Tuesday 30 October 2012

Do Anti-Naturalists Really Exist?

It is not unusual for people to respond to claims I make such as the thesis that Continental thought has tended to systematically ignore naturalistic and materialist orientations with rebuttals to the effect that “thinker x is a naturalist and materialist and works in the Continental tradition!”  In other words, the idea seems to be that a few counter-examples are sufficient to rebut claims about what is dominant in a population.
I think that part of the general disagreements with regard to whether or not the Continental tradition is 'anti-naturalist' or 'anti-materialist' may have to do with the difference between rejection and ignorance.  Does Derrida, for example, reject naturalism/materialism or does he simply ignore the issues that these -isms are concerned with and focus on something else?  As I understand it, Levi generally argues that Derrida rejected them but others seem to assume that he simply ignored them and, consequently, that his thought is, in principle, compatible with them in some way shape or form.  Of course the problem with Derrida et al. is that they never really rejected much of anything.  To reject something is an affirmation in reverse, after all.

Anyway, whether it's rejection or ignorance it surely must be one of the two -- and, whichever it is, this is a problem for these thinkers.  In fact I think ignorance may even be more of a problem than rejection.  If one genuinely believes that the things and forces of naturalism are fallacious bunk then I can see how language- or phenomena-centered philosophies can be justified.  However, if you secretly believe in these things but nevertheless place them beyond your philosophical purview and limit yourself, your peers and your students to just a small corner of the wider natural reality then, far worse than rejection or ignorance, this constitutes abandonment -- abdication, indeed.

I might disagree with an anti-naturalist who genuinely believes that speaking of anything beyond the socio-linguistic is absurd and nonsensical but I would respect their opinion far more than someone who readily accepts the existence of things and forces other than the human but who has given up on them, refused to speak of them and done their best to prohibit anyone else from doing so.  The former might be silly but the latter is intellectually unjustifiable, politically malfeasant and morally reprehensible.

If there are 'true believers' in anti-naturalism or anti-materialism out there (and I have my doubts about this) then their cherished beliefs should not be so hastily 'consigned to the fire' as Levi put it.  We must avoid the very worst historical tendencies of Naturalism towards self-righteousness and automatic entitlement in defining what is -- at gunpoint if necessary.  Let's not paper over how cruelly this has worked out in the past or how necessary the philosophical reactions -- even overreactions -- to this history were.

However, let us also call out the phonies for what they are.  If you find a place for nature, science, medicine, technology and so on in every part of your life except your philosophising then there is something seriously amiss.  The real enemy is not idealism or correlationism but ontological double standards and the philosophical ignorance that they breed.