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The Rise of Neorationalism: From Speculative Realism to Speculative Critique

Lecturer: Daniel Sacilotto

Originally Taught: Summer School 2022

This seminar proposes to explore the rise of the so-called “neo-rationalist” orientation in contemporary philosophy, exploring works by Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Reza Negarestani, Gabriel Catren, and Nathan Brown. In essence, neorationalism critically and constructively responds both to vitalist and empiricist metaphysics, as well as to the deflationary consequences of phenomenological, historicist, and deconstructionist approaches elaborated throughout the 20th Century and until today. In response to these modes of thought, neorationalism proposes a revalorization of the Platonic emphasis on ideation and mathematical formalization against sensibility, an insistence on the indispensability of Kantian critical epistemology in relation to metaphysics, and a development of the systematic Hegelian and Sellarsian social-historical account of rational normativity. In doing so, neo-rationalist thinkers generate new avenues to cross the methodological divide between analytic and continental philosophical traditions, unabashedly affirming the valences of truth, systematicity, reason, and knowledge. In examining this constellation of thought, we will furthermore address how neo-rationalist philosophy proposes new means not only to reconstitute the theoretical aims of philosophy, but also to rethink its practical and political scope, by way of new accounts of subjectivation and collective agency.

In the first week, we trace the origins of the neo-rationalist sequence as a singular vector within the rise of “speculative realism,” looking in particular at the speculative materialism of Quentin Meillassoux in his work After Finitude, which is largely inspired by the mathematical Platonism of Alain Badiou and Hegel’s speculative idealism. In the second week we examine the development of Ray Brassier’s pursuit of a new form of materialism that reconciles the positional realism of Francois Laruelle’s non-philosophy, and the transcendental naturalism of Wilfrid Sellars. In the third week, we explore Reza Negarestani’s ‘inhumanist’ reinterpretation of Hegel’s social and ‘deprivatized’ account of social cognition or Geist, in the wake of the computer theoretic program of Artificial General Intelligence, as elaborated in his recent work Intelligence and Spirit. In the fourth week we assess Gabriel Catren’s attempt to bring about a synthesis of transcendental materialism and speculative idealism, in the pursuit of a “absolutely modern philosophy” that also amounts to a “true Copernican revolution” in response to the “Ptolemaic counter-revolution” incubated during the German Idealist sequence. In doing so, we shall see, Catren draws from the works of Husserl, Laruelle, Badiou, and Hegel, to pursue a radically new form of systematic philosophy. Finally, in the fifth week, we address Nathan Brown’s attempt to dialectically reconcile rationalist and empiricist methodologies in his recent work Rationalist Empiricism, articulating a theory of “speculative critique” that synoptically draws from the works of Hegel, Bachelard, Althusser, Badiou, and Meillassoux.


Week I (January 12th) – Introduction: Realism after Correlationism

  • Readings: Quentin Meillassoux, “Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition: A Speculative Analysis of the Sign Devoid of Meaning,” in Genealogies of Speculation, pp. 117-199.

Week II (January 19th) – The Rehabilitation of Nihilism

  • Readings: Ray Brassier, “Concepts and Objects,” in The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, pp 47-66; Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction: Chapter I.

Week III (January 26th) – Radical Inhumanism: German Idealism and Artificial General Intelligence

  • Readings: Reza Negarestani, Intelligence and Spirit, Introduction, Chapter I; The Labor of the Inhuman.

Week IV (February 2nd) – A Truly Modern Philosophy: Overcoming the Ptolemaic Counter-Revolution

  • Readings: Gabriel Catren, Outland Empire, in The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, pp. 334-368.

Week V (February 9th) – Rationalist Empiricism: The Search for Immanent Critique

  • Readings: Nathan Brown, Rationalist Empiricism: A Theory of Speculative Critique, Intro, Chapter I-II.