Concepts and Objects (Final Draft)

This is the version of the essay we will use on Saturday, May 18.

Rational thought is carried out with concepts.  When we describe a book, a stone or a fictional character, we use concepts to do it.  For example, we have a concept of stars as nuclear furnaces, but also as distant points of light.  Books, stones, Batman and stars are all objects.  An account of what rationality is requires an account of the relation between concepts and objects; what relation does the thinking in our heads (our concepts) have with the external world (objects)?  That relation is how the world makes sense to us; it is how meaning is generated. Ray Brassier, against much of contemporary philosophy, insists on a rigidly realist position: our concepts do give us access to the real world, based on the identity of the object.

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Concepts and Objects (First Draft)

The May 4th meeting will be canceled for a wedding.  This will be the reading for May 18.

The essay is found in the open access collection The Speculative Turn.  You can get a free copy of the book here.

I am heavily revising this.  What you see here is not what will be presented.

Epistemology is the study of what we know and how we know it.  In the four books we’ve looked at in the past year, this topic has only been given the most perfunctory of nods.  This is symptomatic of a very basic trend in continental philosophy: the collapse of epistemology into ontology.  Questions of how we know what we know are transformed into questions of meaning.  A substantial part of Ray Brassier’s project is the re-introduction of epistemology back into continental philosophy. Continue reading

Alien Theory: The Materialist Decision

This will be the reading for Nov 17.

Ray Brassier’s wonderfully polemical writing follows two different but related strands of thought. First, he has a strong commitment to realism, which for him necessitates a nihilistic materialism. North American writers such as Wilfred Sellars and Patricia and Paul Churchland are the main representatives here. Second, he holds that this materialism has a hidden decision at its root: all philosophy, even the best, begins with a decision to divide the world into what is explained and how it is explained. The problem is that the contents of the “what” and the “how” are always basically arbitrary, as is the line between them. In order for philosophy to consider itself a self-sufficient source of knowledge, it has to ignore this arbitrary decision. In order to deal with this problem, he turns to the excessively strange work of François Laruelle, whose non-philosophy we will deal with at greater length in the future. This week, we will take a brief look at his arguments for materialism and the necessity of its non-philosophical transformation, found in his doctoral thesis, Alien Theory.

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