Friday, December 19, 2014

new Cosmos & History now online: special issue on "Naturalism" with an article on "Speculative Naturalism"

A very interesting issue of Cosmos & History is now posted, featuring "Naturalism" as its theme (this issue rivals my other favorite from 2008 "What is Life?" - HERE).

What's great is that Arran Gare (the editor) has published an essay on "Speculative Naturalism," tracing its historical roots in American speculative Idealism and the Naturphilosophie of F.W.J. Schelling, Alfred North Whitehead, Gilles Deleuze, and C.S. Peirce.  He also situates speculative naturalism in context of "speculative realism" (speculative materialism) and recent Continental metaphysics.

There's really nothing that I disagree with in his characterization of Speculative Naturalism, and I like how his characterization of the view is open to other articulations of it (including my own) while remaining loyal to something of a consonant core of the view as it has developed historically.  In fact, there is nothing that I said HERE in my own paper "Speculative Naturalism" - published some months ago - that contradicts his painting of the speculative naturalist picture.

I have a few thoughts about his paper before posting a link.

All in all, speculative naturalism focuses on speculative query rather than critical analysis; it is a non-reductive form of naturalism when it comes to science (and thus makes room for topics of concern within the camps of Idealism or spiritualism, i.e. mind or Spirit); it challenges strictly analytic types of naturalism (those types that paralyze speculative inquiry); embraces neo-rationalism and speculative materialism (pace Meillassoux with emphases on creativity and contingency); and embraces "synthetic" historical thinking and philosophical realism going beyond the anti-realism of deconstructive postmodernism. 

Tracing speculative naturalism's history, of course, begins in Presocratic nature ontologies, although Garre picks up with Quine's naturalism (for constraints of space) to illustrate speculative naturalism's non-reductive character (and such is why Democritus or much later Lucretius would have been left out in favor of, say, Anaximander or Pythagoras, or much later Epicurus, or perhaps even Seneca for admitting reason as a divine principle into the equation, in tracing Ancient origins for the view).  It's a nice touch how Garre also points out the importance for logic for speculative naturalim, given the fact that the general belief is that logical and mathematical conclusions may reach ontological ones.

From Quine, Garren then proceeds to set out how the naturalism of American Idealism (Garre mentions Royce but I think John William Miller, Justus Buchler, Paul Weiss, or Nicholas Rescher with his pragmatic idealism would be a bit closer) is able to challenge Quinean naturalism by simply being a more defensible position.  He then travels to the moment of siding with either Kant or Hegel within German Idealism in order  to show how Schellingean ("speculative") naturalism - as it is found in the German moment of Idealism - is superior to Quine's own conception of nature.  So, "between" so to speak Kant and Hegel one must follow Schelling.  I completely agree that it is Schelling's philosophy which is truly the lynchpin for any speculative naturalism.  Let me say just abit more about this.

As I've argued, recovering the tradition of speculative naturalism requires recovering Schelling and his Naturphilosophie - a domain of interest that has been brought back to light by figures such as Iain Grant and Sean McGrath, to name two that have impacted me.  The key is thinking about how, not just a speculative naturephilosophy sits with regard to reductive materialist naturalism, but how the concept of nature entails a physics of the Idea with respect to the Absolute.  Thus, it involves thinking about mentality, or Spirit for some, but more generally for most about motion, activity, generation, and the conditions of ultimacy. A true transcendental materialism of the All, or better, empiricism extended to the All as Absolute.  Speculative naturalism therefore today asks "what are the conditions for the dynamic construction of matter, and how do they - if at all - relate to the Absolute?"  Further, what is the precise relation between the Absolute and intelligence or the Idea?  How does human intelligence - or the creative intelligence of any living form for that matter - represent nature's ultimate determinative conditions? 

In order to flesh out these questions Garre points to the American reception of Schelling's nature philosophy, specifically C.S. Peirce.  Garre writes, "Like Schelling, Peirce was a speculative naturalist concerned to conceive physical existence in a way that would enable humans to be understood as creative products of, and participants in, nature."  So a tradition is traced from American (and German) Idealism to pragmatism: from Schelling to Peirce, Dewey, and Whitehead.  On the Continental side Bergson and Deleuze are mentioned.

Garre ends the piece on a practical note and a call for the future: "The development of the natural sciences on the more defensible foundations of speculative naturalism [rather than the foundations of analytic naturalism, or materialist naturalism] makes science consistent with the reality of humans and their potential for understanding and creativity...speculative naturalism supports Aldo Leopold's dictum that 'A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise."  And so there are ethical implications for speculative naturalism (in addition to the theological ones that I have so oftenly pointed out).  The ethics of speculative naturalism recognizes and augments the condition for the flourishing of ecosystems, of multiple agencies, none of which are separate, static, or strictly quantifiable but are rather interconnected, active, and qualitative and temporal at their core.

Worth checking out the entire issue HERE, or Garre's paper specifically, HERE.