On A Newly Raised Speculative Tone In Philosophy.


Since putting the word “speculative” everywhere is the recent fashion, and if you’re not yet on the wagon, hop on because it’s getting crowded here. Nick of Accursed Share wrote a dense summary-reflection on the state of affairs in the newly minted “speculative realism” and, as always, I have enjoyed reading it very much. Partly because it strikes me as peculiar that we are discussing philosophy as if there was never any Kantian issues (or almost), not really overcoming Kant, but simply going back to the pre-critical phrase, which is, of course, totally fine with me as I don’t see why folks should follow any specific rules in their philosophizing but the basic rules of reasonable discourse, partly because I have been recently rereading some discussions form the 17th and early 18th century and I have to say that the tone is very similar. Take, for example, already mentioned Leibniz-Clarke correspondence: both proponents are able to discuss their positions on a number of important issues without having to propose any new philosophical principles (Leibniz, of course, pushes for his “principle of sufficient reason,” but Clarke is willing to accept it without much fighting). They simply make propositions and proceed to evaluate each other’s opinions and positions based on a sort of common philosophical courtesy of being rational.

Nick writes in the above-mentioned post:

One of the crucial questions falls on the notion of difference. As Levi has stated, he has purposefully left difference unarticulated so as to be as inclusive as possible. A minimal ontological principle. Yet, for Laruelle, the key distinction between an idealist materialism and a real materialism lies precisely on the notion of difference. He asks, “how can we attain a concept of difference that would be real and genetic as well as a priori and transcendental without re-inscribing it once more, if not within the sphere of signification, at least within that of ideal sense, in the pure typos and topos of the Idea.” (”The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter”, 36)

As I have already pointed out to Levi, one cannot simply “leave difference unarticulated” – if we are to “attain a concept of difference,” if we are to use the word “difference” – and I am not suggesting that we reharsh the whole “linguistic turn” problem at this point, just that we rely on the general courtesy of making sense – we must not, in fact, simply cannot leave (the word) “difference” unarticulated and therefore as inclusive as possible”: What is the criterion of such inclusiveness? It is, of course, the very minimal but certainly a definition of what is difference. I see the point:  we define “difference” in a way that allows one to suggest that in the case of the sun “interacting” with the tree we have a case of “one entity mak[ing] a difference on another entity.” Now you must forgive me this question, English is not my first language, but what exactly does it mean when I say something like: “When a sun shines on a tree and makes a difference on it“? It seems to me that leaving words/concepts poorly defined creates all sorts of awkwardness and ambiguity when we are looking if not for necessity and certainty, then at the very least commonsensical understanding of complex issues of ontology. “Difference” is an idea, is it not? “To differ” has a very specific, even if not univocal, meaning in our discussions. We seem to be understanding each other when we talk about “difference” – we disagree, but this very possibility comes from a sort of mutual understanding that allows for a conversation to take place. As Nick puts it,

Yet, some understanding of the notion of difference implicated here is required in order to at least escape from the possible Laruellean criticism.

In fact, one might add, the very assumption that “vague” and “undetermined” notion is somehow excused from possible criticism because it was meant that way, i.e. simply because we admit that our definitions, principles, axioms are intentionally weak and not-quite-thought-through does not preclude others from raising questions and critiquing even these initial efforts.

I think what is missing here is not necessarily a common ground or a common tradition, but a sort of an argument that, despite its highly speculative nature, could in fact pride itself not on its weakness or preliminary vaguesness, but on its boldness and outrageous (by contemporary standards) claim. You know what I mean, fellow readers of Descartes and Leibniz, the God argument.  No, not the proofs of the existence of God, but the argument that assumes the existence of God and the knowledge of the ways of God. Why? Because nothing gives necessity and boldness to a principle like Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason like a reference to God. Let us ask ourselves a question: How did those ancient correlationists know so much about how God should and should not be? What gave them such profound boldness to state that God must be in such and such way and it is impossible for him to be otherwise? Here’s Nick again:

Matter here forms a real, immanent and materialist presupposition for the very possibility of thought and philosophy. But, crucially, we can state nothing about the Real – it resists predication or definition, which would always be to reincorporate the Real into a philosophical system.

Matter forms a presupposition of thought, but resists predication and definition, if I am reading this correctly, yet folks like Leibniz could very easily suggest that God forms a presupposition to thought, to reality in general, and it also resists predication and definition, but at the same time allows one to firmly ground thought/philosophy. Take Leibniz-Clarke correspondence – God is not only present throughout the discussion as a sort of pious reference, God is, in fact, the central point of the debate with issues of absolute space or absolute time being secondary to this very question of what God is and how God acts. Somehow the impossibility to fully define and know God did not prevent generations of modern philosophers from making categorical statements like “God is not present to things by situation but by essence” (Leibniz) or “real things are formed by God himself and seen by him in all places wherever they are, without the intervention of any medium at all” (Clarke). Is such speculative tone about to make a glorious comeback? I sure hope so.

I should probably stop in order to get more reading done today, but being new to the table here I might have missed a good discussion of God in the present “speculative realism” talks, please feel free to give me a hint, but one might think that the motto should be: Unless you talk about God, the most speculative of all topics, you are never speculative enough.

4 thoughts on “On A Newly Raised Speculative Tone In Philosophy.

  1. Hey Mikhail. Re: your last comments – you may already know this, but Quentin Meillassoux has an essay in the fourth volume of Collapse which sketches out the possibility of a “divinology” along ‘speculative realist’ lines [though I think Meillassoux prefers the phrase ‘speculative materialism’ to describe his own position]. Concluding paragraph:

    “A few words, to conclude, on the inexistent god. How – according to what principles of investigation – might one attempt to designate its nature, once the latter is defined as a contingent effect of Chaos? On this point, we must agree to pose again, outside the transcendental field, a Kantian-style question: What am I permitted to hope for, now that I can hope? What is a god which would be once more desirable, lovable, worthy of imitation? If one supposes granted the real eventuality of emergences in rupture with the present laws of nature, what will be the most singular possible divinity, the most interesting, the most ‘noble’ in a sense (paradoxically) close to Nietzsche’s? Must this future and immanent god be personal, or consist in a ‘harmony’, a becalmed community of living, of dead, and of reborn? We believe that precise responses to these questions can be envisaged, and that they determine an original regime of thought, in rupture with both atheism and theology: a divinology, yet to be constituted, through which will be fabricated, perhaps, new links between men and those who haunt them.”

    Hope this helps.

  2. Thanks, Duncan. I was going to P.S. that I am aware of Meillassoux’s discussion of God and all in After Finitude, but I wasn’t aware of Collapse reference. My post was mainly about the tone of the “debates” and no God – I think in the second chapter of After Finitude Meillassoux spends time showing how Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason requires that there is at least one necessary being which in turn turns every other being into a necessary one. I’d like to see what sort of a place “God argument” would play in this new thing everyone excitedly calls “speculative realism”…

    I was already referred to Collapse volumes on several occasions, I ordered the new one, but I think I might as well get all of them.

  3. Pingback: ‘the Right of Reason’s need’: Kant and the Origins of Speculation « Now-Times

  4. Pingback: ‘The Right of Reason’s Need’: Kant and the Origins of Speculation « Perverse Egalitarianism

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