutely true and deserves pride of place over other philosophical traditions. Further, Continental philosophy condemns philosophy as hopelessly subjective yet uses philosophy to assert its position as objective truth. In other words, Continental philosophy does not adhere to its own standards.

This rejection of reason, however, has not deterred some in the social justice movement. In 2016, two feminists argued that demanding rational and objective assessments of social justice issues is irrational and oppressive because “rationality” is just a biased, western concept. It excludes the experiences and feelings of people. As a result, such bias and exclusion are grounds for rejecting rationality. This argument had been previously voiced a year earlier by a philosophy professor at Syracuse University who claimed that the concept of “reason” was just a white, western, male construct.[5] Later in 2017, a professor from Furman University claimed that academia’s demand for rational, scientific, and objective arguments is a “problem” because it dismisses the “perspectives” of minorities making such a demand racist and sexist.[6]

The emphasis of these social justice warriors is clear. Reason and science are just social constructs used as tools to promote certain cultural positions and oppress other positions, not tools for obtaining objective knowledge of reality. Ultimately, reason and science are irrelevant in light of the experience of the individual. In fact, reason and science are just extensions of some individual’s subjective experience of reality which has been foisted upon a particular culture according to this position. As a result, reason and science should at best be mollified if not outright rejected.

If this position is accepted, then the claims of the social justice movement have no argumentative weight. The social justice movement’s claims are just as subjective and biased as the claims the movement attempts to critique. If there is no objective standard of reason by which to assess claims, then why should anyone accept the claims of the social justice movement as true? In fact, no philosophical position can be condemned or accepted allowing everyone to do “what is right in their own eyes.” Ultimately, it’s all just spitting into the wind.[7]

The social justice movement is what Continental philosophy has wrought on western society. Reality is perception, reason and science are untrustworthy, and power is everything. Such a worldview is inimical to the biblical worldview; therefore, Christian’s must reject it. Such a rejection, however, is not to say that Christian’s should not be concerned about social issues. Rather, Christians should purse justice in the right way, and the social justice movement is not the right way. If the Church seeks “praise from men more than praise from God,” then all will “fall into the ditch.”

 

 

[1]Graham Floyd “The Philosophical Foundations of the Social Justice Movement: Critical Theory,” The Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2019/10/23/the-philosophical-foundations-of-the-social-justice-movement-critical-theory-graham-floyd-ph-d/, accessed November 20, 2019.

[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_philosophy, accessed November 20, 2019.

[3]Aaron Preston, “Analytic Philosophy,” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://www.iep.utm.edu/analytic/, accessed November 20, 2019.

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_philosophy, accessed November 21, 2019. See Michael Rosen, “Continental Philosophy from Hegel,” in Philosophy 2: Further Thought on the Subject, ed. A. C. Grayling, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

[5]Sian Ferguson, “4 Reasons Demanding ‘Objectivity’ in Social Justice Debates can be Oppressive,” Everyday Feminism, March 27, 2016, https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/03/objectivity-can-be-oppressive/, accessed November 23, 2019;  Xoai Pham, “3 Reasons Its’ Irrational to Demand ‘Rationalism’ in Social Justice Activism,”Everyday Feminism, March 25, 2016, https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/03/why-rationalism-is-irrational/, accessed November 23, 2019; George Yancy and John Caputo, “Looking ‘White’ in the Face,” The New York Times, July 2 2015, https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/02/looking-white-in-the-face/, accessed November 23, 2019.

[6]P. L. Thomas, “White Men of Academia have an ‘Objectivity’ Problem,” Huffpost, June 9, 2017, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/more-on-white-men-of-academia-student-and-self-evaluation_b_593a8204e4b0b65670e56963, accessed November 23, 2019.

[7]It is also ironic that the social justice movement fails to recognize that their philosophical positions are also “white” and “western,” the very things that the social justice movement vehemently condemns. See Graham Floyd, “The Incoherence of the Social Justice Movement,” The Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2018/09/17/the-incoherence-of-the-social-justice-movement/, accessed November 23, 2019.