I am intrigued by the new loosely associated school or craze in idea called speculative realism. I am currently reading The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism by Steven Shaviro (University of Minnesota Press, 2014). Shaviro is a Whiteheadian basically, therefore his position is relatively different from the other speculative realists I have read. I am pretty in advance about my initial position at least.
Earlier I needed published on the speculative realism of Graham Harman, especially as within his publication The Quadruple Object. I think, as I argued there, that most of the useful claims made by the speculative realists can be better made within the context of the philosophy of John Dewey. Dewey’s school of thought also avoids a few of their excesses.
I am sympathetic to the anti-anthropocentrism of the speculative realists. We have to get beyond the idea that humans will be the center of everything. At the same time, I believe they tend to throw the infant out with the bathwater. They may be wanting to cast away everything about Kant for example too.
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Shaviro also advocates panpsychism. The majority of what he says about this makes sense to me: for example, that pets and even vegetation can have consciousness or simply just intentionality. I also agree that for thoughts and minds to exist it should be the case that of nature has a mental aspect to it. However I cannot concur that rocks think or that there surely is something that it is like to be a rock. I also think that the speculative realists just overlook the fundamental fact that people cannot escape our own awareness.
Everything we experience is experienced by us, i.e. by humans. This includes every one of the thoughts had by speculative realists. So I continue to agree with the phenomenologists, and with Dewey, that we philosophers must start with experience, and with our own experience specifically. I concur that values are out there in the world but only in the sense of being out there in the world of experience, in the world as experienced. There could be valued in the world as experienced by a virus: I’ve no trouble with this. But there is no reason to posit beliefs in a world without experience or in a world inhabited entirely by non-living things.
Speculative realists like Shaviro are driven to their extreme panpsychist position because they think that the only other alternatives are anthropocentrism or eliminative materialism. They are not the only alternatives. Of course the non-mental physical world has the potential for the kind of complexity that leads alive and experience. The global world of thoughts and ideas is emergent upon the world of solely physical things. There are probably even elements of the non-living world that are precursors to experience and thought, although we’ve no knowledge of that as this true point.
One thing that attracts me to Shaviro and retains me coming back to him despite my disapproval of his more extravagant claims is that he, like Whitehead, places a very strong focus on aesthetics. He talks about aesthetics in conditions of the allures (54). When something has allure it addresses me and draws in my attention from beyond. It is, following Whitehead, a “proposition” in the sense of a tale “that perhaps might be told about particular actualities” (Whitehead, PR 256) which proposes a potentiality to the viewers, one that is anchored within an actuality.
We do not encounter things in the same way packets of qualities. I am happy with all this except that unlike Shaviro I think that the thing presents itself to me as a proposition partly due to its nature for me personally. That is, this is one way it is constituted in my experience.