• Baden
    8.4k
    This month we'll be reading Concepts and Objects* by Ray Brassier, 2011, which deals with issues concerning realism and conceptuality.

    I would appreciate any help on introducing this work by those more knowledgeable than I on it.

    Apart from preliminary questions and comments, please make sure to read the paper before getting involved in the discussion.

    Have at it!

    (*A quick Google should turn this up, but I won't link here for legal reasons.)
  • StreetlightX
    4.1k
    The book the essay is published in - The Speculative Turn - has been published under an Open Access creative commons license, which means that there's no issue with linking to it. So here we go:

    http://www.re-press.org/book-files/OA_Version_Speculative_Turn_9780980668346.pdf [PDF]
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k
    Oh yay- Speculative Realism.. I am not sure if that is supposed to be sarcastic or not. :s
  • Ciceronianus the White
    824
    From what I know of Brassier, which I admit isn't much, he objects to what is called "speculative realism."
  • Ciceronianus the White
    824
    Gee. How could anyone maintain there is no progress in philosophy after reading this essay?
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k


    From Wikipedia:

    Brassier himself, however, does not identify with the speculative realist movement, and, further, debates that there even is such a movement, stating "The 'speculative realist movement' exists only in the imaginations of a group of bloggers promoting an agenda for which I have no sympathy whatsoever: actor-network theory spiced with pan-psychist metaphysics and morsels of process philosophy. I don’t believe the internet is an appropriate medium for serious philosophical debate; nor do I believe it is acceptable to try to concoct a philosophical movement online by using blogs to exploit the misguided enthusiasm of impressionable graduate students. I agree with Deleuze’s remark that ultimately the most basic task of philosophy is to impede stupidity, so I see little philosophical merit in a ‘movement’ whose most signal achievement thus far is to have generated an online orgy of stupidity."
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    I'm not clear if your intention is that we should begin discussion here, or over there, where the 'reading' thread is.

    I'm ignorant of Brassier's work apart from this essay, so hope others more knowledgeable will take up the flame, but I have read this specific essay several times, initially to try and get a grip on ideas about 'reality' which I was exchanging with another poster in another thread. Briefly...

    I think Brassier proposes that there is an inevitable gulf between 'meaning' on the one hand and 'being' on the other, thus between 'concept' on the one hand and 'object' on the other. He argues for the independence of the object, the thing-in-itself, and that 'scientific representation' is an attempt to articulate in conceptual terms what that object can be thought and therefore be said to be. (para 29 and 45)

    He believes that most continental philosophy (exemplified by Latour) mistakenly has this in reverse. They have elevated the concept over the object and so lose sight of the real. They are the bastard descendants of Berkeley and Fichte, whose arguments he believes can be boiled down to an erroneous refutation of mind-independence: he summarises their position as being that you can't escape the vicious circle of a mind only being able to conceptualise about products of the mind. He's disappointed that Meillassoux praises this 'strong correlationism'. He sees an approach derived from Sellars as a promising way forward, since it acknowledges the problematic relationship of observation to conceptualisation, but nevertheless holds to a version of objectivity (I infer, I didn't spot this word in the article) or object-independence.

    How's that for starters?
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    I posted a very bare summary of what I think the article is about here: http://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/155/what-the-hell-is-ray-brassier-trying-to-say#Item_1 I hope other people will improve upon it then we can start discussing.
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k
    ...what that object can be thought and therefore be said to be. (para 29 and 45)mcdoodle

    I'm having a hard time unpacking this. What does that mean "what that object can be thought and therefore be said to be"? My interpretation of that is "science gives us the clearest understanding of what an object "is", and therefore is the only arbiter of what that object is independent of mind. Is that more or less accurate?

    but nevertheless holds to a version of objectivity (I infer, I didn't spot this word in the article) or object-independence.mcdoodle

    I know this is its own lecture series..but briefly (and without jargon), how does Sellars propose to do this?

    Thanks for being the first to respond.
  • StreetlightX
    4.1k
    @schopenhauer1 *Grumble*. Seems like you're after cliff notes because you can't be arsed reading yourself. Anyway, regarding Nihil Unbound - rather than Brassier's more recent work - the idea is that the truth of extinction can function as a tool for enlightenment: it teaches us something about the universe and our place in it. In Brassier's words, "Nihilism is not an existential quandary but a speculative opportunity." That is, Brassier doesn't really care about the usual existential ennui or anguish of finitude that extinction usually elicits - his concern is wholly with thought, and the 'speculative opportunity' that the thought of extinction offers. Here is Levi Bryant's nice encapsulation of it:

    "Brassier argues that the thought of radical extinction carries with it an enlightenment. What might this enlightenment be? Why might this horrific thought of erasure, extinction, be enlightening and ethically invigorating? [Because] [t]he truth of extinction is not the gloomy thought that all is pointless because everything is going to be destroyed anyway. Rather, the thought experiment of radical extinction hopefully accomplishes three aims. Insofar as the truth of every person’s life is death (i.e., there’s no afterlife), we should not direct ourselves to an afterlife, but rather should devote ourselves to this life. How can we live in relation to ourselves, to others, and to the earth in order to best live this brief spark that we possess? How should society be transformed and organized to maximize this existence?

    Second, the truth of extinction with respect to the existence of the human species has the effect of decentering us. We can imagine a world where we are absent. As a consequence, we are not at the center of existence. We are one being– certainly important to ourselves –among others, and we are a being like the others destined to pass away. This discovery encourages us to both respect other beings, but also to recognize the fragility of ourselves and the world we rely on and therefore attend to the preservation of that world. Finally, the extinction of the universe cures us of messianism. There is no apocalypse, no final revelation of the truth, no final salvation, just this world. As such, we should squarely direct ourselves at this world and the work required to maintain this world, not at a world to come or an afterlife." (https://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/entropy-and-me/)

    Brassier's recent work is an attempt to flesh out how thought does in fact function if the above claims are in fact the case. As he himself puts it, "[Nihil Unbound] contends that nature is not the repository of purpose and that consciousness is not the fulcrum of thought. [Yet] [t]he cogency of these claims presupposes an account of thought and meaning that is neither Aristotelian—everything has meaning because everything exists for a reason—nor phenomenological—consciousness is the basis of thought and the ultimate source of meaning. The absence of any such account is the book’s principal weakness (it has many others, but this is perhaps the most serious)." (http://afterxnature.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/ray-brassier-interviews-with-after_26.html). "Concepts and Objects" is one of Brassier's attempts to remedy this short-coming (a remedy inspired by Sellars), and come up with an account of thought that is adequate to the image of it presented in NU (along with his other more recent papers like "That Which is Not", "Nominalism, Naturalism and Materialism", and "Against Flat Ontologies").

    The full significance of nihilism and extinction for Brassier is found in the last chapter of NU, "The Truth of Extinction", which is worth reading if you actually care about this topic rather than getting others to do your work for you. Anyway, that's roughly the context in which C&O is written. I've merged this thread with the reading thread, as there's no reason why there should be two separate threads on an almost identical topic (Edit: it looks like the OP didn't carry over, and I'm not sure how to make that happen...)
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    I'm reading through this very slowly, because it's pretty far outside my usual reading and interests, so here is what I understand from the programatic suggestions of the first 10 paragraphs.

    -The traditional arch-problem for philosophy is the relation between what there is and how 'we' (I'll leave it as a problem who this 'we' is supposed to be) come to know it.
    -Trying to solve the problem requires that we recognize that each question, of what there is and how we know about it, has to be informed by the other.
    -This fact led modern continental philosophy to accept a kind of 'correlativism' in which being and understanding are conflated, or we find a way to hook ourselves into a circle whereby we start with our own understanding of being, use that to reflect on being itself, and so on.
    -Instead of doing this, we should recognize that there is no originary meaning to hook onto, and try to give an account of how meaning arises through unmeaning constituents. Such an account can't be outside our conceptual apparatus by definition, but at the same time it seeks to know how things are independently of our relation to them, to 'break out of' this traditional circle.
    -Doing this requires that we perform a 'Critical' project, like Locke's or Kant's, into our own understanding.
    -Recent attempts to bridge the gap between knowing and being by declaring everything equally real and on an equal plane (meaning is just one more thing in the world) have failed. Our method should respect that traditional divide, and answer questions about its nature in a naturalistic way. This means that there cannot be any first meaningful principles onto which our explanations circularly or foundationally latch: every 'higher' mystery is explained in terms of something 'lower' that does not use the 'higher' mystery's vocabulary. (There also seems to be a sort of scientism he alludes to, where all such vocabulary must ultimately be able to be cashed out in scientific terms. I don't know why this follows from or is even associated with the kind of 'naturalism' he is talking about, and I have the inkling that it may even contradict it, as an idealization of science).

    -----

    So far, like ciceronianus I have little sympathy with this project and the opening strikes me as tedious and wrong-headed. But I will see if something changes over the course of the paper.
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k
    "Brassier argues that the thought of radical extinction carries with it an enlightenment. What might this enlightenment be? Why might this horrific thought of erasure, extinction, be enlightening and ethically invigorating? [Because] [t]he truth of extinction is not the gloomy thought that all is pointless because everything is going to be destroyed anyway. Rather, the thought experiment of radical extinction hopefully accomplishes three aims. Insofar as the truth of every person’s life is death (i.e., there’s no afterlife), we should not direct ourselves to an afterlife, but rather should devote ourselves to this life. How can we live in relation to ourselves, to others, and to the earth in order to best live this brief spark that we possess? How should society be transformed and organized to maximize this existence?StreetlightX

    That is about the same as every other secular humanist philosophy. To me, that is no big insight.

    Second, the truth of extinction with respect to the existence of the human species has the effect of decentering us. We can imagine a world where we are absent. As a consequence, we are not at the center of existence. We are one being– certainly important to ourselves –among others, and we are a being like the others destined to pass away. This discovery encourages us to both respect other beings, but also to recognize the fragility of ourselves and the world we rely on and therefore attend to the preservation of that world. Finally, the extinction of the universe cures us of messianism. There is no apocalypse, no final revelation of the truth, no final salvation, just this world. As such, we should squarely direct ourselves at this world and the work required to maintain this world, not at a world to come or an afterlife." (https://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/entropy-and-me/)StreetlightX

    Second, the truth of extinction with respect to the existence of the human species has the effect of decentering us. We can imagine a world where we are absent. As a consequence, we are not at the center of existence. We are one being– certainly important to ourselves –among others, and we are a being like the others destined to pass away. This discovery encourages us to both respect other beings, but also to recognize the fragility of ourselves and the world we rely on and therefore attend to the preservation of that world. Finally, the extinction of the universe cures us of messianism. There is no apocalypse, no final revelation of the truth, no final salvation, just this world. As such, we should squarely direct ourselves at this world and the work required to maintain this world, not at a world to come or an afterlife." (https://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/entropy-and-me/)StreetlightX

    I mean, this seems no different than any other atheist, humanist, secular or similar types of worldviews which is pretty much already predominant in the West.

    Brassier's recent work is an attempt to flesh out how thought does in fact function if the above claims are in fact the case. As he himself puts it, "[Nihil Unbound] contends that nature is not the repository of purpose and that consciousness is not the fulcrum of thought. [Yet] [t]he cogency of these claims presupposes an account of thought and meaning that is neither Aristotelian—everything has meaning because everything exists for a reason—nor phenomenological—consciousness is the basis of thought and the ultimate source of meaning. The absence of any such account is the book’s principal weakness (it has many others, but this is perhaps the most serious)." (http://afterxnature.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/ray-brassier-interviews-with-after_26.html). "Concepts and Objects" is one of Brassier's attempts to remedy this short-coming (a remedy inspired by Sellars), and come up with an account of thought that is adequate to the image of it presented in NU (along with his other more recent papers like "That Which is Not", "Nominalism, Naturalism and Materialism", and "Against Flat Ontologies").StreetlightX

    Yes, this is quite un-Schopenhauerian. He is trying to say that either a) there is no metaphysical ground (like a monism of some sort) or b) even if there is a ground, this ground is individuated particles and energy ergo no purpose can be imputed other than the necessary laws found in science and the contingent play of these objects in their seemingly infinite variations of cause and effect.

    He is also saying that the mind does not impute meaning, but simply interprets it or categorizes it. It will never have the "full" truth of the object, nor are all interpretations the same. The one true interpretation can come close to the truth of the object by scientific explanation.

    So far this is very dull and is pretty much the default thinking for secular thinkers. Also, I don't get his ontology here. What is the object then..the conclusions of a scientific experiment? The theories that go along with this? Are they the "laws" that science "discovers"? How are the conclusions of experiments and theories the object itself? It is what describes the object. Can one really exhaust all that the object is through description, scientific or otherwise?
  • StreetlightX
    4.1k
    Yes, this is quite un-Schopenhauerian. He is trying to say that either a) there is no metaphysical ground (like a monism of some sort) or b) even if there is a ground, this ground is individuated particles and energy ergo no purpose can be imputed other than the necessary laws found in science and the contingent play of these objects in their seemingly infinite variations of cause and effect.

    He is also saying that the mind does not impute meaning, but simply interprets it or categorizes it. It will never have the "full" truth of the object, nor are all interpretations the same. The one true interpretation can come close to the truth of the object by scientific explanation.

    How in the world did you draw these staggeringly off base conclusions? And why ought anybody answer your questions when you can't be bothered to do some of the required work to have this discussion in the first place? You're approaching the whole exercise with an awful attitude, and it shows in your lack of any close attention to the text itself.
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k
    How in the world did you draw these staggeringly off base conclusions? And why ought anybody answer your questions when you can't be bothered to do some of the required work to have this discussion in the first place? You're approaching the whole exercise with an awful attitude, and it shows in your lack of any close attention to the text itself.StreetlightX

    Just a bunch of ad hominems.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    I don't know, SX, from the descriptions you gave, anyway, all of that stuff sounds like typical, even mainstream, secular notions.
  • Glahn
    11
    Brassier is decidedly not a purveyor of mainstream secularism. To this end, StreetlightX, I think you're off the mark reading Brassier's extinction stuff as suggesting that we focus on enriching the here and now. That would be a pretty mainstream secular idea. The whole Nihil Unbound period in Brassier's career was an outgrowth of his dissertation work. At that time he was mainly concerned to criticize ideas prominent in mainstream French philosophy, which was at the time (and to some extent still is) dominated by theologically motivated phenomenology. He did make some initial gestures toward his current project back then, but he's distanced himself from the book since it was published -- so it's really not all that relevant to the "Concepts and Objects" paper.

    This having been said, to those concerned about how mainstream, Schopenhaurean, or scientistic Brassier is: it might serve you well to worry a bit more about whether he's right.

    Here's a brief summary of the some of the early sections, filling in the gaps a bit:

    1-5. To understand what is real, we also have to understand our own method of representing the world. The only way to get at what is real is through representation in thought. However, in granting this fact, we can't forget that objects (what is represented) are distinct from the concepts through which we know them (representation). Reality is not already carved up into concept-sized bits for us: we do not get the concept DOG, for instance, by encountering dogs and abstracting the concept therefrom. Thus our cognitive activity shapes how things present to us. Nevertheless, reality itself is not of our making, and the concepts we employ in representing the world are not chosen freely. We ourselves are physical beings, shaped by the material world, and our mode of representing the world is part of what is shaped. So even though the meaning of the concept DOG is not inherited from a concept-world relationship between DOG and dogs out in the world, the fact that we have the concept DOG is a product of our being shaped by the world in which we live.

    6-10. Heidegger understood that to access reality, we needed to understand our method of accessing it. However, he gave too much credence to commonsense ways of representing the world, confused representations with the real objects represented thereby, and never moved past explicating the structure of thought to explaining why it has that structure. The endgame of human inquiry is to understand how things are -- full stop -- not just how they are for humans. But even when we understand this, we will understand it through representation in thought. These are not incompatible claims. It is precisely by coming to understand our own cognitive machinery, and how it interacts with the world, that we attain such access to how things are in themselves. Some continental philosophers think we can just skip worrying about how we know what's real by identifying the "real" with what appears to us in immanent experience. This misses the point, and cheapens the notion of reality that we're after. We should neither assume that our concepts were given to us by the world to match the objects contained in it, nor that our concepts are an unchanging feature of us as human beings in our relationship to the world. Rather, we should see concepts as part of us, as material beings, shaped both by history and by natural history. We should adopt a "methodological naturalism," which allows us to make use of concepts like "concept," "reason," etc, so long as we can make sense of those notions in more fundamental metaphysical terms (e.g. in materialist terms).

    11-15. Kant understood the importance of concepts in our representation of the world. But those who followed him overemphasized the role of concepts, and in the process lost track of the distinction between thought and reality. Kant also understood the difference between knowledge and sensation. Sensation is our material connection to the world. Knowledge, by contrast, is conceptual, and is governed by the norm of truth, which is independent of any particular subject. Knowledge is related to sensation in complex ways, but is not reducible to it. Wilfrid Sellars is important to this project. Like Kant, he synthesizes important lessons from empiricism and rationalism, while avoiding the skepticism of the former and the dogmatism of the latter. But he also synthesizes the important lessons from post-Kantian idealism and post-Darwinian naturalism, while avoiding the naive idealism of the former and the naive materialism of the latter. Sellars' work gives us tools to make sense of why the commonsense picture of reality celebrated by most continental philosophers has to be eliminated, and why the scientific worldview (consisting of theoretical postulates) is essential to making sense of ourselves as thinking beings. In giving up the commonsense worldview, we cannot give up the very concept of "concept" or of "thought" or "reason," as to do so is obviously self-defeating. Rather, we must employ rational tools to demystify rationality, explaining it in naturalistic terms as something not at all different from other natural processes. By allowing reason to retain an air of mysticism (a la Hegel), we leave it open to straw-man critiques from postmodernism and other forms of irrationalism.

    16-24. Critique of Latour. Skipping this part. This is Brassier getting a jab in at Graham Harman. Harman is an acolyte of Latour's, and edited the volume in which this paper appears. Brassier doesn't like Harman. Anyway, Latour is not a very good philosopher, and the critique makes sense, but it's not all that interesting.

    I'll pick this up again later.
  • StreetlightX
    4.1k
    Brassier is decidedly not a purveyor of mainstream secularism. To this end, StreetlightX, I think you're off the mark reading Brassier's extinction stuff as suggesting that we focus on enriching the here and now. That would be a pretty mainstream secular idea. The whole Nihil Unbound period in Brassier's career was an outgrowth of his dissertation work. At that time he was mainly concerned to criticize ideas prominent in mainstream French philosophy, which was at the time (and to some extent still is) dominated by theologically motivated phenomenology. He did make some initial gestures toward his current project back then, but he's distanced himself from the book since it was published -- so it's really not all that relevant to the "Concepts and Objects" paper.Glahn

    Mm, I quoted Bryant because he gives a nice reader's digest version of NU to the uninitiated. Brassier's take on his own work is in fact more interesting, but without the relevant background - one I suspect Schopenhauer does not share - it can be hard to parse. Here's something I wrote elsewhere on it in a slightly more technical vein:

    The entire point [of NU] is that the thought of extinction renders thought immanent to being, insofar as "the transcendental scope of extinction... levels the difference between life and death, time and space, revoking the ontological potency attributed to temporalizing thought in its alleged invulnerability to physical death." The reality of extinction erases any sort of transcendence, and the 'leveling' that Brassier speaks of corresponds to the collapse of time that I mentioned earlier. To that extent, "extinction is not to be understood here as the termination of a biological species, but rather as that which levels the transcendence ascribed to the human, whether it be that of consciousness or Dasein, stripping the latter of its privilege as the locus of correlation."

    This is why, unlike the phenomenological understanding of death as that which orients our actions and provides an index of value, the 'death' in question - that of extinction - is thus an entirely impersonal death, a death always-already at work that in no way serves to individuate us: "the thought of extinction tokens an annihilation which is neither a possibility towards which actual existence could orient itself, nor a given datum from which future existence could proceed. It retroactively disables projection, just as it pre-emptively abolishes retention... extinction unfolds in an ‘anterior posteriority’ which usurps the ‘future anteriority’ of human existence." The point is resolutely anti-phenomenological, and aims precisely to do away with the (existential) obsession with personal death. Extinction isn't really the sort of thing that can be obsessed over, insofar as, at the level of thought, it has already happened: "terrestrial history occurs between the simultaneous strophes of a death which is at once earlier than the birth of the first unicellular organism, and later than the extinction of the last multicellular animal."

    The very thought of extinction then, has massive ramifications for the status of thought itself. Uncoupled from life, thought has an autonomy that is not bound to the vagrancies of life; thought itself marks a latent inhumanity in those who take themselves to be "merely human" and bound by finitude; through the thought of extinction, thought can "think a world without thought": "Extinction turns thinking inside out, objectifying it as a perishable thing in the world like any other (and no longer the imperishable condition of perishing). This is an externalization that cannot be appropriated by thought – not because it harbours some sort of transcendence that defies rational comprehension, but, on the contrary, because it indexes the autonomy of the object in its capacity to transform thought itself into a thing... extinction indexes the thought of the absence of thought. This is why it represents an objectification of thought, but one wherein the thought of the object is reversed by the object itself, rather than by the thought of the object. For the difference between the thought of the object and the object itself is no longer a function of thought, which is to say, of transcendence, but of the object understood as immanent identity." It's the thought of extinction that underpins Brassier's commitment to realism"
    — Me, elsewhere

    B's. current work - as I read it - is precisely the 'filling in of the gaps' of the status of thought as it is presented in NU. If NU used extinction to level mind and world, C&O and related pieces trace out what thought ought to 'look like' if this is the case. Anyway, I'll try and stop talking about NU now. My post about it was in response to a thread by Schop in which he seemed curious about the 'nihilistic' aspect of B's thought, and it was that I was responding to.
  • Glahn
    11
    Mm, I quoted Bryant because he gives a nice reader's digest version of NU to the uninitiated. Brassier's take on his own work is in fact more interesting, but without the relevant background - one I suspect Schopenhauer does not share - it can be hard to parse.StreetlightX

    Agreed. Sorry about the tone, there. Just meant to communicate to others that Bryant's rather milquetoast remarks weren't representative.

    Your summary account seems on point, and I certainly agree that there's a solid through-line of philosophical motivation between the earlier and more recent stuff. I still think there's a pretty huge discrepancy between Nihil Unbound and what we're seeing now, though, mainly owing to Brassier's rejection of nearly all of the commitments he took back then from Laruelle. (Note to those unfamiliar with Brassier's work: ignore what follows.)

    Still, at the conclusion of NU, he claimed that

    Decontraction [i.e. the anterior posterior dimension of extinction] is not a negentropic starting point to which one could return, or an entropic terminus towards which one could hasten. Its reality is that of the 'being-nothing' [i.e. the Laruellean One read through Badiou's subtractive ontology] whose anterior posteriority expresses the identity of entropic indifference and negentropic difference, an identity which is given to thought as the objective reality that already determines it (Brassier, Nihil Unbound, 238).

    Thus Laruelle's notion of radical immanence is the index of the "collapse of time" concomitant to the reality of extinction. This is really the same kind of thing he was saying when he was running around with the Laruelleans. See, for example, this passage from the Grelet volume:

    Against Reason, Sense, and Life, against the glorification of the human which underlies them, hyperspeculation must mobilise the non-individual, the impersonal, the void, the multiple, the insignificant, the real-nothing. It is a matter of opposing the impersonal to life and asserting liberatory destruction over blissful creation; affirming the non-being of the One and the insignificance of multiple-being while refusing any recourse to an evental supplement; claiming that annihilation according to the transcendental identity of the void has nothing to do with Dasein, consciousness, or man (Brassier, "Liquider l’homme une fois pour toutes").

    But then, well after the move to Sellars, we see in his most recent paper on Laruelle:

    [Laruelle] successfully conceptualizes the separation of the in-itself, but misidentifies it as an experience, refusing to recognise that no residue of experience can withstand determination by mediation. The rejoinder that the One is 'abstract without abstraction' begs the question, for it simply radicalises abstraction in an attempt to neutralise ('unilateralise') the dialectic of mediation and abstraction (Brassier, "Laruelle and the Reality of Abstraction," 118),

    Admittedly, in NU, Brassier already hinted at the rejection of Laruelle that would come to fruition here, but he was still leaning heavily on the Laruellean notion of radical immanence, which I take to be totally incompatible with his current Sellarsian naturalistic conception of rationality. That said, there are a few elliptical remarks in "That Which is Not" which may indicate that you have a better nose for these things than I do:

    The transcendental difference between appearance and reality indexes a form of negativity that is at once the condition of objective truth in discourse, but also that which cannot be objectified without undermining the possibility of such truth. This negativity does not index a difference between recognizable 'things' or entities but a unilateral distinction between the structure of objectifying discourse and its unobjectifiable motor: the non-being of the real as 'irreducible remainder' implicated in the originary dehiscence between appearance and reality (Brassier, "That Which is Not," 186).

    We'll have to see once he finishes the new book.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    1.8k
    Brassier is decidedly not a purveyor of mainstream secularism. To this end, StreetlightX, I think you're off the mark reading Brassier's extinction stuff as suggesting that we focus on enriching the here and now. — Glahn

    I think it actually has more relevance than you suggest. Brassier's move, for the purveyors of transcendental meaning, amounts to abandoning the all important question ( Why existence?" ) to only engage in shallow adoration of the world. The turn to the world, to thinking of objects as constituted in themselves rather than by "thought" or "reasons," registers as a brute call to enrich the here and now. All (transcendental) sources of meaning are abandoned for the world to just be the meaning of the world. It is the notion, meaning immanent in the world, which advocates of the transcendental most despise. And it is expressed, in one sense or another, in both Brassier's work and mainstream secularism.

    In an entirely literal sense, Brassier's argument is, from the advocate of the transcendental's point of view, suggesting we enrich the here and now. He is denying the absence of meaning in the world. Things are by themselves, not as the result of some transcendental force. If we start thinking in terms of Brassier's philosophy, we start taking part in an idea that the world is not nothing, is not "meaningless" itself. In our understanding, we leave behind the meaningless world of the transcendental position, where things only matter because of some other reason (i.e. the "Why" ), and take-up (from the point of view of advocates of the transcendental) a stance of an "enriched world," in which things exist on their own terms.
  • StreetlightX
    4.1k
    I still think there's a pretty huge discrepancy between Nihil Unbound and what we're seeing now, though, mainly owing to Brassier's rejection of nearly all of the commitments he took back then from Laruelle.Glahn

    I'm not sure about this - if anything, Brassier's ultimate charge in "L and the Reality of Abstraction" is that Laruelle basically loses his nerve at the last minute, rather than follow the consequences of his affirmation of the autonomy of the Real all the way to the end. This is why, among other reasons, C&O is so concerned about epistemology. Although his explicit targets are Latour and to a lesser extent Deleuze, in the background is also the Laruelleian gnosis which basically skimps out on furnishing the justificatory grounds of it's own position. Brassier's disillusionment with Laurelle is more or less that Laruelle doesn't follow through on his own insights - insights which Brassier holds to be singularly valuable. The whole post-NU 'turn' towards truth, negativity and representation is in some sense a way to remedy this lacuna and forge a Laruelleian inflected philosophy that throws out the bathwater without the baby of Laruelleian thought.

    This is especially true in "Nominalism, Naturalism and Materialism", where he rehashes Sellars's account of representation as that which correlates with the Real without corresponding to it, thereby satisfying the Laruellian injunction to respect the autonomy of the Real. In this particular paper (C&O), the Laruelleian influence is cashed out in the discussion in §§28 regarding the 'gap' between object and concept wherein "the difference between the conceptual and the extra-conceptual... can be presupposed as already-given in the act of knowing or conception. But it is presupposed without being posited." The idea again is to respect the autonomy of the object, without which we end up subscribing to a pre-critical dogmatism that simply assumes a sort of direct cognitive access to the concept which he takes Sellars to have decisively refuted. Anyway, I'll try and talk about C&O properly now...
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    I'm delighted to see an engagement with Stove's Gem and Berkeley later in the paper, which is a fun topic. SX, this is apparently where your opinion on the Master Argument came from – it's always eerie to find the sources of people's opinions.

    I wonder, does anyone want to discuss his criticism of the Gem? I think so far it's the only part of the paper that tries to offer some sort of substantive argumentation, so it might be amenable to some decent discussion. Further, the rest of his project seems to rest on the Gem being (1) real [i.e. philosophers have in the past more or less made the argument as Stove presents it] and (2) ineffective [i.e. Brassier's diagnosis of it drawing a non-tautological conclusion from a tautological premise is right].
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k
    1-5. To understand what is real, we also have to understand our own method of representing the world. The only way to get at what is real is through representation in thought. However, in granting this fact, we can't forget that objects (what is represented) are distinct from the concepts through which we know them (representation). Reality is not already carved up into concept-sized bits for us: we do not get the concept DOG, for instance, by encountering dogs and abstracting the concept therefrom. Thus our cognitive activity shapes how things present to us. Nevertheless, reality itself is not of our making, and the concepts we employ in representing the world are not chosen freely. We ourselves are physical beings, shaped by the material world, and our mode of representing the world is part of what is shaped. So even though the meaning of the concept DOG is not inherited from a concept-world relationship between DOG and dogs out in the world, the fact that we have the concept DOG is a product of our being shaped by the world in which we live.Glahn

    I feel like Thomas Nagel said something along these lines..but that could be a false connection. Is it bad that most evolutionary biologists and others (including my self to an extent) already thought along these lines way before Brassier said it with more words and more references to French philosophers?

    We should adopt a "methodological naturalism," which allows us to make use of concepts like "concept," "reason," etc, so long as we can make sense of those notions in more fundamental metaphysical terms (e.g. in materialist terms).Glahn

    Can you give an example of how we can make sense of these notions in more fundamental metaphysical terms (e.g. in materialist terms)?
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k
    How in the world did you draw these staggeringly off base conclusions? And why ought anybody answer your questions when you can't be bothered to do some of the required work to have this discussion in the first place? You're approaching the whole exercise with an awful attitude, and it shows in your lack of any close attention to the text itself.StreetlightX

    Also, I think I hit a lot Brassier's stuff right on the mark with that comment. You haven't shown me where I am wrong.
    1) Brassier doesn't believe in a transcendence (what I call a metaphysical ground). This is a wrong interpretation in your eyes?

    2) Scientific evidence- especially the idea of species and universal extinction shows us that we have no special privilege in the universe.. Everything is contingent, humans don't matter in a universe not meant for humans.

    So far, this is still nothing outside of most mainstream secularism. It is just that secularists, with this understanding in mind still have an optimistic idea of helping humanity through scientific discovery and technology. I don't see the import or even originality in Brassier's thought. It seems that his writing is a very internal debate between him and certain idealist philosophers in continental philosophy. He is really speaking to them because, by and large, the secularists in the modern world have already understood this view for a very long time. Most are not idealists and know humans mean nothing in the grand scheme of the universe.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    824
    Aspects of the view being represented here as secular humanist or mainstream, and attributed to Brassier, are positively ancient. Epicurean, in fact.
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k
    Did this advance anything? So we are parsing terms? Fine, scientific naturalist.. etc. but any term I use you will find fault with.. I just used secularism as a catchall for anyone who simply says there is no metaphysical ground (noumena, what have you), and that humans don't matter much in terms of the universe.. Some people might focus on humans just because they are humans..but they still think the whole idea of a universe for humans is not true. Again, nothing new here when the jargon is placed in ordinary language context.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    1.8k


    The problem with that is it misrepresents those positions. It suggests they all share the secular humanist notion that the world belongs to humans to value and control as they see fit, to ever expanding progress. Secular humanism actually tends to think of the world for humans, just in a worldly sense rather than a transcendental one.

    Brassier isn't arguing this position. He is attacking the metaphysics for those who proclaim a metaphysical ground, as opposed giving ownership of the world to humans.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    824
    How touchy you are. Like Schopenhauer was about that poor woman who spoke too loudly outside his door. You should be more Epicurean. My little comment went to the "no progress" angle.
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k

    Again, just emphasized that many don't think the world is for them but they work to promote science and technology. Use whatever term you prefer- scientific naturalism, materialism, realists, etc. the point was many people already think this way and hence there is nothing new or original here and that Brassier essentials is addressing a small group of idealists in continental philosophy.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    1.8k


    But that's why it your is misleading. Some of those who hold positions of scientific naturalism, materialism, realists still think the world is for them. They get world do (or rather one part of the world, humans) what the transcendent does for the idealists, using "humanity" and "life" in replace of the role transcendent (to "give" meaning to the world). Other people who hold these positions don't.

    You are equivocating between the two, to a point where you can't tell the difference between arguments which proclaim humans (morally) giving meaning to a meaningless world and those which are pointing out the absence of the transcendent.

    Brassier is arguing the latter. He is not arguing humans are successful and progress by their nature, but rather pointing out since we are of the world, it is incoherent to describe ourselves in terms of the transcendent. He is, indeed, addressing a certain group of philosophical arguments, those which purpose a "Why," to point out they are incoherent. Our obsession the world must be "for us" by some reason do not make sense. Our expectation we must be more than a finite state is incoherent. We are expecting to be (defined by something other than ourselves) what we never are. His point is a metaphysical one, limited to identifying errors of reasoning regarding the transcendent and the world. It about the people who DON'T think this way, about mistakes made in philosophical thought. The insight given is into the incoherence of thinking there must be a solution to finitude (an insight which some realists/materialists/secularists, etc.,etc., could stand to realise, as they are treating humanity as the solution to finitude).

    Still, even Brassier's insight is given in a context which doesn't respect itself. In beginning with idea finitude is a problem, Brassier's argument is caught in a form of reasoning which thinks it needs a solution. Supposedly, the "problem" is resolved because the world has no infinite form. We are seeking something which doesn't make sense, as if our finite nature was "The Reason" not to consider finitude a problem.

    Obviously, this doesn't make sense. Just because the transcendent is incoherent and finitude has no logical problems, it doesn't mean existing people will understand or feel that way. The incoherence of the transcendent is not "The Reason" for people to accept finitude. There is no reason anyone accepts finitude. That's always a question of how someone exists, as opposed to logic.
  • Glahn
    11
    In an entirely literal sense, Brassier's argument is, from the advocate of the transcendental's point of view, suggesting we enrich the here and now. He is denying the absence of meaning in the world. Things are by themselves, not as the result of some transcendental force. If we start thinking in terms of Brassier's philosophy, we start taking part in an idea that the world is not nothing, is not "meaningless" itself. In our understanding, we leave behind the meaningless world of the transcendental position, where things only matter because of some other reason (i.e. the "Why" ), and take-up (from the point of view of advocates of the transcendental) a stance of an "enriched world," in which things exist on their own terms.TheWillowOfDarkness

    Even in "an entirely literal sense," this seems wrongheaded to me. It's true that Brassier now recognizes the reality of meaning, but this is meaning as representational content. Think of the first level of meaning in Gilbert Harman's "Three Levels of Meaning" (not to be confused with that blustery charlatan Graham Harman). And Brassier is clear both in "Concepts and Objects" and elsewhere that the world itself does not possess meaning in this (or any other sense). To suggest that it does is to commit the Parmenidean error of identifying thinking and being, which he is very fond of criticizing.

    The sense in which it might be said that Brassier is concerned with the here and now is this: in his political work, he endorses "Prometheanism," which is a form of ultramodernist Marxism intent that preservation of existing conditions of life has no weight in the making of large-scale political decisions. Political thinkers concerned with the "here and now" tend to be liberals and utilitarians worried to keep everyone happy under existing conditions of life. As in the Piercean philosophy of science he borrows from Sellars, in political contexts Brassier seems more interested in progress toward an end. In the theoretical case, the end is the stopping point of inquiry as representation of the real; and in the political case, the end is the stopping point of collective rationality as generic communism. These ends themselves have an immanent transcendence (the noumenon as the immanent transcendence of the object over itself, etc). It is the ends toward which we are oriented that concerns Brassier. He's interested to make clear that those ends are already present within our horizon of action, but it's not the flimsy, existential here and now of the secular liberal that concerns him.

    'm not sure about this - if anything, Brassier's ultimate charge in "L and the Reality of Abstraction" is that Laruelle basically loses his nerve at the last minute, rather than follow the consequences of his affirmation of the autonomy of the Real all the way to the end. This is why, among other reasons, C&O is so concerned about epistemology. Although his explicit targets are Latour and to a lesser extent Deleuze, in the background is also the Laruelleian gnosis which basically skimps out on furnishing the justificatory grounds of it's own position. Brassier's disillusionment with Laurelle is more or less that Laruelle doesn't follow through on his own insights - insights which Brassier holds to be singularly valuable. The whole post-NU 'turn' towards truth, negativity and representation is in some sense a way to remedy this lacuna and forge a Laruelleian inflected philosophy that throws out the bathwater without the baby of Laruelleian thought.StreetlightX

    I worry this is a merely verbal dispute, but: the Laruellean idea to which Brassier is still committed is the autonomy of the real? I'd count it more likely Brassier found this idea in Kant, as did both Laruelle and Sellars. It's also present in Plato, to whom Brassier has turned with some enthusiasm in recent work. Laruelle's way of trying to flesh the idea out is precisely through the vision-in-one as radical immanence/gnosis, which is what Brassier rejects in him -- and all of which is flatly incoherent. It's not that Laruelle didn't go far enough, it's that his method didn't match his motivations. Brassier retains the motivations, which were what drove him to Laruelle, but it was those same motivations that drove him away. Sellars also shared the motivations, and developed a much more sophisticated, fully worked out, actually coherent account long before Laruelle started holding court (like so many small-time demigogs before him) among discontented ENS dropouts. So yes, Brassier had the good sense to throw out the Laruellean bathwater, but it was a Kantian baby that he retained.
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k

    All I ask is that you don't strawman me. I didn't mean to imply that all realists are secular humanists whereby the humanity as a replacement to the transcendent. Many of them pretty much understand we are simply contingent beings created out of the cause and effect of this world in non-deterministic way. But they CHOOSE to make "solving" humanity's "problems" (things like health, discovery, material survival, and technological creativity) part of their mission. It is not necessarily a transcendent mission, just a cause they choose to embrace, even if it is as non-special as any other action in a universe where "nothing" cares. I think the thinking here for these humanists is, "why not care about humans since that's what we are.. the universe may not give a shit, but we seem to care about survival and so forth, so let's focus on making lives and the species more comfortable, long-lasting, and knowledgeable". I don't see the contradiction if one realizes that the cause is simply for itself and not any grander mission than that.

    By the way, being a Pessimist of sorts, I don't even identify with humanism and its optimism.. I am just giving an example that contradicts your point that these people delude themselves into thinking that humanity replaces the transcendent. They may very well know the universe is a nihilistic void of meaning but choose to focus on humanity anyways. Also, the whole idea that humanity and the universe will end a billion billion years from now. Those kind of numbers probably don't make a difference to people. It mine as well be infinity.
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