Science and Metaphysics

Pete Wolfendale, Reid Kotlas and Nick Srnicek are doing a blog event. Here’s the blurb:

Science and Metaphysics

We are caught at the nexus of two different historical trends. First, we accept that with regard to certain questions, empirical science is the arbiter of truth. This is not to say that science is a unitary body of knowledge, but that the only standpoint from which to challenge the authority of scientific theories is from within science itself. Secondly, we accept the bankruptcy of positivism. There is more truth than that over which empirical science has dominion. Metaphysics is something other than science. Nonetheless, we cannot admit that metaphysics is completely beyond science’s authority. We cannot do this without also denying that in some sense, they have the same object – reality as it is in itself. We must thus acknowledge that there is a relation between science and metaphysics, wherein the one must somehow constrain the other, even if this constraint is somehow mutual. The question is then what exactly is this relation, and what are these constraints?

We invite submissions of 1500-2500 words on this general topic. Issues that could be addressed are:

– The methodological constraints science places on metaphysics.
– The metaphysical implications of specific aspects of modern science.
– The positive contribution of metaphysics to scientific inquiry (both in general and in particular).
– The nature of naturalism (e.g., methodological vs. substantive naturalism).
– The nature of materialism (e.g., materialism vs. physicalism).
– The necessity of concepts such as nature and matter.
– The viability of mathematical ontology (e.g., Badiou, Meillassoux, etc.) and the relation between mathematical and empirical science.
– The role of the philosophy of science in general and its relation to both scientific practice and metaphysical inquiry.

Metaphysics: Unrequited Love and Air-Architecture.

An old observation from Kant came to mind again, while I was quietly contemplating why so many people these days are so enamoured with all things metaphysical – I went back to reread it, and found the book even better than I remembered it (Dreams of a Spirit-Seer):

Metaphysics, which it is my fate to be in love with, even though I cannot boast of having received any favors from her, offers two advantages. [2:367]

This is at the end of chapter two of the second part of the book, a sort of conclusive thought that Kant drops in passing. As is well-known, Dreams of a Spirit-Seer is a strange book which basically reveals Kant’s disillusionment with metaphysics.  Some parts of the book, I think, need to come back and reassert themselves as the interest in metaphysics makes me think of passages like this (from Part I, chapter 3, translation for the linked above old English version): Continue reading

New Book: The Remains of Being

Interesting new book by Santiago Zabala coming out – The Remains of Being: Hermeneutic Ontology After Metaphysics – might be related to our discussion of Braver’s book (and general public), here’s a Columbia blurb:

In Basic Concepts, Heidegger claims that “Being is the most worn-out” and yet also that Being “remains constantly available.” Santiago Zabala radicalizes the consequences of these little known but significant affirmations. Revisiting the work of Jacques Derrida, Reiner Schürmann, Jean-Luc Nancy, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Ernst Tugendhat, and Gianni Vattimo, he finds these remains of Being within which ontological thought can still operate.

Being is an event, Zabala argues, a kind of generosity and gift that generates astonishment in those who experience it. This sense of wonder has fueled questions of meaning for centuries-from Plato to the present day. Postmetaphysical accounts of Being, as exemplified by the thinkers of Zabala’s analysis, as well as by Nietzsche, Dewey, and others he encounters, don’t abandon Being. Rather, they reject rigid, determined modes of essentialist thought in favor of more fluid, malleable, and adaptable conceptions, redefining the pursuit and meaning of philosophy itself.

Here’s also an interview with Zabala that looks interesting.

Toscano on Meillassoux

Infinite Thought has a paper by Toscano on Meillassoux, a good read:

Without dwelling on the under-determined and exceedingly allusive references to contemporary fanaticism which lend Meillassoux’s claims their charge of urgency, as well as on the rather dubious claims made about the relation between Christianity and Western reason, in the rest of this presentation I want to challenge the plausibility of Meillassoux’s Enlightenment reloaded, as I mentioned by a detour through Colletti’s Marxism and Hegel. I want to put forward two inter-related arguments. First, that attending to the distinction between Kant and Hegel as formulated by Colletti, allows us to cast doubt on the very possibility of a speculative materialism, and provides a qualified Marxian defence for weak Kantian correlationism as a component of a genuine materialist thinking. Second, and much more briefly, that Colletti’s related discussion of hypostasis and ‘real abstraction’ demonstrates the weakness of Meillassoux’s attempt to revitalise the Enlightenment attack on fanaticism. Behind these two claims lies the conviction that, despite its undeniable subtlety, Meillassoux’s attack on the idealist parameters of correlationism is ultimately idealist in form, a problem which also affects it attempt to ideologically intervene, through a recasting of the Enlightenment fight against fanaticism, in the contemporary ‘return to the religious’. 

Read the rest.

Wolff’s Deutsche Metaphysik (Online)

Christian Wolff’s Vernünfftige Gedancken von Gott, der Welt und der Seele des Menschen, auch allen Dingen überhaupt that is also referred to as Deutsche Metaphysik is on Google Books – there are several editions, some are horrible scans, but this one looks very nice and clean (with only some pages poorly scanned here and there). This book was basically a major textbook that someone like Kant would read in order to “get into” metaphysics – fun read, I think…

Justice and Metaphysics.

Nick comments on the last thread: 

If I have a commitment to a certain conception of justice, is this practically any different from someone who has an elaborate metaphysical system that tries to justify this same principle?

I think this is a somewhat different conversation, I hope, at least that’s how I would see it, yet it is related to our whole conversation about realism because, if anyone remembers, it started with a simple of question of the nature of normativity – to simplify it significantly, I think I was asking a question not unlike this one: If a realist is someone who thinks that is a knowable world out there and all our philosophical efforts should be directed at getting to know it better, then this attitude seems to lack a dimension of “ought” and is found primarily in the dimension of “is” which is to say, it does not seem to be concerned with the way the world should be but only with a way the world is. Many objections were raised, the discussion veered off into Kantian ethics and so on, but still I thought that the only way “ought” would enter a realist world view is through a kind of fiat: there are ideas of justice and peaceful coexistence, we don’t know where they are coming from, but we have them now so there. Continue reading

Metaphysical Police.

A nice fragment from Kant, no time for real commentary, just came across it again this morning, thought I’d share (this is before the first critique, of course):

5112. 1776–78. M IL.

The mathematician, the beautiful spirit, the natural philosopher: what are they doing when they make arrogant jokes about metaphysics[?] In them lies the voice that always calls them to make an attempt in the field of metaphysics. As human beings who do not seek their final end in the satisfaction of the aims of this life, they cannot do otherwise than
ask: why am I here, why is it all here[?] The astronomer is even more challenged by these questions. He cannot dispense with searching for something that would satisfy him in this regard. With the first judgment that he makes about this he is in the territory of metaphysics.

Now will he here give himself over entirely, without any guidance, to the convictions that may grow upon him, although he has no map of the field through which he is to stride[?] In this darkness the critique of reason lights a torch, although it does not illuminate the regions unknown to us beyond the sensible world, but the dark space of our own understanding.

Metaphysics is as it were the police force of our reason with regard to the public security of morals and religion. [18:93]

Announcements, Texts & a little Academic Pretension

Or rather: 1. Announcement 2. A Response to a Little Academic Pretension 3. Some “Speculative” Texts.   Anyway, this announcement has been floating around at various sites, but I thought I’d throw it up here anyway.  It’s an interesting new series that may just be able to break the monotony of academic pageantry (I’m quite optimistic this evening, it would seem, but the proposal does specifically ask for “gamblers”).

New Metaphysics

Series editors: Graham Harman and Bruno Latour

The world is due for a resurgence of original speculative metaphysics. The New Metaphysics series aims to provide a safe house for such thinking amidst the demoralizing caution and prudence of professional academic philosophy. We do not aim to bridge the analytic-continental divide, since we are equally impatient with nail-filing analytic critique and the continental reverence for dusty textual monuments. We favor instead the spirit of the intellectual gambler, and wish to discover and promote authors who meet this description. Like an emergent recording company, what we seek are traces of a new metaphysical “sound” from any nation of the world. The editors are open to translations of neglected metaphysical classics, and will consider secondary works of special force and daring. But our main interest is to stimulate the birth of disturbing masterpieces of twenty-first century philosophy. Please send project descriptions (not full manuscripts) to Graham Harman,

Open Humanities Press is an international Open Access publishing collective. OHP was formed by scholars to overcome the current crisis in publishing that threatens intellectual freedom and academic rigor worldwide. All OHP publications are peer-reviewed, published under open access licenses, and freely and immediately available online through Continue reading

An Object-Oriented Philosophy?

In The Visible and The Invisible, Merleau-Ponty comments:

The flesh is not matter, is not mind, is not substance. To designate it, we should need the old term “element,” in the sense it was used to speak of water, air earth and fire, that is, in the sense of a general thing, midway between the spatio-temporal individual and the idea, a sort of incarnate principle that brings a style of being wherever there is a fragment of being. The flesh is in this sense an “element” of Being (139).

A while back, I noted in passing, Graham Harman’s objection to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology in Guerrilla Metaphysics, in short, too much emphasis on qualities without objects and the mechanics of human access, not enough of an account of object to object interaction, or ultimately what becomes vicarious causation. Such an object oriented philosophy introduces a strange kind of realism, Harman writes:

Once we give up the notion that specific objects are merely “ontic,” that philosophy should deal only with the conditions of possibility of objects or of human access to them, everything changes. From that moment on, every aspect of our experience, from the simplest motion of dogs and waiters to our dealings with ruined glass, wire and cardboard in a garbage dump, begins to bear witness to a genuine metaphysical event. While these normal cases of perception must differ from allure, one feature they share is that both contend with distinct objects. We never occupy a formless sensory medium, but only a landscape of determinate things, even if these things seduce us with a full arsenal of what seem like kaleidoscopic surface-effects (179-180). Continue reading

Philosophical Tribalism

Jon Cogburn recently posted a comment by Douglas Kellner regarding “analytic” and “continental” philosophy. I have highlighted some of the more interesting parts:

. . .I found a broad range of continental philosophy attractive. And yet I was not happy with the division of Anglo-American philosophy into continental vs. analytical perspectives. While much that passes for analytical philosophy today is abstract, academic, and often useless, much that parades as continental philosophy is dogmatic posturing and pretentious gibberish. But both the tools of conceptual analysis and perspectives of continental philosophy can be applied together in specific tasks and projects. Philosophy, in my optic, is both analysis and synthesis, deconstruction and reconstruction. Consequently, I would defend pluralistic perspectives that draw on the best work on all traditions.

. . . .Ironically, many of those who I consider the top philosophers of my generation have left philosophy departments, raising some serious questions about the contemporary institutional status of philosophy. On the whole, it seems like contemporary American philosophy seems frozen, in a state of paralysis. While the dominant analytical philosophy suffers from theoretical sclerosis, a hardening of the categories, and undergoing a slow public and academic death, the situation of continental philosophy is also dispiriting. In the 1980s, it looked as though contemporary philosophy was entering a frutiful state of pluralism with a blossoming of continental philosophy, mutating into “Theory,” crossing over into every discipline. On the philosophical frontlines, there was also a reappropriation of Dewey and pragmatism, of other strands of American philosophy, as well as the move into new fields such as feminism, African American and Latino philosophy, philosophy of technology, environmental philosophy, philosophical media studies, and the philosophy of electronic culture and communication. These trends continue within the broader philosophical-intellectual world, but often not in philosophy departments, and they have been pushed to the margins of the academic discipline of philosophy.

Most distressing, not only has reaction and retrenchment set in with analytic philosophy, but continental philosophy is segregating itself into circles in which specific philosophers are revered as the Voice of Truth, of the revered Word. Thus the ontotheological dimension of philosophy that Derrida decried has its Renaissance in schools of contemporary philosophy. Continue reading