The Ultimate Crisis of Civilization: Why Turn to Philosophy?, #2–The Crisis of Philosophy and the Humanities.

By Arran Gare

***

APP EDITORS’ NOTE:

This is the second installment.

But you can also read or download a .pdf of the complete essay HERE.

Arran Gare is an Australian philosopher known mainly for his work in environmental philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of culture, and the metaphysics of process philosophy.

He currently holds the position of Associate Professor in the Faculty of Life and Social Sciences at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, and is the co-founder and editor of the journal Cosmos and History.

You can read more about him and his work HERE and HERE.

***

TABLE OF CONTENTS

The Crisis of Philosophy and the Humanities

The Two Cultures and the Triumph of Scientism

Continuing the Struggle Against Nihilism

Castoriadis and the Challenge of the Radical Enlightenment

Reconfiguring the History of Philosophy After Kant

Speculative Naturalism, the Radical Enlightenment and Ecological Civilization

***

The Crisis of Philosophy and the Humanities

Philosophy is among the fastest-growing A-level subjects in Britain. This suggests that despite the pressure from governments to increase the teaching of technical, career oriented subjects, a lot of sixth-formers have a stubborn interest in more traditional enquiries about the meaning of life. … But frustration often ensues as the aspiring philosophy student climbs higher. The university study of philosophy in the anglophone world now offers little by way of a grand synoptic vision of human life and our place in the scheme of things. Instead, the subject has fragmented into a host of highly technical specialisms, whose practitioners increasingly model themselves on the methods of the natural sciences. By the time they reach graduate studies, most students will be resigned to working within intricate, introverted “research” programmes, whose wider significance they might be hard pressed to explain to anyone outside their special area. (Cottingham 2012, p.25)

Effectively, mainstream academic philosophers in Anglophone countries are proselytizing a debilitating, passive nihilism while denigrating and censuring any questioning of this nihilism, either from professional philosophers or anyone else, undermining not only philosophy but the humanities, universities, education, democracy and civilization, and the capacity of humanity to deal with the threats that are now facing it. Perversely, professional philosophers have aligned philosophy with anti-intellectualism and anti-intellectuals.

The contention of this manifesto is that the resurrection of philosophy, and along with it the humanities, the liberal arts and genuine science, will only be achieved by reviving natural philosophy. So, as well as being a manifesto for ecological civilization, this is also a manifesto for natural philosophy, or more precisely (distinguishing it from the naturalism of analytic philosophers), for speculative naturalism. This is the philosophy required to redefine the nature of humanity and its place in nature and the cosmos, to support, integrate and further develop disciplines and professions which have defied the fragmentation, overspecialization and dogmatism of current intellectual inquiry, to open the way to a post-nihilist culture. Only in this way can we achieve a comprehensive understanding of our current situation, open new horizons and enable people to envisage a future in which they will not be in a permanent state of economic insecurity and will have the liberty to augment rather than undermine the conditions for life, and to orient them to battle successfully for this future.

Speculative naturalism is distinguished both from the kind of philosophy that eschews speculation and focuses entirely on critical analysis, and from Idealism. Idealism developed largely as a reaction to the Cartesian/Hobbesian/Newtonian cosmology forged in the scientific revolution of the Seventeenth Century, while critical analysis developed as a reaction against Idealism. While eschewing speculation does not imply support for Newtonian cosmology, or support for speculative philosophy imply support for Idealism, in recent decades there has been a strong tendency to assume these linkages. The dominant figures in the tradition of critical analysis, or analytic philosophy as it is now called, particularly in the USA and other Anglophone countries, have vigorously upheld a reductionist naturalism based on largely Newtonian assumptions (without being aware of this), and defended the claims of mainstream science to be able to extend its methods to explain every aspect of reality, including human consciousness. That is, in the tradition of positivism and logical positivism, they have defended ‘scientism’, the view that science has a monopoly on the methods required to acquire and accumulate genuine knowledge, including defining what is genuine knowledge. Despite analytic philosophy itself originating in Austria and Germany, philosophy that is not analytic and naturalist tends to be labeled ‘continental philosophy’, with the usually tacit assumption that ‘continental’ philosophers (many of them in Anglophone countries) are continuing a tradition of philosophical thinking that upholds intuitions, claims to knowledge or forms of reasoning that transcend any naturalistic or scientific explanation. In doing so, it is upholding some form of Idealism. This is evident in the recent histories of continental philosophy by Braver (2007) and Redding (2009), both of which characterize continental philosophy as Idealist. At its worst, Idealism is seen to be speculative. Speculative naturalism not only brings into question the correlation between these oppositions but rejects this categorization as the root cause of the paralysis, trivialization and marginalization of philosophy, and along with this, the undermining of the humanities and the entrenchment of nihilistic assumptions of mainstream reductionist science in the broader culture and society. Acting on these nihilistic assumptions is now producing effects that threaten the future of democracy, civilization, humanity and the current regime of the global eco-system. Alive to these threats, speculative naturalists, many of them eminent scientists and mathematicians, are concerned to revive and reinstate ‘philosophy’ as the quest for a comprehensive understanding of humanity and its place in nature to challenge and replace the prevailing world-view, to overcome this nihilism and to avoid a global eco-catastrophe.[i]

On the surface of it, the generality of the categories defining these oppositions and the difficulty of categorizing all philosophers in terms of these oppositions would make such strong claims, and such a strong agenda, highly questionable. World-wide, philosophy in recent decades has been characterized by an immense diversity of ideas and approaches (Habermas1992b). It is possible to point to a whole range of philosophers who cannot be pigeon-holed by these categories. This is particularly true of philosophies and philosophers lumped together as ‘continental philosophy’. Paul M. Livingston (2012) argues that poststructuralism has converged with the metalogic of analytic philosophy, while James Bradley (2012) has argued that ‘continental philosophy’ is an Anglo-American invention, and French ‘continental philosophy’ has converged with analytic philosophy in denying any status to subjects. The structuralist reaction led by Claude Lévi-Strauss against neo-Hegelians, phenomenologists and proponents of hermeneutics have almost completely swept aside such Idealist and humanist philosophies, most importantly, the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre. According to orthodox structuralism and poststructuralism, the world and human subjects are nothing more than the effects of those functional structures that define their behaviour. While structuralism was a form of reductionism, it was antithetical to the kind of naturalism promoted by Anglophone philosophers. Under the influence of Peirce, Scandinavian analytic philosophy has converged with phenomenology, hermeneutics and semiotics. Marxist philosophers are generally opposed to reductionist naturalism and to speculative Idealism and have developed a range of philosophical positions. Promising developments have included the dialectical critical realism of Roy Bhaskar, which has been applied to the problems of dealing with climate change and achieving sustainability (Bhaskar 2010). The recent proponents of ‘speculative realism’ or ‘speculative materialism’ do claim to promote speculative thought while being anti-Idealist, although what they mean by ‘speculative’ is by no means clear (Bryant et al. 2011; Johnston, 2014). This is an anti-Kantian philosophy very different from speculative naturalism, however. There is an assertive group of philosophers promoting revolutionary developments within science who are influenced by process metaphysics, complexity theory and Peircian semiotics who do value speculation, although such philosophers are barely tolerated and have only a marginal influence (Hooker 2011). However, from the perspective defended here, this diversity is symptomatic of the marginalization of philosophy and simply serves to disguise which ideas really dominate, and how speculative naturalism, which could effectively challenge the dominant ideas, has been marginalized.

NOTE

[i] Because the term ‘philosophy’ is claimed by members of philosophy departments who have redefined it to match their preoccupations, scientists and mathematicians who are engaged in this project often do not characterize their work as philosophy, although it would have been recognized as such by the great philosophers of the past. Many academics who call themselves philosophers, which after all means ‘lovers of wisdom’, bring to mind what was called the Ministry of Love in George Orwell’s 1984, the place where people showing any sign of dissidence were taken to be tortured and then vaporized.

REFERENCES

Beck, Ulrich. 2000. What is Globalization? Trans. Patrick Camiller, Cambridge, Polity Press.

Bhaskar, Roy. 2010. ‘Contexts of interdisciplinarity: Interdisciplinarity and climate change’. In Roy Bhaskar et al. Interdisciplinarity and Climate Change: Transforming knowledge and practice for our global future. Milton Park: Routledge, 1–24.

Boggs, Carl. 1993. Intellectuals and the Crisis of Modernity. New York: SUNY Press.

Boggs, Carl. 2000. The End of Politics: Corporate Power and the Decline f the Public Sphere. New York: Guilford Press.

Boggs, Carl. 2012. Ecology and Revolution: Global Crisis and the Political Challenge. Palgrave: Macmillan.

Bradley, James. 2012. ‘Philosophy and Trinity’. Symposium, 16(1) Spring: 155–178.

Braver, Lee. 2007. A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Bryant, Levi, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman, eds. 2011. The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism. Melbourne: Re-Press, 1–18.

Castoriadis, Cornelius. 1987. The Imaginary Institution of Society. Trans. Kathleen Blamey, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Castoriadis, Cornelius. 1997a. The Castoriadis Reader, David Ames Curtis ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

Castoriadis, Cornelius. 1997b. World in Fragments. Trans. David Ames Curtis, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Charlton, Bruce G. 2012. Not Even Trying: The Corruption of Real Science. Buckingham: University of Buckingham Press.

Collingwood, Robin. 1939. An Autobiography. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Cottingham, John. 2012. Quoted by Murray Code, ‘Vital Concerns and Vital Illusions’. Cosmos and History, 8(1): 18–46, 25.

Dalrymple, Theodore. 2005. Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

Epstein, Mikhail N. 1995. After the Future. Trans. Anesa Miller-Pogacar, Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press.

Epstein, Mikhail. 2012. Transformative Humanities: A Manifesto. New York: Bloomsbury.

Frank, Thomas. 2000. One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy. New York: Anchor.

Gare, Arran. 1993a. Beyond European Civilization: Marxism, Process Philosophy and the Environment. Bungendore: Eco-Logical Press & Cambridge: Whitehorse Press.

Gare, Arran. 1993b. Nihilism Incorporated: European Civilization and Environmental Destruction. Bungendore: Eco-Logical Press & Cambridge: Whitehorse Press.

Gare, Arran E. 1995. Postmodernism and the Environmental Crisis. London: Routledge.

Gare, Arran. 1996. Nihilism Inc.: Environmental Destruction and the Metaphysics of Sustainability. Sydney: Eco-Logical Press.

Gare, Arran. 2012a. ‘China and the Struggle for Ecological Civilization’, Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, 23(4) December: 10–26.

Gare, Arran. 2014a. ‘Colliding with Reality: Liquid Modernity and the Environment’. In: Jim Norwine, ed. A World After Climate Change and Culture-Shift. Dordrecht: Springer, 363–392.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1992b ‘The Horizon of Modernity is Shifting’ in Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays. Trans. William Mark Hohengarten. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Holling, C.S. 2010. ‘Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems’. In: Lance H. Gunderson, Craig R. Allen and C.S. Holling,eds. Foundations of Ecological Resilience, Washington: Island Press, 19–50.

Hooker, Clifford A. ed. 2011. Philosophy of Complex Systems. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Jameson, Fredric. 2003. ‘Future City’, New Left Review, 21, May-June: 65–79.

Jaspers, Karl. 1993. The Great Philosophers, Volume III. Trans. Edith Ehrlich and Leonard H. Ehrlich, New York: Harcourt Brace.

Johnston, Adrian. 2014. Adventures in Transcendental Materialism: Dialogues with Contemporary Thinkers. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Kagan, Jerome. 2009. The Three Cultures: Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and the Humanities in the 21st Century, Revisiting C.P. Snow. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Klein, Naomi. 2014. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Kovel, Joel. 2007. The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? 2nd ed. London: Zed Books.

Lazzarato, Maurizio. 2015. Governing by Debt. Trans. Joshua David Jordan, South Pasadena: Semiotext(e).

Livingston, Paul M. 2012. The Politics of Logic: Badiou, Wittgenstein, and the Consequences of Formalism, New York: Routledge.

Mathews, Freya. 2003. For Love of Matter: A Contemporary Panpsychism. Albany. NY: SUNY.

Mirowski, Philip. 2011. Science-Mart: Privatising American Science. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Noorden, Richard Van. 2014. ‘Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers’. Nature, 25th February. doi:10.1038/nature.2014.14763.

Plehwe, Dieter, Bernard Walpen, and Gisela Neunhöffer, eds. 2006. Neoliberal Hegemony: A Global Critique. Milton Park: Routledge.

Pocock, J.G.A. 1975. The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Redding, Paul. 2009. Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche. London: Routledge.

Sandel, Michael J. 2005a. Public Philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Sandel, Michael J. 2005b. ‘The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self’. Public Philosophy. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 156–173.

Schellnhuber, Hans Joachim. 2008. ‘Global Warming: Stop Worrying, Start Panicking?’ PNAS, 105(37), Sept 16: 14239–14240. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0807331105.

Shellenberger, Michael and Ted Nordhaus. 2004. The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World. The Breakthrough Institute. http://thebreakthrough.org/archive/the_death_of_environmentalism [Accessed 3rd February 2016]

Supiot, Alain. 2012. ‘Under Eastern Eyes’, New Left Review. 73, Jan-Feb: 29–36.

Weart, Spencer. The Discovery of Global Warming. Available from: https://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.htm [Accessed 18 Jan 2016]

Wiener, Norbert. 1993. Invention: The Care and Feeding of Ideas. Cambridge: MIT Press.

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 577

Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Saturday 7 March 2020

Against Professional Philosophy is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

Please consider becoming a patron!

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store