Thursday, 3 April 2014

Latour the polytheist

There are some really interesting bits and pieces hidden away, sequestered in the AIME website (which continues to evolve).  Here's the entry for God:
By convention, we retain the word "God" with a capital letter to designate the "truth requirement" carried by [rel] beings, as opposed to the deities that the specific frameworks of [met] beings explore relentlessly. It is this conflict that orchestrated the fight against idolatry (and, by extension, a great deal of anthropology). But we can also use the word god, lowercase this time, to designate the unifying principle of each mode; we need to be able to protect the various specifications that are particular to those entities too quickly confused in the so-called "sociology of religions" or the notion of belief.  
In aime there are as many "gods" as there are modes: there is a [rep] god, a [law]god, a [rel] god - responsible for emphasizing the contrast with the "end of days" - but also a [pre] god, the god of philosophers, and a [ref] god, the god of scholars. This is a practical polytheism which is added to the specific polytheism of [rel]'s God - He who is Father, Son, Spirit, Church, each latter reprising the former. There are as many gods as there are forms of enunciation, not because each enunciation has a different view "of" one God but because the word "god" resumes, for each mode, the unification and continuity obtained by the trajectory of each mode. This is why there is a [ref] god - of the laws of nature - as well as a [rep] or [tec] god, and an [org] god, of course, in the form of Providence or oeconomia. 
For aime, the question of God is resolutely constructivist in that it is necessary to completely invert its b.a.b. meaning - that which is lasting and guarantees duration - by its b.a.o. meaning - that which does not last and which must be constructed, maintained, faithfully preserved etc. At the same time, the critical constructivist inversion ("men make God in their own image") was not sufficient to grasp the [rel] meaning that Western history found and then lost, lacking the power to extract it from its parasitical notion of substance. With relation to God, aime must at once refrain from appealing to substance and critiquing it. And yet the outstanding feature of this mode of existence, ultimately, is God's dependence on man.
This would seem to tie into Latour's use of Jan Assmann's notion of translatability in his Gifford lectures - that ancient peoples saw their gods as being translatable, roughly equivalent, not necessarily incommensurable and even drew up tables of translation to formalise these translations.  Assmann's The Price of Monotheism details this.  Not read it yet but it's on my list...  Latour suggests that it's a cosmopolitical necessity to become able to see secular gods such as Gaia as being translatable with their religious counterparts—that's his 'peace proposal,' at least.

The principle of charity: moral or epistemological?

Is the principle of charity a moral or epistemological principle?  Both, really, but it's often taken to be the former.  If anything I'd lean towards it being more valuable as the latter.

The worst argumentative style of a group of academics I have ever come across is the critical realists.  Their discursive style is one of eliminating an opponent.  If caricature and defamation does that, all the better.  (Okay, I suppose the above is a bit of a caricature itself but I'll stand by the assertion that there's a strong family resemblance between those who identify as critical realists and their discursive styles.)  Bhaskar himself endlessly repeats the line about Hume once saying that there's no more reason to walk out of a front door than out of a third floor window (I've heard him speak a few times and he always wheels it out).  Plainly that isn't what Hume meant, there was a broader argument going on there, but it's repeated on and on as if he was just an idiot.  A nice, easy knock-down argument, as Humpty Dumpty would have said.  We needn't agree with Hume (and I wouldn't) but making him out to be stupid doesn't constitute an argument, indeed it detracts from the arguments that are then presented (and in fairness to Bhaskar he certainly does present thorough arguments, albeit against straw-based lifeforms).

It's not so much that this style is morally objectionable, although this militancy can often degenerate into macho posturing, it's that it's epistemologically indolent.  To take apart an argument while granting that argument the strongest, most reasonable interpretation you can honestly muster: that's a challenge.

I'm not against rhetoric in philosophy by any means but all too often it becomes a crutch for self-important hectoring.  (Then again, so does blogging so I'll leave it at that!...)

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Stengers on anthropocentrism and accelerationism

There's a load of really interesting stuff in this new book on Architecture in the Anthropocene (discovered courtesy of ANTHEM).  In particular the interview with Isabelle Stengers has some interesting moments.  I wrote a few weeks ago that there seems to be an ongoing competition among some academic-types to be ever more anti-anthropocentric than everyone else—i.e. anthropocentrism might be the new 'presence.'  Stengers says something similar:
The position of the critic will not get humans out of the trap. On the contrary, it will probably produce new ways of commenting on art, in a trendy race for the most radical manner of moving away from a human-centred view. This is exactly what I fear with the Anthropocene thesis; it proposes a “future perfect continuous” tense, which puts theorists into a very agreeable position. The mess can now be forgotten, swallowed in a continuity that can be theorized in a single shot. Abysmal aporia will flourish, happily confronted by theoreticians hunting down shades of anthropocentrism in other theoreticians’ writings—a beautiful prospect for generations of doctoral students and aesthetic ventures in the art world. (178)
Also, she has this to say in response to a question on the accelerationism of Nick Land, etc.:
I decline contrasting Cosmopolitics, whatever its shortcomings, with that trash—they are male chauvinist pigs, that’s all. I am only sorry for the memory of FĂ©lix Guattari, which they deface. (179)
I've heard tell of her capacity for brutal putdowns but that is quite something.  Ouch.