[If you’re just joining us, please click on the cover icon on the right side of the page to see the post that gathers all the discussions of Braver Reading Group, or click here]
It begins. I think it’s fair to say a few words about the general goal of this reading group as Jon and I initially envisioned it: on one hand, the immediate goal is to slowly read through Lee Braver’s erudite account of the relationship between analytic and continental traditions as it shows itself in the discussions of realism/anti-realism; on the other hand, we would like to present the issues raised in the book for discussion and see where it takes us, i.e. we do not feel limited by the book’s presentation of the issues and will take the discussion wherever it leads us. Braver’s book proposes to look at continental tradition and its position of anti-realism and present the issue to analytic side in somewhat familiar terms in order to show that “we are not so different after all”!
We hope to post on one chapter a week (total of 8 chapters) and discuss various aspects of the chapter in whatever way that seems appropriate. Jon and I will alternate on posting a main description and discussion of the chapters, with an option of posting a rejoinder to the other’s post on the matter. As we hope it will become quite clear soon, we come from different traditions and different sets of questions, concerns, philosophical interests and modes of engagement. This is our first attempt at a public reading group, practice that has been present on the blogs for some time now and we are open to any suggestions that can make this experience enjoyable and profitable for everyone involved.
Braver’s book opens with a general discussion of the present situation where there are two clearly distinct traditions of philosophy: analytic and continental. Braver compares this division to that of 18th century’s divide between rationalists and empiricists and offers a first glimpse of his solution – the same way Kant was able to negotiate the issues of both rationalism and empiricism in the 18th century, we are in need of a discourse, an approach, a figure that would do the same for us today. Kant’s main idea, according to Braver, was that “mind actively processes or organizes the experience in constructing knowledge”  or that “the mind is more like a factory than a mirror or soft wax.” [ibid] Braver’s intention in the book is, to put it shortly, to attempt to bridge the gap between analytics and continentals by drawing attention to the very simple but thought-provoking fact: Kant’s solution to the problem of rationalism vs. empiricism is still valid as a possible solution of the problem of analytic vs. continental, if we can sucessfully show that both sides are still preoccupied with the issue that can at least provisionally be labeled a “common problem.”
This preoccupation with the “common problem” or the very existence of the “common ground” is itself somewhat contested, as reference to Rorty quickly reveals. Braver cites Rorty’s “Philosophy in America Today” (found in Consequences of Pragmatism collection) where Rorty states that the very project of bridging the gap between analytic and continental traditions is doomed from the very beginning (my words, see Braver’s quote in the endnotes) because there’s really no common ground between the traditions. Braver explains that his own goal is not to somehow heal the wound and bring the traditions back together, but to attempt to look at the problem from a different perspective, i.e. to argue that there might be a common problem, even if there isn’t (yet) any common ground. In this case, one might think of, if this image helps at all, a long-term couple that split up some time ago and there’s an effort of many of the couple’s mutual friends to bring them back together. Rorty here is a type of friend who says: “Look, everyone – I know you all want these two to get back together, but they’ve moved on since the split and seem pretty happy, even if occasionally they really get into it at a dinner party or a barbeque. Get over it and let them do whatever they want.” Braver, on the other hand, although do not quite argue for their getting-back-together, contests Rorty’s diagnosis with a hesitant: “Well, I don’t think they should get back together and get married or something, but I find this position that they somehow are irreconcilable at this point to be at least worth contesting. It’s true, Ann and Conrad (sorry, can’t come up with better names) clearly moved on but what has happened since the fateful split is not really a splitting of their now mutually exclusive lives, but a kind of separation that produced two distinct philosophical styles that still deal with a central philosophical issue of realism vs. anti-realism.”
In other words, to extract myself from the awkward metaphor above, Braver’s plea is that we should at least give his historical argument a chance, that we should try to take a look at contemporary philosophy as a whole and see if we can bring the main camps closer together, i.e. if we can at least make them respectful and friendly toward each other (if only so that we can endure their company whenver they get together, which is not that often, of course). To cite Braver:
The better resolution of the situation is not mutual ignoring and ignorance, but a dialogue between the two branches in which each sifts through the resources of the other to find elements that can address issues of interest as well as add new topics, and each deploys its own strengths to highlight and criticize the other’s unnoticed presuppositions and biases. For this situation to come about, there would have to be common topics on which both branches have produced quality work. There would also have to be a way for those working in the different traditions to recognize and understand each other, since these discussions are embedded in vocabularies, extended conversations, and references to intellectual landmarks which require a considerable background. 
What are these common topics? Braver proposes to argue that it is indeed the concern with Kanti’s fundamental insight that mind is active. Therefore the goal of the book is to show that Kant’s idea is seminal for both camps and thus to prepare the ground for a dialogue. The rest of the introduction briefly sketches the book’s main stages and you can see them easily if you glance as the table of contents. Generally, Braver is writing from an analytic tradition and proposes to address his analytic audience in order to persuade it that continentals are people too, so to speak.
As an amateur Kant enthusiast, I find the setup to be quite interesting. Braver brings up Kant (a “name” and that should please the continental crowd) and a problem (yay for “problems”) therefore already signaling that he is going to doing a brave (sorry, couldn’t resist) balancing act, soliciting hits from both analytic and continental folks. The first two chapters of the book deal with defining the issue of realism/anti-realism and discussing Kant, so it should be clear how this project develops from the opening 60 or so pages.