This site is archived. For my brand new live site go to Struggle Forever!

21 January 2012

Multiple Realisms

I've just finished up my preliminary exam and have reemerged to the light.  I've spent a little time getting up to date with my blogs, and in particular the discussion between Michael (here, here, and here) and Adam Robbert (here, here, and here).  I've found it very intriguing as it's brought up a number of nuances between different realist theories that I had not been aware of before.  Not being one to plunge headlong into a debate, here I would just like to offer some thoughts - posed more as a question for further attention than as an argument for one side or the other. 

Adam has drawn two distinctions - the first between absolute and contingent withdrawal and the second between realism and materialism.  Materialism, he argues, doesn't go far enough to account for the relationships between different entities (objects in the OOO language, but I prefer this term).  He does this by arguing on the basis of epistemology - how one object can or cannot know another.  I posed the question on one of Michael's posts if the problem of the gap between the object and knowledge of the object is not due to the fact that the object and the knowledge are ontologically distinct entities.  This would mean that the two can never truly coincide with one another except, perhaps, by some process of intimacy.  Adam calls this position materialism.  He offers a different way of looking at it, which I had not thought of and which I now find myself grappling with.  That is, that knowledge is not an entity unto itself, but rather a quality of objects attempting to relate to one another. 
If the ontological character of relations is fundamentally about prehension — each entity’s unique enactment of an onto-specific world — then we do not have a split between “cognitive powers” and “powers of the flesh.” Rather we (humans) have something like enfleshed cognitive powers; a result of our embodied particularity’s engagement with the cosmos. In a sense then, epistemology is the onto-specific mode of translation each entity engages to enact its universe. Snails and bonobos have fleshy epistemologies just likes humans. Even stars might have some kind of episteme in this sense.
At first I was tempted to turn the table on Adam and suggest that his is actually the materialist perspective and that Michael and I are the realists.  For Michael and I, material objects and semiotic objects are equally real.  They both have an ontological status of their own, and that the world is in fact heterogeneously composed of both material and semiotic entities. 

On the other hand, Adam's position seems at first glance to reduce epistemology to a quality of objects - what then is left for the object to be?  In a crude leap of logic what would be left is material, and so this would be a fundamentally materialist philosophy.  But that's not what Adam is suggesting.  Instead, the material and semiotic are both qualities of real objects, neither of which is foundational. 

I'm inclined to suggest that both positions are realist and not materialist since neither posits matter as the ultimate ground of being even in the sense, as Levi Bryant has recently suggested, that "... all entities are materially embodied..."

I still prefer the approach that Michael outlines, and I look forward to reading his response to Adam's most recent posts as well as this one.  However, I'm interested in what Adam is suggesting as it offers an alternative view that I hadn't considered - what would it mean for me?  I'm not entirely sure yet, but I'm thinking about it.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails