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Speculative realism

2 Variations

Speculative realism is a movement in contemporary
philosophy which defines itself loosely in its stance of
metaphysical realism against the dominant forms of postKantian philosophy (or what it terms correlationism[1] ).
Speculative realism takes its name from a conference
held at Goldsmiths College, University of London in
April 2007.[2] The conference was moderated by Alberto
Toscano of Goldsmiths College, and featured presentations by Ray Brassier of American University of Beirut
(then at Middlesex University), Iain Hamilton Grant of
the University of the West of England, Graham Harman
of the American University in Cairo, and Quentin Meillassoux of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Credit
for the name “speculative realism” is generally ascribed to
Brassier,[3] though Meillassoux had already used the term
“speculative materialism” to describe his own position.[4]

While sharing in the goal of overturning the dominant
strands of post-Kantian thought in both Continental and
Analytic schools of philosophy, there are important differences separating the core members of the Speculative
Realist movement and their followers.

2.1 Speculative materialism
In his critique of correlationism, Quentin Meillassoux
finds two principles as the locus of Kant’s philosophy.
The first of these is the Principle of Correlation itself,
which claims essentially that we can only know the correlate of Thought and Being, that is to say, that what
lies outside that correlate is unknowable. The second is
termed by Meillassoux the Principle of Factiality, which
states that things could be otherwise than what they are.
This principle is upheld by Kant in his defence of the
thing-in-itself as unknowable but imaginable. We can
imagine reality as being fundamentally different even if
we never know such a reality. According to Meillassoux,
the defence of both principles leads to “weak” correlationism (such as those of Kant and Husserl), while the
rejection of the thing-in-itself leads to the “strong” correlationism of thinkers such as Wittgenstein and Heidegger. For such “strong” correlationists, it makes no sense
to suppose that there is anything outside of the correlate
of Thought and Being, and so the Principle of Factiality is eliminated in favour of a strengthened Principle of
Correlation.

A second conference, entitled “Speculative Realism/Speculative Materialism”, took place at the UWE
Bristol on Friday 24 April 2009, two years after the
original event at Goldsmiths.[5] The line-up consisted of
Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman,
and (in place of Meillassoux who was unable to attend)
Alberto Toscano.[6]

1

Critique of correlationism

While often in disagreement over basic philosophical issues, the speculative realist thinkers have a shared resis- Meillassoux follows the opposite tactic in rejecting the
tance to philosophies of human finitude inspired by the Principle of Correlation for the sake of a bolstered Principle of Factiality in his post-Kantian return to Hume.
tradition of Immanuel Kant.
By arguing in favour of such a principle, Meillassoux
What unites the four core members of the movement is is led to reject the necessity not only of all physical
an attempt to overcome both "correlationism"[7] as well as laws of nature, but all logical laws with the exception
"philosophies of access". In After Finitude, Meillassoux of the Principle of Non-Contradiction (since eliminating
defines correlationism as “the idea according to which we the Principle of Non-Contradiction would undermine the
only ever have access to the correlation between think- Principle of Factiality which claims that things can aling and being, and never to either term considered apart ways be otherwise than what they are). By rejecting the
from the other.”[8] Philosophies of access are any of those Principle of Sufficient Reason, there can be no justificaphilosophies which privilege the human being over other tion for the necessity of physical laws, meaning that while
entities. Both ideas represent forms of anthropocentrism. the universe may be ordered in such and such a way, there
All four of the core thinkers within Speculative Realism is no reason it could not be otherwise. Meillassoux rework to overturn these forms of philosophy which privi- jects the Kantian a priori in favour of a Humean a priori,
lege the human being, favouring distinct forms of realism claiming that the lesson to be learned from Hume on the
against the dominant forms of idealism in much of con- subject of causality is that "the same cause may actually
bring about 'a hundred different events’ (and even many
temporary philosophy.
1

”[9] 2. but as Aristotle maintained. In this way..[13] Other thinkers have emerged within this group. there is no “apple”. rallying around such thinkers as Schelling. Thacker examines the relation of speculative realism to the ontology of life. life as spirit in post-secular philosophies of religion). only “red”.[11] Harman defends a version of the Aristotelian notion of substance. In his Philosophies of Nature After Schelling. dust. unknowable and inaccessible by any other thing. he defends an a priori metaphysics that claims that reality is made up only of objects and that there is no “bottom” to the series of objects. are equally objects.. either in the form of monism or a perpetual flux.3 Transcendental materialism / neovitalism Iain Hamilton Grant argues against what he terms “somatism”. or creates”[10] ). but a problem for philosophy. or spirit: “Every ontology of life thinks of life in terms of something-otherthan-life. Bergson. they create new objects. Aristotle distinguished between Form and Matter in such a way that Matter was invisible to philosophy. that is. In contrast to many other versions of substance. all things. then. or a propositional attitude.) or the relations (as in both Latour and Whitehead. whereas Grant argues for a return to the Platonic Matter as not only the basic building blocks of reality. for whom there were both substances and aggregates. Eugene Thacker has examined how the concept of “life itself” is both determined within regional philosophy and also how “life itself” comes to acquire metaphysical properties. armies. form. and stone”. whether it be a mailbox. He traces this same argument to the post-Kantian German Idealists Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling. self and world. Harman has even claimed that the term “realism” will soon no longer be a relevant distinction within philosophy as the factions within Speculative Realism grow in number. but the forces and powers that govern our reality. Harman argues that the fire does not touch the essence of that cotton which is inexhaustible by any relation. As such. Grant tells a new history of philosophy from Plato onward based on the definition of matter. to Spinoza and Kant. but other forms of realism as well. such as time.[12] There are two types of objects. form and causality. 2. etc. such as time and temporality. For Harman. claiming that the distinction between Matter as substantive versus useful fiction persists to this day and that we should end our attempts to overturn Plato and instead attempt to overturn Kant and return to “speculative physics” in the Platonic tradition.that something-other-than-life is most often a metaphysical concept. that there is no underlying “object” beneath either the qualities (e. but a “physics of the All”. and Deleuze. Thacker’s book After Life shows how the ontology of life operates by way of a split between “Life” and “the living. “hard”.” making possible a “metaphysical displacement” in which life is thought via another metaphysical term. curved spacetime. when fire burns cotton. united in their allegiance to what has been known as “process philosophy”. Harman proposes a new philosophical discipline called “speculative psychology” dedicated to investigating the “cosmic layers of psyche” and “ferreting out the specific psychic reality of earthworms. showing how this three-fold displacement is also alive in philosophy today (life as time in process philosophy and Deleuzianism. Harman maintains that no two objects can ever interact save through the mediation of a “sensual vicar”.g. while the latter are the caricatures that mediate interaction. for Harman: real objects and the sensual objects that allow for interaction. life as form in biopolitical thought. not a physics of bodies. everything is an object. electromagnetic radiation. Harman also maintains that it need not be considered eternal. and which does so based on some ontologized notion of 'life'. he has already written pieces differentiating his own OOO from other forms of realism which he claims are not realist enough as they reject objects as “useless fictions”. Inspired by the occasionalists of Medieval Islamic Philosophy. According to Harman. Expressing strong sympathy for panpsychism. substances can both come to be and pass away. to Scholasticism and mysticism/negative theology. arguing for a “vitalist correlation": “Let us say that a vitalist correlation is one that fails to conserve the correlationist dual necessity of the separation and inseparability of thought and object. transforms. For example.2 Object-oriented philosophy The central tenet of object-oriented ontology (OOO) is that objects have been given short shrift for too long in philosophy in favour of more “radical approaches”. among others. an object is in itself an infinite recess. whether physical or fictional. A recent example is found in Steven Shaviro's book With- . the Commonwealth of Nations. The former are the things of everyday life.[14] Ultimately Thacker argues for a skepticism regarding “life": “Life is not only a problem of philosophy. the philosophy and physics of bodies. or those that try to “overmine” objects by saying that the idea of a whole object is a form of folk ontology. Harman maintains that when objects combine. perturbs. Whitehead. or spirit and immanence”[13] Thacker traces this theme from Aristotle. This leads to his account of what he terms “vicarious causality”. chalk. OOO is notable for not only its critique of forms of antirealism. Graham Harman has classified these forms of “radical philosophy” as those that either try to “undermine” objects by saying that objects are simply superficial crusts to a deeper underlying reality.2 2 VARIATIONS more). but that the interaction is mediated by a caricature of the cotton which causes it to burn. the former claiming that an object is only what it “modifies. Unlike Leibniz.

Laruelle” in Pli 12: Materialism. so I see little philosophical merit in a “movement” whose most signal achievement thus far is to have generated an online orgy of stupidity. 2007. Ray. ical naturalism which published the proceedings of the inaugural conference at Goldsmiths and has featured numerous other articles by 'speculative realist' thinkers. Ray. 2007. Brassier embraces it as the truth of re• Brassier. to a “vibrant matter” that cuts across the living and non-living.[16] Realism” in Collapse III: Unknown Deleuze. Ray. Ray Brassier maintains that philosophy has avoided the traumatic idea of extinction. “Speculative Laruelle that the universe is founded on the nothing. instead attempting to find meaning in a world conditioned by the very idea of its own annihilation. The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism. 4 Publications 2. • Bryant. but with Non• Brassier. nor do I believe it is acceptable to try to concoct a philosophical movement online by using blogs to exploit the misguided enthusiasm of impressionable graduate students. Quine. human bodies and non-human bodies. Winchester. Brassier concludes from his readings of Badiou and man. Ray Brassier denied that there is any such thing as a “speculative realist movement” and firmly distanced himself from those who continue to attach themselves to the brand name:[18] The “speculative realist movement” exists only in the imaginations of a group of bloggers promoting an agenda for which I have no sympathy whatsoever: actor-network theory spiced • Brassier.3 out Criteria: Kant. London: Palgrave Macmillan. That is. with pan-psychist metaphysics and morsels of process philosophy. “Behold the Non-Rabbit: Kant. • Braver.” don: Urbanomic. Levi. For Shaviro. 2007. • Bryant. and Nick Srnicek (eds. 3 Controversy regarding the existence of a speculative realist “movement” In an interview with Kronos magazine published in March 2011.' invokes what he calls “speculative naturalism” so as to argue that nature can afford lines of insight into its own infinitely productive “vibrant” ground. as has the academic journal Pli. 2011. fends a radically anti-correlationist philosophy proposing that Thought is conjoined not with Being. Ray. François Laruelle. which he identifies as natura naturans. and Quentin Meillassoux. Paul J. Deleuze. 2011. IL: Northwestern University Press. In Nihil Unbound: Extinction and Enlightenment. and Aesthetics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.[15] which argues for a shift from human relations to things. UK: Zero Books. Thus Brassier critiques both the phenomenological and hermeneutic strands of continental philosophy as well as the vitality of thinkers like Gilles Deleuze. 2007. Leon Niemoczynski. in Collapse II: Speculative Realism. Brassier defends a view of the world Speculative Realism: as inherently devoid of meaning. Lonbut also that philosophy is the “organon of extinction. London: Urbanomic. Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment tinction that there is thought at all. Edinburgh University Press publishes a book series called Speculative Realism.[17] Brassier then deand Extinction. Lee. Continental Realism. Onto-Cartography: An Ontology of Machines and Media. which is edited and produced by members of the Graduate School of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Warwick. who work to ingrain meaning in the world and stave off the “threat” of nihilism. I agree with Deleuze’s remark that ultimately the most basic task of philosophy is to impede stupidity. rather than avoiding nihilism. • Ennis. Levi. . I don't believe the internet is an appropriate medium for serious philosophical debate. 2014.). which argues for a process-based approach that entails panpsychism as much as it does vitalism or animism. in his book 'Charles Sanders Peirce and a Religious Metaphysics of Nature. and The following is a list of publications associated with Thomas Metzinger.4 Transcendental nihilism / methodologSpeculative Realism has close ties to the journal Collapse. it is Whitehead’s philosophy of prehensions and nexus that offers the best combination of continental and analytical philosophy. Evanston. drawing on thinkers such as Alain Badiou. regularly features articles related to Speculative Realism. Another recent example is found in Jane Bennett’s book Vibrant Matter. “The Enigma of Realism” Being. founded in 2010 published by Punctum books. Graham Harality. Melbourne: Re-Press. A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism. that it is only because life is conditioned by its own ex• Brassier. Paul Churchland. Whitehead. The journal Speculations. Iain Hamilton Grant. 2001. Graham Harman. Instead.

• Harman. 2010. 5. Graham. “Potentiality and Virtuality” in Collapse II: Speculative Realism. • Harman. “On Vicarious Causality. “On the Horror of Phenomenology: Lovecraft and Husserl” in Collapse IV: Concept-Horror. Winchester. and Quentin Meillassoux. Iain Hamilton Grant.[19] Web sites have After Schelling. Nihil Unbound.Press. p. • Meillassoux. Towards Speculative Realism: Essays and Lectures. After Life. 2008. Prince of Networks. London: Urbanomic. p. 2007. Ray. London: [19] Fabio Gironi. [18] Ray Brassier interviewed by Marcin Rychter "I am a nihilist because I still believe in truth". “Spectral Dilemma” in Collapse IV: Concept-Horror. Prince of Networks. Graham. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Chicago: Open [12] Graham Harman. 'Science-Laden Theory. 2010. Iain Hamilton. • Harman. essary Bond Between Philosophy and Physics’" in Angelaki 10. Melbourne: Re. Immanence and Matter and Memory” in Collapse III: Unknown Deleuze. Speculations 1. Graham. 234-238. • Harman. “On Vicarious Causation” in Collapse II: Speculative Realism. [14] Thacker. 2010. 2008. ISBN 9780822346197. London: Urbanomic.4 7 • Ennis. London: Urbanomic. Circus Philosophicus. p. Iain Hamilton. Graham. 2002. Court • Meillassoux. [7] Mackay. Graham. . After Life. • Grant. 2007. • Harman. “Speculative Realism. 213. Vibrant matter a political ecology of things. 2008.” Frieze. “Editorial Introduction”. [10] Graham Harman. 2 (1): 3–13. March 4. Graham Harman. “Subtraction and Contraction: Deleuze. Iain Hamilton. 21. 2011 • Meillassoux. Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. • Harman. London: Urbanomic. London: Urbanomic. REFERENCES 5 Internet presence • Grant. London: Urbanomic. Kronos. 2015. Winchester. Quentin. Many other blogs have emerged with original ma'Physio-Philosophy'" in Collapse IV: Concept. After Finitude. [15] Bennett. [11] Graham Harman. 2011. “The 'Eternal and Nec. Chicago: Open Court. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. lectures. Paul J. 2007. 2011. Graham. 90. Collapse.” [4] Graham Harman. 223-226. Graham. 2008. [3] Graham Harman. UK: Zero Books. [2] Brassier. • Harman. Post-Continental Voice: Selected Interviews. “brief SR/OOO tutorial. Trans. 2 (1): 3–13. • Meillassoux. • Harman. Collapse. Graham. UK: Zero Books. The Quadruple Object. UK: Zero Books.terial on Speculative realism or expanding on its themes Horror. Guerilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things. Urbanomic. Robin (March 2007). 2009. and ideas. Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making. After Finitude. Iain Hamilton. Quentin. 2005. Jane (2010). [17] Ray Brassier. 2000. and podcasts featuring various speculative re• Grant. London: Continuum. “brief SR/OOO tutorial. 2005. Durham: Duke University Press. “The Chemistry of Darkness” in Pli 9: Science. Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects. Robin (March 2007).” [5] Mark Fisher. formed as resources for essays. Quentin. [16] Ray Brassier. Nihil Unbound. “Speculative Realism. and planned fu• Grant. x. “Speculative Realism” in Collapse III: Unknown Deleuze. [13] Thacker. “Editorial Introduction”. 2008. [8] Quentin Meillassoux. Graham.alists have also appeared online. UK: Zero Books. Ray Brassier. Winchester. Quentin. 6 See also • New realism in contemporary philosophy 7 References [1] Mackay.1. 148-149. • Harman. [9] Quentin Meillassoux. 95. 2007. London: Continuum. Winchester. Philosophies of Nature Speculative Realism is notable for its fast expansion via the Internet in the form of blogs.” 201. [6] Mark Fisher.” Frieze. 254. “Being and Slime: ture books by those within the Speculative Realist moveThe Mathematics of Protoplasm in Lorenz Oken’s ment.

academia.com_dossier-magazine_ petit-panorama-du-realisme-speculatif • Collapse – a journal featuring contributions by “speculative realists” • Quentin Meillassoux in English at the Speculative Realism Conference Recording of Quentin Meillassoux’s lecture in English at the inaugural Speculative Realism conference • The Speculative Realism Pathfinder • Post-Continental Voices . no 255. winter 2016 -.5 8 External links • Pierre-Alexandre Fradet and Tristan Garcia (eds.an edited collection of interviews that contains interviews with speculative realists.introduction here : "https://www._27-30_online_http_ magazine-spirale. _255_winter_2016_p. .). in Spirale. issue “Réalisme spéculatif”.edu/20381265/ With_Tristan_Garcia_Petit_panorama_ du_réalisme_spéculatif_in_Spirale_num.

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