Sunday, March 28, 2010

Meillassoux is an exceptionally clear philosopher

One of the trends of the last hundred years of philosophy has been to think questions of ontology in terms of categories of totality and community. This “episteme” takes an endless variety of forms (Heidegger’s worldhood, Whitehead’s “organism”, Hegel’s system, Wittgenstein’s “language games”, the structuralist’s structures, etc), but generally we can refer to the core thesis behind each of these positions as that of “relationism”, where relations are held to hold ontological priority over parts.

In other words, for the intro student no philosophical text is easy. It doesn’t matter whether you’re teaching Plato’s EuthyphroApology, Mill’s Utilitarianism or Division 1 of Heidegger’s Being and Time. They find it all difficult. In my view, the aim of an intro course is not so much mastery of the texts– hell we labor our entire life trying to master texts –so much as it is a question of acquainting them with basic questions, reasoning and relations between premises and conclusions, key concepts, and the cultivation of textual hermeneutics.

With Meillassoux, for example, I don’t think the issue is one of showing them how correlationism is an interesting intervention in Continental circles (they lack the background to find that important), but rather to acquaint them with the debate between realism and anti-realism and how Meillassoux is attempting to navigate that debate. This question can stand fairly well on its own, independent of its broader context, and especially after they’ve worked through Kant’s Prolegomena and understood its basic argument and what led Kant to that argument…

As for Meillassoux, he’s an exceptionally clear philosopher that clearly outlines his arguments. He’s actually a relief after Hume and Kant… Thus, for example, when I recently taught We Have Never Been Modern, I found that this categorically did not work. The text, as great as it is, just presupposes too much and is not put together very well. 

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