Tag Archives: Schopenhauer

The Limits of ‘Correlationism’

The Sea of Ice

Graham mentioned that he liked my distinction between structuralism (read broadly) and other forms of correlationism. I’ve felt, probably since first reading After Finitude, that Meillassoux’s categories tell a very small story and that that story should be broadened to include new categories or designators. In some ways this has meant broadening ‘correlationism’ but it also means looking at how contemporary thinkers designate their contemporaries. Graham’s work for instance is very good on this, as he lays out clearly why his position is different from materialism (of many types), the two forms of correlationism, empiricism, occasionalism, relationism, etc, etc. He writes a story with many characters (17 apparently, if Treatise on Objects will contain his own system against 16 others), which I really appreciate. I suppose my own efforts stem from this desire to tell a big story, to have many characters rather than a strict argument against one single position. In my paper in Claremont for instance, there were several such systems at work, with some overlap: eliminative materialism, eliminative idealism, weak and strong correlationism, speculative materialism, OOO, transcendental realism, and neo-vitalism. The two forms of eliminativism could perhaps (in the case of eliminative idealism at least) be subsumed under the heading of correlationism, as I mentioned yesterday of structuralism.

As for structuralism as a variety of idealism, I don’t think this is quite right. I don’t know if the category ‘idealism’ makes sense anymore after we have chosen to adopt ‘correlationism.’ As Graham has said before, initially Meillassoux thought himself to be arguing against idealism, but he realized that there were important differences between ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ forms of correlationism, both of which would be, under more classical terminology, ‘idealist’ in the sense of being anti-realist. But the important difference has to do with things-in-themselves, and not simply the principle of correlation. Since structuralism as I have defined it maintains the possibility of novelty, of things being other than what they are, and of things existing outside of thought (however traumatic this transition from unthought to thought may be), they are not really classifiable under Meillassoux’s schema. Nor are they classically idealist. If we take perhaps the two extreme forms of idealism to be those of, on the one hand, Berkeley, and on the other, Fichte, then this becomes clear. For Berkeley, there are no things in themselves because everything is always being perceived by God. So while we could say he is an idealist in the sense of all things being mental, he is also an anti-realist in the sense that nothing exists apart from being perceived. For Fichte, we have the relation of Subject and Object boiling down to the fact that the Object is always created by the Subject as a form of opposition. The Object only has being from the Subject, who creates it in order to strive against it (in the form of absolute freedom and the striving for Justice). He is therefore both an idealist (the Object is created entirely by the mind of the Transcendental Subject) and an anti-realist (the Object has no reality apart from this relation to human mind). There also really are no things-in-themselves for Fichte for this reason, as the Object is always excluded from Subjectivity in order to be further integrated and included. So both extreme examples of idealism share the fact that they are strong correlationists (there are no things-in-themselves) as well as the fact that they are anti-realist (all things are reducible to mental processes or Mind generally).

Structuralism, which I should point out I am entirely against, maintains along with the weak correlationist that there are things-in-themselves, but claims we not only imagine them as a possibility, we encounter them as trauma. We also do not cause them to exist, as they have some disorganized being outside of thought, existing whether we like it or not. So the structuralist is neither a correlationist in the weak or strong sense (things-in-themselves actually do exist and we know them in some traumatic way), nor are they a strict anti-realist (Nature exists in opposition to Culture, even if it is a swirling tumult of chaos).

I have also proposed a lineage of “Transcendental Realism” in both my Claremont talk as well as another essay, where I maintain that there is a lineage after Kant that takes Kantianism (and critical philosophy generally) seriously, while also maintaining that there is more to things than our ideas of things. I locate this tradition with the rejection of Fichte by his star students, Schelling and Novalis, and see it as the ground of Romantic philosophy broadly understood to include Schopenhauer, Fechner, Nietzsche, von Hartmann, etc. It’s also a tradition which takes Spinoza very seriously, as well as aesthetics and mysticism. This is because they represent a group that knew that the logical consequence of Enlightenment thought was the reduction of the real to the rational and that this isn’t the case. They accept that there are things-in-themselves and that we have some vague knowledge of them through non-cognitive means, like sensation, imagination, intuition, etc. This is precisely the critique of Kant that Schopenhauer makes, that we actually know something of the in-itself because we are able to grasp the in-itself in us intuitively. They are also realists in the sense that things exist prior to human thought and will exist after we are gone. This is because they accept the metaphysical unconscious, that conscious perception not only is not the ground of reality, but is really only a very small part of the cosmos.

I think this gives some idea, at least in part, of the limitations of ‘correlationism’ as a category. While it is useful and telling of certain figures, it is in no way the whole story. We simply need to add more characters to the story of contemporary philosophy.

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The Schelling Effect?: Philosophy in the Shadows

Schelling

I gave a guest-lecture for one of the graduate seminars here at MUN last week. The course is a historical reading of Schelling’s Freiheitsschrift, providing the context necessary for a thorough reading of Schelling’s essay from Spinoza, to Kant, to Fichte, to Boehme. My lecture took the opposite strategy, making a case for taking Schelling as a significant figure by tracing his ideas and concepts through post-Schellingian thought. I’ve decided to post the handout from this otherwise unscripted lecture since I know there are people who frequent this blog who are very much interested in Schelling and his effect on philosophy. I hope this will help those interested further their study of some of Schelling’s key concepts.

I have posted the handout here on my Academia.edu page.

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Thinking, the In-Itself

Zizek

There’s been some back and forth and back again between Paul and Graham largely as a result of Paul’s recent interview with Peter Gratton as part of Peter’s course on Realism. See also the exchange between Ben and Graham on Hegel and Zizek.

Paul’s been brining up Hegel for a while now since he’s “in the air” in Dublin. I have to say this makes me more than a little uncomfortable. I’m not friendly to Hegel or Hegelianism and the neo-Hegelianism of the Ljubljiana Lacanians makes me equally as on-guard. The reason I’m so uncomfortable with this is the ease with with they all do away with the very real problem of the in-itself.

The in-itself is of course a long-standing issue for debate in post-Kantian philosophy and is one of the important fault lines that Meillassoux revives in After Finitude where he bases correlationist thought on the principles of correlation and factiality. The strong correlationist is the one who maintains the strength of the principle of correlation and does away with the principle of factiality (doing away with the in-itself, contingency, and freedom ultimately). I shouldn’t have to repeat this, I’m assuming people know this. By aligning yourself with Hegel (especially) you fall immediately into the Fichtean move of rejecting the in-itself (or more accurately for Fichte, making the in-itself a closeted for-us, making things-in-themselves a necessary illusion in order for the performance of the infinite ethics of the Kingdom of Ends; depending on your reading of Hegel, the same move is made though possibly for different reasons).

The same move is made by the Lacanians; the in-itself for Zizek is nothing but the “Imaginary Real,” a fantasy of a non-Symbolic realm prior to language or even humans. There is no world outside of the Symbolic for Zizek meaning there is no in-itself. This is why ultimately he favours Hegel to Schelling. Schelling of course maintains the in-itself in opposition to both Fichte and Hegel (though with the support of Schopenhauer, who is of this Schellingian strain of post-Kantian thought that finds its way into people like Nietzsche, Freud, Bergson, etc.) The significant move of this strain of post-Kantianism is not only that they maintain the in-itself, but that with this school of thought the in-itself is in some sense known. In opposition to both the Fichtean line which does away with the in-itself and the more orthodox Kantian line which maintains the in-itself but also its unknowability, this line of thought (which I refer to as “Vitalist”) says that the in-itself is in some sense grasped through self-analysis (this is the importance of “intuition” for Schelling and Bergson for instance). We have access to our own noumenal existence by which we understand other existents to have their own non-phenomenal (that is, non-for-us) existence. Just as I am not the sum of my phenomenal appearance (I am unconscious, I am will, I am virtual, etc, etc.) neither are objects.

This also gives us clues as to how non-human objects interact with each other, as well as their inner lives. First, it allows for a pre-human and post-human world. Vitalism accepts history as a given, things existed, things happened, before there were human beings to observe them and these things are in no way dependent on our knowing to have existence. In the same way, aspects of my existence go un-actualized, remaining unconscious. This in no way means they do not exist, simply that I don’t know of them.

The importance of this cannot be under-estimated. The road to anti-realism is paved with Hegelian intentions. I don’t see how anyone could read Hegel and take a realism from it without doing some serious work (which even the Marxists have trouble maintaining, what does Nick Land call dialectical materialism? Shoddy idealism, I think). This means ultimately that I’m on the side of Graham and Grant on this one, once the in-itself is ditched, there is no possible realism. For the same reason then that Fichte irreversibly anti-realist, so too is Hegel.

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Correlationism and the Political

I really don’t get this political debate. I thought I did, but I guess I don’t. Either you are a realist or you aren’t, you can’t have it both ways. If you claim that there is anything that correlates with Being then you are a correlationist and an anti-realist. Of course, I disagree with certain people being implicated in Meillassoux’ formulation of correlationism because I disagree with his binary of Being/Non-Being, meaning I think “process” philosophers (Schelling and Schopenhauer for example) allow us to break with correlationism as well as the metaphysics of presence. This means that when Schelling says Freedom/Spirit or when Schopenhauer says Will, they are not correlationists because those are simply other names for Being (or rather, Becoming). They exist whether or not there are humans or thinking because their systems allow for unconscious entities (which is why so many Schellingians became scientists and why he was himself concerned with the natural sciences).

This is not the case for the political however. “Politics” is not another name for Being; politics are dependent on human beings. Certainly without humans there would be complex relations among entities, certain organisms would form politic-like organizations. We could say then that politics “image” other systems of relations, in the same way that Schelling speaks of “imaging freedom.” What he means is not that one is real and the other a copy, but that one is conscious and the other not, meaning one is reflexive. Politics are relations become conscious. Human beings, unlike ants or bees or wolves, are able to consider and change their grounding systems, able to weigh and decide the differences between varying systems and enact these decisions.

Nick has asked the questions: “(1) Are two galaxies colliding in the vast emptiness of space, political? (2) If yes, how?”

I think the answer is obviously no. Galaxies are unable to reflect on their relations, actions, etc, and are therefore not political. My decisions regarding my own systems of relations are political however insofar as they are conscious decisions. Certainly there is nothing inherently political about the fact that my body requires sleep (all animals do), but where I choose to sleep could be a political decision, as could a number of other factors involving this simple process. In this same way, a tree is not inherently political until I make it so.

We could perhaps question whether or not this means that speculation is in itself a political activity. This seems to be the main argument thrusts upon those of us who deny the ontological is political. Again, I follow the thinkers of the unconscious here and maintain that an unbiased view of things is possible. It follows that this view is not only not correlationist, but is devoid of politics until I inject them into it or thrust them upon it.

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Being Without Thought: The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism

I have decided to make available a short draft version of a larger work, what could probably be called my greater “project” that I am actively working on. As has been pointed out by both Nick and Ben in their recent interviews with Paul Ennis, I am part of a small group of speculative realists (a name I gladly wear) that not only defends, but attempts to expand on the tradition of psychoanalysis, or more specifically, the metaphysics of psychoanalysis.

Descartes

The piece in question is “Being Without Thought: The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism” and could best be described as my immediate reaction to Meillassoux’ After Finitude, written a few months ago. The work is still very much early on, and I hope to expand on it a fair amount, with all of the sections growing. The purpose of the paper was to cap off a reading course I did this past winter on Schelling, Lacan, and Zizek. I had just read Meillassoux’ book and asked my advisor if I could write a short piece attempting to sort out my ideas on how Meillassoux relates to the metaphysics of psychoanalysis. The sections on Badiou, Schelling and Schopenhauer are admittedly rough, but I think there’s a seed of something larger there. I will be expanding on all of these ideas this fall when I will be sitting in on a seminar on Schopenhauer, since it’s been a couple of years since I read The World as Will and Representation. I also hope to add a section on Eduard von Hartmann, but I’m not sure when or if I’ll have time to really deal with his massive The Philosophy of the Unconscious. I would also like to figure out how Zizek fits in with all of this, though I suspect his Hegelianism would not fare well.

Anyway, please read the piece (again, it is only very brief, draft, etc, etc.), and let me know what you think.

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What kind of realism is this anyway?

From Graham:

“For me it is individual objects that are real. And what’s becoming more important to me is this question: for all those positions that call objects a useless fiction, what are they granting reality in its place?

On the one hand there is what I called, in Bristol, the “undermining” approach to objects. In other words, objects are superficial encrustations or actualizations. What is real is either a boundless apeiron, or a churning matter laced with cryptic forms, or a primordial flux, or a topological pre-individual realm.

On the other hand there is what we could call, by analogy, the “overmining” positions. For such positions, the object is not a superficial encrustation, but a pseudo-deep and spooky fiction that explains nothing, since reality is much more evident. Reality is how it manifests itself to us. Or it is a thing’s relational involvements with other things. Or it is just a bundle of qualities. And so forth.”

It would seem on first glance that a spectral realism is part of Graham’s first group, the “undermining” of objects folks. I think this is wrong though, as is the alternative. As Graham has presented these position is flawed in a particular way that I think excludes both my own position, and my reading of Schelling (Bohme would fall into this category as well), that is, what I call the Hermetic position.

As Graham puts it, on one extreme objects don’t matter because they’re really just their set of relations or maybe reality is just “how it is given to us.” The other extreme is where I think he would put me, the end which claims that objects don’t matter because what has primacy is either the whole of the cosmos before we chisel it up with perceptions and ideas, or the idea that reality is just a primal flux with objects forming as clots. In the middle of these two extremes stands OOP, the only group that says objects are themselves that which makes up reality (it’s objects all the way down), but also the whole of reality would itself be an object. In other words, for Graham and OOP in general, reality is simply an infinity of objects.

So what’s the problem for spectral realism then? I’ve said before that reality for me is simply drive, or to be even more specific, the twin drives of expansion and contraction (what Freud called the life instinct and death instinct, respectively, and which Lacan clarified in his maxim that all drives are death drives, which of course all comes from the middle period Schelling [the Freiheitsschrift and Weltalter, although part of my thesis is trying to show that it’s already there in the early work] and which originates in Jakob Bohme). Reality as drive means that all objects are temporary stabilities on the road to collapse. The problem arises however when this is taken to mean that objects are somehow not real, or “less real” than drive. For me, and I would argue this whole lineage I’ve linked myself up with, there is no “more real” or “less real,” because the Hermetic tradition has a very simple maxim: As above, so below; this is the microcosm/macrocosm relation of all reality. When Schelling writes a psychology of God (which Bohme did as well), he’s not “anthropomorphizing” as Zizek claims, but making a valid Hermetic move: all things in reality are basically the same, but not in the Neoplatonic sense of “All is One,” but in a very weird way, that if one object in reality is really understood, this knowledge is applicable to all of reality. By understanding the human mind then, we not only understand ourselves, but all of reality. This was the secret of Hermetic science, the goal of which was divine knowledge (as in, knowledge of the divine) and the method was natural philosophy, learning of the cosmos (which is why the Hermetics were so keen on things like alchemy and astronomy). When Bohme came along, he took this principle and began to understand psychology as it had never been understood before, the heritage of this work being not only Schelling, but all of psychoanalysis.

What this means for Graham’s distinction is that spectral realism also occupies a middle position, one that claims all reality is drive, but all objects are manifestations of drive, that at bottom what an object is, is drive. But all of the parts of this object are also drive, and so is the whole of reality, and so is God. It is not then that there is a churning pool of drive and then it freezes up in some parts and these are objects, rather, the relationship is one of microcosm and macrocosm: there is only drive, only becoming (in the sense of no static being and no absolute nothingness). Objects have reality, no more or less than anything else, but this reality is their drive.

Then, from Levi:

“Braver then goes on to distinguish between trivial dependent entities like beliefs and real independent entities. Attitudes towards this distinction actually define something of a fault line among Speculative Realists. Speculative Realists like Ray Brassier, Nick Srinicek, and perhaps Quentin Meillassoux (I can’t speak to Iain Hamilton Grant’s Position here) would wholeheartedly endorse Braver’s description. To be real, for these realists, is to be independent of humans. Object-Oriented realists such as myself, Graham Harman, and Bruno Latour adopt a more egalitarian ontological position. Our view is not that the puff of matter on the other side of the universe is somehow more real than the United States (an entity dependent on humans). Rather, the Object-Oriented Philosophies are united around the thesis of a flat ontology in which there is no hierarchy of being or modernist distinction between culture and nature. There is just being. Being is pluralistic and differential, coming in many kinds and flavors, but it is no less real for all that.”

I think it follows that by Levi’s distinction as well, spectral realism occupies a similar position to OOP. Nothing is more or less real than anything else, whether it is a property of civilization or nature, because all is nature; there is nothing artificial about reality. I would add though, again, that Being (qua Being) is always only an impossibility for spectral realism, that it is this perfect Being that the first drive is always striving for, while the second drive strives for the Nothing (though metaphysically, the drive for contraction, the latter of these two drives is first; there is always contraction before expansion).

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The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism

(The following is a small [edited] section from a recent paper I’ve written on Meillassoux’ critique of correlationism as it pertains largely to Schelling, though I hope to expand it to include other “thinkers of the unconscious” as much of my research relates to the history of the unconsciouss. This paper will likely find its way into the second half of my thesis.)

The fundamental question to be asked when attempting to determine whether a thinker is a correlationist seems to be the following:

Is there or can there be being without thought? If so, can we know it or speak of it?

There are two correlationist positions on the matter: First, there is the weak position which claims that there are things-in-themselves but that we cannot know them, and second, the strong correlationist position claims that there are no things-in-themselves at all, as the very idea is unsupported speculation. I would like to put forward the suggestion that a certain strain of thought associated with the concept of the unconscious should be thought of as a “third way” on the matter of things-in-themselves. Both Schelling and Schopenhauer for example pose a difficult problem for this dichotomy, as they both claim allegiance to the Kantian legacy of transcendentalism and yet both criticize Kant for his agnosticism on the subject of things-in-themselves. What is crucial in understanding the problem these thinkers pose to Meillassoux’ dichotomy is that while they both claim there are things-in-themselves, they also both claim human beings have knowledge of them. For Schopenhauer, this is Will, while for the early Schelling, this is Nature as productive (Natura naturans). The distinction Meillassoux makes between weak and strong correlationism seems to fall apart in light of such thinkers, as they prove the possibility of a position not accounted for, not a realism in the sense Meillassoux insists upon (what he calls ‘speculative materialism’), but not a Kantian idealism with an unknown X lurking in the background, nor a true speculative idealism whereby the possibility of being without thought proves impossible.

These two thinkers prove there can be a position which accepts Kantian things-in-themselves, but eliminates the mystery often associated with them. How is this done? It is with the concept of the unconscious. For Schelling for example, Nature is not inanimate matter, but nor is it quasi-divine mystery, it is unconscious spirit, unknowingly free (it images freedom). The distinction is not one of things-as-appearances and things-in-themselves, but rather, one of things as conscious (subjects), and things as unconscious (objects). There can then be being without thought, because this is simply the state of the natural world, that is to say, entirely unconscious. In other words, metaphysical thinkers of the unconscious are entirely free of the correlationist circle as they accept a universe free of human beings as a possibility, the ancestral statement need not be put through the filter of the correlation in the present, as natural history has a place in a system like Schelling’s whereby natural science studies precisely those instances of spirit older and other than the human being. Again, there are things-in-themselves, but they are not unknown, they are like us, they simply don’t know it. Both thinkers allow for there to be existents without human thought attached to them, and therefore do not fit his correlationist criteria. We should say then that there are more options available to contemporary metaphysics than simply correlationism or Meillassoux’ speculative materialism. Indeed, there is a whole other historical lineage available to contemporary realism, it simply needs to be brought to light.

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