Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Monday, April 22, 2013

Brief Blog Reviews IV: The Duck of Minerva

I am late in putting up the Brief Review for April. And this review calls for a disclaimer. I expect to review at least two or three political, economics, and foreign-affairs blogs this year. I assume it goes without saying that I endorse neither any specific opinion nor any general platform exemplified by these blogs. What I do appreciate, and what I commend, is good writing, and intelligent argument.

And with that, I introduce the blog The Duck of Minerva. (Well, "introduce" is a bit of presumption, as the blog dates back to 2005, and it's been in my blogroll for three years, and is read by more people than mine by a couple of orders of magnitude.) Strictly speaking, this is a tiny cheat, for I have mentioned or referred to the Duck before, but it was a while ago, relatively in passing, and (I think) only once. Besides having the best name for any political blog (though on some days, I like Stalin's Moustache better), The Duck has consistently smart posts, well written, and frequent enough to reward you most times you check back. There are, inevitably, a few posts about academia, but fewer than you would expect from a blog with authors at Georgetown and Amherst and etc., most if not all of whom are in search of tenure.

You get a bit of a spectrum at the Duck, so generalizing about its platform would be perilous; there are too many folk writing there (the list of guest bloggers is long), and no unanimity. Some folk there are what you'd call "Realists," IR-speaking, some are neoliberal and some are constructivist. In IR-speak these all have connotations and nuances. But I think I won't be far wrong if I call the Duck broadly Keynesian in economics, and roughly Clintonian in terms of Foreign Policy: a sort of liberal-hawk-lite. In short, you will not find here any dark mutterings about the Bilderberg Group or any Trotskyite nostalgia. Positions on Israel are consistently cautious. There's some general support of the #Occupy movement, but it is not foregrounded, nor is it grounded in anything like a critique of class in any Marxist sense . This is, I think, pretty much the standard temperature of academic political science and so of a whole swathe of the next generation of Congressional Aides.

I am often more radical in my sympathies than what I read here; more pessimistic too. But when I want to remember the best side of what the rest of the first world regards as sane, I read the Duck. After all, it is much more likely to be them than me in the halls of power.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Iain Hamilton Grant interviewed at After Nature

Leon Niemoczynski has posted a gorgeous interview with Iain Hamilton Grant over at After Nature. Grant seems to me to have been the dark horse among the so-called "original four" horsemen of the SRists. You could always orient these guys to the work of previous thinkers, of course -- Brassier, say, with regard to Laruelle & the Churchlands, and more recently Sellars; Meillassoux with regard to Hume and Badiou; Harman with regard to, say, Heidegger and Zubiri. (I realize I am being very imprecise here). But Grant's main book at the time, unlike the others, expressly staged his work as a reflection of philosophy "after Schelling." An apparently more modest starting place. It turns out to be a platform for far more than mere commentary.

What I am especially drawn to in Grant's work is the way he reconfigures the underlying platonism in Schelling. I first encountered Philosophies of Nature After Schelling when I was revisiting the Timaeus, and internet research led me to Schelling's youthful commentary on it. Grant offers a sustained engagement with this early work of Schelling's, which was a pleasant surprise for me, since I had started Schelling at the other end, the late "positive philosophy" in the Berlin lectures on Mythology and Revelation. (This is because I was led to Schelling by working back from Rosenzweig and Kierkegaard.) Since my Plato is an "existentialist" Plato, a Plato whose business is the cultivation of experience and not the spinning of theories about two-storey universes, what Grant taught showed me is a strong continuity in Schelling from beginning to end. In his Schelling book Grant does not devote as much systematic attention to the Berlin lectures or even the Weltaltern essays, but his many incidental remarks offer plenty of incidental evidence that if one grants, in braod outline, Schelling's case in this era, one is still engaged with a Platonic "Physics of the Idea."
Schelling conducts the ‘testing of all previous systems’ beginning with the Timaeus commentary. This is in one sense an obvious starting point… however, as a starting point for a modern philosophical physics, it at best seems strange: Plato, the very paradigm of the two-worlds metaphysician! Yet the ‘physics of the All’ demonstrates that Plato is in fact a one-world physicist, proposing, as natural science, the science of becoming, or dynamics. (Philosophies of Nature After Schellingp 20)
For Grant, Schelling reads "two-world" metaphysics as stemming essentially from Aristotle's critique of Plato:
While it follows from the Aristotelian partition of ‘physics or secondary philosophy’ (Metaphysics 1037a15-6) from the science of being qua being’ or primary philosophy (1003a1), that metaphysics and physics no longer address the same ‘nature,’ Platonism treats of just one nature, composed of powers and becomings, from which being itself is not exempt. (ibid., p29)
This continuity between Plato and the Idealist tradition of which Schelling is simultaneously in some sense the culmination and the overcoming (at least if you read the positive philosophy as the meeting-point between it and existentialism) is also pointed to in the interview:
Idealism, when not eliminative, it seems to me – and I am particularly fond of pointing to some of its less read exemplars, such as Bosanquet or Pringle-Pattison – does not seek to account for one thing in terms of another, but for each thing exactly as it is. Such a view is evident in the fact that, for example, Plato’s auto kath’auto has less to do with Kant’s Ding an sich than with a simpler “itself by itself”: it is a causal account of subjectivity independent of consciousness, or the “it-attractor” by which whatever becomes becomes what it is.
(Pringle-Pattison! "Less-read," to be sure. But this mention is far from pointless erudition. Think Reid's "common-sense" philosophy sympathetically critical of Kant-cum-Hegel. In short, "non-eliminative" idealism.)

The interview an is an excellent point of entry into Grant's work if you are unfamiliar with him (I found him the least easy, though not the least congenial, of the horsemen to read, at first). Niemoczynski asks very in-depth questions that that draw out some very thought-through responses. In the context of Niemoczynski's own projects, I was especially interested in this remark by Grant:
These, then, are the operations characteristic of a philosophy of nature: genesis recapitulated in the genesis of isolation cannot be reversed, such that genesis itself is isolated, without an additional operation or continuation of genesis on which that isolation depends. And here, I think, we gain insight into the complex location of the Idea in nature: it is precisely the additional dimension articulated by the operation capable of abstracting its objects from the context on which they are dependent.... philosophers of nature such as Peirce and Whitehead [need to] be recovered not merely as historical instances but rather in the context of how their inquiries into nature present the conceptualization consequent upon it as modifications of precisely that process into which they are inquiring. I am particularly interested in the development of the dialectic of the physical whereby reflection upon it augments it in the dimension of the Idea without making the Idea into the finally determining instance of a nature directed towards it. Nature thought as ontogenesis cannot but have as a consequence that the thought that nature is ontogenetic must be consequent upon an ontogenetic nature.
If I may gloss this (and I hope someone will set me straight if I am wrong), this has to do with the claim that nature in some measure includes the capacity to represent nature, and to represent that capacity.

Interesting threads abound in this exchange. There's a very good passage in one of the Niemoczynski's questions about the resonance between Grant's work and Brassier's concerning negativity -- a thinking of an unexperienciable in-itself in both philosophers' work -- and it sheds some light on Niemoczynski's work in some other posts of his as well. Grant's response defending a "polypsychism" (he doesn't use this term, which I've lifted from Harman, but it seems apposite) also puts the question in the context of his broader philosophical project on "Grounds and Powers," which seems to be the working title of his next book. I'm looking forward to it.