Bruno Latour’s anti-platonism can be seen in a recent interview, where he declares:
When I talk to people, students, or colleagues, I ask myself: have they passed the test of going through the STS field or not? If not, I have little to say to them because it means that Science, capital S will remain in the background unexamined, floating mysteriously above them.
Reminiscent of Plato’s famous “Let noone ignorant of geometry enter (here)”, supposedly engraved at the door of his Academy, Latour seems to be saying “Let noone ignorant of STS enter (the discussion)”.
Perhaps Latour is playing Socrates against Platonism, replacing the Socratic dictum “The unexamined life is not worth living” with its epistemological translation: the unexamined science is not worth presupposing. Socrates, unlike Plato, was a tragic philosopher.
It is important to understand, but maybe this is already an STS-ised vision, that just like “Science”, “STS” itself cannot be taken abstractly as an unexamined, free-floating, unitary discipline. Probably we have to take both “Science” and “STS” as conceptual characters, as actants figuring in Latour’s inner multiplicities and outer networks.
Thus Latour can treat Peter Sloterdijk’s “Spherology” as an alternative portal for entering the discussion and participating in the “imaginary community” of the “post-natural” (but not post-real) and “post-epistemological” (but not post-truth) episteme that has already begun.
Latour himself is no longer a stable identity, as he is a conceptual character in a “dialog” that may or may not be fictitious, but that is self-admittedly a fiction. He seems to hesitate over whether it is a philo-fiction or an anthro-fiction, as he declares that the best label for his discipline remains “anthropology of science”.
Given Latour’s adhesion to the criterion of “symmetry”, one is entitled to apply this label of “anthropology” to his (fictional) account of himself, naming it in virtue of the principle of symmetry “anthropology of Bruno Latour”, a Latourology.
This hypothesis is confirmed by Latour’s monumental treatise AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE, subtitled “An Anthropology of the Moderns”, which is both a conceptual autobiography of Latour’s research and a conceptual portrait based on Latour’s personal vision of the diverse modes of existence investigated. In particular, his account of REL, or the religious mode of existence, has much more to do with his own past studies and present convictions than with an anthropological study of the “Moderns”.
Latour rejects the choice between a free-floating universality and a narrow local identity. His third way, neither universality nor identity, is commonality: not so much a common language as a “common ground” that is also a frightening “common loss of ground”.
Latour rejects the notion of “common language” here, despite basing the rationale of his AIME website on precisely this ideal of a common language. Hence the failure of this site to generate a conceptual dynamic reaching beyond the limited circle of the faithful and their allies. The virtual community selected by this project and its protocols is far smaller than the assembly of those who have passed the STS filter or one of its equivalents.
This common loss of ground constitutes a different type of universality, that is no longer the luminous “universality of humanity” of the Enlightenment but a darker “tragic form of universality”:
It is our turn to be threatened, our turn to realize we will disappear, and we are now in exactly the same non-epistemological situation where our former “objects” of study had found themselves when they encountered the White Man… We are also the ones at stake.
The non-epistemological encounter with “Gaia” opens an age of fright (and no longer an age of anxiety) and of the threat of extinction. We are now all in the dark and we need to find new principles of orientation:
we need to orient ourselves in the dark. Instead of the urgency of seeing data disappear and recording them before it is too late, it is the urgency of saving all the storytellers! That’s a pretty good reason to become much more attentive to the diversity of ways others have to encounter you; that’s when we will also do anything to find diversity in our own tradition. That’s when philosophy and anthropology are cooperating best.
Attention, diversity, encounter, and cooperation are some of the orienting values of Latour’s tragic commonality.