Steve Fuller has condemned the continuing narcissism of naturalism on the simple ground that many of our most important scientific theories were created by people whose motivation was not naturalistic but religious, mystical, or hermetic. The paradox is that naturalism if it had been universally espoused would not have led to the discoveries that seem to confirm it. This is the simple Feyerabendian point that  the practice of science contains important elements that are repressed or occulted in the presentation of its results, but that are essential to its progress. Feyerabend himself was very favorable to naturalism, but emphasised that it was untestable if not confronted with rival metaphysical research programs. A further point is that Being cannot be exhausted by any one particular worldview, and that taking one’s worldview for the very nature of Being is a form of metaphysical narcissism.

(NB: So when Levi Bryant affirms that « these other orientations have failed to make contributions to our understanding of the natural world », he is just historically wrong. These « other orientations » have been central to figures like Kepler, Newton, and to Einstein, not to mention Schrödinger, Bohr, and Pauli).

Popper regarded the Darwinian theory of evolution as just such a metaphysical programme, perhaps producing hypotheses that themselves are testable, but remaining itself in its generality untestable. It is truly amusing to see an attempt to buttress this ontological myth of the triumph of naturalism with an appeal to the an even more metaphysical theory, Freudian psychoanalysis, and the much lauded and blindly repeated edifying tale of psychoanalysis as the « third blow » to our narcissism. The only narcisssism here is Freud’s, when he compares himself (in 1917!) to Copernicus and Darwin. As Michel Onfray remarks this declaration came soon after Freud learnt that he would not be receiving the Nobel Prize that in his opinion he deserved.

Freudian psychoanalysis is not at all a naturalism. It appeals to non-naturalistic entities such as the « unconscious », the psyche, the id, the ego, and the superego, that Freud makes no attempt to establish as or anchor in material or natural agencies. The birth of Freudian psychoanalysis lies in a retreat from naturalism, and also from testability. The organisation of the psychoanalytic movement was based on the ruthless imposition of Freud’s narcissistic authority in matters theoretical and practical. Rival theorists and rival hypotheses were expelled in as humiliating a manner as possible. Freudian psychoanalysis is narcissistic denial.

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  1. sdv dit :

    How do read mathematical naturalists like Penny Maddy? It hardly seems right to call her narcissistic given the strength of her argument….


  2. terenceblake dit :

    For me the narcissism goes with the monism and with the trafficking of the historical record. I don’t think that Maddy denies that idealist Platonist mathematicians have copntributed to mathematics, though she holds their philosophical views to be wrong. If she can give a physicalistic account of mathematical laws and objects, I am all in favour of it. But I think mathematics will thrive if rival metaphysical research programs guide or inspire mathematicians. So if somebody used Maddy’s results to shame others into silence and impose physicalism as a dogma and place Cantor’s transfinites and Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory in a naive and over-simplified grand narrative of scientific progress inflicting narcissistic wounds, I would object.


  3. sdv dit :

    I see, it’s not the mathematical naturalism as such then but the use made from within certain philosophical lines of thought, the new (speculative) realists. Though in truth the use of Popper looks out of place given the narrow understanding of what constitutes ‘science’ that he maintains, The general inability or reluctance of these lines of thought to understand that scientific realism does have a strong metaphysical programme, a metaphysics which is rather attractive to philosophers.


  4. terenceblake dit :

    « Realism » is not the default position of many creative scientists, nor is naturalism. Feyerabend criticises the dogmatic use of what he calls « uniform realism » or « unitarian realism » (see: ). This amounts to embarking clandestinely a metaphysics as an unquestionable presupposition of science.
    At the same time, Feyerabend is very favorable to a naturalist account of mathematics. He gives a thumbnial sketch of such a view in 1975, in his very critical review of Popper’s OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE. Here he argues that Popper’s third world is totally unnecessary to account for mathematics and that the first world is sufficient. Feyerabend’s later remarks show that he is hostile to the attempt to turn such a metaphysical world view into an untestable (or uncriticisable) presupposition of science and mathematics.


  5. Bryant has now revealed he wants continental philosophy to be analytic philosophy, which I’ve thought all along. Wonder if he’ll start reading analytic philosophy? Maybe he could even take some classes.


  6. terenceblake dit :

    Already Bryant has given up the critique of correlationism, preferring to critique anthropocentrism. He then proceeds to give this new bogus concept such an all-encompassing extension that it can include almost all continental philosophy. It’s very strange as I was just watching on French TV (Arte) Raphael Enthoven who was quoting Sartre to demonstrate that the basic task of philosophy was to think the world prior to (logically prior to: « en amont de ») man. He seemed utterly unaware that Sartre is totally anthropocentric and idealist, as is virtually all Continental Philosophy. Bryant should come to France and set these people right on their own ideas and intellectual history.


  7. Leon dit :

    According to his latest post, he clearly has no clue what he’s talking about it when it comes to the varieties of naturalism or even its basics. I went from groaning to laughing when I read that he admits efficient « causation, » denies *any* teleology, but then denies that he is a non-reductive sort of materialist. That’s the sort of nonsense that keeps anyone from taking him seriously. It’d be different if he actually understood what he’s talking about – naturalism – but it’s gone from just winging his usual hate speech and diatribe (committing everything, save for his own non-argued for position, to the flames) to writing (sad) comedy in efforts to draw attention to himself. It’s just really, really pathetic.


  8. terenceblake dit :

    Bryant’s « naturalism » is an abstraction that is conceptually dependent on his affective choices. Freud and Lacan are naturalists whereas Marx and Foucault are not. No analysis is given and confrontation with rival views is steadfastly avoided. Instead we have a Farenheit 451 fantasy of demarcation and exclusion. Naturalism expresses the synthesis of Darwin and Lacan (or of genes and memes, as if that were the same thing), and is thus declared to be « non-reductionist ». In a first post Bryant gives a metaphysically reductionist Darwinian diatribe and in a sequel he just grafts on something else he likes, a Lacanian memetics, and calls this incoherent hodgepodge an « open-ended project », ie a pious wish: « we need to account for how, within a naturalist framework, it is possible for people like Kant to live their lives as bachelors, devoting themselves to their philosophical work ». This naturalism « entails that we transform our understanding of nature » to account for culture, so Lacan is in. The coral reef example is just embarrasing in its incoherence. This is concept-blindness in a big way!


  9. johneffay dit :

    I like the way that, following on from claiming that Freud was a naturalist (something which Freud might, himself, have claimed but nobody takes seriously for the reasons you point out above), Levi has now gone on to co-opt Cantor into his gang! Plainly his studies of the great mathematician have not got so far as Cantor’s views on God and his concept of the Absolute Infinite…


  10. terenceblake dit :

    I have nothing against naturalism as such. What I do object to is a vast and empty « naturalist hypothesis » on the analogy with Badiou’s « communist hypothesis », which can assemble and include in its framework whatever one may wish to approve of and with equal plausibility exclude whatever one wishes to reject. The inclusion into the metaphysical naturalist framework comes at the price of an evacuation of conceptual content and the principle of demarcation becomes one of affective adhesion. Freud abandoned naturalist explanation when he took over the concept of the unconscious.(NB: This is not the case with Nietzsche’s use of the unconscious, which remains naturalist). We witness incoherent amalgams such as « Lacanian memetics », and a travesty not just of the history of philosophy (remember most recent Continental Philosophy is anti-naturalist for Bryant, except for Lacan), but also of the history of science and mathematics. Cantor is an excellent example. Even if one can give a naturalist account of transfinite arithmetic, and I am certainly in favour of such an account, Cantor’s motivations and inspiring force were theological.


  11. Leon dit :

    I saw that (re. Cantor). Seems like more misappropriation, to me. I would recommend two great books that cover some basics with respect to Cantor, set-theory, and the metaphysics of the infinite. One is ‘Logic and Theism’ by Howard Sobel (Cambridge, 2009) and the other is ‘Philosophical Perspectives on Infinity’ by Graham Oppy (Cambridge, 2009). Essentially the misappropriation in question lacks the understanding that a concept such as « the infinite » or (quasi-religiously understood as) « the One » may refer to an infinite set *which is* the process of infinitizing (the continual +1 union or continual aggregation of infinite sets-as-process) which *itself* is not « merely » One but is always both a One and a many, a many becoming One and always increasing by One. This infinitizing process can be a totality or One without any exteriority (another meaning of « the infinite. ») So essentially it is possible to pick out « a set » of infinitizing process so long as it isn’t a closed totality.

    Hartshorne has some wonderful concepts behind what this One without exteriority might mean, in terms of « infinite » value (beauty without limit, increase without limit, and so on). In a process understanding of the One (Cantor, essentially, but also Hartshorne and Whithead), there is no notion at all ever presented that the infinite ought to be a closed sort of totality (« whole »).



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