Near the turn of the 20th century, and certainly thereafter, Philosophy literally exploded in several challenging directions of inquiry. Contemporary Philosophy, like Modern Philosophy, is a misleading historical term, and generally, "contemporary" is slowly coming to mean only that Philosophy done from around the time of the first World War to the late seventies or eighties of the twentieth century. Newer philosophers are finding connections to their history and heritage in unexpected places, and thus, 21st century philosophy may become very different from its predecessor.
Analytic and ContinentalFor much of the twentieth century, Philosophy ran along two fairly independent - and not infrequently antagonistic - streams, roughly corresponding with whether the philosopher in question belonged to the English-speaking world - the British Isles, North America, Australasia - or Continental Europe. The former approaches, which began with mathematical logic, continued through logical positivism and later linguistic philosophy and ordinary language philosophy, were broadly dubbed "Analytic Philosophy," interchangeably with "Anglo-American Philosophy." The latter, which initially consisted mainly in Phenomenology and Existentialism, and later came to incorporate a great deal of Marxist and Psychoanalytic-Social Theory, Literary Criticism, and Structuralism and Post-Structuralism, was dubbed "Continental Philosophy." By the end of the twentieth century, the two streams freely, if still not frequently, interacted, and an increasing number of professional philosophers were of the opinion that the "analytic/continental" distinction at least did not determine the "good philosophy/ bad philosophy" distinction, and arguably didn't pick out any terribly useful distinction at all.
Analytic philosophers, including Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, were centered in Oxford and Cambridge, and were joined by logical empiricists emigrating from Austria and Germany (for example, Rudolf Carnap) and their students and others in the United States (such as, W. V. Quine, Donald Davidson, and Saul Kripke, and other English-speaking countries (for example, A. J. Ayer). Gottlob Frege, a German who never worked in the English-speaking world, is arguably the foundation of this tradition, but it began with Russell and Moore in Cambridge at the turn of the century. Russell, A.N. Whitehead, and Wittgenstein (an Austrian) did groundbreaking philosophical work in Math and Logic. This quickly connected them with the Logical Positivists, a group of scientists and philosophers in Vienna centred around Carnap, Otto Neurath, and Moritz Schlick, and with the logical empricists in Berlin, centred around Reichenbach and Hempel, and later with a number of brilliant schools of logicians that sprang up in Poland.
During the thirties members of these various groups migrated to the United States, helping to lay the grounds for American Analytic Philosophy. W.V. Quine , who was influenced by all of these (particularly Carnap) is perhaps the key figure here. Also during the thirties Ludwig Wittgenstein came to doubt the philosophical tenability of the very elaborately Logic-based Philosophy he had earlier done, and stressed the importance of studying "ordinary language" and practical usage, as being crucial to untangling philosophy. His work was initially influential at Oxford, and after the posthumous publication of his many manuscripts, has spread through all of Philosophy.
continent of Europe (especially Germany and France), the phenomenologist Germans Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger led the way, followed soon by Jean-Paul Sartre and other existentialists; this led via other "isms" to Postmodernism, which dominates schools of Critical Theory as well as Philosophy departments in France and Germany, which continue the projects that these philosophers have pursued.
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Some content adapted from the Wikinfo article "Contemporary_philosophy" under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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