January 09, 2009

When was the last time an architect was inspired by Davidson or Quine?

Mikhail Emelianov, on January 8th, 2009 at 3:42 pm Said: [...] I suppose an annoyingly Kantian response would be to emphasize that it is you indeed who opens yours eyes and sees what you are seeing, that is, you are limited by your very own observation tools, if I may put it this way. I find realist discussion to be quite refreshing in terms of forgoing Kant’s problems, but again I would say that simply feeling the need to overcome or saying that one must overcome does not in itself produce the overcoming.

I like that you boldly state what philosophy does and does not need to concern itself with, but I find that majority of those doing philosophy in all of its present various forms can probably state their agendas in similar ways of necessity and urgency - how should I, a humble reader, make my decision?

Graham Harman, on January 8th, 2009 at 4:26 pm Said:
“You still are not quite answering my question concerning “privileging”:”
I think you’re getting too hung up on the word “privileging”. For Kant it is always the human/world relation with which philosophy deals, or the relation between phenomena according to the categories. He would find it meaningless to speak philosophically about the relation between cotton and fire apart from all human access to them (indeed, somewhere he says we can’t even be sure whether the Ding-an-sich is one or many). That’s the whole point of critical philosophy.
Kant give the human/world relation a privileged status over all others, to such an extent that he excludes the others from the sphere of philosophy. And again, he offers reasons for this. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s privileging them. And this has become such an automatic reflex among contemporary philosophers that they forget any alternative is possible. You yourself admit that you never thought of it before! And I myself remember what a shock Whitehead was when coming from my Heideggerian background, for the same reason.
“Again, I would argue that one cannot really make that choice, according to Kant, unless it is a choice between sticking to the realm of possible experience and attempting to discuss things outside of that experience and be wrong.”
You’re the one begging the question here. You’re basically saying “but it’s not privileging one thing over another, because according to Kant the second one isn’t even possible”.
To risk a dangerous metaphor, that’s sort of like saying: “Bush didn’t privilege evidence of Saddam having WMD over evidence of Saddam having no WMD, because for Bush it was unthinkable that Saddam didn’t have any.” Well, yeah. But that doesn’t prove that Bush was right in his initial biases. And at a much higher level, the fact that Kant felt compelled by the evidence to place the human/world gap at the center of his philosophy does not prove that there are no other options.
I must confess, I have trouble seeing why you’re not getting this particular point. Perhaps you thought I meant more by “privileging” than I did. If that’s the issue, then choose another word that’s less loaded for you; I have no objection.
“I like that you boldly state what philosophy does and does not need to concern itself with, but I find that majority of those doing philosophy in all of its present various forms can probably state their agendas in similar ways of necessity and urgency - how should I, a humble reader, make my decision?”
If only it were the case that it was always stated with necessity and urgency. But that’s not how most human thinking works. Most of the time we are stuck in ruts left by others (as you and I both were before we considered the possibility that maybe all relations should be placed philosophically on the same footing). The opposite is usually just assumed, not urgently stated. That’s the difference between Kant and Kantians, of course.
As for how you, the humble reader, should make your choice, I suppose it’s in the usual manner: one looks for authors displaying basically solid argument, adequacy to the facts of experience, a robust imagination, and whatever other factors one light find important.
In my own case, for instance, why did I not remain the happy Kantian that I briefly was at age 21 or so? For precisely the reason under discussion in this thread. After reading Whitehead, it suddenly struck me as stunningly arbitrary to erect a human/world horizon in the middle of philosophy and insist that everything else be reducible to it. The universe is so vast, and humans such a tiny part of it. There may be biographical factors when people make such distinctions, too. (I’m sure I would have been more favorable toward Derrida if I had grown up with my student spirit crushed by reactionary Husserlians instead of having it crushed by lukewarm late deconstructionists. Perhaps I would have been more repulsed by Heidegger if I had been in a concentration camp, or more repulsed by Badiou’s Maoism if I were from Taiwan or Japan. And so forth.)
I wish you good luck in your search. And if you stick with Kant, then I at least hope your reasons for doing so are strengthened by confronting the doubters like me.

Graham Harman, on January 8th, 2009 at 5:03 pm Said:
“Indeed, yet according to Kant we cannot know much about anything that is not within the specific conditions of our experience. Sad? Indeed.”

The best recent defense of what you’re saying can be found in Meillassoux’s article in Collapse III. He’s defending Fichte’s position there, not Kant’s, but for the discussion at hand it amounts to the same thing, since Meillassoux’s point is that the human-world correlate is overwhelmingly persuasive and can only be radicalized from within.
The best challenge to this, in my opinion, comes from Heidegger. While it’s true that Heidegger thinks Sein and Dasein must always come as a pair, he *does not* hold (as some believe) that this means Sein is exhausted by its appearance to Dasein. The force of Heidegger’s being is that it has a depth irreducible to any manifestation.
The idealist counter-move is to say, “but by even *talking* about being, you are manifesting it and thereby performatively contradicting your claim that it’s deeper than manifestation.” For reasons I won’t go into in this thread, I think this is sophistry, albeit clever sophistry that will need decades to disappear.

Graham Harman, on January 8th, 2009 at 5:09 pm Said:
More importantly, this thread is the sort of thing I have in mind when I say that continental philosophy is capable of real disputes over genuine issues, not just the endless textual hermeneutics into which it has degenerated. The analytics are right on this point. (Not that we need to copy their poor historical sense or their transformation of philosophy into a Kuhnian “normal science” focused on trendy micro-puzzles and a misplaced faith that knowledge advances through thousands of incremental gains. I may sound harsh about my own tribe the continentals, but I still deeply appreciate that we have broad appeal to numerous disciplines whereas the analytics are read by no one but themselves. When was the last time an architect was inspired by Davidson or Quine? That’s a stunning indictment of their field, as I see it.)

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