JON COGBURN AGAINST HUMANITIES-BASHING

Jon Cogburn denounces a widespread tendency to disparage and demean people who dare to take up philosophical themes without themselves being professional philosophers. I am in complete agreement with him on this subject, and I have always pleaded for more democracy in the fields of thought. However, he ties this general thesis, that I agree with, to a rather biting criticism of Nathan Brown’s article on what he considers to be the “obscurantism” of OOO. Here I do not agree as, despite carefully constructing a context of intellectual history to justify his reaction, Cogburn does not engage with Brown’s actual text and arguments. This is the comment I left under Cogburn’s article:

Hello Jon, I have always found you a quite reasonable interlocutor, so I am somewhat surprised by your virulence here. I see no harm in Nathan Brown’s calling OOO “obscurantist” provided that he has some sort of argument for it. I agree that the argument must apply to Harman’s positions and not be limited to scoring easy points against Morton. I personally think that some of Harman’s theses and arguments are obscurantist, and I have given my reasons in a number of places. I do not discuss Morton at all as, like you, I think he is doing something very different than philosophy most of the time (although there is his often repeated assertion that the Higgs boson would never be found because it is “correlationist”. As you talk about the importance of General Philosophy of Science I thought I should mention this a priori affirmation of Morton’s).

I also find it surprising that you criticise Brown for basing his critiques on “one paragraph of one book by one of the people working in that framework” (this is false, in the first two pages Brown cites several passages from TOOL BEING) yet you do exactly the same thing, as you quote only one paragraph from Brown article.

I think I must be older than you, since you refer to a fashion in humanities-bashing back in the 80s. I well recall the Althusserians doing that sort of thing in the 70s, using their sophisticated Continental epistemology bolstered with large helpings of Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism (yes Bhaskar was a Big Thing in the 70s in those circles!). The universal argument of that period was accusing people of working in the “problematic of the subject”. Nowadays the believers in OOO make exactly the same argument, but now the fault is called “correlationism” or “philosophy of access” or “anthropocentrism”.

I fully agree with your plea for assimilating more “General Philosophy of Science” in other branches of philosophy, including ontology. This is what Harman tried to do in his little book THE THIRD TABLE on Sir Arthur Eddington’s paradox of the two tables. Unfortunately I find his contribution to the discussion in this book “obscurantist” to say the least, as I have indicated in my review of that book.

On a personal note, I received my training in philosophy in Sydney University in the 70s, and as I specialised in philosophy of science I studied under Alan Chalmers and had many fruitful discussions with him. He supported me in my resistance to the Althusserian hegemony and always encouraged me in my work, despite my being more influenced by Feyerabend than he was prepared to be. I came to Paris in 1980 to attend Deleuze’s seminars, and I saw no problem in passing from Feyerabend to Deleuze (and back!). Yet I have been constantly hindered by the existence of a Continental /Analytic divide that for me has no justification. Like you I find not just the ignorance but the intellectually unsound and emotionallly immature nature of the arguments advanced by one side of the divide against the other a disgrace to thought.

It is amusing to note that in THE THIRD TABLE Harman declares that the humanities are reductionist, and that their objects are “utter shams”. Is this a case of humanities-bashing or a claim justified by his argument? I happen to think that Harman is totally justified in making global claims about whole domains such as “the humanities” and “the sciences”, and I have praised him for doing so, enjoying on Feyerabendian (and more broadly democratic) grounds Harman’s refusal to submit to the tyranny of the expert. I think that his actual arguments are wrong-headed and incoherent, but I maintain the principle, that is under attact today, that global objections can be both worthwhile and effective. If Harman can object that both the sciences and the humanities are reductionist, dealing in sham objects (global objection indeed) I do not see why Nathan Brown should be taken to task for makinng a few global negative judgements about OOO. Of course to lay claim to be expressing himself as a philosopher he must justify his judgements with arguments, as do we all.

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2 Responses to JON COGBURN AGAINST HUMANITIES-BASHING

  1. auditor says:

    Terence Blake.To answer your question; I was at the lectures in the early seventies (mostly of Deleuze and others from time to time) for about 3 years, and intermittently in the 80’s. From 68-9 I was in England associating with some of the networks R.D.Laing had set up.It was there that I heard of Deleuze mostly because of the interest that Félix Guattari had had (you know about La Borde etc.) in Laing’s work in schizophrenia.After this, in France, I went to the lectures like many many others did.How was I influenced by these experiences? It’s a life time of influence! and as I am in the artistic field the ideas and experience(s) of those times and ideas remain with me daily. Art is like philosophy a way of being in the world. Or let me say, it is a way of continually becoming and recombining things. The things of our experience what we learn from day to day, from night to night. A truth found and lost regained and put back in place again.

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  2. auditor says:

    That second last sentence ought to read: ‘The things of our experience (and) what we learn ….’

    Cheers then till next time.

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