ray_brassier-2

Ray Brassier on the speculative realist “movement”

Including his reaction to my satiric
Manifesto of speculative realist/
object-oriented ontological blogging

Untitled.
Image: Ray Brassier

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I first came across Dr. Brassier’s brutal excoriation of the Speculative Realist/Object-Oriented Ontological blogging “movement” after my own lighthearted sendup of the phenomenon was met with such disapproval by Tim Morton, Levi Bryant, and (seemingly) Nick Srnicek, although Srnicek was perhaps justifiably upset that I counterposed his e-mail to me to Bryant’s. In any case, I felt some sense of vindication upon seeing Ray Brassier’s own scathing commentary on SR movement in his interview with the Polish magazine Kronos:

The “speculative realist movement” exists only in the imaginations of a group of bloggers promoting an agenda for which I have no sympathy whatsoever: actor-network theory spiced with pan-psychist metaphysics and morsels of process philosophy. I don’t believe the internet is an appropriate medium for serious philosophical debate; nor do I believe it is acceptable to try to concoct a philosophical movement online by using blogs to exploit the misguided enthusiasm of impressionable graduate students. I agree with Deleuze’s remark that ultimately the most basic task of philosophy is to impede stupidity, so I see little philosophical merit in a ‘movement’ whose most signal achievement thus far is to have generated an online orgy of stupidity.

Now, Brassier’s unsparing invective against this trend within the theory blogosphere has already been widely circulated, and I must admit that I was something of a latecomer in discovering the sentiments he expressed. Most have probably been aware of these statements for much longer than me. Nevertheless, I’ve been slowly working through his recent book, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, and must admit that I’ve enjoyed it so far more than anything I’ve read from Harman or Latour. I especially appreciate his engagement with Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment; his interpretation is really quite good. So there’s a level of respect I had for him that preceded my stumbling upon this little snippet.

Anyway, following my recent publication of the satyric Manifesto of Speculative Realist/Object-Oriented Ontological Blogging and subsequent discovery of Brassier’s somewhat similar (though no doubt deeper) position on the matter, I e-mailed him with a link to the satyric piece. With the largely mixed response to the post that I’d received from the rest of the theory blogosphere, I was curious as to what Brassier might make of it. He responded this morning, rather promptly. The correspondence ran as follows.

Cover to the volume The speculative turn

Cover to the volume The speculative turn

Me to Ray Brassier
.

Dr. Ray Brassier,

Your comment on the SR “movement” in the Kronos interview was very refreshing.

I wrote a sendup of the whole SR/OOO blogging phenomenon on my own blog, which I think you might enjoy.

Best,
Ross Wolfe

Ray Brassier to me
.

Dear Ross,

Thanks for the link. This is very amusing. The online antics of the OOO crowd would be overdue for satire were it not for the fact that their spectacular inanity frequently defies parody.

If I may make one observation, it’s that your characterization is somewhat over general — neither jargon mongering, nor insularity, nor cliquishness are peculiar to SR/OOO.

What is peculiar to them is the claim that this is the first philosophy movement to have been generated and facilitated by the internet: a presumption rooted in the inability to distinguish philosophy from talk about philosophy. The vices so characteristic of their discourse can be traced back directly to the debilities of the medium. Blogging is essentially a journalistic medium, but philosophy is not journalism. Exchanging opinions about philosophy, or even exchanging philosophical opinions, ought not to be equated with philosophical debate. This is not to say that one cannot produce and disseminate valuable philosophical research online. But the most pernicious aspect of this SR/OOO syndrome is its attempt to pass off opining as argument and to substitute self-aggrandizement for actual philosophical achievement.

Having said this, not everyone associated should be tarred with the same brush: I don’t think someone like Reid Kotlas deserves to be grouped with the OOO enthusiasts. Admittedly, I’m biased since I have corresponded with Reid. But even if I hadn’t, I would hope that his basic intellectual scrupulousness would be evident enough to distinguish him from the rest.

The less said about Harman, Bryant and their witless cronies the better. I won’t attempt to disguise my contempt for them.

Best,
Ray

Me to Ray Brassier
.

Dr. Brassier,

Thanks for the prompt response. Your clarifications regarding the peculiar claim of the OOO, regarding its basis in the newish technology of the internet, are very helpful. The democratization of philosophical “reflection” made possible by the internet, and particularly the blogosphere, all too often results in nothing more than vulgarization.

Regarding Reid Kane/Kotlas, I will admit that I hold him in significantly higher regard than the rest of the OOO blogosophers. This isn’t so much for his work on his blog Planomenology, which I understand is more in line with the sort of philosophizing with which this new “movement” participates, but rather for his strikingly intellectually honest engagement with the tradition of Marxism through his blog “The Luxemburgist.” He and I exchanged a few articles over the relation between Luxemburg’s politics and Lenin’s, as well as its analysis by Lukacs in History and Class Consciousness. I was very impressed by his critical and analytical abilities, to say the least. So you’re right that I probably shouldn’t group him with the rest of those I mention, who are in almost every case intellectual frauds.

Best,
Ross

P.S. — Would you mind if I published this correspondence between us on my blog? I would want to ask your permission so as to not drag you into any fights you wouldn’t want any part of. But your candid, undisguised contempt for the SR/OOO blogging crowd in Kronos gives me hope that you wouldn’t mind even further distancing yourself from them.

Ray Brassier to me:
.

Dear Ross,

Re: publishing this correspondence: my antipathy towards this stuff is no secret by now and I have no qualms about it being public knowledge.

However, although I don’t mind being attacked, I’m reluctant to provide my enemies with extra ammunition by criticizing them in a way they can too easily discredit.

The problem is that publishing this online lays me open to charges of hypocrisy and underhandedness: “Brassier is attacking blogging, but he’s doing it on a blog! What a hypocrite! He doesn’t like the internet, but still he uses it to carry out personal attacks on others! How underhanded!”

One can be sure that this line of attack will be quickly resorted to, since the parties involved are hardly known for their argumentative scruples.

So while I’m no longer prepared to disguise my contempt for Harman and Bryant, publicizing it in this way risks playing into their hands by providing them with the opportunity to portray my animus as mere personal vindictiveness, against which they can easily retaliate by throwing a few choice insults my way. But the more the issue gets personalized, or reduced to a “clash of personalities”, the more they win, since substituting gossip for principled argument is part and parcel of their modus operandi.

Best,
Ray

Once again, Brassier wasn’t shy in airing his disgust with the SR/OOO blogosphere, and so here stands his expanded indictment of the lazy, unrigorous, and largely improvised opining that all-too-often flatters itself by passing its opinions off as legitimate philosophical inquiry on the internet. This merely confirms my prior belief that the movement’s internet popularity was largely just the work of a few narcissistic, self-aggrandizing charlatans, a conspiracy of dunces to promote one another.

Not to say that everyone involved in it can be grouped into that category. I’m sure there are plenty of bloggers interested in these thoughts who approach it with only the most sincere intellectual intentions, and I do not mean to disparage them.

99 thoughts on “Ray Brassier on the speculative realist “movement”

  1. “Frauds,” “charlatans,” “contempt”–surely you’re not still claiming this is a good-natured sendup they should have a “sense of humor” about??

    • Well, the contempt is Brassier’s, not mine. I mean, nothing against Levi Bryant as a person — I’m sure he’s a nice enough guy — but practically every update I read from him is just a desperate attempt to work new things into his “onticology” based on whatever book he’s read lately. So yeah, I must admit that much of it seems to be charlatanry, impressionistic ruminations passed off as serious arguments by rhetorical sleight of hand.

      But the Manifesto itself was intended as just a humorous little piece that everyone could enjoy. I mean, most of it’s just taking common traits manifested by the movement and exaggerating them to the point of absurdity. This is not to say that the satire is without its truth, however.

  2. If blogging is a kind of journalism, that must make this sort yellow. Thanks for filling the enormous void of tabloid-style material on the internet. Wherever else would I find immoderate, nasty opinions on the web? Or from angry white male philosophers, for that matter? Yes, let us hail the originality, the spice and refraicheur of the neo-nihilists!

    • This post isn’t so much journalism as it is a recounting of a relevant correspondence I had with one of the thinkers purported to be a “representative” of the SR/OOO movement. It’s a title he’s clearly uncomfortable with.

      Also, I’m not a nihilist. Most of my posts have to do with my research, which is on Marxism, its analytical application to current events, and to historical issues in Russian/Soviet history. And I fail to detect anger in either Brassier’s remarks or my own commentary. Perhaps you could tell me, too: what does our status as white male “philosophers” have to do with our opinions on this matter?

  3. Hi Ross,

    I’d just like to clarify that I wasn’t offended by that ‘manifesto’ or my inclusion within it. I thought it was funny and rather on point. I do appreciate the kind words on my behalf from both you and Ray. You’re right that a lot of what I had been doing on Planomenology was close to the SR thing, but to be fair, I have no illusions about the provisional and auto-didactic role of the writing I published there. I was feeling things out, and it was ultimately very beneficial. But not recognizing the difference between such feeling out and the construction of actual arguments is undeniably vicious, and something that I agree is rampant in the SR blogosphere.

    I should also say, on the matter of our previous discussions, that upon closer reflection on Lenin’s work, I recognize the untenability of some of my prior positions. In that regard, I’d consider much of what I’d written on Luxemburgist to be just as provisional as the work on Planomenology, even if the former better reflects my current positions than the latter. I’ve been posting occasional quotes and notes here (http://programme.tumblr.com/), a venue for much more fragmented and underdeveloped ideas.

    • I’m glad you were able to get a laugh out of my satyric Manifesto, and that you thought it touched on some salient points. No thanks is necessary for the compliments Ray or I voiced in our e-mail exchange; you deserved the, plain and simple. From what I know of you, you’re not the type to issue such “earth-shattering” proclamations as many of the other SR/OOO bloggers.

      [N]ot recognizing the difference between such feeling out and the construction of actual arguments is undeniably vicious, and something that I agree is rampant in the SR blogosphere.

      My sentiments exactly. And regarding our discussion on Lenin and Luxemburg, I thought it was a fruitful exchange. Their differences are just important as their similarities, and should not be smoothed over as if they never existed. Besides, I tend to take Luxemburg’s side over Lenin’s position on the nationalities debate. Anyway, I’ll definitely check out your tumblr account to see what notes have caught your attention.

    • Also, I checked out your tumblr. Some excellent stuff, and definitely quality reflections. Postone and Lenin, two of my major influences besides Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, Trotsky, and the Frankfurt School. Keep up the good work.

  4. o btw
    ” And I fail to detect anger in neither Brassier’s remarks or my own commentary. ”

    you have some sort of double negative thing going on here so youre saying the opposite of what you want to d:

    …i cant believe -i- actually found a grammatical error in -your- writing. surely this is proof of the upcoming apocalypse!

  5. This was my original response to Brassier’s comments when I first read them:

    http://knowledge-ecology.com/2011/04/06/benjamin-blogger-media-ecologist/

    It is very brief of course, but I’m wondering if we are not confusing blog posts with the entirety of a system of philosophical thinking? I mean, I post things to my blog frequently, but I also write papers, theses, articles, books etc. I don’t find keeping those worlds separate a particularly difficult task. Likewise, most of the books from the OOO people read very differently from their blogs (Tim Morton’s I think especially, he seems to prefer very short bursts on his blog as oppose to his literary contributions). It seems that you, more than anyone, is stuck in the blogging world.

    Anyway, I am very interested in mediums of communication (hence my thesis research focused at some length on media ecology) and how those mediums interface with human subjectivity. So perhaps it is just a given to me that I don’t expect a blog to provide the same kind of knowledge as a book or journal article. I would venture to say that Bryant probably feels the same way.

    And like I’ve said before, I would never have heard of Brassier or his criticisms of blogging, if it wasn’t for umm…well…blogging. I have no opinion on his work as I have not read them, but it sounds like something I could just as well skip (contra your own inclinations, I come from a philosophical tradition steeped in James, Whitehead, and Latour). I think its a very important issue though, and I appreciate you raising it again as we should all be concerned with the overall impact we have on society (particularly it’s intellectual influences, which as academics, philosophers and scientists, we should feel particularly responsible for).

    • Adam,

      I read your response to Brassier’s original comments published in Kronos, and, as an admirer of Walter Benjamin’s work, was interested to see the way in which you used those fragments from One-Way Street to show how Benjamin was interested in some of the more explosive media of his day. You make your case very well. If I may be allowed to venture a criticism, however, it is that Benjamin was first of all concerned with analyzing the way in which these immediate bursts of media impact the experience of modernity, and the terse, fragmentary nature of his writing in that book is designed to mimetically reenact that experience. Second of all, this was shortly after his conversion to Marxism via Asja Lacis, Bertolt Brecht, and Theodor Adorno — and so he was certainly interested in the way in which advertising-like media might be used politically as slogans, pamphlet pieces, and propaganda. Finally, I think it should not be forgotten that Benjamin published his thoughts on these media in a book form, much as Adorno would do with his own Minima Moralia fifteen years later.

      I can understand your interest, however. I would agree that it’s possible to separate out the different platforms from which we might philosophize — books, papers, lectures, blog entries, etc. But I would say that certain people are able to do it much better than others. Blog entries all-too-often become a sort of free-form philosophizing, where the bloggers themselves carelessly believe that they are making profound statements about metaphysics, cosmology, ecology, or the underlying structure or nature of things. And from there it creates this culture where others are encouraged to do the same, and so they all compliment each other on the fascinating philosophical “discoveries” that they broadcast over the web, creating a community built on cheap compliments and generalized approval. Even the points where they debate or fall into disagreement the criticisms are usually extremely superficial.

      But I appreciate the work you are doing and can certainly understand your interest in the area. I tend to have less respect for certain figures within the SR/OOO blogging movement than others. But this is perhaps just a matter of personal preference on my part.

      • Hey Ross,

        Thanks for the extra info on Benjamin. He would certainly be the kind of figure that, for me, is generally outside of my normal range of knowledge. I’m wondering though, those fragments published in book form- do you know if those actually were circulated as pamphlets previous to being to collected in a published full length? That would be interesting to know.

        I guess as far as the blogging material goes, I don’t follow all that many blogs and the ones I do follow I don’t think fall into the category you are talking about. I think this is whole thing is a little ridiculous, but I do appreciate your gadfly-like antics. Actually, I only kind of appreciate, and mostly find myself asking questions like “how old is this kid?”

        As far as freely posting on “metaphysics, cosmology, and ecology” I guess I don’t have a problem with that either considering that, well, as hubristic as it sounds, I just completed a graduate program in…get ready for it… “philosophy, cosmology, and consciousness with an emphasis on integral ecology.” We can have our separate opinions about what you think about an education like that, but if anything, I reserve the right to post about those topics.

      • Adam,

        Benjamin is, along with Adorno, Marx, Hegel, and Postone, one of my chief influences. And in answer to your question, no — they were published as part of a complete set of fragments. As you can imagine, he painstakingly arranged them in the order he did so that he might provoke the kind of phantasmagorical, impressionistic experience of modernity that one gets from reading advertisements, pamphlets, and flyers. It was a very conscious, careful project of stylization, deeply informed by his relationship to the German, French, and Russian avant-gardes, and one that he would try to repeat in his (unfinished, sadly) Arcades Project.

        Anyway, to answer your other question, I’m 26 and a graduate student at the University of Chicago. I have a rather polemical disposition, so I generally don’t shy away from mixing it up if I have an issue with something.

  6. The internet is the most revolutionary invention, since the printing press.

    What is a musician today? Before the internet, getting a recording contract, was what you needed to succeed. Today it’s being seen on Youtube.

    Philosophy will be discussed in blogs. Heck the analog, physical book is in jeopardy.

    • Ren,

      I would have to say that it’s the most revolutionary media invention since television, or perhaps the telephone. In terms of technology more broadly, there’s the combustion engine, rocketry, nuclear power (obviously), and countless socioeconomic/military inventions over the past 500 years. I’m not trying to understate the internet’s importance at all by this, though. It combines media in incredibly spectacular ways.

      The only thing I will say about media being more democratically distributed is that you get a mixed bag. You get great philosophical books printed in large quantity, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Hegel’s Science of Logic, but you also get trash journalism and tabloids. So also with the blogosphere, you get occasionally very insightful reflections or discussions of topics, but then you also get a bunch of misguided grad school philosophy enthusiasts issuing these proclamations on metaphysics. As if metaphysics shouldn’t have been buried long ago anyway.

      Your site is a perfect example of why the blogosphere and the internet is great for journalism and the dissemination of that sort of knowledge. When I try to contribute something more scholarly and academic I always frame it within a heavily-researched and considered theoretical apparatus. It’s a nice contrast from the more current event topics that your blog handles so well.

  7. UPDATE: I have expanded the e-mail correspondence both to show the e-mail he sent me authorizing its publication, as well as his reservations from becoming embroiled in meaningless online debate. So just to be clear, the choice to publish it was mine, though he said he didn’t mind if I chose to do so.

  8. You interpret that email as authorizing publication? It sounds like the opposite to me. Also, does that mean you published the initial correspondence before you received that email?

      • Hi Ross, Ray Brassier’s initial comment had also stuck in my mind & I am actually going to use it in an ESL class :-) That is how I just came across this post. Quite amusing & interesting to read, but I would have to agree with Chris above that in my view Brassier is definitely not giving permission to publish his writing. He says that he does not mind is people know his views, but that he thinks it would be better if they were not published online anymore since he does not want things to get unnecessarily personal: “The problem is that publishing this online lays me open to charges of hypocrisy and underhandedness…So while I’m no longer prepared to disguise my contempt for Harman and Bryant, publicizing it in this way risks playing into their hands.” I honestly do not understand how you could read this any other way…? (Parenthetically, I like all their writing – Bryant, Harman, & Brassier).

  9. Ross,

    I’m always a big fan of both satire and direct confrontation, so I found your ‘manifesto’ fascinating. My initial response, as you know, was “wow, this guy has got a lot of chutzpah going after the OOO crew like that, but I wonder why he feels compelled to take these people on now?” SO I’m still wondering why? What was your motivation? What were you intending to see as an outcome of all this? I am sincerely interested in learning your thoughts.

    Secondly, what the fuck is Ray Brassier talking about? His conservative attitude towards “new media’ shocks me, especially in an age where philosophy departments everywhere are being shut down for a supposed and ACTUAL lack of relevance to the affairs of contemporary populations. Would Ray have his philosopher colleagues shut themselves into the academy and mentally masturbate each other to the tune of arcane, barely intelligible sentences about the being of being’s being until every last department closes its doors?

    The internet is a revolutionary medium for discourse and collaboration, and it far surpasses the untenable machinations of academic journals and elitist book publishing. Is there any other mode of communication where someone working in a factory for 10 bucks an hour can interact with a PhD on the issue of, say, the meaning of technological advancement? Philosophy is not the sole possession of institutions of irrelevant learning and the industries they support, it is in many ways anathema to them. I understand that it’s a pity that Ray has to be exposed to the surging idiocy of the rabble, but despite this it will continue, and it will develop, and philosophy will become completely unhinged from the discourse country clubs within which Ray enjoys his leisurely life of contemplation.

    The real tragedy of Ray’s incredulity towards the open nature of internet theorizing is that his own written work is so compelling and would be welcomed I think among all the lay post-nihilists already populating the blogosphere. Ray’s thesis “Alien Theory” is one of the most stimulating works I have ever read. If Ray lowered himself to speak to us lesser philosophical beings directly through blogs I have no doubt his influence would spread outside the 100 or so white males who show up to share in the mind-numbing experience of his rambling meagerly coherent lectures.

    Regardless of all that, I’m going to continue reading your blog Ross, because I think you are a promising young academic with important things to say. My only unsolicited advice to you comes as a 20 year martial artist, former pugilist and all-round ‘don’t give a fuck what people think about him’ kinda guy, is that is that if you are going to pick a fight do so with your deepest intentions bared and without hesitation.

    • Michael,

      I think your reaction here is inappropriate. It may not have come across clearly in the correspondence published here, but Ray’s assessment of the ‘SR blogosphere’ (i.e. people talking about philosophy on the internet) is not that hard to infer. Philosophy may engage with a broad set of problems that, in varying degrees, are present and dealt with in the course of everyday life, as well as in specialized disciplines and activities other than professional academic philosophy. However, there is a good reason to be very discriminating when it comes to classifying these approaches. We have to decide which approaches are the best, the most consistent, rigorous, systematic, actionable, predictive, etc. Of course, everyone should be allowed their own treatment of these problems, and a novel and potentially valuable approach could arise anywhere, be it within or outside the academy. Nonetheless, if an approach is genuinely good, and genuinely deserving of attention, refinement and promulgation, then it should have no trouble earning that attention in a highly selective forum.

      Now of course, the selective mechanisms we currently have are grossly inadequate, if not downright counterproductive. These include the university system, academic journals and publishers, the attitudinal composition of the philosophical community, the media, and public consciousness. You seem to suggest that the major problems affecting these mechanisms are elitism, and consequently, insularity of philosophical discourse on the one hand and popular irrelevance on the other. However, are these the real problems, or mere symptoms that will only dissipate when the deeper structural problems causing them are resolved? I’d argue that you start to see the real problem when you ‘follow the money’ so to speak. Who is paying for these institutions? Or more precisely, how are these institutions able to obtain the material conditions necessary for their activity?

      This ultimately leads back to the sphere of production from which these conditions first arise, and the relations of production mediating the distribution of the social product. In contemporary society, the prevailing structure of productive activity is capital. This structure does not in principle distribute its product according to the merit of activities as determined by a fair democratic decision-making process, but according to a structure that aggregates the uncoordinated whims and drives of individuals and groups possessing claims over arbitrary portions of the social product. As such, there is little reason why genuinely good mechanisms for selecting, supporting and propagating genuinely good philosophical work should be materially allotted for in principle. They are accommodated to a limited extent, but are instrumentalized by capital at least insofar as there are exogenous limits imposed upon the philosophical research as to what type of work receiving funding and are liable to receive due consideration by the community, members of which are more or less beholden to the demands of the labor market.

      I’m not saying that the condition is so extreme that only philosophical projects whose conclusions provide explicit ideological support to capitalist relations of production, but only that the robustness of philosophical research (and its popular dissemination) is limited in various ways, to some extent including limitations guarding against ideological friction, but probably for the most part limitations due to the lack of instrumental value of this research for the activity of capital accumulation. (On the other hand, scientific research that might have profitable consequences is never short of funding.)

      Now I don’t mean to prejudge the extent to which you’ve confused the symptom with its source. Perhaps you’d readily admit that at least something like this account of deeper, systemic causes of ‘elitism’ and irrelevance is correct. But even if this is so, it would leave the question of why you regard the internet as anything like a ‘solution’. The internet, and philosophical discourse conducted through it, may be a novel selective mechanism, and may have the virtuous property of falling largely outside the influence of relations of economic power, and in this regard, it certainly might serve as an important revolutionary tool. But if this turns out to be the case, it will only serve as an instrument employed in the service of the real solution, the revolutionary transformation of the mode of production.

      As for the state of ‘philosophy blogging’ at the moment, it has served only to provide a forum in which one can participate in something vaguely akin to professional academic philosophy (at least in its subject matter) regardless of one’s professional credentials, actual competence, or regard for the norms of conduct that typically hold in philosophical debates. This might mitigate the adverse effects of capital on professional philosophical institutions for some, but it would be foolish to celebrate this relatively positive effect without recognizing the mass of regrettable consequences, of which Ross’s satyric manifesto serves as a rather astute indicator.

      The solution is definitely not to relax selective standards, but to refine them and to thoroughly dissociate them from the blatantly unphilosophical selective mechanism of the market. The SR blogosphere has done only the former, to an aggravating degree.

      • Reid,

        Given your continued dedication to the exploration of Marxist literature on capital and capitalist society, I would be keenly interested in your take on my recent entry, “The Spatiotemporal Dialectic of Capital.” It was a time-consuming and draining piece of theoretical/conceptual research to write, but it draws heavily upon E.P. Thompson, Postone, Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg, and Henri Lefebvre.

        In the end I worry that it might be too schematic and structuralist, but I believe I support my points fairly well.

        In either case, keep up your excellent and thorough inquiry into Marxism. I can already tell it’s been rewarding. And Marxism constantly stands in need of more intelligent Marxists such as yourself, if only to stem the tide of paleo-Marxist sectarian writings that no longer have any relevance to reality.

        Best,
        Ross

    • Michael,

      Regarding my motives, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t expect some of the heat that I would eventually get from some of the SR/OOO enthusiasts. The Manifesto as a whole was of course just a silly sendup of the whole theory blogging phenomenon, with a number of obviously ridiculous claims and absurd exaggerations thrown in along the way. But I certainly intended for there to be more than a little bite behind the satire.

      My feelings about philosophy and theory on the internet are mixed. Even if there have doubtless been some interesting interchanges and occasionally some philosophical discussion that’s taken place at a fairly high level, I think that everyone knows there has been more than a fair share of people just cheerleading each other’s bullshit in the blogosphere. And even if there were sometimes some points of disagreement, it all-too-often would just degenerate into people patting each other’s backs and saying how they “respect each other as thinkers even if they disagree.” Now certainly that can be a sincere sentiment some of the time, but at other times you could just get the sense that they were only going through the motions in order to walk away with that sense of mutual edification that comes with thinking they’ve engaged in a conversation of deep philosophical importance.

      However, I write about theory on my blog and so of course I’d be a hypocrite to say it’s all horseshit. But I think the reason that my rather scathing satire had any resonance at all was because there were more people than just me who had noticed these tendencies.

      Also, I agree with Reid’s ideology critique of the current academic milieux. While the university was briefly a site for immediate political and social engagement during the 1960s and 1970s with the New Left (which had more than its fair share of problems), many of those who participated in those heady days of protest and upheaval as students would later cloister themselves away as academics as they moved into the 1980s-1990s “post-political” Left. The focus in the academy turned increasingly to cultural studies of smaller and smaller marginal groups, “microhistories” were promoted in social studies departments, and their roles as public intellectuals became more and more depoliticized. The circulation of academic discourse to the public has become less and less relevant, removed from immediate points of contact. Academia has even lost the ability theorize its own impotence.

      But the blogosphere cannot be a stand-in for the democratization of knowledge. If anything, it’s almost more abstract, in the free-for-all struggle for online recognition. The internet has been a valuable resource for the dissemination of knowledge and an unparalleled medium for the coordination of activities, events, and so on. But there is a pernicious tendency for all this to fall into pseudo-action, descend into pseudo-discourse. SR/OOO has in general been far too positivistic in its metaphysical proclamations and amateur systems-building. A little dose of criticism is sorely overdue. I would probably be too optimistic (not to mention narcissistic) to hope that this might prove to be a turning point in the movement’s self-appraisal. All I will say is that I saw an online movement that I felt stood in need of a critique. That was my motivation, more than anything else.

      • I’m still waiting for some form of actual philosophical critique, Ross. I would definitely appreciate a systematic, page by page counter to the OOO framework (Particularly Harman’s, and by extension, Latour and then Whitehead). Do you have anything that resembles that posted or written down somewhere?

        It seems that so much of your work is really thorough and erudite, if you could perform the same sort of thing in this context I would be more than interested in pursuing a dialogue about it. Again, as far as I can tell, you are prey to your own criticisms more than anything else I’ve seen online, and I’m not likely to change my opinion on that until I see some real critique (i.e. “on page 94 Harman writes, I find this position untenable because….”).

        I haven’t had a chance to read your other paper yet as I am working on several projects but will hopefully get to it in the next couple of days, it sounds interesting though.

        -Adam

      • Fair enough Ross. Thank you for your honesty.

        My only response then is to suggest that theory-blogging can be much more if we made the effort to cultivate it as opposed to denigrate it. The internet is a radical tool – it just depends on how we are willing to use it.

  10. Pete Wolfendale already did the legwork on the critique, Adam. Look it up, it’s in the exact format you require – why reinvent the wheel? If I recall correctly, Harman acknowledged that Pete’s critique was on the money but eventually refused to respond to it in the blog-format and requested that it be published or something to that effect. Pete also provided a long and thorough critique of Bryant’s version of OOO. It can all be easily found on Pete’s blog.

    • To be fair, though, Levi Bryant’s “onticological” Object-Oriented Ontology was probably the easiest target to pick among the “big players” of the OOO blogosphere. Since Bryant seems to have permanently banned me from commenting on his blog, Larval Subjects (a distinction I can now proudly share with you, Evgeni), I will no longer make any attempt at politeness and conciliation when it comes to discussing his (highly amateur) philosophizing. Bryant’s theoretical construction of “onticology” strikes me as little more than makeshift improvisation, integrating every little position or bit of knowledge that comes his way, based on whatever book he’s been reading lately. He’s a philosophical bricoleur, subject to flights of fancy and either testiness or hasty accusations of “hate speech” whenever someone repeatedly questions him on an issue or points out places where he has contradicted himself. Though he has declared himself “a convinced Marxist” on several occasions, I am thoroughly convinced that he hasn’t a clue at all about Marx’s ouevre as a whole, and doesn’t even know the most basic facts about the history of Marxism. I will say these things confidently since he’s the OOO representative I’ve interacted with the most, and whose bullshit I feel I can justifiably call.

      So, Adam, I agree that SR/OOO should probably be taken more seriously in terms of an actual critique than the funny little jabs I’ve made at it satirically. Unfortunately I have some deadlines approaching for my thesis work and so most of my blog entries and updates over the coming weeks will be devoted to translation work (anyway, what’d you think of the translation I just posted Evgeni?) and snippets from my thesis. But sometime in the next month or two, Adam, you can expect a more thoroughgoing critique, where I engage with Harman, Latour, or Hamilton, or some combination thereof.

    • Evgeni-

      Do you have a link for that? I have no idea who you are talking about.

      Ross-

      I look forward to your future engagements with the material. Good luck with the thesis, mine just got sent off for final technical edits.

      • Pete Wolfendale runs the excellent blog Deontologistics. I’ve read quite a few of his entries before, and they’re nearly all fabulous. The entries that Evgeni is mentioning, however, are not ones that I’ve read, though of course I’d be very interested in checking them out. He is a top-notch thinker, in my estimation.

      • You might be able to start here. Wolfendale is meticulous in his critiques of Bryant. I would go so far as to say that in the one post I just read by him in which they debate he utterly dismantles Bryant. In my opinion, at least.

      • Evgeni-

        I’ve just gotten through seven of these posts you linked me to, and I have to say, are you kidding me? Let me start off by saying that much of these correspondences between Harman and Deontologistics are very interesting, of a fairly high quality, and perhaps most importantly, are very cordial. That being said it seems to be a prime counter point to what Ross and Brassier ( and lets not pretend that just because we are using those names in the same sentence that they are on the same level) are arguing about vis-a-vis the quality of dialogue when it comes to OOO philosophy on the internet. Harman and deontologistics express a large amount of patience and respect for one another. Nevertheless it is clearly a teacher (Harman) student (D) relationship.

        OK, since apparently you missed it, let me give you a brief play by play of what happened. This is a synopsis of the fist seven posts in the first link that you gave me:

        Post #1) D Suggests there are “other options” besides phenomenology when doing ontology (who would argue otherwise?)

        Post #2) This is a critique of phenomenology in general, not OOO. There is no real argument against the distinction between real/sensual qualities, and, even where it does critique phenomenology (somewhat) there is no accounting for Heidegger or Whitehead- essential to Harman’s philosophy and linked to phenomenology!

        Post #3) Amounts to saying “I think his reading of Kant is wrong.” Then he goes on to say that there is no problem with causation. This second point is simply not true if you follow Harman’s tool analysis (which I do), deontologistics provides no reason for rejecting the tool analysis let alone whats so interesting about it- how Harman has linked it to Whitehead!

        Post #4) The argument is “there are more than two kinds of realism.” Great, thats semantic.

        Post #5) “There are more than two forms of materialism.” Again, congratulations on pointing that out.

        Point #6) Again, Deontologistics thanks Harman for his “thoughtful criticisms.” That is a refreshing and respectful dialogue! Here D seems to think Harman is a panpsychist, which he is not. This is clear.

        Point #7) D’s argument differs from Harman’s in that, for D, complete knowledge is posible, for Harman it is not. Again, I side with Harman, and I don’t see how anyone could actually argue that complete knowledge of anything is possible.

        So I can see why Harman doesn’t bring this up much, its clear he has already generously talked it to death. There is nothing damning here, and given that Harman’s book on the fourfold is due out soon, Im guessing Harman didn’t think these points were damning either.

        Thanks for pointing me in this direction though.

        Adam

  11. Reid,

    Since your comments contain so many interesting points I will try to take them one at a time:

    “I think your reaction here is inappropriate. It may not have come across clearly in the correspondence published here, but Ray’s assessment of the ‘SR blogosphere’ (i.e. people talking about philosophy on the internet) is not that hard to infer.”

    I think Ray has been pretty clear. One problem I see right away is that I’m not sure Ray’s assessment can be applied so liberally to “the SR blogosphere”.

    For instance, let’s start with Levi Bryant: say what you will about his temperament or frenetic self-referential posts, the man is not simply “talking about philosophy” – he is also doing it. And not only is he doing it in the open, he’s doing at a pace and quality unsurpassed on the internet period. Levi genuinely brings forth concepts, works on them, and often attempts to follow them through to their practical conclusions. Again, like him or dislike him (or care less about him) as a person, but let’s not kid ourselves into assuming there is anyone out there anywhere on the net doing philosophy the way he is.

    Then there’s Tim Morton: Tim’s rapid micro blogging peels away all the unnecessary layers often providing consideration points pregnant with raw theoretical significance. In short aphoristic assertions Tim’s blogging not only relentlessly asks his readers to think about the issues, but also provides them with an “inside” view (through video and audio content) of not only what he’s working on but also the contexts and work of his interlocutors.

    Ian Bogost’s contributions ‘speak’ for themselves. His multimedia savvy not only makes his work more accessible to the non-initiated but also transforms philosophical discourse itself into post-rhetorical tactical application. And although he rarely blogs these days, he has a demonstrated willingness to engage the medium and therefore the wider public generally.

    The list could go on to include Vitale, Ivakhiv, Shaviro and more – although I’m not sure we could even group those guys in to the supposed SR/OOO blogorama.

    But for certain each one of those guys mentioned above have “done philosophy” on the internet, and have done it exceptionally well. More importantly, they ALSO continue do it through traditional academic channels. It is not like those people Ray denigrates ONLY ever talk about philosophy, or ONLY do philosophy on the internet, they ALSO publish papers and monographs with legitimate publishers. Their blogging is a merely a supplement, albeit an important one, which produces working notes and opportunities for discussion, and at all a replacement for the academia-industry’s favored modes of production.

    Also we can see the tangible impact these guys are having on the philosophically inclined public by the assessing the insane interest people had/have for The Speculative Turn. Probably more people read that book in the first 6 months than will read Ray’s book in its first 6 years of existence. My only point with this is to say that at the very least the OOO folk are accessible – they put it out there, unlike Ray, and ask anyone who cares to join the conversation. The OOOsters fling open the doors and let us rabble in, whereas Ray wants to keep it ‘clean’ and all in house.

    So since no one is arguing for making the internet the only medium of theory, what’s Ray’s realproblem? Is he jealous that more people read Levi’s posts in a day than his papers in a year? Or is he simply arrogant enough to think that not a single person outside of PhDs in philosophy have interesting things to say?

    “Philosophy may engage with a broad set of problems that, in varying degrees, are present and dealt with in the course of everyday life, as well as in specialized disciplines and activities other than professional academic philosophy. However, there is a good reason to be very discriminating when it comes to classifying these approaches. We have to decide which approaches are the best, the most consistent, rigorous, systematic, actionable, predictive, etc.”

    Agreed. There needs to be a community of the adequate to promote a healthy peer review process, and to ensure the rigor and clarity of philosophical scholarship. No one is arguing any different. My problem is not with the existence of academic processes and their necessary discriminations, but with the claim that philosophy in general should ONLY take place within the confines of an institutionalized elite system. What SR bloggers are doing, to reiterate, is supplementing the institutional work they do with additional open access dialogue and experimentation.

    So let’s look at what Ray is actually saying here Reid. He has called SR blogging an “orgy of idiocy”. Is this a model or rigor and depth analysis? I think not. Ray hasn’t at all made the fair and balanced arguments you make here. He has simply dismissed SR philosophy bloggers as unintelligent, beneath him and irrelevant. The problem for Ray is that, again, more people are interested in what Harman, Bryant, Morton and Bogost – not to mention Jeff Bell, Ben Woodard, Evan Calder Williams, Mark Fisher, Nicola Masciandaro and so many others – are doing than can be credibly dismissed. The public craves intelligent dialogue and the open explorations of concepts and modes of thinking. And in some small way SR blogging does provide that – and thus is far from irrelevant if only because people everywhere (and not just privileged white males) are paying attention.

    Of course, everyone should be allowed their own treatment of these problems, and a novel and potentially valuable approach could arise anywhere, be it within or outside the academy. Nonetheless, if an approach is genuinely good, and genuinely deserving of attention, refinement and promulgation, then it should have no trouble earning that attention in a highly selective forum.

    Do you actually believe that Reid? Do you actually think that academia is open to “genuinely good” ideas and discourses from outside the academy? Do you think the editors of prestigious journals and publishing companies would publish a paper or book by an unaffiliated bicycle salesman or union rep? There are formal and informal procedures, habits, preferences and norms that govern the boundaries of expectable intellectual production which necessarily exclude and sanction certain strains of thought in an effort to police the semantic terrain that academic philosophy currently occupies. Both Foucault and Bourdieu demonstrated that much.

    “Now of course, the selective mechanisms we currently have are grossly inadequate, if not downright counterproductive. These include the university system, academic journals and publishers, the attitudinal composition of the philosophical community, the media, and public consciousness. You seem to suggest that the major problems affecting these mechanisms are elitism, and consequently, insularity of philosophical discourse on the one hand and popular irrelevance on the other. However, are these the real problems, or mere symptoms that will only dissipate when the deeper structural problems causing them are resolved?”

    That’s a great question Reid. And not one I can readily answer because I left academia a decade ago, so I’m not in a position where I could accurately judge. But remember, I was specifically talking about Ray’s attitude, not academia as a whole. In the case of tragic case of Ray Brassier there is a real problem of snobbery and incredulity towards non-academic participants that, quite frankly, should sicken us.

    Again, it is ONLY on the internet that a ‘blue-collar’ thinker could gain open access to the real-time work of legitimate philosophers and then engage them in discussion. The girl working the front desk at the library can’t just stroll into a conference and start debating, for example, Tim Morton on his notion of hyperobjects and how it might contribute or stunt ecological sensitivity. Yet in the blogosphere she can do just that.

    To be sure, I have no major problem with advanced institutional learning (besides their subservience to capital). I adored my education. And I’ll do everything I can to have my kids go as far as they can in their educations. My main problem is with academic processes and specific professionals who think their subject areas are far too important to share with the underclasses of the philosophically inclined.

    “I’d argue that you start to see the real problem when you ‘follow the money’ so to speak. Who is paying for these institutions? Or more precisely, how are these institutions able to obtain the material conditions necessary for their activity? This ultimately leads back to the sphere of production from which these conditions first arise, and the relations of production mediating the distribution of the social product. In contemporary society, the prevailing structure of productive activity is capital. This structure does not in principle distribute its product according to the merit of activities as determined by a fair democratic decision-making process, but according to a structure that aggregates the uncoordinated whims and drives of individuals and groups possessing claims over arbitrary portions of the social product. As such, there is little reason why genuinely good mechanisms for selecting, supporting and propagating genuinely good philosophical work should be materially allotted for in principle. They are accommodated to a limited extent, but are instrumentalized by capital at least insofar as there are exogenous limits imposed upon the philosophical research as to what type of work receiving funding and are liable to receive due consideration by the community, members of which are more or less beholden to the demands of the labor market.

    I’m not saying that the condition is so extreme that only philosophical projects whose conclusions provide explicit ideological support to capitalist relations of production, but only that the robustness of philosophical research (and its popular dissemination) is limited in various ways, to some extent including limitations guarding against ideological friction, but probably for the most part limitations due to the lack of instrumental value of this research for the activity of capital accumulation. (On the other hand, scientific research that might have profitable consequences is never short of funding

    I absolutely agreed with every statement you make above Reid. That would be exactly the type of analysis I would support in looking at bourgeois academia as a whole. But my criticisms where much more specific to Ray and his obvious bourgeois attitude. I say we fling the doors to philosophy wide open to the workers and the peasants and let them ‘eat’ their share, whereas Ray says keep it tightly locked away for only the worthy to dine upon. But the radical (and Marxist) in me just won’t have it. I say let the SR orgy rage on in addition to traditional institutional, not in it place, and do so despite Ray’s impoverished evaluation of its wider significance.

    “Now I don’t mean to prejudge the extent to which you’ve confused the symptom with its source. Perhaps you’d readily admit that at least something like this account of deeper, systemic causes of ‘elitism’ and irrelevance is correct. But even if this is so, it would leave the question of why you regard the internet as anything like a ‘solution’. The internet, and philosophical discourse conducted through it, may be a novel selective mechanism, and may have the virtuous property of falling largely outside the influence of relations of economic power, and in this regard, it certainly might serve as an important revolutionary tool. But if this turns out to be the case, it will only serve as an instrument employed in the service of the real solution, the revolutionary transformation of the mode of production.”

    Amazingly stated Reid. You never fail to impress me.

    My only response to this is that I agree. If we radically transformed our modes of production we might very well develop more egalitarian and open forums for serious philosophical thought outside the proscriptions and machinations of power. One prerequisite of true transformation in this regard would be free quality universal education for every citizen. Only an adequately reflective and reflexive population of citizens can maintain the necessary deliberative processes and acuity of values which sustains a revolutionary community beyond capital.

    But to answer your questions more directly, I believe that the internet is only one aspect of the “solution”. In the context of this discussion the internet provides a medium where traditional philosophical discourse can interface with everydayness in a way that had hitherto been impossible.

    As I argued above, it is primarily through theory-blogging that non-academics (workers, technocrats, immigrants, etc.) can engage the kinds of conversations, thinking and specialists that academia produces. The result of these engagements could arguably result in what I’d call open source theory – where the proscriptions of disciplinary activities and conventional habits are suspended and improvisation and mutant forms are allowed to come into being.

    “As for the state of ‘philosophy blogging’ at the moment, it has served only to provide a forum in which one can participate in something vaguely akin to professional academic philosophy (at least in its subject matter) regardless of one’s professional credentials, actual competence, or regard for the norms of conduct that typically hold in philosophical debates. This might mitigate the adverse effects of capital on professional philosophical institutions for some, but it would be foolish to celebrate this relatively positive effect without recognizing the mass of regrettable consequences, of which Ross’s satyric manifesto serves as a rather astute indicator.”

    Fair enough. But I think we are always going to have to deal with the “adverse” at the same time as we benefit from the positive effects. Once again, no one is saying that blogging should replace academic systems for determining competence and ensuring rigor within the discourse factories, as these are important features to maintain – despite their glaring relations to Fordist production methods and mechanical “quality control” mentality – only that ‘philosophy blogging’ extends the possibilities of theory beyond the confines of these structures, and serves as a small portal between knowledge cultures to a media ecology where wildly creative efforts might be generated.

    “The solution is definitely not to relax selective standards, but to refine them and to thoroughly dissociate them from the blatantly unphilosophical selective mechanism of the market. The SR blogosphere has done only the former, to an aggravating degree.”

    And the “solution” is not to be exclusive and devalue open access communications in the service of “quality control” paradigms motivated by our own deeply conservative tendencies. Instead, as I indicated, we might find value in extending our communication ecologies and knowledge interfaces to include, however cautiously, various extra-disciplinary thinking and engagements. Philosophy blogging and academic philosophy can truly co-exist, as many of the SR bloggers demonstrate.

    • Hi Michael,

      I’ll respond in kind.

      “the man is not simply “talking about philosophy” – he is also doing it. And not only is he doing it in the open, he’s doing at a pace and quality unsurpassed on the internet period.”

      I don’t share your assessment here. While Bryant is certainly putting forward philosophical arguments, he fails to uphold the basic responsibilities one undertakes in doing philosophy: the responsibility to justify claims that have been appropriately challenged by interlocutors, and the responsibility to relinquish commitments that are demonstrably incompatible with others one holds. On the contrary, Bryant is more than comfortable relying on circular arguments and arguments from authority when challenged, and when these moves are themselves challenged, he tends to eventually resort to very unphilosophical sorts of hostile language and personal attack. Sometimes the latter are provoked, and to be fair, discourse on the internet is far more prone to hostility in general, especially when compared to the relatively civil environment we expect to find in the academy (which isn’t to say we do always find as much there). But nonetheless, this is not proper conduct for a philosophical discourse, nor is the open blogosphere an appropriate venue for such discourse given the lack of enforcement of the norms that should govern it, including those specifying the above mentioned responsibilities. That isn’t to say that such discourse can’t take place over the internet, but only that it requires a more controlled and appropriately selective medium.

      And as for the matter of incompatible commitments, Bryant’s convictions are so flexible that it is nearly impossible to tell what he actually believes and what he doesn’t at any given time. Again, to be fair, we might follow Ross’s suggestion and view the work on his blog as in progress, a set of incomplete and evolving arguments that should not be held to the standards of a mature philosophical position. That’s absolutely fine, and in fact I’d characterize my own blogging in the same way. However, if this is the case, then it is wrong to characterize what he does on his blog as ‘doing philosophy’. Rather, it is ‘preparing to do philosophy’, by way of talking about arguments that one might eventually really put forward.

      “Again, like him or dislike him (or care less about him) as a person, but let’s not kid ourselves into assuming there is anyone out there anywhere on the net doing philosophy the way he is.”

      I don’t like the way he conducts himself, but my assessment of his work does not follow from this. Rather, my opinions about his conduct are drawn from the way he conducts himself in response to public assessments of his work by myself and others. As for that work, I’m nowhere near as impressed as you seem to be. It strikes me as largely an incoherent mess. If you want more specific details of why I think this, I can only refer you to Pete Wolfendale, who has written extensive and devastating criticisms of Bryant’s blog writing, criticisms which Bryant has either ignored, rejected on the grounds of taste, or accepted, but without accepting the concomitant responsibility to relinquish commitments he acknowledged had been appropriately challenged.

      I don’t think, therefore, that Bryant should be regarded as the paragon of internet philosophy – on the contrary, I’d say he is the best example of what not to do, at least when it comes to engagement with critical interlocutors. The real paragon is Pete, whose work is absolutely unparalleled. Ross’s work here is also exemplary, even if I don’t care for the occasional harshness of his tone.

      “Their blogging is a merely a supplement, albeit an important one, which produces working notes and opportunities for discussion, and [not(?)] at all a replacement for the academia-industry’s favored modes of production.”

      And as I said above, it can be useful as a supplement. But writing notes is not the same as writing papers; preparing to do philosophy is not doing philosophy. One needn’t go far into Larval Subjects before one finds claims that blogging is not only not merely supplementary, but amounts to a revolutionary transformation of thinking itself, and a fortiori, philosophical thinking and writing as well. (See this post, for example.)

      Good and mature philosophical arguments can be advanced on a blog, of course, rather than or in addition to, say, an academic journal. The difference is that, in the case of the former, the argument is exempt from institutional assessments of the fulfillment of basic norms of philosophical conduct and of the quality of the argument. Disfunction of existing institutional assessors aside, I do think there is good reason why philosophy should be done under the aegis of highly selective institutional mechanisms. We should seek to filter out behavior that is disruptive or detrimental to a healthy discursive environment, and we should hold each other to high standards of rigor, clarity, consistency, etc. Obviously the institutions that should be safeguarding philosophical inquiry are badly in need of reform, and I’d certainly agree that, in absence of such reform, it may be a good idea to build makeshift para-institutional spaces in which genuinely good work that is inappropriately excluded from the mainstream can be done and discussed. But this is not a matter of relaxing standards of participation, as in the case of the blogosphere, but of implementing appropriate standards in the place of inappropriate ones.

      “My only point with this is to say that at the very least the OOO folk are accessible – they put it out there, unlike Ray, and ask anyone who cares to join the conversation. The OOOsters fling open the doors and let us rabble in, whereas Ray wants to keep it ‘clean’ and all in house.”

      I’m with Ray here. While I think accessibility is important, we need to be careful about what kind of accessibility we’re talking about. The kind of accessibility I would want is not one that simply ‘lets the rabble in’, opening the discourse to anyone by relaxing standards of participation, but one in which a greater number of people have means to become eligible for participation if they desire to do so. I want philosophy to be more accessible, but not through the lowering of its standards. Rather, I’d want it to be much easier for people to acquire the skills necessary to meet these standards. When you ‘let the rabble in’, however, you end up with a discourse flooded with participants who are more or less unfamiliar with what sorts of arguments they should find persuasive, what sorts of conduct they should find unacceptable, how to appropriately formulate counter-arguments, etc.

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with general admission into informal discussions of philosophical work in which one might entertain positions one is not prepared to fully endorse. It can be very helpful to expose oneself to a broader set of considerations, especially if one has a strong role in selecting what makes it into this set (as one does in the comment section of one’s blog). Yet once again, this presupposes a distinction between the sort of thing done in the informal discussion of philosophy undertaken on blogs and the formal doing of philosophy in more selective settings.

      “So since no one is arguing for making the internet the only medium of theory, what’s Ray’s real problem?”

      At this point it should be clear. His problem (at least as I understand it) is that Bryant is seemingly persuading a lot of people to seriously consider, and to some extent adopt, a position that is backed up by bad arguments. Moreover, this position explicitly equivocates good and bad arguments insofar as it follows the Latourian reduction of reason to rhetoric and truth to power (which is something Bryant is, to the best of my knowledge, still committed). In other words, Bryant and others like him are convincing impressionable people to agree with a position without giving them good reason to do so, they are also thereby persuading them to lower their standards regarding what counts as a good argument in the first place. This is sophistry at its worst.

      “He has called SR blogging an ‘orgy of idiocy’. Is this a model or rigor and depth analysis?”

      No, but I don’t think it was intended to be. Ray may not have publicly made arguments of the sort I am here, but I don’t think its too much of a stretch to infer that his off-hand remarks are backed up by something like this position. There is also a brief section in his paper in The Speculative Turn that points in this direction.

      “He has simply dismissed SR philosophy bloggers as unintelligent, beneath him and irrelevant.”

      Has he? Or has he condemned an activity in which they are engaged? I know he, for example, holds Pete’s work in very high esteem. He also said some rather kind things about mine, as you can see in the OP above. I don’t think its a stretch to assume he’d extend similar consideration to others whose work is of comparable merit. His problem, however, is not with writing published on blogs or writers who use blogs, but with a certain way in which this activity is being treated: i.e. as more than a supplemental space for broad reflection on ideas in progress. Bryant, and perhaps others of the OOO crew (I’m unsure here), with his Latourian commitment to the purely instrumental value of norms that discriminate good from bad arguments and proper from improper conduct, and thus his contempt for insistence on the independent bindingness of these norms, has celebrated the blogosphere as a medium free from the selectivity they imply. I am just as uncomfortable as Ray is with those who share Bryant’s position here, which does nothing but mislead people with genuine interest in philosophy and thus make them less likely to fruitfully follow through on this interest.

      “Do you actually believe that Reid?”

      Yes, I do believe that good work shouldn’t have trouble finding institutional acceptance. Do I believe good work doesn’t have trouble finding institutional acceptance? Of course not, as the very next sentence I wrote made very clear.

      “But remember, I was specifically talking about Ray’s attitude, not academia as a whole. In the case of tragic case of Ray Brassier there is a real problem of snobbery and incredulity towards non-academic participants that, quite frankly, should sicken us.”

      You seemed to imply in your comment that the ‘elitism’ of which you accused Ray is symptomatic of a more general elitist atmosphere in academia, and that the blogosphere provides something of a solution to that problem.

      Moreover, you are completely off-base in your assessment of Ray here. He is criticizing the actions of those who would lead ‘non-academic participants’ and participants alike down the dead-end of sophistry.

      “Again, it is ONLY on the internet that a ‘blue-collar’ thinker could gain open access to the real-time work of legitimate philosophers and then engage them in discussion.”

      And again, the problem is not that blue-collar workers are excluded from philosophical discourse, but that some people who might be interested in participating in philosophical discourse are deprived of the opportunity to acquire the skills and statuses necessary to do so. The solution is not to let the workers into the conference and start debating, but to create economic circumstances in which no one is forced to foreclose an interest in philosophical discourse out of material necessity, having little choice but to work at the front desk instead. And again, that’s not to say I think people who aren’t prepared to become ‘professional’ philosophers should stay out all together. There should absolutely be fora for engagement with non-philosophers of all stripes. But these fora themselves must be protected from sophistic abuses, or else there is nothing philosophical about them. The blogosphere is, unfortunately, more than prone to such abuses, and this is what Ray is complaining about.

      “I say we fling the doors to philosophy wide open to the workers and the peasants and let them ‘eat’ their share, whereas Ray says keep it tightly locked away for only the worthy to dine upon.”

      I’m sorry Michael, but it is you who is displaying a paradigmatically bourgeois attitude. The problem is not that workers are excluded from participation in the academy. THE PROBLEM IS THAT THERE ARE WORKERS. It is that there exists a class of people who are lacking in the material means necessary to acquire the skills we expect participants in philosophical discourse to possess. The solution is not to ‘let the workers in’ but to abolish the class relation in which some people are stuck being workers deprived of, amongst other things, the material privilege necessary to acquire the skills necessary for philosophical engagement. The solution you are proposing here would, taken to the extreme, amount to the utter dissolution of philosophy by way of the total abolition of the standards by which it defines itself as a distinctive discursive activity, standing above the mere exchange of opinions.

      Now I recognize that you are saying that academic standards should not be so abolished, but only that there should be spaces in which they do not apply. Fair enough, although I don’t think such spaces, if they are to be in some sense ‘philosophical’, should be completely without standards. In any case, again, Ray is complaining about the manner in which abuse of the blogosphere, following from the total lack of such standards, is leading a large number of impressionable people to be persuaded by bad arguments into holding positions that are utterly incompatible with the basic defining characteristics of philosophy (i.e. sophistic positions that equivocate across truth and mere persuasiveness).

      “One prerequisite of true transformation in this regard would be free quality universal education for every citizen. Only an adequately reflective and reflexive population of citizens can maintain the necessary deliberative processes and acuity of values which sustains a revolutionary community beyond capital.”

      Yes, absolutely. But one cannot simply expect people who have not received such a basic education, much less the higher levels of specialized education required for sophisticated philosophical debates, to be capable of recognizing spurious arguments and discursive conduct, and thus of avoiding sophistry.

      “The result of these engagements could arguably result in what I’d call open source theory – where the proscriptions of disciplinary activities and conventional habits are suspended and improvisation and mutant forms are allowed to come into being.”

      This metaphor does not hold up. With open source software, for example, people are only able of freely participating in software development if they possess highly specialized programming skills. If one doesn’t understand the sophisticated and complex norms defining correct employment of a programming language, then one will simply not produce anything, because one will be unable to edit or produce software.

      Such specialized skills are not necessary to engage in discussions in the blogosphere. All one really needs is a rudimentary grasp of some concepts; one needn’t understand with any depth the full extent of the inferential relations holding between different concepts, or with the full range of debates over how these relations should be configured. One only really needs to seem persuasive and compelling, even if one really doesn’t know what one is talking about. Trust me, I did it for a long time. That isn’t to say that, even in such cases, one mightn’t stumble upon interesting ideas worthy of more rigorous development. I certainly did. But following through on that development requires a set of skills that are neither as readily available as the ability to simply write a blog post or comment, nor as valued as much as they should be.

      The Open Access movement isn’t opposed to specialization and selectivity, but to the arbitrary restriction of participation. Restricting participation by those who do not have the necessary skills is not arbitrary, but necessary. In the case of programming, this selectivity is more or less automatic because the language itself is a strong selective mechanism. This is not the case with philosophy (although the alienating character of its technical vocabularies can act as a selective pressure), so more explicit institutional forms of selection are necessary. Making these accord with OA would not involve the elimination of such standards, but the elimination of arbitrary restrictions over and above these standards (such as restrictions on who has the material means necessary to acquire the skills necessary for meeting these standards).

      “Once again, no one is saying that blogging should replace academic systems for determining competence and ensuring rigor within the discourse factories”

      And once again, I believe that Bryant, and others to some extent, have both implicitly and explicitly denigrated the norms these systems are supposed to enforce. So while they may pay lip service to academic selectivity, this means little if they have no respect for the principles underlying this selectivity.

      • Ack, Ross I broke your comment box with my bad html. Can you fix it!? Or just copy the plain text and send it to me so I can repost it correctly?

      • THE PROBLEM IS THAT THERE ARE WORKERS.

        If I may say so, you hit the nail on the head with this brief statement, Reid. I don’t know if you’ve gotten this from reading Postone’s book, but the point is that capitalism has this tendency of rendering the working class/proletariat (whichever idiom you’d like to adopt) increasingly anachronistic, such that their own labor tends to make labor as such (in the capitalist sense of valorizing value) superfluous. There are countless millions of people who simply are not qualified for high-level philosophical discourse.

        I say this not as an elitist, but as a realist. The skill set of the lowest-rung workers under capitalism is always the most impoverished, their minds stultified by mindless labor. They are multitudinous, but each is essentially fungible in his or her role. They become highly specialized in whatever small function it is that they have to serve, but are allowed little time and precious few resources with which to cultivate a philosophical understanding of the world. To insist that workers and peasants (the latter really are disappearing as a class, except in countries where agriculture has not yet become industrialized) as they presently exist should be admitted immediately into the highest echelons of culture, in philosophy, literature, and art is not Marxist, but workerism — of the sort that first Bogdanov with Proletkult and later Stalin with socialist realism tried to implement. Michael, to be sure, I am not accusing you of being a Stalinist. But this way of thinking has become so prevalent in mainstream Marxism — even some Trotskyism, which is strange because Trotsky despised the philistinism of “proletarian” art — that it has to be corrected and its ideological sources identified.

        To use an example from the history of philosophy, the practice of philosophy itself has always been reserved to the wealthy elites in every social form. Now of course there is probably a greater percentage of our population today that has the leisure to develop the conceptual arsenal necessary to engage in philosophical debate than there was in Ancient Athens, but philosophical discourse is still limited to the university elite. Socrates was the son of a wealthy man; though he served in the military, he was not forced to work in his life. He taught some of the others who were not forced to work the dialectic for free. Now, this is not to say that members of the slave class in Athens were innately incapable of learning philosophy. They simply rarely had this luxury. You will recall that Socrates instructed a slave-boy in the Meno dialogue how to solve a geometric problem, the problem of a halved square within a square. But in most cases slaves did not possess the time or resources to learn philosophy. That is why in an emancipated, post-capitalist society, with people freed from the degrading labor they once had to perform, one could (in the words of Marx) finally “make the world philosophical.” Only in such a society, in which the last fetters of capitalism have been thrown off, can philosophy become available to the whole of society.

      • I realize in retrospect that I was confusing the Open Source and Open Access movements. They’re close enough that I hope the metaphor I draw still makes sense.

    • Joneffay is completely right here I’m afraid. Ray may be vicious in print, but he’s a good old fashioned polemicist. He’s actually one of the more philosophically open people you’ll ever meet, rather than the two-dimensional cipher for the philosophical elite you present here. I don’t mean to offend you, but I do feel it beholden upon me as someone who knows Ray to point out how inaccurate your assessment of his character is. Ray does not like debates which degenerate into casting aspersions on one another’s character, and this is why he’s largely opted out of the whole SR blogging phenomenon. Not because this is all it is, but because he sees that certain modes of engagement have dominated, and these make it not worthwhile. You may disagree with his assessment of that phenomenon, but he’s been pretty consistent in acting in accordance with it.

      This said, there are essentially two elements to his assessment: one to do with particular individuals and their relationships, and one to do with the effectiveness of blogging as a nascent philosophical medium. I won’t say anything about the former, as down that path madness lies. I will say something about the latter though, as someone who has a stake in the matter, and who has his own opinions about the possibilities and pitfalls of the medium.

      The first thing to say is that ‘the internet’ is not a medium, but a new tool with which to create mediums. This is demonstrated by the proliferation of mediums with various different constraints and potentials that have popped up on it, from email and blogs to tumblr and twitter feeds. Even then, this is only the half of it, as a medium like blogging is still not a single thing, but a loose set of constraints that people can then shape in their own ways. The way I use my blog is pretty unusual, and totally different from the way Nina Power, Paul Ennis, or Graham Harman use theirs. As such, the actual taxonomy of forms of blogging is still forming, and thus there is a terrible tendency (both on the side of those who criticise blogs and those who champion them) to lump them all together. This produces a lot of talking past one another when it comes to assessing what counts as ‘good’ or ‘effective’ philosophical blogging. We’re still in the experimental space, and it’s too early to call, though certain trends can be discerned, and certain discerning judgments made.

      So, let me put my cards on the table. I’m not one of the philosophical elite. I have no academic position, nor do I have any publications. All of my extant philosophical thinking is online. I’m a digital egalitarian, and I think that the internet, and philosophical blogging more specifically, offer very interesting possibilities for thinking and communicating, which are useful both in themselves and for potentially bypassing a lot of the broken gatekeeping mechanisms that litter the social space of academic philosophy. Most people I talk to in academic philosophy recognise that the system is broken, but don’t know what to do about it. On the internet, we are experiencing some tentative attempts to create new social networks that can potentially supplant some of the stagnant and counter-productive ones we are all too familiar with. However, as Reid has pointed out, this does not mean that all such attempts are good. Experimentation involves failure, and there are some important ways in which the loose association of blogs that constitute the ‘online SR community’ has failed to realise its own potential. If we aren’t willing to own up to this, then we’re not going to realise that potential.

      What’s wrong then? I’ll suggest three things:-

      1. SR doesn’t exist. I choose that controversial statement with care. What I mean is that SR as it has sometimes been advertised (i.e., as a coherent philosophical movement, motivated by core problems and some joint solutions) simply doesn’t exist in any coherent form. This is not to deny that the people who wanted this to be the case, and who have been motivated by the nascent philosophical vector that this image presented, themselves exist. They do, and they’ve formed promising social networks of which I count myself a member (or perhaps a node). If some of them want to take up the name of SR as an emblem for a philosophical movement, or wider milieu of thought and discussion (e.g., the good work that the guys at Speculations have done), then that’s laudable. We shouldn’t confuse our narratives though. The generic name SR/OOO is simply a taxonomical half-measure (as indicate by the ‘/’) and should be abandoned in favour of something better, if anything at all. We need to talk about the social network and the philosophical positions that manifest themselves within it in distinct terms, because mixing them has generated a lot of confusion (at least in my experience). I’m not entirely unbiased here, as I have never identified myself as a ‘speculative realist’ despite being very interested in the various canonical figures and engaged in active discussion with a few of them.

      2. The above cited cross-purpose talk about precisely what philosophical blogging is supposed to be. Not everyone uses this as a medium of serious philosophical engagement, and that’s fair enough. However, if we’re not clear about what ‘serious philosophical engagement’ on the internet would amount to, and indeed, to what extent it is possible, then it’s all too easy to develop inconsistent attitudes to the medium (which inevitably lead to bad arguments about it). I have my own approach to such philosophical seriousness, and it’s not something I expect everyone to live by. Long form proto-articles (my record is about 16,000 in one post), often in direct response (with hyperlinks rather than references) to other’s blog posts is not something everyone is willing to do (or even to read). If you don’t want to engage on these terms, you don’t have to. Nonetheless, it’s important for people to be explicit about precisely what terms they are engaging on, and one certainly shouldn’t disparage those who are explicit in this way.

      Here lies my own problem with the OOO side of the blogosphere, which I will try to state in as careful terms as possible. They asked for serious philosophical engagement, and I gave them it. I’ve tried to be as charitable and otherwise virtuous in my engagements with their work as I possibly can, and this has resulted in a peculiar form of non-engagement. Again, I don’t expect them to do philosophy in the way I do it. However, I do expect them not to cry foul that I have been too serious (to the extent that I am boring/condescending), that I am too negative (one simply can’t always find something to agree with in another’s position, nor should one have to), or that I am somehow shirking my responsibility to debate them in a more professional academic medium. I have received all three of these accusations. I won’t go into too much detail about them, but I will go so far as to cite the last one, as it is the one I take the most seriously: http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/knowledge-representation-and-construction-a-response-to-pete-part-2/ and my response to this is contained in the first section of this post: http://deontologistics.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/response-to-levi-part-1/

      One cannot claim to that philosophy in the blogosphere is a revolutionary thing, invite engagement, and then suggest that someone who takes up that invitation is somehow underhanded or cowardly in doing so. Again, one can always choose not to engage on someone else’s terms, but one can’t both do that and claim the high ground vis-a-vis serious philosophical engagement on the internet, unless one has a principled argument regarding why those terms are degenerate in some way. I have yet to see such an argument. To put what I’m saying in different terms, I’d criticise the OOO side of our section of the blogosphere not for being overly egalitarian, but rather for being selectively egalitarian. I am not the only case of such non-engagement either (see Dan Sacilotto’s blog for an example).

      3. The unfortunate tone of many blog/comment debates. This is something that on the face of it the OOO crowd would agree with me about, but I think that there is an important disagreement between us on the issue. There are plenty of people on all sides who have allowed (and even encouraged) what began as reasonable discussions to degenerate into ad hominem attacks, bad psychoanalysis, and outright name calling. This is an inherent danger of the internet as a medium for any kind of discussion. I was in my fair share of flame wars on BBS’s when I was 14, but I grew out of it, and I think it’s important for us all to recognise that we each have to do our bit to stop these kinds of thing from happening. Here then, is where my disagreement with the rough communicative consensus of OOO lies: the worst thing one can possibly do if one wants to discourage this kind of stuff is to focus upon the topic of tone or personal character in debates, even when one is not the first person to do so. It’s been shown fairly conclusively that if there is the possibility of reading something in an email, blog post, or comment, as conveying a negative attitude, then people will tend to do so. This means both that we have to be careful with the words we choose, but also generous with the intent we read into the words of others. The best way to do this is simply to avoid using claims about tone or intentions in debate whenever possible (and although I might not always succeed, I certainly try). OOO advocates have in many cases encouraged the contrary approach, and in that respect they have set a bad precedent for engagements in the rest of the community. This is not to absolve others of blame, but with the greater status that OOO has pursued (and gained) within the wider community, comes a corresponding burden of responsibility.

      So, what is to be done. Well, everyone should simply try to be more explicit about what they’re trying to get out of philosophical blogging. This means knowing who you are (SR, OOO, ???, etc.), what you think, how you intend to use the medium, and how you expect to engage with others. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with making any particular decisions in response to these questions. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have good debates about how we should label ourselves, what we should think, how we should use and structure the medium, and what kind of norms of good practice come along with this. There are questions of better or worse here, but they are questions of better or worse that can be asked and answered in good faith. I will continue to defend my philosophical corner, and my own opinions about how the blogging medium can and should be used, but I’m happy for people to disagree with me and so should you be (now that’s a normative claim if ever there was one). Let’s make, and keep things explicit. This is just what friends do (in the Socratic, philosophical sense).

      • I would like to further address and elaborate on some of Pete’s points here, if I may, as many of them match my own particular experience with OOO.

        They asked for serious philosophical engagement, and I gave them it. I’ve tried to be as charitable and otherwise virtuous in my engagements with their work as I possibly can, and this has resulted in a peculiar form of non-engagement.

        This is especially damning considering the fact that there has been so much uproar over my satyric Manifesto and Ray’s opinions on the whole SR/OOO blogosphere, even when neither Ray (to my knowledge) nor I have conducted thoroughgoing critiques of OOO or SR in the way that you have, Pete. When you produced a calm but well-reasoned and unsparing criticism of specific OOO thinkers or certain aspects of their thought, you were met with this peculiar non-engagement that sought to relegate you to the side, as if your points were insignificant or not worth bothering over. Yet when Ray or I (again, not trying to equate myself with him or anything of the sort) brazenly thumb our noses the movement, just stating our impressions or opinions instead of taking the time to produce an actual point-by-point critique, the theory blogosphere is all-too-ready to go at it.

        Now Adam has asked me for such a thoroughgoing critique of OOO, engaging thinkers like Harman and Hamilton and Bryant and so on, and so I have stated that I plan to in the coming months, after I attend to some more pressing matters. While I know that Pete has done this admirably in his own way, I suspect that my objections to OOO might well be different from Pete’s. But make no mistake, I have no illusions about what the result of such a critique would be, in terms of what its reception would be. I would largely expect that my own carefully worked-out set of criticisms would be ignored every bit as much as Pete’s have, so that they might go quietly into the night and not get in the way of everyone’s happy freelance systems-building or their frantic spinnings along the metaphysical merry-go-round.

        To get back to more of my own experiences with the SR/OOO crowd, I suppose I would have to say that I began to have my reservations about their whole project when I saw the way some of them (Bryant in particular) were trying to integrate what I felt was an extremely Procrustean and distorted representation of Marx’s thought into their own muddled philosophy. I suppose I get slightly territorial about such things, even though I’m aware that there are so many countless variations on Marxism — in terms of both its history as a political movement and its present-day exegesis within the academy — that doubtless one could probably get Marxism to mean whatever he might want it to mean.

        But before I recount my run-in (there’s no other way to describe it) with Levi Bryant in full, I feel it necessary to accept some of the responsibilities that Pete has implored us all to take on as participants in the blogosphere:

        Well, everyone should simply try to be more explicit about what they’re trying to get out of philosophical blogging. This means knowing who you are (SR, OOO, ???, etc.), what you think, how you intend to use the medium, and how you expect to engage with others. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with making any particular decisions in response to these questions. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have good debates about how we should label ourselves, what we should think, how we should use and structure the medium, and what kind of norms of good practice come along with this. There are questions of better or worse here, but they are questions of better or worse that can be asked and answered in good faith. I will continue to defend my philosophical corner, and my own opinions about how the blogging medium can and should be used, but I’m happy for people to disagree with me and so should you be (now that’s a normative claim if ever there was one). Let’s make, and keep things explicit.

        To be absolutely forthright about where I’m coming from, in terms of my general project in blogging, the kind of work I focus on, the kinds of conversation I’m looking to engage in, and my overall theoretical orientation — my position is clearly Marxist, but not specifically tied to the program of any particular sectarian group. The most immediate influence for me in terms of my overarching theoretical understanding of the world would have to be the Platypus Affiliated Society, a group based out of the University of Chicago but with chapters in many different cities in North America and Europe. It is informed primarily by the works of Marx himself, the great political figures of Marxist history (Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky), as well as the theoretical work of Walter Benjamin and the Frankfurt School, along with Moishe Postone and David Harvey. My main purpose in blogging is to publicize my research as I’m compiling it, providing original source data for texts that have long been stored away in library archives, as well as to occasionally provide a theoretical treatment of a given topic or current event. I am only obliquely interested in philosophy for its own sake, and have engaged with the SR/OOO movement mostly where it intersects with issues of Marxist theory, as well as topics of my own research.

        That said, the main forum in which I became (for better or worse) embroiled with elements of the movement was on a post Levi Bryant made in response to some comments I’d made, about the Left’s supposed deficiency in “producing ideology.” My position was consistently that the Left should primarily focus on a ruthless critique of existing conditions, with an historical and social perspective toward the present. Ideology critique would remain central to its theoretical output. Levi wanted a Left where it painted pictures of the new society in order to entice the general public to support it over the ideology of the Right. I argued that this could only lead to positivism and utopianism in the end. After he suggested that Marxism follow the example of the various wings of identity politics, I made a few critical remarks about identity politics, after which Levi banned me on the ground of “hate speech.” This was an absurd overreaction to anyone who read the comments.

        This, coupled with my observation of his general patterns of posting and accumulating ever-more meaningless factoids to work into his own “system,” led me to profoundly distrust both Bryant and those who took him very seriously.

  12. Michael, you write:
    what’s Ray’s real problem?

    It’s really not difficult to work out – He thinks that the people you hold up as paragons excellence in terms of doing philosophy on the Net are producing arrant nonsense.

    Now you are free to agree or disagree with this assessment, but when you go on to indulge in cod-psychology regarding the supposed ‘snobbery’, etc. of someone based upon a couple of throwaway remarks, you really are proving his point about the futility of attempting serious philosophical discourse in this medium for him.

  13. See the thing is John that this is not all Ray is saying. He’s free to conclude that these people are idiots (which is about the most idiot thing he could publically say), as I care less about what he thinks about OOO, and we can let their work speak for itself, but what he actually said was that the internet is not the place for philosophy. And it is this claim that I take exception to for the reasons listed above.

    And for the record I do not hold up the OOO crew as “paragons excellence” in terms of doing academic philosophy because I’m not an academic philosopher. As Ray might be quick to remind me, I’m not competent enough to make such judgments. What I did say, however, is that the OOO people are accessible and they enact an interesting and widely followed para-academic mode of doing philosophy.

    So I’m not sure what “cod-psychology” means but if you are saying I can’t ask questions about Ray’s motivations beyond what he has explicitly shared then you sir are the idiot. I’m NOT doing “serious philosophical discourse” here. I’m doing serious human discourse about comments and attitudes that disgust me. Speculating about an author’s motivations and the psychic content of his expressed behaviors is a perfectly acceptable way of interpreting statements.

    Would you have me simply make sense of Ray’s comments (and everyone else) at face value and on the surface? Or have me use the proper bourgeois sentiments and language and publish it in a journal? Or are you satisfied with policing what counts as ‘serious’ and ‘philosophical’ in the here and now?

    As long as the internet exists open source thinking is here to stay. Get used to it.

  14. Michael, sorry about the ‘paragons of excellence in terms of doing philosophy on the Net’ quip. I must have misunderstood you when you wrote:
    let’s start with Levi Bryant: say what you will about his temperament or frenetic self-referential posts, the man is not simply “talking about philosophy” – he is also doing it. And not only is he doing it in the open, he’s doing at a pace and quality unsurpassed on the internet period.

    I’m certainly not saying you can’t ask questions about Ray’s motivations or anybody else’s for that matter. All I am saying is that when you respond to somebody saying:
    But the more the issue gets personalized, or reduced to a “clash of personalities”, the more they win, since substituting gossip for principled argument is part and parcel of their modus operandi
    by personalizing the issue, you prove their point.

    You ask:
    Or are you satisfied with policing what counts as ‘serious’ and ‘philosophical’ in the here and now?
    I’m policing nothing. Say what the fuck you like whenever you like (I inserted the ‘fuck’ so you know I have no truck with ‘proper bourgeois sentiments and language’ – Cool, huh?), just afford me the same courtesy and we’ll get on fine.

    And just to be clear here, because I can see where this might be headed – Nowhere have I said that I think it is impossible to do philosophy on the Internet.

  15. I don’t know where the reply button is to address Adam so I’m putting it here. You’re welcome. I simply wanted to provide the links to Pete’s debate with Harman and Bryant. You wanted to see critique, I pointed it out. If you don’t find it persuasive, fine. You suggested that Ross provide you with detailed engagement, I said that it’s been done, you read through it and didn’t think it was good. Fine. It’s all taken care of then, isn’t it? Can I go now?

  16. In response to Adam,

    I have to point out the irony of your claim that the debate between Pete and Graham is evidence against Ray’s characterization of the blogosphere being followed by such a strikingly dismissive summary of the debate. Such out of hand dismissiveness, content to ignore whole large swaths of argument on the basis of synopses apparently gleaned from skimming through a handful of sentences from each post, is exactly the sort of irresponsible conduct that an open medium like blogs cannot protect against. If you want to conduct yourself that way, fine, but you are only proving Ray’s point about the poverty of this medium.

    Post #1) D Suggests there are “other options” besides phenomenology when doing ontology (who would argue otherwise?)

    You are wrong. Pete claims to show that Harman’s work harbors as a presupposition the claim that the only viable path to ontology is through experience, and that for this reason, phenomenology is the only option.

    Who would argue otherwise? Harman does, or he should, given that the necessity of phenomenology is an implicit premise of his work as a whole. If you disagree, you have to show on what basis Harman does not need the phenomenological framework on which he implicitly relies.

    Post #2) This is a critique of phenomenology in general, not OOO. There is no real argument against the distinction between real/sensual qualities, and, even where it does critique phenomenology (somewhat) there is no accounting for Heidegger or Whitehead- essential to Harman’s philosophy and linked to phenomenology!

    You are wrong. Pete argues that Harman’s OOP takes the necessity of phenomenology as a starting point for granted, then tries to demonstrate the untenability of the phenomenological approach. If the necessity of phenomenology does not hold, then neither will any positions that follow from it (which, Pete claims, include the greater part of Harman’s metaphysics). Its not clear why he would need to argue directly against the distinction between sensuous and real qualities if the reason for drawing the distinction in the first place is invalidated. It’s also perfectly unclear why one would have to directly argue against the positions of either Heidegger or Whitehead unless Harman employs them in a way that either frees him of the necessity he imputes to the phenomenological approach, or that allows him to significantly modify what is meant by ‘phenomenology’ and ‘experience’ such that these are no longer adequately subject to Pete’s criticisms. You have to show how their influence functions this way, you can’t just barely assert it does. He certainly hasn’t shown as much himself, not to my knowledge.

    Post #3) Amounts to saying “I think his reading of Kant is wrong.” Then he goes on to say that there is no problem with causation. This second point is simply not true if you follow Harman’s tool analysis (which I do), deontologistics provides no reason for rejecting the tool analysis let alone whats so interesting about it- how Harman has linked it to Whitehead!

    Wrong. Begins by arguing that the tool-analysis argument is still operative within an overarching phenomenological framework that, if rejected, leaves us little reason to draw the conclusion that causation is problematic. Neither you nor Graham has shown how the tool-analysis can yield this conclusion independently of the phenomenological framework, or otherwise why the phenomenological framework is both, contra Pete, coherent and indispensable.

    Moreover, it is remarkable that you characterize the post as a dispute over how to read Kant, because while Kant does come up at one point, Pete immediately says “I’m not going to tackle this dispute here, because a debate about how to read Kant is tangential to the main points to be discussed”. !!!! If this isn’t evidence that you didn’t really read the post, I don’t know what is.

    Post #4) The argument is “there are more than two kinds of realism.” Great, thats semantic.

    Wrong. The argument is that Graham’s characterization of the relation between science and philosophy is premised on an unjustifiably restricted typology of positions, and that if a justified alternative account of positions one can take includes more attractive positions, then we have good reason to opt for one of them over Graham’s position. Moreover, while the issue might be semantic, its strange that you would think that is equivalent to ‘trivial’ in this context. Pete has argued repeatedly that we cannot conduct philosophical debates on certain issues if we are unable to come to agreement with our interlocutors over the basic semantic issues of the meaning of the terms we are using to debate. If we do not mean the same thing by certain words, then we aren’t communicating at all. So yeah, that’s important.

    Post #5) “There are more than two forms of materialism.” Again, congratulations on pointing that out.

    (Assuming you have 5 and 6 reversed…)

    Wrong. You barely even seem to grasp what’s going on here. The argument is that Graham mistakenly identifies materialism as a metaphysical position with a certain set of flawed epistemological commitments some materialists hold. Pete demonstrates why a materialist does not need to hold such commitments, and thus why Graham’s argument was not really an argument against materialism.

    Point #6) Again, Deontologistics thanks Harman for his “thoughtful criticisms.” That is a refreshing and respectful dialogue! Here D seems to think Harman is a panpsychist, which he is not. This is clear.

    Is it clear? No. By Pete’s rather moderate definition of panpsychism (attributing at least some features of human thought to non-human objects), he most certainly is, in that his central claim is that all objects relate to each other through intentional ‘experiences’ of each other’s sensuous properties.

    Point #7) D’s argument differs from Harman’s in that, for D, complete knowledge is posible, for Harman it is not. Again, I side with Harman, and I don’t see how anyone could actually argue that complete knowledge of anything is possible.

    Here’s a quote from Pete: “All of this isn’t to say that I actually think we can have complete knowledge of the real. I don’t.” C’mon man. Step your game up, or don’t play.

    • You’re right, my points were brief, but they were brief intentionally. I stick by my positions, except for number 7, which clearly I misread. My main point here is that while there are several arguments to be had with regards to Harman’s and others philosophies, none of the positions stated above disqualify them as philosophical positions. I definitely don’t think that a blog post calling phenomenology into question either successfully defeats phenomenology as whole movement, nor do I think it approaches a sufficient argument to throw out the OOO framework. Moreover, I definitely still think the dialogue between Harman and Deonotologistics is a good one, and good evidence of the value of doing philosophy on the internet.

      Also, the type of things you are worried about: “Such out of hand dismissiveness, content to ignore whole large swaths of argument on the basis of synopses apparently gleaned from skimming through a handful of sentences from each post, is exactly the sort of irresponsible conduct that an open medium like blogs cannot protect against” does not characterize myself or my work, nor are do your complaints have anything to do with blogging in specific. These are problems that can occur in any medium.

      • Adam: “I stick by my positions”

        You mean you stick by your “I just skimmed the posts and quickly made up my mind” mischaracterisations? Be honest, have you even read the posts in question? Harman certainly thought they were challenging enough to engage them, even if nothing came out of it. Levi constanly says that Pete’s objections are valid and that he’s changed his mind several times due to them. Are you so blind in your hero-worship that you cannot, even for a second, get your head out of SR/OOO ass and at least give it a thoughtful consideration?

      • Look, if you aren’t persuaded by Pete’s arguments, and you are persuaded by those of Graham and Levi, that’s fine, that’s your business. You may have very good reasons for agreeing with the latter and disagreeing with the former. But if you do have such good reasons, it is incumbent on you to demonstrate them if you expect to be taken seriously in this discussion. If you don’t care about your standing in this discussion, then again, fair enough, that’s up to you. But Pete has put forward what many of us, including his opponents, have been acknowledged to be appropriate challenges to the positions you agree with, challenges which have by no means been exhaustively answered by you or anyone holding those positions. If your reasons for agreeing with them are really good, if you really feel you should hold those positions, then you should have no trouble answering those challenges.

        Again, you don’t have to answer them, but if you refuse, we have no reason to believe that you have good reasons for your commitments. But don’t say “I stick by my positions”. What you voiced in that comment aren’t positions, they are glib and thoughtless glosses that indicate only a lack of understanding of the arguments at hand.

        I definitely don’t think that a blog post calling phenomenology into question either successfully defeats phenomenology as whole movement, nor do I think it approaches a sufficient argument to throw out the OOO framework.

        Then either show your work, or keep it to yourself. Either show why his assessment of phenomenology and OOO is flawed, or don’t bother voicing your ‘position’, because you don’t have ground to stand on. If its so obviously absurd that he might have succeeded in his task, then you should have no problem demonstrating that absurdity.

        …does not characterize myself or my work,

        I never said it did. But it does characterize your comment above.

        nor are do your complaints have anything to do with blogging in specific. These are problems that can occur in any medium.

        Obviously. Which is why any medium in which philosophical discourse is to take place must be selectively regulated to guard against such abuses. The open blogosphere is impossible to regulate in this way, which is what makes it so problematic.

    • @Reid, c’mmon, man, Pete’s arguments weren’t presented in Adam’s preferred format of “Harman, on page 94, writes X, but this is wrong, because Y”, so he is totally excused.

      @Pete’s “SR does not exist” – try telling this to Paul Ennis. He’s been cranking out “proofs of the existence of Speculative Realism” for a while now. I haven’t counted them all, but surely there must be enough of them to persuade you of SR’s existence! It has a journal – isn’t that enough? It has a Wikipedia page! Will you never believe?

  17. I said in both of my replies that I thought it was a good exchange, and a good example of philosophy of the internet. I also find some of the objections valid, but the original problem was whether or not Ross had specific critiques that would demonstrate that OOO didn’t have a valid philosophical position. The fact that engagements can get interesting and lead people to change there positions is a good thing, but not damning of a whole system of philosophy.

    As for hero worship comment, now we’re just slinging mud. Philosophy is one branch of what I do, Evgeni and I like engaging with philosophers because they tend to be more open to this kind of debate. OOO is useful for very practical reasons for me, and as such presents a workable paradigm for the areas I study in. If it works as a paradigm and produces accurate results, then that goes a long way towards me finding it a credible philosophical position. Let me reiterate my initial position: the arguments I have heard thus far from Ross and from Deontologistics (whom I don’t know and only just became aware of through this conversation) do not persuade me that I should abandon OOO.

    Last comment- I appreciate that the brevity of my last comments came off as offensive because they should have been more detailed, and nuanced etc. But lets not let this whole conversation slide into a long list of insults. I think we can manage better than that, so, while I still hold my position, I also do not want to contribute to any feelings of ill will of the likes that seem to be cropping up for you right now, Evgeni.

    • I’m a bit taken aback by your “Evgeni and I” – I’ve never talked to you in my life and most of the interlocutors here are people I’ve exchanged many an opinion before (publicly and privately). I don’t care about “ill will” but like Reid I am offended by your quick dismissal of Pete’s efforts, especially when, as I already said, those that Pete was challenging accepted that his work was solid and on the money.

      As for OOO’s usefulness, if you forgive me a metaphor, then bad arithmetic is also very useful, especially when I need 2+2 to equal 6.43 so I can buy me a burrito for lunch. Useful or not, it’s just not going to work. OOO is an incoherent philosophical position and the more people pay attention to it the more obvious it is becoming. Let’s talk again in 5 years, see where this awesome movement is then.

      • No, sorry that is a grammatical error. It should have read “philosophy is one branch of what I do Evengi, and, I like engaging with philosophers….”

        I never meant to imply that we had any kind of prior contact.

    • No problem, what a difference a comma can make! I still think that the “usefulness” approach is dangerous – many things are useful but aren’t true or sustainable. Hell, genocide is useful if you’re on the side of those who are committing it!

  18. Hello Reid,

    ”I don’t share your assessment here. While Bryant is certainly putting forward philosophical arguments, he fails to uphold the basic responsibilities one undertakes in doing philosophy: the responsibility to justify claims that have been appropriately challenged by interlocutors, and the responsibility to relinquish commitments that are demonstrably incompatible with others one holds.”

    I’m not going to take on the role of Levi’s defender here. However I strongly disagree with you Reid that Bryant fails to justify his claims. I think he provides an enormous amount of examples with arguments in his posts re: why he has come to certain conclusions and where they apply. We can agree with his conclusions or not but let us at least recognize that justifications are presented.

    And, as I commented to John below, I’m not qualified to judge whether or not Bryant’s work is properly academic or not. I’m not among the initiated. I believe theory is a trans-disciplinary endeavor, and I consider theorizing as a political act that should be as accessible and engaged as possible, but no more so than what would destroy an intellectual culture’s ability to function.

    This is why I am willing to concede your points about the need for mechanisms which ensure rigor and promote standards. Philosophy as a disciplinary discourse ‘machine’ must maintain its boundaries and reproduce itself according to its historical, ideological and material conditions. It is thus a requirement to put structures in place which provide continuity and cultivate the functional environments for certain kinds of discussion.

    But, regardless, I also think that para-academic philosophical discussion is an important extension outside the limits of institutional theory-making. While philosophy blogging is still in its infancy, we are going to have to endure its problematic elements if we ever hope to cultivate its more revolutionary (and directly democratic) benefits.

    “…the open blogosphere an appropriate venue for such discourse given the lack of enforcement of the norms that should govern it, including those specifying the above mentioned responsibilities. That isn’t to say that such discourse can’t take place over the internet, but only that it requires a more controlled and appropriately selective medium.

    I’m still not comfortable with talk about “enforcing norms” here Reid. What is it you are trying to police? Theory itself or the institution of academic philosophy proper? I get that the professors need to maintain their brand, and even agree with the need for and benefits of peer-review, but I’m not asking the tribe to give up their sacred rituals and languages. What I am asking is that we allow members of the philosophical community the moral right to engage in extra-academic activities without reactionary ridicule, if only for the sake of relaxing the controls of disciplinary ideology by cultural and economic elites, and opening the door for future cross-fertilizations, not only among disciplines but between classes, genders, ethnicities and subcultural niches.

    Simply put, if done right, philosophy blogging does not replace academic processes it supplements them.

    “Again, to be fair, we might follow Ross’s suggestion and view the work on his blog as in progress, a set of incomplete and evolving arguments that should not be held to the standards of a mature philosophical position. That’s absolutely fine, and in fact I’d characterize my own blogging in the same way. However, if this is the case, then it is wrong to characterize what he does on his blog as ‘doing philosophy’. Rather, it is ‘preparing to do philosophy’, by way of talking about arguments that one might eventually really put forward.

    Again, it depends of what you decide philosophy is or can be Reid. I find this a very conservative view but it’s fair enough. If by “philosophy” you mean academic philosophy then, sure, Bryant and company may not be doing academic philosophy on their blogs, but they are definitely philosophizing none-the-less, and doing it in an open and free forum where others can participate. Such blogging very well may be about “work in progress”, but at least its accessible and dialogical. If you find no value in that sort of activity then so be it.

    “As for [Bryant’s] work, I’m nowhere near as impressed as you seem to be. It strikes me as largely an incoherent mess. If you want more specific details of why I think this, I can only refer you to Pete Wolfendale, who has written extensive and devastating criticisms of Bryant’s blog writing, criticisms which Bryant has either ignored, rejected on the grounds of taste, or accepted, but without accepting the concomitant responsibility to relinquish commitments he acknowledged had been appropriately challenged.

    Again, I’m not here to defend Levi. You can make of his ideas what you will. I personally appreciate his prodigious output, despite some serious disagreements with aspects of his framework, and I have had my own problems with him personally (although those are resolved and very much in the past).

    I have read some of Pete’s comments/posts, where he has made some very important points, but I’m not as impressed with his criticisms as you seem to be. For starters, Pete work is in the vein of a type of “transcendentalism” that is intensely insular, misguided and mostly irrelevant to the modes of thinking that produce practical engagements, so his criticisms of OO turn out to rely on certain strains of thinking I’m not at all interested in pursuing or validating. His logic is clean and orderly enough but the issues he raises are primarily academic (in the pejorative sense), and wholly dependent upon what seems to me a superfluous semantic apparatus of a technical invention. Again, this is not to say that Pete is a bad academic philosopher (not my call to make), or that he’s an “idiot” (because he’s obviously brilliant), but that I find his work – and that type of discourse generally – to be mostly irrelevant in any type of practical context. If that is the type of theory you want to hold up as the pinnacle of philosophical speculation feel free, but I have a very different (much more politically oriented) sense of it.

    “And as I said above, it can be useful as a supplement. But writing notes is not the same as writing papers; preparing to do philosophy is not doing philosophy.”

    Fair enough. But, again, what you seem to hold as the paradigm of philosophy is not quite what I would consider the ‘be all, end all’ of philosophical action. I have a much wider conception of theory and its anarchic possibilities. Imagine if Socrates didn’t wander the streets assaulting the citizens with discourse, or if Nietzsche remained on at Basel and contented himself with writing officially sanctioned philological papers, or if Marx didn’t pursue his journalistic passions?

    Blogs don’t do academic philosophy very well. Agreed. But lay philosophical discussion can indeed take place through blogging.

    “Obviously the institutions that should be safeguarding philosophical inquiry are badly in need of reform, and I’d certainly agree that, in absence of such reform, it may be a good idea to build makeshift para-institutional spaces in which genuinely good work that is inappropriately excluded from the mainstream can be done and discussed. But this is not a matter of relaxing standards of participation, as in the case of the blogosphere, but of implementing appropriate standards in the place of inappropriate ones…

    I want philosophy to be more accessible, but not through the lowering of its standards. Rather, I’d want it to be much easier for people to acquire the skills necessary to meet these standards. When you ‘let the rabble in’, however, you end up with a discourse flooded with participants who are more or less unfamiliar with what sorts of arguments they should find persuasive, what sorts of conduct they should find unacceptable, how to appropriately formulate counter-arguments, etc”

    I get it, you are in favor of policing norms. Fair enough. I’m much more of a theory anarchist who, to be honest, wouldn’t shed a tear if academic philosophy was discontinued entirely by the education industry – which for reasons we alredy touched upon is already happening. Maybe, then, philosophy would become the cutting-edge activity it perhaps never has been.

    But, again, blogging doesn’t replace the production of rigorous philosophical statements it supplements it with the possibility of open dialogue and public engagement.

    “I don’t think there is anything wrong with general admission into informal discussions of philosophical work in which one might entertain positions one is not prepared to fully endorse. It can be very helpful to expose oneself to a broader set of considerations, especially if one has a strong role in selecting what makes it into this set (as one does in the comment section of one’s blog). Yet once again, this presupposes a distinction between the sort of thing done in the informal discussion of philosophy undertaken on blogs and the formal doing of philosophy in more selective settings.”

    Great. And this is in line with what I’m asking for. But, again, your thoughts on the matter are more considered, balanced and fair than the elitist i stance Brassier takes when assessing online philosophy talk as an “orgy of idiocy”.

    At this point it should be clear. His problem (at least as I understand it) is that Bryant is seemingly persuading a lot of people to seriously consider, and to some extent adopt, a position that is backed up by bad arguments.

    First you said there were no arguments now you are saying that they are bad arguments, which is it Reid? I too have serious disagreements with the OOO position but so what? Does that make what they do less interesting as food for pubic thought?

    Moreover, this position explicitly equivocates good and bad arguments insofar as it follows the Latourian reduction of reason to rhetoric and truth to power (which is something Bryant is, to the best of my knowledge, still committed).

    This is a much larger conversation than what we were starting with Reid, and one that I do not have time to conduct in full measure. I would suggest, however, that you do violence to both Latour and Bryant’s work to suggest that they completely ignore the quality of arguments in favor of rhetoric. I sympathize with the need for good arguments and logic, as outlined in your recent blog posts, but I would also argue that supposed “good arguments” can also often become performances of logical irrelevance. All theory is contrived and all intellectual conclusions are the result of culturally coded linguistic entailments – and therefore contextual semantic artifacts. This doesn’t change no matter what communicative paradigm (norms) we adopt.

    In other words, both poetry and logic can are at base constructions designed to persuade – and thus both are capable of being deconstructed and de-motivated.

    “Ray may not have publicly made arguments of the sort I am here, but I don’t think its too much of a stretch to infer that his off-hand remarks are backed up by something like this position. There is also a brief section in his paper in The Speculative Turn that points in this direction.

    Infer what you like, but what he actually said has more weight (and reveals more about his attitude) than what he might say, or could ‘possibly’ argue.

    “…which does nothing but mislead people with genuine interest in philosophy and thus make them less likely to fruitfully follow through on this interest.”

    Again, more policing. What you consider genuine and fruitful to me is suspect. Who are we to judge what philosophy (generally) should be or can be? Is the ‘folk’ theory of the factory worker less “wisdom-loving” than a scholar of Aquinas? Is the community organizer who theorizes the slick components of capital creation less a lover of wisdom than the professor of transcendental philosophy? Would you consider Bill Hicks as having done something akin to philosophy?

    I understand the desire to ensure and reproduce the conditions of academic philosophy, and support that to some extent, but why should we exclude ‘the rabble’ simply because we think they would pollute our sacred wisdom pool? To argue for the walling off of philosophy to prevent it from being overtaken by barbarian hordes of idiocity is a radically conservative move. Theory belongs to no particular linguistic or conceptual tradition or set of institutional practices. Wisdom can come in equal amounts, but not identical forms, from Tanzani, Papua New Guinea, the ghettos of New York City or the hallways of our most cherished educational institutions.

    ”And again, the problem is not that blue-collar workers are excluded from philosophical discourse, but that some people who might be interested in participating in philosophical discourse are deprived of the opportunity to acquire the skills and statuses necessary to do so. The solution is not to let the workers into the conference and start debating, but to create economic circumstances in which no one is forced to foreclose an interest in philosophical discourse out of material necessity, having little choice but to work at the front desk instead.

    Embedded in these comments is the assumption that workers or lay people <should be required to adopt the conventions, jargon and modes of linguistic competence that are relative and endemic to particular elite institutions. You seem to suggest that if only we could help people become less idiotic then we might be able to let them into the conversation, right? Well, seeing as we need all sorts of ‘labor’(divisions of effort) and seeing as front desk people might already have something to contribute before they adopt traditional postures, I say let us create environments (in addition to valuable academic structures) that facilitate their participation right now in this world.

    “And again, that’s not to say I think people who aren’t prepared to become ‘professional’ philosophers should stay out all together. There should absolutely be fora for engagement with non-philosophers of all stripes. But these fora themselves must be protected from sophistic abuses, or else there is nothing philosophical about them. The blogosphere is, unfortunately, more than prone to such abuses, and this is what Ray is complaining about.”

    You say that Reid, and I’m inclined to believe you, but I think assuming that something like this is exactly what Ray thinks would be to assume too much. I think his choice of language speaks to his actual position.

    I’m sorry Michael, but it is you who is displaying a paradigmatically bourgeois attitude. The problem is not that workers are excluded from participation in the academy. THE PROBLEM IS THAT THERE ARE WORKERS. It is that there exists a class of people who are lacking in the material means necessary to acquire the skills we expect participants in philosophical discourse to possess. The solution is not to ‘let the workers in’ but to abolish the class relation in which some people are stuck being workers deprived of, amongst other things, the material privilege necessary to acquire the skills necessary for philosophical engagement. The solution you are proposing here would, taken to the extreme, amount to the utter dissolution of philosophy by way of the total abolition of the standards by which it defines itself as a distinctive discursive activity, standing above the mere exchange of opinions.

    I don’t think we should let academic philosophical mechanisms dissolve. I have argued for extra-academic structures (such as blogging) to co-exist with institutional processes.

    As for the notion that there ought to be social conditions where workers cease to exist, my first gut reaction is to agree with you. It would absolutely be better world where “work” was not its defining feature. The grand “solution” in this case would be to live in that type of world. But that’s not the world we live in. So your response completely avoids (or meta-avoids) the issues in question.

    I’m talking about what is possible under the current conditions. In the world we do live in we have professors interested in protecting their discursive territories from the unpure savage behaviors and methods of reasoning of the less skilled and supposedly cognitively inadequate. We live in a world where ‘true, good and beautiful theorizing’, that is to say ‘authentic’ philosophical practice is deemed by some as too important to not fire-wall it from the supposed viral distortions of idiots. In the world we actually live in, such an attitude is quintessentially elitist.

    Instead I say create para-academic structures of philosophical reflection where institutional theorists can interact with the rest of all us inadequates, and then let both parties be subject to whatever non-proscribed normative forces arise among decent human beings in situ.

    “Now I recognize that you are saying that academic standards should not be so abolished, but only that there should be spaces in which they do not apply. Fair enough, although I don’t think such spaces, if they are to be in some sense ‘philosophical’, should be completely without standards.

    Agreed Reid. I think “standards” in these cases should not be proscribed but developed among participants in the context of particular interactions. My only point at this stage in our discussion is that such spaces should and do exist and should be nurtured and cultivated as opposed to denigrated and brow-beaten.

    In any case, again, Ray is complaining about the manner in which abuse of the blogosphere, following from the total lack of such standards, is leading a large number of impressionable people to be persuaded by bad arguments into holding positions that are utterly incompatible with the basic defining characteristics of philosophy (i.e. sophistic positions that equivocate across truth and mere persuasiveness)…

    … one cannot simply expect people who have not received such a basic education, much less the higher levels of specialized education required for sophisticated philosophical debates, to be capable of recognizing spurious arguments and discursive conduct, and thus of avoiding sophistry.”

    The consistent judgmental tone (re: bad arguments and what qualifies as true or sophisticated philosophical thought) here is truly quite alarming, and I think lends more weight to my position in this discussion than I feel compelled to point out.

    Let us assume that Ray’s assessment of those in question is more than just an opinion, and that he’s not falling prey to same kind of ‘low standard’ arguments that he seeks to abolish. I don’t believe this is exactly the case, but let us assume it. The fact remains that any sort of reactionary posturing against extending the conversation beyond institutional limits is, in my estimation, ridiculously unnecessary.

    “With open source software, for example, people are only able of freely participating in software development if they possess highly specialized programming skills. If one doesn’t understand the sophisticated and complex norms defining correct employment of a programming language, then one will simply not produce anything, because one will be unable to edit or produce software.”

    We’re not talking about specific programming languages and technical skills though are we? At least I am not. What I’m talking about is communications and discourse (and “wisdom-loving” and argumentation) beyond technical specialization and pure scholarship.

    I think it would be useful for us to distinguish between two overlapping modes of philosophical thought and general theory: 1. Academic scholarship and philosophical debate, and 2. Free form thinking of a philosophical nature. I understand the need to preserve and honor #1 but not at the expense of #2. And ensuring the health of #1 is not contingent on the existence or interface with #2. I argue for the advancement of both, and I argue for a bridging-space or ‘free zone’ where both influence, to an appropriate degree, each other.

    “Such specialized skills are not necessary to engage in discussions in the blogosphere. All one really needs is a rudimentary grasp of some concepts; one needn’t understand with any depth the full extent of the inferential relations holding between different concepts, or with the full range of debates over how these relations should be configured. One only really needs to seem persuasive and compelling, even if one really doesn’t know what one is talking about. Trust me. I did it for a long time.”

    Do you honestly think academic philosophy (philosophy #1) is the only pure form of critical and authentic thinking? I believe many of your most beloved patron saints argued just the opposite. If we were always simply deferring our thinking to canonical sources and “the full range of debates” we’d be stuck with so many worn out lines of thinking that we would stifle and choke creativity and invention with all the semantic entailments of conventional and “acceptable” intellectual ideation. We’d be cognitive slaves to tradition. People who think for themselves outside strictures of convention and the tropes of disciplinary production are not just unrefined idiots, they can also be insighful innovators, and can often contribute more towards the balancing of consideration than most tenured specialists.

    That isn’t to say that, even in such cases, one mightn’t stumble upon interesting ideas worthy of more rigorous development. I certainly did. But following through on that development requires a set of skills that are neither as readily available as the ability to simply write a blog post or comment, nor as valued as much as they should be.”

    You know Reid, I wonder if you realize just how condescending you are here. If you want to enforce norms and outline particular mental skill sets that you deem acceptable then you go ahead. But I got to tell you that I have known my fair share of refined and skilled PhDs who are just as idiotic and misguided as any bookstore clerk or Australian aborigine must seem to the technical philosopher. Sure to “do” philosophy #1 you need to learn all sorts a nifty words and norms and jargon and posturing and manners of speech and behavior, but to engage in free from dialogue and speculative thought and critical thinking (philosophy #2) one need not be ordained by the high priests of Western canonical discourse.

    To assume that blogging tends toward an “orgy” of un-skilled and cognitively inadequate interlocutors is both ethnocentric and immature. It is ethnocentric because Western philosophical discourse and thought procedures are but a few modes of thinking among so many other actual and possible kinds of thinking. And it is immature because only an inexperienced, sheltered and un-reflexive person wouldn’t already know that an institutional education is not a requirement for innovative arguments and insightful commentary.

    “The Open Access movement isn’t opposed to specialization and selectivity, but to the arbitrary restriction of participation. Restricting participation by those who do not have the necessary skills is not arbitrary, but necessary. In the case of programming, this selectivity is more or less automatic because the language itself is a strong selective mechanism. This is not the case with philosophy (although the alienating character of its technical vocabularies can act as a selective pressure), so more explicit institutional forms of selection are necessary.”

    Sure. I already conceded this point with regard to philosophy #1. My argument, once again, is that philosophy blogging acts as the only open access medium we currently have where the work done in Phil#1 can be bridged and interact with Phil#2. For the most part I accept your arguments re: Phil#1, but completely reject any arguments against the relevance and influence of Phil#2. And I’m definitely against arguments that seek to diminish the importance of building spaces for bridging #1 and #2.

    “And once again, I believe that Bryant, and others to some extent, have both implicitly and explicitly denigrated the norms these systems are supposed to enforce. So while they may pay lip service to academic selectivity, this means little if they have no respect for the principles underlying this selectivity.”

    That’s not how I read them, but then again I’m not an academic concerned with territorial markings. Philosophy #1 is as it does and it certainly needs some structure for some of the reasons you point out. But Philosophy #2 is as it does and is directly opposed to the structuring attempts of those who bestow sacred powers upon #1. If Levi, or any other credentialed sophisti-crat wants to ‘work’ or play in or with both #1 and #2 then I can still find no reason other than reactionary values (or personal jealousy) why someone would feel inclined to police it.

    • I’m a big fan of Socrates, and of the ideal of philosophy he represents, so let me be a little performative here. Do you think there is such a thing as what it is to correctly engage in argument? If not, stop referring to Socrates as a political ideal, as he upholds the importance of proper justification above all things. If yes, then you should read what Reid is suggesting as enforcing the norms of argument itself, rather than the (perhaps oppressive) norms of any given institutional context. True the norms governing the use of certain traditional terminology are going to be added on top of this, and this includes commitment to the necessity of some kind of scholastic institutions, but that’s more of a corollary.

      Not all norms are oppressive tools of parochial institutions. Some of them demarcate the structure of reason itself. You can deny this, but you can’t deny this AND uphold something like the intrinsic goodness of egalitarian philosophical discourse, because it’s not clear that you’re actually defending anything other than the war of all against all in persuasion (which can be carried out with M16s as much as rhetoric).

    • I appreciate your patience in continuing this argument, Michael. I’ll try to pare things down by focusing on one excerpt from your comment that seems to me to be representative.

      You know Reid, I wonder if you realize just how condescending you are here. If you want to enforce norms and outline particular mental skill sets that you deem acceptable then you go ahead. But I got to tell you that I have known my fair share of refined and skilled PhDs who are just as idiotic and misguided as any bookstore clerk or Australian aborigine must seem to the technical philosopher. Sure to “do” philosophy #1 you need to learn all sorts a nifty words and norms and jargon and posturing and manners of speech and behavior, but to engage in free from dialogue and speculative thought and critical thinking (philosophy #2) one need not be ordained by the high priests of Western canonical discourse.

      You talk as if I think I’m the one who should make the rules everyone else should follow. I’m sure you don’t think I would be so egotistical, but I think this belies a definite confusion in your interpretation of my references to norms and their enforcement. As Pete says above, there are of course norms, or standards determining correctness or propriety, that merely function as instruments of domination, as a particularly ideological way of continuing physical coercion by other means. But to suppose that all norms are of this type is a deep mistake.

      As a Kantian, I take it that the only norms that have legitimate authority are those to which one freely commits or binds oneself. One can, of course, implicitly undertake a commitment, and thus ‘inadvertently’ bind oneself to a norm, insofar as there are relations of inferential entailment between commitments. One does not get to pick and choose; if I am committed to the claim that ‘I am a bachelor’, I am also committed to the claim ‘I am not married’. The basic claim of Pete’s work, one I also endorse, is that one binds oneself to certain norms implicitly insofar as one is rational at all, that is, insofar as one holds that there are such a thing as ‘reasons’ why one should say or do something, as distinct from the actual causes of utterances and behaviors. Surely you accept that what people do can be assessed in terms of whether or not they should do it (regardless of the particular standards of assessment employed). If so, then you should, according to Pete, accept that there are basic norms governing the practice of giving and asking for reasons, assessing the goodness of those reasons, etc.

      Over and above these ‘fundamental norms of rationality’ as Pete calls them, the rules governing practices that can count as reasoning, there are all sorts of socially instituted norms that do not have such a fundamental status. The norms governing philosophical inquiry are largely of this type, for example. Where do they come from? Well, all sorts of places, but what really matters is whether those who are supposedly bound by them have freely bound themselves, or whether they are illegitimately burdened with responsibilities from without. If a community wants to change the shape of the norms governing a particular practice in which they are engaged, they can in principle do so through various mechanisms of revision. The extent to which participation in such revision processes is open to all participants is just the degree to which that community is democratically structured. As an ideal, we might want to say that all collective decision-making should be democratic in this way. Importantly, there is absolutely nothing about this ideal that is incompatible with the idea of norms that are collectively endorsed and revised, and which should be enforced upon all individuals who freely accept them.

      While I understand your wariness of ‘enforcement’ and ‘judgment’, I urge you to reflect on whether you are allowing a righteous skepticism of potentially illegitimate exercises of authority to degrade into an immature distrust of authority tout court. There is legitimate authority. It is instituted by autonomous subjects bound together by democratic mechanisms of collective decision-making, mechanisms which thereby inherit certain rights for enforcing the standards to which individuals freely bind themselves.

      You are missing your target if you are accusing me of fetishizing academia and the privileged few able to participate in it. I readily admit, and did so in my above comments, that the mechanisms underlying academic philosophy are massively dysfunctional. I also agree that creating para-academic spaces for engaging in philosophical discourse with more relaxed prerequisites and rules of conduct could be beneficial, although it is at best a small part of anything like a real solution. In any case, the ideal to which institutions of philosophical discourse should aspire is one in which arbitrary inequalities of economic power no longer impose equally arbitrary limitations on the democratic character of these institutions. Yet I must again clarify that the democratic character in question is not one in which people can simply anarchically restructure things however they want. There are norms governing institutional and disciplinary revisions as well, and inferential relations limiting the extent to which any segment of the space of reasons can be reshaped without requiring renovations to greater and greater surrounding areas.

      At the end of that quote, you make some very dangerous equivocations that occur throughout the comment, treating the standards of academic philosophy as no different from the arbitrary rituals of the priesthood, as a matter of the clever manipulation of nifty jargons, of persuasion and posturing. This is just the sort of contemptible move that I complained about in Latour and his object-oriented followers, a complaint you characterized as ‘violent’. This is precisely equivocating between argument and rhetoric, between the force of the better reason and the force of the more compelling orator. You either accept that there is something distinct about rational argument or you don’t, but you can’t have it both ways. Moreover, you suggest repeatedly that it is ‘ethnocentric’ to regard a particularly ‘Western’ approach, I take it one that emphasizes the importance of rational argumentation, to philosophy as superior to others. I’m sorry, but there is nothing culturally or geographically unique about reasoning. It’s something that is done by everyone who speaks. There is nothing Western about it.

      • He said that he has no qualms about his opinions being public, but is reluctant for them to be published online. You have published them online. Maybe he’s actually fine with this, I wouldn’t know – but if I’d received this mail, I’d have taken it to mean “I’d prefer you not to publish these emails on your blog”.

        I guess I should stop contributing to the general firestorm though.

  19. John,

    Michael, sorry about the ‘paragons of excellence in terms of doing philosophy on the Net’ quip. I must have misunderstood you when you wrote…

    What I said was that Bryant is excellent at philosophy blogging, not philosophy per se – which, as I have stated numerous times, I am not qualified to judge. SO I accept your apology.

    I’m certainly not saying you can’t ask questions about Ray’s motivations or anybody else’s for that matter. All I am saying is that when you respond to somebody saying:

    But the more the issue gets personalized, or reduced to a “clash of personalities”, the more they win, since substituting gossip for principled argument is part and parcel of their modus operandi

    First of all I never said that. Those aren’t my words. Second, I can speculate about a person’s motivations if such speculation is based on actual context coming from that person. Ray’s comments in his interview are available for anyone to read.

    You ask:

    Or are you satisfied with policing what counts as ‘serious’ and ‘philosophical’ in the here and now?

    I’m policing nothing. Say what the fuck you like whenever you like (I inserted the ‘fuck’ so you know I have no truck with ‘proper bourgeois sentiments and language’ – Cool, huh?), just afford me the same courtesy and we’ll get on fine.

    Fair enough.

    And just to be clear here, because I can see where this might be headed – Nowhere have I said that I think it is impossible to do philosophy on the Internet.

    Acknowledged and noted. No harm intended and no harm done (I hope). Thanks for taking the time.

  20. Ross,

    Let me respond:

    There are countless millions of people who simply are not qualified for high-level philosophical discourse.

    Agreed, but only in a technical academic sense. And your use of the words “high-level” here reveal more about your value system (the order you rank things in terms of their significance) than you might suspect. High and low are relative to the position a person occupies and what they value most.

    I’ve spent weeks with drug addicted street philosophers who have taught me more about life and what we should consider “wise” than, say, Kierkegaard ever did. I’ve talked about the cyclical dynamics of the cosmos with Inuit elders who showed me how patterns of reflected sunlight affect moods and village politics. And I’ve had several more experiences with people from all sorts of backgrounds and walks of life who deploy “logics” alien to the Greco-European thought procedures commonly exulted among learned discourse technicians. The take-home point is that the arguments and forms of communication of such ‘thinkers’ were no less persuasive and no less intelligent than the majority of university graduates I have known and taught.

    As I suggested to Reid, we might do well to distinguish at least two modes of philosophical activity: one academic, and tied to institutions of convention reproduction, rigorous scrutiny, and traditional analysis and discourses, and a second mode of free-form or folk or non-institutional speculation and analysis. I respect both species of thinking. But, again, whether they are “high” or “low” again has often more to do with the person evaluating than the intrinsic worth of a particular species of reasoning.

    So are we really justified in considering the non-initiated to be “idiots” incapable of injecting insight into our discussions of human life?

    I say this not as an elitist, but as a realist. The skill set of the lowest-rung workers under capitalism is always the most impoverished, their minds stultified by mindless labor.

    For someone who may consider himself on the appropriate side of the class wars you seem to have a very low opinion of the working class. I wonder, is this view a result of absorbing Marxist psychology, or have you actually gone into factories and tried striking a conversation with a union rep or two?

    Regardless, yes, the workers do have an underdeveloped skill-set relative to the privileged and educated class. And so should we reconfigure the life-conditions which supposedly numb their minds and diminish affordances that might lead to their education? Of course. But, again, does this mean that current conditions automatically disqualify non-academics from intelligent discourse and adequate reasoning? My experience in a wide variety of communities suggests otherwise.

    They are multitudinous, but each is essentially fungible in his or her role. They become highly specialized in whatever small function it is that they have to serve, but are allowed little time and precious few resources with which to cultivate a philosophical understanding of the world. To insist that workers and peasants (the latter really are disappearing as a class, except in countries where agriculture has not yet become industrialized) as they presently exist should be admitted immediately into the highest echelons of culture, in philosophy, literature, and art is not Marxist, but workerism — of the sort that first Bogdanov with Proletkult and later Stalin with socialist realism tried to implement.

    Ross, putting aside the inherent and ethnocentric value judgments at the heart of your analysis (which was also inherent in Marx’s evaluations by the way), you make an important point about workerism – and so I accept that idea that I need to pull back my valorization of the working class (and other non-elite classes or subniches), if only to admit that being oppressed or subjugated or under-privileges shouldn’t automatically entail being given a seat and the great table of philosophy. Yet, my main argument is that their status and habits should not result in an automatic exclusion from philosophical productions and discourse either.

    Keeping philosophical debate in the conference rooms and within inaccessible journal publications does not even approach the kind of open discursive spaces which can lead to the ‘enlightenment’ of the under-critical and oppressed. Blogs, for all their faults, are at least much more accessible and dialogical than the alternative.

    Michael, to be sure, I am not accusing you of being a Stalinist. But this way of thinking has become so prevalent in mainstream Marxism — even some Trotskyism, which is strange because Trotsky despised the philistinism of “proletarian” art — that it has to be corrected and its ideological sources identified.

    Glad to know you don’t view me as a Stalinist. I hate it when that happens ;-)

    … an emancipated, post-capitalist society, with people freed from the degrading labor they once had to perform, one could (in the words of Marx) finally “make the world philosophical.” Only in such a society, in which the last fetters of capitalism have been thrown off, can philosophy become available to the whole of society.

    Agreed. But in the mean time do we fail to provide spaces and opportunities where the oppressed can be exposed to advanced learning and develop the ideological and philosophical resources necessary to begin rejecting and overthrowing oppressive systems? Or do we cultivate and support such cracks in the capitalist reality even at the ultimate expense of the bourgeois academy?

    • Michael wrote:
      we might do well to distinguish at least two modes of philosophical activity: one academic, and tied to institutions of convention reproduction, rigorous scrutiny, and traditional analysis and discourses, and a second mode of free-form or folk or non-institutional speculation and analysis.

      The problem is that the latter is not philosophy any more than painting the night sky is astronomy. This is not to say that it might not have value (Van Gogh did some pretty nifty night sky paintings), but you cannot conflate the two and end up with anything meaningful. If all ‘free-form speculation’ gets classed as philosophy, then you have no standards by which to judge philosophy and you are left with a pile of undifferentiated goo.

      On the other side of the coin, if somebody starts talking about the work of acknowledged philosophers in a context which they explicitly claim is philosophical, it is surely not unreasonable to expect them to engage in a manner which is generally perceived as conforming to the norms of philosophical discourse?

      It is neither necessary nor sufficient to be steeped in academia to engage in philosophical debate, but if you are going to deviate significantly from the norms of such debates, there is an expectation that you can demonstrate why this is acceptable.

  21. Michael wrote:
    First of all I never said that.

    I know you didn’t that was a quote from Ray’s letter. I should have made that clearer.

    • John,

      My response:

      “The problem is that the latter is not philosophy any more than painting the night sky is astronomy. This is not to say that it might not have value (Van Gogh did some pretty nifty night sky paintings), but you cannot conflate the two and end up with anything meaningful.

      Your analogy is ridiculous. Painting and astronomy deploy completely different methodologies (the former with paint and brushes, the latter with telescopes and mathematics) for completely different purposes. Whereas philosophy #1 (or alpha-theory, dealing with canonical sources and debates) and philosophy # 2 (or beta-theory, utilizing a myriad of resources and first-hand experiences) use exactly the same methodology (argument and deliberation), for very similar purposes: gaining ‘wisdom’ or knowledge about the real world and persuasion.

      If all ‘free-form speculation’ gets classed as philosophy, then you have no standards by which to judge philosophy and you are left with a pile of undifferentiated goo.

      I wouldn’t say all speculation is philosophical. Some speculation is more about practical (‘is the weather going to change?’) or financial (‘what’s the market doing?’) or other sorts of issues. For speculation to be considered philosophy it must, in my opinion, share some basic family resemblances or characteristics such as concerns about the nature of knowledge, or about the meaning of life, or about how we should live our lives, or about morality, and so forth. In short, what unites #1 and #2 is the mutual interest in ‘the true, the good and the beautiful’ by any other name.

      What I argue is that philosophical thought and debate need not be confined within institutional settings and subject to canonical authority – and it need not be governed by cultural or subcultural norms devised by a community of tradition-mongers. As I commented to Ross (above) philosophers – at least in the second (beta-theoretical) sense – can come from a variety of contexts, with a variety of orientations, and deploying a wide range thought-forms. My interest, in the context of this thread, is in promoting bridging spaces and practices where #1 and #2 can get it on and produce mutant love-children and forms of resistance.

      As Voltaire wrote, “judge a man [sic] by his questions rather than by his answers.”

      On the other side of the coin, if somebody starts talking about the work of acknowledged philosophers in a context which they explicitly claim is philosophical, it is surely not unreasonable to expect them to engage in a manner which is generally perceived as conforming to the norms of philosophical discourse?

      Generally perceived by whom? The gatekeepers of rationality? The white-dudes with their sacred books of authority and Truth?

      As I said before, the only norms I endorse are those that spontaneously and appropriately arise between those involved and in actual communicative situations. Competences and relevancies are not to be pre-determined or proscribed by an inner circle of expert thought-guardians, but by the force and efficacy of individual statements and discourses.

      If a particular position or line of thought is rejected or defeated and deemed to be idiotic in the course of a conversation then it does so in relation to its actual performative capacities in situ, and not because of a supposed and undemonstrated transcendental structure of understanding.

      It is neither necessary nor sufficient to be steeped in academia to engage in philosophical debate, but if you are going to deviate significantly from the norms of such debates, there is an expectation that you can demonstrate why this is acceptable.

      Have I demonstrated this yet?

      • At best, you’ve demonstrated that one can deviate from the specific institutional norms of academic philosophy while still doing philosophy well, but you haven’t said much about specific deviations, and particularly, about what constitutes good and bad deviation. If you don’t think there is such a distinction (and its hard to motivate one on the basis of ‘family resemblances’) then you can’t even demonstrate this minor point, as the very idea of doing philosophy *well* dissolves.

        Pluralism has to end somewhere, we need some idea of what good philosophy is in order to assess any new and experimental forms of doing it, indeed, to guide these experiments themselves.

      • Michael wrote:
        Your analogy is ridiculous. Painting and astronomy deploy completely different methodologies (the former with paint and brushes, the latter with telescopes and mathematics) for completely different purposes.

        The problem is that you simply don’t see that what you are calling philosophy 1 & 2 also have completely different methodologies and the latter is not the discipline of philosophy. This is not a question of ‘white-dudes with their sacred books’ (I really hope you’re not white, because if you are this makes you look ridiculous), given that Indian philosophy, Islamic philosophy, etc. are all recognisable as such because, whilst they are all very different in terms of concerns and approach, they share a commonality in terms of discipline and structure which your drug addicted ‘philosophers’ do not (I can’t speak for the Inuits).

        I wouldn’t say all speculation is philosophical.
        No, what you said was:
        and a second mode of free-form or folk or non-institutional speculation and analysis.
        And my point was that free-form speculation is not philosophical – It might have philosophical value, e.g. poetry as free-form speculation, but it is not philosophy. Hence the distinction between the methodologies of painting and astronomy.

      • John,

        Let me remind you of what I wrote:

        “For speculation to be considered philosophy it must, in my opinion, share some basic family resemblances or characteristics such as concerns about the nature of knowledge, or about the meaning of life, or about how we should live our lives, or about morality, and so forth. In short, what unites #1 and #2 is the mutual interest in ‘the true, the good and the beautiful’ by any other name.”

        If you want to restrict the definition of philosophy to academic philosophy you go right ahead. But what everything you want to declare as the only true, authentic and pure form of philosophy I group into Philosophy#1. And yes #1 is different and non-reducible to #2. And #2 has a hard time getting face time in the house of #1. I recognize that.

        But outside of your fetishization of culturally-bound disciplinary structures and discourse are all sorts of hybrid and non-institutional narratives and forms of communication which address fundamental philosophical issues. For you to suggest otherwise and argue that your favored brand of discourse is the only ‘true’ philosophical discourse is under-critical and ill-informed. There are whole swaths of ethnographic documentation outlining the amazing diversity of broadly philosophical practices among peoples most of us have never even heard of.

        If you are dead set on policing the boundaries of academic philosophy then so be it. Let’s simply change the terminology to suit your comfort levels: we can call academic philosophical speculation ‘Philosophy’, and we can call non-academic philosophical speculation “comic disco dust”. The result is the same: people talk about and debate the “big questions”, as Nietzsche called them, in a variety of languages and in a variety of ways. And to wall of Philosophy from cosmic disco dust is a radically conservative and ethnocentric move.

  22. re: the universal structure of rationality (aka, Truth):

    “Concepts are not representations, nor are they ideas in minds. Rather, they are lenses and tools. They are apparatuses, every bit as tangible and real as hammers. It makes as much sense to ask “is this concept true?” as it does to ask “is a hammer true?” Drawing a concept from Ryle, this question constitutes a category mistake. And it is a category mistake that constitutes some of the most tiresome and fascistically terrifying attitudes in all of philosophy. Everywhere with this question of whether a concept is true, whether it represents the world, we encounter the desire to police, dominate, subordinate, and render subservient. Like Kafka’s Court or Castle, these philosophical technologies everywhere seek to trap, ensnare, halt, and limit. They create the illusion of free movement and autonomy, while everywhere weaving a semantic web about engagement seeking to fix it. The question “is it true?” is the insecure and narcissistic fantasy of academic philosophy wishing to redeem itself by functioning as master discipline, legislator, and judge of all other disciplines, practices, and experiences. The artist, physicist, ethnographer, and activist get along just fine without this type of “philosopher” to examine their papers. The proper questions when encountering a hammer is not “is it true?”, but rather “what does it do?”, “what can I do with it?”, “is it put together well for these tasks?”, and so on.”

    Source: http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/on-the-function-of-philosophy/

    And I pretty much agree with every this statement in its entirety.

    • I just had an extended twitter exchange with Levi on this topic. I’m afraid I find his position here pretty crude. Yes, meaning is use. We get it. We’ve read Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Rorty, and the various pragmatists who’ve attempted to draw skeptical and excessively pluralistic conclusions from this fact. This important question is precisely what kind of use meaning consists in. Concepts may be tools, but what kind of tools, and what kind of functional structure are they deployed in? You can’t just use pragmatism to smash norms you don’t like, you’ve also got to describe the underlying normative structure of the practices of discourse and reason within which meaning anything becomes possible.

      There isn’t just an irreducible plurality of forms of expression, there is such a thing as what is common to them all, i.e., what expression itself is, and it’s got a normative structure that we can describe, and derive consequences from. Some discursive practices are optional, and others are conditions of the possibility of having any practices at all. If you’re not willing to ask what these are, then you’re not willing to ask what discourse is, and if you’re not willing to do that, don’t draw philosophical conclusions about it.

      • Pete,

        I appreciate your presence and comments in this debate. I have several respones in the works addressing most of what you have already directed my way in this thread, but I’m currently under a bit of pressure to attend to other matters. I will respond in full later tonight.

        cheers-

    • It is a category mistake to ask ‘is a hammer true?’ Rather we should ask the questions at the end which may be subsumed under the question ‘is this a true hammer?’. Now you might like to argue the same for concepts, but anybody who thinks they are somehow not legislating for truth claims when asking asking questions such as ‘is it put together well for these tasks?’ is simply wrong.

    • Truth, in its barest, purely logical sense, pertains to the truth or falsity of propositions. When it’s a question of correspondence to reality, you can determine the truth value of statements made in answer to these inquiries you make about the hammer.

      Q: What can this hammer do?
      A: This hammer can pound metal nails into wood.

      The answer, which is phrased in the form of a statement about reality, can be determined to be true or false, based on its correspondence to reality.

      In terms of purely sentential logic, you can determine the truth or falsity of a statement completely apart from any consideration of its reality. If you make a series of statements, as assumptions, the following sequence arises:

      ASSUMPTION: Hammers can pound metal nails into wood.
      ASSUMPTION: Object A is a hammer.
      PROPOSITION: Object A can pound metal nails into wood.

      According to the assumptions made, without any considerations of reality coming into the question, the proposition can be said to be “true” based on its logical coherence.

      Beyond these rather barren (though important) modes of determining the truth-content of statements based on their logical self-coherence or their correspondence to reality, there is also the larger, more metaphysical idea of Truth (yes, with a capital “T”). This is an idea in the more Platonic sense, and all philosophical discourse about reality, politics, ethics, art, and so on must aim at the determination of Truth, the Just, the Good, the Beautiful, etc. In order to reliably arrive at such a determination, certain discursive standards must be met. These standards needn’t be the institutional or academic standards of having been carefully scanned over by a panel of peer-reviewers, though this measure might well in some cases ensure that the proper standards of discourse are followed.

      In terms of concepts, even if one thinks of them as “tools” by which to arrive at truth or make true statements about the world, there are some concepts that are logically incompatible with other ones. Some concepts, moreover, are only valid based on a network of assumptions, systematically calibrated, such that one cannot use the concept in isolation from the system that guarantees its validity. If two such concepts are employed in making a claim about reality, each of them resting on mutually contradictory interpretations of the world, the claim is unsupportable, since it is propped up by two distinct sets of assumptions that are fundamentally at odds with one another.

    • I will say this, however, Michael: at least you were drawing upon Levi’s post on “The Function of Philosophy.” Even though I have qualms with it, I can at least get a general sense of what he’s trying to say. His post immediately before that, on “Wilderness Ontology,” is an almost incomprehensible attempt to arrive at an “All” in which everything is subsumed, not unlike the idealist Absolute. Everything is “in” it or “part” of it. Civilization, culture, nature, the whole shebang. And then he uses it to try to overcome the anthropocentric hubris of viewing nature and natural beings as just material for human utility, meaning, etc. Utter trash, I must say.

      • Tell us how you really feel Ross. (kidding)

        I’m not sure of your familiarity with Heidegger, but the issues Levi brings up in the post you dislike follows loosely from the early Heideggerian attempt at tracing out a “fundamental ontology”. “Wilderness” in this sense, then, is a metaphor for the spaciousness and ‘wild’, unpredictable, uncontrollable and only partially knowable of Being.

        The nuance would be that ‘Being’ does not signify an absolute or “All’, but is a term meant to prompt us to reconsider the nature of the fundamental background condition which allows or occasions beings (actual entities) as such to be disclosed.

        And, for me, the process and ‘need’ for reconsidering the raw nature of reality is a decidedly cosmo-political one. Without an ontographic imagination and exploration how are we to know and therefore utilize or adapt to the nature of power, agency and change?

        For me the notion of “the wilderness of being” evokes an ecological and anarchic sensibility that I believe is at the core of material and existential life. In fact, investigating the world through via wild-thinking (or wilderness ontology) is essential for a pragmatic rethinking of everything hitherto assumed by our sick societies.

      • I’m actually very familiar with Heidegger, for better or for worse. I’m of that school, along with Adorno, that believes that his philosophy is fascist to the core. But I’ve still read all of Being and Time and his later essays on poetry, dwelling, the world-picture, and “the turn,” etc. His Introduction to Metaphysics is probably my favorite work by him, because it’s his most Aristotelian.

        The idea of a “wilderness-ontology,” Heidegger’s pathways leading from his hut up in the Black Forest out into thick of the woods, from which he could always search for “the clearing” in which beings disclose themselves — all these metaphors can be very easily traced to Nazi ecological thought. Knowing fully well the dangers of such accusations, I say this with complete seriousness. The Germanic naturalist fetishization of nature, the Nazi concept of the perpetual forest Dauerwald as the sort of Ursprung of the Teutonic spirit, this is the source for Heidegger’s early “fundamental ontology.” It is even more so the world of Heldegger’s late ontology, long after the swastika lapels came off his jacket, the antihumanist neo-Romantic reverence for nature that is also evoked by Bryant’s “wilderness.”

  23. Here’s Harman’s remark on that statement from Bryant:

    Nothing is more boring to me than epistemological police work. There’s a reason why this sort of thing is never read outside narrow insider technical cadres.

    Stated differently, it is nothing to be proud of when a philosophy is read only by professional philosophers. The pride some take in this outcome is based on a false analogy with the exact natural sciences, where it can possibly be a good sign if only 5 or 6 people in the world read your articles. In philosophy, by contrast, it’s probably the sign that you’re a pompous and over-professionalized bore who doesn’t realize that everyone at the table is bored and no longer listening.

  24. Michael, you wrote:
    And to wall of Philosophy from cosmic disco dust is a radically conservative and ethnocentric move

    That’s right, particularly if you ignore what I said about Indian and Islamic philosophy.

    I find it ironic that you keep playing this ‘elitist policeman’ move as you set yourself up in some sort of ‘multi-ethnic non-bourgeois holier than-thou’ space from which to judge others.

  25. Pingback: Levi Bryant’s “Wilderness Ontology” and Heidegger’s Hut in the Black Forest « The Charnel-House

  26. Pete,

    I’m in danger of exhausting my ability to continue this debate, as I have already gone over the main features of my position on the issues at hand. But considering how generous you have been in response to the finer points of my claims, I’ll try to respond broadly to some of your most valid concerns:

    First, re: Brassier, I guess I’ll have to take your character reference at face value, because I know very little about the man. It still doesn’t change the reality of what he has said and how he said it. If someone is motivated enough to call their colleagues idiots and their projects useless then the least they should do is do so to their “face”, and with some substantial arguments to back up their claims – lest they come across as a total douche-nozzle.

    Of course, you and Reid do make some important points, but they are not points Ray has made.

    And I completely agree with you that we’re still in an experimental space when it comes to theory-blogging. Such projects are really quite new and have yet to be determined. This is precisely why I think the medium and practice of theory-blogging should be encouraged and refined and nurtured, instead of ridiculed, disparaged and dismissed. People doing the kinds of things you an Jeff Bell and Adrian Ivakhiv and Chris Vitale and Duncan Law and Alex Reid and, yes, Levi Bryant are doing should be promoted and emulated as opposed to denigrated.

    So, let me put my cards on the table. I’m not one of the philosophical elite. I have no academic position, nor do I have any publications. All of my extant philosophical thinking is online. I’m a digital egalitarian, and I think that the internet, and philosophical blogging more specifically, offer very interesting possibilities for thinking and communicating, which are useful both in themselves and for potentially bypassing a lot of the broken gatekeeping mechanisms that litter the social space of academic philosophy. Most people I talk to in academic philosophy recognise that the system is broken, but don’t know what to do about it. On the internet, we are experiencing some tentative attempts to create new social networks that can potentially supplant some of the stagnant and counter-productive ones we are all too familiar with.

    I’m in complete agreement with you here Pete. Experiment includes failure. But at the very least we should support the willingness to make what might be possible into a reality. So for all those reasons you suggest, and more outlined in my other comments, I would like to see more rather than less philosophical blogging so we can get around to increasing its relevance and quality.

    As for SR’s ultimate status, frankly I don’t give a damn. It’s not something I want to spend my energy caring about. I’m only interested in specific concepts and lines of thought – and their possible applications.

    On these points:

    The above cited cross-purpose talk about precisely what philosophical blogging is supposed to be. Not everyone uses this as a medium of serious philosophical engagement, and that’s fair enough. However, if we’re not clear about what ‘serious philosophical engagement’ on the internet would amount to, and indeed, to what extent it is possible, then it’s all too easy to develop inconsistent attitudes to the medium (which inevitably lead to bad arguments about it). I have my own approach to such philosophical seriousness, and it’s not something I expect everyone to live by. Long form proto-articles (my record is about 16,000 in one post), often in direct response (with hyperlinks rather than references) to other’s blog posts is not something everyone is willing to do (or even to read). If you don’t want to engage on these terms, you don’t have to. Nonetheless, it’s important for people to be explicit about precisely what terms they are engaging on, and one certainly shouldn’t disparage those who are explicit in this way.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    As for tone and such, what can I say? Blogs do tend to allow for ridiculous communications. Things like this happen when you give primates internet access. Should we work hard to change the culture of our debates and commentary? Absolutely. I’m all for non-proscriptive norms guiding intellectual conversations.

    You write,

    What is to be done. Well, everyone should simply try to be more explicit about what they’re trying to get out of philosophical blogging. This means knowing who you are (SR, OOO, ???, etc.), what you think, how you intend to use the medium, and how you expect to engage with others. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with making any particular decisions in response to these questions. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have good debates about how we should label ourselves, what we should think, how we should use and structure the medium, and what kind of norms of good practice come along with this. There are questions of better or worse here, but they are questions of better or worse that can be asked and answered in good faith. I will continue to defend my philosophical corner, and my own opinions about how the blogging medium can and should be used, but I’m happy for people to disagree with me and so should you be (now that’s a normative claim if ever there was one). Let’s make, and keep things explicit. This is just what friends do (in the Socratic, philosophical sense).

    Again, I couldn’t agree with you more Pete. As long as we are explicit about our aims let the cyber-chips fall where they may. Just keep the medium open.

    Not all norms are oppressive tools of parochial institutions. Some of them demarcate the structure of reason itself. You can deny this, but you can’t deny this AND uphold something like the intrinsic goodness of egalitarian philosophical discourse, because it’s not clear that you’re actually defending anything other than the war of all against all in persuasion (which can be carried out with M16s as much as rhetoric).

    You are right, not all norms are oppressive tools. But power, as Foucault argued, doesn’t just oppress it also affords, and seduces us accepting particular modes of thinking and being in the world.

    But here’s the meat of it all, I think: the notion of “the structure of reason itself”. May I suggest Damasio’s book ‘Descartes Error’? Or Lakoff and Johnson’s groundbreaking work, ‘Philosophy of the Flesh’? The notion of human rationality presented in these two books indicates that hominid rationality is only ever pre-structured by the physical constraints of our embodied cognitive architecture and its biological functioning. Beyond that, contra Chomsky, there are no universal structures of thought. and backed by empirical research,

    It is interesting to note, however, that while primates like us have certain broad sapient capacities, they become extended and augmented by the habitual use of semantic codes. Researchers such as Piaget and Michael Commons have delineated only 5 of these basic cognitive structural-developmental capacities: sensorimotor awareness, preoperational, concrete-operational, formal-operational, and post-formal cognition.

    Piaget argued that intelligence develops in a series of stages that are related to age and environment. Piaget concluded that intellectual development is like an upward expanding spiral in which individuals must constantly reconstruct the ideas formed at earlier levels with new, higher order concepts acquired at the next level. And Commons and his colleagues then added a fifth ‘stage’ of advanced cognitive development: post-formal rationality.

    Post-formal rationality could be characterized as uber-Wittgenstein or uber-Derrida, in that the core competency of this stage of intellectual development is an ability to think through, or beyond the formal (logical-bound) nature of conceptuality and language itself – and then reintegrate the pre-conceptual awareness of the other sense ‘organs’.
    Basically, so developmental psychologists argue, the more intelligent and thoughtful one becomes the more one realizes just how full of shit they are. That is to say, the most refined modes of rationality yet discovered include a mind-fucking awareness that conceptuality is inherently flawed, partial and inadequate to the task of codifying Truth in any grand narrative sense.

    So whatever competencies we develop exist within very broad capacities that remain relative to the cultural contexts (assemblages) within which we must find our way.

    And “the war of all against all in persuasion” model, or ecological-evolutionary perspective is exactly what I’m arguing for. But what’s important about this is how all such ‘wars’ – or, rather ‘language games’ used for coping – are always contextual. That is, all language games take place within a field of relations and semiotic affordances that alternatively foreground or censure particular values, points of reference and emotional triggers. Hence the relative variety of human reason afforded by general cognitive abilities. And all this takes place within the governing influences of real ecologies and their material and social conditions. It is these “background conditions” which provide the immanent criteria for exchanging the various kinds of utterances which influence behavior and mental orientation.

    “There is not the slightest reason for thinking that modes of existence need transcendent values by which they could be compared, selected, judged relative to one another. On the contrary, there are only immanent criteria. A possibility of life is evaluated through itself in the movements it lays out and the intensities it creates on a plane of immanence: what is not laid out or created is rejected. A mode of existence is good or bad, noble or vulgar, complete or empty, independently of Good and Evil or any transcendent values: There are never any criteria other than the tenor of existence, the intensification of life”.
    - Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, p.7

    Yes, meaning is use. We get it. We’ve read Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Rorty, and the various pragmatists who’ve attempted to draw skeptical and excessively pluralistic conclusions from this fact. This important question is precisely what kind of use meaning consists in. Concepts may be tools, but what kind of tools, and what kind of functional structure are they deployed in? You can’t just use pragmatism to smash norms you don’t like, you’ve also got to describe the underlying normative structure of the practices of discourse and reason within which meaning anything becomes possible.

    Why do we have to? Because you say we do? Or because you pre-suppose the structural nature of rationality and then attempt to impose the standards of that pre-supposition to diminish claims which challenge those associated norms?

    If concepts are tools used by embodied communicators to navigate ecosocial fields of relation, then our discourses only need be signaling systems for predicting consequences and motivating the behavior necessary for finding one’s way in particular contexts.

    There isn’t just an irreducible plurality of forms of expression, there is such a thing as what is common to them all, i.e., what expression itself is, and it’s got a normative structure that we can describe, and derive consequences from. Some discursive practices are optional, and others are conditions of the possibility of having any practices at all. If you’re not willing to ask what these are, then you’re not willing to ask what discourse is, and if you’re not willing to do that, don’t draw philosophical conclusions about it.

    Oh I’m willing to ask such questions, but I’m not willing to assume they can be settled by conceptual inventiveness or logic alone. To ask, ‘what is discourse?’ is to take on the responsibility to look at all aspects of human communication and mental capacity – including the messy animal bits and quirky neurobiological mechanisms.

    I don’t have the patience at this point to go too far down that path, but I’ll sign off by suggesting that we look at all the relevant influences on human rationality, including the pre-normative, material, social and non-conceptual elements, before we go around preaching the doctrine of universal Truths and transcendental structures

    • Hi Michael,
      As for the remark on Brassier not critiquing his colleagues, hasn’t he done precisely that in his “The Speculative Turn” article ?

      • Hey Louis,

        Not exactly. He does provide critique, but not specifically about blogging – which was what I was referring to. He dismisses philosophy blogging, and calls those of us who participate “idiots”, but does not go on to provide arguments why this is so. He simply states that the internet is not the place for ‘real philosophy’ but then doesn’t make a case for his position.

        Otherwise, his critiques in TST are quite interesting, and, perhaps surprising to some, I sympathize with his doubts about object-orientations and the like. In fact, as I have previous stated, I admire ray’s work greatly, especially the work he does in ‘alien theory’, as I lean more towards the materialist, post-nihilist kinds of thinking myself.

        My only issue was with his conservative and arrogant denigration of theory- blogging and its possible development and role within philosophical discourse.

      • Hi Michael,
        Thanks for clearing that up. I guess I jumped into the conversation somewhat prematurely.
        I’m very fond of both Harman and Brassier, which seems like a tight spot to be in right now.

    • Hi Michael,

      Sorry I haven’t responded before now. I’ve been back home for about a week now, but my brain hasn’t been in any kind of functional state to write anything longer than 140 characters till now. I think it needs a cool down period after so many conferences. I’ll do my best to treat the important points in order:-

      1. As a final point on Ray, your problem seems to come down to the fact that he hasn’t elaborated his issues with philosophy blogging (either in general or as practiced by specific individuals) in enough depth. The only response I can give to this is that the only times he’s said anything about it were in the context of interviews or even more informal questions (as here). He’s not going to go out of his way to say more, as he doesn’t think there’s much point. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Graham is pretty famous for his brief summaries of his dislikes on his blog and in his own interviews. It might be that Ray is a bit more direct in what he’s targetting (though not always direct enough), but it’s hardly a secret that Graham makes similar indirect references himself (and far more often). Personally, I wish we could all be as direct and explicit as possible in making our complaints, but I don’t think Ray has done anything especially bad compared to others on this front.

      2. There seems to be a decent bit of agreement on other points, but I think it’s important to point out a problem with the idea of “non-prescriptive norms” that you suggest, as the whole point of norms is that they are prescriptive. There are different kinds of norms, and thus different forms of prescription (e.g., norms of dinner table ettiquette, norms of rational debate, and human rights legislation are all different kinds of norm, which thereby interact in complex ways), but they are nonetheless forms of prescription.

      The whole point of my point was to defend the idea that there can be positive forms of prescription. There are good standards, and this means that not all assessment in accordance with standards is in some way oppressive. The tricky thing is to work out what those standards are, rather than to reject the project of determining those standards as constitutively oppressive. The danger here is that in upholding the idea of freedom you eliminate the very things which enable us to distinguish freedom from oppression.

      3. You’re right that the notion of ‘the structure of reason itself’ does appear to be the meat of the matter. I’m afraid I’m unimpressed by the references to empirical studies. Not because I’m unimpressed by empirical work on the structure of cognition, but because I think there is more than just empirical work on the structure of cognition, and that if one refuses to recognise this then one ultimately undermines progress in the empirical domain. There is more to cognition than the way it is realised in by any particular biological of sociological structure, and over-emphasis on things like cultural contexts obscures this. Cognition (‘thought’, ‘sapience’, or ‘intelligence’) is neither a natural kind (i.e., indexed to some particular material instantiation), nor is it some ‘family resemblance’ term uniting an irreducibly plural network of different phenomena. Nor is it for that matter some strange metaphysical phenomena. It is strictly analogous to the notion of computation (of which I’d claim it is a species). One does not tell computer scientists that they are only allowed to study the irreducibly plural ways in which algorithms have been implemented. They must also be allowed to study the algorithmic as such, and if they weren’t we wouldn’t have computer science.

      I would point out that I’m not a Chomskian (I’m entirely opposed to his linguistics). I think there are universal structures of thought, but that these are not to be understood in terms of anything like a specific language faculty that we all share. Precisely how much common causal structure we share is an empirical matter, as is how this structure works. But, the abstract (i.e., mechanism independent) functional specification of what something must be able to do in order to engage in reasoning and communication is invariant. It gets implemented in a variety of different ways, which we can study in empirical terms, but at it’s core its something that needs to be understood in itself as abstracted from these implementations.

      To pre-empt a possible counter-argument here: one might claim that this will inevitably lead to us mistakenly over-generalising features of our parochial implementation of rationality. This is the basis of the idea that this line of thinking inevitably leads us to judge other cultures (and their implementations) as inferior to our own. My response to this claim is that this is indeed possible. However, this does not mean that we should just abandon the desire to describe the structures of thought as free from such over-generalisations, or to get at the universal as such. One has to be engaged in this project in order to show that any given claim is an over-generalisation, or else one is committed to holding that all claims are over-generalisations. There has to be an appropriate generalisation in order for there to be an inappropriate one.

      In short, I reject the claim that all attempts to describe the universal structures of thought are irredeemably ethno-centric in the strongest possible terms. It perverts the constructive criticism of the program into a denial of the possibility of the program itself. In this respect it shares the form of the pessimistic meta-induction from the history of science.

      3. With regard to your points about levels of awareness, there are two important points to make:-

      i) The model I endorse, focused as it is upon discursive rationality, does not reject the importance of practical coping abilities (and the various strata that these can be empirically sorted into). The important point is simply to understand what these are in general functional terms, and that involves understanding them in terms of the ways they are functionally connected up with reasoning capacities. This is a very Kantian way of going about things, and I am unapologetic about that. There is obviously a lot more to this story, but I’ll leave it here for now.

      ii) With regard to post-formal rationality, I obviously haven’t read the work you cite, but it strikes me that you’re drawing precisely the wrong conclusions about the general kinds of abilities you’re discussing. This is again because of over-generalisation. You characterise this level of cognition as the realisation that “conceptuality is inherently flawed”. Why inherently? Why not just the realisation that the particular concepts (i.e., inferential rules) that are being deployed are flawed? This kind of realisation is of course absolutely essential to higher cognitive ability, but it doesn’t seem to be something supra-rational, but rather an essential part of rationality itself. We revise our ways of reasoning about things on the basis of experience, in more or less implicit/explicit ways. This is an important part of the structure of reason itself, not something a-rational.

      4. This last point is what undermines your claim that: “So whatever competencies we develop exist within very broad capacities that remain relative to the cultural contexts (assemblages) within which we must find our way.”

      There is a certain relativity of our capacities for engaging with and thinking about the world to the environmental context in which these capacities were generated, but this relativity is not insuperable. It’s not superable in a global fashion, as if we could simply get outside our bodies and view reality in its pure form. This is of course a stupid idea. But it is nonetheless locally superable. For any particular way in which our cognitive capacities prove to be parochial, we may diagnose it and overcome it. This is something that Gabriel Catren describes most effectively in his piece in the Speculative Turn. The important thing is to get on with the task of identifying these parochial features, and this means doing so with an eye to the universal.

      5. In response to this: “Why do we have to? Because you say we do? Or because you pre-suppose the structural nature of rationality and then attempt to impose the standards of that pre-supposition to diminish claims which challenge those associated norms?”

      I dealt with the basic gist of this in point (3) above, but it’s worth going over it again from a different direction. You don’t have to do anything because I say you should. You shouldn’t do anything just because I say you should. But you should if I’m *right* in saying that you should. This seems like a truism I know. That’s because it is. Hence the pointlessness of the whole “Why do we have to?” challenge in the first place. The question is whether I’m right to claim that it’s necessary to describe the normative structure of rationality as such. The suggestion that I *might* be hoisting some illegitimately over-generalised norms on you is simply not a good enough response here. You have to point out some *specific* things I’m over-generalising. Otherwise, you need a better argument against either the possibility or the importance of the project itself.

      6. In conclusion, I’ve got nothing against empirical study of human cognition and communication, be it neurobiological, psychological, sociological, or whatever. But I don’t think you can wield such things *against* the possibility of describing the universal structures of reason. If the argument amounts to something like “well, if you try and do this you might go wrong in some way”, then it’s not a good argument. We shouldn’t avoid things because we might make mistakes, we should do them, make mistakes, correct them, and then make better ones. There is such a thing as rational progress.

  27. I was a bit surprised at Ray’s use of the word ‘contempt’ in his correspondence with you. Can someone tell where Ray has expressed this contempt in print? If it was just some disagreement with Graham or Levi on a particular point, why characterize the discussion as ‘contempt’?

    • I think he generally dislikes their brand of philosophy, which has been unfortunately associated with Ray’s own. Even more so, he dislikes the casual, improvisational style in which they propagate much of their philosophy online. He thinks it leads to a great deal of stupidity and thoughtless, uncritical speculation by amateurs without the sufficient training to make pronouncements on metaphysics or the constitution of the universe. I’m fairly sure Ray’s personal and intellectual contempt for Harman and Bryant is genuine.

      • hi i hope you don’t mind the reply. brassier says [above]:

        “Blogging is essentially a journalistic medium… Exchanging opinions about philosophy, or even exchanging philosophical opinions, ought not to be equated with philosophical debate… the most pernicious aspect of this s.r./OOO syndrome is its attempt to pass off opining as argument and to substitute self-aggrandizement for actual philosophical achievement”

        i quite agree that brassier seems very well educated etc.

        is he objecting to the claim to authority [of the blogosphere], or speculation / opinion itself? it’s not like anyone can expect amateurs to be anything but amateurs.

        FWIW this blogosphere has annoyed me for some time. i have a blog, yes, but expressly for ridiculously stupid statements – maybe even one day arguments, i am not sure.

  28. Pingback: What are Concepts? « Deontologistics

  29. Pingback: Doctorates, Divisons, and the Death of God « Deontologistics

  30. Pingback: Academic Blogging — A meta post | Fractal Realism

  31. Pingback: Graham Harman’s The Quadruple Object: 1 « Wetwiring

  32. hello,

    i’m an idiot! but a philosophy graduate nonetheless hah… yeah i was bold enough to email brassier about his kronos interview, doing so because i was breifly acquainted with someone who was forever mentioning OOO [wrt noise music]. he replied promptly… he was polite and informative… it seems like he didn’t have time to ultimately clarify the remarks i emailed to question him on. not about OOO, but a statement on “weird” intuitions.

    actually, it was a confusing exchange, suprising seeing as i do think i tend to understand people’s “opinions on philosophy” and i made it clear that i had no postgrad training.

    was he simply saying [in the kronos interview] there that a bald statement of an unusual intuition is not helpful?

    everything he said points to that, unless i factor in some possible “contempt” for me and so deliberate desire to mislead me.

    i am mailing you lot to ask:
    1. could that be what he meant about “weird” intuitions?
    2. or, might he have been trying to mislead me for his amusement or whatever?
    3. or, did i simply misunderstand?

    i’d be happy to send someone the 4 emails, if it would help, because i am interested in points 1 2 and 3. what on earth could be objectionable about an [under]graduate discussing philosophy, anyway? i am not holding anyone hostage here!!

    thanks.

    • Only just caught this, as this thread is rather old by now. Feel free to email me on the topic if it’ll help. Can’t promise I can iron out your issues, but I’ll try.

  33. Pingback: Ray Brassier on the speculative realist “movement” | AGENT SWARM

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