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ON SPECULATIVE ELIMINATIVISM

INTRODUCTION
A specter is haunting Continental Philosophy, the specter of Constructivism. Whether in the form
of linguistic constructionism (derived from a partial and partisan reading of the works of
Wittgenstein or of errida! or of social constructionism (derived from a hasty misreading of post"
Popperian epistemology or of early #cience #tudies!, recent Continental Philosophy is ready to
concentrate its considera$le intellectual resources to overcoming its menace. %uentin &eillassou',
in a desperate attempt to com$at this new enemy, $aptised it with a new name( correlationism.
)raham *arman tried out a similar coinage, philosophies of access, applying what is said to $e a
principle of good style( whenever possi$le prefer the #a'on word to its +atin e,uivalent. Access
should have won out over correlation, $ut in Continental Philosophy the rules of style have $een
inverted, and &eillassou'-s new concept is the one that has prevailed.
.ewness of terminology is an important consideration here. +ouis Althusser was already struggling
against constructivism (or, in his terms, idealism! over /0 years ago. *e found a very fitting generic
description of such positions in what he called the pro$lematic of the su$1ect. Althusser argued
that ideology constituted our lived relation to the world, and that $oth su$1ect and o$1ect were
constructed out of a set of such ideological imaginary relations. 2ut the e'pression imaginary
relation lasted only for a while. 3t had the disadvantage of $earing its relation to +acan e'plicitly in
its name. What was needed was a new name (correlation! that would signal a new discovery (as if
linguistic idealism and relativism had never e'isted and $een com$atted $efore!. 4he renaming
erased the +acanian and Althusserian imprint from the description, so that the relation to +acan
could $e discovered afterwards as an interesting independent confirmation giving yet more
weight to the analysis, strength $y convergence.
2runo +atour has untiringly led the $attle against social constructionism ever since he was accused
of practicing within such a framework. 3n an act of intellectual daring e,ualed $y few he went so far
as to change the title of his first $ook from Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific
Facts to Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. 2ut the laws of le'ical
engagement re,uire more attention"getting tactics. A discrete a$sence (the erasure of the word
social in the title! tells us much a$out the su$tlety of 2runo +atour-s spirit, yet the greater pu$lic
needs a visi$le presence, a totally new addition to our philosophical voca$ulary, and it is
&eillassou' who managed to name the specter and thus to own it.
3n his com$at against social constructivism, 2runo +atour makes much of the need to overcome the
modern $ifurcation $etween su$1ect and o$1ect, in order to come to a more accurate and more
satisfying understanding of our practices and values. We may note that +atour in effect talks a$out
the pro$lematic of the su$1ect without refering to Althusser and eleu5e, preferring to employ the
terminology of Whitehead, no dou$t for similar reasons of le'ical su$tlety to those that governed
his daring modification of the title to his first $ook.
4his does not mean that we should avoid all talk in terms of su$1ect and o$1ect. Certainly, the
su$1ect6o$1ect grid of interpretation is not foundational, $ut it can $e of heuristic use. As eleu5e
and )uattari remark at the $eginning of A 4*78#A. P+A49A8# (page :!, it-s nice to talk like
every$ody else, to say the sun rises, when every$ody knows it-s only a manner of speaking. 4o
reach, not the point where one no longer says 3, $ut the point where it is no longer of any
importance whether one says 3.
4he same can $e said of eliminativism, another attempt to free us from the rampant menace of
constructivism, which tries to e'plain our practices and accomplishments in terms of a synthesis of
evolutionary theory, the study of $rain functioning, and cognitive science. 4aken to the e'treme it
must regard modern scientific studies of the $rain and of its performances as foundational, and as
legitimating a sort of neural determinism, where someone else would come to similar deterministic
conclusions from psychoanalysis or .iet5schean philosophy.
3n the de$ate $etween on the one hand a speculative materialism that finds a place for human
su$1ectivity and for freedom, and on the other a deterministic scientism, 3 have argued that 777
has no place. *arman-s 777 is an anachronism, una$le to fight effectively against constructivism
as it reduces all known o$1ects (common sense, scientific, humanistic! to unreality, positing as real
only the shadowy constructions of its own pro$lematic. 3 have given my reasons why 777-s
ancestor theory, the Althusser"2haskar";ripke hy$rid, was already anachronistic <0 years ago.
1) ADRIAN JOHNSTON'S TRANSCENDENTAL MATERIALISM
A recent $ook $y Adrian =ohnston, P>7+9)7&9.A 47 A.? @848>9 &A49>3A+3#&, allows
us to raise the ,uestion of the validity or even the usefulness of such a speculative pro1ect as is
presented therein. 7ne of the key concepts that =ohnston ela$orates is that of weak nature, which
seems to provide the answer to all re,uirements and o$1ections that accompany speculative
materialism. Another central idea is that any thoroughgoing materialism must $e uncompromisingly
atheist, avoiding not 1ust the hypothesis of )od $ut any homology with theistic discourse, $eing
careful not to replace the word )od with a secular e,uivalent (such as *umanity, 8ltimate >eality,
or any similar 2ig 7ther! that plays the same foundational role.
4here is an unresolved conflict $etween these two re,uirements (weak naturalism and AstrongA
atheism!. 3n particular find it amusing that =ohnston is an uncompromising atheist and refuses new
religious fusions with Continental Philosophy yet he talks of his key concept of weak nature in
very similar terms to Caputo-s weak )od. @or me this is a decisive o$1ection( soft scientism is still
scientism, and so still religious. 2ut then, eliminativism is scientism too, and e,ually religious.
3 do not $elieve in the death of human cognition in the name of science, it is very much alive and
kicking. 3t is however thrashing around in a little corner wearing a dunce-s cap, $ecause much
cognition is consensual stupidity, which is worse than 1ust getting things wrong. 3 say eliminativism
is scientistic, $ut that is true only once it claims to e'press knowledge a$out the real, i.e. 7nce it
purports to $e cognition itself.
2ut first one had to think of eliminativism, and that thinking is not itself cognition. 3t is only poorly
descri$ed as a meta"cognitive leap. 3t is not cognition $ut speculation. 4he eliminativist speculates,
he pops his head a little distance out of Plato-s cognitive cavern and turns around and looks at it
from outside, then falls $ack inside. .ow the eliminativists claim to out"cogni5e the cogni5ers,
painting graffiti like this is 1ust another cavern on the walls of the cavern of cognition.
&y tentative conclusion is that a weak materialism, such as =ohnston-s, has much to recommend it
as against the strong materialism that we can find emanating from the cognitive sciences, as is the
case with the various forms of eliminativism. ?et a weak indeterminist heterogeneous .ature and a
strong determinist homogeneous .ature seem to $e e,ually du$ious insofar as they are $oth
naturalisations of ontotheological options (weak )od vs strong )od!
2) PLURALISM vs ELIMINATIVISM
What are the conse,uences of taking seriously the pluralist idea that all knowledge is theory"laden
and that all cognition is heuristicB oes this mean that we are shut inside our own social or
linguistic constructions, in a world of cognitive and perceptual illusionsB @aced with the menace of
relativism and the specter of a new idealism that denies us all access to or knowledge of a real
independent of our own constructing activities, can we find a way to reconcile the variety and the
historicity of knowledge with a realism that is anything more than an empty sloganB 3n order to
com$at linguistic or social constructivism, do we need to adopt drastic measures to maintain some
contact with the realB
3 analyse here the metaphysical doctrine of speculative eliminativism, a philosophy $ased on an
incomplete assimilation of the pluralist idea. Plunging into the ocean of immanence, where all is
heuristics without any foundational level to give us certainties of fi'ed points of reference, is still a
revolutionary e'perience. &ore revolutionary than eliminativism with its vaticinations a$out the
radical conse,uences that could come from the general adoption of its doctrine and the a$andon of
all Afolk psychologyA seems to reali5e. 3 compare the eliminativist-s take on immanence with that of
epistemologist Paul @eyera$end and that of post"structuralist philosopher )illes eleu5e. 3 find that
unlike the positions of these philosphers eliminativism retains some residues of scientism, i.e. of a
position that gives cognitive primacy and epistemological hegemony to its image of science.
3 argue that not all cognition is scientific, nor even intellectual in the sense of proceeding $y
a$stractions. Practical know"how and coping skills, while $eing principally em$odied rather than
representational, are instances of cognition too. #cience is no e'ception, it in fact includes much
tacit knowledge and know"how. >esearch is a part of our individual and collective individuation,
and can give rise to what 2ernard #tiegler calls Aprocesses of transindividuationA that heuristically
synthesi5e and sta$ili5e our interpretations and practices provisionally. 3n scientific research these
partial, provisional points of view constitute paradigms, and there is no reason to $elieve that a
particular science functions, or should function, with only one paradigm at any one time.
9liminativism is in fact less a theory than a speculative worldview instantiated in a series of
variants, each of which is the sketch of a possi$le paradigm, $ased on its authorCs own personal
selection and com$ination of various scientific threads. 3t is less an o$1ective doctrine founded on
esta$lished fact than a part of its proponents own individuation, $ut it is intended to $e more than
that, resulting in an implicit claim to unicity and apodicticity.
3 also argue that not only do we cogni5e ade,uately (i.e. to the degree of appro'imation appropriate
to our tasks! a lot of the time, $ut, further, that we meta"cogni5e ade,uately too, including $oth
achieving knowledge of our own $rain and re"shaping some of its important features. 4his
metacogni5ing and self"modeling of the $rain does not proceed uni,uely via scientific research $ut
occurs also in various artistic and self"transformative processes. 9liminativism does not usually take
these phenomena into account in its synthesis, and thus at least at the meta"level gives primacy to
scientific cognition, whether it affirms or denies this primacy at the content"level.
4he pluralist and the eliminativist often seem to $e talking past each other. 4he pro$lem in
communication may lie more in a difference in attitude, than in any great difference in the e'plicit
claims each make. 4he eliminativist, when she has any degree of philosophical sophistication,
claims that she already takes into account what the pluralist accuses her of neglecting (theory"
ladenness, a$sence of foundations, omnipresence of provisional heuristics rather than fi'ed
methods, etc.!, the pluralist replies that she may acknowledge these ideas sometimes, $ut that at
other times she proceeds as if she had never said or even heard of such things. #uch talking at cross"
purposes is a sign that there is no su$stantive difference $etween the two philosophical visions at
the content level of scientific fact, $ut that at the meta"level of the evaluation of their philosophical
significance a radical divergence in noetic attitude separates them.
3) SPECULATIVE vs SCIENTISTIC MATERIALISMS
#cience is not in itself scientistic. 7nly the use made of science can $e scientistic. #cientistic
dogmatism comes in when your only model of cognition is science and everything else is made to
conform to that. Pushed to its logcial conse,uences in speculative pro1ects such as eliminativism,
scientism is $oth dogmatic and self"refuting. 3t $ases itself on an e'trapolation of selected scientific
theories and results, and not only concludes to our a$sence of freedom $ut also proves our cognitive
insufficiency, without noticing that it proves the cognitive insufficiency of its own evidence. 4his
whole pro$lematic of cognitive illusion was already to $e found in Pyrrho and #e'tus 9mpiricus, so
at this level there is no need to refer to modern science.
4he reference to science comes up in order to give a sta$le dogmatic foundation to an unsta$le mass
of heuristic o$servations and con1ectures concerning the determination of our cognitive functions,
i.e. it occurs when the scientistic materialist is making use of science metaphysically to intimidate
other metaphysicians. When they refuse to $e intimidated, the scientistic materialist is perple'ed
and declares that they are not answering the ,uestion. 2ut intimidation is not a ,uestion, even if it is
e'pressed in a sentence that is grammatically in the interrogative mood. =ohnston does e'actly the
same thing as the eliminativist, he makes speculative leaps. 4he difference is that he acknowledges
that this is so, and makes room for it in his own theorisation of what he is doing.
4here is not the slightest scientific procedure in what either are doing, it-s all metaphysical selection
and use of a partial set of scientific results. .either has science on its side, $oth transcendental
materialism and scientistic materialism make a metaphysical selection and e'trapolation, the only
difference is that scientistic materialism if followed through shows that science as cognition is
impossi$le. 2oth make use of a selection from science that is partial, one"sided, fro5en, and pre"
oriented to the conclusion they have already opted for metaphysically. 4hey are $oth doing
metaphysics not science, which is fine, $ut then scientistic materialism has no criterion of
demarcation $etween itself and =ohnston-s speculative materialism.
*owever, =ohnston does have such a criterion of demarcation. *e formulates my o$1ection in his
own terms $y saying that .ature is a detotali5ed, disunified non"7ne6not"All of distinct,
heterogeneous levels and layers of $eings. #cientistic materialism is in effect totali5ing and
homogeni5ing, its .ature is unified $y its own grounding metaphysical speculation, despite its
claim to share in the o$1ective empirical status of the scientific research that it selects and
e'trapolates. #cientistic materialism is a plucked metaphysical duck to which has $een stuck real
scientific swan feathers to make us think it is a scientific swan, $ut its ,uack $etrays it.
4) 12 THESES ON ELIMINATIVISM
3 have no particular allegiance to =ohnston-s pro1ect as he is a +acanian, and 3 do not take +acan
very seriously. 4he same goes for his two other ma1or sources to $e appropriated and corrected from
within $y immanent criti,ue( 2adiou and &eillassou'. 2ut 3 cannot $ear the scientistic $rash
dismissal of his well"worked out pro1ect as $eing merely pure metaphysical speculation,
ungrounded in empirical fact. #o 3 am presenting DE theses on eliminativism(
D! tu ,uo,ue( eliminativism is a speculative hypothesis, in 1ust the same way as =ohnston-s
transcendental materialism is ontological speculation
E! metaphysical( the scientistic materialist is not doing science, she is doing metaphysics. 4here is
no trickle up effect that would make her speculations a$out empirical matters of fact themselves
empirical
:! self"refuting( the scientistic materialist view of cognition as determined $y our $iology, and
ultimately a deterministic survival"seeking mechanism rather than a noetic truth"seeking one, makes
science impossi$le, yet it argues from science
<! partial( the scientistic materialist does not argue from the whole of science (as if the sciences
could speak with one voice, not even one science alone can do that!, $ut from a narrow selection of
scientific results
/! unilateral( the scientistic materialist gives a one"sided metaphysical interpretation of these
results, as it does not consider rival views to $e valid alternatives. Condemning its rivals as
speculative, it truncates or a$rogates rational discussion
F! monolithic( eliminativism presupposes a unified homogeneous science. ?et any field of science,
including the rapidly growing field of cognitive science, is a contentious 1um$le of multiple
con1ectures, conflicting interpretations, and findings pointing in divergent directions
G! monistic( eliminativism presupposes a unified homogeneous nature. 4his posit of a strong .ature
is implicit, $ut it is what authorises its e'trapolation from a regional ontology to a total worldview
H! positivist( eliminativism presupposes science as the measuring standard of all knowledge. .on"
scientific modes of knowing are ruled out as either illusions or non"cognitive practices
I! dogmatism( eliminativism uses its metaphysical heuristic as if it were certain knowledge,
esta$lished scientific truth. #cientism has a very inade,uate comprehension of how science
proceeds, of its past history and of its current (non"unitary, heterogeneous! state
D0! narrow( eliminativism $ases itself on a very narrow conceptual $ase compared to =ohnston, who
makes use of evolutionary $iology and $rain science, $ut also of a large range of the theoretical
resources of Contnental philosophy
DD! naJve( eliminativism is unaware of the metaphysical status of its own theory, =ohnston is aware
of the metaphysical speculative status of his theory and makes full use of this awareness to
comple'ify his reasoning and analyses, instead of homogenising and simplifying them
DE! e'trapolation( eliminativism makes its selection of scientific material and then generalises it to
create a world picture having universal value, proceeding $y speculative pseudo"induction.
5) A GENERIC THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
3n this article 3 am trying to distinguish Adrian =ohnston-s form of speculative materialism from a
rival form, that of scientistic materialism or eliminativism, $ased on an uncontrolled e'trapolation
from the cognitive sciences. 3 am in no way criticising =ohnston for turning towards the sciences
and making use of their results. 3 am saying that while doing so he is $eing speculative, and that this
mi'ture of empiricity and speculation is not only a valid procedure, $ut is also unavoida$le. 3 am
arguing that an eliminativist who criticises =ohnston for indulging in a$stract speculation doesn-t
realise that she herself is $eing speculative too.
3 have chosen to a$stract from the particularistic origin of this article, which can $e seen here, and
to the generic ,uestion( Why should anyone in general, and eliminativists in particular, take
speculative ontological approaches seriouslyB 3 can give $oth a personal and a more general
answer to this generic ,uestion. 3n my case, 3 $ecame e'plicitly interested in ontological approaches
a$out <0 years ago, when 3 was confronted $y $ad epistemology (cultural relativism, Althusserian
dogmatism! and $ad ontology (Althusserian ontology, erridean linguistic constructionism!. &y
two ontological guides at that time were @eyera$end and eleu5e. 4oday, <0 years later, there are
are still the same old enemies (relativism, social constructionism, linguistic constructionism!, e'cept
that +ouis AlthusserCs structural &ar'ism in the $ad ontologies has $een replaced $y Alain 2adiouCs
su$tractive ontology, and $y )raham*arman-s a$stractive ontology.
3nitially, ontology is needed as self"defence against an e'terior adversary. #econdly, this leads to an
awareness that every approach presupposes an ontology (at least one, and sometimes more! and that
3 myself may $e presupposing one, or in need of one, without noticing. 4his is the internal need for
an ontology, to prevent one from falling into the traps of constructivism, and into other traps such as
the illegitimate e'trapolation of a regional ontology into a generality, or holding self"refuting ideas.
#o ontological criti,ue is necessary on $oth e'ternal and internal accounts. 4hirdly, some traits of
our own position or that of others can only $e discovered $y comparison, conse,uently we need an
open plurality of ontological approaches, each keeping the others awake and alive and healthy. 3t is
through looking at =ohnston-s ontology of a non"unified heterogeneous .ature, a non"one non"All,
that one sees more clearly that eliminativism is $ased on a unified homogeneous view not only of
.ature, $ut also of the regional ontology of its primary science, and this analysis includes 2akker-s
224, which gives primacy to cognitive science.
7n a more specific note, now that 3 have sketched out an answer for the generic ,uestion, unless an
eliminativism can reply to the twelve theses listed a$ove it will not $e taken seriously $y anyone
with even a smattering of philosophy. #cience is not scientism, $ut partisans of science, including
scientists themselves when they stop doing science and start to do commentary, often do not respect
that elementary difference. 3mpressing those already ac,uired $y the ideology of science can keep
you going forever, and $eing cheered on and encouraged to $oot. 2ut that is 1ust preaching to the
converted. 4o $ecome more ro$ust a scientistic materialism has to consider the for and against of
other similar views.
#uch a consideration of relative advantages and disadvantages of competing views should avoid
glo$al re1ection, of the style 3 cogni5e that cognition is dead, or 3 am doing science so why
should 3 take non"scientific metaphysical ontologies seriously. 4hat reaction is the preemptive
attitude par e'cellence, striking out at rival views like =ohnston-s weak materialism with a glo$al
$ut ignorant preemptive o$1ection, instead of coming to grips with them emptively. Pre"emptive
here denotes an a priori $uying up (emere! of all the terrain, refusing to negotiate. 3 say the time
has come to dialogue and negotiate, and 3 am willing to participate in that sort of encounter.
3 am not defending =ohnstonCs particular views, $ut rather the value of a speculative ontological
approach in general, a ,uestion of principle. 3 actually agree with the eliminativist claim that there is
something suspicious a$out ontologising epistemological or general methodological ideas, $ut 3
donCt yet know 1ust how ontological =ohnstonCs idea of weak nature is. 3f itCs 1ust a regulative (i.e.
heuristic! idea that would $e accepta$le, $ut as such it cannot rule out other regulative ideas.
=ohnstonCs idea of weak .ature is not new. When 3 arrived in @rance in DIH0 3 met &ichel #erres,
and he presented me with essentially the same idea of .ature, only without all the &ar'ist and
+acanian wrapping that =ohnston feels he has to go through( a dis"unified heterogeneous set of
archipelagos floating on top of a sea of noise and of chaos. #erres e'pounded this pluralist image of
.ature in A*ermes 3K( +a istri$utionA (DIGG! and A*ermes K( Passage au .ord"7uestA (DIH0!. 3t
is also su$stantially the same image of .ature that eleu5e and )uattari ela$orate in their
colla$orative works.
3n an attempt to invalidate ontological pro1ects such as =ohnstonCs transcendental materialism the
eliminative materialist convinced of the virtues of mechanistic e'planations could o$1ect( why
should anyone accept an ontology of de"totalised heterogeneous ensem$les of material $eingsB 4he
reanscendental materialist could reply( why should anyone $uy into your homogeneous unified
nature that you don-t even know you presupposeB *e could continue( you use findings cherry"
picked from the cognitive sciences to prove our theoretical incompetence, $ut cognitive science is
not limited to 1ust showing the causes of cognitive error, it also studies instances of successful
cognition. ?ou remind me of a cognitive witch"doctor who refuses to help a patient afflicted with
Al5heimer on the prete't that the phenomenon that he e'hi$its is 1ust a less ha$itual e'ample of
failed cognition, and so he is no different than anyone else.
And what use is a cognitive science that can-t e'plain the nature and characteristics of ,ualitatively
different types of cognition, where is your eliminativist account of paradigm shifts, such as those
resulting in )alileo-s cognition or 9instein-s or Prigogine-sB What a$out social studies of science,
what let-s you give primacy to cognitive science steal the showB And the $rain is not 1ust the o$1ect
of science, it-s the su$1ect of cinema, as eleu5e showed. 4he lived $rain is at least as important as
the o$1ectivated $rain. ?ou talk a$out the science of cognition, $ut you are surreptitiously selective,
you talk a$out mechanistic e'planation $ut that is an anachronism, mechanism is no longer the
hegemonic paradigm in the sciences.
*e could conclude( you ask if radical heterogeneity lie at the root of realityB Who knowsB ?ou
certainly don-t. oes your unconsciously presupposed radical homogeneity lie at the root of realityB
3 think not, and 3 have given my reasons. 2ut you can-t give your own reasons, $ecause you don-t
even know you-re presupposing a unified homogeneous .ature.
4o claim that the eliminativist presupposes a unified homogeneous .ature, my comments do not
concern her stated position, $ut rather her procedures of reasoning. #he implicitly predicates a
phantasmatic unity $y e'trapolating some ($ut not all! results of, for e'ample, cognitive science
outside into the rest of the world. ?et she would not agree that her own position contains such
ontological presuppositions. #he premises an opposition $etween speculation and empirical science,
and refuses to allow other positions, claiming that they invalidly draw empirical conclusions from
ontological claims.
6) AGAINST THE SCIENTISTIC IMAGE OF SCIENCE
3t is important to realise that science is not 1ust empirical gawking, o$serving, and note"taking( even
its e'periments involve highly sophisticated conceptual (i.e. speculative! elements that are taken up
in more overarching research programs that themselves contain metaphysical presuppositions at
their core. )alileo did not produce 1ust a physical revolution, he introduced a metaphysical
revolution at the same time. 4he empirical o$servations were relatively secondary, in that it was
their intepretation that was primary. 4his is 1ust how science is and the eliminativist is not going to
wish it away. And this is e'actly the picture that cognitive science would suggest(
D! $ias comes first in many cases, even in science, and
E! these $iases can $e heuristically fruitful, not 1ust sources of error.
4he typical eliminativist affirms (D! readily, e'cept in the case of science, $ut he does not take the
step to (E!. #o her picture of science is deformed. 2ut she needs this deformed picture to $e a$le to
ignore her own unconscious metaphysical $ias, not in her e'plicit position itself, $ut in her chains
of reasoning. #he sees no $oundaries, knows no crossings, and o$serves no gaps, she 1ust selects,
e'tracts, e'trapolates, and speculates as if she were directly stating simple empirical fact. 4his is
part of her first epistemological error( a naive and simplistic idea of the method of science
.2( 4o reiterate, 3 am not commenting the eliminativistCs e'plicit assertions $ut her implicit mode
of reasoning in refusing to allow ontological speculation to ground empirical claims. 4his is not
putting things $ackward, it is 1ust one of the ways in which the sciences work.
4he eliminativist may agree with the idea that cognitive $ias (or more neutrally, speculation! often
comes $efore the o$servational evidence and that these $iases need not only $e sources of error and
of failed cognition, $ut can often $e heuristically fruitful, that is they can give rise to new cognition.
And she may include science e'plicitly within the scope of this analysis.
4o com$ine the two insights together( a general theory often precedes the au'iliary theories that
make possi$le an e'periment that is capa$le of testing the general theory. #o we don-t 1ust have
e'periment interpreted $y theory, $ut theories of different levels of generality, maturity, and
confirmation, each with their own e'perience and e'periment, vying for acceptance and
implementation. 4hus the o$1ection to transcendental approaches such as =ohnstonCs, that he is
illegitimately $eginning with ontological speculation and on the $asis of that drawing empirical
conclusions is $ased on an erroneous view of science. 4his o$1ection is a$out empirical conclusions,
not e'periments and it contains the presupposition that science proceeds in the inverse order,
passing always from empirical findings to ontological conclusions.
&y e'ample of )alileo is not meant to hold for all of science, $ut for paradigm change. 3n some
cases, e.g. 9instein-s 4heory of >elativity, the evidence for a theory does not e'ist $efore the theory.
And in other cases the o$servational evidence already e'ists $ut it needs to $e reinterpreted, or even
temporarily set aside, $y an ontological hypothesis which is given primacy over the senses (at least
for a certain time!. ?ou wouldn-t get science as we know it if you didn-t have this provisional
primacy of ontology some of the time (during paradigm change, ontological events!. And one must
not forget that the o$servations are fa$ricated and interpreted $y other lower level au'iliary
theories, which are sometimes enrolled in ,uite different ontologies. #ome telescopic evidence
contradicted )alileo and he had to set it aside or $luff his way around it, as the relevant au'iliary
theories, in this case optics, had yet to come into $eing. 4his is the pro$lem of the !s"#!$% &'
s(!)#() and of the multiple phase lags $etween the different theories that $elong to or are relevant
to a particular paradigm.
4his is an important idea and it already contains the answer to the further ,uestion( is commitment
to de"totalisedheterogeneous ensem$les of material elements necessary for the sciences of the
$rainB 4o answer this second ,uestion( what we have in the case of )alileo-s theoretical practice
(and this is $y no means an isolated case! is an assem$ly of inversions, conflicts and contradictions,
phase lags and speculative leaps, of re"categorisations of e'perience as theory and vice versa, etc.
We have here at the general methodological level, i.e. at the heuristic participative level of science
in the making and not of its post hoc rationalisations, very much the same picture of science as
=ohnston-s picture of .ature as a heterogeneous ensem$le, an internally conflicted non"unified
1um$le of elements in tension. 4hat is not an attempt to state the essence of science, it is 1ust the
$est description of science we-ve got, and =ohnston is saying that it is the $est description of .ature
too. Whereas =ohnston has a view of science that includes $oth speculation and empiricity, what he
calls )alilean and 2aconian components, the scientistic critic seems tri$utary to an anachronistic
naive empiricist view.
4he eliminativist may wish to ,uestion why ontological speculation should $e taken seriously $y
those actually engaged in empirical research. 2ut that cannot $e a serious ,uestion, $ecause the
eliminativist herself is not engaging in empirical research, $ut in speculation. #he is e'trapolating
her cherry"pickings out of a motley science, and then universalising the resulting one"sided
incomplete motley 1um$le of e'trapolation. 4he eliminativist is not a scientist so she has no leg to
stand on against an ontological approach in general (in this case =ohnston-s!.
Certainly the recognition of theory"ladenness and of the re,uirement of testa$ility is an important
step forward in the understanding of the sciences. 4he notion of motley takes this recognition
several steps further to a picture of science which is one of multiple lines of a multiplicitous
structure, internally incoherent and conflicted, of elements at different stages of articulation, re"
correction, and instrumentation, e'ternally networked with an open heterogeneous ensem$le of
other theories and practices.
3 keep wanting to say( it-s all heuristic, it-s all motley, so see yourself as that and you will talk
differently. 3t-s not enough to say the words when the su$1ect comes up, and then to forget a$out it
the ne't minute and to present yourself as empirical and the other guy as speculative. #cience is
theoretical all the way down, there is no raw empiricity. 3t-s speculation all the way down, we are all
in the same speculative $oat.
7$viously science is different from philosophy, $ut the transcendental materialist doesn-t pretend to
$e doing science. 4he eliminativist sometimes does, $y implication, and she-s mistaken. 4here is no
radical difference of type $etween her approach and that of =ohnston. 4he eliminativistCs attempted
typological demarcation (empirical vs speculative approaches! $etween her own position and
speculative approaches such as =ohnsonCs is $ound to fail. 4he value of =ohnston-s speculative type
of ontological approach has $een esta$lished as e,ual in value to the eliminativistCs-s empirical type
(3 am talking in terms of generic types here!. 4he eliminativist may give a high value to her own
type of approach, which is, contrary to what she thinks, one of speculation first.
4he whole direction of empiricism for at least a hundred years has $een to argue that speculation is
an essential, inelimina$le, and positive ingredient of our knowledge "$eing $oth heuristically useful
and compositionally fecund. Were >ussell, Carnap, %uine, and Popper against speculationB @ar
from it, they argued for its necessity and for its usefulness. And this is 1ust taking e'amples from the
empiricist camp. >ichard >orty came out in favour of the creation of new speculative voca$ularies.
@eyera$end from his early $eginnings to his last writings was in favour of $oth speculation and
realism. 4his is what attracted him to Popper in the first place, and what separated him from Popper
later. @eyera$end-s ma1or criti,ue of Popper was that he put too many constraints on the use of
speculation, and that therefore his realism was not thoroughgoing, containing dogmatic untesta$le
elements hidden in the presuppositions of his methodological assumptions.
Contrary to a mistaken image promulgated regularly $y partisan commentators, there has $een no
generalised a$andon of speculation in anglophone philosophy in the name of the dogmas of a flat
empiricism. >ather there has $een a continuous criti,ue of certain types of empty specualtion. 3 am
not talking a$out narcissistic fights or diplomatic tolerances, rather 3 am advocating making our
speculation testa$le, $y all means possi$le. 4his demand was $ehind @eyera$end-s realist defence of
speculation(
As opposed to positivism, a realistic position does not admit any dogmatic and incorrigi$le
statement into the field of knowledge. *ence, also, our knowledge of what is o$served is not
regarded as unaltera$le and this in spite of the fact that it may have a counterpart in the phenomena
themselves. 4his means that at times interpretations will have to $e considered which do not Lfit- the
phenomena and which clash with what is immediately given. 3nterpretations of this kind could not
possi$ly emerge from close attention to the Lfacts-. 3t follows that we need a non"o$servational
source for interpretations. S"(* + s&",() !s -,&v!) .% /0)$+-*%s!(+1) s-)("1+$!&# 2*!(* !s $*"s
s*&2# $& -1+% +# !0-&,$+#$ ,&1) 2!$*!# ,)+1!s0. *owever, the results of such speculation must $e
made testa$le, and having $een transformed in this way they must $e interpreted as descriptive of
general features of the world (otherwise we are thrown $ack upon the old account of what is
o$served!. (@eyera$end, Attempt at a realistic e'perience of e'perience, originally pu$lished in
DI/H!.
3) FOR SPECULATION
All this is in the conte't of speculation as it occurs within the sciences. 2ut one can also pose the
,uestion at a higher level of a$straction, that of the value and interest of philosophical speculation
in general. @eyera$endCs later meditations on 2eing (especially in C7.%89#4 7@ A28.A.C9!
would suggest however that $oth speculation within science and e'ternal speculative e'trapolations
of scientific results cannot e'haust the meaning of 2eing and cannot $e imposed on full"fledged
traditions that interpret and e'perience things otherwise.
7ne such e'ternal e'trapolation is eliminativism, a speculation that often tries to present itself as the
only possi$le conclusion from the results of modern science. 3 myself am not an eliminativist,
although 3 think that eliminativism is a line of thinking that is worth pursuing, and thus 3 defend it
against a certain type of non"empirical o$1ection. 9liminativism sharpens the de$ate and produces
interesting hypotheses, $ut so also do hypotheses of the unconscious that make no reference to
material inscription and indeed relativise its meaning and importance. Perhaps neuronal
unconscious may ultimately replace the specific hypothesis of the @reudian unconscious, although
this is a mere programmatic speculation for the moment. 2ut 3 don-t see the hypothesis of the
unconscious in its most general form (as in +acan, =ung, eleu5e and )uattari, #tiegler! give up the
ghost so easily. 9liminativism, from this point of view, is 1ust one cognitive style amongst many.
4hat said 3 think it is heuristically useful to pursue the eliminativist programme as an aid to thinking
and research.
9liminativism in 2adiou-s terms arises from a recurrent danger in the history of speculative
thought( the suture of philosophy to one of its conditions. 9liminativism arises from the suture of
philosophy to the condition of science, itself identified with a narrow selection of its purported
content. Whence it-s contradictory self"image of of $oth not $eing speculation at all, and $eing a
much more plausi$le hypothesis than its speculative rivals.
3s a pluralist or an epistemological anarchist version of eliminativism possi$leBPluralism in its most
general e'tension involves refusing cognitive primacy to any tradition, including to the tradition of
science. At first sight, it would seem difficult to reconcile the pluralist de"throning of science from
its central position as purveyor of knowledge a$out the world in general with eliminativismCs
scientistic certitudes a$out the $rain and its illusions in particular. 4reating the mind-s operations as
e,uivalent to $rain functioning, and identifying that functioning as the heuristic treatment of data in
view of increased chances of survival and reproduction is itself a heuristic procedure, a useful rule
of thum$ for generating research hypotheses and e'perimental tests.
9liminativism likes to assert AAll cognition is heuristicA as itself an apodictic, scientifically proven
thesis rather than as an heuristic rule of thum$ M which is a flagrant pragmatic contradiction. 7n the
one hand eliminativism affirms a position of radical immanence, as the omnipresence of heuristics
e'cludes any appeal to a transcendent norm or method as premature, unavaila$le, or unnecessary.
7n the other hand it is usually predicated on its authorCs own personal synthesis of cherry"pickings
from neuroscience and cognitive science em$edded in some overarching neo"arwinian paradigm.
#o it is o$liged to limit the claim AAll cognition is heuristicA with the disclaimer Ae'cept for
scientific cognition, which is apodicticA.
3t may $e useful to compare eliminativism with #pino5aCs philosophy. #pino5a propounds what
)illes eleu5e calls a philosophy of immanence( all theological notions are eliminated in favour of
the rigorous deductive chains of premises and conse,uences in parallel with the rigorous physical
chains of cause and effect. 4he common view of #pino5aCs system thus places it under the auspices
of scientism( the philosopher and the scientist know the true causes of things, whereas the common
mortal in her ignorance replaces them with imagined se,uences deriving from imaginary causes and
fallacious premises. Paul @eyera$end criticises #pino5a for his epistemological and ontological
arrogance in situating other human $eings at a lower level of e'istence. 7n this view $oth the
scientist and the philosopher attain o$1ective knowledge, whereas the common man and woman are
limited to simple heuristic devices at $est, and their ideas and $eliefs mere chimeras in the normal
state of things. 4he very privileging of conceptual understanding and of causal cognition over the
imagination, according to @eyera$end, conserves an element of transcendence in the form, despite
its $eing denied in the content.
@or e'ample, the notion of )od employed $y #pino5a is a $loodless, de"vitalised a$straction that
@eyera$end compares unfavora$ly with .ewton-s more personal, and more fecund, conception of
)od. 9ven the rationalist .ewton reserved some place for a more humanitarian vision than simple
a$straction can accomodate( A.ewton re1ected the )od of escartes and #pino5a. @or him )od was
a person showing concern and demanding respect, not an a$stract principleA (C7.%89#4 7@
A28.A.C9, E:F!. Admittedly, in .ewtonCs case, this is a small remnant of a once all pervasive
component of our knowledge. A.ewton...opposed intellectual notions of god (such as escartesCs
and #pino5aCs! and emphasised personal relations $etween )od and his creaturesA, @A>9W9++ 47
>9A#7., D<F!. 4his opposition $etween intellectual notions and personal relations is another
variant of the struggle $etween apodictic knowledge and heuristic con1ectures, or $etween
1ustification and participation, that has traversed our intellectual and e'istential history.
#o we are led to pose the more general ,uestion( does immanence lead to a scientistic reliance on a
univocal knowledge of causes and effects and an over"valorisation of intellectual theorisation at the
e'pense of affective and perceptive intensitiesB 7r can its eliminative thrust $e turned against its
own mythological self"entrapmentsB
9liminativism e'presses the espousal of immanence, $ut one wonders if the eliminativist is aware
of the tacit reintroduction of transcendence $y means of scientistic presuppositions. *er notion that
our ordinary visions of the world do not contain knowledge of causes and effects $ut rather heuristic
devices to cope in the a$sence of such knowledge, suggests a possi$le non"dogmatic way out. 4he
transition from the commands and prohi$itions of the espot and the Priest to the prescriptions and
recommendations of the 9'pert need not $e interpreted as a transition from ignorant superstiton to
warranted knowledge, $ut rather as a movement inside the same dogmatic form.
4he decisive change is the passage from the authoritative universality of dogmas and norms to $e
$elieved and to $e o$eyed to the democratic provisionality of hypotheses and advice relative to a
given revisa$le state of knowledge and to a historically contingent situation. 4he implication should
not $e that we must leave $ehind heuristic devices for knowledge, $ut that a$solute authority is for
many people today heuristically unsound. 3mmanence means that we are always in the realm of
heuristics. 3n particular, appeals to immanence cannot $e reconciled with an epstemologically naJve
su$mission to the authority of science.
4hus, the #pino5an elimination of transcendence, while a step in the right direction, does not go far
enough( it contains dogmatic and authoritarian elements in its reliance on a monistic knowledge of
causes and effects, which ultimately comes down to a naJve and inade,uate view of science. (3n a
slogan( don-t forget your +atour when you talk a$out #pino5aN!. .a'os on his philosophical $log
http(66schi5osophy.com6 proposes a reading of #pino5a in which the word )od can $e eliminated
as our understanding of immanence affirms itself( an immanence that means no transcendence, no
heaven, no L)od-. 4his understanding of immanence must present itself first heuristically under
the mask of a new conception of )od, that then allows us to eliminate the word and the idea not
1ust from our voca$ulary, $ut also from our understanding and our $ody( 3f we get rid of the word
of L)od- as the result of this ethical and philosophical understanding of the infinite Oand through
#pino5a-s a'iomatic systemO, we also get rid of its idea from our $ody.
3 would like to push this insight further and say that .ature and >eason and A#cienceA are such
epistemological masks too. 4his is a version of the .iet5schean move of eliminating .ature and
>eason and A#cienceAas themselves $eing religious residues. @or me it resonates with +yotardCs
move of a comple'ifying reading relevant to the present( 3 read ;ant P.ote $y me( we can e,ually
read A#pino5aAQ not 1ust with ;ant himself, $ut, simultaneously, with all that comes after ;ant M and
this in the hope of ameliorating my comple'ity or my differentiation. 4he result of such non"
dogmatic understanding $y means of self"deconstructing concepts is perhaps $est descri$ed as the
attainment of the post"#pino5an felicity of ungrounded freedom. 4his task of ameliorating my
comple'ity is the guiding thread of my thinking. 3t is also the only way 3 can e'plain to myself
positively the eliminativistCs scientism, despite her intense theoretical tra1ectory( eliminativism is
more than an a$stract philosophical doctrine, it is the eliminativistCs way of ameliorating her
comple'ity, and perhaps ours. 3t is an integral part of her individuation process, and she proposes it
to us as such, not as a final truth $ut as a possi$le way out of the constructivist la$yrinth.
4) SCIENCE5 MONIST EXCEPTION OR PLURALIST EXAMPLE6
3 have undertaken to e'amine eliminativism $y way of a detour through a philosophical system that
presents some similarities with it, namely #pino5aCs ontology of immanence. All that 3 have argued
for so far is that like eliminativism #pino5aCs philosophy under a certain reading may $e guilty of
containing certain dogmatic residues and authoritarian tendencies. 2ut is another reading possi$le,
one that does not fall under the @eyera$endian criti,ue of epistemological naivety and political
authoritarianismB )illes eleu5e proposes such a reading in terms of relations $etween speeds and
slownesses (kinetic a'is! and relations $etween forces or $etween powers of affecting and $eing
affected. 4his reading does not give primacy to the voca$ulary of causes and effects and to the
geometric model of apodictic knowledge, $ut rather talks in terms of a knowledge of relations and
of an artistic model of skills and know"how. =ean"&ichel Pamart remarks that with science Awe
know the sun, we know the effect of the sun on our $ody, $ut we do not know the relation that we
entertain with the sunA (9+98R9 94 +9 C3.S&A, D0:!. #o for eleu5e on #pino5a we could
argue that Ascientific knowledge...can $e considered to $e something like the summit of P#pino5aCsQ
first kind of knowledgeA (i$id, D0:!, as the paradigmatic instance of intellectual cognition, whereas
the second type of knowledge is close to 2ergsonCs intuition, and comports practical knowledge of
relating to and coping with the world. 4his is the realm of the Acommon notionsA, where to know
something is to enter into relation with it, to compose our relations with its relations forming a more
englo$ing common $ody.
Palmart cites a very illuminating lecture $y eleu5e where he considers the ,uestion of whether we
need to go a step further, to what #pino5a calls the third type of knowledge, which would give us a
knowledge of essences. eleu5e claims that he can see why #pino5a would need such a further
stage, $ut that he personally is satisfied with the second type of knowledge and with what he calls a
AmutilatedA #pino5ism, or again a AtruncatedA #pino5ism. 4his re1oins .a'osCs point that ultimately
we can $e #pino5ists without A)odA, and eleu5eCs general point that we should always Asu$tractA
the unifying center, the founding and authoritarian instance or dimension(
A3 would $e very much in favour of a mutilated #pino5ism, 3 find that at the level of the common
notions itCs perfect, it suits me, itCs great, for a very simple reason, $ut then there is a condition for
$eing a truncated #pino5ism. 4o $e a mutilated #pino5ism one must really $elieve that there is no
essence, that there are only relations, if 3 $elieve that there are only relations and no essence, then it
is o$vious 3 have no need of the third type of knowledge, 3 donCt need it, and not only have 3 no
need of it, $ut it loses all meaning. #o you have to see...you can $e a truncated #pino5ism only if
you think that, finally, there is no $eing, there are only relationsA. (eleu5e, seminar DG"0:"DIHD,
my translation!.
&y ,uestion to the eliminativist is clear( is she ready to espouse a AmutilatedA eliminativism, which
makes use of a science divested of its apodicticityB 9liminativism constantly opposes our many
metacognitive illusions (a$ove all those of common sense and philosophy! a$out ourselves and
actual neural function, which is recounted $y science. ?et science is produced $y $rains and so
should $e regarded as 1ust as mythical and heuristic as the rest. 4he eliminativist has to choose
$etween
D! the )7()-$!&#+1!$% of science, ie everything is heuristic e'cept science. 4his amounts to
assigning apodicticity to science and thus $y association to science"$ased eliminativism,
which is not itself a scientific theory as such, $ut rather the eliminativistCs own ongoing
metacognising of diverse scientific theories and findings, and
E! the !#!v!"+$!#8 (perhaps even on the level of collective individuation! function of
eliminativism, which amounts to affirming its mythical and heuristic status, $ut finding
certain pragmatic (in the largest sense! advantages in this particular theory over and a$ove
rival theories. 4his would imply keeping the scientific $ases $ut su$tracting the apodicticity.

4he various versions of eliminativism maintain this am$iguity $etween apodicticity (which means
renouncing the scientific $asis and admitting one is involved in metaphysical speculation! and
scientificity (which means renouncing certitude and accepting the validity of a variety of
interpretative takes on the current state of scientific knowledge!. 3 think that $y opposing scientific
claims to traditional (AfolkA! claims she may $e $iting off more than she can, or even needs to,
chew, if she means to refer to the claims made $y full"$lown traditions and not 1ust to what is said
to $e traditionally thought. 4raditions have corrected science over and over again, and have $een
the source of many of its ideas. 4rue, science is itself a self"correcting tradition, $ut not always " it
contains much conformism, dogma, and inertia too. @urther all traditions are self"correcting, and so
capa$le of learning from some theses of specific sciences without going over to the science"side
of the @orce entirely.
4he eliminativist seems to overestimate the unity and the fi'ity of our metacognitive intuitions, and
this is evident in her appeal to such stereotypes as the scientific image and the manifest image.
We have already seen that she is not presenting us with $*) scientific image of our $rained
e'istence, as no such uni,ue unified perspective e'ists. #he is giving us her own personal selection
and synthesis. 2ut there is no such thing as $*) manifest image either. 4he eleu5ian detour would
suggest that the eliminativist does not see clearly the variety within the notion of manifest image
$ecause she implicitly identifies cognition with intellectual cognition, and so remains inside the
confines of the first type of knowledge, $y a$straction, privileging knowledge of causes and effects.
4his is the only 1ustification for saying that the $rain does not cogni5e itself, or meta"cogni5e itself.
2ut we are constantly learning to do things with our $rain, and so cogni5ing it ,uite effectively, at
least some of the time. We are constantly individuating ourselves, and part of this process is that we
are constantly individuating our $rains, so that no two $rains are the same.
9) THE SPECTER OF ELIMINATIVISM
eleu5e thought that we were moving towards a new configuration that would involve the release
of the forces contained up to now in the human form as one particular organisation of these forces
dependent on a particular state of the sciences and of our technologies. *e envisaged a vast
recom$ination of these forces due to molecular $iology, the neurosciences, information science and
digital technologies, such that we may no longer $e $e human in the traditional sense in the new
configuration. @aced with new knowledge and new forms of control (what 2ernard #tiegler calls
psycho"power and neuro"power! eleu5e poses the ,uestion( what are people going to $ecomeB
*ow are they going to individuate themselves, and what new forms of individuation will they
inventB What is the role of the $rain, its control and its individuation, in the changes to comeB
4hese considerations raise the specter of eliminativism. 3 am not an eliminativist, although 3 find
eliminativism a line worth pursuing, and thus 3 defend it against a certain type of non"empirical
o$1ection. 3 know that @eyera$end defended it as early as DI/D in his doctoral thesis. @eyera$end
always defended eliminativism against silly conservative o$1ections that presupposed the meaning
invariance of terms in successive theories and that prohi$ited incommensura$le leaps. @eyera$end-s
aim was to defend the intelligi$ility of eliminativism, and here 3 agree with him. *owever, his later
meditations on 2eing (cf. C7.%89#4 7@ A28.A.C9! suggest that this eliminativism cannot
e'haust the meaning of 2eing and cannot $e imposed on full"fledged traditions that interpret and
e'perience things otherwise.
9liminativism sharpens the de$ate and produces interesting hypotheses, $ut so do hypotheses of the
unconscious that make no reference to material inscription and indeed relativise its meaning and
importance. 4he neuronal unconscious may ultimately replace the @reudian unconscious. 2ut 3
don-t think the hypothesis of the unconscious in its most general form (as in Carl =ung, eleu5e and
)uattari, and =ames *illman!will give up the ghost so easily, as eliminativism, from this point of
view, is 1ust one cognitive style amongst many. 4hat said it is heuristically useful to pursue the
eliminativist programme as an aid to thinking and research.
3n the old days people used to distinguish the conte't of discovery from the conte't of 1ustification,
$ut then @eyera$end came along and said it-s all heuristics folks. 3n other words, what is primary is
the conte't of participation or of performance. 2ut in fact 3 am going too fast. What actually
happened is that @eyera$end came along and said 9verything is pluralism, meaning that one
should apply a pluralist $ut constraining method to the ac,uisition of knowledge. *e went to von
Wei5sTckers seminar on %uantum 4heory and argued on the $asis of his pluralist reuirements that
alternative lines of research had $een ruled out, and that they should $e e'plored. *owever, von
Wei5sTcker showed him the way ,uantum mechanics arose out of concrete research rather than
from applying a$stract principles. #o @eyera$end concluded that 9verything is heuristics and von
Wei5sTcker was not happy a$out having contri$uted to that conclusion when he learned of it DE
years later. 4hus even ,uantum theorists can have ama5ing ideas at the content level (cognition! $ut
$alk at the metacognitive heuristic implications. 4his is why @eyera$end looks rather to .iels 2ohr
and Wolfgang Pauli for the heuristic attitude.
@or me the concept of heuristics and of its pervasiveness is tied to the notion of diachronics.
*euristics are ecologically sensitive, and thus multiple and varia$le over time, and that-s the $ig
point of the cluster of ideas around diachronic ontology that 3 have $een writing a$out. errida
remarks that in deconstructing a $inary opposition one can $e led pro'imately to privilege the
underprivileged term. 3 have $een at pains to e'plain that it is only a ,uestion of the relative
primacy of diachrony over synchrony, as the one couldn-t e'ist without the other. 3 am thinking also
of Althusser-s auto"criti,ue, where he uses the image of $ending a stick that is already $ent in one
direction in the other direction to get it straight. When 3 read this it amused me greatly as 3 used to
maintain to the Althusserians that the famous science6ideology distinction was con1unctural (an
important word for them! in its importance, in its nature, and in its necessity i.e. that its very
e'istence and use was dependent on the con1uncture. 4hey would have none of that, and so 3 was
pleased to $e partially vindicated $y Althusser himself. 7f course not only did 3 argue that this
distinction was relative to the con1uncture, 3 also maintained that Althusser had in fact misread the
con1uncture and that this was not a distinction to insist on. 3 still maintain that.
9liminativism strangely comes $ack to this sort of epistemological dualism. As ordinary $rains we
live in cognitive illusion, $ut science tells us how mistaken we are, and how this miscognition is is
no contingent feature $ut constitutive of our cognitive functioning . 4he eliminativist falls into a
performative contradiction( despite enouncing our state of theoretical incompetence and cognitive
illusion, and despite admitting that eliminativism is philosophical con1ecture or Aspeculation rather
than science, and so seeming to espouse non"foundationalism and conceptual e'perimentation,
the eliminativist has a foundational level and voca$ulary, that of its own particular version of
eliminativism and of its scientific parents (cognitive psychology, neuroscience, neo"darwinian
synthesis!, which her appeal to the cognitive incomptence thesis illustrates. 4he eliminativist creates
from these a speculative synthesis which poses $oth an epistemological foundation (in the cherry"
picked scientific concepts and results that it supposedly $ases its synthesis on! and an ontological
foundation (with its neural reality posited $ehind our cognitive illusions!.
*owever, despite trying to place the $urden of dou$t on rival philosophical theories, the
eliminativist is herself still responsi$le $efore the ,uestion that she so readily addresses to others(
*ow do you knowB, not in the narrow sense of any particular knowledge claim $ut in the glo$al
sense of *ow do you know your fundamental ontology is trueB and is it revisa$leB, given that
eliminativism is not itself science $ut speculation. 4he ,uestion amounts to ( is your version of
eliminativism a useful heuristic that can guide and e'plicate philosophical and scientific research or
is it a new apodictic foundation, unrevisa$le in its $asic structureB
4o $e clear( the eliminativistCs $rain talk seems to function as her own foundational level, and so her
epistemology is unsatisfactory, to say the least. #o much for the pro$lem of the status of science in
her discourse. 2ut a further pro$lem remains. 9verything is heuristic, e'cept apparently this theory,
whose actual status seems unclear. 4his further o$1ection addresses the status of eliminativism
itself, which the eliminativist, to $e consistent, must admit to $e speculation. 4his implies that
what the eliminativist is doing is more metaphysics than science, and that it is $ad metaphysics. #he
is proposing an interpretative synthesis $ased on an e'trapolation of the cognitive and neuronal
sciences, and thus she is shielding herself from scientific testa$ility, without really engaging the
philosophical issues. #he seems to $e speaking from her own personal discursive position, from a
no man-s land, neither inside science nor inside philosophy.
We can perhaps agree that empirical research can $e accomplished $y philosophers, or novelists,
who are open to conceptual e'perimentation and also to new information coming from the sciences.
3n this understanding the dividing line $etween the eliminativism as metaphysical speculation and
eliminativism as heuristic synthesis of and guide to empirical research $ecomes a little more su$tle,
$ut does not vanish M it is more a ,uestion of two different treatments of the same theory, of two
different uses( apodictic and heuristic. 2ut this implies that speculation can $e cognitive too, if
only we have a diachronic approach to cognition. &etacognition would not $e 1ust the second"order
realm of illusion, $ut the dimension of metanoia, or deep transformation of cognitive and e'istential
paradigms.
4he eliminativist seems to recognise and acknowledge some of these complications $y claiming
that its perspective is coherent with the natural sciences. 4his can $e glossed as coherent with $ut
not identical to. 3t iscoherent with the sciences $ecause it continues the research process on the
interpretative and conceptual level. &y ,uestion is pluralist( does the eliminativist admit the value
of other ,uite different approaches that aim at $eing coherent with the natural sciences, such as for
e'ample 2runo +atour-s or @ranUois +aruelle-sB 3f yes, then she is maintaining her pluralism and
applying it to relativise her own perspective. 3f no, then 3 fear she is advancing 1ust one more
scientistic dogmatism.
9liminativism goes in the direction that eleu5e was taking in his $rain turn( there is no su$1ect
or o$1ect, no correlation, only a series of heuristic lenses (to opt for a visual heuristic! allowing
various kinds of grasp (to opt for a kinesthetic heuristic!. 3 too think it is heuristics all the way
down. &y ,uestion is( 4o what degree is eliminativism itself heuristic and not 1ust a dogmatic meta"
theory of heuristic theoriesB 3s eliminativism a new foundation or a new heuristicB
3 am reminded of Popper-s notion of metaphysical research programmes that are coherent with
particular scientific theories and prolong or modify them, without (yet! $eing part of the sciences. A
metaphysical research programme can guide and promote testa$le research and protect it from
premature criticism while not $eing itself testa$le, at least for the moment. 9liminate these
metaphysical research programmes (scare ,uotes $ecause metaphysical here has no relation to
transcendence! and you would eliminate all science. 4he eliminativist seems to $e saying on a
charita$le (ie heuristic! reading that her eliminativism is a metaphysical research programme (or
hypothesis! reflecting and guiding research, and on the way to testa$ility.
7n the ,uestion of cognition, what 3 am trying to e'press is the eleu5ian sense in which
knowledge of the $rain is not limited to the neurosciences, $ut that cinema and music and painting
and novel"writing can give us images of the $rain that are cognitive i.e. that em$ody knowledge,
and that may resonate with $rain science. .ot all cognition is intellectual, proceding $y way of
representations. ;nowing how to swim, for e'ample, is cognition too. When eleu5e talks a$out
the affect $elonging to the second kind, and the percept $elonging to the third kind of knowledge 3
think he is making this point too. 4his sort of non"intellectual cognition is evident in our practical
em$odied know"how and also in artistic knowledge. 4he eliminativist should $e capa$le of
acknowledging the e'istence of such em$odied cognition, yet typically she persists in affirming the
ideal of scientific imperialism (which is not at all scienceN!( that all good cognition ( called
knowledge in other modes of life! is science.
1:) PLURALISM; ELIMINATIVISM AND INDIVIDUATION
3n my view, pluralism is itself pluralistic (some pluralism is!. 7ne of my favorite e'amples is when
@eyera$end, who had developped a doctrine of methodological pluralism, attended Weis5acker-s
seminar on ,uantum physics. +ike a good $elieving pluralist he argued that ,uantum theory was
dogmatic as it had failed to consider other alternative theories, $ut Weis5acker showed $y analysing
the historical steps in conte't that each development of the theory was $ased on a wealth of
concrete arguments, and that researchers had to $e left total freedom to resolve their concrete
pro$lems rather than $e su$mitted to a$stract principles, however plausi$le. @eyera$end realised
that it was in fact he that was dogmatic insisting on a universal pluralist method, and that scientists
should have complete freedom from methodological strictures. All that could $e done was to
analyse concrete moves in particual cases and consider the methodological remarks of successful
practitioners to arrive not at a doctrine $ut at a set of tips and tricks, of handy rules of thum$ that
sometimes work and that are not prescriptive $ut optional, re,uiring us to take into account the
conte't and to use and develop our own intuition and know"how. 4his was his move from
methodological pluralism (dogmatic, apodictic! to a more free"wheeling pluralism (anarchist,
heuristic!. *e e'pressed this new attitude in A)A3.#4 &94*7.
Another name for such a pluralism is immanence, which means not taking any entity or principle as
transcendent to and having supreme authority (ontological, epistemological, or political! over a
domain. 4his is the same as the heuristic pluralist idea that meta"level and o$1ect"level are
ine'trica$ly inter"twined. 4his way of talking a$out it all comes from eleu5e, who descri$es a
similar change (or pluralist conversion, if you will!. eleu5e had ela$orated a whole pluralist theory
a$out multiplicities, $ut it was classically e'pressed, and so, while it wasan improvement on his
predecessors, it constituted a new dogmatism, a new servitude, as he came to see later!. *e was
approached $y a dissenting psychoanalyst who was more used to working with psychotics than with
neurotics, who argued that psychoanalysts were afraid of schi5ophrenics $ecause they were in fact
afraid of the unconscious as it was too pluralist for them, and they were una$le to simplify and
codify it into conformity with social ideals. eleu5e $egan a long colla$oration with )uattari over
many years $ased on the idea that it was not enough to have a pluralist theory $ut that they had to
have a pluralist attitude (attitude is meta"! to all theory and that to theorise multiplicities meant also
to live them out and to produce them. 4his led to a series of very $rilliant $ooks, $eginning with
A.43"793P8#.
3 discuss eliminativism $ecause it sometimes advances pluralist, immanentist and heuristic ideas,
$ut then goes on to contradict itself in the way it talks a$out science. #o there is a pro$lem here(
what eliminativism says a$out cognition does not correspond to the way it says it. 4he pro$lem is
not that the eliminativist isnCt a pluralist, $ut that she is a pluralist, $ut only at the level of the
plurality of cognitive illusions. 9liminativism is incoherent pluralism, what the eliminativist says
she is doing is not what she does when she uses science. 4his is where her own cognitive illusion
and performative contradiction lie.
Cognitive science is not 1ust a$out illusions, it studies our successful cognition and not 1ust its
pathologies. And we do in fact cogni5e lots of things. 7therwise we could not cogni5e that we don-t
cogni5e things. .oone claims that our cognition is always accurate or unchanging or universal or
even very detailed. ;nowing how to thrash your lim$s a$out while trying unsuccessfully to swim is
still knowledge, that a new$orn $a$y would not know how to do, and the same applies to calling out
for help, and knowing what-s happening to you. .ot all cognition is detailed, a $eginner swimmerCs
discomfits are a striking case of coarse or appro'imate cognition. 2ut all cognition is coarse or
appro'imate compared the the ne't lower order of magnitude, all knowledge is appro'imative M
that-s another case for heuristics.
When 3 talk a$out intuition 3 am not, in this discussion, talking a$out the philosophical sense of
intuition as sensation, nor a$out the psychological notion of perceiving with a sort of si'th sense
things that 3 shouldn-t $e a$le to. 3 am talking a$out heuristic know"how, skill at coping with things
3 have gotten familiar with. A computer algorithm that produces a novel may well replace intuition
with computation, $ut it won-t produce Proust or =oyce, nor even Agatha Christie. &ay$e now that
there are do5ens of Agatha Christie novels you could invent a programme to generate more, $ut you
can-t get one to invent a new genre of writing. And if you could actually get a programme that does
not generate according to mechanical rules $ut that co$$les then it would have know"how like us,
who are all co$$lers and $ricoleurs, and 3 would welcome it to the clu$ of heuristics, as it would no
longer $e an algorithm.
CONCLUSION5 THIN<ING OUTSIDE THE =IFURCATION
&y pro$lem with eliminativism is that implicitly it regresses to a model of cognition identical in
structure to the individualist and naive empiricist su$1ect"o$1ect $ifurcational encounter. 4he
isolated $rain stands in as an instantiation of the su$1ect pole, and it is easy to demonstrate all sorts
of errors, $iases, misrecognitions, and illusions in its functioning. ?et the transindividual cognition
of science em$edded in inscriptions, e,uipment, and a community of rectification of error was
ela$orated precisely to permit successful cognition despite individual falli$ility and failings.
9liminativsm discusses ideally isolated and purified cases of cognition, closing its eyes to the
,uestion of the complicated process involved if, for e'ample, the long and a$struse proof of
@ermay-s +ast 4heorem counts as cognition. Cognitive science is powerless here as it would have to
e'amine a process of a comple'ity and sophistication far superior to its own naive stutterings.
@ar from revolutioni5ing anything, eliminativism regresses us $ack into the su$1ect"o$1ect
$ifurcation that we were $eginning to $e a$le to do without, $ut puts a modern surface on its age"
old parado'es of scepticism and determinism $y e'pressing them in materialist $rain language. A
fundamental consideration in evaluating eliminativism is the need to think outside the paradigm of
the isolated su$1ect confronting an e'ternal o$1ect, and the need to take into account our directly
collective su$1ectivity and our constitutive supplementation $y technical or machinic inscription,
interface and em$edding. We are ecological su$1ectivities em$edded in multiple networks, and not
cut"off Cartesian su$1ects.
#een from this ecosophical perspective, however interesting an eliminative materialism may $e in
analysing certain atomised conte'ts, its meta"modeli5ation is totally impoverished, and is ,uite
una$le to accomodate technical e,uipment and instrumentation, inscriptions and reticulations,
cognitive institutions and communities with their collective procedures of e'amination,validation
and rectification. espite the materialist"sounding talk a$out $rains 2akker-s 224 is to that
e'tent idealist in form, if not in content.
3t is interesting to compare cognitive materialismCs elimination of su$1ectivity with &ichel
@oucault-s earlier post"Althusserian dallying with structuralism, and his later reintroduction of
su$1ectivity, only outside the su$1ect6o$1ect $ifurcation. @oucault-s early work (23>4* 7@ 4*9
C+3.3C, 4*9 7>9> 7@ 4*3.)#, A>C*97+7)? 7@ ;.7W+9)9! was very much under
the influence of the structuralist dissolution of the phenomenological su$1ect, even if he maintained
a certain distance from the programmatic aspects of structuralism.
@ar from $eing at the vanguard of the scientific revolution, eliminativism takes us $ack to the /0s
and F0s, and constitutes a sort of neuro"structuralism, at least in intention. 8nfortunately, the form
of cognitive science that it $orrows from reproduces the Cartesian paradigm at a materialised level,
staging the solitary $rain face to face with an e'ternal world, and caught in the aporia of cognitive
incompetence dictated $y this scenario. 4he epistemological aporia is not inscri$ed in the nature of
things, $ut is in fact dictated $y an inade,uate ontology.
7n eleu5e-s reading, @oucault-s final work generates a new ontology, $ased on the fold, that
allows for processes of su$1ectivation that do not reintroduce a cut"off su$1ect over against a pre"
constituted o$1ect. 4his fold of su$1ectivity has much in common with =ohnston-s gap formative
of su$1ectivity. 3n $oth cases we see a concept of su$1ectivity that precisely is not reduci$le to the
cut"off su$1ect, nor to intentionality, which is a secondary formation.
Parado'ically, the cognitive malfunctions that eliminativism ceaselessly signals are also ;uhnian
anomalies " the signs, as seen from within its paradigm, that this paradigm is radically insufficient.
7ur sensory illusions, cognitive $iases and general theoretical incompetence are already positive
instantiations of =ohnston-s constitutive gap, only seen negatively $y means of Cartesian spectacles.
4his $ias and incompetence of the individual $rain is no sign of the inevita$le failure of cognition,
$ut rather is the mark of our necessary inscription in the social and technical networks of what
2ernard #tiegler calls transindividuation.