December 12, 2008

Continental thought might be seen as a set of responses to Kant’s third Critique

Two Orientations of Contemporary Thought
from Larval Subjects by larvalsubjects

It is customary to see contemporary philosophy in terms of a set of responses to Kant.

  • On the one hand, Anglo-American thought is seen in the lineage of Kant’s first Critique; while,
  • on the other hand, Continental thought might be seen as a set of responses to Kant’s third Critique.

But what if the relevant split were not between two different readings and reactions to Kant, nor a response to a geographical division across an ocean? What if, instead, the real split were to be located in those orientations that find their heritage in Descartes, and those orientations that find their orientations in Spinoza? On the one hand, we have those philosophies of the subject that obsess over the relationship of the subject to the object, asserting the transcendence of the object to the subject and endlessly raising questions as to how it might be possible for a subject to relate to the object.

Here we would find the prodigious domain of all those monotonous inquiries into knowledge, all those various forms of skepticism such as linguistic idealism on both sides of the ocean, as well as those political philosophies that argue for the necessity of a subject free of all overdetermination from a social field as in the case of Badiou or Zizek, but even Ranciere and Laclau.

On the other hand, there would be the Spinozist orientation, emphasizing not the subject, but assemblages, holism, fields, relations, and tendencies unfolding within these fields. Here there would be questions about freedom, about how everything is not already overdetermined by the organization of the field, and how the project of critique might be possible within a universe where individuation always implies a pre-personal field.

Today we even have our Leibniz in Graham Harman who has resurrected occasional causality without God under the title of “vacuous causation”, defending the rights of the object against any subjectifying gaze, thereby trying to strike a middle way. Would situating critical thought in these terms function to shift debate at all, taking it out of the endless rut of variations of Kantian correlationism and attempts to move beyond this form of correlationism? Yet were we to take this route, how would we have to transform the questions of epistemology? Already in the case of Spinoza, it is clear that epistemological questions bleed on to ontological questions, such that we must think of the formation of bodies as they “grock” with the world.

Part IV: Alyosha and Zarathustra on Com-passion and a Genuine Embodied Life
from Per Caritatem by Cynthia R. Nielsen

In a section entitled, “The Leech,” Zarathustra introduces us to a man, who identifies himself as “the conscientious in spirit,” and who appears to be a philosopher-scientist of the materialist variety. He tells Zarathustra that it is “better to be a fool on one’s own than a sage according to the opinion of others.”[1] This philosopher-scientist seeks an Archimedean point upon which to stand. That is, he wants a solid “ground and foundation” that doesn’t rely on mere authority and misguided tradition, and this requires him to “pursue the leech to its ultimate grounds.”[2]

Here it is worth mentioning that Hegel, even more rigorously than Descartes, attempted to construct a philosophical position-more specifically, a presupposition-less logic (cf. Philosophy of Logic-in which one must put all previous philosophical and religious suppositions to the test, questioning even the very principles of logic (e.g., principle of non-contradiction). The conscientious man, in a way similar to Descartes and Hegel, pursues the “leech,” which is a metaphor for various philosophical, religious and scientific systems whose claims, like the leech, demand or have the potential to demand our life blood. Interestingly, the conscientious man goes on to say, “in the conscience of science there is nothing great and nothing small.”[3]

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