Can we all just admit that the Prolegomena sucks?

I love Kant, but I think we all need to just need to admit that the Prolegomena failed to achieve its intention. It claims to be an introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, but it is borderline incomprehensible if you don’t already broadly know what the Critique is all about. It works as a supplement and at times as a clarification, but certainly not as an introduction or exposition.

radical alternatives to radical empiricism: an InterCcECT mini seminar with Joshua Kates

From systems theory to object oriented ontology, the post-human to the multitude, empiricism and its latent historicism underlie the most orthodox (and most contentious) questions and methods in the humanities today. In Historicity and Holism,  Joshua Kates plumbs the depths of this radical empiricism, proffering an experimental absolutism as its most resourceful alternative. InterCcECT is delighted to host a mini-seminar with Professor Kates, focusing on “Radical Empiricism Revisited,” an excerpt from that project.

Join us Friday 22 November, 3pm, at our frequent host The Newberry Library, room B-91.

Contact us to request the reading.
Abstract:
“Radical Empiricism Revisited” stages a major invention in contemporary theory, by grouping together work around Deleuze, Latour, Luhmann and others as a form of empiricism inflected by Kant, and contrasting this to a more innovative and experimental relation to the absolute found in Derrida and the early Foucault. My treatment is an outgrowth of possibilities opened up by my current project, Historicity and Holism (parts of which have appeared or about to appear in differences and diacritics), as well as those I explored in my previous two books on Derrida and phenomenology, history of science, and philosophy of language.

As always, write us to propose or announce events, check out our calendar for recommendations like Hegel’s Critique of Kant,  and connect with us on Facebook for frequent links and commentary.

On Starting to Read After Finitude

I just finished page 34 where Meillassoux has concluded his demolition of the ontological proof, but where he still wants to find an “absolute that is not an absolute entity” which can be the condition of possibility of what he calls ancestrality (a world logically prior to the intentional structure of consciousness, logically prior to the for us).   I’m obsessed with the importance of the Kantian pre-critical text On the One possible demonstration of the existence of God. Kant there looks for exactly this absolute, and it turns out not be an entity, but sheer self-positing will. 

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More on philosophy of religion

I brought it up in comments, but it seems worth highlighting: Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, arguably the founding documents for philosophy of religion as a specific subdiscipline, represent a much more capacious kind of reflection than that found in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion. Despite its obvious flaws, it does make an effort to reflect on the nature, role, and origin of religion and does so through a systematic reflection on as many religions as possible, as opposed to the contemporary focus on monotheism and proofs of God’s existence. For all that, it also seems to be clearly different from mere “sociology of religion” (something that the relatively new commenter Jim H. brought up but that has come up multiple times before in similar discussions), whatever “sociology” might be.

Kant’s Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone is another example of philosophy of religion rather than what I’ve called “philosophy of God” or “philosophical theology.” Read the rest of this entry »

Kant and biblical studies: On deactivation

This week, my philosophy of religion course is reading Kant’s Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, whose preface anticipates his arguments in Conflict of the Faculties in favor of viewing the “philosopy faculty” (something like the “college of arts and sciences”) as superior to the other faculties (basically professional schools). In specific, he claims that although the philosophical theory of “pure religion” seems narrower than historical religions, it nonetheless has the right to judge and assess them insofar as it is higher and more universal than them. Kant does wind up claiming that Christianity is uniquely in line with the ideal “religion of reason,” but that claim of Christian superiority is undercut insofar as it is Kant qua philosopher who is entitled to make that judgment.

It seems to me that this move on the part of Kant can shed some light on the place of biblical studies in the university. Biblical studies did historically make claims for Christian superiority just as Kant does, and postcolonial critics have pointed out the ways that critical biblical studies wound up underwriting imperialism, etc. Such things don’t happen as much anymore (at least not openly — for that we need to look to theologians like Milbank), but biblical studies does still claim the authority of the Bible and arguably does so in the interests of the liberal state. It does this by claiming biblical authority only to deactivate it.

Broadly speaking, biblical studies sets itself up as a new magisterium regulating the use of the Bible. And ultimately, it turns out that all possible uses of the Bible in contemporary life are somehow wrong, as indeed all previous historical attempts to use the Bible have been.

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The Antinomies of Pure Hiring Decisions

As is well-known, the rationale behind an academic hiring decision cannot be the object of a possible sensible experience. As with other supersensible realities such as God, the soul, and the whole of the universe, the attempt to reason about said rationale ends in irreconcilable antinomies, which is to say, it results in contradictory statements, both of which can be demonstratively proven.

  • It is best to go on the job market your last ABD year, so that you’ll appear fresh AND it’s preferable to have your degree in hand and a few years of teaching experience.
  • One should publish aggressively in field-leading journals and seek to publish one’s dissertation as soon as practicable in order to stand out AND it’s best to go the more traditional route and hold back on publishing one’s research so as to save it for the tenure probationary period.
  • One should cultivate as wide a teaching competence as possible so as to serve a variety of departmental needs AND one needs to have a clear, narrow specialization.
  • One should jump at the opportunity to do adjunct work in order to stay in the field and develop one’s teaching portfolio AND one should be cautious about doing adjunct work lest it leave you with the taint of being a second-rater.

I’m sure my readers can supply additional examples. Overall, however, I believe these antinomies demonstrate the abusiveness of the academic hiring process — an abusiveness that comes not from the members of the various committees, who are, in the overwhelming majority of cases, well-meaning people who take their job seriously, but rather from the intrinsically arbitrary nature of the process.

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Meillassoux and German Idealism, with incidental thoughts on “blog philosophy”

I have finally read Meillassoux’s After Finitude, and I am deeply impressed. At the same time, I am distressed by the ways I see him being received in blog circles, because I have almost never experienced such a yawning gap between the way a thinker is presented and the way he seems to be “in himself.” It seems to me, however, that this gap is rooted in Meillassoux himself — it corresponds to the gap between his actual argumentation and his rhetorical positioning. The blog reception seems to be dominated by his more programmatic statements, which in my mind are often overblown and actually obscure what’s going on in his argumentation.

It seems to me that there is a kind of serendepity linking together the main “theoretical” works I’ve read in the last few months — the Gabriel/Zizek book, Rose’s Hegel Contra Sociology, and Meillassoux’s After Finitude. Though I read them all for different reasons, all of them obviously deal with the aftermath of Kant, and despite Meillassoux’s programmatic statements, he seems to take things in a very similar direction to Rose (whose refrain that the Hegelian step beyond Kant requires the absolute to be thinkable) or Gabriel (whose inclusion of Meillassoux in a discussion of the consequences of German Idealism seems much more appropriate and even obvious after actually reading Meillassoux rather than relying on second-hand accounts).

Drawing on Rose, I would claim that Meillassoux’s “correlationism” is essentially neo-Kantianism and that Meillassoux’s own work is an attempt to go back behind neo-Kantianism and recover the “missed opportunity” encapsulated in post-Kantian Idealism. Read the rest of this entry »

Derrida: Kantian and Hegelian readings

Our dear colleague Levi Bryant continues to grapple with Derrida, as the push-back he’s received has made him wonder if his reading might be wrong after all. After some study, however, he’s decided to stick with his reading, supported by the famous “there’s nothing outside the text” passage. In a comment to the post, I develop the possibility of what I call Kantian and Hegelian readings of Derrida, which I’d like to put forward in a more schematic way.
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Kant on Zizek

From the preface to the first edition of Critique of Pure Reason:

It is true that Abbot Terrasson tells us that if the size of a book were measured not by the number of its pages but by the time required to understand it, then we could say about many books that they would be much shorter if they were not so short. On the other hand, if we are concerned with the [distinctness and] comprehensibility of a voluminous whole of speculative cognition that yet coheres in one principle, then we could just as legitimately say that many books would have turned out much more distinct if they had not been intended to be quite so distinct [that is, "clear" in the popular sense -- plenty of examples, etc.] For the aids to distinctness, while helpful in parts of a book, are often distracting in the book as a whole. They keep the reader from arriving quickly enough at an overview of the whole; and with all their bright colors they do cover up and conceal the articulation or structure of the system, even though that structure is what matters most if we are to be able to judge the system’s unity and sturdiness.

It amazes me that Kant was able to foresee the problems with Zizek’s body of work so perfectly.

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