Braver Reading Group: Chapter 1: A Rejoinder

[Please note that all the posts related to Braver Reading Group are gathered here.]

Since this reading group is an attempt to approach a common theme – realism and anti-realism – from two perspectives (analytic and continental), I will be attempting the impossible feat of playing a role of a continental person in this awkward tango. I think that Jon’s summary of chapter 1 was excellent and I am simply going to add some observations of my own.

What has frustrated me most in the discussions of realism before was a sort of vague definition of realism that allowed for a number of positions to be characterized as “realist” without much strain. For example, if one were to use the widest possible sense of realism as an affirmation that there exists a mind-independent world out there (Braver’s R1), then Kant would certainly qualify as a realist because he constantly insists on the need to postulate the existence of things-in-themselves and so forth. Therefore I find Braver’s decision to present the definition of realism in a form of a set of theses (R1-R5, and R6 in chapter two) to be quite helpful, even if not uncontroversial. Again, the centrality of Kantian motif, if we can call it that, is affirmed in a very simple yet ultimately insightful way, I think – Kantian motif here is the notion that mind is active/creative and not merely passive in its interaction with the world. Braver’s interpretation of the history of analytic tradition is such that it poses the rejection of Kant by Moore and Russell and the emphasis on R5 (Passive Knower Thesis) as the very center of the history of the present debate.

Now what slightly worries me about this particular interpretation is that Braver seems to be aware of the complex nature of the historical interactions between analytics and continental yet at the same time attempts to simplify this history by reducing it to a number of issues that he will argue allow us to rediscover the common ground or the common concerns. This is not really a criticism, since clearly this is how we would expect a historical analysis to proceed at least to some extend, i.e. by identifying certain central elements and by declaring other elements to be either secondary or non-essential. So we have a Kantian motif of the active mind rejected by Moore/Russell and thus we have the birth of analytic tradition. The next move is a move vis-a-vis attitude toward time – analytic tradition disregards history of philosophy as a history of mistakes (roughly put) and continental tradition incorporate history into every aspect of thought (Hegel). As Braver puts it: “Few other characteristics define the split as clearly as the differing attitude to history and the history of philosophy in particular.” [29] Although various stereotypical presentations of traditions are out there (analytics – clarity, continentals – historical wholism and context), Braver is clearly stating from the very beginning that those characterstics should not be judged as necessarily unique and that it is a matter of training (tradition, in this sense), not so much a matter of internal qualities of a tradition exhibiting themselves in a specific philosophical form/model. That is, I’m assuming, analytics can be historically sophisticated and continentals can be clear and common sensical. So ends the chapter that is aimed at a kind of friendly introduction of both philosophical traditions and an attempt to setup a run through figures and themes that would persuade the analytic side that continental tradition is worth their attention.

I think that this is indeed a noble project and is one of the reasons we have decided to read this book. To counter this noble positive project from the very start with suspicions and intimations of inevitable failure would be unfair and counter-productive. I think it is only fair that we give Braver a chance to show us his main arguments and moves in order to judge this exercise once the whole of it is before us. I think in this sense the book deserves to be read slowly and with some reflection, but also I think that its handy system of references (R1-R6 and A1-A6) plus an impressive handling of secondary literature and knowledge of the field should make this for a very educational experience, so let me end this rejoinder on this positive note (a kind of new attitude for me, I’m trying it out, let’s see what happens).

3 thoughts on “Braver Reading Group: Chapter 1: A Rejoinder

  1. Pingback: A Thing Of This World Reading Group. « Perverse Egalitarianism

  2. Although I see the potential value of attempting to bridge the gap between analytic and continental traditions, I wonder if it is fair to present the problem in terms of just these two large philosophical bodies? I’m sure there are analytic philosophers who have an excellent knowledge of history of philosophy and there are plenty of continental philosophers who are so specialized and narrow that there’s almost no sense of history/development left. Braver seems to suggest that we should eschew stereotypes yet is he not himself perpetuating the most resilient stereotype, namely that there is in fact a great divide between two philosophical traditions as opposed to a great number of small divides and then the existence of a greater variety of philosophical positions and approaches? In other words, are we not trying to solve the problem that is only a problem because we present it as such? How often do analytic philosophers really complaint about continental philosophers and vice versa? Is there really a mood of seeking reconciliation or are the parties quite happy with their respective positions and therefore tend to ignore each other quite successfully? In sum, why bother trying to show that continental tradition of anti-realism is indeed deserving of consideration by analytic side? Aren’t the traditions so far apart at this point that it is easier just to leave it alone and accept the divide?

  3. Lou, I think this is a legitimate set of questions but I think it’s fair for now to assume that we can simply accept the commonsensical view that there are indeed two major traditions of philosophy – hopefully, if Braver’s efforts are fruitful, many would consider if not crossing the line and educating themselves about the other tradition, then at least refering to it in somewhat respectful way.

    I think any attempt to present a history of philosophical traditions with one theme in mind would risk a possible simplification and such, but I think as long as it gives us something to think about, it’s all good (as far as I am concerned).

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