In Plato’s seventh letter (341c), he says that what he pursues in his studies cannot be expressed in words, but emerges through sustained communion with “the thing itself” (to pragma auto) and “is brought to birth in the soul on a sudden, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, and thereafter it nourishes itself.” There is always a call for a return to the thing itself. Contemplation feeds on an alimentary fire. Thinking is alchemy. Continue reading
Kant, like many philosophers, is notoriously difficult to read. Some people blame his proclivity for pedantic exuberance. That’s not totally inaccurate, but for me, the specific cause of the difficulty in my reading of Kant is that he is so wrong, more specifically, so incapable and comprised. It reminds me that, in British English, Kant and “Can’t” are homophones. Continue reading
The opening of Merleau-Ponty’s Phénoménologie de la perception (1945) still rings true today. “What is phenomenology? It may seem strange that this question has still to be asked half a century after the first works of Husserl. The fact remains that it has by no means been answered.” The only different today is the “half a century”; it has now been well over a century since the first works of Husserl and over seventy years since Merleau-Ponty wrote those words. The fact remains that the question has by no means been answered. Merleau-Ponty gave a response, but that response is not a final answer. It is itself open to interpretation, as indicated by the different ways in which Merleau-Ponty’s own thought changed over time and the different ways his thought has been received in contexts like neurophenomenology and ecophenomenology.
What is phenomenology? On one hand, it seems like everybody has their own idiosyncratic definition of phenomenology, which does whatever work you want it to do, like Humpty Dumpty saying that he pays words extra to do what he wants. In that sense, it means almost anything. On the other hand, insofar as there is agreement about what phenomenology is, it is subjected to a rather crude leveling that turns it into a synonym for “study of experience,” thus equivocating between a wide variety of theories and methods in empiricism, pragmatism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, and philosophy of mind. Between Humpty Dumpty phenomenology and crudely leveled phenomenology, the practice of phenomenology is exceptionally loose. Some looseness can be good, facilitating openness to the mystery of what shows itself. However, too much looseness and phenomenology loses its perspicacity. You could blame the excessive looseness on some of the popular (mis)interpreters of figures like Husserl and Merleau-Ponty (pace Evan Thompson and David Abram). The issue is deeper than that though. Part of the problem is that phenomenology has had conflicting meanings throughout its entire history. Because people do not know this history, they are doomed to repeatedly dilute phenomenology in a sea of equivocations. What, then, is phenomenology? Continue reading
Meillassoux suggests that Kant’s Copernican revolution was not actually Copernican at all. Kant (and so many post-Kantians) improperly inverted Copernicus, returning to a pre-Copernican anthropocentrism (see “Ptolemy’s Revenge” in After Finitude). Kant is obviously anthropocentric, but is that really an inversion of the Copernican turn? Or…might we be able to speak about the birth of the Copernican revolution out of the spirit of anthropocentrism? If Meillassoux wants to get past Kantian idealism, he might need Ptolemy more than he knows.
Bruno Latour articulates a wonderful idea in An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence, where he argues that morality is in the world, not just in humans. For anything to exist it must persist in its being: everything emits “must,” like a musty smell. To be is to emit value, to evaluate. It is value all the way down. Here’s what Latour has to say:
We have to go down long lines of Bifurcators before reaching Kant, who expects humans deprived of world to “add” values to beings “deprived of ought-to-be.” Before him, and in the rest of the world, there hadn’t been a single existent that had failed to exclaim: “It must,” “It mustn’t,” measuring the difference between being and nonbeing by this hesitation. Everything in the world evaluates, from von Uexküll’s tick to Pope Benedict XVI—and even Magritte’s pipe. Instead of opposing “is” to “ought to be,” count instead how many beings an existent needs to pass through and how many alterations it must learn to adapt to in order to continue to exist. On this point Nietzsche is right, the word “value” has no antonym—and especially not the word “fact.”
Just as a geologist can hear the clicks of radioactivity, but only if he is equipped with a Geiger counter, we can register the presence of morality in the world provided that we concentrate on that particular emission. And just as no one, once the instrument has been calibrated, would think of asking the geologist if radioactivity is “all in his head,” “in his heart,” or “in the rocks,” no one will doubt any longer that the world emits morality toward anyone who possesses an instrument sensitive enough to register it. (pp. 453, 456)
This means that the task of ethics is aesthetic—becoming sensitive to the ethical emissions of things, cultivating something like Humean sympathies for the values of different modes of existence. However, Latour expands on Hume by making ethics cosmological in scope. Everything has value, everything matters. This is similar to something Karen Barad says in Meeting the Universe Halfway. “A delicate tissue of ethicality runs through the marrow of being. There is no getting away from ethics—mattering is an integral part of the ontology of the world in its dynamic presencing. Not even a moment exists on its own. […] We need to meet the universe halfway, to take responsibility for the role that we play in the world’s differential becoming” (p. 396).