Brassier and Rehabilitating Philosophies of Nature


Brassier takes the continental tradition to task for unchallengingly accepting the liquidation of epistemology and in the process launching a counter-scientific ontology and metaphysics of nature, where the latter is treated not just as an antidote to scientific reductionism, but at the same time taken as a corrective to the ‘positivistic’ naturalization of the analysis of mind, with the emergence of cognitive science as the most obvious consequence. Brassier is seen to be championing for science in relation to neurology and ‘Correlationism’ that somehow justifies the scientific way of thinking, but the question that remains unformulated is the difference he shares with Meillassoux’s formalism and his notion of philosophical access to it. It seems that Brassier is seduced by the existence of the world and tends to ignore the importance of image by avoiding realities of image[s].  These still are images, because of the ways in which our nervous system works. Thus science may pose a threat to a certain kinds of commonsense and certain types of folk metaphysics, but at the same time, it could replace the ones threatened with a set of others. In a way, a complete theoretical/epistemological suspension is untenable. This is also a claim of ‘Correlationism’ as all our access to the world is mediated through the day-to-day phenomenological world of lived experiences or what Heidegger referred to as the world of ‘everydayness’. But, this is not doing justice to his thought, as he explicitly maintains in his Alien Theory that in order to attain an adequate conceptual grasp of the unitary nature of physical reality, it is necessary to achieve a complete theoretical suspension of the image of the world derived from perceptual intuition. In other words, physical theory has to effect a rigorously mathematical circumvention of those imaginative limitations inherent in the physiologically rooted cognitive apparatus with which an aleatory evolutionary history has saddled us. Thus, the chief obstacle standing in the way of a proper scientific understanding of the physical world would seem to be that of our species’ inbuilt tendency to process information via epistemic mechanisms which invariably involve an operation of subtraction from the imperceptible physical whole. The case of neurology is, a bit more difficult. One of the things that the neuroscientist will wish to explain is the neurological base of this phenomenological lived experience. If we begin from the premise that one form of science seeks to discover the causal mechanisms or agencies that underlie phenomena or effects, then the phenomenon in question for the neurologist will be this lived experience or image of the world. As a result, this image of the world cannot be dispensed with without neurology becoming unintelligible. However, even here we find stark departures from our image of the world. For example, I experience myself as a centralized agency making decisions and choices based on a transparency to myself. Yet neurology reveals that in fact “I” am a non-linear network of neurons without transparency, unity, or center. Likewise, these scientists reveal that the reasons we give for doing things are often wildly at odds with the mechanisms behind these things. Here, one gets a feeling that ‘correlationists’ would not give any credence to such thoughts for they are at odds with the structure of the ordinary lived experience. As Husserl rightly points out in his Ideas I:

“The existence of Nature cannot be the condition for the existence of consciousness since Nature itself turns out to be a correlate of consciousness: Nature is only as being constituted in regular concatenations of consciousness.”

When asked about this particular project rehabilitating philosophies of nature, Brassier outlined it as:

  1. These counter-scientific conceptions of nature represent a neo-Aristotelian resurgence in contemporary continental philosophy;
  2. That the model of representation whose critique underwrites the liquidation of epistemology is a willful caricature; and
  3. That a naturalized but non-adaptationist account of representation provides the basis for a conception of epistemology capable of prosecuting scientific realism and countermanding the regressive tenor of these neo-Aristotelian philosophies of nature.

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