Below are my notes from the speculative realist conference in Bristol. This is not a transcript but what I could manage while still trying to pay attention and enjoy the talks. The titles are invented and were not given. My notes on Toscano’s talk are pretty sketchy so if any one wants to submit some I will gladly put them up.
Ray Brassier – “The Problem of Empiricism and the Remainder of Thought”
What does speculative mean? The classical problems of epistemology have dissociated in correlationist philosophy as the subject/object divide is ignored. Meillassoux argues that correlationism must be passed through and not merely ignored. The argument of Stove’s Gem is that one cannot conceive of a mind independent reality (to think of X one must think it) the issue becomes one of Xing as not the conception.
Mind independent and concept independent are collided by Stove’s Gem. How is it then that correlationism is the “impregnable citadel” based on such an argument?
One must investigate the history of the problem of epistemology.
In metaphysical dogmatism there are no reasonable grounds for inferring an experience independent realm of objects (this is Hume’s argument). Correlationism functions as an extension of skepticism – reality must be intelligible so the mind-world divide is bridged by God. Kant then went on to say that God cannot serve as this bridge between knowing and being and sets out the transcendental conditions for knowing – we cannot intuit noumena and therefor intellection is tied to sensation. One result is that one cannot have knowledge of essential forms, a possibility which should not be resurrected in philosophy.
Reality for Harman has mind independence in his philosophy and argues for Aristotelian substantial forms but then how do you define essential being? How are we able to account for the essential nature of individual entities? What are th conditions of access? Without God or Kant’s transcendental conditions how can we know individual things without confining things to the phenomenal realm? It seems impossible to rehabilitate essential forms (pre-critically) in a way that would reconnect essence and meaning.
Why would evolution give us the means to fundamentally understand reality? Why should mind independent reality be intelligible? If reality has a determinate structure then epistemology cannot be dissolved into ontology. If correlationsim is itself intelligible then what happens to the in itself? The self grounding of idealism, as Iain Hamilton Grant has shown, in terms of the I/not-I is absolute idealism. This idealism was tempered by Heidegger and Nietzsche – ideals are conditioned by the real.
Dasein’s essential finitude is inacessible to the exhaustive idealism of Fichte – correlation is given and contingent which pluralizes – this is strong correlationism. But how is this bound to materialism? Because we are embodied creatures materialism is without matter and materiality is contingent (it is figured as language, discourse et cetera. But with this abandonment of matter the distinction between the material and the non-material dissapears. Materialism becomes an insidious idealism – an idealism of human-doing.
The task becomes one of refuting correlationism without regressing to pre-critical dogmatism. But, contra to Meillassoux, we do not have to work through correlationism. For Laruelle conceptual ideation cannot be fixed in advance (one must be a naturalist) – we can know what things are but our knowledge does not exhaust their essence. Therefore accidents and essences cant be fixed – we must allow for extra-conceptual concepts that are not essential.
The fundamental critique of correlationism is that it is a false problem from the start – the correlationist already posits a non-ideal thing that determines all conceptual production. Scientific revisionism must not just be arbitrary the X must be the Real, there must be a remainder of our thinking.
Iain Grant – “The Problem of Ground”
The concept of ground must be grounded. Fichte is a brilliant creator of abstraction in his assertion that the I cannot b generated by the Not-I. The generation of the I for Fichte can only be caused by another I and the not-I is the damnation of nature. How is there an eternity of Is that generates all other Is? For Fichte the I cannot end outside self determination and subsequently nature only gets in the way of this self determination.
Any end for Fichte requires experience – necessity in the I separates being and activity in Fichte. Being is the negative of activity what is (what is being) does not act. For Fichte change is antithetical to nature – nature just sits like a lump thereby getting in the way of reason. Production is not but acts.
Natural science answers to the object whereas theoretical science does not. Fichte formalizes being as the zero as the capability for activity – nature becomes the point of contradiction as that which cannot not be – nature must correspond to our free activity. Contra to this is Faraday’s field physics which is a move away from bodies suggesting a possible field ontology.
Matter must be involved if Fichte’s ethics remain somatic or Transcendental Materialism must be false.
How does epistemology and ontology coincide?
Hendrik’s Absolutization of the Subject [I am not at sure what the title of this work was]
Hendrik argues that the concept of the absolute can only be understood after it is crushed.
Kant pluralizes the ground into grounds. Grounding is a function of reason and to be grounded is to belong to an order. Grounded as what grounds – a ground is grounded and grounds – Hendrik’s work is pure functional Neo-Fichteanism.
Why is there a space of reasons, why is there the unconditioned? Against Neo-Fichteanism the ground must not just be a pluralized ground – grounds must stop but how is this possible given the Kantian negation of totality via the negation of God as ontological guarantor?
There is always a pre-ground and there is an order of succession of grounds which must be temporal and also relational. There is no totality of grounds and therefore there must be a nature before thought.
Graham Harman – “Object Mining”
Speculative Realism has become less popular as a name for its adherents but it is nonetheless a useful form of branding. There are many possible futures for the variants of Speculative Realism such as the object oriented philosophy of Levi Bryant and object oriented metaphysics. Most contemporary philosophies are anti-objects. At least ten anti-object stances:
1 – Correlationist
2 – Relationist (Whitehead)
3 – Monism
4 – Delanda
5 – Flux Becoming (Simondon)
6 – Scientific Naturalism
8 – Hume’s account
9 – Geneological
10 – Difference
Radical philosophy is nor weird enough.
1 – Objects as either too superficial (undermining of objects)
2 – Objects as fictions too deep (overmine)
Preindividuation functions as a form of vitalism. Brassier’s philosophy as having an ultimate reality without objects. In Iain Grant’s philosophy as well as Harman’s there is a shared importance of inanimate as well as an awareness of an upwards eliminativism (one that eliminates the ideal. Grant’s philosophy focuses too much on biology at the cost of the other sciences and Grant’s anti-somatism.
Grant’s hostility towards Aristotle places him close to Giorduno Bruno. Material is not somatic but comprised of fields – Aristotelian metaphysics is attacked as phenomenon. Nature reproduces objects and productivity takes way the inertia of objects. A primary pre-individual force is retarded and the product is an inhibition. Phenomenality is merely slowed productivity.
[Graham then went into a brief bio of Bruno]
Bruno’s main text is Cause, Principle and Unity.
Bruno subordinates form as that which comes from matter and only matter as intrinsic cause.
Bruno’s world-soul is a one soul for all things and specific objects have no soul. Particular being is lost in the contraction of matter – contraction is similar to the retardation of matter in Grant’s work – only matter is permanent. Form loses its meaning as it is folded into matter. Bruno keeps substantial form but attacks them as unhelpful. Individual forms as accidents if it was not for the fact that they are folded out from the world-soul.
Bruno as a kind of pre-Spinoza but form should not only be extrinsic – how does one explain the horizontal movement of objects – rocks through windows. Bruno risks monism or occasionalism (with matter replacing God. Occasionalism quantizes philosophy.
For both Bruno Grant and Harman however relations do not exhaust objects. Hume is a kind of upside down occasionalist. Scientific naturalism sees all objects as unique thereby overmining objects.
The dyad of Realism/Idealism should be changed to Occsionalist/Empiricist.
[UPDATE:] Another conference summary here.
[UPDATE 2:] Frieze Magazine has a conference review available here.
[UPDATE 3:] Toscano’s paper can be found in full here.