My diagnostic of AIME is that despite the proclaimed pluralism of the project in theory, in practice Latour favours the instituted over the metamorphic. I have from the very beginning insisted on intra-modal plurality and historicity as blind spots of Latour’s system. I have also stresses that the modes must be internally multiple and externally porous, and that the felicity conditions must be treated as only approximative.
Latour will have none of this, not even at the theoretical level and so his own use of multi-modal terms stands condemned by his own system. Despite any metaphors on tone, music etc. there is no way that an existent can belong to multiple modes of existence, the felicity conditions are not rules of good style but rather rules of constitution. God exists in the religious mode of existence but not in the scientific mode or the technological mode. “God” is a uni-modal term, and that’s how Latour creates a space for the religious mode of existence. So pluri-modal terms are an embarrassment for Latour’s system as it stands.
Intra-modal plurality is just as bad. Within the mode of REF Gaia is just one hypothesis amongst many, science does not speak with one voice, nor should it. There is no theory of everything to legitimate whatever our preferred hypotheses may be, and science is a disunity, like the rest of the modes. Within the religious mode (if we suppose that it exists, something I find highly doubtful), we have a plurality, and Latour just presumes that “love” is the base-line experience, rather than duty, cosmic unity, detachment, attention, awe or submission. No Hindu would reduce all the different paths to just one type, but Latour’s refined Catholicism does just that. So my objection here is that there has been no real inquiry, or that it was very badly done indeed. The analysis lacks imagination of alternatives and confrontation with rival hypotheses of similar scope and abstraction. A further objection is that given intra-modal plurality Latour’s procedure is to make a political selection within the sub-modes, and to elevate one favoured sub-mode to hegemonic status, pretending that it is the essence of the mode.
Latour’s “felicity conditions” for the various enunciative modes of existence that he isolates are not conceptually revisionary, but conformist: they are the criteria determining whether some already constituted value has been respected or attained, or not. Treating science as being faithful to the value of “objectivity” as Latour does in the introduction, or religion as being bound to the values of love and conversion as he does in Chapter 11, is a reductive and conservative move. Indeed, the very idea that each mode of existence embodies a specific “value” that can be isolated out is a conservative reduction.
This procedure is conservative because it consists in giving a new account of the values, practices and experiences underlying a specific mode of existence, yet one that is aimed at preserving the practices as they are and simply re-stating those values and experiences in more intellectually satisfying terms. It is reductive in that a large part of the ambiguity, the flexibility, the multiplicity and the complexity of those practices and experiences is lost. Wanting us to give up the belief in beliefs in favour of a belief in values seems to involve little conceptual gain, but tends towards denying any political and cognitive dimension to values.
A comparison with Paul Feyerabend’s ideas on traditions is useful here. For Feyerabend modernity is just another “tradition” on a plane of equality with any other tradition: it has no valid claim to superiority over the others. A tradition is an evolving and self-correcting collective process whose contents are heterogeneous and ambiguous, and whose borders are fuzzy. In a tradition, which is somewhere between a “mode” and a “domain” in Latour’s sense, there are varying degrees of sophistication and abstraction, corresponding to the various sub-groups and their party-lines contained within that tradition.
Latour is at great pains to distinguish the mode from the domain in the case of religion, yet viewed in Feyerabend’s terms this amounts to giving legitimacy and primacy to one sub-group, and thus to one interpretation or one party-line, of a tradition over the others. The distinction is more one of political ontology than of the strangely idealised enunciative ontology that Latour is elaborating. Each tradition contains and is constituted by, and in reaction to, a set of more or less developped counter-traditions.
Latour’s modes are not independently existing abstractions, but political extractions from much more diverse assemblages. Thus the problem of accounting for reciprocal reference, interaction, collaboration and interference is created by Latour’s method. In the empirical situation of domains and traditions transversal encounters and exchanges already exist.