• A recent study shows that electrical stimulation in the posterior parietal cortex can produce feelings of free will, despite an action never being carried out. (You can find the original article here.)
  • A fantastic review of Zizek’s Parallax View and In Defence of Lost Causes over at I Cite. It also includes a concise and dense examination of what ‘materialism’ means for Zizek.
  • And finally, a highly illuminating response by Harman to claims I’ve made myself about the links between object-oriented philosophy and folk psychology. It seems to me, however, that while Harman is right about the contradictory nature of ‘eliminative materialism’, it’s also the case that Brassier’s particular version of eliminativism escapes this problem. Specifically, while the Churchlands and other eliminativists hold onto some fundamental material level, Brassier’s use of Laruelle allows him to argue against any known materialism. More precisely, materialism is itself a concept imposed upon the real by philosophy – while the real itself remains indifferent to any such gestures. (See Laruelle’s ‘The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter‘ for more on this.) As Brassier ultimately argues in Nihil Unbound, the real itself is a being-nothing that escapes any sort of physicalist or materialist system. In other words, a sort of radical eliminative nihilism.

31 thoughts on “Varia

  1. Yes, though in fact I don’t think I fully realized that this was Brassier’s claim until Bristol. There, he made it quite clear that he thinks science needs no concept of matter. (He may well have said it clearly in the book as well, but if so then it somehow didn’t register.)

    Nonetheless, in practice Brassier is far more persuaded by classical material arguments than by anything cutting against that grain. For instance, he’s willing to concede the reality of geological or chemical facts, but always seems quite leery of claims that sociological or psychological facts might exist. He puts a great deal of energy into debunking phenomenology, but little to no energy attacking the scientific conception of matter as superfluous.

    However, you make an important point about how Laruelle helps differentiate Brassier from the Churchlands. And the fact is, I love talking philosophy with Brassier, even though I can’t stand talking philosophy with most dogmatic materialists. So obviously there is a difference.

  2. I was wondering, Nick, if maybe you could elaborate a little on how,

    Brassier’s use of Laruelle allows him to argue against any known materialism.

    For some reason, I can’t access the Pli pdfs you linked to, and so can’t read the essay by Laruelle. Anyway, I don’t see how the claim that treating ‘materialism’ or ‘matter’ or any of its cognates as a name whose reference remains unknown sidesteps the problems and paradoxes that folks like the Churchlands encounter. Could you maybe elaborate?

    I mean, I’m more than happy to agree with a claim like,

    materialism is itself a concept imposed upon the real by philosophy

    but even from my anti-realist position, I find this claim really difficult to square:

    the real itself remains indifferent to any such gestures.

    It would seem that this latter assertion means (1) there is no ‘fit’ between our concepts and the real; therefore every form of ‘realism’ is incoherent (and not just materialisms) or (2) it’s a really — but really — weak claim concerning the fact that the real has no feelings concerning what we call it. I.e. that the real is an anti-anthropological/anthropomorphic concept. Now (2) doesn’t strike me as plausible, and (1) undercuts any kind of realism, while making science every bit as mysterious as it was under other forms of ant-realism. So I must have missed something.

  3. It’s a good question, Alexei, and I’ll try to answer it with the caveat that I’m still struggling myself to whittle the technicalities of non-philosophy into something readily explainable. If I remember correctly, you said you haven’t read Nihil Unbound yet, and that’s one of the premiere resources for understanding this. I’d also suggest, besides the Pli essay above, reading Brassier’s dissertation to get an understanding of all the technical details.

    That being said, I’d argue that the real as indifferent points to a number of things. One, the project of non-philosophy is to show how philosophy is not as absolutely all-encompassing as it supposes itself to be. Laruelle tries to show how, through the mechanism of ‘decision’, philosophy claims to make everything potentially philosophizable (even the ostensible outside of philosophy). But by suspending the efficacy of decision, we see that there is a non-philosophical position that itself explains philosophy. In Laruelle’s own works, the real forms the transcendental condition that heteronomously explains the possibility of philosophy. So it’s indifferent to philosophy and concepts in that way. Secondly, this indifference also points to what Laruelle calls ‘unilateralization’ – which is the mechanism through which the real determines philosophy. Now there’s the traditional concept of unilaterality whereby X distinguishes itself from Y, without Y distinguishing itself from X. But this traditional concept always gets subtly undermined by the philosopher who takes a transcendent perspective on the relation. Unilateralization prohibits that transcendent perspective, which means that, as determinations of unilateralization, we can never get outside of that position to see the real itself determining philosophy. Which means that the real itself can never be philosophized – it’s only a being-nothing foreclosed to philosophy. The immediate question that arises is, well, who cares about the real then? And I think Brassier has summed it up best when he says that (paraphrasing), “it’s not thinking immanence philosophically that’s interesting, but thinking philosophy immanently.” Once we suspend the sufficiency of philosophy – its ability to self-justify itself – then see philosophy in an entirely different light. Or to put it in a more (problematic) physical way – if we’re merely unilateral determinations of our brains, then this has vast repurcussions on the nature of cognition.

    Two extra points to make here – one, ‘philosophy’ refers to a formal structure here rather than to any particular content. Laruelle and Brassier will argue that science itself partakes of this formal structure in certain ways, and I argue in an upcoming article for Pli that capitalism itself partakes of this structure. And two, the ‘non-‘ in non-philosophy doesn’t refer to the negation or elimination of philosophy. It’s more akin to the ‘non-‘ in non-Euclidean geometry. You take away a foundational axiom and realize that there’s a multitude of other ways of doing philosophy (with an emphasis on ‘doing’).

    As for the place of science (and scientific representation), that’s still a bit mysterious to me. As Levi has noted elsewhere, the consequence of seeing decisions within philosophy and science is that it appears to make them all relatively equal. None of them can make a claim to ‘grasping’ the real, so all are equally true. This relativism may hold in Laruelle (I’m not sure myself), but it’s anathema to Brassier and myself. That being said, Brassier’s next book is specifically aimed at tackling the epistemological and representational questions raised by this position, so that should shed a lot of light on these issues.


    I think that’s a good point about how Brassier (and myself) both are more willing to accept physicalist arguments rather than social or cognitive arguments. I’ll have to think about that… Although I think I’m much less resistant to social arguments than Brassier would be. I’m just not sure how to reconcile them all together yet.

  4. I think another important aspect is Ray’s call to revitalize essences – I think this gels with Catren’s discussion of quantum mechanics in relation to an object’s eidos – that we catch bits and pieces of the Real through science via its predictive power. It would seem that in a reality that is space and time independent (contra newton) that there must be essential natures (forces and powers etc) which allow for and/or create time and space – that is, following Lee Smolin (and Leibniz) different worlds have different geometries and effects. (Obviously my nature philosophical bias is showing).

    The question I have is whether there is a non-formal difference between the Real and pure potentiality or possibility – between isness and the very possibility of isness prior to and outside of whatness?

    • You’re right, your naturephilosophy bias is showing! As far as non-philosophy goes, though, it’s always careful to avoid any sort of philosophical distinction like possibility/actuality or anything similar. So, while I think naturephilosophy can lend itself to that, I don’t think non-philosophy can. The ‘essences’ (and I’m curious how Brassier would see them) would have to be characterized in some different manner.

    • Ben,

      I’m sad that I’m belatedly stumbling on to this discussion. What you describe here is similar to my own position with respect to inquiry. As I see it, any relation to the real requires a great deal of work as, you so nicely put it, we only catch in bits in pieces. This is why I think the laboratory setting is so tremendously important. What the laboratory does– on occasion –is isolate a bit of the real through the reduction of variables and the design of a highly specified context.

  5. Nick, I really sympathize with everything you write about philosophy’s inability to be all-encompassing, although I think I’m missing a piece of the puzzle with Laruelle/Brassier stuff, still the picture you present is something that I would accept whole-heartedly. I think the sort of humility of philosophy vis-a-vis its access to the real (and I suppose the real’s access to philosophy, although it sounds sort of weird), if you will, is something that is characteristic of non-realist positions, don’t you think?

    • I think you’re right to a degree – the typical correlationist position, however, would end up having to argue that the only ‘real’ existent is the correlation itself. A reality, independent and indifferent to philosophy, would never be capable of being sustained in that view. And moreover, the real in this case is determinative of philosophy (which excludes Kant’s noumena then).

  6. Looks like I’ll have to get my hands on Nihil Unbound then. I’ve flipped through Brassier’s dissertation, admittedly without much critical attention, but I haven’t seen much to disagree with, save for the unfamiliar terminology (my background is mostly in 19th-20th Century German, and contemporary Anglo-American appropriations).

    I would say that much of Brassier’s argument sounds like a more sophisticated (and probably more interesting) version of what I tried to say elsewhere concerning theory and metatheory. So, when you paraphrase the Laruellean line of thought as

    Laruelle tries to show how, through the mechanism of ‘decision’, philosophy claims to make everything potentially philosophizable (even the ostensible outside of philosophy). But by suspending the efficacy of decision, we see that there is a non-philosophical position that itself explains philosophy

    I’m almost — almost! — tempted to say that that’s the upshot of Transcendental Idealism; it’s certainly the moral of the Kant’s transcendental dialectic. On this reading, the Transcendental framework/scheme for possible experience explains the various regional philosophies, without itself being ‘philosophical.’ (and hence not a philosophy of subjectivity, or mind, or of something else).

    Long story short, I’m pretty much on board with what you’ve said about non-philosophy, the decision [strangely Schmitian no?] and unilateralization. I suppose it simply strikes me as something that Adorno said some time ago. I’m sure this must sound like I’m missing the point; sometimes I feel like I must be! but maybe this is another one of those moments where philosophy has been hindered by national borders, or affiliations to particular groups of texts (I remember Bourdieu saying that he had wished that the Frankfurt School had appeared on the french academic scene much earlier).

    The only significant difference I can see — again based on my completely superficial grasp of the texts I’ve read — is that rather than taking a specifically historical (in the good old Hegelian sense) perspective of determination and treating decisions in terms of technical mastery/instrumentality,’ which seal us of (so the Adornoian argument goes) from the non-identical object (Laruelle’s ‘real’), we find in Laruelle and Brassier a(n) (scientific) approach that is more specifically interested in the pataphysical implications of our decisions.

    Now, the strength of Adorno’s claim, I take it, is that a metaphysics of non-identity, of objects that cannot be conceptualized, is that it produces a normative ‘block’ against the instrumentalization of a particular theory in the favour of something else (e.g. the co-option of evolutionary theory for social darwinism, eugenics, racial supremacy, or whatever, etc). My major concern with everything I’ve read so far, thus really boils down to the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any room left over in Brassier’s account (and Maybe Laruelle’s too) to account for its own normative structures, its material conditions of possibility, which found every decision, and within which ‘eliminative nihilism’ arises as an articulate position.

    To cut this Ramble short: Yes, we need to think immanently, rather than to think immanence (but that’s a weird tick of a very narrow group of thinkers anyway, no?), but (1) does any of that qualify us as realists? And (2) is not the maxim “Think immanently” eminently Kantian? Finally (3), if our position requires a pataphysical commitment, shouldn’t we be abandoning it immediately?

    • I haven’t read Adorno nearly enough to add much (athough from what you’ve said, I should definitely be taking a look). But I will add that Laruelle claims he himself is a ‘transcendental realist’, and he discusses Kant and transcendental philosophy numerous times. So I think there’s a lot of really productive connections to be found there. The precise relations between Kant and Laruelle, however, need a lot more elaboration on my part. And if I ever get around to doing that (eventually), it’ll likely be a massive paper in(-)itself.

      To answer your other questions though: (1) immanence by itself doesn’t make us realists of course – it could be immanence to consciousness, for example – but if it is immanence to the real, that’s different. (2) This should be clear from what I said above, but I think Laruelle very much follows in the footsteps of Kant, so it’s no surprise that immanence plays an important role. (3) I think, in line with the Kant influence, that it’s a certain type of metaphysics that’s being done in non-philosophy. That’s a huge question though!

      But, overall, I really do think Laruelle has the most affinities with the Kantian project, and I think it’d be great to eventually hear your thoughts and Mikhail’s thoughts on the non-philosophical project. Who knows, maybe it’ll bring us all together as a happy family!

      • A paper on Kant and Laruelle sounds fascinating! And I’d certainly be interested in hearing about/thinking through what kind of metaphysics would be in play for non-philosophy. As I’ve said already, I’m extremely sympathetic with the non-philosophical claims I’ve encountered; I might be critical, however, of a certain vision of philosophy that’s still in play, however. I mean, the more I think about the matter, the more I tend to think that philosophy’s greatest potentials (for enlarging ‘possible experience,’ for changing our political situation, in short for making things ‘better’) lie in decidedly ‘idealistic’ directions, since Idealism really just means a concern for meaning, norms, and the kind of human dignity that ‘freedom’ bestows upon us. Everything else is either a check against the absolutization/domination of a particular line of thought, or a balance for these concerns.

        So, from where I sit, I can agree with the every attempt to keep philosophy modest, and to identify the atmosphere in which a particular philosophical voice carries.

      • I second this Kant/Laruelle elaboration – Kant of course as you know defines his position specifically vis-a-vis the opposite which he labels “transcendental realism” in A369:

        “I understand by the transcendental idealism of all appearances the doctrine that they are all together to be regarded as mere representations and not things in themselves, and accordingly that time and space are only sensible forms of our intuition, but not determinations given for themselves or conditions of objects as things in themselves. To this idealism is opposed transcendental realism, which regards space and time as something given in themselves (independent of our sensibility).”

        Can you give me a quick reference to where Laruelle describes himself as a “transcendental realist”?

      • As important as I think the Kant/Laruelle matrix is for these discussions, don’t hold your breath waiting on it from me unfortunately. I’ve got a few other projects in my mind that I’ve got to focus on right now, which means I can’t give that project the sort of attention it really needs (particularly in light of how every recent Kant discussion has ended).

        As far as the ‘transcendental realist’ claim goes, I believe I read it second-hand in Brassier’s work somewhere – but where exactly, I don’t remember at all. If it comes to me, though, I’ll post up a citation here. In the meantime, there’s a Laruelle essay on finitude in Kant in our Translations section.

    • Alexei,

      Maybe you could say a bit more about this:

      Now, the strength of Adorno’s claim, I take it, is that a metaphysics of non-identity, of objects that cannot be conceptualized, is that it produces a normative ‘block’ against the instrumentalization of a particular theory in the favour of something else (e.g. the co-option of evolutionary theory for social darwinism, eugenics, racial supremacy, or whatever, etc). My major concern with everything I’ve read so far, thus really boils down to the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any room left over in Brassier’s account (and Maybe Laruelle’s too) to account for its own normative structures, its material conditions of possibility, which found every decision, and within which ‘eliminative nihilism’ arises as an articulate position.

      I think I’m really missing something– and I mean this with the utmost honesty –in your discussions about normativity. On the one hand, I’m not sure what you mean by it and why you see it as so crucial to any philosophical project. On the other hand, I don’t see why we can’t have some sort of developmental or genetic account of norms where these things are produced over the course of practice. What am I missing or not understanding?

      • Somehow I missed this comment of yours Levi. Sorry for the delay in responding.

        I guess all I can say is that I don’t see how philosophy isn’t anything other than a concern for the intelligibility and significance of our world, our relationships to one another, and the meaning of our actions. To the extent that we’re all concerned with ‘meaning,’ we’re concerned with normativity. For meaning, like knowledge, is normative (knowing what ‘green’ means = knowing how to apply it in various contexts, and be able to identify misapplications, etc). Again, normativity isn’t the same as ethics or norms; normativity = that which makes ethics or norms rationally compelling. On a bad day, when I’m hungover or grumpy, I would probably say that normativity = the problem of philosophy, full stop. Bad philosophy is philosophy which fails to realize this.

        As for the genetic explanation — yes of course. That’ll tell us how a norm comes about (or mores and customs more generally), but such an explanation doesn’t tell us why these customs etc are rationally compelling (we all intuitively feel dissatisfied with the response ‘this is how we’ve been doing things for years, precisely because that doesn’t get at the normative question concerning why we should be doing things in this manner in the first place; your suggestion strikes me as responding to the ‘Why?’ with a ‘because we’ve always done it this way.’ I don’t think that’s actually an answer).

        There’s a tendency here, I think, to suppose that genealogy or causal explanations somehow exhaust explanation as such. That’s simply not the case. Like causal explanations more generally, it’s a partial story, and it certainly doesn’t exhaust a given topic. Simply put, there’s a difference between asking why the sky is blue (which can be answered causally), and asking why torture or slavery is wrong. Answering the latter in terms of a genealogical account doesn’t get at the wrongness of slavery or torture at all. It simply tells us why torture and slavery are currently perceived to be illegal.

        So, to reiterate, genetic accounts don’t explain the normative dimension of thought or action, or even ‘the becoming of a norm.’ IN fact (and Mikhail made this point recently at Larval Subjects), the kind of sociological explanations you’ve referred to are themselves only possible in light of the observational and argumentative theories in place. They’re intelligible only in light of these background commitments, and these background commitments are themselves normative — i.e. rationally compelling.

        Is that somewhat clearer?

      • Alexei – If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying that there is a normative question present prior to us doing any philosophy. In order to examine a question, in other words, I first find it important to do so.

        Is that a fair summary?

        I think a genetic (or more broadly, “naturalistic”) description of normativity can do more than tell us where specific norms came from. It can tell us why we think normatively at all, and further, why some things are rationally (or irrationally) compelling to us.

        I guess what I’m trying to figure out is whether you would see value in a sort of ontology of normativity.

      • Hi Asher,

        I think all I’m saying is that one needs a universe of discourse, or a valuation/model/access to possible worlds for some language L in order for statements made in L to be intelligible or truth-apt. I suppose that means that some normative framework is always already in force (something like Wittgenstein’s bedrock, which turns his spade), but I’m hesitant to say that there’s always a normative question prior to philosophical questioning (Although I’m skeptical of such a strong claim, it may well be true. For the present context I don’t think I need such a strong claim).

        All this said, I’m really ambivalent about this claim of yours,

        It [naturalized explanation] can tell us why we think normatively at all, and further, why some things are rationally (or irrationally) compelling to us.

        I mean, a naturalized account of cognition can tell us that we think in a specific manner, what this specific manner is, and it may even identify how this kind of cognitive pattern came about. But I’m less convinced that the answers to ‘that’ questions + answers to ‘what’ questions + answers to ‘how’ questions = answers to ‘why’ questions. I take it that no matter how much you knew about cosmology and quantum physics, questions like ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ could not be answered — satisfactorily — through sheer causal explanations. It would be great to know that I’m wrong about this, if only because it simplifies matters greatly, but I haven’t yet seen a compelling argument that would change my mind.

        Now, about an ontology of normativity: First off, I think that ‘ontology of normativity’ = meta-ontology, since ontology really isn’t anything other than a theory of the basic — semantic — categories that make existence or what have you intelligible. Quite simply put ontology is always a theory of (semantic) normativity (and I think that every other form of normativity is a subset thereof or a special case). This can be seen quite clearly in Kant (and Cassirer), who transform metaphysical or ontological entities into concepts, which are further understood in terms of the functions they perform in judgments (substance, causality, etc are all pure categories of the Understanding whose correct application is understood in terms of ‘objective validity’ — the necessary identity of application among concept users). So, to the extent that that’s true — or at least coherent — meta-ontology would be nothing less than logic (a Husserlian or Kantian transcendental logic perhaps, or a Fichtean Wissenschaftslehre, a Hegelian Science, or absolute knowing).

        Is that clearer?

      • Alexei –

        Thanks for the response.

        I think my “strong” claim was more like a sloppy claim. If I’m following you right, the “universe of discourse” is there before we start doing philosophy (I understand your claim in terms of language L, but I’m intentionally trying to make the claim as plain as possible) – really before we start trying to figure out anything. If I’m understanding the universe of discourse correctly, I like it a whole lot more than I did the first time you were talking about it. In a sense, it’s like Merleau-Ponty’s “context” or “ground” (or whatever he calls it ).

        I guess the best thing to do would be to find the “omniverse” of discourse ;).

        Maybe you are skeptical about what a naturalistic description of normativity can do because you see that sort of description as sheerly causal. I don’t think that needs to be the case. In any event, I think the best way to convince someone on this point would be to complete a naturalistic description and see what you think. No use arguing that I can pull a rabbit out of my hat when the rabbit herself will do the job!

        I am having trouble understanding how “Why is there something rather than nothing?” relates to normativity. But I think what I need to do there is to ponder your bit about meta-ontology until I get what you mean. I have a feeling that normativity is somewhat narrower for me than it is for you.

      • I guess the best thing to do would be to find the “omniverse” of discourse ;).

        Ha! I actually think that’s what most folks interested in ontology are trying to do.

        anyway, I think we now understand each other about the Language- Universe of discourse thingie. And I suppose I do have a rather wide conception of what ‘normativity’ means.

        now, my ‘Why’ question about the universe, was merely an analogy intended to show — or at least lend weight to my claim — that ‘how,’ ‘what,’ and ‘that’ questions don’t answer ‘why’ questions, however one combines them. I should have been more explicit about that. Again, the point isn’t that nauralized explanations must be causal, but that, whatever else they are, they try to reduce Whys to Whats and Hows. Although the phenomenon under investigation may be reducible to something more basic, I’m not convinced that the kinds of Why-questions we ask are satisfied by an explanation in terms of more primitive phenomenon that get at What and How.

      • It seems to me that a “why” question is at least kinda causal. After all, when someone asks “Why?”, we say “Because…”.

        When you say, “more primitive” it makes me suspect that you see naturalistic explanations as being reductive in general. Is that true?

        But you know, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if making a claim about the power of naturalistic explanations really matters. I mean, I am essentially a whore when it comes to methods. If something within the broad swath of scientific methodologies doesn’t give me answers, I’m happy to try something else. There just doesn’t seem to be a wealth of alternatives (I’d consider reasoning from premises to fall within the “scientific method”).

        Here’s a weird thought: If I found a crystal ball, and through some unknown means knew that what it told me was always correct, and I asked it to explain normativity to me, would I be satisfied with its answer unless I was able to repeat whatever process it followed to come up with the answer? I suspect that I wouldn’t.

      • You’re right, Asher, to point out that I was too hasty in saying that naturalized explanations don’t help explain ‘why’ questions. All I really need to say here is that naturalized explanations don’t (and I think this is an ‘in principle cannot’ kind of claim) adequately explain everything that they set out to solve (in the philosophy of mind, this is the so-called ‘explanatory gap problem’). At best naturalized modes of investigation provide partial answers to the kinds of problems that are, at least to my mind, philosophically interesting.

        Part of this is due precisely to the fact that naturalism does involve some kind of reduction — At least insofar as I understand naturalism. Come to think of it, I don’t know what naturalism means, unless it means explaining a given phenomenon in terms of more primitive processes, which are material/physical and lawful. But that’s to reduce things to the physical!

        This said, though, you’re probably right: there’s no reason to think that one set of philosophical assumptions will give you an answer to everything. I mean we’re all naturalists inasmuch as we don’t believe in ghosts, souls, or disembodied minds. And I suppose that commits us to saying that mind, concepts, norms, etc emerge from the phsyical. I just don’t think that a complete naturalist account of say, normativity, gets at the core issues and problems. It’s a partial answer at best.

        I’m not sure I understand your thought experiment with the crystal ball. could you maybe explain it a little more? Is the problem related to the notion of scientific confirmation (and hence a problem of justification) or are you trying to get at something else?

      • I think I just see things in a weird way. It has always seemed to me that explanatory-gap types of arguments are ways of trying to say that there’s something non-physical going on. Basically, they’re saying that if you describe some mental phenomenon in terms of what’s happening physically and subtract that from everything there is to know about the mental phenomenon, there’s something left over. This sort of argument often ignores the fact that there are always several “levels” of description of a complex physical process, and that these levels are often contradictory, even when we’re describing something that (almost) everyone would agree is purely physical.

        Aside from that, it just seems to me that the assumption that part of a phenomenon is non-physical just complicates things (and also leads to intractable issues like the mind/body problem). Why not assume that *everything* is physical/natural and see if there’s stuff that we absolutely can’t make sense of? A partial answer to that is that mental phenomena are horrendously complex, even if you’re just talking about the parts that we (almost) all agree are physical; and that science didn’t have much to say about the whole thing until very recently. If everything is physical, the idea of physical-as-opposed-to-something-else disappears. And good riddance!

        Which is not to say that I think we should strike the word “mental” from our dictionaries. I just don’t think “mental” is exclusive of “physical”.

        But here’s the rub: I don’t disagree that there is *something* left over. If I gave a full and complete physical account of, say, consciousness, you would not be able to read it and know what it was “like” to be conscious. That’s where phenomenology (and poetry) really shine. But I believe that those methodologies should be exploratory and unfettered, not rigorous and falsifying. And we shouldn’t expect them to account for the whole of a phenomenon.

        The crystal ball thought experiment was my way of trying to figure out what mattered to me about a particular methodology. Would I be happy with any method that gave me the answers I wanted? My response was that I wouldn’t be, because I would want to know why the answer was the answer it was, and why the answer to *that* was what it was, and why that, and why that, etc. Besides the fact that this means I’ll never be satisfied, it also means that there is a sort of “universe” to which the question and answer must belong for me to be even minimally happy. The crystal ball (the “answer for free”) lacks that universe.

        I have a feeling that my explanation was even worse than the original thought…

      • As usual Asher, I agree with everything you’ve said. I think the point I’m trying — however poorly — to make has more to do with the notion of explanation than it does with either the limits of physicalism or the precise problems of the explanatory gap (you’re right, though, to point out explanatory-gap arguments work along the lines of a subtractive process, which doesn’t account for emergence or for the various strata of physical proceses). I tried to use the gap problem as an analogue to illustrate that there’s not always a satisfying physicalist explanation. Maybe that was not a great example, precisely for the reasons you’ve outlined. Anyway, I don’t want to suggest that ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ are exclusive predicates. And I do think that everything is the product of physical stuff and processes.

        All I want to maintain is that an explanation of something in terms of efficient causes is an incomplete explanation. That’s all I need to say; that’s all I need to show. If I can mount a convincing argument on this score, then the materialism/naturalism/idealism/realism controversies turn out to be red herrings. That is, if it turns out that a ‘complete’ explanation of a given phenomenon requires both a physical description and a normative component (a base and a superstructure, a Zizekian parallax), which cannot — for whatever reason — be reduced to some univocal, underlying phenomenon, then the point of contention among the competing substance monisms becomes totally otiose. They’re all false, insofar as non of them provide a compelling account of a given phenomenon on their own.

        Again, I’m not trying to say that there’s a physical substance and a non-physical substance. Rather, I’m saying that certain questions cannot — or perhaps weaker, need not — be answered in naturalist terms, i.e. in terms of physical processes and material composition. To try another example, it very well may be the case that the inference rules modus ponens and modus tollens are abstracted from a ‘cheater detection module’ (something those crazy food sharing bats have too apparently), which was evolutionarily selected. We may even identify the physical correlate of that module (however plastic the brain may be, it’s not that plastic). But none of that is going to explain why material and logical inference are rational processes (without resorting to the standard refrain, ‘because this is the way the mind works’), or why mistakes in inference are to be considered ‘bad’ (Millikan has a nice argument in her Language and Other Biological Categories that shows that error/misrepresentation is actually evolutionarily advantageous, but I think you and I have been over this issue before. But her work is super cool, and this book is probably the most sophisticated naturalist account of meaning I’ve ever seen) .

        Anyway, I hope this is clearer than before. And I agree with you about the ‘something left over.’

      • Alexei – I think I’m clear now on what you’re saying. We appear to agree on just about everything, which is a nice way for things to turn out. In fact, I think that anyone who read our exchange and still disagreed with us both would have to be downright unreasonable.

        I’m definitely going to grab a copy of Millikan.

  7. Pingback: Real Materialism « Perverse Egalitarianism

  8. It’s funny and very sympathetic discovering people like you. I know that they are many people interested by French philosophy. You certainly make brain storming and think meeting together and you are certainly nearest from the text. The difference is that in Frznce there many professors which are manipulating different ways of thinking (idiomes ou “modus”). So there is a medium very restricted, but existing. In reality it is on the end, like in Germany after the 1850’s.

    And certainly the next philosophical country is in Spain because of the “gusto” and the “gana”. You are in the middle of the Empire not in the tension, as Sartre talk about when he talk about the “intellectualist”. You have to defend your country frst, I mean your language, your money your value. But if you learn Chinese or Russian, you certainly have some other features of the world and not only the French Touch. Badiou and some other are at the Crepuscule of its Era, they are “crepusculaire”.

    So Good luck for you and also Taylor. I read his other blogs blogs. And perhaps read you later.

  9. After some thought, I’ve decided to make the following comment:

    For future reference, I’d appreciate it if folks left my name out of disputes that I’m not actively involved in. I am quite adept at getting myself into all kinds trouble, and I really don’t need random scare quoted statements — which some might take as a quotation rather than as a totally fictitious statement — with my name and foul language being bandied about. I don’t particularly like being dragged into discussions against my will (as I feel has happened here), especially when all I have to say is, I’ve never said that!

    For the record, I don’t happen to think there’s anything particularly off the wall about Harman’s notion of folk ontology (although Bertie Russell’s Analysis of Matter is bizarre). I do, however, think that Harman needs to lighten up a bit, and display that sense of humour and imagination we have all seen in his books. I mean, really, trying to shame someone who doesn’t agree with you for suggesting — of all things! — that we should simply ask you what you meant rather than engaging in the painful philological work needed to reconstruct a Heraclitus fragment makes you, Prof Harman, look like an ol’ grump. Relax a little. Or, failing that, give folks the benefit of the doubt — be generous.

    Furthermore, If you would like to address me directly, please feel free to do so. Or don’t — that’s fine too. But please don’t take my name in vain….

  10. I am guilty of taking your name in vain sometimes, Alexei, in terms of referring to discussions even you don’t recall – I’m sorry if that bothered you, I’ll try to avoid doing that in the future.

    • Thanks Mikhail, I appreciate it.

      I should point out, though, that there is also a question of degree here. You and I have been engaged in a number of conversations, and some of our ideas have begun to blend together. In such a situation, it’s simply a sign of respect and intellectual honesty to identify the source of an idea. With me that’s not necessary — allowing for the appropriate ceteris paribus clauses to distinguish between plagiarism and Symphilosophie, let me say this: If I’ve said something to you in conversation that you like, please feel free to make it yours. I mean, really, it’s not like I’m saying anything groundbreaking or novel anyway.

      The situation with the comment above is different. I don’t think I’ve exchanged more than a dozen words with Harman and the context in which he makes reference to me is less than felicitous. Ultimately, his attempt at rhetorical analysis strikes me as little more than a veiled attempt to put me into the same category as Damien. Perhaps that’s not terrible company, perhaps it is. Regardless, I’m not part of the debate, nor is my name I enlisted in support of an idea. I’m there simply because Harman likes me about as much as he likes Damien (two turkeys for the price of one buckshot, I suppose).

      Anyway, to avoid any future misunderstandings, I would respectfully request everyone to leave me out of debates I’m not actively involved in. It saves everyone time and energy.

  11. Pingback: Normativity (in sensu cosmico) « Perverse Egalitarianism

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