Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Adam Robbert of the blog Knowledge Ecology responds to my recent post on ecological metaphysics

Adam Robbert from Knowledge Ecology blog has a nice post HERE up titled “Ecological Metaphysics” which is a response to my post “How Do Speculative Naturalism and Bleak Theology Relate to the New Metaphysics?” (HERE).  Incidentally there is a very good comment to his post in the comments sections by R. S. Bakker who is behind the blog Three Pound Brain .  I am very thankful for Adam’s post because it is written in the spirit of good old fashioned critique and thoughtful reflection, and then offers an answer to the things he finds problematic in my post.  It is very much in the spirit of the “old” blogging days when the speculativosphere had just been born and blogs and exchanges between them were sharp but cordial. 

[Update: Tom Sparrow of Plastic Bodies blog adds a post about my post as well, HERE.  Thanks to Tom for the acknowledgement.] 

Adam begins by stating how we both believe that ecology represents a future basis for philosophy, particularly metaphysics (or the "new metaphysics").  He cites how I list resources which best represent to my mind places to go to in order to develop an "ecological metaphysics."  I repeat those resources here as I’ve slightly edited the list:

Figures such as John Dewey or William James appear on the horizon, as do Charles Peirce, Charles Hartshorne, Justus Buchler, and Alfred North Whitehead.  We also may consider contemporary figures in the American tradition such as Nicholas Rescher and Robert Brandom, or on the theological side of things Robert S. Corrington and Catherine Keller.  This range of figures in the American tradition (and within contemporary American philosophy and theology) matches the figures that I find interesting and useful on the Continental side of things: Heidegger, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Deleuze, Hegel, Nietzsche, Bergson, Simondon, Ruyer, Hans Jonas.  A good deal of the history of philosophy can be useful for environmental thinking: the nature ontologies of the Presocratics, Plato, Leibniz, and much of German idealism.

 Contemporary Continental philosophers in their naturalism can be fruitfully antagonistic: the naturalisms of Ray Brassier and Adrian Johnston, for instance.  The nature philosophy and Deleuzo-Schellingeanism of Iain Hamilton Grant is certainly a top choice, as is the proto-theology of Quentin Meillassoux. I would add also a "new" crop of figures (many of them influenced by American pragmatism) to that list including Philippe Descola, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, and perhaps Bruno Latour. Recently I am learning more and more of Laruelle, whose thought isn't entirely unrelated to environmental philosophy and philosophical ecology (see HERE for Laruelle's "On the Speculative Ecology of Man, Animal, and Plant") as well as Mehdi Belhaj Kacem.  This mix of voices creates a hybrid of American-Continental thinking, a Euro-American approach to environmental philosophy.   

R.S. Bakker’s comment points to the need for Continental philosophy to appropriate a philosophy of nature or philosophical naturalism, something that the American tradition (pragmatism, process-relational philosophy, philosophical naturalism) seems to have always had to its benefit.  Adam points out early on in his post that even with these resources listed it is difficult to discern in my post precise criteria for an ecological metaphysics.  He asks, “Is philosophical ecology just naturalism updated?” "Is it just Nature 2.0?"
Adam points out that my thoughts do not provide a detailed or precise enough definition, then, of what constitutes an ecological metaphysics even though I see my own work, a "speculative" naturalism, as being ecological and carrying forward the spirit of contemporary metaphysical realism and materialism (i.e. the "new metaphysics").  This is fair to point out.  

 I should say however in my defense that the post was more or less a general musing (so nothing technical) and was meant to point out a certain line of thinking present in both the American and Continental traditions – a certain “flavor” if you will – that I pick up in my own work and then try to apply to contemporary metaphysical philosophy as an addition to the new metaphysics' realism and materialism.  That line of thinking is at once process-relational, naturalistic, and pragmatic.  It is also stronger (it seems) in the American tradition than it is in the Continental tradition.  Continental philosophy really hasn’t had a "philosophy of nature" other than the figures I tried to point out (the Presocratics, Plato or Aristotle, some of the moderns, much of German idealism, and then some specific contemporary figures such as Bergson or Merleau-Ponty and just a very few others). 

Adam then mentions how he and I find Whitehead extremely useful with regard to creating a contemporary philosophy of nature or ecological metaphysics.  He points out my omission of Isabelle Stengers, who, I admit, is someone I just haven’t had the chance to engage in any thorough way just yet (although I did review her massive book on Whitehead some time back).  I must admit that I find Latour somewhat difficult to engage and other than the basics of actor-network theory he becomes a cost-benefit issue: lots of labor put in trying to understand him versus what I can actually take away from struggling to read him.  Still, in Adam’s thinking I detect (what I know of ) Stengers, as well as Whitehead and some Latour.  Yet Adam and I seem to be very much on the same page when it comes to developing an ecological metaphysics with Whitehead as but one guide of a potential many.
Further on in the post Adam attempts to give the most basic definition of ecology he can muster: “Ecology is the breakdown between structure and content.”  The “structure” and “content” distinction, we are told, applies to a variety of concepts, or binaries or pairs of concepts in relationships that would form the crux of any ecological thinking : the relationship and what it conjoins.  In a more philosophical key he posits that the structure and content distinction could be re-pitched as the breakdown between the “transcendental and empirical.”  The aesthetic is crucial in looking to how the transcendental and empirical relate (or how structure and content relate).  Adam states that he has a recent paper on this, and so I’ll have to go looking for it because I am not sure where it is, and I’d like to read it. 

One quick point.  Adam cites me in stating that agencies are “within” a world.  This is a habit of speech, as in when I say “the” natural world  or one is “in” the outdoors.  I meant to say “the agencies that compose” the natural world.  But of course we get “the” again, as if the natural world is a "thing" and it is not.  So, just a figure of speech when I literally did not mean nature as container, etc.  It's probably a habit I have to be more careful about, especially when denying that "nature" is any one thing.  It is not.  (And see? The "it" pops up again!)

Adam’s post incites interest to read his paper.  I hope my initial post or response prompts readers to read my chapter “Ecology Re-Naturalized,” found in draft form HERE.  It is there where I begin to work out precisely what an ecological metaphysics would look like.  And it is there where I offer arguments and more laborious thinking and detail – detail that is largely absent from my blog post which essentially was me musing on what resources I have at my disposal and how I plan to apply those resources in the future as I develop my own work which I am calling “speculative naturalism,” which will be (I hope) an thorough-going ecological metaphysics.   

It seems that even if my post was a quick musement that it has produced some interest and confirmed my thought (and Adam’s) that contemporary metaphysics, or the “new metaphysics” in its realism and materialism ought to carry forward with an ecological metaphysical perspective.  That is to say, that the new metaphysics should appropriate the ecological if it is to productively carry forward in the future.  What exactly that ecological metaphysics will look like, precisely, is still very much up in the air as Adam, myself, and others continue to fashion our perspectives within contemporary metaphysical philosophy.