Really exciting things are going on in continental metaphysics. Consider the lineup in this issue: Lee Braver, Levi Bryant, Graham Harman, Eileen A. Joy, Adam Kotsko, Christopher Norris, Jon Roffe, Daniel Sacileto, (fellow newappser) Jeffery A. Bell, Manuel Delanda, Markus Gabriel, Peter Gratton, Adrian Johnston, Paul Livingston, John Mullarky, and Dylan Trigg.
I saw Adrian Johnston present his eleven theses at Notre Dame a few weeks ago, and the two hour presentation/discussion felt like it went by in fifteen minutes. I"ll be enthusiastically reading and teaching his work for years to come. Here he is at right on Lacan and John McDowell. It's dynamite stuff.
Nice meditations by Graham Harman HERE on how writing styles are inextricably tied up to different conceptions of thinking.
Harman himself thinks that philosophical texts are more like aesthetic objects in that there is an indeterminacy between content relevant formal properties and content irrelevant formal properties. Different interpretations will take different formal properties to be content relevant (see Nelson Goodman on plagiarism for why this is a constitutive norm for art interpretation). This leads to a an undermining of accounts of content that treat the differentiation between style and content as unproblematic (cf McDowell on scheme-content).
Now what's interesting in terms of the post is that this leads Harman to see the analytic philosopher's typical disagreement with him about form-content indeterminacy in terms of the literary style of analytic philosophy.
This strikes me as rather deep. . . In any case, I could not agree more with the conclusion of the post.
I’ve often quoted the following remark reported to me from the Rorty archive. Rorty joked that “every 10 years or so, a book is published with a title something like ‘Beyond Realism and Idealism.’ And it always turns out that what’s beyond realism and idealism is– idealism!”
I feel much the same way about those who claim to be “beyond” the analytic/continental philosophy distinction. If that happens, it’s simply going to mean all analytic philosophy, with a sprinkling of ambitious ex-continentals who think they can pitch Deleuze or Derrida in ways that analytics will find sensible.
So, allow me to propose a toast to the analytic/continental divide. (With one caveat: we really ought to be reading each other more. There’s always room for that.)
This bears some relation to Helen De Cruz's earlier post today about how one's non-philosophical activities relate to one's philosophy. One very strange convergence happened when the original four speculative realists discovered that, like almost all contemporary horror writers (and philosopher of horror Noel Carroll too), they all shared a reverence for Lovecraft's achievement.
What was supposed to be a two-page introduction ballooned into the first twenty pages. For the final version we'll have to take most of that out, but it was worth working through, and I think worth reading for anyone interested in the hoopla surrounding speculative realism, object-oriented ontology, and the recent explosion of continental metaphysics generally.
The general upshot of the paper is also nice; building on work by me and Mark Silcox, Ohm and I further develop an account of what the actual truth of fictional texts amounts to. The key insight is that narrative texts are thought experiments in the same manner as natural science thought experiments. On our account the only difference between physics and fiction is that the discursive norms surrounding the texts treat the form-content distinction in characteristically different ways. Fun stuff.
The lore we are told inspired by, say, Putnam (not a disinterested spectator) and more recently Huw Price, who thinks we delude ourselves, is roughly this: after the founders of analytical philosophy had successfully ridden philosophy of its thirst for metaphysics, Quine, discerning a crack in Carnap's edifice, re-opened the door to our deposed Queen, μεταφυσική, in "On What There Is" (and "Two Dogmas"); with the door ajar and Alvin Goldman and Dan Dennett distracted by 'naturalizing' everything, Hillary Putnam developed a Quine-ean argument from the authority of science for the really real existence of numbers and, more significantly, David Lewis -- perhaps spurred on by some Antipodes -- drove a truck through the opening by embracing modal realism.
We love linear stories [Carnap --> Quine --> Lewis], don't we, so even the descriptive metaphysics of Strawson's Individuals (1959) can't quite be squished into, shall we say, our conceptual scheme. Now consider the following paragraph written in 1930:
The pursuit of metaphysics as the study of generic characters of existence has been slowly regaining its professional adherents. Once its central theme, reaction to the unchecked flights of nineteenth century romantic speculation has well nigh banished metaphysics as a legitimate subject matter for philosophy. But the problems which professional philosophers refused to consider became acutely pressing in the special sciences. It was to be expected that ere long comprehensive treatises on the nature of existence would appear, fashioned by philosophers were where sensitive to the advances of recent science as well to the ancient tradition that philosophy is the systematic study of being. To the series of distinguishes essays on metaphysics which contemporary philosophers have contributed, these volumes [by Whitehead--ES] are a notable addition.--Ernest Nagel (1930 "Alfred North Whitehead," republished in Sovereign Reason, p. 154.)
Translation (by Mark Ohm, with the assistance of Leah Orth, me, and Emily Beck Cogburn) HERE.
The paper is Millière's inaugural piece for the Atelier de métaphysique et d'ontologie contemporaines. Anyone interested in the history of metaphysics and anti-metaphysics in continental philosophy (as well as contemporary accounts of what exactly metaphysics and ontology are) will need to read Millière's canonical discussion.*
It's a very weird sensation when something you helped to translate ends up being much better English language philosophical prose than anything you've ever penned yourself.
[*The whole ATMOC project is a philosophical gem. Millière's piece is the first publication that we've translated as part of our putting up an English language mirror site HERE. This is just the very beginning of an on-going anglo-continental metaphysics collaboration, since ATMOC will start up again next spring when Millière is back from NYU.]
[Note: In this rather long-winded post I take way too long to get to the punchline. So let me first just say that my students Mark Ohm and Leah Orth, with help from me and my wife Emily, are putting up an English language mirror site of the Atelier de métaphysique et d'ontologie contemporaines (please check out our translation of the Introduction to the Workshop to get an idea of what's going on). As we post translations of each paper or discussion, I'll do a post here at NewApps linking to it and describing the content. Now on to the long-windedness.]
Readers of this blog know of my worry that two factors systematically distort Americans interaction with non-American philosophy: (1) the effective monolingualism of the overwhelming majority of students in American philosophy classrooms, and (2) the fact that it is books that are translated.
Lot's of interesting meta-philosophy to chew on, especially Harman's meditations on all of the good done by the kind of hyper-relationalism that Harman opposes in his own ontology. It's refreshing to see such a vivid case of how one can appreciate positions that one spends much of ones life trying to debunk.
Yes, yes a presumptuous title, since "the" implicates that the list is exhaustive, but Ian James' The New French Philosophers does look like a first rate book. He covers Jean-Luc Marion, Jean-Luc Nancy, Bernard Stiegler, Catherine Malabou, Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou, and François Laruelle. The cover blurb spiels all of these thinkers as the beginning of a post-linguistic turn, of the sort often thought to have begun with Kripke in analytic philosophy.
The book looks like it will pair well with Mullarkey's Post-Continental Philosophy, which covers Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, Michel Henry, and Francois Laruelle.
Some commentators in France are taking Speculative Realism to be a Badiouian movement. This is not completely unfair, as Meillassoux is Badiou's student, and Meillassoux's neo-Cartesian view of primary properties and thinking about set theoretic paradoxes is strongly influenced by his teacher (see Harman's discussion with links to two French Language reviews HERE). But to be fair, Brassier, Grant, and Harman don't share these positions and developed their views independently of Badiou.
Nonetheless, Robert Brandom is correct to stress the importance of Whig histories in philosophy. My Whig history of Speculative Realism includes Graham Priest as a founding member. This has zero biographical accuracy, but it illuminates the central philosophical debates (at least the outstanding disagreements between Meillassoux, Garcia, and Harman) really clearly.
Richard Rorty used to say that every decade or so someone would grandly announce a position or approach that goes beyond the distinction between realism and idealism. As was his wont, Rorty would excitedly digest the new book for a few weeks. But in the end it always slowly dawned on him that the exciting new position beyond realism and idealism was. . . (wait for it) idealism!
Something similar should be said about the history of pronouncements concerning overcoming or going beyond the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy. While such thoughts typically occur in the wake of genuinely important work that brings together aspects of both traditions (Rorty, Margolis, Dreyfus, Wheeler, Shusterman, etc.), it is slowly dawning on me that this promised exciting new paradigm beyond analytic and continental philosophy somehow always ends up being. . . (wait for it) analytic philosophy!
[Note: The following is speculative and not meant to be part of anybody's culture wars. In particular, nothing pejorative about SPEP is intended. If it reads that way, then please point that out in the comments so I can have a chance to explain myself better. Likewise, if your sociological impressions differ from mine, I'd be interested. In particular, when pointing out similarities between European and Analytic philosophical styles, I don't point out that SPEP-type continental philosophy and European philosophy are similar in that both take the history of philosophy much more seriously. But I don't think this affects my main point about the distorting nature of getting philosophy primarily through book translations, as opposed to articles, discussions, and presentations in the original language.]
Forthcoming in Continental Philosophy Review (at my work computer I could access the PDF HERE and an HTML version HERE).
Here's the spiel:
This paper explains the nature and origin of what I am calling Transgressive Realism, a middle path between realism and anti-realism which tries to combine their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses. Kierkegaard created the position by merging Hegel’s insistence that we must have some kind of contact with anything we can call real (thus rejecting noumena), with Kant’s belief that reality fundamentally exceeds our understanding; human reason should not be the criterion of the real. The result is the idea that our most vivid encounters with reality come in experiences that shatter our categories, the way God’s commandment to kill Isaac irreconcilably clashes with the best understanding of ethics we are capable of. I explain the genesis of this idea, and then show it at work in Heidegger and Levinas’ thought. Understanding this position illuminates important aspects of the history of continental philosophy and offers a new perspective on realism.
NewApps did a symposium on one chapter in the book, the table of contents of which can be found HERE.
In our discussion, we focused mostly on Derrida, diagonalization, and self-reflexion, as well as the way Livingston's Derrida ramifies out into some other thinkers of particular newappsy relevance. Given that context, it's really cool to see Bryant's meditations on the political themes that inform the entire book, especially the relevance of meta-logic to the project of critique as it has been understood since Kant.
We all know how easy it is to nit-pick any kind of daring philosophical work to an early dismissal (at least by the nit-picker in question), but I hope that the hairsplitters among us (full disclosure: guilty as charged) can do so in a constructive spirit at least.
Really nice overview of the book HERE. The review is notable for a number of reasons:
(1) For a while now it has seemed incresingly likely to me that when people look back, they will characterize this period as a golden age of continental metaphysics. Garcia's book makes this a much more plausible thing to hold.
(2) But nobody would realize this from looking at SPEP programs (e.g. the 2011 Program), which are largely organized around phenomenology, the parisien soixante huitards, and political critique informed by these two things (and to a smaller extent, the Frankfurt School).* But new continental metaphysicians such as Garcia, Meillassoux, Grant, Bryant, and Brassier (and also to an extent Zizek and Haeglund) not only don't fit into these boxes but also radically critique some of the main figures stored therein, which is maybe why there hasn't been a SPEP round table discussion on the metaphysical turn on the continent or on any of the books of the key figures involved. I don't know. In contrast, consider this University of Bonn Summer Institute on "The Ontological Turn in Contemporary Philosophy," or this Workshop Series at the Free University of Berlin on "Contemporary Realism, Materialism, and Metaphysics." From European conferences it's clear that metaphysics is back in the saddle, but you would not know this from SPEP.
I know that David Chalmers inspired and took part in a renaissance of thinking about whether conceivability entails possibility, and I taught some of that about five years ago.
But now I'm interested in what the best places to look are concerning the issue of whether possiblity entails conceivability. This is an incredibly important issue too, because the contrapositive is presupposed by a lot of fundamental philosophy. For example, Donald Davidson goes from inability to conceive of a language not translated into English, to the impossibility of such a thing. Berkeley's "master argument" can also be presented as going from the inconceivability of an unconceived object to the impossibility of one (the issue of whether conception is a form of perception involving furthe inferences). And the issue is really important for evaluating Quentin Meillassoux's arguments. Perhaps less plausibly, Robert Brandom's writing on Hegelian sense dependency can be presented as using the inference.
Anyhow, does anyone reading this know of some papers or a book that presents a general treatment of the inference itself?
On the other hand, trying to read Derrida never, ever, ever ends well for me. One memorable evening I actually got hives. It's as bad as how Martin Amis describes the effects of the novels of Richard Tull, the protagonist of The Information. No one can finish his last modernist experiment before getting ill. At one point a case of the books almost causes a plane crash. That's exactly how Derrida's prose effects me.
And I never managed to figure out why this was the case until reading Graham Harman's blog today.
Crispin Sartwell, professor at Dickinson College, student of Richard Rorty, famed radical journalist (whose syndicated column appeared in The Los Angeles Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer), author of ten books from places such as Routledge, SUNY, University of Chicago, and Cornell University presses, and owner of the eye of the storm blog, is another analytic philosopher interested in Speculative Realism. Read his blog post HERE.
I (and I'll speak for Protevi and Jeff Bell here too) feel somewhat validated in our belief that the main authors involved in Speculative Realism and Object Oriented Philosophy have constructed a wonderful place for analytic and continental philosophers to meet, have a couple of beers (or shisha!), and discuss metaphysics. Anyhow, please read Sartwell's post if you are interested.
[Of course pluralism doesn't exhaust what's interesting about Speculative Realism. An even more remarkable thing is how many artists and novelists such as Bruce Sterling are reading these books and having it influence their art. My earlier, very quick attempt to situate Speculative Realism from an analytical perspective is HERE.]
Nigel Thrift is a very important researcher in geography, as well as being Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick. Here he comments on the link of blogs and SR:
For one thing that I have found really interesting about the turn to speculative realism is that is has clearly been fuelled by online communities which have turned above all to blogs as an important means of swapping material, revealing first thoughts, and making revisions. I doubt that the growth of speculative realism would have been so insistent without these communities scattered all over the world, or so rapid. Why?
He then offers five blog-related reasons for the quick SR spread. His conclusion about SR:
So did these blogs have an effect? I think that they did. In the case of speculative realism, they allowed the field to agglomerate more quickly than it otherwise would and to gain momentum faster than it otherwise would have. Get enough people to feel that they are in on something and they will want to diffuse it outwards. I think that they have also produced a field which is more heterodox than might otherwise have been the case, more willing to draw on traditions which were not avowedly philosophical: they contributed to an interdisciplinary formation which has one foot in philosophy but another in all manner of intellectual communities.
But his overall conclusion should also be of interest to us in light of the history of philosophy discussions we have had here (most recently this one on Beiser's NDPR review):
In other words, this chapter in intellectual history shows how a new variant of communication can have formative effects, and in fascinating ways. As a result of it and similar episodes in other fields, I am now quite sure that archiving the Internet is a worthwhile activity for intellectual historians of the future because, when the problem is reasonably well-specified, blogs can show communities worrying away at the issues in all but real time.
The post is HERE. In it Levi explains how Speculative Realism arose in part out of a shared dissatisfaction with aspects of the linguistic turn (in analytic and contintental philosophy), phenomenology, and new historicism. [Protevi's recent inteview with Bryant, I think one of the most interesting in the series, is HERE.]
In some of the comments coming from Mohan and Schleisser's interesting discussions about the possible decline of Generalized Philosophy of Science, I tried to argue that the Quinean heritage in analytic philosophy has bifurcated. On the one hand you have an increasingly a prioristic approach to ontology which follows Quine's thinking of theories as formally regimented linguaform things so that issues like reduction and emergence are addressed in terms of possible derivability relations between such logical theories. The apex of this tradition is now in the "to be is to be the value of a bound variable" type metaphysics instanced by someone like Sider writing on the philospohy of time. On the other hand you have Quine's professed anti-apriorism followed to the hilt by people like Mark Wilson, Ian Hacking, and Stephen Stich.
We've all been to philosophy talks where the person asking a question at the end of the talk just goes on and on about something tangential, and it is not even clear what the question really is, and by the end of it you just think that person is showboating. O.K. If you were at the Taylor Carman talk about Heidegger and ontological difference last week at the APA, that was me. I was the irritating question guy.
GII-4. Society for Realist-Antirealist Discussion: Lee J. Braver, A Think of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism 5:30-7:30 p.m. Chair: Mark Okrent (Bates College) Critic: Samuel C. Wheeler III (University of Connecticut) Author: Lee J. Braver (Hiram College)
What were they thinking?!?! This not only neglects to mention two of the other critics (one of whom is me) but it also gets the title of the book wrong. Here's the correct version!
For about a year when I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austion I lived down the street from author Bruce Sterling. All the U.T. undergraduate philosophy club people would show up at his book signings at Europa Books on Gualdalupe Street and drink the free wine and bother Sterling with undergraduate philosophy questions related to cyberpunk (let it be noted that Austin officially jumped the shark when Europa Books closed down). We were pretty pleased with ourselves (free wine exacerbated this), but Mr. Sterling was always great about it, just happy to talk with kids who were passionate about life and ideas. It was really a fantastic thing for him to do and showed me something about what it means to be a good teacher, and more generally a good person.
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.
The Metaphysics and Things conference at Claremont, in association with the Whitehead Research Project that is based at Claremont, brought together most of the leading figures in what has variously been called speculative realism and object-oriented ontology. A common thread in this movement has been the embrace of metaphysics and a critique of what Quentin Meillassoux has called correlationism. Correlationism, as Meillassoux and others understand it, is the position which holds that the real cannot be known as it is in-itself but only as it is given for a consciousness, culture, conceptual scheme, etc. (and hence there are parallels with the analytic tradition and their debates concerning anti-realism). Among those in attendance were Isabelle Stengers, Donna Haraway, Graham Harman, Steven Shaviro, Levi Bryant, Ian Bogost, James Bono, Nathan Brown, and myself. Graham Harman, one of the leading lights of this burgeoning movement, live-blogged the event and thus provided an excellent summary of it.