Monday, 14 October 2013

More on ontological conservatism

Terence replies to my previous comments on Latour's ontological conservatism.  He uses the phrase “duty of non-infringement” to describe the way Latour defends his modes – that’s a good way of putting it. I think a lot of it comes down to how we interpret that. On the one hand Latour is very clear that he wants to grant ‘dignity’ to each mode, that each mode is valid and good in its own way, etc. However, this is stated and insinuated rather than actually argued. His intention is clear but he doesn’t go so far as to say why the modes must be conserved at all cost – why no creative destruction? If they are historical then surely that is inevitable, given a long enough timeframe. Why hold back the tide as a matter of necessity?

Or is it necessary?  It seems like that from the way his argument proceeds but I do wonder.  In its precise technical definition I don’t see what the REL mode even does to save religion, really. It’s narrated in such a way that it’s clearly meant to defend religion from its detractors but it’s a funny sort of defence. REL is defined so abstractly that it could apply to completely non-religious situations – ‘I adhered religiously to my instructions - I agonised over them out of respect to their originator.' And if it can be detached from religious situations then religion is merely an archetype of the mode, nothing intrinsic to the mode itself (perhaps this is true of all the modes; they are named by their archetypes rather than their essences).