Doctorates, Divisons, and the Death of God

It’s finally happened. I’m now (or at least am soon to officially be) a doctor of philosophy. My viva took place on Friday the 13th of January (an ominous date, but then, I was born on the 13th, so I suppose it’s my lucky number). It all went much better than expected. My examiners were Peter Poellner (internal) and Stephen Mulhall (external), and they were both very pleasant and helpful in the points they made about the thesis. They also passed it without corrections, which is incredibly nice of them. So, as of right now, I’m on the job market (offers anyone?). My biggest problem is that I currently have no publications (despite the several hundred thousand words posted on this blog). So, my goal this year is to turn all of the various bits of philosophical material I’ve written over the past few years into as many publications as I can manage, plus a few more original ones for good measure. I’ll let you all know more about them as they appear.

In other news, it appears that at the same time I was having my viva, I was being discussed in some small capacity in a paper given by Louis Morelle at the ENS (see here). I’m completely delighted by this, and I’d love to hear from anyone who was there (or from Louis himself, if he’s out there!) This was in the context of giving an overview of the philosophical divisions that have emerged in (or perhaps out of) Speculative Realism. On Morelle’s account, I stand allied to Ray Brassier’s naturalistic strand of SR, along with Martin Hagglund (who I’m afraid I haven’t read very much, which I must rectify). This is correct, as far as it goes. I’ve just recently laid out in brief the relationship between my work and Ray’s (here) and although there’s more to be said about it, it’s clear that he’s my closest philosophical ally. However, I didn’t say anything about my relation to SR there, and so I feel it appropriate to say something about it in light of this development.

I’ve said this before (in the comments here), but I’ll say it again: Speculative Realism doesn’t exist. I must insist that this isn’t meant as a slight to anyone (certainly not to Louis). There are people doing great work either directly under the heading of SR, or allied to it in more or less direct ways. The label has functioned to galvanise a lot of people, in a way that I think is broadly positive. Whatever we say about SR, even if it doesn’t exist as a genuine philosophical movement, the people who want it to exist as a genuine philosophical movement certainly do exist, and they’re not going away. There is a perfectly real social network here, with all the messy overlapping connections that indicates, and I like to count myself as part of it. I don’t count myself as a Speculative Realist though (“I don’t inhale”), because there simply isn’t enough to that label beyond rough social affiliations (and an interest in Meillassoux’s identification of correlationism) to make it worthwhile. For those who think this is a strange position to hold, I’d point out that it’s precisely the same reason I don’t count myself as an Analytic Philosopher, or as a Continental Philosopher. Yes, there are rough tendencies and points of reference that characterise each, but this simply isn’t good enough to make me want to identify myself with one social network I’m peripherally connected to over another. I’m an unorthodox Kantian, a heretical Platonist, a budding Sellarsian, a lapsed Deleuzian, a rogue Brandomian, a transcendental realist, and above all a Philosopher simpliciter. All these labels capture something useful about what I think and do. ‘Speculative Realist’ doesn’t, and I’m not sure it does for anyone else.

This is not supposed to discourage people. Keep doing what you’re doing, please! It’s profoundly good for philosophy. I just think we need to come up with some better identifiers. I have profound disagreements with the OOO crowd, but to their merit they seem to have a reasonably well defined set of commitments held in common (even if there are greater divisions between them than are often apparent (e.g., on the existence of non-material entities such as numbers (here))). This makes the ‘Object-Oriented’ label somewhat useful. I’m sure other useful labels will ultimately emerge, but this has to go hand in hand with the emergence of the variant positions that underlie them. We’ve got to be careful not to jump any guns (or sharks for that matter). We’re still swimming in a turbulent new philosophical milieu, traversed by all sorts of free floating ideas and influences. This is an environment in which distinctive new positions are bound to crystallise, and to some extent we’re already seeing the beginnings of this. Louis seems to have gone to some lengths in establishing a bestiary of these promethean forms, and I look forward to see how the taxonomies evolve as their subjects evolve in turn. Continentally inflected Sellarsianism (perhaps a better phrase than ‘continental scientism’) is a pretty new animal, and all its features aren’t entirely clear yet, but I hope there’ll be others willing to get involved in the process of determining them.

As a final note, for anyone who is in the Newcastle area, I’ll be giving a talk for the Newcastle Philosophy Society this Saturday (21st of Jan) at Barkollo, 22 Leazes Park Road, Newcastle NE1 4PG. People will apparently be having food from 1.30pm, but the talk starts at 2.00pm. The blurb for the talk is as follows:-

Only the Death of God Can Save Us

In keeping with the theme of God, this talk will aim to provide a definition of theism by first distinguishing between its metaphysical and ethical elements, and then examining the way these two sides relate to one another. The talk will then focus on the ethical dimension, trying to understand the relationship between the Divine and the Good. The principal focus of this will be the presentation of Plato’s argument in the Euthyphro, aiming to show that the Good must be independent of the Divine. The overall goal of the talk is to present the (controversial) position that not only is it possible to be ethical without being a theist, there is an important sense in which we must reject theism (and thus be a-theists) in order to fully embrace the ethical life.

Needless to say, I’m rather looking forward to it!

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Appropriate descriptors: (neo)rationalist, left-accelerationist, socratic wanderer, heretical Platonist, computational Kantian, minimalist-Hegelian, heterodox Foucauldian, dialectical insurgent, conceptual mercenary, philosopher of fortune.

2 thoughts on “Doctorates, Divisons, and the Death of God”

  1. Hi ! I apologize for an extremely belated answer, but I didn’t have the necessary time until recently.
    To address the issue of the reality of speculative realism, I most willingly admit that it is an extremely problematic one (and the article says as much, I hope). Personally, I have no problem saying it doesn’t constitute a ‘movement’ in any meaningful sense (which is an almost trivial affirmation), and that continuing to speak about it as if it did raises numerous issues. However, I still find it to be useful, maybe in a temporary way, as an identifier for the field of “post-correlationist” continental metaphysicians ; that it, the subfield of continentally-minded philosophers that a) deal with matters regarding ontology and the question of realism b) do so from the standpoint of a critique of correlationism and its detrimental consequences (or what is seen as such). Now those criteria may sound too broad or vague for the justification of the reference to SR, but it seems to me that it does help isolating a set of philosophical interests, tendancies and theses distinct enough from the rest of Continental philosophy as to warrant its use (it is certainly the case in France for instance). It certainly poses a number of problems, most of all the confusion and illusion as to the unity of Speculative realism inferred by the reference to a nebulous movement, instead of the fractured (if quite dynamic) intellectual space of discussion that it is. I do realize this and would certainly agree with your injunction of “finding a better identifier”, but I find myself unable to do so at the moment (although I would be content enough with the plain “continental metaphysics”).
    For instance, regarding the talk at the ENS, I broadly had to chose between doing a paper on OOO alone, or on “speculative realism” ; I chose in favor of the latter, even if it meant going into very different directions in a short space, because I thought it would be more profitable for the presumptive public of the talk to be informed of (some of) the various strands of continental philosophy instead of only one specific current. Maybe a more vague “continental realism” would have been enough, but, for the piece of doxography I was intending, it would have seemed dishonest not to deal with speculative realism, albeit while underligning its divisions, which I tried to do.
    So the question indeed comes down to “is it a useful term ?”, to which I would answer “as a starting point and a broad one, yes”.

    I hope this discussion wasn’t too long, and I do realize it certainly is more interesting to deal with actual philosophical issues, which I very much intend to do from now on !

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