How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Correlationism.


While I was going about my insignificant little life here, Alexei – a designated correlationist of the blogosphere (congratulations, by the way) – was bravely taking another bullet for Kant over here.  I have to be honest, I like all things argumentative and philosophical, I enjoy being exposed to new ideas and I generally think that I am open-minded enough to at the very least allow for a different reading of books I have been reading for some time. I am your own friendly sophist sometimes, but mainly I enjoy a good argument – no, not like when you and your husband really get into it, but a good philosophical argument when two sides at least pretend to have a set of rules. Now in case of all these attacks on correlationism, whatever it is, I find it difficult to engage the parties involved (despite my earlier tries and sad consequences) because we are not speaking the same language. I think Alexei is a more patient, less bitter version of myself (not sure if it’s a complement, apologies in advance), and he is able to continue the conversation that is taking more and more bizarre forms at this point:

“Kant said A and therefore he is wrong” – “Actually Kant said B and even if he did say A, how exactly is he wrong?” – “If you were a consistent correlationist, and correlationist you are indeed, and all of your correlationist friends are going to hell, by the way, then you would argue C” – “Why would I argue C, I was arguing for D all this time anyway and none of my objections were addressed?” – “You don’t know Kant like I do, correlationist”…

I think Alexei’s interpretation of Kant is the standard one, and I mean it in a neutral way, he is not trying to propose some sort of a weird unheard-of Kantian reading – of course, it’s just my opinion and I don’t want to claim to be an expert that can expertly evaluate someone’s position, I’m just saying that it’s all very basic stuff, none of the unclear Kantian problems. I read Alexei’s comments and I nod til my neck hurts, yet I think it’s simply because we both read enough Kant to agree on most basic stuff, i.e. we are the choir in this scenario. I find myself to be especially sympathizing with the following excerpt from the comment:

All this said, we can disagree over how to read Kant. That’s fine. But, for the sake of clarity, maybe we should mark this feature. For at least here, a fair bit seems to depend on the interpretation. If I, for instance, reject your interpretation of Kant, which I do, everything following ceases to have any bite. Insofar as it follows from the Kant-example, it too is false. However that may be, I don’t actually think it actually answers my intial question. Assuming that there’s a difference between the epistemic and the epistemological, how does that effect your claims concerning the epistemic fallacy?

This is what seems to be the strategy and I find it very crafty indeed (I might steal it):

a) If your opponent brings up a name of a philosopher, ask them to do without name-calling and ask them to simply engage the issues;

b) if a) is successful, proceed with your ideas, posit things, create principles etc etc, if your opponent claims that the issues were already addressed by a previous philosopher, claim expertise in that philosopher and explain to you opponent that, in fact, that previous philosopher was (choose one) wrong, did not address the same issues, all of the above.

Now you have two possible roads: if your opponent contests your interpretation of the previous philosopher, claim that he is wrong – the basic strategy here is simple: you understand the philosopher, your opponent does not – the more often you get this point across, the better the outcome; if your opponent drops the discussion of the previous philosopher who already solved all of your problems or set up one that you have to address to get to play with objects, return to the original issues of the debate as if nothing happened and wait for your opponent to bring up the same issues already discussed by the previous philosopher and proceed in the same manner as described above – continue until your opponent gives up…

I have to say I find this very interesting, especially in terms of an obvious mental blockage and outright refusal to believe that your philosophical enterprise could be as misleading and random as that of your opponents – I believe there should be a new name for this new philosophical school, I came up with it just now so back off, let’s call it: DOGMATISM. I find it difficult to deal with dogmatists, I admit that I have my philosophical preferences and that I have learned to see the world through my philosophical glasses, but that only means that it is hard for me to find some arguments persuasive, especially when they claim novelty where there is none. Are there original philosophical ideas out there? Of course. Does everyone have to create their own philosophies? Sure, have at it, but it’s very likely that it’s going to be something boring and unoriginal, but because we are lead to believe that unoriginal equals evil, it will be masked and dressed up as something original, and if you question the project, you will be the reactionary crusty type that would do everything to maintain a status quo. As I have said many times before, hurray for innovators and revolutionaries, wake me up when they actually come up with an argument I can understand and possibly counter while having a reasonable expectation that we will use the same rules of logic.

PS. “Why won’t you let them alone then, Mikhail?” – you seems to wonder. I think about it all the time myself. I think it’s that time in a boy’s life when certain philosophical indecency just cannot leave me unmoved. Yet I see your point, imaginary reader, it would be best to just stop paying attention and die already.

17 thoughts on “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Correlationism.

  1. (Strange, I just commented a moment ago, but it doesn’t seem to have gone through. Let me try again. Mikhail, if there’s two comments, maybe you could delete the first)

    Just out of curiosity Mikhail, you callin’ me a Dogmatist?! A Bulgarian once called me ‘Mamaligar,’ (don’t have the right font/diacritics) but somehow ‘Dogmatist’ seems way worse….

    Although maybe I should be quite pleased with myself. Not only have I apparently invented a new form of Sophism, but I’ve attained some kind of speculative virtuousity: I’ve brought the labels of ‘cornbreadhead’ ‘correlationist’ and ‘dogmatist’ to their indifference point. I hereby express this Begriff as follows: Meh.

    All things said, though, I’m glad you noticed that I was trying to present and defend a standard interpretation of Kant. I tried to steer clear of the wild problems in his work, since I’ve always thought that unless you have a basic framework in place, the wacky side of a philosopher is totally unintelligible, and well nigh impossible to coherently discuss or argue about.

  2. We are all dogmatists, aren’t we? No, I actually thought you were quite flexible, more flexible than I could effort to be, in a sense that you were at least willing to say something like: “Ok, so I am a correlationist bastard, so what? What do you make of my problems with your position” – and I agree with your reading of Kant being a pretty standard one, but even if it was not, let’s assume that for a second, let’s say you were making things up and proposed a wildly inadequate reading – there was still no much in terms of counter-argument, unless “You are wrong” is a counter-argument.

    If there’s any sense in which I managed to call you a dogmatist (I don’t think I meant to, but hey I’m going to use this opportunity to make a point), then it is a sense that your exchange gave me a vivid sense of what it must have been like for Kant to observe the lively “debates” between rationalists and empiricists. That is, seeing how you guys basically talked past each other, despite me being on your side of the debate, made me feel anxious about any sort of a possibility of common ground here, especially when one side explicitly refuses to accept any sort of meta-theoretical discourse. I think your emphasis on Kant’s meta-theoreticity (probably not a word) is essential, not that you need my approval here or encouragement, I think we’ve already talked about how unhealthy is this bizarre concentration on Kant’s epistemological points, when they’re supposed to be a simple preparatory work – if we didn’t think he made some good points, why would anyone ever read him (I thought I’d throw in this argument from authority to spice things up).

    I think my position is pretty clear – if one does not think Kant is correct in his assertions vis-a-vis epistemological issues, then propose your own explanation of what knowledge is and how it is possible to know anything – you can’t just jump into description of “objects” as a “subject” without explaining this peculiar arrangements – doing that is precisely what is “naive” about “naive realism” – I mean, simply stating that your realism is not naive does not make it so, right? I think you were trying to make that point as well: don’t agree with Kant, let me see you do better, if you claim to know anything about objects!

    I think that the introduction of Hegel, which I think you rightly prevented from entering the conversation, in different circumstances would have been helpful – I’m thinking specifically about “Sense-Certainty” chapter vis-a-vis this sort of naive realist position, but I’d need to reread it to make a specific point about it.

  3. First, a confession: For all my the time I’ve spent in the Academe, and against all my expectations, the more I study philosophy, the more close minded and dogmatic I become. And I suppose I’m not alone in this. As you point out, Mikhail, we are all dogmatic in our own ways. (BTW, I love you’re new gravatar). The trick, of course, is to try to hide it under several layers of argument and to misdirect your reader with the arabesques of your style [think of Derrida’s Differance paper: he spends almost 5 pages at the beginning doing nothing at all]. Hell, in a pinch, you can forgo argument entirely and just write well; and in a panic situation, simple, grammatical sentences will nearly get you through.

    If there’s one thing I’ve always admired about ‘analytic philosophy,’ it’s that its practitioners never have a problem with saying ‘I have this intuition [in the vernacular sense] about X, and now I want to show that that’s right.’ (matters are much more annoying when they block a line of investigation by saying ‘that’s not an intuition I share,’ but that’s just the unfortunate side effect).

    So, maybe the thing to do is to be dogmatic, but really argue for your dogmatism….

    Anyway, I just picked up Harman’s Guerrilla Metaphysics, and I’m kinda curious to see what he’s up to. I’ll flip through it, and then maybe I’ll have a clearer sense of this speculative realism/object-oriented philosophy.

  4. Strangely, after writing a post about how no one really argues anymore, I am willing to agree that a creative dogmatist position, well-presented even if not well-argued, (can you argue a dogmatist position?) and consistently pushed for might be not such a bad thing after all. I think the problem is the pretense of objectivity and willingness to “argue” when one just needs to formulate, put things together, connect them in cool concepts etc etc and just say: “Voila, we have a new philosophy – read it and see if you like it” – sort of like a work of fiction…

  5. I agree with all your points here. (And the points about risk-taking that you made a few days ago at Graham’s blog.) What’s more, I can’t understand what business Levi has making categorically dismissive statements about Kant at all, since his Kant is clearly some other person entirely.

    But with all due respect, I think your self-effacing position (“don’t mind me, I’m just in the corner doing boring old philosophy while all you risk-taking types get the girls and the glory”) is not an effective one here. These objections really are decisive, and they should help articulate some kind of coherent alternative to спекреализм. This alternative doesn’t need to look Kantian beyond the very basic elements. In fact, it shouldn’t, because that only ensures that the discussion degenerates into “Kant said this! Kant said that!”, which misses the point entirely and lets the speculative realists off the hook. (Why does it matter what Kant said? If Abelard or Al-Farabi or whoever had been the first to draw a clear distinction between sensible and intelligible objects, the distinction would still be there.)

  6. “In the field of pure reason, therefore, hypotheses are admitted as weapons of defence only, not in order to establish a right, but simply in order to defend it; and it is our duty at all times to look for a real opponent within ourselves. Speculative reason in its transcendental employment is by its very nature dialectical. The objections which we have to fear lie in ourselves. We must look for them as we look for old, but never superannuated claims, if we wish to destroy them, and thus to establish a permanent peace. External tranquillity is a mere illusion. It is necessary to root up the very germ of these objections which lies in the nature of human reason; and how can we root it up, unless we allow it freedom, nay, offer it nourishment, so that it may send out shoots, and thus discover itself to our eyes, so that we may afterwards destroy it with its very root? Try yourselves therefore to discover objections of which no opponent has ever thought; nay, lend him your weapons, and grant him the most favourable position which he could wish for. You have nothing to fear in all this, but much to hope for, namely, that you may gain a possession which no one will ever again venture to contest.”

  7. Greg, my self-effacing position is generally a kind of facetious withdrawal from a debate that seems to be very (implicitly) ego- and ambition-driven with amusingly pretentious gestures like: “Thanks for your help, Alexei, I will be sure to mention you in my book” comment that ends the above-discussed thread – really? I thought Alexei’s “help” was basically to say that the presented reading of Kant is incorrect – that sounds very disingenuous…

    But then again I am clearly just jealous that my name would be in the acknowledgements section – it would mean the world to me, really…

    P.S. I actually thought that a cool Russian abbreviation could be something like Умозреализм…

  8. I thought Alexei’s “help” was basically to say that the presented reading of Kant is incorrect

    Actually, I thought my major contribution to the discussion was showing that the Baskar’s ‘epistemic fallacy’ is trivial — indeed not fallacy at all. The immediate upshot was thus that some forms of correlationism (whatever that is) are totally legitimate.

    That is, insofar as

    The epistemic fallacy’ […] consists in the view that ontological questions can always be transposed into epistemological terms. The idea that being can always be analysed in terms of our knowledge of being, that it is sufficient for philosophy to ‘treat only the network, and not what the network describes’, results in the systematic dissolution of the idea of a world

    it’s negation = Being can be reduced to knowledge claims in SOME cases. I’m happy enough with that, since it means there’s no fallacy, although there is some kind of opaque context, or category error.

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