Slavoj Zizek’s materialist atheology provides us with a very useful corrective to Bruno Latour’s view on religion, which aims at correcting our account of religious practice while leaving the practice itself and its supposed veridictional value untouched. Zizek espouses the death of God as a counter-theology having a real emancipatory potential. Latour can be seen as expounding his own version of a theology of the death of God (as object of belief, or as transcendent signifier) which is designed to reinforce the tradition’s practices rather than to contest them or to appropriate them for progressive ends. Zizek’s atheist theology is revolutionary, inviting us to unplug from the system in view of radically transforming it Latour’s religious mode of existence is conservative: it does not include the notion of a collective withdrawing from the present order and of attaining real freedom. We see the same conservatism in Latour’s views on science: he criticises the current accounts and replaces them with better ones, while leaving everything as it is.

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  1. Chen says:

    “We see the same conservatism in Latour’s views on science: he criticises the current accounts and replaces them with better ones, while leaving everything as it is.”

    This touches on something I’ve been meaning talk about, not in particular to Latour, but how in general, the philosophy of Science, demonstrating the futility demarcation criteria, the inevitable theory-ladeness of all observation, and the notion of Heuristics going all the way down, seems to have simply been swallowed up but engendering no actual change in discourse about Science. We still have the same exact things going on – wielding “Science” has a weapon to defeat other worldviews in an uncritical sense. The politics remain the same – having discovered that there are many methods to Science, that trumpeting one method above all is inimical to the progress of Science, we still have the same sort of arguments made because, well, we have the results of Science.

    My point of reference in all this is stuff like the BBT and other contemporary latently positivist and naive empirical theories of science that when pressed can simply say “Yeah, yeah, it’s all heuristics but this is the best one” and move on. Similarly, if a hard determinist is pressed with Quantum Physics, they simply state that they mean things “probabilistically” which changes absolutely nothing and allows them to go in talking in the same way ( it’s still determinism, just no longer naively mechanical). It’s disconcerting. I think it is important to spell out what Heuristics mean from different points of view: in the positivist sense, Heuristics are simply shortcuts, failures to represent reality, or, which is the same thing, shortcuts because reality cannot be represented as it is, while from a pluralist perspective, Heuristics need not represent or fail to represent at all but an active engagement in a particular way with reality. The difference might be subtle but it is important.

    Liked by 1 person

    • terenceblake says:

      This is something that Feyerabend talked about in SCIENCE IN A FREE SOCIETY, where he distinguishes heuristic context-dependent, rules from universal prescriptive rulz, but also a heuristic use of any rule. For him a heuristic rationalism is still too constraining and would stifle science, in opposition to epistemological anarchism, which does not mean no rules, but a heuristic use of all rules.


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