Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Speculative Naturalism: A Manifesto

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Speculative Naturalism: A Manifesto

Article excerpt

   '[M]anifestos proclaim new literary movements and cultural epochs,    and they trigger these movements by the very act of their    proclamation. Manifestos are performative rather than descriptive    speech acts; they implement what they pronounce.... Manifestos are    neither factual nor fictional--they are formative.'     Mikhail Epstein, The Transformative Humanities: A Manifesto 

INTRODUCTION

'Speculative Naturalism' distinguishes itself both from the kind of philosophy that eschews speculation and focuses on critical analysis, and from Idealism, the tradition that, reacting against the scientific revolution of the Seventeenth Century, defined nature entirely in relation to and as secondary to mind or Spirit. While the two opposing poles of philosophy, analytic versus speculative and naturalist versus Idealist, are not identical, in recent decades there has been a strong tendency to assume that they coincide. In USA the tradition of critical analysis, or analytic philosophy has vigorously upheld naturalism, equated with scientism, the view that the methods of mainstream science can be extended to explain every aspect of reality. Philosophy that is not analytic and naturalist tends to be labelled 'continental philosophy', with the usually tacit assumption that 'continental' philosophers (many of them in Anglophone countries) are claiming to uphold intuitions or forms of enquiry and reasoning that transcend any naturalistic explanation, and in doing so, are upholding some form of Idealism. Speculative naturalism not only brings into question the correlation between these poles but rejects them as the root cause of the paralysis and marginalization of philosophy, and along with this, the entrenchment of nihilistic assumptions in the broader culture that are now paralysing communities and governments in the face of massive economic, social, political and ecological problems. Speculative naturalists are concerned to reinstate philosophy to its former pre-eminent status in intellectual life in order to challenge and overcome these nihilistic assumptions.

On the surface of it, the vagueness and even crudeness of the terms defining these poles and the difficulty of classifying all philosophers on one side or the other of these oppositions would make such strong claims and such a strong agenda highly questionable. It is possible to point to a whole range of philosophers who cannot be pigeonholed by these categories, including analytic philosophers opposed to naturalism, or at least to scientism, and the recent 'continental' philosophers promoting 'speculative materialism'. However, it is not so much explicitly defended views that are the real target of this essay, although these are a major part of the problem, but tacitly held assumptions that constrain the way people think and the way debates are framed, the way disciplines, universities and research institutions are organized, and the way some philosophers have enormous influence on academics, people in power and the broader public, while others, with more profound ideas, are ignored and then forgotten. The tacitly assumed polar oppositions are manifest in the recurring debates between what C.P. Snow referred to as the two cultures, science and the humanities, Snow's debate with Leavis echoing the earlier debate between Mathew Arnold and T.H. Huxley, which in turn resonated with debates at the time in Germany, France, Russia and Italy and the earlier critique by Goethe of Newton and of Goethe by Helmholtz. This opposition is also manifest in the opposition between orthodox and humanistic Marxism and between positivist and humanist human sciences.

The trajectory of these polar oppositions is evident in the virtual self-destruction of the humanities in Anglophone countries in the last decades of the Twentieth Century through deconstructive post-modernism, which was really a capitulation to a triumphant 'scientism' (the view of science defended by logical empiricists), and the collapse of career prospects for those educated in the humanities in the civil service, institutions of education, media and politics. …

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