the straw man straw man

June 12, 2010

MINDS AND BRAINS, a fairly mainstream sort of continental philosopher from the sound of it, is annoyed by my link to Crispin Sartwell’s excited words about speculative realism.

But the following passage misfires in three or four different ways:

“This narrative of ‘finally’ moving beyond the ‘Kantian nightmare’ is tired and overplayed. Just once I wish people who are bowled over by the ‘revolutionary character’ of SR would point to a major 20th century philosopher who actually denies that the Earth, moon, and stars exists independently of human perception. They certainly can’t point to Heidegger as a culprit of ‘strong correlationism.’ As I have been at pains to argue, early and late Heidegger would both agree that the ‘earth is real and exists independently of human access with a determinate spatiotemporal existence.’ Accordingly, we see a sharp break with Kantian thought as early as the 1920s with Being and Time. Earlier still, William James and American pragmatism had long since broken with the ‘Kantian nightmare.’ So had Husserl. So had Merleau-Ponty, James Gibson, and the whole tradition of ecological philosophy that started in the 70s and transformed into the current anti-Kantian and anti-representationalist tradition of 4EA philosophy.”

1. It is not the case that all of these figures overcame the “Kantian nightmare.” Moreover, the blogger totally misses the one who did: Whitehead.

Take Merleau-Ponty, for instance. There are good aspects to M.-P., but contrary to popular belief, he is not an especially original ontologist. Merleau-Ponty says the world looks at me just as I look at it. But that’s the very definition of correlationism. You don’t “overcome Kant” by saying that human and world always go together rather than being separate, you have to do it by no longer treating human and world as the two poles that are always in question.

Heidegger, whom I have studied rather thoroughly to say the least, has nothing whatsoever to say about the interaction of two inanimate entities apart from all access by Dasein to this interaction. Heidegger obviously does make some breakthroughs beyond Kant, but this is not one of them. In fact, Heidegger is really hamstrung by his Kantian presuppositions and is prevented from being an even greater philosopher than he already was. (I’m pretty sure that 500 years from now, Kant is going to loom as a somewhat larger figure than Heidegger, and this is the main reason why. Heidegger orbits Kant a bit too much.)

2. “Just once I wish people who are bowled over by the ‘revolutionary character’ of SR would point to a major 20th century philosopher who actually denies that the Earth, moon, and stars exists independently of human perception.”

In one way this sets the bar too high, in another it sets the bar too low.

For on the one hand, pretty much no one has the guts to come out and make an open declaration of allegiance to Berkeley.

But on the other hand, Levi and I in particular are engaged pretty much every day in debates in the blogosphere with people who think it’s naive to hold that there are objects independently of human perception.

And if those people aren’t good enough for Minds and Brains and he demands the name of a “major 20th century philosopher,” let’s start with Edmund Husserl. The attempt to call Husserl a realist is sometimes made, but it’s completely and utterly untenable. For Husserl there can be no independent object that is not the possible correlate of some consciousness, whereas for OOO no real object at all is the possible correlate of some consciousness, because real objects can be grasped only in translated/distorted form.

So, call OOO wrong if you like. Call it a non-revolutionary dead end if you like. We can argue those points. But to say that it’s already been done repeatedly throughout the 20th century simply shows that one has skipped some pretty basic homework assignments. We’ve dealt with these issues ad nauseam.


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