Saturday, March 13, 2010

Where realism comes from

My philosophy cap is back on and I'm ready to delve into some Meillassoux and further comment upon Prince of Networks. But I just want to pause here--if I can pause before I go (certainly a philosophic question if there ever was one)--and suggest something I thought about as I was going through After Finitude: how different are the places from which Meillassoux's realism and Latour's realism come!

To put it a different way: A lot has been said about how the speculative realist turn has come out of the encounter--at long last--of the "philosophy of the continent" (or whatever you want to call something like this tradition) with science. But when you reflect upon just what about science provokes Latour and Meillassoux, you see that this gets complicated. For Latour the provocation is something like the underlying nature of the things that scientific practice and politics deals with--this is his way into realism. The general sector of science that this comes from is, we could say, the rapid growth (and funding) of biology, especially, alongside the increasing "technologizing" of lab work (I hope I cast a wide enough net here, emphasizing the growth of these areas and the attendant mutations they cause in the linkages between science and society, rather than biology or technology itself--whose intricacies could never keep Latour from moving on to other things). For Meillassoux, what provokes is something like the nature of the scientific statement. And this comes of course by radiation dating and more (astro-)physics-based research. If we look at other thinkers, we see certain realist work emerge out of systems theory or complex self-organization.

This registered, you begin to suspect that it is perhaps the expansion of "Science" into distinct areas able to be addressed in completely different ways--because different aspects of it are provoking different kinds of questions--which is perhaps just as important in facilitating these encounters. In other words, a differentiated "science" (what Latour is right to call "research") brings people differently to realism--while lumped up together it leads to quick dismissal or general ambivalence that Meillassoux is able to characterize so well. Perhaps involved also is the registration of a particular risk, too: the risk that--like in some American philosophy departments--this differentiation of science will produce a set of problems (bio-ethics, say--not to mention philosophers of science) only able to be addressed by specialists (and ignored by scientists). The recognition of the diversity of science by the realist stance would then be some way of countering this, by precisely using everything that spoke against the continental tradition (lots of old, imprecise, metaphysically-connected problems)... Among other things...