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torontotheology

After Nature has posted links to two recordings from the recent Varieties of Continental Thought and Religion conference at Ryerson University in Toronto. The first is his excellent talk on Meillassoux and process thought – which like so many good conference talks was, I think, burdened by time constraints. Although I’m not sure I can agree with his ultimate conclusion (i.e., that “Meillassoux’s take on the divine inexistence is the superior alternate among the choices of ontotheology or even postmodern varieties of continental philosophy of religion”), he makes a strong case for reading Meillassoux together with the broad tradition of process philosophy & theology. I hope to be able to read the full paper when it’s completed.

The second recording is of our joint Q and A session (I delivered my paper on Meillassoux and Latour right after his). The questions and audience responses are a little hard to hear, since they’re obviously far away from the recording device. But turn it up! the questions are good – though I won’t go so far as to say the same for my responses. (Jack Caputo, as usual, hits the nail squarely on the head in his take on Latour.)

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difficulties

There’s been some chatter recently concerning the nature and state of the “analytic/continental divide” – but when hasn’t there been? What I’m specifically thinking of is this piece in the NYT’s “The Stone” column by Gary Gutting, Brian Leiter’s entirely predictable reaction to (and more-or-less endorsement of) it, and Eric Schliesser’s more critical response on New APPS (as well as John Protevi’s Deleuze-specific clarifications). Now, I have to say that for the most part I agree with the points that Schliesser makes, so that there’s no need to repeat them.

But, I do think it’s worthwhile to emphasize one particular thing that he says, because (1) it’s something to which not nearly enough attention is drawn, and (2) it’s a particular pet peeve of mine: namely, the idea that “analytic” philosophy is (as a rule) written with clarity and precision, while “continental” philosophy is (to paraphrase Gutting) “unnecessarily difficult.” Schliesser hits the nail on the head when he writes that “the clarity of analytic philosophy is something of a self-serving myth.” Much of the supposed clarity of analytic philosophy is simply a result of the fact that those propounding its clarity are familiar with its jargon – a jargon that does, admittedly, allow for a great degree of precision within its context of use. However, it takes effort to become familiar with such jargon, as it does to master the tools of any trade. To imply that an average representative text of analytic philosophy (whatever that may be) is easily understandable by an average non-philosopher (whoever that may be), whereas a corresponding continental text is very likely to be less understandable, is simply ridiculous.

It is impossible to quantify and compare the amount of effort it takes to master the terminology of, e.g., texts in philosophy of mind, versus texts in existentialism or deconstruction – not only because it’s hard to imagine what one would use as a reliable metric, but also because the amount of effort required in each case would depend partly on the reader. A variety of factors would influence how easily any particular person is able to make sense of any particular text. For me, it was certainly the case that – having been exposed to philosophy from both sides of the divide in the early stages of my philosophical education – I found representatives of continental strains much easier to grapple with than those from analytic traditions.

What makes the tired line that analytic philosophy is clearly written while continental philosophy is obscure or imprecise bug me the way that it does, though, is not simply that it’s incorrect but that it often not called out as incorrect. Instead, the rebuttal might be offered that, yes, analytic philosophy is clear, but it’s irrelevant to the world, or that the “obscurity” of continental philosophy allows for deeper levels of meaning and more rewarding reading.  But these responses take the initial claim as uncontested, and I agree with Schliesser that it should be contested. Yes, Heidegger is difficult reading (in that his texts require time and attention), but so is Davidson, Sellars, even Austin (and for the same general reasons). And perhaps it’s true that you’re less likely to find wordplay or literary tropes in the texts of Rawls or McDowell than in those of Derrida, but that’s not to say that the latter are not philosophically rigorous (I would, and have, argued that Derrida is one of the most rigorous and philosophically substantive writers of the 20th century).

then again…

In some new comments to one of my older posts, David Roden has started a very interesting conversation about iterability, materiality, and even Twin Earth! (He posits that iterability may need some kind of minimal memory device to operate as such, one which can support a causal or informational chain.)

turning off

I’ll be making this blog temporarily private sometime soon, giving in to the creeping inducement of paranoia among young philosophers come October. In the meantime, I offer the following snippet of Nishitani Keiji, reading Meister Eckhardt:

To say that God is what God is in himself precisely in that absolute nothingness in which God is not God himself means nothing other than to consider ecstasy as applying to the existence of God as well as of man.

What’s in OOP for me?

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time wondering exactly what it is that interests me in the object-oriented front. Not that I’m wondering whether or not I should be interested; it’s fact that I am. What I’m wondering is why, given that the main focus of the “work” I’m doing (or should be doing) right now lies fairly far afield of the issues discussed in OOP blogs and publications. It’s not that I don’t think one can’t or shouldn’t be interested in, thinking about, and working on more than one thing at a time (though it does seem ill-advised if the main thing one is working on is a doctoral dissertation). Rather, I have this sneaking suspicion that there’s a lot more in OOP that could be directly related to the philosophical questions about religion with which I’m working. (And which would go beyond the commonalities I see between Derrida and Latour or Latour’s critique of sociology.)

Some of this would have specifically to do with ontology; I can’t deny it. But it’s as if I feel ill-equipped at the moment to deal with ontological issues, ones that I do find really interesting when I read about them here and there. For instance, based on the philosophical commitments I’ve developed on the way to and in the middle of my work on religious pluralism, I find the idea that Latour develops of “variable ontologies” to be very attractive. I also think it could be brought into conversation with (again) Derrida, but also Foucault, in a way that upholds “regional” ontologies without the need for a fundamental ontology or an ontology as such (contra one of Levi’s recent comments). But then, to dive in and flesh out, articulate, and defend this seems like it would require more time and effort than I should give it right now, unless it bore a direct relation to my dissertation. And it doesn’t.

So, is this just a grass-is-always-greener situation? Do I want to work on anything other than what I need to be working on? Partly, but not completely, because ultimately I am (becoming) convinced that OOP isn’t simply another “area” of philosophy, but a positive shift in the way philosophy is being thought about and practiced. So, ultimately I will feel obliged to attempt to lay out the philosophy of religious pluralism that I’m working on now in a more object-oriented direction. The question remains, though, as to what exactly that would involve.

It seems to me that what would be at stake is perhaps nothing less than a reintroduction of classical theological questions back into philosophy. I say reintroduction, because it seems to me that since Kant at least (if not earlier), what is usually called “philosophy of religion” has been a bankrupt enterprise. Arguments like proofs of God’s existence (or non-existence) are unconvincing if not just intellectually silly, and with regard to issues like theodicy or the epistemology of faith, theology is in most cases way ahead of the curve compared to philosophy. I’ve though for a long time, then, that questions concerning God can’t be properly philosophical questions anymore (not the least among the reasons for this being that we, in the West, no longer live in a culture oriented almost exclusively by one religion). It’s starting to dawn on me now, though, that OOP might provide a way to make theological questions approachable philosophically, provided that we take into account precisely the multiplicity of objects of religious belief that now confronts us. It would require accepting (at least the possibility of) the reality of these objects of belief, but again I would point to Latour for more than reasonable arguments as to why this should be no more problematic than accepting the reality of computer software, bacteria, motorcycles, or the unconscious. At any rate, this kind of approach would (let’s hope!) preclude a return to proofs of God, and instead get us oriented toward the way that religious actors interact in the world.