Wolfendale’s piece in the Speculations issue

September 4, 2012

Some people are asking if I’m going to respond to Wolfendale’s critical piece about me in Speculations III. The answer is: of course! How can you not respond to a 76-page critique of your ideas, especially when it’s subtitled “Part One”?

I haven’t read the piece yet, but unless it’s just a tirade (and I doubt it, though I don’t have time to read the piece yet), then that degree of engagement is certainly deserving of a response.

I may summarize my response in a blog post at some point, but I think the best thing to do would be to roll the response into the “epistemism” book I’ll be writing, with the topic of recent continental mathematism and scientism. It was Meillassoux’s Berlin lecture that prompted that project, since that lecture was so effective in making clear the most important fault line running through speculative realism.

Namely, we’re all realists in the sense of accepting a reality beyond human access to it. But there’s the other, epistemological use of the term “realism,” which means that reality is also accessible to us in its own character. In the Berlin lecture, Meillassoux goes so far as to define realism as the knowability of the real. Which is something I of course cannot accept, and it’s something that Grant doesn’t really accept either, since for him knowledge is the production of phenomenal products, not a reflexive access to something.

I mentioned at the 2007 speculative realism workshop that there are lots of different arbitrary ways you could pit the four original speculative realists against each other. But I think the one that generates the most divisive conflict is on the question of whether there is a privileged mathematical or scientific access to reality. The people who say “yes” to this are the ones who get nothing out of Latour, who might concede as a throwaway point that Heidegger was a great philosopher but who make little use of him unless perhaps through the Brandomized version, who think that you’re left with nothing but arbitrary poetry if you dethrone rationalism, and so forth.

The people who say “no” to this are, by and large, the object-oriented philosophers. These are the people who treat all interactions as translations, who see no privilege for epistemology or for the human entity in any ontological respect (we might still put humans at the center of politics, but that’s another argument).

That’s it: that’s the primary axis of division among people working in the vicinity of speculative realism. And the direct access/absolute knowledge side of the equation also happens to be defended by Badiou and Žižek, who are generally viewed as the two most formidable established figures in our corner of the intellectual universe.

And it’s an interesting argument to have. And I’m sure that Wolfendale’s piece focuses on the arguments. I’ll print a copy and read it when I get a chance.

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