The phrase "contemporary philosophy" is a piece of technical terminology in philosophy that refers to a specific period in the history of Western philosophy. However, the phrase is often confused with modern philosophy (which refers to an earlier period in Western philosophy), postmodern philosophy (which refers to continental philosophers' criticisms of modern philosophy), and with a non-technical use of the phrase referring to any recent philosophic work.
Professionalization is the social process by which any trade or occupation establishes the group norms of conduct, acceptable qualifications for membership of the profession, a professional body or association to oversee the conduct of members of the profession, and some degree of demarcation of the qualified from unqualified amateurs. The transformation into a profession brings about many subtle changes to a field of inquiry, but one more readily identifiable component of professionalization is the increasing irrelevance of "the book" to the field: "research communiqués will begin to change in ways whose modern end products are obvious to all and oppressive to many. No longer will researches usually be embodied in books addressed to anyone who might be interested in the subject matter of the field. Instead they will usually appear as brief articles addressed only to professional colleagues, the men whose knowledge of a shared paradigm can be assumed and who prove to be the only one able to read the papers addressed to them." Philosophy underwent this process toward the end of the 19th century, and it is one of the key distinguishing features of the contemporary philosophy era in Western philosophy.
Germany was the first country to professionalize philosophy. At the end of 1817, Hegel was the first philosopher to be appointed professor by the State, namely by the Prussian Minister of Education, as an effect of Napoleonic reform in Prussia. In the United States, the professionalisation grew out of reforms to the American higher-education system largely based on the German model. James Campbell describes the professionalisation of philosophy in America as follows:
The list of specific changes is fairly brief, but the resultant shift is almost total. No longer could the professor function as a defender of the faith or an expounder of Truth. The new philosopher had to be a leader of inquires and a publicizer of results. This shift was made obvious when certified (often German-certified) philosophy Ph.D.'s replaced theology graduates and ministers in the philosophy classroom. The period between the time when almost no one had a Ph.D. to when almost everyone did was very brief. The doctorate, moreover, was more than a license to teach: it was a certificate that the prospective philosophy instructor was well, if narrowly, trained and ready to undertake independent work in the now specializing and restricted field of academic philosophy. These new philosophers functioned in independent departments of philosophy They were making real gains in their research, creating a body of philosophic work that remains central to our study even now. These new philosophers also set their own standards for success, publishing in the recognized organs of philosophy that were being founded at the time: The Monist (1890), The International Journal of Ethics (1890), The Philosophical Review (1892), and The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods (1904). And, of course, these philosophers were banding together into societies--the American Psychological Association (1892), the Western Philosophical Association (1900), and the American Philosophical Association (1900)--to consolidate their academic positions and advance their philosophic work.
Professionalization in England was similarly tied to developments in higher-education. In his work on T.H. Green, Denys Leighton discusses these changes in British philosophy and Green's claim to the title of Britain's first professional academic philosopher: