I sometimes get asked why one should bother attending to continental metaphysics.*
It's an impossible question to answer in generality, because different people asking it usually have such contradictory presuppositions. If the person is anti-metaphysical, any answer has to be directed to the neo-Kantian presumption that proper philosophy is some form of transcendental epistemology. If the person is anti-continental then you have to try to demonstrate that there are resources relevant to their projects. Sometimes this is possible.** Often it is not, especially if your interlocutor has decided a priori that large swaths of contemporary French and German philosophy is "crap philosophy."
I was thus very happy to read this interview with Graham Priest (who himself has wonderful chapters on Heidegger, Hegel, and Derrida in Beyond the Limits of Thought and also delves deeply into the continental tradition in his new book One).
The interview is online at Edinburgh University Press here.* There are lots of juicy tidbits, for example this from Ohm:
The latter half of the 20th century bequeathed the Anglophone world a very one-sided picture of “French Theory.” The soixante-huitards were like our noble savages. Many important voices were silenced, due perhaps to institutional and sociological pressures, as well as individal and collective decisions about what works to translate. In many ways this Romantic image of French philosophy continues today.
Mark's one of the most consistently interesting interlocutors I've ever had the pleasure to work with.** Some of the background is in the interview. As an undergraduate he initially worked in South Asian Studies, and as part of that lived in Nepal during a civil war. Then while finishing his degree at Madison he got interested in the French Theory presupposed by many of the people he was working on. So he went to France and studied there, a process which gave him an interesting distance from some of the canonical American receptions of French thought. Now he's at LSU getting a Ph.D in French and an MA in Philosophy.***
Given all the blogospheric animus (peaking about five years ago) that accompanied Quentin Meillassoux's critique of correlationism, it's extraordinarily cool that the "turn to metaphysics" in recent continental philosophy* has reached a point where you get this level of constructive criticism and dialogue. It will be really cool to read Gratton's forthcoming book. I think everyone who was lucky enough to see his talk on Meillassoux at SPEP this year is excited about it too.
[*Which as three interlocking moments: (1) the new understanding of Deleuze as a speculative metaphysician, (2) Speculative Realism broadly construed (enough to include Badiou, Zizek, and Lacan in the conversation), and (3) a renaissance in the study of German Idealism. I think a fourth moment is a re-examination of the other great soixante-huitards: especially Mailbou, Haaglund, and Goldgaber on Derrida but also Brad Elliot Stone's audacious rereading of the whole tradition in Strawsonian terms (check out the first paper on his academia page).]
I helped Mark Ohm translate Garcia's book,* and our translator's introduction (included in the material EUP posted) is substantive.
One of the really exciting things about Garcia is that he has single-handedly revived the tradition the French novelist/philosopher. La meilleure part des hommes (recently out in English as Hate: A Romance) won the Prix de Flore. It's an amazing novel.
[*Unless you've done this, you have no idea how much work it is. But you learn so much about the philosophy in question (and about language itself) that it's an awesome experience.]
Fichte's discovery is unprecedented in the history of philosophy: it is the insight that the proposition 'I am' expresses an utterly different kind of being than any existential proposition about a thing or state of affairs:14 "The initial incorrect presupposition, and the one which caused the Principle of Consciousness** to be presupposed as the first principle of all philosophy, was precisely the presupposition that one must begin with a fact. We certainly do require a first principle which is material and not merely formal. But such a principle does not need to express a deed [Tatsache], it can also express an action [Tathandlung], if it is permissible to wager a proposition which can neither be explained nor proven here" (GA 1,2:46; W 1:8) (164).
This is how Fichte is able to come up with non-divine instances of Kantian "intellectual intuition,"*** non-sensory experiences that, like concepts, are active. Just as for many theists (Kant included), God's creation and knowledge of the world are not two separate acts, for Fichte we become selves by the very act of gaining knowledge about ourselves.***** This makes self-knowledge radically different from normal varieties of empirical and a priori knowledge.
I'm posting this in the hopes that scholars of François Laruelle can add to the list. As people who have tried to read his difficult texts know, Ray Brassier is on to something when he writes (citation below):
The truth is that his thought operates at a level of abstraction which some will ﬁnd debilitating, others exhilarating. Those who believe formal invention should be subordinated to substantive innovation will undoubtedly ﬁnd Laruelle’s work rebarbative.
But I think that anyone reading the following texts with a minimal level of charity will agree that he is a fascinating philosopher:
Ian James, The New French Philosophy (another great book with a chapter on Laruelle; Notre Dame Philosophical Review by Joe Hughes here, characteristically nice review by Todd May here, very long critical, yet rewarding, 3AM Magazine review by Richard Marshall here),
Imagine for a minute how you might respond if I were to insist that Cornell West can only be understood as a black philosopher and presented my own work in terms of the necessity of overcoming black philosophy. Imagine that my work involved understanding the history of philosophy in terms of a contrast between black and Greek philosophy and moreover understood different black philosophers in terms of their place in this contrast. Moreover, imagine that Cornell West repeatedly publicly stated that he hated my reductive understanding of his work as merely being epiphenomenal aspect of some black racial essence, yet I continued to hector him with it.
Would it be hyperbole to say that I was being racist?
Is it hyperbole to say that the homologous aspects of François Laruelle's work are anti-semitic ("black" being "Jewish" and "Cornell West" being Jacques Derrida)? I write this because I feel bad for snarkily responding to a comment by "APS" to this post. The fact is, I had no idea what she was talking about when she wrote:
So is this what OOO does now? They just write posts about how they are unfairly maligned and treated poorly while their major figures go around accusing people of anti-semitism? Neat. Really makes me want to take you guys seriously.*
APS' comment was not only surreally uncharitable to my post, but I just had no idea who is going around accusing people of anti-semitism. This has prompted quite a bit of e-mail discussions to try to discern what she was talking about. Yesterday we figured it out.
Lovely bit from the preface to Prolegomena to Any Future Materialism: VOLUME ONE The Outcome of Contemporary French Philosophy:
Stuck between capitalist techno-manipulation and its irrationalist discontents, seesawing between the twin big Others of the nature of scientism and the God of superstition within the constraining global space of a neo-liberal economy, humanity is stranded in the waking nightmare of a disgustingly reactionary and horrifically hopeless period of history.
Thus, the main metaphysical task by which Johnston critiques Zizek (earlier work) and Lacan, Badiou, and Meillassoux (in this book) concerns the extent to which they can develop a non-scientistic naturphilosophie that does not fall into superstition. In this context I find particularly interesting Johnston's development of Lacan's claim that extant naturalisms almost always tend to even more strongly embody what they take to be wrong about superstition. There is a lot in here that challenges both naturalists and anti-naturalists, as these debates have been working out over the last century or so.
Here (hat tip dmf) is a really nice interview where Johnston describes to Peter Gratton the trilogy and his conception of transcendental materialism. If anyone has any time, I'd be interested to see in the comments what people think of the interview, especially since I'm still early in the first episode and relatively new to much of the relevant background material.
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.
The usual stories about the history of twentieth-century philosophy fail to fit much of the liveliest, exactest, and most creative achievements of the final third of that century: the revival of metaphysical theorizing, realist in spirit, often speculative, often commonsensical, associated with Saul Kripke, David Lewis, Kit Fine, Peter van Inwagen, David Armstrong, and many others: work that has, to cite just one example, made it anachronistic to dismiss essentialism as anachronistic. On the traditional grand narrative schemes in the history of philosophy, this activity must be a throwback to pre-Kantian metaphysics. It ought not to be happening; but it is. Many of those who practice it happily acknowledge its continuity with traditional metaphysics; appeals to the authority of Kant, or history, ring hollow, for they are unbacked by any argument that withstood the test of recent time.--Timothy Williamson (2004).
Philosophy is not easy.
Judging where 'we' are 'in' philosophy's development is also not easy. The twenty-year data-set (1993-2013) deployed by Healy (here and here) cover much of my time in philosophy. My progress through the discipline (Tufts BA, Chicago PhD, Wesleyan, WashU) meant that until I arrived at Syracuse in 2005, I was oblivious about the dominance of David Lewis. Obviously, I had read some Kripke and Lewis along the way; if my memory doesn't deceive me, Van Inwagen had visited Tufts to give a lecture, and, while I found him impressive, I had thought Dennett had gotten the better of the exchange. Ever since 2005 I have been playing catch-up on recent metaphysics (which I adore). I have been taking comfort from the fact that around the same time even Brian Leiter missed how significant Lewis's legacy was radically reshaping philosophy. For Lewis and the "wave of "old-fashioned" metaphysical theorizing," (Leiter: 6) he inspired is, in fact, a very minor presence in Leiter's entertaining volume (2004) The Future For Philosophy, from which I quoted Williamson above (recall my post, and Mohan's).
Spotting self-serving narrative is easier. Here's a formula: when folk that pride themselves on "logical rigour and semantic sophistication," (Williamson: 128) trot out metaphors ("the test of recent time"), you have a good chance of being served disciplinary-boundary-engendering myth. Above Williamson implies that somehow (Kantian) arguments against metaphysics were shown wanting (by argument). Williamson does not even provide a pro forma reference to an authoritative place where metaphysics was made safe from Kantian criticism. Given that it would be surprising if the Wykeham Professor of Logic were merely bluffing, I welcome suggestions from readers that can direct me to the appropriate place where I can find a decisive refutation of transcendental idealism (say, as reformulated by Langton or Allison).
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.]