Reductionism and Materialism

As seems to be the case with half of the philosophy blogosphere, I have just been to Dundee, at the Real Objects or Material Subjects conference. It is somewhat strange meeting so many people from the internet in the flesh. I had a very good time of it though. The papers have were of an excellent standard and the discussion was stimulating. I might have gone a bit over the top at points though, as evidenced by Graham’s experience of me (here). I don’t really get to talk to people about philosophy that much, and so I tend to get a tad over enthused at conferences. My apologies to anyone who has been hit by the full force of this enthusiasm. The one point that I got consistently from anyone who reads the blog is that my posts are perhaps too long and involved at times. As such, I’ll try to keep this one short. My main aim here is to explain the issues I had with Graham’s paper. In this post I’ll explain the two I made in the questions after the paper, and I’ll handle the problem I accosted him with after it in a separate post.

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A Quick Response to Graham Harman

I’m glad to know that Graham thinks my criticisms are thoughtful. He put up a few quick responses to my last post yesterday (here and here). I understand he has a busy schedule, and thus can’t always respond in detail (I still would really like to hear his response to this post), but I think it might be helpful to briefly clarify some of my remarks in the last post in response to him.

His first point is that I’m overdetermining his use of ‘scientific’ and ‘metaphysical’, and that this produces some misunderstandings on my part. This is thoroughly possible, and I understand that he put them in scare quotes for a reason. However, his response reinforces one of my problems, namely, that he is confusing specific issues to do with the metaphysics of consciousness with issues about the role of philosophy as such. To explain further, Graham says in his response that the distinction was mainly meant to distinguish between himself and Whitehead on the one hand, who take it that there is some metaphysics of consciousness that escapes scientific description, and those who take consciousness to be fully described by the sciences. However, his major criticism of those in the latter position was that they try “to turn philosophy into something it is not”, by making philosophy a slave to science. This strikes me as too bold a conclusion to draw solely on the basis of their attitude to consciousness. I’ll admit up front that I’ve got my own (very deflationary) opinions on the philosophy of consciousness, but I don’t think the standard for what counts as proper philosophy should be determined by this particular area.

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Scientific Vs. Metaphysical Realism?

This is a brief post to take issue with something Graham recently said on his blog (here). Graham has said similar things before, but I think this is one of the clearest examples of his opinion about the relation between science and realism. Graham first notes that the increasing fashionability of the term ‘realism’ in continental circles means that it can be misleadingly appropriated by those who aren’t genuine realists. He repeats the idea, stated elsewhere, that it is not enough to consider the real as something which constrains consciousness/thought, but that one must be able to allow it some structure independently of a relation to consciousness/thought. One must be able to say something about the interaction of fire and cotton in order to count as a genuine realist. Now, I agree with this, for the most part. My problem comes when he draws a dichotomy between two ways in which one can be genuinely realist:-

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