IS AIME A DISGUISED PLATONISM?: the problematic role of experience in the inquiry

I think the dismissive reaction to philosophical blogging is a reflection of the Platonism of the profession. The blog article is often assimilated to the domain of mere opinion, perhaps itself dependent on the currents of fashion. The idea that a blog could be devoted to working out the manifold aspects of a coherent problematic, rather than just publishing superficial reactions to the immediate present, seems not to occur to many professional philosophers. There is also the problem of corporatism: how can we judge the value of something that comes from outside the corporation? Professional philosophy is governed by a competitive habitus, given the relatively small number of jobs available. Philosophical blogging is an “outsider” phenomenon in the current context, and most academics are quite conformist, because of this mixture of Platonism and corporatism.

Paradoxically enough, this Platonism and corporatism underly several attempts to break with the practices and ontologies of traditional philosophy. A typical example is Bruno Latour’s AIME project and its digital platform. The definition of a “contribution” is Platonist to the extent that it must clarify, extend, or modify one or more modes within the system which is held constant as a paradigm. The modes are themselves Kuhnian sub-paradigms. Despite all the talk about “experience” this is not taken in a democratic sense , but only the élitist experience of the experts in each mode counts as valid. When Latour talks about the “protestation” of experience, he is quick to specify that this means the protests of experts (such as scientists, priests, and politicians) against the anthropological description of “their” mode proposed by the inquiry. The protests of the masses against the hegemony of experts’ description of the modes is not even imagined in this system, that is anti-empirical insofar as it appeals to a Platonised and corporatised experience.

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5 Responses to IS AIME A DISGUISED PLATONISM?: the problematic role of experience in the inquiry

  1. “The masses” is quite an abstraction. It seems to be the necessary conceptual correlate of “the elite.” “The masses” is a rather elitist concept, in other words. “The masses” cannot protest against anything. Only elitists protest against such an abstraction in order to affirm their own superiority. In point of fact, though, aren’t we all experts at something? Don’t we each take a vested interest in certain modes, caring less about others? So why shouldn’t those who are most invested in a particular mode of existence have the most say as to how those modes are represented in the parliament of things?

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  2. terenceblake says:

    My focus is on the role of the “protestation of experience” in the AIME system, which sounds empirical but in fact limits experience to institutionally valid members (experts or practitioners). I have tried to argue that religion is not a separate mode and that it belongs to the metamorphic mode. Latour replies that neither priests nor shamans would accept this thesis, which is too intellectual and not “experiential”. By this reasoning, Latour has no place for your “Psychedelic Eucharist”: it is ruled out a priori as not embodying an experience relative to the mode of religion.

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    • I am sympathetic to your attempt to place at least some forms of “religion” or better spirituality in the metamorphic mode. I’m not sure L. is right to say the shaman would reject this placement. The Catholic priest or theologian, on the other hand, would probably want their own mode. L. seems to be defining “religion” so idiosyncratically that it can apply only to his particular religiosity focused on the binding and rebinding power of the Word.

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      • terenceblake says:

        Latour thinks that the shaman would be happy at being placed in the metamorphic mode but would refuse to welcome priests into it. Yet I think that empirically this is how Christianity was received by non-Western colonised cultures until the priests’ refusal to be treated on the same metamorphic plane gained ascendancy.

        But this is beside the point, as AIME is presented as a descriptive anthropology of our society, not as a normative autobiographical nostalgia. By Latour’s own admission the institution of the Church has almost nothing to do with the religious mode, so priestly protests should not count. Who are the practitioners of religion and what do they say? Latour cannot just assume, when it is convenient, that the priests are the paradigmatic practitioners whose protests count. Formally, this is a vicious circle of a priori reasonong that excludes experience. Empirically, this is false, as Latour himself argues elsewhere.

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