Doctorates, Divisons, and the Death of God
It’s finally happened. I’m now (or at least am soon to officially be) a doctor of philosophy. My viva took place on Friday the 13th of January (an ominous date, but then, I was born on the 13th, so I suppose it’s my lucky number). It all went much better than expected. My examiners were Peter Poellner (internal) and Stephen Mulhall (external), and they were both very pleasant and helpful in the points they made about the thesis. They also passed it without corrections, which is incredibly nice of them. So, as of right now, I’m on the job market (offers anyone?). My biggest problem is that I currently have no publications (despite the several hundred thousand words posted on this blog). So, my goal this year is to turn all of the various bits of philosophical material I’ve written over the past few years into as many publications as I can manage, plus a few more original ones for good measure. I’ll let you all know more about them as they appear.
In other news, it appears that at the same time I was having my viva, I was being discussed in some small capacity in a paper given by Louis Morelle at the ENS (see here). I’m completely delighted by this, and I’d love to hear from anyone who was there (or from Louis himself, if he’s out there!) This was in the context of giving an overview of the philosophical divisions that have emerged in (or perhaps out of) Speculative Realism. On Morelle’s account, I stand allied to Ray Brassier’s naturalistic strand of SR, along with Martin Hagglund (who I’m afraid I haven’t read very much, which I must rectify). This is correct, as far as it goes. I’ve just recently laid out in brief the relationship between my work and Ray’s (here) and although there’s more to be said about it, it’s clear that he’s my closest philosophical ally. However, I didn’t say anything about my relation to SR there, and so I feel it appropriate to say something about it in light of this development.
I’ve said this before (in the comments here), but I’ll say it again: Speculative Realism doesn’t exist. I must insist that this isn’t meant as a slight to anyone (certainly not to Louis). There are people doing great work either directly under the heading of SR, or allied to it in more or less direct ways. The label has functioned to galvanise a lot of people, in a way that I think is broadly positive. Whatever we say about SR, even if it doesn’t exist as a genuine philosophical movement, the people who want it to exist as a genuine philosophical movement certainly do exist, and they’re not going away. There is a perfectly real social network here, with all the messy overlapping connections that indicates, and I like to count myself as part of it. I don’t count myself as a Speculative Realist though (“I don’t inhale”), because there simply isn’t enough to that label beyond rough social affiliations (and an interest in Meillassoux’s identification of correlationism) to make it worthwhile. For those who think this is a strange position to hold, I’d point out that it’s precisely the same reason I don’t count myself as an Analytic Philosopher, or as a Continental Philosopher. Yes, there are rough tendencies and points of reference that characterise each, but this simply isn’t good enough to make me want to identify myself with one social network I’m peripherally connected to over another. I’m an unorthodox Kantian, a heretical Platonist, a budding Sellarsian, a lapsed Deleuzian, a rogue Brandomian, a transcendental realist, and above all a Philosopher simpliciter. All these labels capture something useful about what I think and do. ‘Speculative Realist’ doesn’t, and I’m not sure it does for anyone else.
This is not supposed to discourage people. Keep doing what you’re doing, please! It’s profoundly good for philosophy. I just think we need to come up with some better identifiers. I have profound disagreements with the OOO crowd, but to their merit they seem to have a reasonably well defined set of commitments held in common (even if there are greater divisions between them than are often apparent (e.g., on the existence of non-material entities such as numbers (here))). This makes the ‘Object-Oriented’ label somewhat useful. I’m sure other useful labels will ultimately emerge, but this has to go hand in hand with the emergence of the variant positions that underlie them. We’ve got to be careful not to jump any guns (or sharks for that matter). We’re still swimming in a turbulent new philosophical milieu, traversed by all sorts of free floating ideas and influences. This is an environment in which distinctive new positions are bound to crystallise, and to some extent we’re already seeing the beginnings of this. Louis seems to have gone to some lengths in establishing a bestiary of these promethean forms, and I look forward to see how the taxonomies evolve as their subjects evolve in turn. Continentally inflected Sellarsianism (perhaps a better phrase than ‘continental scientism’) is a pretty new animal, and all its features aren’t entirely clear yet, but I hope there’ll be others willing to get involved in the process of determining them.
As a final note, for anyone who is in the Newcastle area, I’ll be giving a talk for the Newcastle Philosophy Society this Saturday (21st of Jan) at Barkollo, 22 Leazes Park Road, Newcastle NE1 4PG. People will apparently be having food from 1.30pm, but the talk starts at 2.00pm. The blurb for the talk is as follows:-
Only the Death of God Can Save Us
In keeping with the theme of God, this talk will aim to provide a definition of theism by first distinguishing between its metaphysical and ethical elements, and then examining the way these two sides relate to one another. The talk will then focus on the ethical dimension, trying to understand the relationship between the Divine and the Good. The principal focus of this will be the presentation of Plato’s argument in the Euthyphro, aiming to show that the Good must be independent of the Divine. The overall goal of the talk is to present the (controversial) position that not only is it possible to be ethical without being a theist, there is an important sense in which we must reject theism (and thus be a-theists) in order to fully embrace the ethical life.
Needless to say, I’m rather looking forward to it!