As an outsider I've been fascinated by watching continental philosophers shake off many of the neo-Kantian aspects of phenomenology in the same way that analytic philosophers earlier shook off many of the (sometimes identical!) neo-Kantian aspects of logical positivism.
What's fascinated me most these past few years is the way in which lessons, themes, and issues from the glory period of German Idealism have been so much better recovered in the continental metaphysics renaissance. That is, one can easily trace the canonical set of issues that move Maimon all the way through Schopenhauer and Hegel* (that were thought to have been dissolved by logical positivists and phenomenologists) as all rising up again in various ways by once renegade Deleuzians such as Protevi and Delanda** and the Speculative Realist writers of the same recent era: Meillassoux, Harman, Hamilton-Grant, and Brassier.***
The reason I think that 2014 is the Clash City Rockers gets released (or perhaps David Lewis visits Australia) moment for the revival of metaphysics in continental philosophy is that so much of this material a deepening of this very narrative of a dialectical recovery of what was covered over by twentieth century neo-Kantian philosophy. After the jump I'll list a few that are the most exciting to me.
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas in the late 80s there was the huge fad of philosophers making fun of professors in other departments who had appropriated philosophical thinking for their own projects.
Honestly, it's pretty easy work for people who spend their lives just studying philosophy to beat up on our brothers and sisters in humanities departments when they enter into conversation with a philosopher. The trick is to bracket the dialectical context of the appropriation as well as treat the norms relevant for engaging in those debates as if they are the same as writing good philosophy. With literarature department deconstructionism, this meant completely ignoring the context of New Criticism and the contribution that the appropriation of Derrida and De Man's writings made with respect to this background.
As a result of the kind of methodological stupidity the revolution very quickly began eating its own,* culminating perhaps in the 1992 petition against awarding Jacques Derrida an honorary Cambridge doctorate. By this point it was clear that American philosophy had completely squandered a very real chance of retaining a role as queen of the humanities. If during theory's heyday, a critical mass of us had actually taken the time (a couple of years hard work in each case) to actually immerse ourselves in the relevant history and canonical texts of other departments doing "theory," philosophy would today widely be viewed as a helpful discipline, as opposed to this weird thing where we spin our own wheels.**
One of the most depressing things to me as a student of continental philosophy is to see how the worst aspects of the the analytic/continental rift are now being replicated within continental philosophy.
[This post was inspired by an email correspondence with John Doris.--ES]
The sciences play an important role in (at least) two ways of doing philosophy these days: (a) as an ingredient or constraint in so-called 'naturalistic turns;' (b) as an object of study in Philosophy of X (POX) -- with X = any particular science -- or General Philosophy of Science (GPOS). This (a-b) is not to deny the existence of other roles of science in philosophy, including: (c) functioning as the exemplary model of doing philosophy--I tend to refer to this as "Philosophy as Normal Science" (PANS; regular readers know I want us diminish PANS) and (d) being a source of discipline of philosophy (as, say, Williamson wishes). In practice, there are lots of blended positions. I will not define "philosophy" or "science", and I recognize that those of us that work in Europe (and, perhaps, elsewhere) are often taught (and paid/evaluated) to think of ourselves as scientists.
Here I focus on some problems that (a) and (b), especially, share in practice. The source of these is that we philosophers are generally not practicing scientists. (What I am aboout to claim also applies to those that have a PhD in some science, but it may not apply fully to those that also have ongoing research projects within some science.) This means that any science we rely on (in a-d) will be inevitably: (i) dated (science can move very fast as Bertrand Russell emphasized--it is hard enough for the professionals 'to keep up'); (ii) potentially misunderstood (we are -- despite our fabulous reasoning and conceptual skills -- not the experts in the science, after all); (iii) a partial perspective (most sciences are much larger than philosophy and can have a huge division of intellectual labor). Even if one were to ignore the effects of (i-iii) in (a-d) bits of science 'travel' from properly (stabilized) scientific domains/contexts to philosophical contexts; it is, thus, very likely that (iv) science will be partially transformed in translation (one need not be a Quine-ean holist, Kuhnian incommensurabalist to see that any disciplinary appropriation is not prima facie truth or meaning/pragmatics preserving). In practice, i-iv can be blended--and, perhaps, the list ought to be longer. I call the effects of i-iv, "NAPPs." The idea is that NAPPs is internal to naturalism (and not to be confused with excesses such as scientism or positivism).
Analytical philosophy has made great
progress over the last century. But its original, necessary biases did some
harm, too. In particular, detailed working knowledge of the history of
philosophy and metaphysics was banished for several generations. While
metaphysics is thriving again, we still lack (despite the brilliance of David
Lewis' modular approach) complete systems of thought that can rival in depth
and interlocking breadth the past masters (say, Suarez, Leibniz, etc.). The
damage has also been more narrow. For example, one of the most obvious
so-called ‘Kuhn Losses’ is our
relative ignorance of the nature and implications of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). This is no
surprise because analytical philosophy was founded in the act of rejecting PSR.
Our forefathers’ attempt to balance between common sense and the truths of
science meant -- as science and the PSR parted ways -- the willing submission to brute, ultimate facts (recall this post).
In Mind & Cosmos, Thomas
Nagel happily embraces “a form of the principle of sufficient reason” (17) in
support of his "common sense" (5, 7, etc.) and against the recent
“orthodox scientific consensus.” (10; 5) Rather than accepting this
"ideological consensus," (128) Nagel insists -- regularly using
language reminiscent of the great Feyerabend -- that "almost
everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the
reductive research program as sacrosanct." (7) While Nagel insists that
the champions of scientific enlightenment are bullies, he treats the
"defenders of intelligent design" with "gratitude" (Plantinga returns the gratitude),
even though Nagel clearly recognizes that once one embraces one's inner sensus
divinitatis one is also compelled in one's judgments. (12)
A classic statement of the PSR is Spinoza's
"For each thing there must be assigned a cause, or reason, both for
its existence and for its nonexistence." (Ethics 1p11d2) That is to
say, any PSR worth having imposes significant explanatory demands (especially
of non-arbitrariness) on any philosophical system in which it is deployed.
Below the fold I critically discuss Nagel's way of combining the PSR and his
attempted revisionary science, but here I just register the marvelousness
of Nagel's deployment of the PSR as an instrument in the service of common
sense! (cf. 91-2) This is certainly an original move in the history of
metaphysics--one that, in a single, magical stroke overturns Lovejoy's long narrative.
I just want to forcefully reiterate something Brian said yesterday in his blog. Mohan Matthen had written.
[H]ere is the summary [of what transpired]: Special Issue [of Synthese] consisting of critiques of intelligent design; Editors-in-Chief correspond with author of Special Issue paper, demanding changes, after that paper has been published on-line; they make these demands without the consent of the Guest Editors; most shocking of all, E-in-C’s insert a disclaimer regarding the Special Issue.
It seems clear that whatever their motives or exculpations, the E-in-C’s acted unprofessionally. Surely they should admit this and apologize. Nobody wants to participate in a “boycott” of philosophers as distinguished as they are, but they made an error in their public capacity, and they should simply make things right, with as little fuss as possible.
To which Leiter responded:
This leaves out only the role that intensive lobbying and threats of 'libel' from the ID crowd played in producing this outcome. . .
This is an extremely important point, possibly the central one.
Some of us knew the empiricists were right all along. Did Bach-y-Rita help with that? I can't remember but his last name stuck in my mind... Did the rewired ferrets - a memory from way back in 2000?
Oh, I know there are plenty of fans of Leibniz — especially in the cocktail 'Leibniz-Whitehead', like this — out there, but sorry: empiricism was right this time. Of course, one can respond to the news in different ways: just accept it — follow the science — or, like Diderot in the Letter on the Blind (for which he got sent to jail; here in a dusty translation), go on to assert a metaphysics in which each sense constitutes a world!
The discussion about empiricism (in this case the pertinence of the distinction between empiricism and rationalism as historical / interpretive categories) continues at the Experimental Philosophy Blog here:I think the 'find' concerning the translation of Diderot is a nice one.
While I agree that the experimental-speculative distinction (on which see particularly Anstey's “Experimental Versus Speculative Natural Philosophy,“ 2005) is quite pertinent - and also relevant to the investigation of someone like Diderot in relation to Venel and the chemistry of their time - and historically appropriate, I continue to be more intrigued by problems concerning the status of early modern empiricism in other directions, such as 'moral', 'medical' (see here and my own later paper, available in shorter form here), and in connection to materialism, here. I emphasize the moral dimension more specifically in an unpublished paper written with Anik Waldow on ... empiricism as a moral project. It's also worth noting that David Norton had a really interesting paper reevaluating the historical status of empiricism in the early 80s ("The Myth of British Empiricism"; see my book notes here). See also Eric Schliesser's thoughts on empiricism earlier on in the life of this blog, here.
Graham Harman has the announcement of an Edinburgh University book series on Speculative Realism HERE. His book on Quentin Meillassoux will be the first in the series.
For a really first-rate anthology that ecapsulates a lot of the main issues, see The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, edited by Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman. The anthology includes essays and interviews by Badiou, Harman, Ian Hamilton Grant, Ray Brassier, Alberto Toscano, Adrian Johnson, Martin Hagglund, Peter Hallward, Nathan Brown, Nick Srnicek, Reza Negarastani, Quentin Meillassoux, Francois Laruelle, Levi Bryant, Steven Shaviro, Bruno Latour, Gabriel Catren, Isabelle Stengers, Manuel Delanda, our very own John Protevi, and the indomitable Slavoj Zizek. Next Spring Semester I'm going to teach this anthology along with some of Harman's own books.
In Harman's post above he characterizes some of the prehistory of the term "Speculative Realism." The first plank is a revolt against the reigning pretense that phenomenology somehow got us past various idealism/realism controversies. Lee Braver's masterful A Thing of this World: A History of Continental Anti-realism went far to verify Richard Rorty's contention about the pose of being beyond realism/idealism disputes. Rorty stated that what always ended up laying beyond the very dispute was in fact idealism. Quentin Meillassoux's After Finitude critiqued the pervasiveness of various unacknowledged permutations of Berkeley's Hylas/Philonous master argument. Permutations of the same idealist argument is almost constitutively made by everyone who claims to deconstruct or somehow undermine the very distinction between realism and idealism. So the first step in speculative realism a rejection of the pretense that phenomenology provided some point where realism/anti-realism issues could be avoided, and to understand that very pretense as just being anti-realism. Graham Harman, Ian Hamilton Grant, and Ray Brassier all share this view.
The second plank is the realism. The involves rejecting the idea that being is in any way necessarily correlated with human existence. But the rejection can take a variety of forms. One rejection is via some variety of panpsychism. This is to accept Berkeleyan arguments as sound, concluding that reality has properties we associate with minds, but to hold that this has nothing in particular to do with human minds. Or one can reject the validity of the Berkeleyan reasoning altogether, which may or may not lead to a form of nihilism (see Brassier's Nihil Unbound). I think Harman's own work is somewhere in the middle of this continuum. In his fantastic book Tool Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects he radically externalizes relations that orthodox Heideggerians take to be constitutive of people/object interactions. For Harman, the Vorhandenheit/Zuhandenheit play always takes place whenever any two objects interact. Critics and defenders have seen this as a subtle form of panpsychism. Harman argues that it is not, but notes that pan-psychism is closer to his view than many fashionable forms of naturalism, which he rejects.
The third plank is the "speculative" part. This is the most difficult to cash out. As Harman notes, the one thing in common to the early speculative realists is an appreciation for Lovecraft. This tempermant shows up in philosophy in a variety of ways: (1) A rejection of strong ties between conceivability and possibility. Reality first and foremost is what is capable of suprising us and problematizing whatever theory we apply to it. Human beings have no very good priveleged access about what is in fact conceivable, because reality always surprises us and overturns previous conceptions. This is why Lovecraft is a patron saint, because much of his fiction describes the indescribable as indescribable (Neal Hebert and I argue as much in a paper for me and Silcox's forthcoming anthology on philosophy and Dungeons and Dragons). Lee Braver actually has a really manuscript outlining a guerilla history of continental philosophy in terms of this very trope (I think he is developing it into a book project). Braver traces its first articulation to Kierkegaard. On its own in the history of continental philosophy it tends to lead to neo-Kantian "realism of the remainder" type realisms. The Object Oriented Ontology of Graham Harman and Levi Bryant has as its founding moment the rejection of realism of the remainder, the view that the real is some inarticulate and inarticulable mush (see Harman's Guerilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things and Bryant's forthcoming Democracy of Objects). [The way in which this rejection is made actually ties their work to Graham Priest's main argument in Beyond the Limits of Thought in interesting ways]. But Harman and Bryant do accept the trope that part of what constitutes the real is the ability for novel things to happen, they just show what happens when you marry this view to a metaphysical commitment to objects that exist independently of humans. In terms of telling a new history of continental realism,there are open and interesting questions concerning the extent to which the "continental materialist" tradition tracing from Marx and Nietzsche through to Foucault, Deleuze, and Guattari provides something beyond realism of the remainder realism. The extent that it is fair to characterize Protevi and Delanda as Object Oriented Philosophers is the extent to which their development of these thinkers gets us beyond realism of the remainder. (2) Commitment to strong views of emergence. In the Object Oriented vein, when objects interact in novel ways, novel properties come to the fore. Again, Harman is able to articulate this beautifully in terms of a radical externalization of the way Heidegger presents the scheme/content distinction. My own work with Mark Silcox on emergent properties (we have papers in American Philosophical Quarterly and the British Journal of Aesthetics, and a chapter in our video games book) is part of what brought me into the fold. (3) A rejection of naturalism. Again, this is not necessarily to affirm anti-realism about science. It's just the view that there is more to reality than our scientific theories capture. C.S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga (who cites Lewis), Robert Brandom, and John McDowell all make arguments similar to some made by speculative realists. In the book proposal I am going to make to this series, one of the things I will try to do is to motivate Harmanian themes in part by critiquing the quietism of Brandom and McDowell, while accepting their anti-naturalism. The resulting view is a recognizable variety of speculative realism.
Anyhow, given my analytic background of writing about Dummett, and recent interests in Pittsburgh Hegelianism, I find Speculative Realism and Object Oriented Ontology to be among the most exciting things going on in contemporary metaphysics. Hopefully the book will be able to substantiate this claim from an analytic perspective. Being fair to McDowell is probably going to add a year of writing time though.