21st Century Speculative Philosophy: Reflections on the "New Metaphysics" and Its Realism and Materialism

By Niemoczynski, Leon | Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, July 2013 | Go to article overview

21st Century Speculative Philosophy: Reflections on the "New Metaphysics" and Its Realism and Materialism


Niemoczynski, Leon, Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy


I. INTRODUCTION

"Speculative realism" was a term originally coined by the philosopher Raymond Brassier (b. 1965), author of Nihil Unbound (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007). (3) It was essentially used to describe a broad array of topics in metaphysics which were under discussion at a conference titled "Speculative Realism," held at the Goldsmiths College, University of London in April of 2007. (4) Earlier, however, the French philosopher Quentin Meillassoux (b. 1967) used the term "speculative materialism" to describe his own position which would later be expounded upon in his momentous After Finitude (trans. Ray Brassier, London and New York: Continuum 2008). (5) In recent times, the term has fanned out to include what is now generally perceived as a certain "spirit" of speculation animating a "new metaphysics" or a "new materialism," where such positions comprise contemporary realism and materialism in the 21st century. (6) This new "spirit" may be described as a "speculative turn" which occurred after continental philosophy's late 20th century "theological turn." (7)

The central themes of this new current of philosophy could be summarized rather tersely, although the philosophical implications taken therefrom are far reaching. The themes, simply put, are materialism, realism, and metaphysics. (8) While the term "speculative realism" specifically is now less frequently used due to the controversy surrounding what it actually means (no one philosopher appears to self-identify with the term "speculative realist" as such), "speculative realism" can be used as an initial marker "of sorts" in order to describe tendencies of thought whose concerns remain tied to materialism, realism, and metaphysics in a specific sense. (This sense, I would argue, may be analogous to using the term "postmodernism" in order to mark off general tendencies or shared points of concern which then may be distilled down to specific themes: for example, moving from the broader category of "postmodernism" to the more specific category of "deconstructionism.") Although that clarifying usage of "speculative realism," too, is becoming less frequent as the boundaries of the term dissipate. Still, in its short five or six year history, if I were absolutely pressed to summarize it, the spirit animating "speculative realism" could be compared to a remark that I once heard concerning the best of German idealism: it was an astonishing but brief flare in the night. (9)

As Meillassoux (the most prominent figure of speculative realism) is from France though, and setting German idealism aside for the moment, European continental philosophy has had a longstanding relationship with French philosophers who have largely dominated what continental philosophy means, especially when it comes to attitudes concerning metaphysics. (10) Today, the speculative spirit figures into contemporary continental philosophy positively such that philosophers including Francois Laruelle and his "non-standard philosophy" (Brassier was among the first of the speculative philosophers with an interest in Laruelle), Bruno Latour (responsible for the creation of a school of thought known as "actor-network theory," responsible as well as for a recrudescence of interest in science and technology studies, philosophical anthropology, and sociology among continental circles), and Catherine Malabou (responsible for a corresponding resurgence in new forms of materialism and neurobiology) have all received significant attention in France where they all, also, represent the new metaphysics underway. (11) Also in France, the new metaphysics is shaped by the CIEPFC organization, headed by Quentin Meillassoux, Frederic Worms, Elie During, and Patrice Maniglier. Its members are in charge of the MetaphysiqueS collection at Presses Universitares de France, whose major publications include works by Etienne Souriau, Viveiro de Castro, and an essay on Whitehead by Pierre Cassou Nogues. …

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