DOES LATOUR SHOW THE SPECULATIVE FLY THE WAY OUT OF THE ONTOTHEOLOGICAL FLY-BOTTLE?

As I argued in the previous post, I think that the first two thirds of Adam S. Miller’s book SPECULATIVE GRACE, exploring the immanent plurality and abundance of objects following the first wave of Latour, where he doesn’t talk about religion, feels more religious than when he explicitly talks about religious themes. This is already my objection to Latour: see my post ON THE COGNITIVE SCOPE OF RELIGION, and also LATOUR’S PLURALISM 2.0.

Attempting to assert a demarcation between science and religion by talk about scientific objects as “far” and religious objects as “close” violates Latour’s own cautionary remarks about the relativity of scale, and imports a transcendent bias in favour of one or the other term. Atoms are not “farther” than angels, and if we were brought up from childhood by adults telling us to “take care of our particles” they would not seem so. Intuitions like concepts are constructed, they cannot just be imported, no matter how plausible and reassuring it may be to do so. Far is not the same as “resistant”, nor is close a synonym of “available”. The signs here are ambiguous, and one could equally argue that the close is resistant and that the far is available, because constructible with fewer objectors. Once you start including the objectors in the networks the distances are themselves objects of controversy, and not to be presupposed by some pre-accepted framework.

Latour’s view of religion is too protectionist, where Deleuze and Feyerabend and Jung’s views are transversalist, favorising not just symmetry (finding that both religion and science have cognitive aspects, and that both are performative, ie that the cognitive/performative distinction is not pertinent for demarcating science and religion) but also interference and heuristic interaction. Steve Fuller’s claim that many scientific discoveries were made by researchers who were acting out of a religious worldview rather than a materialistic one seems to me to be quite probative. Religion has “interfered” positively with science throughout its history, and not just negatively as a popular positivist myth would have us believe.

The distinction in terms of different “felicity conditions” is not at all new, and was advanced by post-Wittgensteinian religionists over 40 years ago. It is a protectionist, territorialising, conservative move, unworthy of the rest of Latour’s ontology. It is too strong, and its normative force has methodological consequences for the conduct of science. Such a demarcationist approach is illegitimate (it is normative and not “agnostic”, as Latour’s method requires). It is purificatory and unrealistic, and so would have had disastrous consequences for scientific progress if it had been applied by the actors whose intuitions and comportment are supposed to be described in Latour’s account.

The most that Latour can do is to create a protected reserve with its own felicity conditions for some sort of “generic” religion. After all, he is a Catholic and Miller is a Mormon, and there is something very diluted about a shared religiosity that does not foreground the actual objections and controversies, which are not mere differences of opinion but incommensurable rifts within the religious “truth régime”. Either the particular identity of his religious obedience is dissolved or Latour is committing the fallacy of homogeneity by his partitioning of the truth régimes. Unless he is willing to turn this transversality of religious experience and performance against the creedal boundaries and lose the religious affiliation and the institutional identity.

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