I’ve lately been trying to start understanding Speculative Realism, a contemporary movement within “continental” philosophy. Speculative Realism is of particular interest to me because, it seems, it is one of the first philosophical movements whose social network is focused on the Web. (One of its leading thinkers, Graham Harman, has his own regularly updated blog.) This is not yet the future I’ve been starting to imagine where the Web replaces universities and book publishing as philosophy’s institutional locus, since most if not all Speculative Realists are academics. Still, it’s an interesting first step.
Now what about the content of Speculative Realism, the ideas? It’s a difficult school of thought and I’ve only scratched the surface, by scanning of some of the websites. I am certainly not in a place to evaluate this emerging tradition’s arguments, not yet at least. But to help myself and others think through what Speculative Realism might mean, I’d like to try some preliminary comparison – what Charles Tilly would call “individualizing” comparison, the attempt to understand one phenomenon by drawing connections to others.
As I understand it so far, the most central idea in Speculative Realism is a critique of what the French Speculative Realist Quentin Meillassoux calls “correlationism.” I pinch Meillassoux’s definition of “correlationism” from Skholiast’s blog: correlationism is “the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other.” Correlationism is an idea associated above all with Immanuel Kant’s epistemology, according to which our knowledge is limited to categories of human thought; it is thereby anthropocentric, focusing epistemology and metaphysics too much on the human subject and not enough on objects in the world. (Thus Speculative Realists like Harman often refer to their thought as “object-oriented philosophy,” a philosophy focused on the objects of knowledge, as opposed, presumably, to the “subject-oriented philosophy” of Kant.)
The first comparison that came to my mind when I read about this was one that I doubt Speculative Realists would find flattering: Ayn Rand. Continue reading →