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.


15 Responses to “Ray Brassier doesn't like you.”

  1. Zachary Price
    6/3/11 07:11
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  2. David
    6/3/11 08:56

    I think you take Ray's remarks a little too personally. He's always struck me as a completely decent and modest person, as well as an acute thinker. Being dismissive of panpsychism and actor-network theory is NOT the mark of a bad character!

  3. Zachary Price
    6/3/11 09:22
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  4. S.C. Hickman
    6/3/11 12:24

    I agree with you Brassier has crossed a line. I added one section of your remarks onto my rendition. Just discovered your blog from Graham's email today.. I'll be back to study some of your work... thanks!


  5. Chris
    7/3/11 03:07

    Clearly, and unsurprisingly, Brassier's comments have kicked up a bit of a storm online. The purpose of my post was not in anyway to express offence at Brassier's remarks or to accuse him of poor character. The most constructive response would be to engage with Brassier's philosophy, hence my too brief suggestions that there may be more diversity to philosophy and science than he admits. Unfortunately, a full and proper engagement with these topics is something for which I personally do not have time. Therefore I will henceforth keep silent.

  6. Anonymous
    7/3/11 20:55

    Well, he sure likes me - I'm glad you are getting offended. I think Brassier clearly meant to offend and I hope that those who were his aim were indeed offended. This nonsense of civil discourse can only take us so far - when someone is angrily disagreeing and is willing to offend, it is liberating regardless of the message. So there you have it, Brassier might not like you and there's probably a reason for it.

  7. Nicola Masciandaro
    9/3/11 15:10

    It is pleasurable to hear panpsychism condemned as spice.

  8. peter
    18/3/11 05:41

    hi chris, only just got the internet at my new place. looks like you've caused quite a stir here. on the note of further engagement, maybe check out paul feyerabend "against method" and his arguments for "intellectual pluralism/dadaism/anarchism". he tries to walk a fine line that doesnt lead to reletavism. might be stimulating and help you with that mute problem :P

  9. peter
    28/3/11 17:02

    in response to the 1st and 3rd comments - even if they of humourous intent - it is important to note that a metaphysical or philosophical position cannot be dismissed on the grounds of ethics. to do so places ethics as first-philosophy and subsequently advocates what iain grant would call an "anti-physics" where nature is moralised, and ulitmately de-natured and anthropocised. also, if brassier thinks that nature is meaningless and devoid of morality then trying to argue against him via ethics entails that your objections are rendered parochial - i.e we can draw a parmendian distinction between belief and truth wherby the ethical criticism is of the former distinction and becomes an illusion.

    a better way to treat the eliminativist project is via a philosophically extensive project that embraces and subtends the latter. arguably, iain's work is on the road towards such a project.

    finally id like to add that harsh criticism aside, i think that if speculative realism means anything, then it means the disunited revival of the possibility of doing metaphysics; and i think that it is excellent that it has really captured the imagination of so many people.

  10. Zachary Price
    8/4/11 00:36
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  11. Anonymous
    26/5/12 14:53

    Saying that the internet is not an appropriate setting for philosophy is akin to saying that a library is not an appropriate setting for research, or even, that an ocean is not an appropriate environment for natural selection. Then again, his point is not empty and his commitment to scientism is bold and extremely useful for continental philosophy at the moment.

  12. Chris Bateman
    11/8/12 00:58

    The trouble with Brassier seems to be that the smarter one becomes, the less one appreciates the boundaries of one's own mythologies. These cosmic exile stories, or robot philosophies as they could also be known, are blissfully unaware of the nonreligious myths they rest upon. I have no objection to them being out there, but there seems little point in engaging with them while there is productive philosophy to conduct. Let the unphilosophers content themselves with their intellectual masterbation - we have work to do! ;)

    Best wishes!

  13. Mat Witts
    15/8/12 05:50

    Brassier is of course correct so if you find it offensive or objectionable might I suggest therapy? In the meantime Brassier isn't interested in your complaints, and neither should anyone else be. Have a great day folks.

  14. Anonymous
    14/3/13 13:40

    "Be a philosopher, and be also a man." -- Hume

    So many philosophers forget this in the wake of their ego-maniacal self-masturbatory intellectualism. Regardless of how smart one is, or how correct one is, it is nonetheless wise to view one's own knowledge with a sense of humility and quiet confidence.

    Besides, as a "nihilist," Brassier clearly has no reason to care of he offends other people -- and on the same double-token of reason, has no reason to care if he influences or "enlightens" others as well. The concepts of "importance," "care," "intentionality," "empathy," and "compassion," are all incoherent under a nihilistic paradigm, even one such as Brassier's -- or anybody else's. Furthermore, the concept that consciousness is a mere by-product of natural processes which, in-and-of-themselves are devoid of meaning, and that narrative structures and axiological judgments are in conflict with this is absurd, and I am doubtful of any sort of "Argument" to demonstrate otherwise. Contrary to Brassier's conclusion, these narrative structures DO serve an undeniable purpose -- to satisfy the desires of human psychology. Brassier's carrying-over of the meaninglessness of the natural world to signify a general meaningless of human experience, or an ability and even perhaps duty for man to overcome such tendencies seems, to me at least, absurd.

    Suffice it to say, reason is an inescapable characterization of human existence. Those who wish to transcend this ought to either kill themselves and become the "nothingness" they philosophically idolize, or relinquish and forget their buffoonery for the adoption of some revised position. Brassier is clearly a man of formidable intellect, and while I can understand the offensive -- and perhaps even intentionally offensive -- nature of his remarks, I merely find it surprising that a man of his clear brilliance and eloquence has fallen so strongly prey to such a weak non-sequitor, and bases much of what is a cogent and brilliant philosophy on the foundations of something so pathetic and brittle.

  15. Anonymous
    14/3/13 13:55

    Furthermore, the solution to Brassier's non-sequitor is contained in his own statements. That the human consciousness does have desires that demand fulfilling, and have a multiplicity of different solutions as to such a fulfilling is not only dialectical in relation to his own premises about naturalism, but stands in bold contradiction of the conclusions that he draws from them. A more suitable argument may read something along the lines of the following: Human beings are beings that are situated in the world, and that human consciousness is a result of natural process (environmental, biological, external and internal) that, in and of themselves, are devoid of any narrative structure and requisite. However, as a being situated in such a world, human consciousness has certain functions which cannot be fulfilled without first constructing notions of "purpose," "meaning," "signification," and "reason." It may be possible to separate reason itself from any sort of axiological or narrative paradigm, but human existence itself, insofar as it is an accumulation of experiences, desires, motives, and interactions, is unintelligible without some sort of axiological framework underpinning it.

    It seems to me that, following Brassier's "nihilism" all the way to the end, human beings would essentially become beings whose only function would be to philosophize; one who would experience the world through the lens of reason, corresponding with a destruction of the lens of emotion.

    Even if such a task is capable of achieving full realization, it is a task that I am uninterested in participating in. I for one, still enjoy getting laid.

    The conception of philosophy as the task of "pushing human consciousness beyond the limits of meaning" is absurd, and a task which is, at its worst, dangerous and narcissistic in its own right, and at its best, superfluous and unnecessary .

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