The long-term over-arching philosophical project of this blog is to critically analyse the diverse contemporary Continental philosophical systems (those of Deleuze, Zizek, Serres, Stiegler, Badiou, Laruelle and Latour). It is my thesis that these « systems » can usefully be seen as metaphysical research programmes, in Karl Popper’s sense.
Popper’s concept of such programmes as composed of a mixture of scientific (testable) and philosophical (non-testable) elements fosters cross-continental understanding by allowing us to compare and evaluate alternative systems of thought as endeavours of a similar type, namely the elaboration, articulation, and development of metaphysical research programmes.
It seems to me that Johnston approaches Zizek in this sense, and we have seen that his analysis of Zizek’s speculative method attempts to describe it in terms of its combination of metaphysical and empirical elements. This leads to Johnston’s immanent criticism’s in that he wishes to keep Zizek’s overall framework but to extend and deepen its empirical elements.
For example, Johnston highlights and questions Zizek’s privileging of Hegel’s Logic over his Realphilosophie (philosophy of Nature and philosophy of Spirit). A second criticism is that Zizek’s philosophy of nature privileges the model quantum physics over other more concrete sciences such as biology and neuroscience. A third, but not unrelated, criticism is that Zizek privileges a primordial excessively abstract negativity over more concrete positive concepts such as material historicity, contingency and facticity.
Zizek’s philosophical project is to elaborate an philosophical framework adequate to the practical stakes and the theoretical problematics of the twenty-first century. This project entails elaborating an ontological research programme whose fundamental premise is the incomplete and un-synthesisable real.
The investigation of this dispersive real cannot be conducted without presuppositions. It is carried out speculatively by deploying such concepts as inconsistency, incompleteness, disparity, negativity, contingency and multiplicity taken as positive values in a heuristics of immanence.
Another useful heuristic tool for Zizek’s investigations is typology of ontologies. We have seen that Zizek distinguishes as relevant for his materialism of freedom: (1) pre-critical monistic substance ontologies, as in Spinoza, (2) transcendental (ultimately « two-world ») ontologies, as in Kant, and (3) dialectical ontologies, as in Hegel and Lacan. This typology allows Johnston to lay out in Chapter One a rationally reconstruction of the evolution of German idealism after Kant.
In Chapter Two, « Where to Start? Deflating Hegel’s Deflators« , Johnston makes use of this same typology to critically analyse the various competing contemporary interpretations of Hegel’s philosophy. Johnston quickly dismisses the standard idealist interpretation in which Hegel posits a substantive Spirit that exists prior to and apart from its progressive historical manifestations, as if Hegel were proposing a pre-critical substance ontology.
Johnston spends more time on the so-called « deflationary » or non-metaphysical reading of Hegel, in particular in Robert Pippin’s version. Having elucidated and endorsed in the first chapter Zizek’s maxim that « one cannot avoid ontology » Johnston examines what he considers to be an erroneously de-ontologised reading of Hegel. However, he also differs from Zizek’s own line of criticism, which Johnston finds insufficiently oriented towards a philosophy of Nature.
One can view these first two chapters as providing a set of tests of the explanatory value of Zizek’s ontological hypotheses. First, can they elucidate the historical sequence of the evolution of German idealism up to Hegel’s mature philosophy? Secondly, can they allow us to understand and critically evaluate contemporary interpretations of Hegel? In both cases Johnston does not simply apply Zizek’s system dogmatically to the chosen field of investigation. He allows the concrete details that Zizek’s system allows him to uncover act back on and modify the system itself.