Lee Braver and the Analytic/Continental Divide

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the pernicious issue of the “divide” between analytic and continental philosophy, but few have dedicated full-length projects to explicating the differences. Lee Braver’s book attempts to do just this. Instead of snidely accusing those who take the divide seriously in philosophically interesting ways, he does go as far to spell out a clear philosophical disagreement that characterizes the divide: namely, the realism/anti-realism debate. To his credit, his A Thing of this World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism is remarkably precise—especially regarding the complex manifestations of anti-realism as a phenomenon that tracks the continental side of the divide.

According to Braver, there are at least six meaningful ways in which the anti-realism/realism debate manifests itself in philosophy after the divide, including: (1) “The world is not/is dependent on themind; (2) Truth is/is not correspondence; (3) There is/is not one true and complete description of how the world is (4); Any statement is/is not necessarily either true or untrue; (5) Knowledge is/is not passive with respect to what it knows; (6) The human subject does/does not have a fixed character.

Of course, there are exceptions to this idea that continental philosophers tend to identify with different variations of anti-realism and analytics with realism—some of them too prominent to ignore.For what it is worth, though, Braver’s history diagnoses the divide in a substantial and fruitful way. This is especially true when comparing his view with mainstream alternatives, some of which have already been discussed.  So, while this is a rigorously argued and commendable attempt at diagnosis, it is of little help when it comes to providing a coherent way forward. As a continental himself Braver seems to engage the supposed realism of analytic philosophy as if it were a reactionary chunk of petrified wood that has nothing to teach us. The mysterious yet pernicious divide remains.

Against different versions of the “superficial” thesis (that which assumes that the divide marks only superficial differences between the two styles of philosophy), then, Braver’s view represents perhaps the most robust case for a “substantive” or non-superficial understanding of the divide.

To me, though, there are at least two main questions that we should attempt to answer when dealing with this problem:

  1. Is there an identifiable philosophical disagreement that characterizes the fundamental disconnect between analytic and continental philosophy? If so, what is it?
  2. How is it possible to frame a mode of inquiry in which meaningful disagreement or agreement can be reached between analytic and continental philosophers?
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