Since I have some free time and also since I’m kind of tired of all the yelling (both “ours” and “theirs”), I’d like to address some of Reid’s observations about “speculative realism” made here. I think my major problem is found in the use of so many familiar terms that seems to mean nothing when I put them together, I’m tempted to present my ideas in a very dumb form, so forgive my simple-mindedness here.
1) Non-assimilable remainder that resists conceptualization.
So there is something (matter, for example) that is outside of thought. Agreed. It is independent of thought and cannot be thought. In fact it actively resists conceptualization, by its very nature it cannot be conceptualized. It is necessarily non-conceptual. That is to say, it’s not a problem of us not trying hard enough to conceptualize it, it’s a problem of its very nature. Now let’s push all the obvious epistemological objections aside for a moment (“how can you know that something is necessarily unknowable?” and so on) and look at this carefully:
“…this absolutely independent and unintelligible Real is the condition of possibility for any thought in each case, although in different ways. This is despite the fact that it cannot itself be given in thought or exhausted in conceptualization.”
This non-conceptual remainder is not really a remainder but a condition of possibility for the conceptual. Again, let’s hold our epistemological horses. So we have the non-conceptual condition for the conceptual, that is, somehow that which is not conceptual and therefore cannot be thought conditions/grounds/produces that which is conceptual and can be thought. What conditions the possibility of this very transition from non-conceptual to conceptual? To put it in more traditional philosophical terms, how do things become thoughts? I’d like to hear some new speculative realist reactions to this old question.
2) Somehow thinking/knowing that which cannot be thought/known is possible.
Non-conceptual conditions conceptual and this very conceptual knows that it is conditioned by non-conceptual. Things not only make thoughts, but things also become thoughts, and are somehow conceptualized without bringing the non-conceptual under the umbrella of the conceptual. I’m not really sure how this works and sending me to read some books is not going to help me understand this issue. We all know the Kantian solution: things appear to us, we structure those appearance in a certain way, we conceptualize and we have a world as it appears to us; even if this world is exactly the same as the world in itself, it does not matter because as far as we can know, we’re stuck with this one. There’s something outside of thought, there are things that can be thought and things that cannot be thought (basic law of contradiction). Let’s again assume that we can (somehow) think/know that which cannot be thought/known – what then? Is this where the speculation comes in? Is speculation here a version of “intellectual intuition” of sorts? Do we think/know that which cannot be thought/know via speculation?
3) Faith in the non-conceptual.
I know that no one likes to talk about faith where one can talk about speculation or something less embarrassing, but what else can we mean when we say that we are convinced that we can have knowledge of that which cannot be known or that we can think the unthinkable. It’s one thing to suggest that thinking or knowing in general are all wrong ways of going about doing philosophy, that we need to look at some, for example, affective dimension, but if we are going to use the language of knowing the unknowable or conceptualizing the non-conceptualizable, then we must at least hint at how that’s possible and a simple affirmation that it is possible smacks of fideism:
“[There is] the conviction that such knowledge [of that which cannot be thought] does not thereby posit the non-conceptual as internal to the concept, and that, on the contrary, the non-conceptual is in some sense a non-reciprocal condition for conception.”
“Speculation is not belief, it is a use of reason that goes beyond the self-imposed limitations of Kantian epistemology by, in one way or another, claiming the noumenon is not simply an epistemological postulate or concept, but is a non-conceptual identity.”
Just a quick point here: Kantian epistemology is not claiming that we have “self-imposed limitations” – our limitations are real, we cannot lift them when we feel like it. If we go for a simple traditional distinction between “knowledge” and “faith” then what is not knowledge, what cannot be shown to be knowledge is then faith. Is speculation a process, a method of approaching the subject matter? How does it work? Is there a difference between thinking and speculating?
“You can designate it however you want, but it is marked as non-conceptual to indicate that it is not conceptual, that it cannot be reduced to an internal condition imposed upon thought by itself. You do not, however, need to be ‘outside thought’ to conceive of something outside thought, or more precisely, to conceive of the outside of thought as more than the ‘thought of what is outside of thought’. One can conceive of the outside of thought as an identity which thought attempts to identify, and which thereby conditions thought, without being given by thought in turn. This identity is not simply transcendent to conceptualization, but is immanent in it even while not given by way of it.”
Alright, I see and yet I still cannot rid myself of the strange theological overtones of such postulation of the existence of the non-conceptual. Does this non-conceptual show itself to us in some sort of revelatory action? Ok, we don’t posit this true exteriority (to distinguish from false exteriority of thought positing its own outside and defining itself against that outside), it somehow makes itself known to us and we therefore can think/know it as well, does that then reveal to us our dependency on the non-conceptual, our reliance on the material remainder to ground our thought? But wait, you say it’s not transcendent, but immanent – I’m lost at this point (honestly), because I see the words that I know but I cannot put them together. I think it would be more productive for my thinking to leave the issues of “realism” aside and to begin with “speculation” instead…