The Ultimate Crisis of Civilization: Why Turn to Philosophy?, #5–Reconfiguring the History of Philosophy After Kant.
By Arran Gare
APP EDITORS’ NOTE:
The essay below, Arran Gare’s “The Ultimate Crisis of Civilization: Why Turn to Philosophy?,” appearing here in serial form, originally appeared as ch. 1 of his recent book, The Philosophical Foundations of Ecological Civilization: A Manifesto for the Future (London/New York: Routledge, 2017), and is reproduced by permission.
This is the fifth 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.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Reconfiguring the History of Philosophy After Kant
Speculative Naturalism, the Radical Enlightenment and Ecological Civilization
Reconfiguring the History of Philosophy After Kant
With this in mind, [The Philosophical Foundations of Ecological Civilization] continues the search to understand the civilization of modernity and to reveal what is blocking efforts to transform culture to confront the problems we face. The argument of the second, third and fourth chapters of this work is that the main traditions of modern philosophy should be understood as divergent responses to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and when examined in this way, speculative naturalism can be shown to be the most defensible of these traditions. The second chapter, ‘From Analytic Philosophy to Speculative Naturalism’ examines analytic philosophy, its roots, and the naturalistic turn it took in USA under the influence of Willard van Ormand Quine. Really a development of logical positivism, this form of analytic philosophy originated as a form of neo-Kantianism that radically downgraded the role of synopsis and eliminated the role accorded to synthesis by Kant, then attempted to develop a formal language which it claimed to be universal, identifying this universal language with the language of mainstream science. In doing so it has locked in the assumptions of current reductionist science, and of the broader culture insofar as it is influenced by scientism. It has eliminated any place in the world for subjective experience or consciousness, or even life, and eliminated any values apart from efficient calculation in the service of the struggle for survival and domination by ‘gene machines’, machines by which strings of DNA reproduce themselves, along with ‘pleasures’ which are the byproduct of this struggle. It has produced one of the most nihilistic cultures that has ever existed.
Understanding the dominance of this philosophy reveals why any effort to defend the humanities through any form of Idealism, whether neo-Kantian, neo-Hegelian, hermeneutical or phenomenological, is bound to fail. However, by tracing analytic philosophy back to Kant and drawing on Jaakko Hintikka’s work to bring into question the claim to being able to provide a universal language, the questionability of assumptions these US analytic philosophers had placed beyond questioning is revealed. Also revealed is the existence of a very different philosophical program, also deriving from Kant that, while giving a place to analysis, does not eschew synopsis or synthetic thought. It makes speculation central to philosophy, and is naturalist rather than Idealist. This challenges the nihilism of reductionist science and analytic philosophers at its roots and provides the basis for defending the status of the humanities and the ideals they stand for. Speculative philosophy, associated with the revival of dialectics, took both Idealist and naturalist forms. Most commonly, it is the Idealist forms that people associate with speculation, but here it is argued that the naturalistic form of speculative philosophy, defended by Friedrich Schelling in his effort to forge a new synthesis of natural philosophy, art and history, is far more promising than Idealism for achieving a comprehensive understanding of the world and our place and significance within it.
The third chapter, ‘Dialectics: From Marxism to Post-Marxism’, examines the career of Marxist dialectics as traditionally the most influential alternative to Anglophone analytic philosophy. It is simultaneously an analysis of the failure of Western Marxism and the failure of French philosophy, despite promising development. Dialectics was embraced by Marx, Marxists and post-Marxists; consequently, we would expect a defense of speculative naturalism from these thinkers that could have served to liberate humanity from its nihilistic culture. However, it is shown that dialectics was embraced by Marxists in a truncated, problematic form (with a few exceptions, notably Aleksandr Bogdanov, Joseph Needham, Ernst Bloch, Richard Levins, and then later, eco-Marxists such as André Gorz, James O’Connor and Joel Kovel) that generally eschewed speculation, equating this with Idealism, and even Marxists’ materialism is problematic. Marx’s own dialectics was essentially critical, and efforts by his followers to go beyond this resulted in fierce debates, with some Marxists following Engels and assimilating dialectics to scientism and treating its principles as universal laws of development, while others, turning to Hegel and then phenomenology and giving a central place to subjects and agency, aligned Marxism with the humanities and treated ‘nature’ as merely a social category.
While originally these debates took place in the Germanic world, the most important debates on Marxism occurred in France, and France is usually seen to be the centre of opposition to Anglophone analytic philosophy and to the scientistic naturalism of the US variety. Examining these debates, it is shown that Marxist dialectics and French philosophy produced their own opposition between defenders of the humanities associated with existential phenomenology, notably Jean-Paul Sartre, and scientism associated with the structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Louis Althusser and, to a lesser extent, Maurice Godelier. The dialectic between these opposing positions generated major advances in dialectics, with the development of the genetic structuralism of Jean Piaget, Lucien Goldmann and Pierre Bourdieu, and with advances in hermeneutics in Paul Ricoeur’s work on metaphors and narratives. The synthesis of these could be even more promising. However, while highlighting the deficiencies of Germanic and Anglophone analytic philosophy, these thinkers were ambivalent toward naturalism (even when they claimed to be materialists). They did give a limited place to speculative thinking, but no French philosopher (with the partial exceptions of Gaston Bachelard and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who died before he could fully develop his ideas) succeeded in formulating a fully non-reductionist naturalism that could transcend the opposition between science and the humanities and provide the foundations for a new social order. It is suggested that for this reason neither Marxism nor French philosophy has been able to combat the influence of analytic philosophy and reductionist scientism, overcome the destructive dynamics of a reinvigorated global market, or, most importantly, effectively combat the now prevailing nihilism and its ecologically destructive consequences.
After assessing the achievements and limitations of the best Marxist and post-Marxist work on dialectics, the following chapter examines the efforts of three speculative naturalists, Robin Collingwood, C.S. Peirce and Alfred North Whitehead to characterize philosophy. While none of these identified their characterization of philosophical thinking as dialectical, it is argued that this is the best way to understand their philosophical work, and it is argued that, influenced by the tradition of thought that goes back to Schelling, these philosophers, developing radically new conceptual frameworks to understand the world, were advancing dialectical thinking. With their insights revived and further developed by post-positivist philosophers of science, they have provided a far better understanding of the reasoning required to genuinely advance science and mathematics than analytic philosophers. Also, they have provided many of the concepts required to transcend the limitations of current science. The naturalism of analytic philosophy is compared to speculative naturalism, showing just how crippling analytic philosophers have been to intellectual and practical life, particularly to science and the arts. Speculative naturalism, particularly as this was developed by the theoretical biologist, mathematician and the natural philosopher Robert Rosen, is also compared to the speculative materialism of Badiou, the leading figure to emerge from the French tradition of structuralist Marxism and the leading proponent of speculative materialism. It is argued on this basis that the speculative naturalists not only provide a better basis for understanding the greatness and achievements of mathematics, which Badiou argues should be at the centre of philosophy, but open the way to further advances in mathematics and science that align these with the humanities. For this reason, they provide a much stronger basis for appreciating the achievements of Marx and the Marxists while transcending their deficiencies. And they provide the basis for the revival of genuinely democratic politics. Speculative naturalism, focusing on the nature of life, enables humans to be understood as conscious, reflective and creative beings emergent from other life forms, participating in the dynamics of ecosystems, nature and history. This involves conceiving both nature and humans as complex processes of creative becoming.
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