ANATHEM, PLATO, RORTY

In Neal Stephenson’s ANATHEM the two main factions are the Procians, who are Wittgensteinian (one can also think of Feyerabend and Rorty) in outlook, and the Protans, who are Platonists (despite the great difference between a physical and a mathematical ontology, Badiou provides a good comparison here). Stephenson seems to favour the Platonists, whereas on this blog devoted to pluraism I favour the anti-Platonists.
Yet there is an analogy between Stephenson’s and Rorty’s move away from transcendence : Stephenson physicalises Plato’s ideas, while Rorty “linguisticises” them. If we take a step back, we can see that both are transposing Platonic transcendent ideas into immanence. Relativism is not a danger in this move, and is rather a straw man caricature of immanentist positions, that are realist rather than relativist. I have argued this in the case of Feyerabend and Latour here.
However, the appearance of relativism needs to be defused by injecting just the right amount of “mini-transcendence”. Stephenson’s solution is fictional, and is interesting for the form rather than for its specific details. A further point is that despite making the Platonists the protagonists all through the book, the book concludes with the founding of a new Concent. The entry requirements are (1) you must never be sure that you are right, (2) you must understand that “symbols are always in flux and that their meanings are fleeting”. So the conclusion ends up favouring the Rortyan perspective.
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One Response to ANATHEM, PLATO, RORTY

  1. dmf says:

    “you must never be sure that you are right” the most biting critique of Rorty’s ironist pose came from St.Fish who pointed out that in fact one cannot will oneself to not believe what one currently believes even if one takes in general the neo-pragmatist position (as Fish does) that our present meanings/truths are contingent/historicized/artificial and will quite possibly change again as they have for us in the past. So perhaps the question is something like can one build community/networks that allow for feedback (if not reflexivity), dissension, and protections for minority views, as well as related ideas like Stengers’ slow science, Caputo’s hermeneutics of not-knowing, or Rabinow’s assembling of ethics in an ecology of ignorance? History leads me to doubt it but I’m a fan of these sorts of utopian visions even if they remain speculative fictions.

    Liked by 1 person

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