In dialogue with my recent post on epistemology, ontology & pragmatism, a few things got said that I want to reply to or at least point out.
First, Graham Harman responded to a couple of points. In answer to my position--
"I think that when Kant talks about ‘rational beings’ he means just that, not human beings per se..."--he writes,
let’s assume that Kant’s standpoint covers all rational beings. Let’s assume it even covers dolphins, earthworms, even plants. That’s still leaving out the vast majority of relations that exist. In other words, the key point is not that correlationism restricts philosophy to the human. In point of fact it usually does. But animals are often thrown into the mix too, and it doesn’t change the central difficulty.This is a very good point. In fact, you may count me as one of the heretical Badiouans who thinks that "events" of a sort can happen to marshmallows and to monsoons deep in Jupiter's red spot... or at least, who thinks that a well-wrought case for such would be interesting and worth pursuing. I doubt Kant would agree, but I would love to see a reading of Kant that extended him to pan-experientialist ends, or at least, tried to get away with it.
This leads me to Harman's second point. He disputes my semi-Rortyan reading of his remark,
One good definition of philosophy is this: try to determine the dominant ideas of today that bore you the most, and then discover a way to make them obsolete.Harman thinks I have made of this a mere aestheticism. While I don't agree with his gloss of my gloss, that's mostly just nitpicking on my part. His own clarification is what's interesting:
There is a realist impetus behind my advice to look for and attack boring ideas. Those ideas are a conventionalized shell of what was once a genuine attempt to grapple with reality, and the best way to get back in contact with that reality is to find some method for making those conventionalized ideas obsolete.In some measure I think this must be what motivates every philosopher worth his or her salt. Voegelin says in several places (I'm thinking of his Autobiographical Reflections but there are instances all over his work) that the philosopher finds, in the culture about him, a host of "deformed symbols," a kind of atrophied fossil of genuine encounter, which he then has to critique. This isn't the first task of the philosopher, of course, which is simply to articulate the encounter afresh; but it is a necessary side-effect, and in some cases, my own for instance, the temperament of a thinker finds its best way of resonating when confronted with other symbols that are, slightly or jarringly, out of tune, and adjusting them into a (perceived) harmony.
In other words, I agree with Harman that his definition of philosophy is a good one, though perhaps not for exactly the reasons he offers it. I do have a more aesthetic take on philosophy, but I also think every artist is trying to respond to an imperative, to use Alphonso Lingis' term (itself obviously appropriated from Kant)--and now that I think of it, Lingis does sort of point the way to just such a pan-experientialist read of Kant as I dream of above.
On, then, to Kant. Another respondent was Mikhail, from over at Perverse Egalitarianism, who said in the comments that
to begin again to distinguish between epistemology and ontology is to intentionally and quite openly dismiss Kant's project, not to prove it wrong -- it is to do philosophy as if Kant never existed.This is putting it quite tendentiously, but I like that, and there's something to be said for it. I don't think it's quite right, however, so let me get that out of the way first. Yes, Speculative Realism does have recourse to some pre-Kantian positions. Harman uses all sorts of things from Leibniz (which can only be a good thing as far as I'm concerned), and famously is drawing on Malebranche, Suarez, and so on. In the very first sentences of After Finitude, Meillassoux declares that it's time to recuperate the Lockean distinction between primary and secondary qualities. This is however not to ignore Kant, which after all can't really be done if you are (as I argue OOP is) relying on the distinction between noumena and phenomena (though Harman does derive this in some ways more from the tool analysis in Being and Time).
However, what Mikhail's characterization brought to mind was some reading I've been doing, sparked by a post on Immanence. Adrian Ivakhiv was thinking aloud about the intersection of Whitehead and Peirce; I suggested some things by Robert C. Neville, and as I hadn't looked at him in a while, I dusted off my copies of Reconstruction of Thinking and The Highroad Around Modernism. Neville's work stands in a tradition that includes
people such as Paul Weiss, Charles Hartshorne, John Findlay, Justus Buchler, Edward Pols, and Leonard Feldstein[,] who produced substantial bodies of metaphysical analysis during the decades when modernists and postmodernists said metaphysics is impossible.In his blurb for Highroad, Edward Casey describes this tradition, all figures who descend from Peirce and Whitehead, using terms lifted right out of Latour: "Having never been modernist," Casey writes, "they cannot rightly be rejected or dismissed in the company of views which they have themselves effectively criticized."
Whitehead himself has an ambivalent attitude to Kant. One need not read further than the preface of Process and Reality to find him declaring "a recurrence to pre-Kantian modes," but elsewhere in the book Kant gets better appreciation, and here you won't be surprised if you've read it to know I'm influenced by Shaviro in Without Criteria, in which he tries to use Whitehead to mediate between Kant and Deleuze's Nietzsche-inspired inversion of Kant. In any case, my point here is that it is a perfectly respectable tactic, with a long tradition behind it, to write "as if philosopher X had not existed," in a certain sense. The thinkers Neville cites--Weiss, Hartshorne, Buchler and others (I'd mention John William Miller and Richard McKeon, for instance)--were carrying on practically as if Heidegger had not existed, and while they have yet to be really read deeply by people doing work in Continental philosophy (though Rorty had to engage Weiss--he did his dissertation under him), this doesn't make them negligible, just neglected. It'll change, eventually; I'm not accusing anyone of being uninformed, only saying that one can do one's work responsibly without being cowed by anyone, no matter how much others are saying that so-and-so is irrefutable or the must-read.
As to Mikhail's more philosophical point--he says, "I personally think that the distinction between epistemology and ontology does not exist after Kant"--I am tempted to agree [note added later: agree, yes, but with reservations--I would keep the distinction but not the hierarchical relationship]. This point is made again (albeit without reference to Kant) by Ivakhiv in a comment to his own post:
ontology/epistemology ... are best thought of as feeding and supporting each other. The world must be such a world that would allow for our knowing things in the particular ways that we know them. So it makes sense (as Levi is suggesting) that we try to understand what kind of world that would have to be, i.e., that we ontologize.This is close to my own rough-and-ready way of approach, which is happy to call epistemology and ontology the obverse and reverse (or vice-versa); but I am aware that this is vulnerable to the critique of correlationism. What is needed is a way of thinking this through that either rebuts this critique, or makes it-- well, obsolete.
At the same time, to presume to know the world apart from our knowing it is to presume too much. So we must epistemologize as well. We must theorize about how we know at the same time as we theorize about the world in which we exist as entities that can know in such and such a way.
For this, however, we have to really think through the problem. I think Meillassoux gives us better traction here than Harman; the latter has more or less acknowledged he thinks correlationism to be transparently silly, and his attacks on correlationism are indeed yawns. "Correlationism thinks the moon is made of fingers" (PoN, p 185) is a beautiful bon mot, but it does give you a sense of how seriously Harman takes this position. In some moods, anyway, Harman seems indeed content to philosophize as if correlationism just wasn't there, in a way. Meillassoux on the other hand wants to stage an immanent critique of correlationism, a critique on its own premises--pushing it the way, say, Heidegger pushed Nietzsche and Derrida pushed Heidegger. While I don't concur with Meillassoux about the limits of thinking, this is at least engaging one's opponent. I'll have more to say on this in the future, but it needs some hard thinking first.
The last response I want to point out is not to me specifically, but Michael over at Archive Fire has put up what he promises is the first in a three-part series on the question of epistemology and ontology. Stay tuned.