LEVI BRYANT AND THE PERFORMATIVE CONTRADICTION (5): naturalist hypothesis as idealist dogma

Levi Bryant’s “naturalist hypothesis” is neither naturalist (it includes Lacan but not Marx), nor a hypothesis (it is asserted dogmatically as a condition of dialogue:”The truth of the matter, however– and I won’t even bother to make arguments here – is that naturalism and materialism are the only credible philosophical positions today”). Bryant asserts that Nature is nothing less than “the ground of being” (ontotheology) and that all other orientations deserve to be “committed to flames” (naive demarcationism).

I have nothing against naturalism as such. What I do object to is a vast and empty affective “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. 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.

Far from being a naturalist, Freud abandoned naturalist explanation when he took over the concept of the unconscious. (NB: This is not the case with Freud’s source, Nietzsche, whose use of the unconscious remains naturalist). We witness incoherent amalgams such as “Lacanian the naturalist”, 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. And this sort of theological motivation is no isolated case in the history of science.

More generally, Bryant’s vision of the history of science is false. Theological motives have propelled researchers from the very beginnings of science, and still do. Even today a very secularised and immanentised religiosity concerning seeing the thoughts in the mind of God inspires physicists who are in any ordinary sense atheists (Einstein, Hawking). Bryant’s disinfected (i.e.: commensurabilised) naturalism has trouble accomodating such elements, thus his desperate bluff of appealing to a revamped Lacanian unconscious whenever he is in a tight spot (for example to avoid the critique of his having fallen into a form of physicalistic reductionism).

Bryant’s naturalist research programme

1) would have prevented scientific progress as we have known it

2) falsely describes the actual state of the sciences, projecting a metaphysically motivated unity where disunity is the rule

3) makes use of a metaphysical notion of “matter” that has no relation to any concept actually used in the sciences he pretends to be unified under this banner

4) is a dogmatic constraint on future research rather than a heuristic tool for generating new ideas.

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