ON THE PRIMACY OF CONCEPTS OVER OPINIONS: the case of François Laruelle and Adrian Johnston

What does it mean to engage with a text in Continental philosophy? Two recent blog disputes show up the necessity of having some idea of the specificity of Continental philosophy as compared to analytic philosophy.

1) Jon Cogburn’s uncritical re-transcription of the accusation that Laruelle is anti-semitic

2) R.Scott Bakker’s review of Adrian Johnston’s PROLEGOMENA TO ANY FUTURE MATERIALISM

In both cases it is a question of opinions being proferred about an author’s work outside any construction of their problematic, or of a problematic rich enough to engage that work on its own level of conceptual complexity. Ready-made stereotypes are pinned to sophisticated works in progress that expend considerable energy and conceptual power in tracking down and overcoming the various clichés that emprison our thought in automatic unthinking reactions and hinder our perception of the abundance of the world and of thinking about the world.

I have had many interesting experiences with this blog, and some very interesting discussions. But I am always amazed when people just waltz in and spout their opinions as if that were what philosophy is all about. Often they just tell me I’m wrong, and “correct” me, as if that were their idea of a philosophical argument. This is not my way.

I am linking to my series of posts explaining just what I think characterises Continental philosophy, in the hope of enriching the reading of texts that do not operate in the domain of opinion, and that deserve unopinionated conceptual responses. The series begins here.

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13 Responses to ON THE PRIMACY OF CONCEPTS OVER OPINIONS: the case of François Laruelle and Adrian Johnston

  1. rsbakker says:

    “Ready-made stereotypes are pinned to sophisticated works in progress that expend considerable energy and conceptual power in tracking down and overcoming the various clichés that emprison our thought in automatic unthinking reactions and hinder our perception of the abundance of the world and of thinking about the world.”

    Amazing how it’s always the *other* guy who’s ‘unthinking,’ isn’t it? 😉

    So in my review, what do you think the most egregious stereotype I foist on Johnston is?

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    • The reason why you seem to be “unthinking” is because your reasoning is configured by a particular demeanour internal to a particular brand of reductionism. You’re very much a ‘cash-value’ (pragmatism) writer, looking for straight-forward results. You imagine that your compartmentalisations are absolute, not seeing all the possibilities you elide. At least, that was my impression when you referred to my responses to Levi Bryant’s “Fighting Words”, over a year ago. I was going to respond, but got distracted by other things. Besides, I liked your writing style, it had the nostalgia of ‘no-nonsense’ energy I grew up with. The irony, too, is how your assumptions there,
      ( http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/another-goddamn-anti-transcendentalist-manifesto/ ), were so wrong. It’s interesting that so many philosophers these days are self-appointed spokespersons for ‘SCIENCE’, when noone is is questioning science’s efficacy. If they love it so much, why bother with philosophy? Get on with it, & be a scientist. Better that, than endless paens to ‘common sense’. We know all that, that’s why it’s called ‘common’. And we’re aware of science, too.

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      • rsbakker says:

        Even worse (?), I’m a fantasy novelist.

        I’m pretty damn open about my narrowness, how theoretical incompetence has boxed us in, surrendered reason to scientific imperialism. I mourne it everywhere. Scientism is our *dilemma,* not some abstract folly that can be waved away with obscure diction. One of my perennial questions is, How do I get out? No one has given me a remotely plausible answer – if any at all. If I’m misreading, then tell me how. If I’m ‘so wrong’ *then tell me how.* Otherwise you’re just telling me to shut up and leave the party, and that’s just embarrassing.

        Why is it so difficult to get answers?

        Like

      • I haven’t followed the debates involving you, Terence, & others, They got quite complex, would
        take time to think through properly. So, I’m not telling you “to shut up and leave the party”, I
        haven’t been at the festivities. I clicked on Terence’s FB notification about this post, your
        comment was here.

        The neuro-debate has been going on a long time. To be honest, although neuroscience is
        interesting, it won’t make much difference to certain (particular) philosophies in the world. It
        doesn’t matter what is discovered.

        I started a response last week, but realised a fuller explanation would be necessary, which would necessitate a survey of what you and Terence have written, referred to, etc.. I’m going to start that now. I’m not sure if I can ‘clear the waters’, so to speak, but can try, at least.

        Firstly, your notion of “how theoretical incompetence has boxed us in, surrendered reason to
        scientific imperialism”.

        If “theoretical incompetence” is predicated on the discrepancy between the discourse of
        relatively undeveloped, untutored ‘folk perception’ and the detailed metricities accessible
        through technological implementations (your “high informatic resolutions”), you’re assuming
        that the conventional ‘perceptual’ limitations, practices, and discursivities, assumed by the
        normative discourse of the standard ‘human’, are ‘theoretical’ limitations’.

        You assume that because some human perceptual judgment does not tally with the metricks
        (me tricks: tricks me) reported by setups specifically engineered to produce standardised
        regularities, as it were, that there is a “theoretical incompetence” which “has boxed us in”.
        Theorein is ‘seeing’: the ability to test for ‘error’ requires faculties that can compare one subset of data with another, that can discern discrepancy, or ‘error’, if a particular subset is considered to be an ‘alethic standard’, as it were.

        The fact that standard, untutored human receptivities are not always in accord with the metrical standards derived from scientific observation is just as it should be, for those receptivities are used for more complex & variegated tasks. If ‘natural’ human perception, & interpretation of that perception were absolutely ‘correct’, no theoretic capacity would be required. Speculation and theory are unnecessary, if there is perfect ‘informatic resolution’ & the ability to evaluate such. ‘Evaluation’ requires comparison, comparison could not develop without discrepant scenarios, perhaps?

        There are a lot of processes in the ‘universe’, why should one subset strictly conform to another? The inflation of a particular ‘objectivity’ (‘metricks’), the essentialising of ‘it’, ineluctably leads to a staged dichotomy.

        Kierkegaard’s irony plays out on this stage: “Irony is the birth-pangs of the objective mind
        (based upon the misrelationship, discovered by the I, between existence and the idea of
        existence). Humor is the birth-pangs of the absolute mind (based upon the misrelationship,
        discovered by the I, between the I and the idea of the I” (Journals, III B 19)
        Note the assumption of hard, defined concepts: “I”, “objective mind”,”existence”, “idea”,
        “absolute”, etc..

        Without checking, I would say that your notion of “theoretical incompetence” rests on these
        same impoverished assumptions. It’s a particular, contrived scenario of binaries structuring a
        ‘metaphysical dramatics’ that says: “Oh no! there’s more than I can calculate, control & know!
        How tragic!”

        If the ‘universe’ produces information, what systematic determines ‘high’ & ‘low’ resolution informatics?
        A system in which the grounds of both are inextricably complicit?

        The determination of ‘high & ‘low’ is derived from an assumption that the ‘universe’, as delineated by the data of scientific instru-mentation, is the ‘real universe’ and the ‘universe’ of ‘immediate human experience’ isn’t, or is only ‘human’.
        The subsystems that are held to constitute ‘immediate human experience’ are far more complex, so far, than scientific instrumentations.
        To consider their ‘productions’ (‘thought’, ‘life’, etc.) as ‘low resolution’ can only be derived from – the privileging of the imaginary of ‘scientific observation, metricity, & regularity’ as ‘high resolution’.
        – the privileging of a contrived ‘intersubjective consensuality’ (constituted from the distillation of ‘lowest common denominator’ factors) that agrees on the ‘objectivity’ of the ‘standardisations’ produced by scientific instru-mentation.
        – the valorisation of these ‘objective structures’ as ontologically ‘real’, essential to the ‘universe’,
        – the devaluation of ‘subjective variation’ as secondary epiphenomena, not essential to the ‘universe’, etc..

        So, there are definite metaphysical assumptions informing the evaluation of ‘high’ & ‘low’ ‘ ‘informatic resolutions’. Of course, you could always say it’s just a non-metaphysical term whose meaning is internal to neurophysics or science, etc.. But then, you seem to be
        asserting philosophical claims, too?

        Theory is just ‘seeing’. There are many ways to ‘see’.

        The above are first impressions. I’m going to try to quickly survey your debate. There’s a lot there.

        Like

      • rsbakker says:

        But this is just what makes it more sticky. Skepticism alone poses perhaps insuperable challenges to speculative theories regarding the inapplicability to empirical findings regarding human cognitive shortcomings, let alone the sciences individuating and describing these shortcomings. The question is, how do your second order theoretical claims regarding the inapplicability of theoretical incompetence to ontological speculation do anything more than add to the amount of speculative gas?

        Or to put the point more trenchantly: show me the *research* indicating that philosophers are any exception to the established scientific fact of human dysrationalia? Everything I’ve come across suggests that they are not.

        Like

      • “But this is just what makes it more sticky.”

        What makes what “more sticky”?

        “Skepticism alone poses perhaps insuperable challenges to speculative theories regarding the inapplicability to empirical findings regarding human cognitive shortcomings, let alone the sciences individuating and describing these shortcomings.”

        This isn’t clear.

        “Skepticism alone poses perhaps insuperable challenges to speculative theories”

        Yes, it does, to any theory at all. That’s just the way(s) it is. There are different scepticisms, too.

        “regarding the inapplicability to empirical findings”

        The inapplicability of what “to empirical findings”?

        “regarding human cognitive shortcomings”

        I thought that I had already explained the notion of “human cognitive shortcoming[s]” is contrived. Quite simply, are you saying that human cognition has to be in complete accord with scientific data? If it was, why would the data have to be created? That’s like saying a human body is inadequate because if it can’t function as a flint axe, therefore only flint axes are true. If a human is trying to be a flint axe, then yes, that’s true. If you’re going to be ‘scientific’, impartial, you don’t privilege any model, you just do the work.

        “The question is, how do your second order theoretical claims regarding the inapplicability of theoretical incompetence to ontological speculation do anything more than add to the amount of speculative gas?”

        I analysed your notion of “theoretical incompetence” as contingent, theory-laden. I didn’t say it was inapplicable to ontological speculation. I said that it presupposed a particular ontology, the conventional ‘realist’ gingerbread type.

        “Or to put the point more trenchantly: show me the *research* indicating that philosophers are any exception to the established scientific fact of human dysrationalia? Everything I’ve come across suggests that they are not.”

        Who’s saying they are? Who’s saying the ‘universe’ is?
        Again, you’re using a contingent conceptualisation outside of its area of common use.
        Not that there aren’t issues there, too:

        “Further, psychologist Robert Sternberg argues that the construct of dysrationalia needs to be better conceptualized since it lacks a theoretical framework (explaining why people are dysrational and how they become this way) and operationalization (how dysrationalia could be measured).[4] Sternberg also notes that the concept has the potential for misuse, as one may label another as dysrational simply because he or she does not agree with the other person’s view.”

        It’s all “speculative gas”, that’s why I call philosophy SF. And science merely coalesces out of that “gas”. T’aint really differnt frum it.

        Like

      • rsbakker says:

        There’s always issues of interpretation. The pessimistic induction applies to the whole of science, so the fact that concepts will be redefined, categories improved, isn’t surprising. The claim I’m making is that contemporary research of human cognitive shortcomings shows a picture incompatible with the assumption of human theoretical incompetence. Picking at the (inevitable) imperfection of this research does little to blunt the mountainous number of findings, and absolutely nothing to warrant the claim that philosophers are somehow immune to it. You need research to do that (and I promise to spare you the Death by a thousand cuts ploy).

        But then you’ve plucked these things called ‘problematic presuppositions’ that you find objectionable – from somewhere. How did you cognize them again? How were you able to avoid running afoul your myriad cognitive shortcomings?

        Not that they matter, since the question was why *anyone* should take Johnston’s speculative claims regarding the ultimate nature of reality seriously.

        We could switch focus to your ‘problematic presupposition,’ and ask why anyone (beside you and your ingroup) should take them seriously, I suppose.

        But the model you propose at the end is actually one not so very different my own: adding gas to gas doesn’t give us anything solid. The only reliable way we’ve found to sort reliable theoretical claims from unreliable theoretical claims is via the institutional jungle of the sciences.

        I’m all aboard with philosophy as a means of exploring possibility space, but this certainly not the model under consideration here.

        Like

      • “There’s always issues of interpretation. The pessimistic induction applies to the whole of science, so the fact that concepts will be redefined, categories improved, isn’t surprising.”

        Yes, there’s always interpretation. But that isn’t the issue here, really. The issue is your contrived over-inflation, instanced in the concepts of “theoretical incompetence” & “”human cognitive shortcoming[s]”, using images drawn from the metrics of human incapacity. Humans don’t have wings or hooves, quick, someone start businesses catering to these lacks. Oh, they’ve already done so.

        “The claim I’m making is that contemporary research of human cognitive shortcomings shows a picture incompatible with the assumption of human theoretical incompetence.”

        Aren’t you stating the opposite. You’ve made a mistake. Was it a deliberate exemplification of your theory, one wonders?

        “Picking at the (inevitable) imperfection of this research does little to blunt the mountainous number of findings, and absolutely nothing to warrant the claim that philosophers are somehow immune to it. You need research to do that (and I promise to spare you the Death by a thousand cuts ploy).”

        It isn’t difficult to find examples of ‘stupidity’ concerning anything. It isn’t hard to admit that exhaustive ‘knowledge’ is not possessed. So what? What follows? What does that prove? Except opportunities to ‘find out’, if it is so desired.
        In order that a notion of “theoretical incompetence” have sense, there has to be a conception of “theoretical competence” that is capable of being instanced, somewhere. If you can’t provide instantiation, there is no ground on which to assert “theoretical incompetence”. What I’m saying is that these things are contingent, dependent on contextual definition.

        “But then you’ve plucked these things called ‘problematic presuppositions’ that you find objectionable – from somewhere. How did you cognize them again? How were you able to avoid running afoul your myriad cognitive shortcomings?”

        You have to process those ‘problematic presuppositions’ for yourself, if you want to find out.
        Whether, or not, ‘cognition’ is involved, very much depends on what concept of ‘cognition’ is used. Before anything worthwhile could be said, the concept and its history would have to be clarified, so that the disputanda typical of the discursive ranges governed by it, don’t recur in cliched ways.
        How do you know the cognisance of “cognitive shortcoming” is not a “cognitive shortcoming”?
        You don’t, unless you specify a context. You need to be careful, otherwise you fall into the trap of sounding like a religious nut hawking ‘salvations’ for imaginary ‘sins’.

        “Not that they matter, since the question was why *anyone* should take Johnston’s speculative claims regarding the ultimate nature of reality seriously.”

        I haven’t yet read anything on or by Johnston.

        “We could switch focus to your ‘problematic presupposition,’ and ask why anyone (beside you and your ingroup) should take them seriously, I suppose.”

        I don’t have an “ingroup”. I don’t care whether anyone takes it seriously or not.

        “But the model you propose at the end is actually one not so very different my own: adding gas to gas doesn’t give us anything solid. The only reliable way we’ve found to sort reliable theoretical claims from unreliable theoretical claims is via the institutional jungle of the sciences.”

        I didn’t notice that I actually presented a model of cognition, unless it was a suggested model of inquiry into the grounds of its concept.

        “I’m all aboard with philosophy as a means of exploring possibility space, but this certainly not the model under consideration here.”

        Until I’ve looked at your debate, I can’t really be any more relevant.
        Philosophy is about possibility space, or at least I am. I even wrote an SF/philosophical phantasy called “The Possibility Merchant” in the 80s.

        Like

  2. David Roden says:

    Terrence: Scott provides some clear arguments in his post – you obviously don’t like them, which is fine. But you provide no discernible counter-arguments, merely insisting that these miss out on nuances in Johnston’s text (which you do not see fit to reveal). So far, I only get that you are annoyed, not why you are annoyed.

    Like

  3. terenceblake says:

    Scott: ” The claim I’m making is that contemporary research of human cognitive shortcomings shows a picture incompatible with the assumption of human theoretical incompetence”. This seems in contradiction with your ealier pronouncements.

    Like

    • Yeah, I noticed that. Was it a genuine lapse? Or deliberate? If genuine, he exemplifies the research he refers to. If deliberate, he simultaneously promotes, yet contradicts, his own theory. Ironic play.

      Like

  4. terenceblake says:

    On how exploring possibility space may at the same time be exploring empirical space and vice versa see Levi Bryant’s article here, and my commentary here.

    Like

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