The Perils of Representation

Following up yesterday’s the day before yesterday’s post, I should probably just add a few notes in response to Graham (see here). I’ll try and not let this spiral into a 7 message exchange though. I’ve always wanted one of those epic sounding monikers you have to put in quote marks, and I think Pete “the relentless” is the best suggestion I’ve come across so far (I take everything Graham says in good spirit). Before leaping in though, I should perhaps say a little bit about the way I approach philosophical disputes like this.

Graham does rightly note that I have a habit of trying to point out what I see as confusions or insufficiently precise uses of terminology, and this does reflect a bit of my more analytic background (although I’m sure if you ask those analyticians who know me I’d get accused of being wildly speculative!). This kind of nitpicking can come across as pedantic, or as labelling the other person as ‘confused’, ‘muddled’ or something similar. I’m trying to avoid this, as such things can be quite offensive, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the internet, it’s that it’s much easier to offend people by accident here (there’s so little way of modulating one’s tone that attempts to do so can wildly backfire), so it’s at the very least good practice to be careful with one’s words.

However, I’d like to defend my nitpicking to some extent. It’s all well and good to say that we should just take our (and by this I mean more than just myself and Graham) differences to be disagreements in all cases, and then to try and resolve them directly, but I think that it’s often the case that it’s not entirely clear what exactly we’re disagreeing about. Sometimes you have to do a bit of preparatory work in order to figure out where a given disagreement lies. It can be very frustrating for all involved, but it can pay us back for this frustration tenfold if done right. Of course, perspicuity can devolve into pedantry, and this can lead to obscuring what is genuinely important in a discussion. Perspicuity is a virtue, and as such, the Aristotelian in me strives for a golden mean. I don’t always find it, but I try regardless.

Brevity, on the other hand, isn’t a virtue I have any success with. This post will be quite long (8,000 words or so), largely because it includes the additional material hinted at in the last post, which is quite in depth. To Graham: don’t think I’m forcing you to ratchet up a current account deficit in our discussion. You’re a much busier man than I, and you can feel free to get back to me whenever you like (or not to at all). As our Australian friends say: no worries.

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Reductionism and Materialism

As seems to be the case with half of the philosophy blogosphere, I have just been to Dundee, at the Real Objects or Material Subjects conference. It is somewhat strange meeting so many people from the internet in the flesh. I had a very good time of it though. The papers have were of an excellent standard and the discussion was stimulating. I might have gone a bit over the top at points though, as evidenced by Graham’s experience of me (here). I don’t really get to talk to people about philosophy that much, and so I tend to get a tad over enthused at conferences. My apologies to anyone who has been hit by the full force of this enthusiasm. The one point that I got consistently from anyone who reads the blog is that my posts are perhaps too long and involved at times. As such, I’ll try to keep this one short. My main aim here is to explain the issues I had with Graham’s paper. In this post I’ll explain the two I made in the questions after the paper, and I’ll handle the problem I accosted him with after it in a separate post.

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What is Idealism Anyway?

I’m in the middle of writing a somewhat huge post about normativity in response to some of Levi’s recent (fairly scathing) writings on the matter, and this (along with producing work for my supervisor) has meant I’ve not responded to some of the other (from my perspective) problematic claims he’s been making (e.g., vis a vis transcendental philosophy), but I can’t resist questioning his recent claim (here), which Graham Harman perhaps (?) agrees with (here), that materialism is just a disguised form of idealism. Given the way it’s formulated, it leaves me wondering what exactly Levi thinks idealism is anyway.

There is a certain danger in broadening a term so much, in order to undermine positions you oppose, that it ceases to be useful for that or any other purpose, except insofar as it still invokes some resonance with or connotations from its original and more limited meaning. I’ve often felt that this is a serious danger with the term ‘correlationism’ (which I believe is a genuinely important and interesting concept), but it seems that ‘idealism’ has perhaps gotten there first (and subsumed a whole chunk of correlationism while its at it).

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