God as the Eternal "No" - Illness, Disease and Catastrophe in The Ages of the World

Posted by | Chris | 2.1.13 | 3 Comments

The module taught by Iain Grant on UWE's MA in European Philosophy is Past-Kantian Philosophy. This year we read Hegel's Difference essay followed by Schelling's Ages of the World (subsequently WA). Since Alex has recently resurrected this blog, I thought I might write up the notes from my recent MA presentation to share some of my research.

I want look at destruction and disorder, or, in the terms Schelling uses, illness, disease and catastrophe. There are two main reasons for this. The first is personal and stylistic: some of the most striking passages in the WA concern the dark primordial forces of life. The second is philosophical: to be able to account for chaos is necessary. Extinction and ecological disaster are just two examples and if your philosophy is incapable of explaining or at least accounting for these forces then it is inadequate to the world we find ourselves in. I also have in mind that Schelling's account of life poses problems autopoetic biology and I'm expanding this line of thinking in my essay. There is also a third reason for looking at the dark powers in Schelling's work, an understanding of which came to me only after I had begun this research: chaos lies at the heart (literally and metaphorically) of Schelling's metaphysics and an investigation of it take us to the most interesting questions posed by his work.

To begin, I had a question that stuck with me: why is God necessarily the eternal “No” before he is the eternal “Yes”? First, there is a important distinction between God and Godhead. The Godhead is the source and God the consequent nature. As the source the Godhead is absolute freedom and the infinite and eternal power to be anything. There is nothing that it cannot be, for were it to be limited in any way it would not be infinite and eternal and it would become a necessary being. As such it contains all contradictions, or rather it is the source of all possible contradictions.

The Godhead can also be linked with Schelling's concept of “unprethinkable being”. This unprethinkable being is a concept, and therefore thought, but also the being which precedes all thought and is therefore totally unthinkable. The absolute freedom of such being is necessary, because this freedom includes the potential to become anything without limit. If anything is made necessary about this being, whether transcendentally or dialectically, then it becomes thinkable and simply another limited object for thought which is thereby not the absolute.

The Godhead is that which both does and does not have being. It is not Being because were it so then its contradiction would become eternally actual. It is existent but not actual – it is potential - and nothing in it could compel it to actualisation (since it is absolute freedom). It is the infinite power to be.

Describing such a concept of unprethinkable being or the Godhead brings about an almost absurd question: What brought the Godhead to revelation? Schelling answers:
if the Godhead assumed Being and actively revealed itself through Being (which we must discern as actually having happened), then the decision for that could only come from the highest freedom. (WA: 74)
Two concepts must be unpacked in this quote. We discern - we recreate in the present - revelation as happening and as having happened. There is decision – a cutting apart of itself. This revealed being is of the Godhead and a part of it, but no longer the Godhead. This is the first moment of revelation of the nature of God.

The first moment is the eternal “No”. The No is an attracting force which draws Being toward it and consequent upon which the Yes or affirmative force is brought forth. Why is the No first? The No is first because it ensures the consequent freedom of God. The first force of God's revelation becomes the ground on which God may act freely.
God is, in accordance with its nature, a consequently, necessarily self-revelatory being (WA: 79)
  • God has a nature – it has a ground from which it acts.
  • God is self-revelatory – the becoming of God reveals itself to itself.
  • This self-revelation is consequent – upon the original cision of the Godhead and the ground which God gives itself.
  • Self-revelation is consequently necessary – the force which draws Being to itself is a necessary ground of Beings revelation.
There is no revelation without ground. The alternative to this would be the free affirmative prior and then consequently the negatively determined. This Schelling describes as “incomprehensible” (WA: 12) The traditional Christian concept of God as having all the predicates of perfection is a self satisfied stasis in which no development is possible. Such a God can only spit out copies and real creation is unthinkable.

What is interesting is the language that Schelling uses to describe the first force of God: dark, primordial, blind.
In accord with its ground, therefore, nature comes out of what is blind, dark and unspeakable in God. Nature is the first, the beginning of what is necessary in God. The attracting force, the mother and receptacle (WA: 21)
It is also fascinating that God is not originarily good.
God himself moved only in accordance with his nature and not in accordance with his heart or in accordance with love (Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom (subsequently FS): 55-6)
Freedom depends upon the dark force as its ground. The Yes comes in response to the No and Love subordinates the chaos which is primordial and necessary in God.

The tension of the forces brings about the systole and diastole of life. This is the living tension through which beings are maintained. The intensification of the forces is an element of Schelling's work which I need to understand better. In particular, the way in which the positive and negative forces may be intensified through the powers. The former brings the tension of forces into a unity, the latter brings the dissolution of unity and a return to chaos.

The dissolution of unity is important, because no unity can ever be an absolute unity. Only the Godhead has the power to absolutely unify opposing powers and the dissolution of the tension of potencies in any being would be its death. Thus, the unification of the dark force in any being is not the end of that force. It is, as Schelling describes it, the sublimation of that force. As sublimated the dark force lies within order and:
the unruly lies ever in the depths as though it might break through, and order and form nowhere appear to have been original, but it seems as though what had initially been unruly had been brought to order. This is the incomprehensible basis of reality in things, the irreducible remainder which cannot be resolved into reason but always remains in the depths (FS: 34)
This is order from chaos, always with the possibility of a return of the sublimated forces and a return to chaos. It is this element of Schelling's work that I'm writing on now in relation to autopeosis.

Grant on eliminativism

Posted by | Chris | 24.9.11 | 1 Comment

What Iain Grant thinks about eliminativism:
In many ways, Schelling’s naturalistic realism offers a counterpoint to the eliminativist strategy in contemporary neurophilosophy: if ideation is electrochemistry, electrochemistry grounds, rather than undermines, all ideation. Therefore, to eliminate one ideation (that has its electrochemical grounds) in favour of another cannot be grounded in physics. (Philosophies of Nature After Schelling: 188)

[continued from the above in a footnote] This is because the metaphysics of eliminativism are complex, involving an epochal or futuralizing Nietzscheanism and a radically synthetic theory of constitutive identity construction: neurolinguistic identities do not simply represent the fruit of epistemological and empirical researches, but trigger a gestalt-shift and reinvent the world. Folk psychology is condemned therefore for its lack of physicalist imagination, rather than any missing physical grounds – what philosopher could disagree? (Ibid: 197)

Is it possible that there is a realism which is in some sense eliminativist? Because if so, then there are all sorts of ontological problems with that. If not, then, if nothing can be eliminated, then we have a situation where it no longer makes sense to ask, ‘What is the difference between a hobbit and a quark?’, or for that matter, between Rorty and Husserl! Actually, is there one? Or rather what are the differences? There are several differences between these entities, but to use a difference as a disqualification for their being ‘real’ or not is simply to beg the question about realism, fundamentally. And for that reason, it seems to me that a non-eliminative realism is committed to becoming a form of idealism, in which case we merely extend realism to the Ideas: In which case we no longer have the problem of the separativity, the subtraction, of ideation from nature, which you were suggesting might be a problem. (Collapse 3: 321)

So, for example, this is the method of eliminativism: I’m investigating an object, call it a car, and this car, it is alleged, drives by itself. Now my job is to explain how it is that the car drives, and at the end of the explanation it should be clear. The false explanations have been gotten rid of and a good explanation put in their place. So, let’s say all those criteria have been satisfied, let’s say that is achieved. What has the theory achieved at the epistemic level? It’s managed to produce exactly that explanation. What’s achieved ontologically? It’s managed to commit itself to an ontology which requires that things that do not exist exist in order that they be eliminated. So it’s ontologically inconsistent but epistemologically necessary. I can see its virtue, or I can see its requirement epistemologically. But the question must be put, I think, the other way around: If we work out what the ontology demands, then that provides a means of working out answers to the differences between good and bad explanations, whatever they might be. My suspicion is that otherwise we find ourselves backed into an unsustainable metaphysics of not-being. (Ibid:365)

Hot off the virtual press.

Posted by | Chris | 18.6.11 | No Comments

Essays by Paul Ennis, Graham Harman and others (plus the sound of your brain) in Continent:

The first issue of the long awaited Thinking Nature:

Idealism: The History of a Philosophy - Review

Posted by | Chris | 20.5.11 | 6 Comments

Idealism: The History of a Philosophy achieves its subtitle with admirable and compelling clarity, weaving an intellectually invigorating narrative of two and a half millennia of idealist thought. An area of philosophy much maligned, and, in the estimation of the authors, much misunderstood, the book sets out to rediscover the potential of the Idea by explicating the common themes and problematics of its thinkers and to counter criticisms by showing the powerful conceptual possibilities and contemporary relevance of idealism.

Divided first into sections (ancient, early modern, German, British and contemporary idealisms) and then into chapters, each focuses on a thinker or group of thinkers representative of a certain branch of idealism. The great strength of these chapters is their condensation of an easy to understand introduction to some of the important features of each philosophers work. History is always partial of course, and Idealism is no exception. The argument made throughout the book is for a continually developing philosophy, bringing the power of the Idea to bear in broad range of topics – including those often considered as antithetical to idealism.

The central claims of the authors, repeated and rehearsed in arguments throughout the book, are:
  • Philosophical idealism need not exclude either naturalism or realism, nor is it necessarily anti-science.
  • Idealism is instead an extreme or cosmic realism, a realism about all that there is.
  • In particular it is realism concerning the Idea: the cause of an organisation that is not formal, abstract or separable “but rather concretely relates part to whole as whole [...] such an idealism is a one-world idealism that must, accordingly, take nature seriously” (8)
In this regard Ideas (capitalised to make clear the difference from mere 'ideas' or the thoughts of finite rational beings) are the loci around which every philosophy here included moves. Differing in their conceptualisation, what they have in common in every thinker – whether explicitly or not – is their role as the powers of being which structure and organise existence.

The book begins as it means to continue: by challenging the casting of idealism as an early modern phenomena that makes reality entirely mind dependent. The first idealism, it is argued, comes from Fragment B3 of On Nature, the Parmenidean identity thesis: “it is the same thing that can be thought and that can be” (Cornford 1939: 34) (alternatively: “thinking and being are the same” (Philips 1955: 553)). This is an ancient idealism that is explicitly metaphysical and cosmological in scope. The book sets a pattern for what is to follow: by engaging with primary works, pointing attention to translation, interpretation and reception, and critically examining these in the context of a consistent case for idealism as a philosophy of pressing relevance in contemporary discussions.

Parmenides' philosophy is taken as the starting point for Plato's work, presented here as a one-world metaphysics of the dynamics of the Idea. Plato grapples with the problems of monism and questions of being, becoming and non-being. His dynamics are here described in terms of attractors – immanent powers combining efficient and final causality – through which nature becomes what it is. The Neoplatonists develop this physics of the Idea and continue to question the role of causality, the problems of the production and differentiation of nature and the place of reason in the world. Platonic physics sets the standard for all subsequent idealisms, and its focus on natural production and cosmology mark them as truly global in their purview. The chapter makes a clear and well-structured argument for a one world Platonic physics, a view that is perhaps not widely accepted but on which attention is beginning to focus. Indeed, the argument here is considerably clearer than it is in Grant's Philosophies of Nature After Schelling. This comparison makes clear the consistent clarity of writing in Idealism and it's potential audience which could include interested under-grads, the curious uninitiated and also those more experienced philosophers who are perhaps no less unfamiliar with idealism as it is presented here.

Descartes and Malebranche are taken as having as given clear articulation to the problems of Idealist dynamics when they are limited to a certain segment of reality. In particular this early modern philosophy is a response to materialist science in a retreat to phenomenalist idealism. In contrast to Plato's global metaphysics, idealism here begins its retreat to the minds of individual philosophers to escape the problems of science and nature. This circumscription of the domain of the powers of Ideas is a consistent theme of the book - running into 20th century neo-Hegelenianism - and a sticking point for criticism of insufficiently global philosophy that refuses the 'extreme realism' the authors argue is the greatest legacy of idealism.

The tension of philosophy and science also introduces another point of insistence for the authors. If much of 20th century continental philosophy has displayed an illiteracy, or worse, disdain, of science that has left it unable to face up to the problems and developments of the 21st century, this does not mean that a newly engaged, naturalistic and speculative philosophy cannot make productive use of the conceptual legacy of idealism. If idealism is extreme realism the one thing it is surely opposed to is reductionism, especially mechanical materialism. To admit “a real distinction between matter and spirit leads ultimately to an insoluble problem regarding causality. If mechanist matter is inert and lifeless then how can it cause consciousness?” (204). If the phenomenalist or subjectivist idealists err by retreating into a world of sensation it is not a failure of imagination but the problem of causation. The dynamics of the Idea provide the motor of becoming, but is there any reason why this dynamism need be limited to consciousness? Properly oriented idealist naturalism is possible and there is no reason, as Galen Strawson has argued, why idealism might not also be a form of materialism (quoted 12).

Interestingly Berkely is one of the stars of the book. Often considered paradigmatic of subjectivist idealism, this conception is complicated and set in context. Whilst clearly the most extreme of the phenomenalist idealists the problem of solipsism, the common functioning of minds and the eternal existence of Ideas as the ground of the temporal are all addressed by Berkeley. His philosophy takes a small section of the book, but critics of idealism who suggest that “idealism = Berkeleyanism” are referred to the scope and urgency of idealist thinking, which Berkeley himself manifested, and which this equation ignores.

The German idealists occupy the middle section of the book and this period of sustained development of idealist thinking is exhilarating to behold. Each chapter could serve as an introduction to the specific philosopher, but the focus of the book also draws out elements of their thought in relation to the eternal and the temporal, the structuring role of Ideas, and the dynamics of thought and nature. The final chapter of this section on Hegel is a high point of the book, rightly proclaiming Hegel as one of the most accomplished thinkers of the Idea – expanding and developing idealism through his concept of the 'concrete universal'.

The chapter on Hegel especially (but also Kant and Fichte) serves to highlight one of the potential criticisms of the book however – namely that criticism of the idealists themselves is minimal. The philosophy of every thinker included here is presented as part of an argument for a continuing problematic of idealism and as such the positive aspects of their work are foregrounded. The failures, blind-spots and omissions are only hinted at or addressed briefly. For example “Hegel’s stupefying judgement in the Encyclopaedia (§ 339) that there is nothing philosophically pertinent in geology” (The Speculative Turn: 41), obviously recognised by Grant, is not raised here. The reason for this generous dispensation is obvious however: there is ample literature devoted to criticisms of idealism, so much so that in the opinion of Dunham, Grant and Watson that these criticisms have become caricatures. The purpose of Idealism is to redress the balance and to make a case by careful engagement with these thinkers on their own terms, to unearth the concepts which animate their thought and to make their legacy a viable and fertile are for future investigation. The book does highlight problems with its protagonists, especially in later chapters, but these are set in the context of a philosophy which can provides the resources for engaging and overcoming these problems rather than simply dismissing them - either as unproblematic or uninteresting.

The penultimate section of the book takes a look British idealism from the early twentieth century. This is a fascinating section showing the development of German idealism (especially Hegel) in a different context, and, most interestingly, surveying the historical roots of the analytic-continental divide. It is a point to remark upon that G.E. Moore's Refutation of Idealism (1903), and the post-idealist generations of philosophers, for example Russell and Frege, are imbued with overt an Platonism. In this way Idealism also weaves its argument, putting forward Hegel as a presence in philosophy whose impact has not yet been fully understood, and whose development of the Idea holds the seeds of changing attitudes and approaches to the old divisions.

Two brief surveys of idealist science are over all too quickly before the final chapter on contemporary idealisms. The scientists chosen for this idealist experiment are Maturana & Varela and Stewart Kaufman. The case for Maturana & Varela's idealism is intriguing since it is made against their own arguments, revealing a tension in their work between idealist realism (organisation, autopoesis, Idea), Kantian critical impulses (disavowing organisation as a fact of nature), and a commitment to mechanical materialism. That idealist science is here biological science will do little to quiet critics of vitalism, though quick reference to Lee Smolin and Julian Barbour, whose fields of physics and cosmology could not be more wide ranging, show the potential of idealism in science. The chapter ends with a quote from Smolin, in what could easily be a call to action: “In the past, philosophers like Leibniz did not hesitate to tell physicists when they were speaking nonsense. Why now, when so much is at stake, are the philosophers so polite?” (Smolin 1999: 244; quoted 255).

There is more packed into the books 300 pages than this review can do justice to and the shear number of interesting avenues of thought opened here is a testament to the authors achievements. Deserving more than this brief mention other highlights include the survey of neo-Hegelians, including Žižek, which is critical of the insufficiency of metaphysics sublimated to ethical axiology. Also, the section on Whitehead, especially in contrast with a potentially even more exciting and much too brief look at Deleuze, whose presentation as an idealist is wonderfully heterodox. These thinkers and there reading here have much to add to recent debates, including that between Grant and Harman (The Speculative Turn: 21-46). Idealism is a work of impressive study and a stimulating project that, whatever your position, will be a cause for new thinking and a challenge to our ideas.

Thirst for Annihilation

Posted by | Chris | 4.4.11 | 1 Comment

Particles decay, molecules disintegrate, cells die, organisms perish, species become extinct, planets are destroyed and stars burn-out, galaxies explode…until the unfathomable thirst of the entire universe collapses into darkness and ruin. Death, glorious and harsh, sprawls vast beyond all suns, sheltered by the sharp flickerlip of flame and silence, cold mother of all gods, hers is the deep surrender. If we are to resent nothing—not even nothing—it is necessary that all resistance to death cease. We are made sick by our avidity to survive, and in our sickness is the thread that leads back and nowhere, because we belong to the end of the universe. The convulsion of dying stars is our syphilitic inheritance. (146)
In Mark Fisher's talk at the Accelerationism conference last year he says that Nick Land “took seriously to the level of psychosis and auto-induced schizophrenia – and that's really true – the Spinozist-Nietzaschean-Marxist injunction that a theory cannot be serious if it remains at the level of representation”. Thirst for Annihilation: George Bataille and Virulent Nihilism is not then a work of academic study but a practise, or an attempt at one, a working with Bataille in an exacerbation aimed at collapse of the strictures of the academy, religion, philosophy and ultimately humanity.

Land's work with Bataille is something like an experimental physics of expenditure. Bataille's solar economy ungrounds thought by recognising all power as given antecedently by a greater power. This economy is not one of increasing returns or teleological aims however, but a meaningless waste of energy, consistent and purposeless expenditure. Living creatures and all societies are marginal detours in a return to nothing, or death.

Death is perhaps the central concept of the book and I find it difficult to fully articulate all of the ways in which Land deploys it. For one thing at least, death is not the phenomenological horizon of anything's being, nor is it simply the entropic slide to disorganisation. Death is the negative force at the heart of Land's ontology, the aggressive exchange of power to the sum of zero.

Among the motors of Land's book is his septic hatred for all hierarchy, all territorialism. Land's sworn enemy is God, the emblem of all conservative authoritarian accumulation. Land argues quite interestingly for atheism understood in a positive sense; it indexes not a reaction against-God, but a productive real without God. What sometimes undermines this argument, and occasionally tried my patience, is Land's obsessive return to the subject of theism, seemingly incapable of getting more than a few paragraphs without hurling some new insult. This insistent hatred doesn't only weaken arguments about atheism however, but points to a larger problem within the book as a whole.

After God, Land's most despised enemy is Kant, and the sections dealing with his legacy are among the most interesting of the book. Land's position as a founding influence among speculative realism is clear from many passages and his diagnosis of the withered and introverted state of post-Kantian philosophy exhilarating to behold, accomplished as it is with the nauseating gusto of Land's writing.

Land's remedy to Kant's division of the world according to epistemology is an ontology of primary production from which thought as secondary production arises. Base materialism as put forward by Bataille considers all matter as libidinally powered and productive. Base matter produces thought and instantiates a second order of production with a tendency to transcendentalise itself, to take credit for all action in the world and demote base matter to inert resistance. A libidinal materialism however recognises the power of base matter and is able to make contact with in certain intensifying actions: sex, violence, visceral and bodily connections unmediated by thought.

Land's Bataillean subversion of the Kantian schema owes much to Deleuze and Nietzsche with intensive powers providing the motor for non-teleological becoming. The problem that I see in Land's project owes to an imbalance or one-sidedness of concept. What does death destroy, what does action intensify, if not the conservative forces of instituted order? But what institutes order?

It seems to me that Land is obsessed with God because he needs Him; without a territorialising force there would be nothing to deterritorialise. Of organising creativity Land has almost nothing to say, except for a brief section on negentropy where diversion from expenditure is ruled “not impossible”. Chance deviation is basis of all instituted structure yet this seems exceptionally poorly matched to the all consuming power of death, or zero, as the eternal motor of destructive exchange. A political or theological dualism between massive ordered hierarchy and atomised co-operative anarchy is ontologised with the greater share of power going to all deterritorialising forces, leaving accumulative forces under-explained except for the dictatorial myth of God and society.

Despite it's flaws and it's occasionally self-indulgent prose Land's book is an exceptional work, and exhilarating ride through an axis of philosophy rarely explored with such bilious fury. At it's highlights, especially those sections where Land undermines Kant with dark sarcasm and a carefully chosen quote from one of the critiques, it's philosophy at it's most exciting. Like Nietzscheanism it's difficult to imagine anyone living like this, and Land it seems wasn't able to keep up the relentless pace, but as inspiration for all deviant intellectuals it is unparalleled.

In the Aftermath of German Idealism

Posted by | Chris | 16.3.11 | 1 Comment

An interesting looking conference and a call for papers (I'm thinking of you Zach, Alex and Tobias):

In the Aftermath of German Idealism
May 14-15, Käte Hamburger Kolleg "Recht als Kultur", Bonn,
in cooperation with the Bergische Universität Wuppertal

Keynote speakers:

Markus Gabriel, Universität Bonn, author of Der Mensch im Mythos and Transcendental Ontology (forthcoming by Continuum)
Jean-Christophe Goddard, Université de Toulouse le Mirail, author of La philosophie fichtéenne de la vie
Arnaud François, Université de Toulouse le Mirail, author of Bergson, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche. Volonté et réalité
Sean McGrath, Memorial University of Newfoundland, author of The Dark Ground of Spirit: Schelling and the Unconscious (forthcoming by Routledge)
Devin Zane Shaw, University of Ottawa, author of Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art

It is with pleasure we invite you to participate at the following conference, sponsored by EuroPhilosophie (www.europhilosophie.eu) and organized by l'Amicale des étudiants EuroPhilosophie.

Since the philosophical upheaval caused by Kant's transcendental philosophy, the status of what would later be called “German Idealism” has been anything but clear. On the one hand, the efforts of the major representatives of post-Kantianism only intensified the intrinsic ambiguity of the founding gesture of the tradition. Instead of simply interpreting or expanding Kant, yet all the while attempting to radicalize his original breakthrough, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel developed surprisingly different and opposing systems. On the other hand, the 19th- and 20th-century reception of Hegelianism would have another decisive effect, which would in its own way obfuscate the signification of German Idealism by drastically altering our perception of the tradition as a whole. Not only was Hegel thought to be the culmination of the operative logic of German idealism, which would for a long time prevent us from understanding the works of Fichte and Schelling in and of themselves, but there was also a primordial urge to immanently rethink Hegelian dialectics from the standpoint of historical finitude while being faithful to its fundamental insights, arguing for the implicit and irreducible potential still lurking in this movement.

However, the history of German idealism did not in any way end there. In the 20th century we have seen seen a countless number of virulent attacks against “traditional” metaphysics arise as different philosophical schools demanded us to give up “dead” and “outdated” notions like system and totality, German Idealism often being seen the as the epitome of excessive, unbridled reason. Yet, in the face of these so-called “devastating” critiques, classical German philosophy has not been sentenced to death and banished to the abyssal forgetfulness of a forever lost past. Not only has there been an intense increase of secondary literature in the past decades, but a multitude of contemporary philosophers are returning to this moment in order to develop their own thought. The status of German Idealism remains more ambiguous and uncertain than ever: even two centuries after its emergence, we are still in the wake of German Idealism and feel its effects deep within the internal pulsations of philosophy itself.

Therefore, the goal of this conference is to open up an space within which one approach the reception of German Idealism and address its philosophical heritage. The unifying theme will be the following constellation of questions: Why do we constantly go back to German Idealism and cannot simply rid ourselves one and for all of its fundamental concepts? What could German Idealism teach us today? Are there still non-cultivated resources lurking within the thought of Kant, Fichte, Hegel and Schelling? Are we only able to unearth these resources today by passing through their internal and external critiques? Should we take the risk and plunge headfirst into the tradition in attempting to radicalize it?

Please send a short abstract (200-400 words) for a 20-30 minute presentation to be given in English, French or German to Joseph Carew (jstephencarew[at]gmail.com) and Daniel Pucciarelli (arelli[at]gmail.com) by the 6th of April.

Proposed topics are (but in no way limited to)
  • The immediate reception of German Idealism (Jacobi, Reinhold, Schulze, Maïmon, Marx, the Schellingian, Feuerbachian, Kierkegaardian, Schopenhauerian or Marxist critique of Hegel)
  • The tole of concepts such as “finitude,” “system,” “totality,” “liberty” or “subjectivity” in German Idealism and its reception
  • The category of contingence in Schellingian and Hegelian dialectics
  • Contemporary rereadings of Hegel (Frankfurt School, Butler, Jameson, Malabou, Nancy, Pippin, Žižek)
  • The current resurgence of Schelling (Grant, Gabriel)
  • The appropriation of Hegel by representatives of analytical philosophy searching for a new grounding for epistemology (McDowell and Brandom)
  • Critique of the notion of history and post-Hegelian philosophies of history
  • Contemporary usage of German Idealism in practical philosophy
  • Critiques of German Idealism from within different philosophical movements (phenomenology, Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze – and so on unto infinity)
  • New interpretations of Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel

Ray Brassier doesn't like you.

Posted by | Chris | 5.3.11 | 15 Comments

In an interview here Ray Brassier makes a brief and interesting summary of his philosophy. It's well worth a read. However, he also dismisses Speculative Realism with the following sneering words:
The ‘speculative realist movement’ exists only in the imaginations of a group of bloggers promoting an agenda for which I have no sympathy whatsoever: actor-network theory spiced with pan-psychist metaphysics and morsels of process philosophy. I don’t believe the internet is an appropriate medium for serious philosophical debate; nor do I believe it is acceptable to try to concoct a philosophical movement online by using blogs to exploit the misguided enthusiasm of impressionable graduate students. I agree with Deleuze’s remark that ultimately the most basic task of philosophy is to impede stupidity, so I see little philosophical merit in a ‘movement’ whose most signal achievement thus far is to have generated an online orgy of stupidity.
I'm aware that my post below, a jumbled collection of my feelings after finishing Nihil Unbound, didn't amount to much in the way of philosophical contribution. It's not much of an argument to think that someone's a bit mean. Reading the paragraph above however, I was struck again by just how ruthlessly unpleasant Brassier can be. To say that he lacks the urbanity of thought which Whitehead praises in Plato for instance would be an understatement.

Clearly, to show disdain for those philosophers with whom you disagree does not disqualify your own thought. In fact, Brassier is that much more imposing because he clearly wields a formidable intellect, intervening with technical acumen across a wide spectrum of philosophy.

The remorseless attacks on opponents clearly stem from Brassier's nihilist will to know (truth). A program of knowledge so mono-maniacally motivated by objective truth will clearly regard other disciplines and ideas as false, pointless distractions. I am nervous of attempting to mount a counterargument to this attitude and the possibility of sounding like a relativist, thereby consigning myself to the same anti-philosophical trash-heap as so many of Brassier's foils. However, such a challenge can be made, most interestingly on the grounds of what defines philosophy and science.

Brassier describes the relationship of philosophy to science as being to distinguish "which of its metaphysical assumptions are empirically fertile, and which are obstructive and redundant". I would tend to agree with this. But my problem with Brassier's project is the very narrow characterisation of these disciplines. Very briefly, I think that it is difficult to countenance a philosophical program which is so concerned to pitilessly policing the discipline and ejecting from it all but those select few who conform to your way of thinking. To say this is not to admit relativism or anti-realism, only to suggest that in the continuing adventure of intellectual discovery there are many things of which we cannot be certain, and therefore it would be better to nurture a pluralistic, respectful and open attitude at the same time as engaging in constructive dialogue about truth, knowledge and the world. There may be many more 'empirically fertile' a priori assumptions than Brassier would like to admit.