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Forms of Rationalism and its Adversaries: Bridging The Gap between Continental and Analytic Philosophy

Lecturer: Andrea Giuseppe Ragno

Originally Taught: Winter School 2020

Course Aim

By looking at the tension amongst rationalist theories such as Kantianism, naturalism, and mate- rialism, we will reflect and rethink the dispute between the analytic and the continental tradition in philosophy.

Course Outline

In  epistemology,  rationalism  has  been  understood  as  the  view  which  sees  reason  as  the  main source  for  knowledge.   Since  the  Ancient  Greek  philosophy,  reason  has  always  had  a  special status.   Within  the  history  of  philosophy,  reason  has  been  described  in  two  ways:   on  the  one hand  epistemically  and  on  the  other  instrumentally.  The  instrumental  approach  systematically accomplishes  the  targets  and  the  intents  set  out  by  a  specific  relation  between  thinking  and  its surroundings — the enterprise of science, for instance.  Instead, the epistemic approach focuses more on mapping each belief, model, system to their respective targets and on the efficiency of these cognitive and semantic maps.

In the first part of the seminar, we examine some of the ways in which pre-Kantian philoso- phies  have  elaborated  the  complex  relationship  between  rational  and  sensorial  knowledge  and the  world.    In  particular,  we  will  put  accent  on  the  works  of  Plato,  the  Cartesian  dualism, Spinozian monism, Leibniz, Hume’s empiricism and his influence on Kant’s philosophy.

Beginning  from  the  end  of  19th  Century,  philosophy  has  also  seen  a  break  into  two  traditions: Anglo-American  analytic  philosophy,  and  Continental  European  philosophy.  Generally,  the  di- vide is hold as the former blames the latter on the accounts of its irreducible experience, which seems to resist scientific formalisation and lead to relativism,  and the latter claims that the for- mer yields ethical and historical interpretations from epistemology.  Interestingly, some analytic philosophers shared the same opinion on metaphysics with continental philosophers.  An exam- ple is offered by Rorty’s destitution of metaphysics and Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics.

Also,  their  political  views  were  both  disastrous  to  the  extent  that  they  both  were  apologetic  of either a naïve liberalism or fascist regimes.  However, the new century saw for both traditions a rehabilitation  of  metaphysics:  respectively,  a  strict  logical  rationalism,  which  is  often  deflation- ary  and  avoids  complex  issues,  and  the  speculative  realism,  which  spans  from  Object  Oriented Ontology to a metaphysical panpsychism.  What is criticised of these contemporary movements is  that  they  rehabilitate  a  ‘bad’  metaphysics,  i.e.   totality,  cynicism,  naivety,  instead  of  a  ‘good’ one, i.e.  difference, pluralism, relationality.

In the second part of the seminar, we will overview the revival of rationalism in contemporary philosophy.  We will start this journey by analysing the Kantian impact in Sellars, whose philoso- phy lies in the heritage of Piercian pragmatic naturalism aware of the Carnapian distinction of the analytic and the synthetic.  Similarly to Sellars, in a more continental fashion, Meillassoux vows to vindicate scientific and mathematical realism in light of postkantian philosophy.  By avoiding a vitalist and mathematical Platonism, reason reemerged alongside cognitive functionalism, meta- physical  naturalism,  and  logical  inferentialism  in  the  works  of  Brassier  and  Brandom.   Finally, we will conclude the seminar by looking at how Du Bois, Longino, Harding, and Anderson have articulated a crucial empiricist critique to the premises of rationalism with respect to postcolonial and feminist theories.  These positions maintain a strong realism in science.

Required Readings

Week 1. Interpreting Ancient and Modern Rationalism:

  • Brassier, Ray  (2013).   That Which is Not:  Philosophy as Entwinement of Truth and Negativity, Stastis - 1, pp.  174–186.
  • Hume, David (1739). Part 3: Knowledge and Probability in Treatise of Human Nature, Book 1.

Week 2. Kant’s philosophy and the postkantian heritage:

  • Kant, Immanuel  (1787).  Transcendental Analytic,  and  Transcendental Deduction in Critique of Pure Reason.
  • Negarestani, Reza  (2018).   Chapter  I:  Between  Conception  and  Transformation  in  Intelligence and Spirit, Falmouth:  Urbanomic.

Week 3. Metaphysical naturalism:

  • Sellars, Wilfrid (1968). Chapter I – Sensibility and Understanding in Science and Metaphysics – Variations on Kantian Themes, Atascadero:  Ridgeview Publishing Company.
  • Brandom, Robert B. (2008). Modality and Normativity: From Hume and Quine to Kant and Sell- ars in Between Saying and Doing: Towards an Analytic Pragmatism, Oxford:  Oxford University Press.

Week 4. Rational Materialism:

  • Brassier, Ray (2016).Transcendental Logic and True Representings, Glass Bead.
  • Meillassoux, Quentin (2016). Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition: A Speculative Materialist Analy- sis of the Sign Devoid of Meaning, in A. Avanessian and S. Malik, eds., Genealogies of Specula- tion: Materialism and Subjectivity Since Structuralism, New York:  Bloomsbury Publishing.

Week 5. Feminist empiricism and the value-free ideal of science:

  • Longino, Helene  E.  (1995).    Gender,  politics,  and  the  theoretical  virtues,  Synthese  104,  pp.383–397.
  • Bright, Liam  K.  (2018).   Du Bois’ democratic defence of the value free ideal,  Synthese  195,  pp.2227–2245.