While I Was Napping: More Realism Wars™


Unfortunately for me, I’ve missed a post on Speculative Heresy from some days ago on realism – with some remarks there and on his own blog, Alexei responds to the post as well. I would like to address only a couple of things in the post, things that I believe would be a misunderstanding of my own position on all things realism, if the post in fact addressed them to me, which it does not, so this is just a hypothetical situation. Nick writes:

Which is all to say two things: one, the critics of realism who argue that is a conservative and dogmatic position are misunderstanding the nature of science. As the wild thought experiments involved in contemporary physics should make clear, it is far from conservative. And as the willingness to challenge any scientific truth should make clear, it is far from dogmatic. Science does not take its current theories as dogmatically true. The second point is that the critics who believe that realism must give a definitive answer and therefore that any internal debate is a sign that realism is false, are simply wrong. If debate were a sign that a theory was wrong, every single intellectual project of humankind would have to be considered false. Debate is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of vitality, and a sign of willingness to critique any philosophical or scientific dogma. Which is why speculative realism shares a common enemy in correlationism (and as the most intelligent articulator of correlationism, Kant). Speculative realism can very simply be seen as the questioning of continental philosophy’s long-standing dogma that holds correlationism as its unsurpassable limit.

Let me say a few words here. To take a part of contemporary science where things are vital, ever-changing and uncertain, such as Nick’s example of contemporary physics, and to suggests that part somehow is representative of the whole “nature of science” is at the very least disingenuous – philosophical realism’s love affair with science is not based on these specific examples of uncertainty and willingness to challenge what is considered to be true and common sensical. From what I understood in our recent exchanges about realism, it was scientific assumption that it is indeed studying the world as it is in itself that is so attractive to realism in science, not some controversial aspect of contemporary physics. 

Second, debate is not a sign of weakness only to a certain extend, debate is great, I don’t know if anyone suggested otherwise. The point however is this, again distancing from science and talking about philosophical realism – if the main proposition of realism is that there is a mind-independent world and we can know something about it, then one can at least expect that debates would produce a more or less consistent description of that reality, even if some disagreements continue, even if that reality is later revised again and again. The issue does not seem to be that there are no versions of such realist presentations of what the world is like (anything from naive realism to weird realism), the issue is that once very simple epistemological or meta-theoretical issues, if you will, are raised, there’s no real agreement, at least when we talked about it explicitly. Harman can say that for him the distinction between primary and secondary qualities is essential, but I’m yet to see a coherent argument concerning how he or Levi or anyone esle for that matter (including Meillassoux with his mathematizable properties) know the difference. We certainly moved along quite a bit when we did engage the issue, but we don’t have the answer. Kant’s main point in the prefaces to the first Critique is that philosophy’s inability to answer the most basic questions and its constant arguing about what picture of reality is correct is not a sign of vitality but a scandal. As I pointed out before, I am concerned that realists do not see their inability to agree on basic questions of how they know what real is somehow does not produce any sense of scandal which I find to be strange. 

Speculative realism can question continental philosophy all it wants, but it will then remain a kind of negative position (what I earlier called a “reactive position” although I also called is “reactionary” and some people got angry), something I’ve commented on again and again – it seems to be very vital when it is attacking its “enemies,” yet as soon as we got into some positive aspects like “primary and secondary qualities” or “if the world is there and we can know what it’s like, why are we still arguing about it?” and so on, all of a sudden we had a flurry of positions, definitions, hypothesis, names, references to science and so on without any real result (as far as I was concerned, of course) – it’s easy to attack, but I am yet to even understand, for example, how something like “speculative” and “realism” be thought of together in a phrase “speculative realism”…

There’s much more in the post, comment and Alexei’s response – my comment is highly selective…

89 thoughts on “While I Was Napping: More Realism Wars™

  1. M.E.: “To take a part of contemporary science where things are vital, ever-changing and uncertain, such as Nick’s example of contemporary physics, and to suggests that part somehow is representative of the whole “nature of science” is at the very least disingenuous – philosophical realism’s love affair with science is not based on these specific examples of uncertainty and willingness to challenge what is considered to be true and common sensical.”

    Kvond: While I disagree with the charge of disingenuousness, certainly as the “very least” of what a metonymic argumentative attempt implies, I do think this point is very well taken. But then, on the other hand, when I attempt to grasp in one hand the entirety of what SR’s relationship to the sciences is supposed to be, it sends my head spinning when someone like Graham Harman proposes a theory of causation that has absolutely nothing to do with the causation of science. His “one way” causation makes use of bizarre, imaginative examples such as “a mosquito and a mack truck colliding” where the truck is supposed to have only one way effect on the mosquito, and the bug 0 (zero) effect on the truck. What in the world is he talking about? And what does this say about the SR relationship to science? I am much less sure than you in understanding the SR relationship to the sciences.

    M.E.: “Speculative realism can question continental philosophy all it wants, but it will then remain a kind of negative position (what I earlier called a “reactive position” although I also called is “reactionary” and some people got angry), something I’ve commented on again and again – it seems to be very vital when it is attacking its “enemies,” yet as soon as we got into some positive aspects like “primary and secondary qualities” or “if the world is there and we can know what it’s like, why are we still arguing about it?””

    Kvond: I agree with the characterization of “reactionary” (though it is a loaded politicized term). In the aspects that I have encountered it, it is as you say, constituted in reaction to something else, defined by what it is not.

    M.E.: “but I am yet to even understand, for example, how something like “speculative” and “realism” be thought of together in a phrase “speculative realism”…”

    Kvond: Like any good title or brandname of this kind, its oxomoronic character solicits interest.

  2. Kevin, perhaps the word “disingenuous” is indeed too strong in this case, I suppose what I was trying to say that if we are talking about “realism” and its relationship with science, we shouldn’t then pick and choose specific instances of scientific activity that we like and approve of – in this case, we choose the exciting uncertainty of physics over, say, something less interesting and more dogmatic in its method etc etc.

    Your point about Harman’s bizarre causation and science is well taken, I myself am at loss here – I understand Levi’s interest in neurology and all, it seems that his realism is much more realistic – he himself speaks of “materialism” and “naturalism” and other “-isms” that I can disagree with vis-a-vis philosophy but I can at least understand and critique.

    I have a strong suspicion that you are correct in terms of “speculative realism” as a term being somewhat nonsensical, I always think of something like “empirical idealism” – I suppose there’s a message there in this peculiar juxtaposition of speculation and realism. I would say Harman’s work is mostly speculation and I don’t see how it is realism by any means, maybe I’m just not very smart. Levi, on the other hand, again, is clearly more realism and almost no speculation. In Russian “speculation” is sometimes rendered as “umozrenie” (literally, mind-vision, I think would be a fair rendition) – clearly it has to account for the critique of “intellectual intuition” in Kant or its defense in Fichte and so on, but it seems to just use the term “speculation” without much historical analysis, just because it sounds cool – or that’s what I gather from the little that I’ve read about it.

  3. M.E.: “In Russian “speculation” is sometimes rendered as “umozrenie” (literally, mind-vision, I think would be a fair rendition) – clearly it has to account for the critique of “intellectual intuition” in Kant or its defense in Fichte and so on, but it seems to just use the term “speculation” without much historical analysis, just because it sounds cool – or that’s what I gather from the little that I’ve read about it.”

    Kvond: Perhaps “Hunchism of the Real” would make a nice explanatory counterpart.

    M.E.: “Your point about Harman’s bizarre causation and science is well taken, I myself am at loss here – I understand Levi’s interest in neurology and all, it seems that his realism is much more realistic – he himself speaks of “materialism” and “naturalism” and other “-isms” that I can disagree with vis-a-vis philosophy but I can at least understand and critique.”

    Kvond: When “real” is used with so much variety, if not outright contradiction (in regards to science itself), we seem to be in the land of the irreal. But perhaps Harman’s “Guerrilla” metaphysics is just that, a buch of gunfire goes of suddenly near a prescious metaphysical stronghold, and everyone turns their head to see what’s up, only to see shadowy figures running back into the jungle, and not sure if it was merely fireworks going of a bit early. Tactics without strategy, without ideology…

    Levi’s appeal to the real on the other hand seems to be a very, need I say, real, response to the inhumanness of much of Continental discourse. I say this in the sense that the way that philosophy is largely done under the great and unwieldy International Apparatus of the University, has become painfully alienating to some of its most loyal and diligent followers. The “stuff” of a vague realism, is the very glue that might attach the discourse of philosophy back to the rest of the world. The fact of the matter is that Science (Big S, which does not exist), has culturally and ideologically become the new, authoritative voice when tells us what the “state of the world” is. When science reveals of a fact of the world to us, its force is as great as the Church once was. One can “fight” this cultural fact by inventing all kinds of complex arguments that work to undermine this authority, as if from the outside (like so many Marxists railing against Capitalism). Or, one can join in the dominant form, embrace its powers, realize that nobody owns the sciences (small s), and use its discourses to fold in the aims of philosophical ambitions. I take Levi’s materialism and embrace of the sciences to be something of this sort, a vital, human need to get into the “stuff” of culture, to go where the traction is greatest. I have to say I can’t blame him.

  4. Thanks Lou:

    “Less than three hours now until the beginning of the Bristol reunion of what used to be called “speculative realism”. Just need to iron my shirt and ask the hotel desk to print the revised conclusion, and I’ll be ready to go over to the UWE campus.”

    I’m hoping that this is joke. But then again, maybe philsophy-by-Twitter is what is in need. I can think of no other technology that can keep track of the important denominations, as they change.

  5. Kevin, I think I see your point, but you seem to be saying two things at once that I am not sure how to reconcile: there’s some sort of hegemonic philosophical establishment that is inhuman enough to push people away into the hand of science which is, it seems, as inhuman and hegemonic – where does one go then in this case? Maybe arts? Do they have hegemonic power structures that oppress? I seriously don’t get this whole description of oppression (in general, not in your comment, I’ve been saying this for a while now) – it’s understandable, for example, if one were in a situation where one was forced to study philosophy in a very specific way, but the choice is never “study this or die” – in the Soviet Union there was only one way to read Marx, period, but I find it hard to believe that in a place like US one would even approach any sense of oppression. Being stuck in a tradition one no longer appreciates is not oppression, it’s just a “tough shit” kind of an unfortunate situation…

    I mean I read Kant because I like it, I find stuff that I don’t agree with, I find stuff that puzzles me, but I also can read all sorts of other philosophical books, no one is telling me what to read and what to do – and I know of many academics who do the same – where is the oppression? where is the establishment?

  6. M.E.: “Kevin, I think I see your point, but you seem to be saying two things at once that I am not sure how to reconcile: there’s some sort of hegemonic philosophical establishment that is inhuman enough to push people away into the hand of science which is, it seems, as inhuman and hegemonic – where does one go then in this case?”

    Kvond: Hmmm. I guess that when I compared the dicta of Science to the dicta of the Church I did not mean to say that the Church was inhuman and alienating. That is to say, the Church was good at setting the framework for sense-making narratives, and the factuality of its statements about the world did a great deal to cohere society (with much brutality, we can admit). When taken in terms of the sheer capacity to narrate sense-making, Science is quite cohering. That is to say, if you don’t like the kinds of results that science comes up with there is a great variety of means of attacking them within science. (Just see how extraordinary the efforts of Creationism have been).

    Realists like Levi (quite a bit aside from Harman’s bizarre form of the real which actually professes a kind jealousy for the strange worlds Science is allowed to play with), simply want to get into the fray of the cultural center. They want to mix it up. Part of this comes from the alienation in the Continental discourse, but also it is because the Sciences actually provide us with wonderfully new metaphors and analogies for how the world is. Now, after the advent of computer sciences, suddenly the world can be like a “network”! (The power of this analogy simply doesn’t work if you don’t take the sciences as revealing how the world really is.) Modern philosophy has always drawn its new categorical visions from the technologies and theories of science. Far from being alienating, Science is vast and invigorating, I believe for a Levi-realist. Or, if I can put it another way, the hegemonic power structures of the Church and Science are quite different.

    M.E.: “I seriously don’t get this whole description of oppression (in general, not in your comment, I’ve been saying this for a while now) – it’s understandable, for example, if one were in a situation where one was forced to study philosophy in a very specific way, but the choice is never “study this or die” – in the Soviet Union there was only one way to read Marx, period, but I find it hard to believe that in a place like US one would even approach any sense of oppression.”

    Kvond: In an odd sort of way the intellectual oppression of the Soviet Union is much easier to resist because one can take an ironic distance towards it (much as Church Ideology promotes a kind of working distance). One’s humanity is maintained in opposition to a clearly inhuman structure. I think that in American Philosophy subject matters have become so sterile, so uninspired (commenting on commentarty on commentary of some past textual authority), in particular to the kinds of creative minds that get attracted to philosophy in the first place, that to actually DO philosophy has become a hapless, no-rewarding enterprise. It is as if poets could only DO poetry by working Advertising, rathe than “There are only certain kinds of poems that it is lawful to write!” The DOING of philosophy has become painfully banal (and in contrast, that’s what makes someone like Zizek so interesting a spectacle. Half of it is simply looking at how much fun he is having).

    M.E.: “I mean I read Kant because I like it, I find stuff that I don’t agree with, I find stuff that puzzles me, but I also can read all sorts of other philosophical books, no one is telling me what to read and what to do – and I know of many academics who do the same – where is the oppression? where is the establishment?”

    Kvond: Perhaps the difference is in “reading” Kant, and “doing” philosophy. But also, things are changing. We are having this discussion over these issues via the internet, becoming connected over things that matter to us in ways that simply were not available before. When you have read Kant, you then post something and find other people who respond to you.

    Rorty said a wonderful thing about Universities. He said that universities should be places where you find interesting books and someone with whom to talk with, about them. That’s it. He was stoutly anti-Philosophical (as a discipline). Levi experienced, and many others have as well, a strong discordance between the kinds of interesting books you can find, and the kinds of conversations you can have about them (many more books, far fewer conversations). The internet is changing this, perhaps (while JSTOR remains locked away to the non-University thinker).

  7. I suppose I really don’t get the “institutional argument” either — and this coming from someone that left a program because it was exceedingly dogmatic, rigid, and close-minded (albeit in a analytic/realist manner, which was just as alienating as anything Levi wants to impute to Continental philosophy).

    Anyway, there are at least five distinct lines of thought being compressed together: (1) institutionalization of ideas leads to dogma, (2) realism is better than anti-realism, (3) alienation is bad, (4) the sorry state of continental philosophy is due to its ant-realist/anti-scientific penchant, which alienates it from something or other, and therefore locks the doors to anyone who wants to do something more useful, true, etc. and finally (5) the sciences are somehow free of these pernicious features. I take it that (1) is true — if not a truism — regardless of discipline, institution, whatever, (2) requires a serious argument that i haven’t seen, (3) seems to forget that alienation is productive in the long run, (4) is a leap, and (5) seems more than a little naive.

    Honestly, if I were to blame the sorry state of continental philosophy on anything, I might as well pick its fascination with psychoanalysis — which is no less ‘realist’ than Ladyman and Ross; in fact, it only makes sense if you think, for instance, drives are real, and structured in the way Freud says they, or that the symbolic, the imaginary and the real ‘exist.’ I’m not making such a claim, of course, but I do think that if you look at the watershed moments where ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ philosophy really come into their own, it’s usually around things like ‘psychoanalysis is/is not science’ and what to do next about it.

    Phrased slightly differently, “the institutional argument” is a sociological one, not a philosophical one, and it’s not going to be won by appeal to a philosophical thesis concerning realism/ant-realism. That means, moreover, that trying to win this argument is largely not a philosophical issue. Levi’s admitted this, I think, on a couple of occassions. And to that extent, it’s not worth discussing philosophically.

    We can of course continue talking about the philosophical implications and motivation so ‘realism.’ But hopefully we can see that that’s a different argument entirely.

  8. Alexei: “Phrased slightly differently, “the institutional argument” is a sociological one, not a philosophical one, and it’s not going to be won by appeal to a philosophical thesis concerning realism/ant-realism.”

    Kvond: You seem to have mistaken my comments for a philosophical argument. I was attempting to describe what I feel are the motivations for a Levi-Realist, not the philosophical justification for the position. I am a non-Realist, philosophically.

    But I will say, the further that philosophy goes from the sociological (in the general), the more it threatens to become what it has become, a Scholasticism with very little merit, working towards the buttressing of the Instutions that promote it.

    In this way, though the motivations (that I so describe, whether they are accurate or not), though not internal to philosophy, they are endemic to the reality of its practice. Simply put, if philosophy wants to continue, it has to matter to people. It is mattering less and less.

    (I realize that I say this to a Kantian – who is not a Kantian. A bit like talking to a Jesuit about the future of the Catholic Church.)

  9. Alexei: “Honestly, if I were to blame the sorry state of continental philosophy on anything, I might as well pick its fascination with psychoanalysis — which is no less ‘realist’ than Ladyman and Ross; in fact, it only makes sense if you think, for instance, drives are real, and structured in the way Freud says they, or that the symbolic, the imaginary and the real ‘exist.’ I’m not making such a claim, of course, but I do think that if you look at the watershed moments where ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ philosophy really come into their own, it’s usually around things like ‘psychoanalysis is/is not science’ and what to do next about it.”

    Kvond: This is an interesting point because you seem to suggest that Continental philosophy made a mistake of taking psychoanalysis as describing “real” processes (states), and doing so ended up with “anti-realism”, which is a odd doubling back. And on the other side, Wittgenstein sought to “heal” what he percieved to be the diseased mentalities of Analytical thinking, with some inspiration from psychoanalysis. He pictured philosophy as a therapy. His entire point against Analytical Philosophy was that they had to “get back to the Rough Ground”. I do sense that you have a valuable insight here, but I can’t trace what it is since contradictions seem to abound.

  10. My comment only relates tangentially to yours Kevin. It was certainly not a direct response to you.

    This said, I realize that you were trying to address a set of motivations. To the extent that that’s true, my point was simply that unless the logic underwriting these motivations or responses is clear, they are only impulses — poorly understood ones at that. And since I’m a Kantian who’s not a Kantian, I don’t find motivations particularly interesting anyway.

    About the whole anti-realism thing. I honestly don’t think that Continental philosophy is any less realist than analytic philosophy, or even the philosophy of science. I don’t know how Levi got the idea that continental philosophy is by definition committed to the claim that there is no mind independent reality (Kant’s got noumenon, Husserl has a llitany of transcendent objects, every Hegelian philosopher simply thinks ‘realism’ and ‘anti-realism’ are absurd, etc). The fundamental point of divergence seems to be the self-reflexive stance that certain Kant-inspired philosophies have, that non-Kant-inspired philosophies don’t have. And even that’s not entirely true. The whole distinction is mal-formed in the first place.

    My point about Psychoanalysis is simply this: if it is to have any clinical application, if it’s going to help people, it bloody well better think that what it’s talking about is in fact the way things are. Otherwise it’s exactly the same as selling snake oil. It preys on people, on their hopes, etc — which is one of the reasons why the analyst is supposed to somehow exhibit the difference between a and A, but anyway….

    Now remember that Wittgenstein said about Freud (in On Certainty): Freud is powerful in the way that Myths are powerful. The problem is that Freud has succumbed to his own myth, and become trapped in his own fly bottle. IN fact, it’s been argued that Wittgenstein’s notion of therapy stems from Kant’s transcendental dialect: it has everything to do with a form of limitation, and a kind of ataraxia.

    But now I’m rambling. Suffice it to say that there’s nothing particularly paradoxical or equivocal about what I said. It’s just that I think the idea of making philosophy matter precisely by sacrificing philosophy (at the alter of science, art, religion, whatever) isn’t going to save it. Best simply to do the best philosophy one can, and find like minded folks to do it with.

  11. “The sacred is pre-eminently the real, at once power, efficacity, the source of life and fecundity. Religious man’s desire to live in the sacred is in fact equivalent to is in fact equivalent to his desire to take up abode in objective reality, not to let himself be paralyzed by the never ceasing relativity of purely subjective experiences, to live in a real and effective world, and not in an illusion”

    The Profane and the Sacred, Eliade

    When put in this way, the very philosophical attempt is to turn towards what is real. Even Anti-Realism participates in this turning towards efficacy. Even when the “real” is theoretically barred from us, this very barring takes the place of the non-illusionary and efficacious.

    For me the question of the real is much more a question of this kind of the mutuality of our attempts “…to live in a real and effective world”.

  12. Alexei: “My point about Psychoanalysis is simply this: if it is to have any clinical application, if it’s going to help people, it bloody well better think that what it’s talking about is in fact the way things are. Otherwise it’s exactly the same as selling snake oil.”

    Kvond: I’m not a fan of psychoanalysis, but I can’t really accept the snake-oil-or-bust diagnosis. Many times interpersonal interactions embody processes that can work effectively on several levels, including the mythical.

    Does the subscious mind exist? I mean “really” exist? I do know that the subscious has become a culturally relevant, almost universal way of explaining non-“intentional” behaviors. Is the world worse off for the work of Freud, I don’t know that I can say that at all. Is there no good reason to go to a psychotherapist, I can’t say that at all. All of this without being able to decide the ontological status of the Ego, Id and Superego, nor any of the drives.

    Perhaps Freud and Marx share the “seriously mistaken but quite helpful and insightful” pedestal.

  13. After some thought I might add…

    A: “Freud is powerful in the way that Myths are powerful. The problem is that Freud has succumbed to his own myth, and become trapped in his own fly bottle. IN fact, it’s been argued that Wittgenstein’s notion of therapy stems from Kant’s transcendental dialect: it has everything to do with a form of limitation, and a kind of ataraxia.”

    Kvond: I have often felt that Wittgenstein also succumbed to his own myth, the myth of the language game (reduction, the literalization of an analogy), and the myth of Kantian distinctions (becoming the grammatical/empirical), in favor of a view on how to proscribe human behaviors under a metaphor of illness.

  14. You’re right, Kevin, I’m being too hard on psychoanalysis.

    I suppose all I needed to say is something like this: There’s nothing in psychoanalysis that precludes a realist interpretation. This much more modest claim should do the work I need, since it indicates that realism/anti-realism isn’t a commitment that’s constitutive of a particular discipline.

    Thanks for bringing me back down to earth.

  15. Did Harman ever explain how he characterizes primary and secondary qualities? If yes, please disregard the remainder of this comment; if no…

    Objects have primary qualities — one might even say that they’re comprised of primary qualities. However, an object’s primary qualities remain hermetically withdrawn, forever out of reach of any other object, including human objects. Encounters between objects take place at a distance, vicariously, engaging one another only through secondary qualities. However…

    Objects that encounter one another generate some sort of inter-object plasm, within which properties disconnect themselves from their objects and encounter each other directly. But doesn’t this direct plasmic connection between objects’ properties violate the principles of hermetic withdrawn-ness and vicarious intercourse? No. Why not? Because this dynamic property-filled plasm turns out to be the molten core of a new composite object comprised of the two separate objects that have come into mutual proximity. Therefore these free-floating secondary properties dislodged from their objects turn out to be the primary properties residing inside this new composite object.

    If I understand Harman correctly here, then contact between a human mind-object and anything other object generates a new combined object that sounds a lot like the dreaded Correlation. Secondary properties apprehended by the human mind turn out also to be primary properties of the Correlation as an object in its own right.

    …or maybe I’m mistaken.

  16. John, I finally got around to reading Collapse III that contains the transcript of “Speculative Realism” workshop – I have to say that I’m ever more amused now by Harman’s “realism” – no, he never answered my question about primary and secondary qualities, yes, he is just making it all up, the question is whether it is still entertaining or just disturbing…

  17. No offense, but I think Harman tried this whole egalitarian blog thing with comments open and he didn’t like it – don’t expect him to answer your silly little questions, he’s a big shot, you know?

  18. No offense, but the personal attacks against Graham are uncalled for. Dislike his work all you want, but keep it respectable. (And I say that as someone who always personally strives to keep these debates civil.)

    Alexei,

    “About the whole anti-realism thing. I honestly don’t think that Continental philosophy is any less realist than analytic philosophy, or even the philosophy of science. I don’t know how Levi got the idea that continental philosophy is by definition committed to the claim that there is no mind independent reality (Kant’s got noumenon, Husserl has a llitany of transcendent objects, every Hegelian philosopher simply thinks ‘realism’ and ‘anti-realism’ are absurd, etc).”

    It depends (as always) on what you mean by realism here – all correlationist philosophies are realist in the sense that they believe the correlation exists. And really, any philosophy is realist in some minimal sense, insofar as it argues for the existence of something.

    What continental philosophy has been stuck in is the idea that being and thought exist, but only in relation to each other. And yes, Kant says being exists independently, but as his critics went on to point out, this was untenable in his own system. So having a realist claim that contradicts the rest of your system doesn’t seem particularly realist to me. Husserl, I don’t know well enough to critique your suggestion that he’s a realist, but everything I know of him suggests otherwise. And Hegel absolutizes the correlation, so it’s anti-realist in the sense that there is no being independent of thought.

    I’m also starting to think this general term of speculative realism is bringing far more problems than benefits. All 4 of the main authors were working independently, and then they came up with a name for the conference where they first presented together (and they didn’t even all agree on the name!). So it’s not bizarre at all to find that there’s very little agreement amongst them – they have never consciously worked towards a single goal. They share themes, but they don’t even share the same attitude to correlationism! Meillassoux, himself, is a correlationist. Which is perhaps why I find this idea that they should agree upon their fundamental principles somewhat confusing. The only thing unifying them is the label, which was itself a historical accident.

  19. “he is just making it all up”

    Isn’t that the job description for Metaphysician? Oops, I think I got jammed up in the snarkoplasm. Anyhow, I think that’s not an unfair Harman-for-Dummies™ thumbnail on primary/secondary. Is this how you guys interpret what he’s saying?

    “Meillassoux, himself, is a correlationist.”

    I’ve seen Harman making the same assertion, Nick, though I couldn’t discern it from my reading of After Finitude. To me that whole book seemed like an elaborate introductory problem statement rather than a proposed solution, so maybe some of the answers appear in subsequent writings.

    My sense of Meillassoux’s project is this: Sure there’s a perfect confound between subjectivity and knowledge of the real. But just because science can never achieve a pure 200-proof distillation of objective knowledge doesn’t mean the whole scientific endeavor is naively self-delusional. Can’t we continental philosophers see the glass as half-full, and getting incrementally more full all the time? That’s kind of how AF begins and ends; I await the sequel.

  20. Nick, I didn’t mean my comment as a personal attack at all – “he’s making it all up” wasn’t an attack, I think, it was just a sort of amused reaction to the discussion of “hobbit” and “quark” in Collapse and other issues – I don’t think it’s an accusation of any kind, I suppose I understand now why it’s “weird” realism, I’m just stunted that it is called “realism” to begin with. I have nothing personal against Harman and I think I said that many times.

  21. It depends (as always) on what you mean by realism here – all correlationist philosophies are realist in the sense that they believe the correlation exists.

    It also depends, as always, on what you mean by “correlation” and “thought” and “being” and “existence” – it strikes me as odd that you (maybe not personally, but say as a representative of anti-correlationist position) are continuously allowing for complexity and subtlety when it comes to realism, yet so-called correlationism is almost always presented such crude and simplistic manner: correlation exists.

    What does it mean to say that “correlation exists”? Does it mean that being relates to thought or thought relates to being or both at the same time? How does a realist know anything? – is it not by relating to being, to things? Is he a correlationist then? I think Alexei is repeatedly trying to make this discussion a bit more complex by suggesting things like – let’s be correlationist about A and realist about B (if I understand it correctly), yet he is always shot down with the same: “correlationist once, correlationist forever” mantra, it seems…

    And yes, Kant says being exists independently, but as his critics went on to point out, this was untenable in his own system.

    And Kant in return went on to point out that they were full of it and didn’t get it – I mean your statement makes it look as though Kant was an idiot who didn’t see a major flaw in his own system and it took Fichte (actually Maimon – I’m predicting a huge revival of Maimon studies in the next 10 years – pretentious? yes but also true) to point it out. Again, it seems to me that you are simplifying correlationist position here while allowing for complexity of your views.

  22. Nick: “The only thing unifying them is the label, which was itself a historical accident.”

    Kvond: Graham himself, more than once, has pointed out in Network-like fashion that the four of them together have as an entity worked to draw attention to their work, individually, and that they have gone (I think he means that “he” has gone) further then they ever would have on their own. Now, this is philosophy. We are not supposed to admire the work of others primarily due to historical accidents. A historical accident might draw our attention to something or other, but our attention remains there hopefully beyond something more than accidents – reasons, arguments, forcefulness of vision.

    While Graham Harman’s blogging behavior was notably bizarre, and may have exposed some rather interesting character traits, the biggest problem I have with his thinking (apart from his good fortune of being lumped in with 3 others to form something of a brand name that represents no particular position), is that his thinking is hopelessly insubstantial. Lotta buck, not much bang. His theory of causation is actually NO theory of causation, having NO explanatory of value at all. Just a bunch of Heideggerian and Husserlian derived “objects” all mixed in together. It is as if a college sophomore got a great idea when he was high, and by some spell of magic got locked up in his dorm room for 15 years without aging a good supply of hash, and came up with some “molten core” theory of causation. What the f**k?! The mosquito collides into a speeding mack truck and has 0 (zero) causal effect on it. Why, well, because there are molten cores. If there is any dissappointment with Graham Harman it is that his thinking is tantalizingly interesting in topic, but then rigorously fantastical (at most), folding concepts of his favorite philosophers back and forth, all the while, asserting, asserting, asserting.

    This, and the “disingenuousness” (Mikhail’s favorite word) of having an “object oriented philosophy” that almost never concerns itself with “objects”. An utterly irreal realism. If historical accident lumped him in with these three, then perhaps rational thought should separate them out. I know he wants to play with fantastic worlds like the String Theorists (why should the scientists have all of the fun!), but where does “historical accident” and fun end, and argument-that-matters begin? He seems nice enough a guy in most circumstances, but really, thought presented is thought asking for critique.

  23. M.E.: “I think Alexei is repeatedly trying to make this discussion a bit more complex by suggesting things like – let’s be correlationist about A and realist about B (if I understand it correctly), yet he is always shot down with the same: “correlationist once, correlationist forever” mantra, it seems…”

    Kvond: I honestly suspect that the way that the “correlationalist” accusation works here is more to cohere a group of persons against an “enemy”, an enemy necessarily broadbrushed, so to further the group, than to really compare arguments and perhaps work towards some sort of agreement. I seem to recall Harman, before he blew up his blog to save it from being overrun by the barbarian hoards, as saying something like “I’m not even that interested in Kant, he just works as a standin for what I am against”. The point is something like, I don’t care about Kant, I care about us being against Kantishness.

  24. “Kantishness” is a great term, Kevin, I am officially willing to be referred to as “Kantish” – yay, in your face, self-identity crisis…

    P.S. I looked up “disingenuous” in a dictionary some time ago, I like it, I’m sticking with it.

  25. You’re right, Nick, to suggest that there needn’t be any ‘founding’ principle that all SR folks share. I’m fine with that, since it makes sense that people working for a common (or maybe not so common) goal would have radically different commitments. But I don’t think that changes much in connection to our discussion about realism though.

    But I do have a bit of a problem with this,

    What continental philosophy has been stuck in is the idea that being and thought exist, but only in relation to each other.

    Now I don’t want to sound like a contrarian, even if I am one, but I disagree whole-heartedly with this claim. Take Gadamer (who by the way seems to be the dude who came up with the Correlationist mantra, see Truth and Method, p 244 ff): he was smart enough to say that “Being that can be understood is Language.” He didn’t say “Being is language,” or some such. Same thing with Husserl (or at least how I read him): all kinds of stuff exists for him, it’s just not interesting. So it strikes me as a mis-characterization of ‘continental philosophy’ to say that it makes the existence of thought and being depdent on one another (which strikes me as a paradox to begin with)

    So rather than a correlation, what is interesting is the constitution of meaning, and how we agents share it. Somehow, this feature always drops out of the ‘Realism’ conversation. I mean, really, a world independent of thought is by definition meaningless — ask yourself whether you think that meaning is a primary quality of objects with causal powers or whether it arises from some secondary, correlational property –, so what do I care about independently existing things, when what’s interesting is precisely the meaningful ones? If a name for this ‘position’ helps, call it asymmetrical correlationism. So yes, objectivity and subjectivity are inherently connected, and I can’t think the one without also thinking the other, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something independent of the my thinking/correlation (To put the point in fancy Husserlian German: although Subjektivität and Objektivität are correlated, there still remains Gegenständlichkeit or some such which transcends the correlation — So it’s not that husserl is a realist; rather ‘realism’ is part of the natural attitude, which is the normal attitude of our day to day engagements. It simply doesn’t tel us much about sense-constitution). So honestly it’s a logical leap to go from subjectivity and objectivity are thought together/correlated to there’s nothing outside the correlation. In point of fact, I think the correlationist critique sorta misses the point and attacks a strawman position (“If you’re a correlationist,” Qm tells us, “you must think that the big bang is a fiction, or not be consistent!” And I respond, “This novel version of a tree falling in the forest argument is great, and I’m totally happy saying that the big bang happened. I will add, however, that the big bang isn’t a meaningful — semantically rich — event until sentient and sapient beings come along.”)

    to close things out, I would like to say that the Kant situation is always troublesome around here (as is the Hegel one for me, actually; I’m way more Hegelian that Kantian, but you can’t be Hegelian unless you’re also a bit Kantian). I don’t disagree with you about the whole ‘Dingeansich are incoherent’ charge. But I would like to point out that it’s not clear that causality is the problem (‘affection’ may not be causal) — but certainly whatever Kant has to say about things in themselves is no less realistic or plausible than Harman (I don’t mean to pick on him; honestly). moving on to hegel, I don’t really know what it means to ‘absolutize the correlation.’ Maybe you could explain it.

    Mikhail — yes, I’m basically trying to say that I don’t see how being a realist about one topic means you can’t be a anti-realist/correlationist/teddybear lover on others. What I’m trying to suss out is what issues a ‘realist’ position demands a realist stance on, and whether there’s an underlying logic/philosophical rationale to it.

  26. It depends on whether we’re talking about trees in themselves or trees for the correlationist. The latter group assert that falling trees do in fact make a sound; The former, by contrast maintain that ‘sound’ is a correlationist fiction, and assert instead that the falling-tree-in-itself precipitates a causal interaction between tree-in-itself and surrounding environment-in-itself that compresses and alters the atmosphere-in-itself immediately surrounding them, and thereby generates a wave-in-itself, which the correlationist calls ‘sound.’
    😉

  27. Alexei,

    I agree with pretty much all you say there – you add some important qualifications. Basically, it’s important to remember that QM is rallying against 2 versions of correlationism – the Kantian-type version, which suggests being can exist independently of thought, but denies that we can ever have knowledge of it. (Meaning weak correlationism is also a sort of weak realism.) And the other version is strong correlationism, which is Hegel basically, where Logos is Nature, Nature is Logos, and everything is mediation. There is nothing left outside of the mediation between those two; there is no noumenal realm independent of thought. I’m not a Hegel expert (not by far!), but perhaps that helps in understanding the position. So QM is not happy with either of those positions.

    Kevin,

    “the biggest problem I have with [Graham’s] thinking (apart from his good fortune of being lumped in with 3 others to form something of a brand name that represents no particular position), is that his thinking is hopelessly insubstantial. Lotta buck, not much bang. His theory of causation is actually NO theory of causation, having NO explanatory of value at all.”

    Read Gabriel Catren’s article in the recent Collapse to get an idea of how OOP can apply to quantum mechanics. (And, notably, Catren’s article was written independently of any of Harman’s work.) The article is written by an author who’s presented at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (home of Smolin and Hawking), so he knows his shit about physics. What’s the value of this work? For one, it refutes all the dumb new-age readings of quantum physics. But two, it also offers paths forward for science – if objects exist as Catren argues, then science should ask different questions.

    Mikhail,

    “It also depends, as always, on what you mean by “correlation” and “thought” and “being” and “existence” – it strikes me as odd that you (maybe not personally, but say as a representative of anti-correlationist position) are continuously allowing for complexity and subtlety when it comes to realism, yet so-called correlationism is almost always presented such crude and simplistic manner: correlation exists.

    What does it mean to say that “correlation exists”? Does it mean that being relates to thought or thought relates to being or both at the same time? How does a realist know anything? – is it not by relating to being, to things? Is he a correlationist then?”

    You’re right – I mean correlationism is a nice short-hand for a lot more in-depth details. But I think the work of explaining some of these details has been done elsewhere, and of course you wouldn’t expect us to repeat that every time we bring up the term! There are the two main variants I cite above in replying to Alexei. Meillassoux also points to a variety of correlations in his work (I can think of Heidegger most notably), and Levi has added numerous others in various postings on his blog. Whether it be weak or strong correlationism, I’d be very curious to hear about authors who have escaped this. With the caveat that just saying an independent world exists doesn’t mean you escape weak correlationism.

    Oh, and I’ve been meaning to ask this for awhile now, since it seems so central to our debates here – but what do you mean by knowledge? It seems as though you’ve been relying on a Kantian form of knowledge, but it’d be nice to get clarification.

    John,

    ““Meillassoux, himself, is a correlationist.”

    I’ve seen Harman making the same assertion, Nick, though I couldn’t discern it from my reading of After Finitude.”

    As I see it, basically the whole of QM’s project relies on taking correlationism to be true. His arguments against it only function if correlationism holds. What he attempts to do, though, is to argue his way out of correlationism, to show that the internal logic of correlationism means that it already has knowledge of the absolute. He’s a correlationist, therefore, but a radical version of it.

  28. Oh, and I’ve been meaning to ask this for awhile now, since it seems so central to our debates here – but what do you mean by knowledge? It seems as though you’ve been relying on a Kantian form of knowledge, but it’d be nice to get clarification.

    As far as I am concerned, you’re correct, I’ve been thinking of knowledge in Kantian (or rather Kantish) terms as something that can justify a claim to universal and necessary validity.

    I think it’s a great question that we haven’t really addressed here, i.e. what do we mean when we speak of “knowing” or “knowledge” – what do you mean by “knowledge”?

  29. “I think it’s a great question that we haven’t really addressed here, i.e. what do we mean when we speak of “knowing” or “knowledge” – what do you mean by “knowledge”?”

    I admit that right now this is an open question for me. I’m trying to write something up on this as we speak, but it’ll be a while before I’m totally happy with it. Basically, though, it will have to do with the seeming paradox that neuroscience gives us knowledge that we’ll never be able to experience for ourselves. For example, in blindsight, where subjects never experience that they have knowledge of an object in their blindspot, yet experiments reveal that they do. What type of knowledge is that? What type of experience is that? It never involves an ‘I think’ that accompanies the non-phenomenal experience, yet there it is nevertheless. I’m not really prepared to discuss the idea much more, but that’s the general sort of questions I’m aiming to answer.

  30. I think as far as I am concerned, we need to be careful in terms of conflating all kinds of issues here – knowledge or cognition is not the same, of course, as experience and possible experience is not the same as actual experience – all very banal statements – I don’t see how out inability to experience a blindspot is detrimental to our knowledge that it does exist – maybe you can say more about it and we’ll where it goes.

    I realize that you might be hesitant to discuss this, but it seems like a good subject matter to tackle without any necessarily pre-set agendas and I’m more than willing to put my Kantish opinions aside for the sake of this conversation…

  31. I just want to echo Mikhail’s points: For the sake of clarity, we really do need to distinguish ‘experience,’ ‘possible experience,’ ‘cognition,’ and ‘knowledge’ from one another. Otherwise we’re going to run into trouble but quick.

    Could we all settle on a really basic definition of knowledge, something like ‘Knowledge’ = Justified True Belief (JTB). For all its problems this minimal definition at least has a plausible ring to it. We can complicate things afterwords, but we still need something like a common beginning point.

    Should we accept this definition, moreover, the blindsight issue turns out not to be knowledge, since it shows that test-subjects have true beliefs about ‘un-experienced’ objects, but that they lack any justification for such a belief (indeed, they tend to confabulate).

  32. Alexei: ” I’m way more Hegelian that Kantian, but you can’t be Hegelian unless you’re also a bit Kantian).”

    Kvond: I’m glad you say this because I have heard you say, “I’m a Kantian” (in the CI thread), and “I’m not a Kantian” (over at Larval Subjects). It makes sense that only a Hegelian could assert a contradiction, and then resolve it.🙂

  33. I have heard you say, “I’m a Kantian” (in the CI thread), and “I’m not a Kantian” (over at Larval Subjects). It makes sense that only a Hegelian could assert a contradiction, and then resolve it.

    Ha! My Kantianism is limited to a methodological/argumentative issue concerning immanent critique. If you buy into immanent critique, you buy into some species of transcendental deduction (This is why the ‘doubled world’ criticism that Levi attributes to Deleuze manages to miss the point entirely). That is, if you think that the evaluative criteria for a given endeavour are bound up in this endevaour, then you need a way to ‘derive’ or extrapolate the criteria from the phenomenon or endevaour to be judged. Transcendental deductions do just that. So, if you think that evaluative criteria need to be extrapolated from a practive, then you’ve basically accepted the structure of Kant’s transcendental deduction. This is one of the reasons why I revert to Brandom’s implicit/explicit pairing, since it’s the most commonsensical way of introducing the empirical/transcendental line.

    It’s also in Hegel. Hegel appropriates this particular implicit/explicit – empirical/transcendental structure (the whole language of in-itself, for-itself, etc, more or less corresponds to the structural moments in Kant’s TDs) and then proceeds to ‘de-transcendentalize it by way of a processual logic, or by historization. But the basic structure is more or less the same.

    All this said, though, I don’t ever remember claiming to be a Kantian in any serious, philosophically substantive way, save for recently — and then only as a consequence of the unrelenting peer pressure. You sure I self-identified in the CI thread? I did say that Kant’s ethics gets at something ‘deep’ in that it explicitly shows why something like human flourishing isn’t sufficient for ethical action. Maybe that’s what you’re thinking of?

  34. This was the self-identifying moment:

    Alexei: Kevin, I haven’t offered a maxim simply because I’m stubborn, not because I’m a Kantian. I honestly don’t see what point there is in offering one. but if you really need one, here…

  35. Alexei: “Could we all settle on a really basic definition of knowledge, something like ‘Knowledge’ = Justified True Belief (JTB). For all its problems this minimal definition at least has a plausible ring to it.”

    Kvond: This is the problem. I completely agree with you that the question of Realism in this highly variant contexts is dependent upon a confusions/conflations over what “to know” is. This is crucial. But…to adopt an ad hoc definition of “knowledge” which you already admit is problematic, because it merely has the “ring” of plausibility to it, with the side benefit of disqualifying (or at least complicating) any number of opponent claims you do not find appealing, certainly doesn’t seem like an even-handed approach.

  36. Like I said, my own thoughts on knowledge and epistemology are really vague right now, but I’ll contribute what I can. I’d be interested in hearing what distinction you, Alexei, draw between cognition, knowledge, experience and possible experience.

    With all the hesitancy appropriate to me still trying to articulate vague thoughts, let me say that one thing I’m suggesting with the blindsight example is that a purely immanent analysis of experience is insufficient for understanding how thought (and thereby knowledge) is constructed. In other words, we can’t just characterize how experience is (which is itself a contentious issue – Deleuze and Kant both use transcendental deductions, but characterize experience differently), and then draw out a deduction of its necessary conditions. We also need to understand that major aspects of experience are not susceptible to this internal critique (blindsight being one of the simplest and clearest examples, although not the only one). But if this is the case, then that seems to entail that neuroscience is giving an explanation of thought that necessarily refers to entities that exist independently of thought – i.e. neuroscience logically entails realism (otherwise it’s incoherent).

    In fact, I think neuroscience is more appropriate to discussions of realism and anti-realism than physics (or cosmology) precisely because its consequences immediately touch upon the divide and because it’s so much harder to deny its results. Physics, on the other hand, is so wildly different from everyday experience that it becomes impossible to definitively prove anything. We can legitimately argue the the propositions of physics are ‘as if’ propositions. Is there really such a thing as quarks, neutrinos, strings? Whereas the brain is there, and we can clearly prod parts of the brain and give rise to a whole variety of thoughts. (Or, as in some recent experiments, we can even predict what people are thinking just by noting what brain areas are lighting up in an fMRI.) But no one (I hope!) would argue that the brain is just an ‘as if’ proposition, just a figment of thought.

    Anyways, I think that was a lot of rambling, but it’s useful to throw thoughts in the fire and see what survives.

    And I’d be very interested to hear someone explain to me how transcendental philosophy or phenomenology would discover and/or understand something like blindsight though. How would it fit into Kant, or Husserl, for example?

  37. Kevin,

    “This is the problem. I completely agree with you that the question of Realism in this highly variant contexts is dependent upon a confusions/conflations over what “to know” is. This is crucial. But…to adopt an ad hoc definition of “knowledge” which you already admit is problematic, because it merely has the “ring” of plausibility to it, with the side benefit of disqualifying (or at least complicating) any number of opponent claims you do not find appealing, certainly doesn’t seem like an even-handed approach.”

    I completely agree, which is why I prefer (perhaps problematically) to leave the notion of knowledge open for now.

    • If the whole issue of realism is our ability to know the mind-independent reality (and not only to posit that it exists, like Kant, and can be thought), then how can we do without a simple understand of what knowledge is? I think it’s precisely the uncertainty (or a proposed certainty as in dogmatism) of Hume about what we do and don’t know that cause Kant some much anxiety and motivated the whole project – if we want to go back to things like “realism” we must begin with knowledge, not let it sit aside while we do… what exactly can we do without an understanding of knowledge?

  38. Nick: “I completely agree, which is why I prefer (perhaps problematically) to leave the notion of knowledge open for now.”

    Kvond: This makes me chuckle in the most good-natured of ways. But really chuckle. One might as well leave open the notion of the “real” as well, while we are at it. I admire of course the honesty, but shouldn’t we start with, or at least go very quickly to, the notion of knowledge?

  39. M.E.: “if we want to go back to things like “realism” we must begin with knowledge, not let it sit aside while we do… what exactly can we do without an understanding of knowledge?”

    Kvond: What I would want to know, from the Anti-Realists and Realists, is: Do dogs and zebras know how the world is?

    At what is at stake to say that they do or that they don’t?

  40. Kevin and Mikhail,

    You’re both right of course! I think I need a coffee before I start trying to explain much more! I didn’t mean that the question of knowledge should be entirely left aside, or ignored, or left completely empty (as if that were possible). I really just meant what Kevin said earlier – that a number of definitions of what knowledge is are going to predetermine the outcome of the investigation. It would be self-defeating to commit to a definition of knowledge that, by definition, prohibits any varieties of realism. So that’s where my hesitancy comes from.

    While we’re on the topic though – the question of starting points seems fundamental to any transcendental philosophy. Yet how do we know who has the right starting point between Kant, Hegel and Deleuze (to take only a handful of examples)? And how does this definition of knowledge get determined? I don’t know, maybe I really should go get that coffee, and these questions have obvious answers?

  41. Nick: “And how does this definition of knowledge get determined?”

    Kvond: This is a wonderful question. What is it to know what knowing is? I would wager with coherence and force of description (including even the capacity to consider empirical research), but it likely comes down to “tradition”. If you want to come up with a new way of defining knowing, one has to defy the weight hundreds of years of argument.

    On the other hand, I would prefer, “WHEN is it meaningful to say that one has, or another has, knowledge”

  42. How about good old trusted “fact of reason” as a starting point? I know it’s kind of seems arbitrary, but if we mean it not in a specifically Kantian way, but in a very basic way of being able to understand (each other) – I actually like Alexei’s approach – so what if it’s ad hoc?

    I don’t think that a “starting point” is necessarily a specifically “transcendental philosophy” problem – philosophical realism also begins, it seems, with a number of propositions etc etc whether axiomatically or provisionally stating certain things…

  43. M.E.: “so what if it’s ad hoc?”

    Kvond: When its ad hoc to build a Kantianish conclusion, “so what” becomes the problem.

    M.E.: “How about good old trusted “fact of reason” as a starting point? I know it’s kind of seems arbitrary, but if we mean it not in a specifically Kantian way, but in a very basic way of being able to understand (each other)”

    Kvond: Well, we seem to be able to “understand each other” without recourses to strict facts of reason. In fact animals “understand” each other pretty well too.

  44. I’m not sure I understand your issue with “ad hoc” here? And we’re not “building conclusion” here, especially Kantian – I read Alexei’s point as simply saying “for the purposes of this conversation, or the start of this conversation let’s agree that knowledge is X” – I don’t see how this is a problem at all.

    Precisely because we would start with a fact of reason (not facts of reason), we would eliminate animals and would not describe their behavior in terms of “understanding” or “knowledge” – how do you propose one begins a philosophical conversation about anything?

  45. M.E.: “I don’t see how this is a problem at all.”

    Kvond: You don’t see how starting from specific definitions leads to specific kinds of conclusion (defintions are not neutral)?????!!!

    If I was a different sort of person I would say that you are being disingenuous🙂, or simply haven’t paid attention to the history of philosophy. Generally, when we want to attack conclusions, we attack the supposition.

    M.E.: Precisely because we would start with a fact of reason (not facts of reason), we would eliminate animals and would not describe their behavior in terms of “understanding” or “knowledge” –

    Kvond: Hmmm. So when you say “understand each other” generally, you don’t mean generally, but specific to the defition you propose. What one has to contest with is that your restriction of what is and is not knowledge cuts out a great number of our easily understandable uses of the word “know”. And thus risks not answering the question, what is it to know. Part of this issue with animals is that we too are animals, and our “knowledge” or “knowing” seems to go quite a bit down into our rudimentary capabilities.

    M.E.: how do you propose one begins a philosophical conversation about anything?

    Kvond: Find agreement on definitions with the persons you aim to convince, and not simply impose defitions that they would not find acceptable. Alexei proposed a definition that he even admits is problematic, and only has the “ring” of plausibility. Do you imagine that philosophy should be done by “rings”? How then does the “ring” of a definition fit within your restriction that knowledge must be a fact of reason?

  46. Hi again Nick

    I’d be interested in hearing what distinction you, Alexei, draw between cognition, knowledge, experience and possible experience.

    I have a Benjaminian concept of experience, knowledge and possible experience, which would be out of place in the current kind of discussion. But at a more general level, I suppose that I see things as follows: there’s something like a progressive relationship among these notions. ‘experience’ = fodder for cognition, ‘cognition’ = a set of mental processes that can be made explicit or occurrent, and that are involved in forming a judgment, and ‘knowledge’ = something like justified true belief. Finally, the conditions for the possibility of experience = the (Hegelian) absolute: the (normative) conditions implicit in and underwriting the manipulation of ‘things’ in an experience. I realize all this is rather abstract, or vague, but that’s simply to allow for maximal flexibility; we can argue about any one of my characterizations, or about the order I’ve attributed to them; but for now this quasi-functional account does what it needs to — it distinguishes among the notions and introduces some order of dependence among them. Notice, furthermore, that this quick sketch doesn’t rule out knowledge as a practice (i.e. the distinction between know-how and know-that is still intact, and operant). It simply means that practices are informed by claims to know, or by sedimented normative structures.

    Now about this question,

    And I’d be very interested to hear someone explain to me how transcendental philosophy or phenomenology would discover and/or understand something like blindsight though. How would it fit into Kant, or Husserl, for example?

    My simple answer is that you’re asking a particular philosophical approach to do something it’s not intended for. To use a couple of hyperbolic examples, you might as well ask me how to mow the lawn with a scalpel, or how to brush my teeth with a chainsaw. Neuroscience has a specific set of questions, techniques, and priorities. Kant’s and Husserl’s philosophies have radically different ones. They don’t share the same problem spaces. In fact I don’t think there’s any possibility of a philosophy of mind until Freud. Although Kant’s philosophy involves the structure of subjectivity, he doesn’t really have a philosophy of mind; neither does Husserl (now that I think of it, though, I’m sure that a particularly ingenious Kantian might argue that blindsight has something to do with the threefold syntheses of the transcendental unity of apperception, particularly the synthesis of apprehension — but that’s just a guess). Kant is a functionalist thinker after all — his great insight is that primary qualities like substance etc, are actually functions of judgment; Whether these functions can be reduced to some physical, neurological correlate is a completely different question, which may or may not invalidate Kant’s work. So, really, It’s not fair to ask anti-psychologistic thinkers like Kant and Husserl to explain a psychological phenomenon. Said slightly differently, neuroscience isn’t a philosopher’s stone, nor is it the Rossetta stone through which every philosophical problem can be translated.

    Kevin — the definition of knowledge I proposed isn’t ad hoc. It’s been with philosophy since Plato (I think it ends up being used in the Meno, if I’m not mistaken). There are a slew of problems with it (the so called Gettier Problems), and if you’re a die hard naturalist, you might even argue that it misses the point. But this rather venerable formula of Justified True Belief is still pretty good to start with, since it distinguishes among experience, belief, and knowledge. So It can’t be useless. anyway, I’ve noticed that you have a habit of fastening onto a particular turn of phrase I use in a given comment. My writing is, at best, quite tedious, so I try to give it a splash of colour here and there. If you think it’s unhelpful, please tell me! But it shouldn’t get in the way of what I’m writing (I sorta assumed some familiarity with the JTB definition of knowledge, and its standard criticisms; maybe I shouldn’t have) — and it shouldn’t become the crux of a particular criticism. Not a big point, i know, but I thought it might be worth pointing out.

  47. Alexei: ” the definition of knowledge I proposed isn’t ad hoc.”

    Kvond: Thanks for the philosophy lesson. Maybe someone out there has not heard of JTB and is happy for your references.

    What is ad hoc is your APPLICATION of it to answer this question, as your justication for its application showed.

    Alexei: “It can’t be useless. anyway, I’ve noticed that you have a habit of fastening onto a particular turn of phrase I use in a given comment. My writing is, at best, quite tedious, so I try to give it a splash of colour here and there. If you think it’s unhelpful, please tell me!”

    Kvond: I actually liked your “ring of plausibility” phrase. It was honest and not full of philo-jargon bullshit. The point is, your “ring of plausibility” is another’s “ring of trying to fix the conclusion of one’s choosing”. To adopt such a definition when tracking against the naturalistic tendencies of, let us say, Levi’s Realism, is of course to stack the deck.

  48. Uh, I didn’t try to justify anything Kevin, I simply said I don’t see how something that is definitive for a specific problem space can be ad hoc. Nor do I see how asking folks whether they would all consent to a particular definition counts as stacking the deck. I do think, however, that if one does in fact adopt it, then certain things like the blindsight phenomenon don’t allow for knowledge. It doesn’t mean we can’t have knowledge about or of blindsight, but simply that test-subjects don’t ‘know’ anything about the objects they can describe. They simply have unsurpported beliefs. And, now that I’m thinking about it, why isn’t that a more accurate description of the phenomenon anyway?

  49. Find agreement on definitions with the persons you aim to convince, and not simply impose defitions that they would not find acceptable.

    And where exactly are these definitions going to come from? Since definitions are not neutral, whatever that means, you have no way to even begin a conversation, unless your proposed definition is something I agree with in which case what is the point of a conversation if we already agree to begin with? How am I going to “convince” someone that I already agree with?

  50. Kevin, no offense, but you are bordering on nonsensical here – what exactly is your point? I’m all about inquisitive minds and all, but it seems that you are just being contradictory for no particular reason – for example, just saying that all definitions are loaded or some such doesn’t really make the conversation go anywhere. especially when you just state it like that and expect me to agree with you…

    I might be confused here, but I thought I knew what ad hoc meant but now that I read your comment about “application” and all, I don’t know if I might be mistaken – what do you mean when you use something like “ad hoc” here?

  51. Mikhail,

    Interesting. The two Kantians(ish) find these proposals for a defintion of knowledge quite satisfying. I suggest that there is reason for this. One Kantian finds my suggestion bordering on the nonsensical, while the Realist, Nick, whom the Kantians are trying to convince, finds my point quite important, and is in complete agreement

    However are we to bridge the gap between the nonsensical and the complete agreement.

    Ad hoc means “to this” (for this purpose). By my understanding of the justication Alexei offered and my general appreciation for the JTB, the purpose that the JTB is put to here (to settle the question of Realism/Anti-Realism), is decidedly biased. (For instance, it, and the one you offer, presumes a categorical propositional state of knowledge, something that Graham Harman I would imagine would absolutely refuse.)

  52. Alexei: “Nor do I see how asking folks whether they would all consent to a particular definition counts as stacking the deck.”

    Kvond: Actually, I think your offer was quite fair (but biased). I certainly do think that all these realists need to offer one, or something in return. I have tried to be insistent on that. I only wanted to point out that JTB has skewed emphases that someone like Nick should be wary of. To me much of this whole debate trades on different uses of the word “know”.

  53. Kevin, the proposal of using JTB had nothing to do with the realism/anti-realism thingie. look over the comments again. I proposed it — subsequent to everyone’s agreement — in order to help clarify a problem space concerning the relationships among the concepts of experience, cognition, and knowledge, which arose in the context of Nick’s remarks concerning neuroscience.

    And in any case, I admitted that there are all kinds of problems with JTB. The point of my suggestion was merely to find some common ground. Not to impose anything on anyone. If anything, I did myself the disfavour of stating what accepting this formula implies.

  54. You haven’t answered my question about your ideal scenario in which, I repeat, we are to “find agreement on definitions with the persons you aim to convince, and not simply impose defitions that they would not find acceptable” – it is this statement that I find to be nonsensical and I explained exactly how I think it is such above (agreeing on something while trying to convince etc etc)

    I think no one proposed a definition to “settle the question of realism/anti-realism” and simply repeating that any definition is “decidedly biased” is not going to convince me that it is unless you tell me how exactly it is so – because all definitions are biased? says who?

    I’m afraid I don’t know what “categorical propositional state of knowledge” is that my definition was suppose to presume…

  55. Alexei,

    As I tried to make clear in my last post, I thought your offer was fair…that is, one makes a proposal. I was suggesting to others that the proposal had a built in bias. At least in proposing you are way ahead of the Realists as I understand them in all their spots.

    Honestly though, and personally, though forcing the question into the shoehorn of justication, a great preponderance of what knowing is taken to be, and is experienced to be, is simply left out of the bag. I mean, I cannot even “know” that the sun is up when I wake up in the morning, or that the light caused my eyes to blink when my wife turns on the light in the middle of the night under JTB.

    I am a Non-Realist when it comes to questions of propositional justification, but knowing has a much richer meaning that the cubes that philosophy would like to slice it into.

  56. Mikhail: “You haven’t answered my question about your ideal scenario in which, I repeat, we are to “find agreement on definitions with the persons you aim to convince, and not simply impose defitions that they would not find acceptable” – it is this statement that I find to be nonsensical and I explained exactly how I think it is such above (agreeing on something while trying to convince etc etc)”

    Kvond: In your case, what I take issue with is the circular fashion in which you proposed your defintion. You suggested a Kantish defintion, but then qualified it as not Kantian at all, but only “general understanding”. When I pointed out that “general understanding” didn’t require such a defintion at all, you then used your defintion to limit the very qualification you proposed. This is my mind is an imposition.

    M.E.: “I’m afraid I don’t know what “categorical propositional state of knowledge” is that my definition was suppose to presume…”

    Kvond: “Facts of Reason” I assume come in the form of identifiable propositions. Perhaps though you can give other forms of “facts of reason” knowledge which are not propositional, and then I can better understand what you mean.

    To answer your general question though, my Ideal situation is the one that Alexei seems to have followed. Offer as neutral sounding one as possible (if still biased), and wait for a counter offer. Unfortunately Nick does not have a counter offer. Your proposal though, seemed circularly defined in an odd way. In any case, my objections to each proposal were slightly different. In Alexei’s case, it was a warning to Nick and others. In yours it was to the very form of the way that you qualified what you meant.

  57. I am a Non-Realist when it comes to questions of propositional justification, but knowing has a much richer meaning that the cubes that philosophy would like to slice it into.

    Maybe you can enlighten everyone concerning this awesome richness of knowing and how you know that it is so?

  58. To add…

    Alexei: “the proposal of using JTB had nothing to do with the realism/anti-realism thingie. look over the comments again. I proposed it — subsequent to everyone’s agreement — in order to help clarify a problem space concerning the relationships among the concepts of experience, cognition, and knowledge, which arose in the context of Nick’s remarks concerning neuroscience.”

    The thing is, Nick actually sees the neuroscience question to be quite related to the realism/anti-realism thingie:

    Nick: “In fact, I think neuroscience is more appropriate to discussions of realism and anti-realism than physics (or cosmology) precisely because its consequences immediately touch upon the divide and because it’s so much harder to deny its results.”

    In applying the JTB to Nick’s desire to use neurology to help sort out the Realism/Anti-Realism debate, I suggest that one is decidedly shaping just what neurology can say about that debate. Perhaps Nick or Levi would agree with this. I only point out the pitfalls.

  59. M.E.: “Maybe you can enlighten everyone concerning this awesome richness of knowing and how you know that it is so?”

    Kvond: Maybe I can start with saying that I “know” that you are starting to be an ass, because I can sense it intuitively.🙂

  60. Mikhail,

    I would say also, besides being able to detect your tendencies toward sarcasm, I “know” that the light caused my eyes to blink, when I am suddenly exposed to that light in darkness, just as my dog does. Organisms, much to the sagrin of philosophers who would like to make all of the important stuff in the world bent to their powers, do all kinds of awesomely rich things in the world, though kinds of knowing, that help them get along in the world.

  61. In your case, what I take issue with is the circular fashion in which you proposed your definition etc etc…

    To answer your general question though, my Ideal situation is the one that Alexei seems to have followed. Offer as neutral sounding one as possible (if still biased), and wait for a counter offer.

    I’m sorry but you’re still not answering my question about your proposed ideal scenario, you gave me an example now (Alexei apparently followed it despite the fact that you’ve criticized him for precisely doing something you now approve) – still how exactly is your “find agreement on definitions with the persons you aim to convince” scenario is going to work, if according to you any definition is an imposition and is biased etc etc – where is that basic level that we are all going to agree on? what is this “neutral sounding” definition that has suddenly appeared? how is it both neural and biased? So basically you don’t define anything, you negotiate with your potential conversation partners what X or Y is going to mean (assuming everyone’s comfortable and doesn’t feel that they are being imposed on) and then what? more negotiating until you reach some sort of consensus where everyone is happy? So there’s no “correct” or “incorrect” here, only “comfortable and agreeable” and “imposed and biased” – how do you suppose any sort of a philosophical conversation would begin and proceed if it is a matter of sensitivity and politeness?

    “Fact of reason” is a basic assumption that there is such a thing as reason, nothing more than that – if there’s a reason, there’s a possibility of, say, logic and therefore we can argue, if there’s no reason, there’s no common ground, no logic and no way to argue, agree or disagree…

  62. Maybe I can start with saying that I “know” that you are starting to be an ass, because I can sense it intuitively.

    Well, I find it rather annoying that you pester everyone with questions – sometimes good ones, sometimes strange ones and sometimes, as I suggested, nonsensical ones – yet when I try to get you to answer one of mine, you avoid it or ignore it. In addition to that, you’ve been twisting phrases around as if we are pursuing some sort of scholastic conversation here with precise meanings, it’s blog, it’s a bunch of people talking, and trying to catch someone here and there is just irritating.

  63. M.E.: “where is that basic level that we are all going to agree on? what is this “neutral sounding” definition that has suddenly appeared? how is it both neural and biased?”

    Kvond: I don’t know here, this seems like basic 101 discussion and debate. One proposes a defintion which seems like it might satisfy some of the requirements of the opponent, but also one which one intuits, or has already planned, has a distinct advantage to your side. If you get the other person to agree, you lead them down the aisle towards the conclusion you favor. A good opponent will recognize what you are doing, and provide you with the same. It is neutral sounding to your opponent, but to you provides favorable grounds for the things you want to say.

    M.E.: “So there’s no “correct” or “incorrect” here, only “comfortable and agreeable” and “imposed and biased” – how do you suppose any sort of a philosophical conversation would begin and proceed if it is a matter of sensitivity and politeness?”

    Kvond: I don’t know…you can always resort to sarcasm.

    M.E.: ““Fact of reason” is a basic assumption that there is such a thing as reason, nothing more than that…”

    Kvond: Reasons are usually given in propositional statements, and these reasons are in support of propositional statements. If you know some other form that you have in mind I’ll be glad to hear it.

  64. I “know” that the light caused my eyes to blink, when I am suddenly exposed to that light in darkness, just as my dog does. Organisms, much to the sagrin of philosophers who would like to make all of the important stuff in the world bent to their powers, do all kinds of awesomely rich things in the world, though kinds of knowing, that help them get along in the world.

    See, this is not an answer, I don’t care if you put quotation marks around “know” – I ask you to explain something and your answer is “I know because I know” – that’s just bullshit. How can you expect me to take your questions seriously if I know that were I to ask you something you would just dismiss it with a remark like that?

  65. M.E.: “Well, I find it rather annoying that you pester everyone with questions – sometimes good ones, sometimes strange ones and sometimes, as I suggested, nonsensical ones – yet when I try to get you to answer one of mine, you avoid it or ignore it. In addition to that, you’ve been twisting phrases around as if we are pursuing some sort of scholastic conversation here with precise meanings, it’s blog, it’s a bunch of people talking, and trying to catch someone here and there is just irritating.”

    Kvond: Hmm. These two things contradict each other.

    A: You want talk here to be not taken very seriously, we’re just a bunch of guys “talkin'” with very little precision.

    B: “Hey Kevin, how come you won’t answer my very precise question?!”

    I don’t know what you think I am avoiding. When I tell you that bacteria “knows” that there is a nutrient grade in the current, what do you want me to tell you? How? Do you want a chemical answer? There are all kinds of things we “know” and many levels of knowing them. Generally we know things through the coherence of our beliefs, our interpersonal connection to others, and our causal relationship to the world. Many of our beliefs can be considered unconscious and are the products of our affective organization of our bodies.

    But I think that any “knowing” is always provisional, and always context dependent.

  66. Mikhail: “See, this is not an answer, I don’t care if you put quotation marks around “know” – I ask you to explain something and your answer is “I know because I know” – that’s just bullshit.”

    Kvond: As Nietzsche pointed out, Kant’s faculties also are not an explanation of “how” either. They are of the functional order, “opium puts you to sleep through its dormative power” citing humorously the arrogance of Moliere’s character.

    I take knowing to be an action and a product of functional capacites (coherences of beliefs, affective organization, etc), though I do not turn to philosophical faculities to define it. This is “rock bottom” for the philosophical investigation of the “how” of this in my opinion. All other real explanations of “how” I take to be causal explanations.

  67. Honestly though, and personally, though forcing the question into the shoehorn of justication, a great preponderance of what knowing is taken to be, and is experienced to be, is simply left out of the bag. I mean, I cannot even “know” that the sun is up when I wake up in the morning, or that the light caused my eyes to blink when my wife turns on the light in the middle of the night under JTB.

    Ok, Kevin. But tell me, really, what’s the difference between a true belief and knowledge, between being certain about something and knowing? From where I sit, your scare quotes “I “Know”” sounds like “I am certain.” But certainty doesn’t equal knowledge, etc. So, although you claim to be unable to justify your claim that the sun is up when you wake up in the morning (Why you can’t, I don’t know), or that a light makes you blink, you can still be certain that it the sun has in fact risen, or the light has in fact made you blink. There’s no need for scare quotes around ‘know’ here, you just need to pronounce ‘know’ in such contexts as ‘certain.’ But being certain about something doesn’t mean you have knowledge. Some folks are certain God Exists. I’m certain the Boston Bruins are going to the Stanley Cup finals. But I don’t know that the bruins are going to the finals (save in a colloquial sense, where I tell my bookie, “look Jim I know the bruins are going to the finals!” But here the ‘I know’ operates like a flavouring particle — like a doch or ja in German: It strengthens the claim without adding any new semantic content ). So what’s the problem exactly?

    Furthermore, discounting justification altogether strikes me as premature. In the cases you mentioned, justification might be as simple as “I see the sun out my bedroom window, and there are no environmental, or psychological conditions that lead me to believe that I’m mistaken.” Or it could be as complicated as astrophysics. We Haven’t determined that yet. But determining whether justification is context dependent, etc, is a different problem than saying justification is altogether too constricting.

  68. Alexei: “Ok, Kevin. But tell me, really, what’s the difference between a true belief and knowledge, between being certain about something and knowing? From where I sit, your scare quotes “I “Know”” sounds like “I am certain.” ”

    Kvond: For me, knowledge is ever and always provisional, relational, and context dependent. So, in a certain sense there is no such thing as “knowing” if knowing means having a relation which under all conditions remains the same. (For this reason, talking about the thing-in-itself in a non-relational way is nonsensical. In fact the thing-in-itself is nonsensical to me. It’s like saying, the non-relational relation.)

    Alexei: “In the cases you mentioned, justification might be as simple as “I see the sun out my bedroom window, and there are no environmental, or psychological conditions that lead me to believe that I’m mistaken.”

    Kvond: Actually my problem is more with the “true” in the Justified, True, Belief. It generally supposes a fixed relation between a proposition and states in the world. As far as justification goes, one certainly can go about justifying all kinds of beliefs that work (are taken to be true). But one does not arrive at the knowledge that the light has caused my eyes to blink, or that the sun is up, through justification. I can check my knowledge with reflexive turns to criteria, but this doesn’t mean that I didn’t know in the first place. In my view, “I know” can always fall to “I thought I knew”. This does not fall into scepticism because “I know” works. It has traction with the world and with others.

  69. I’m enjoying this whole conversation, except for the delusional Bruins/Penguins stuff, which makes me laugh and laugh since clearly and distinctly (did you see the game last night?) the Hurricanes are going to the finals out of the East.

    Everyone has made sense here, in the sense of proposing a sense to make and then making it. Most recently I liked this (Kvond): “When I tell you that bacteria “knows” that there is a nutrient grade in the current, what do you want me to tell you? How? Do you want a chemical answer? There are all kinds of things we “know” and many levels of knowing them. Generally we know things through the coherence of our beliefs, our interpersonal connection to others, and our causal relationship to the world. Many of our beliefs can be considered unconscious and are the products of our affective organization of our bodies.

    But I think that any “knowing” is always provisional, and always context dependent.”

    I’d like this taken seriously. Would it help if I recalled the old pragmatist chestnut that we should not pretend to doubt what we don’t really doubt?

    • Carl, serious points aside for an even more serious point, you are clearly delusional about Hurricanes, but I am willing to doubt my prediction since it clearly comes from my high regard for your opinion. Plus that 4:0 annihilation is difficult to ignore – I’m assuming come tomorrow night you’re glued to TV with a trusty (insert Carolina beer) in hand?

      • Since Tuesday is tennis practice night I’m more likely to come rushing into the bar late, insert the first beer I can lay my hands on and hope there’s some meat left on the 3rd period.

        Assuming a good outcome, I must admit Boston’s domination of Carolina during the regular season does not inspire confidence. They even up in intensity and fundamentals but Boston might have talent and mission advantages. I like the Pittsburgh matchup better because the Pens can be taken out of their game.

    • Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, and sometimes its a pragmatist chestnut. But then, perhaps he wasn’t all that blind after all.

      Thanks for the thoughts Carl. I will say that I have a softspot for pragmatist regard of the world…maybe pragmatism, with a heavy spoon-ful of rationalist cohesion, just enough to get a theory of Truth off the ground. As with any recipe, its always in the proportions.

  70. Pingback: Dasein for Dummies: A Concise Field Guide to Being and Time, or “Why Kant was dead wrong” | Minds and Brains

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