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Analytical Philosophy Meets Continental Philosophy: A Transformation of Thought

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The University of Chicago’s Department of Philosophy and Germanic Studies have a strong and prolific cooperation with the University of Leipzig in Germany that has transformed the field of philosophy and enriched the educational experience for students at both institutions. Professors James Conant, the Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities alongside his colleagues, David Wellbery, Chair of the Department of Germanic Studies and the LeRoy T. and Margaret Deffenbaugh Carlson University Professor in the Department of Germanic Studies, Comparative Literature, Committee on Social Thought, and the College, and Robert B. Pippin, the Morris Fishbein Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Science and Medicine have spent the last two decades cultivating a partnership that exemplifies the University’s commitment to field-defining research.  

Re-defining Philosophy  

The 20-year exchange between the University of Chicago and Leipzig University has brought together renowned philosophers of two different fields of thought: analytic philosophy and continental philosophy. Analytical philosophy makes use of formal logic and clarity in arguments and would define most philosophy departments at universities in the US. In contrast, continental philosophy has been the focus of German scholars and includes the work of philosophers such as Søren Aabye Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. The two fields of thought created a divide between German philosophers and American philosophers. Professors Conant, Wellbery, and Pippin led an unprecedented effort to study German Idealism in the context of analytic philosophy. The exchange of ideas connected German and American philosophy, overcoming the intellectual divide and transforming the field of philosophy. 

The contributions of the collaboration between the University of Chicago and Leipzig to the field of philosophy is evident through the projects that have emerged from the cooperation, including a book series entitled Analytischer Deutscher Idealismus. Professor Wellbery notes, “German Idealism and American Philosophy have come together in remarkable ways.”

Professor Conant’s transformative contribution to philosophy and nomination by Leipzig University resulted in the award of the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship in 2017. The award of €3.5 million ($3.9 million USD) over 5-years established the Humboldt Project. Today the project is a multi-level, interdisciplinary cooperation that funds visiting fellowships and professorships for doctoral students, post-doctoral researchers, and faculty from cooperating institutions. 

Impact on Early-Career Scholars

Since 2015, over 65 students have participated in the exchange leaving a lasting impression on students’ academic careers. The bilateral exchange allows graduate students the opportunity to travel to the partner institution, take courses, strengthen their dissertation and language skills, as well as network and present at academic conferences. 

The Chicago Center for German Philosophy and its German counterpart FAGI (Forschungskolleg Analytic German Idealism), have fostered a strong academic community and created an extension of each institution’s campus. The network of support means students are welcomed by friends and mentors and can focus on their research on the day they arrive. This allows for a unique interdisciplinary experience for the exchange students. “I was also able to present my own work to an audience of the preeminent scholars in these fields. It was tremendously helpful to receive direct comments from those writers and interpreters who have inspired my PhD research.” shared Warren Wilson, 2017 Visiting Doctoral Fellows from the University of Chicago. Not only do students interact with top philosophers, but they are able to establish connections and build relationships, which will prove invaluable throughout their careers. The cooperation between UChicago and Leipzig University, with support from the Humboldt Project and faculty at both institutions, continues to foster the next generation of scholars. 

Looking Forward 

The cooperation between the University of Chicago and the University of Leipzig has challenged the conventional thought of analytical and continental philosophy and created a distinct opportunity for incoming students to learn from the scholars that first bridged the gap between the two movements.  While UChicago and the University of Leipzig remain at the core of the cooperation, the partnership has expanded to include Greece, Israel and the United Kingdom, leading to new opportunities for students and research. 



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