CARTOGRAPHY OF PLURALISM: an ongoing philosophical project

There is a common misunderstanding of my theoretical interventions that is based on a misapprehension of the context of my remarks. Many people perceive me as expressing a sort of personal obsession in my writing, for example in my critical analysis of Bruno Latour’s modes of existence project, rather than seeing that is strongly philosophically motivated.

Evidently, Latour is free to write about who and what he likes, and no doubt sees many thinkers in a different light than I do. I have no objection to that. A problem arises when one begins to see a pattern at work, where Latour consistently leapfrogs over the thinkers of the immediate past (Deleuze, Lyotard, Foucault) to valorise the contributions of Souriau and James. The problem is not with his reliance on these thinkers: Souriau, Tarde, James and Whitehead are all quite valuable. My objection is that this practice participates in the more general movement of the re-writing of philosophical history that is promulgated by those influenced by the new schools of realists. The preceding generation of Continental philosophers are being declared inadequate for reasons that take them to say the very opposite of their main ideas.

The immediate argumentative context for my remarks in the last post is established in Kidd’s article, where he describes the various reductive stereotypes that hinder proper understanding and reception of Feyerabend’s work. I cite Bruno Latour in this context as providing a good example of the perpetuation of such stereotypes. However, my argument does not stop there as Latour’s « pluralism » should enable him to understand, illuminate, and engage with other pluralists. This is one of the basic ideas of pluralism: comparison, mutual criticism, and exchange are necessary not only for intellectual progress but also to give content to our ideas, which risk degenerating into empty dogmas if they are not continually enriched and tested.

This further argument is part of my ongoing cartography of pluralism, which has been the principle research project of my blog for five years now. A monistic pluralism, one that refuses constructive dialogue with other pluralists, and that insists falsely on its own uniqueness, is a failed or faulty pluralism.

True, I « like » Feyerabend, so my defence of his philosophical priority over Latour’s claims can be seen reductively, as mere personal score-keeping. But I also defend the pluralism of Alain Badiou, whose ideas I have up to now found much less satisfying, because there are important resemblances between his project and Latour’s. Their projects can enrich each other, while helping to correct each other’s defects.

For example, I use Latour to expand Badiou’s set of truth procedures. Badiou maintains that there are only four, where Latour develops fifteen modes of veridiction. And I use Badiou to get at the very confused notion and role of religion in Latour’s system. Latour uses religion as a mode of existence, whereas Badiou denies it this role, at least in the modern world. It is interesting and fruitful to compare their arguments.

Further, there is a movement of reaction that is premised on the rewriting of philosophical history. This can be seen in the conceptually and factually inadequate histories purveyed by object-oriented ontology, speculative realism, and the new realism. Latour’s narrative of the hegemony of bifurcationism participates in this general movement, and leads to the depreciation of those of his immediate predecessors who already articulated a thought that is outside bifurcationism.

Since his bad start where he was labeled as an irrationalist and a relativist during the Science Wars, Latour has consistently put the emphasis on constructing a pluralism that is consensual rather than challenging. Feyerabend’s style, on the other hand, is in general much more provocative.

There are many « patterns » at work here, far beyond mere personal loyalty and animosity. In my writing on these subjects I have done much to defend Latour from the charges of irrationalism and relativism (for example here), but that does not oblige me to close my eyes to the defects of his thought.

Beyond the particular example of Feyerabend, we can also examine Latour’s intellectual relation to Lyotard’s philosophy. Lyotard’s work is part of the general semiotic turn that affected many French philosophers in thesecond half of the Twentieth Century. When I first read Latour’s WE HAVE NEVER BEEN MODERN in 1997, I found it to be not very interesting, nothing more than a reformulation of Lyotard’s ideas, despite its explicit criticism of Lyotard, which was purely verbal in my eyes.

More importantly, Latour’s AIME with its plurality of enunciative modes is directly determined by Lyotard’s LE DIFFEREND, but you would never guess it from Latour’s own pronouncements. Latour seeks to construct a vocabulary free of the limiting connotations of earlier vocabularies, but this has the unfortunate result that it masks many of his intellectual debts. I am always disappointed not only by Latour’s lack of acknowledgement of his precursors, but by his active depreciation of pluralists like Lyotard and Feyerabend, as I feel that an occasion for intellectual dialogue has been lost.

I mention Lyotard and Feyerabend in relation to Latour, because they are very relevant to his modes of existence project, which should have given him the means to break free of the stereotypes and to understand them better. This sort of misunderstanding constitutes a wider pattern that encompasses more than just Latour. This pattern is that of « monistic pluralism », of a pluralist refusing, or unable, to see the contributions to pluralism made by his potential rivals. Feyerabend is guilty of this too. This is a failing that can be found everywhere in the intellectual world. It is however crueler and more frustrating to see this pattern at work in pluralist thinkers, as pluralism in its very conception is aimed at free exchange, and at eliminating such barriers to dialogue.

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6 commentaires pour CARTOGRAPHY OF PLURALISM: an ongoing philosophical project

  1. I am thinking that recognizing connections increases the size of the network of discussions. Would this help Latour’s practical concerns (which I get to be partially to actually influence what goes on with action on the climate)?
    Are other (living) pluralist thinkers also very much concerened with environmental issues or with the hegemony of the Economy? Perhaps bringing forth this aspect of their work could help more in helping the dialogue than emphasis on the philosophical commonalities.
    I also think that your work might help younger scholars who combine interest for the Philosophers you mention with interest for the pressing issues of our current word do the connections you indicate, through their own work.

    Perhaps one should also consider a certain « politics » appropriate when trying to infuence others intro entering a project.
    In Thurston, W. P. (1998). On proof and progress in mathematics. New directions in the philosophy of mathematics: An anthology, 337-355.
    Thurston in pg 12 (some personal experiences) explains two approaches he followed in « bringing  » other mathematicians in a field of study (one that failed and one that worked). It is very interesting

    Thurston also mentions: « When I
    started working on foliations, I had the conception that what people wanted was
    to know the answers. I thought that what they sought was a collection of powerful
    proven theorems that might be applied to answer further mathematical questions.
    But that’s only one part of the story. More than the knowledge, people want
    personal understanding. And in our credit-driven system, they also want and need theorem-credits. »

    So the combination of having the Philosophers you mention « leaving many open issues » and people like you building infrustructure and connections may be productive in attracting people to offer in this direction.

    Aimé par 1 personne

    • terenceblake dit :

      Increasing connections may increase the size of the network, or increase the length of paths within the network, but this need not be so. It could also provide new short-cuts, or make points accessible that previously were not. I think a « bad » stereotype is one that looks like a short cut, but that only adds to the work must do to get round it or to rediscover what it is hiding or subtracting. You are right to say that such connections may increase attractivity for many people.

      My problem with Latour is that he is trying to bridge the gap between his AIME project and his Gaia militancy by pretending that they are more connected than they really are. A bridge built out of sleight of hand may please us, but it will probably collapse once it starts getting serious traffic.


      • I also feel this distance. On the positive side of this effort to connect I see that I now feel more the « parts of this world » (and not just humans) protesting when we pursue different policies. As if they cry out that they want to be heard. (To be more exact I feel that my humanity is rooted and distributed in a much stronger way in their being than I used to feel)

        Aimé par 1 personne

  2. dmf dit :

    how does one separate the personal from the philosophical?
    on a less theoretical note you have often personalized these matters so as a reader one can perhaps be excused for not seeing things as somehow being clearly one thing or another, ok?


    • terenceblake dit :

      1) « How does one separate the personal from the philosophical? » You look for the underlying problematic (if any).
      2) « You have often personalized these matters ». (Given the answer to 1) Far less so than you may think.
      3) « clearly one thing or another ». It’s not just me. It’s all ambiguous. I am trying to help people see the ambiguities where others « see things clearly ». I also try to clarify the ambiguities (as in the above post).


  3. Two comments
    1. I appreciate a lot a German political scientist called Eric Voegelin. He was a person that studied a lot the meaning of history. I think there is a resonance between your emphasis on pluralism and the way he treated history, bringing forth « Structures of order » but (if I understand it well ) without ordering them along a line of progress. He does speak about progressive differentiation of consciousness but still the way he treats his subjects makes me feel that there is a lot of openness and choice. (If you do not know him) you may find him interesting. Anamnesis is a book of his that I think is a good one.

    2. I am thinking of the great psychological variety (and also the variety of experiences and conditions in their countries in crucial stages of their development) among the different philosophers as specific human beings. For example I happened to look lately on Passmore, J. (Ed.). (2012). Psychometrics in coaching: Using psychological and psychometric tools for development. Kogan Page Publishers.
    There are so many dimensions along which people may differ in how they « naturally » do or think about things!
    ( gives an idea)

    Is it possible that this variety does not influence the philosophy of the philosophers themselves? I am thinking of Latour’s « Common Sense ». How many varieties of « common Sense » there should be!
    So I think that perhaps the best we can have is a « collective » of approaches, philosophical, religious, (for me philosophical and religious are in a continuoum, I know that others think otherwise but I cannot do something about it here), for which various bridges may be built but there will never be a super-account that underwrites everything. And people like me-the non philosophers- may be influenced by and put in use this or that approach, depending also on our own life history and tendencies.
    The image I have in mind is like M-theory in strings ( where there is a feeling that there must be some common undelying theory among different string theory variants but still (as far as I know) it cannot be « tauched » or (in a more positive way) like autostereograms (

    Perhaps Badieu, Latour, Larouelle and perhaps others too form a « ring » that is reminiscent of images like this

    You, that have been studying these people for some time now, do you think that this is a reasonable possible « limiting case »? Moreover, do you see your life history and the peculiarities of your styles of thinking, sensing, judging influencing how you as an interpreter of their philosophers « move around » in such a nexus?

    Still even if it was like that, (which is a pluralist conception I think) it is a question how would « politics » take place in such a collective and how would peripheral participants (non-philosophers, simple folk) gain from its operation (As I write this I understand that I am mixing two different models: the one has to do with teaching and learning and the other with the movement of the political cycle, but I do not know how to disentagle them)


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