October 9, 2013 § 46 Comments
[Photo: Casey Cripe]
Alva Noë recently posted a short commentary on the entanglement of science and values. I think readers will be interested in it. At first blush Noë’s point is fairly straight forward: Science and values are always entangled because the very characteristics science depends on — reason, consistency, coherence, plausibility, and replicability — are themselves values. Without some kind of agreement that these are the values that best serve the creation of scientific facts there would be no foundation upon which the sciences could maintain consistency. Science depends on a set of extra-scientific decisions, and we need to pursue and cultivate these decisions in order for the possibility of science to emerge in the first place. Simple enough.
However, while the appeal to the intrinsically value-laden nature of scientific practice is often used to demote science as the sole arbiter of truth (i.e., ‘see, science is just another value’), Noë’s approach is much more helpful. Instead of trying to lower the status of science by appeal to its value-laden dimensions, Noë’s stake is to raise the status of values themselves. Noë wants us to take seriously that values have real causal efficacy; in other words, Noë asks us to acknowledge what we might call the “objectively” real status of values. This leads to some interesting questions. Noë writes:
But if values are real, what are they? And what about the fact that, when it comes to values, it doesn’t seem possible to settle disputes. We live in a pluralistic world, after all. Once you take values seriously, you’ve got to figure out how they fit into the world, how they fit into our world, and this isn’t easy. In fact, I suspect, it is one of the fundamental problems of our time.
By asking the question “what are values?” — not “what are they like?” or “what do they do?” — Noë is asking us to consider the ontology of values. Not only that, but he is suggesting that understanding what values are and how they fit into the world is crucial to our day and age. Here Noë is joined by a number of philosophers who share his problem, but approach it from a different angle. We find this in Isabelle Stengers description of cosmopolitics where the cosmos is itself an articulated series of entangled and contested “universes of value” (a term she borrows from Felix Guattari). We also see this in Bruno Latour’s emphatic shift from “matters of fact” to “matters of concern,” and Donna Haraway’s work on companion species. We can trace all three of these initiatives back to Alfred North Whitehead’s critique of the bifurcation of nature.
What Stengers, Latour, Haraway, and Whitehead have in common is a basic understanding that in order to account for the reality of values, we need an alternative metaphysics not based in the subjective-objective dichotomy, nor one that collapses the Real into either category. Latour’s newest work in An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (“AIME”) is itself an investigation into the ontology of values, as is Haraway’s more recent take on multispecies cosmopolitics. With Noë, cosmopolitics and AIME both seek to elevate the status of values rather than use them to attack the nature of the sciences. However, for the latter group the ontological status of values is much broader than what Noë hints at — though does not foreclose — in his commentary.
Where does this broader account of values take us?
Following the speculative method of cosmopolitics, I would wager that values are not just crucial to the development of science, but are in fact fundamental to the evolutionary process of every living species (and, in turn, to the very constitution of Earth). In other words, my position is that values drive ecology all the way down. By this I do not mean that evolution aims towards a particular, unified value (though there is a sense in which some kind of teleodynamism must be accounted for). Rather, what I am suggesting is that all creatures behave according to a unique and diverse set of structures of valuation that enact certain kinds of terrains allowing them to act. (With Tim Morton we might even say that this is an aesthetic process). From this view, ecology just is an evolving exchange of values — a concatenated set of ecologies of mind. The emergence of the Anthropocene is a frightening testament to how human values currently dominate and drive the evolutionary process. It’s a complete breakdown of the subject-object dichotomy.
The stake for me here is that we need to cultivate philosophies of significance in the context of a metaphysics that does not reduce the nature of valuation to mere mirage. Epiphenomenalism and eliminativism are out. Reality is back in.
May 21, 2013 § 5 Comments
May 21, 2013 § 7 Comments
Cosmopolitics and reconstituting worlds; Concrete political clashes between worlds; 1995 majority of French population believes the future of their children to be worse than their own; the end of the trust in progress; Globalization; sacrifice for competition; Political Ontology; civilizing modern practices
What are concepts good for? Science wars—scientists and critical thinkers—rationality, universality; modern hegemony—knowledge cannot be about representation only
Concepts have a power; the self-confirming power of representationalism; the concept of practice is introduced to divide scientists (to break “Science” up); open up a space for thought in which the monolithic figure of objective knowledge is broken
Reformulating the claims of the sciences rather than directly denying them—situating objectivity as a rare achievement. The particular and exceptional nature of objective interpretation; the general reduction. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 5, 2013 § 4 Comments
(1) ‘Once Out of Nature’ – Natural Religion as a Pleonasm
October 29, 2012 § 1 Comment
From now on, politics is something entirely different from what political scientists believe: it is the building of the cosmos in which everyone lives, the progressive composition of the common world (Latour: 2004). What is common to this vast transformation is that politics is now defined as the agonizing sorting out of conflicting cosmograms (Tresch: 2005). Hence the excellent name Isabelle Stengers has proposed to give to the whole enterprise, that of cosmopolitics, meaning, literally, the politics of the cosmos (Stengers: 1996) – and not some expanded form of internationalism (Beck: 2006).
For the past several years I have devoted significant portions of my time to understanding what I now view as an experimental investigation into the ontological status of ideas, concepts, and knowledge. The phrase I have given to this project — “Knowledge Ecology” — has been traveling with me since around 2007 when I first began formulating my thesis that knowledge and its relation to knowers has a predominately ecological character. In 2008-2009 I began my first attempts at composing a proposal for my M.A. thesis. I wanted to link natural, social, and humanistic sciences into a transdisciplinary framework united by the principles of ecological and evolutionary thinking. My thesis then, which I still largely hold to, was that, in order to make sense of — and in order to meaningfully intervene on — the human situation, we need to understand the constitutive role played by three interdependent ecological domains: natural ecologies, media ecologies, and knowledge ecologies. (I have since dropped the phrase “natural” in order to separate the scientific principles of evolutionary ecology from the homogenizing and hetereonormative implications often associated with deployment of “natural” categories of anything.) « Read the rest of this entry »