Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Monday, April 11, 2011

Questions from De Paul 2

Here's a good question from Don Deere:

I was interested in how your work and other critiques of correlationism deal with the question of epistemology and justification. Kant's critique of our attempt to grasp the real is precisely a caution against onto-theology... I wonder how these worries about falling into an onto-theology that can never ground itself or provide justification are dealt with in such a critique of correlationism.

My answer:

First I wanted to address the role of epistemology in my thinking right now: am I just anti-epistemology?

It's not all worked out in my mind yet. But no, I'm not against epistemology. It's just that the dominance of it has had some consequences, consequences that the sciences are also suffering in their way. Research budgets for younger scientists drying up. Humanists stuck on the small island of human meaning. If we just let science tell us what's real, we default to the rather haphazard set of not well worked out ontologies with which they deal. So an epistemology-heavy approach lets in a far from satisfactory series of ontologies through the back door anyway.

We need to get some courage back. Sciences involve decisions about what they are studying that aren't part of the science: quanta, molecules, lifeforms and so on. They don't know what they're doing, constitutively.

I told some kind of allegory about “epistemology ice cream.” You have an ice cream cone and you promise yourself when you have a moment of perfect happiness you will have a lick. You spend so much time figuring out what counts as happiness you don't lick. The happiness never arrives. The ice cream melts anyway. Better to just lick the ice cream.

I talked a bit about scientism. Problems with Dawkins and Dennett. Dawkins is a mechanist, despite scientific evidence that mechanism is an epiphenomenon. Dennett likes “design space” which is teleological, however minimally. Yet the notion of adaptationism is that you just can't say that DNA mutation isn't random with respect to current need. In The Ecological Thought I had a perverse desire to put neo-Darwinists and Levinas on a blind date with one another.

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