READING BRANDOM READING HEGEL (1): Against Standard Non-Philosophy

I am in the process of re-reading Robert Brandom’s book on Hegel – A SPIRIT OF TRUST, in which he gives a non-standard reading of Hegel’s PHENOMENOLOGY in terms of his pragmatist pragmatics. The question arises for me:

What is the relation between the ideas expressed by Brandom and those of the small number of living philosophers that I have worked on and discussed on this blog (Zizek, Badiou, Laruelle, Latour)?

Of particular interest for me for the sake of orienting my reading is the question of the relation between Brandom’s pragmatism and Laruelle’s non-philosophy. A SPIRIT OF TRUST can readily be seen as a striking example of a refuting instance for Laruelle’s non-philosophical « science » of philosophy.

Laruelle’s great non-philosophical discovery, the « principle of sufficient philosophy », has two major defects:

1) its domain of application is limited to systematic philosophy, and

2) even then it engages only with philosophies that give primacy to semantics over pragmatics.

Thus Laruelle’s « principle of sufficient philosophy » is far from being a grand « invariant » that founds a science of philosophy, functioning as a general « principal of philosophical sufficiency ». It is rather something much more limited in scope, a principle of semantic sufficiency, and as such is incapable of dealing with philosophies that give primacy to pragmatics over semantics. The principle of sufficient philosophy does not apply to the pragmatic philosophies of the later Wittgenstein, Wilfrid Sellars, and Richard Rorty.

Brandom situates himself « downstream » (to adopt one of his favourite metaphors) from Wittgenstein, Sellars, and Rorty – so he is already twice-removed from the domain of application of the standard Laruellean analysis. The repetitive gestures of Laruelle and his followers allow us to speak of the standardisation of non-philosophy.

Conversely Brandom’s pragmatics allows us to diagnose and to move beyond a crucial failure in Laruelle’s system as enshrining the principle of « uni-laterality », according to which the Real determines thought in the last instance.

Brandom points out that theories of this type would make any genuine knowledge impossible. Uni-laterality implies that the Real is both without conceptual articulation itself and yet determines the conceptual content of our thought « according-to-the-Real ».

Brandom’s counter-proposition is the principle of « conceptual realism », according to which the real is itself conceptually articulated in terms of modally robust relations of material incompatibility and material inference.

Despite his own conceptually incoherent meditations on science, Laruelle’s standard non-philosophy excludes the possibility of genuine knowledge of the real. This is what Brandom refers to as the « gap of intelligibility ».

To cover up this embarrassing defect, some epistemologically naive Laruelleans (aren’t they all epistemologically naive, starting with Laruelle himself?) have promoted the pseudo-concept of « the syntax of the real », an expression which can have no sense in Laruelle’s system.

Laruelle himself certainly felt the need to exorcise the spectres of standardisation and of the impossibility of knowledge that haunt his non-philosophy. These two epistemic vices are at the same time epistemological obstacles. As a stop-gap measure he resorted to the ritualistic invocation of the vocable of « science » to describe his instituted domain, as if saying so often enough and loud enough made it so.

Only a mutation could save his system, so he had to import knowledge from outside, in the form of an impressionistic application of ideas, vocabulary, formula, and principles taken from quantum physics. In this way, his philosophy became more « scientific » but only by no longer laying claim to the status of a « science of philosophy ».

Nor could his philosophy comfortably remain « non-philosophy », given its ever more apparent ritualism and standardisation. Non-philosophy, despite its proud ambitions, had become standard non-philosophy. The new epistemologically more optimistic and epistemically more virtuous version of Laruelle’s thought was thus baptised « non-standard philosophy ». The operator of its success has been its attempted cognitive enrichment by means of quantum theory.

Brandom’s thought did not need to undergo such a mutation as from the beginning it has built into its framework a conceptual articulation of thought and of the real in terms of the operators of deontic and alethic modality.

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