My objection to the label “speculative realism” is that insinuates the existence of a unity where none exists – what “unites” Graham Harman and Ray Brassier to the point of grouping them in the same movement? A shared commitment to “realism”? In what sense other than than that of vacuous ritual slogans is Harman a realist? A shared revival of “speculation”? The whole direction of empiricism for at least a hundred years has been to argue that speculation is an essential, ineliminable, and positive ingredient of our knowledge – being both heuristically useful and compositionally fecund.

This leads in to my second objection that it designates nothing new substantively neither in content nor aspiration. Were Russell, Carnap, Quine, and Popper against “speculation”? Far from it, they argued for its necessity and for its usefulness. And this is just taking examples from the empiricist camp. Even Rorty came out in favour of the creation of new speculative vocabularies.

Feyerabend from his early beginnings to his last writings was in favour of both speculation and realism. This is what attracted him to Popper in the first place, and what separated him later. Feyerabend’s critique of Popper was that he put too many constraints on the use of speculation, and that therefore his realism was not thoroughgoing, containing dogmatic untestable elements.

There has been no generalised abandon of speculation in anglophone philosophy but rather a continuous critique of certain types of empty specualtion, and SR/OOO cannot claim to have done much in that line of intellectual work. Where is Ray Brassier’s philosophical response to Harman’s ontotheological epistemology? A few splenetic remarks does not count as a fearless return to the value of argument in philosophy. Where is Graham Harman’s trenchant criticism of Brassier’s scientistic dogmatism? I am not talking about narcissistic fights or diplomatic tolerances, I am advocating making our speculation testable, by all means possible. This was behind Feyerabend’s realist defence of specualtion:

“As opposed to positivism, a realistic position does not admit any dogmatic and incorrigible statement into the field of knowledge. Hence, also, our knowledge of what is observed is not regarded as unalterable and this in spite of the fact that it may have a counterpart in the phenomena themselves. This means that at times interpretations will have to be considered which do not ‘fit’ the phenomena and which clash with what is immediately given. Interpretations of this kind could not possibly emerge from close attention to the ‘facts’. It follows that we need a non-observational source for interpretations. Such a source is provided by (metaphysical) speculation which is thus shown to play an important role within realism. However, the results of such speculation must be made testable, and having been transformed in this way they must be interpreted as descriptive of general features of the world (otherwise we are thrown back upon the old account of what is observed)”. (Feyerabend, “Attempt at a realistic experience of experience”, originally published in 1958).

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  1. Philip says:

    “My objection to the label “speculative realism” is that insinuates the existence of a unity where none exists – what “unites” Graham Harman and Ray Brassier to the point of grouping them in the same movement?” — In fairness, these authors themselves admit that it’s a largely arbitrary label that means little. It was coined because of a seminar they held together several years ago, along with Meillassoux and Iain Hamilton Grant.

    I agree with you about the importance of the concept of speculation. If there’s a truly speculative philosopher I think it’s Whitehead — not just because of the scale and creativity of his speculative system but because speculation is what every entity must do at every moment; that is, step out into the unknown, risk non-existence so as to exist at all. But then I suppose this is really just Darwin writ-metaphysical (which is one reason why I like Whitehead).


  2. terenceblake says:

    In fairness these authors need to promulgate critical discussion and not arbitrary labels. Harman is editor of a series entitled Speculative Realism for Edinburgh University Press. He has recently given a talk on “Speculative Realism and the Philosophy of Tristan Garcia” (http://vimeo.com/57567938) as advance publicity for the publication of Garcia’s book. I am predicting that this book will be a complete flop, not because it is a bad book. Garcia is a brilliant writer and he is certainly going places, but the book goes nowhere. So Ray Brassier now “distances himself” from the label (as the euphemism goes), but Harman is attaching himself closer.

    I agree with your pan-speculationism, which is another name for will-to-power as Nietzsche understood it.


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