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My Peasant Question for the Week: Do I have to Resort to Fideism?

by on February 28, 2013

NOTE: While I understand that some of this will come off as quite bitter, it was more a progression of logic that started from a point of deep frustration that has brought me to a point of cautious acquiescence. In short, I think this is a big, long consideration of whether or not I find it acceptable to go through a willing suspension of disbelief according to some of our recent readings. The answer I was left with was an optimistic “maybe.” Feel free to point out if I am grossly off base on something here:

I ask peasant questions in the eyes of philosophers I suppose. I grew up in the Catholic education system and suffered FAR too long under the bastard explanation of faith, and casually turned to philosophy to try to overcome that. Marxism, Postmodernism, what little Kant I’ve read, and bits and pieces of many others along the way taught me to separate reality as it is from our own strange little socially constructed reality, so I do not argue with the validity of ontological contemplations. But, I refuse to tolerate ANY ordering systems dependent on a willing suspension of disbelief (I will even include my own tendencies to fall back on modern science as being equally invalidated by this, but I have always seen it as general guidelines and not absolutes, much the same way I view “wait a half hour after eating before jumping in the pool”). It is one thing to hypothesize the origins of being: it is a valid endeavor that holds far reaching consequences for humanity, but I think only in the sense of morality (i.e. no god = no real conduct constituting right and wrong, right and wrong just become social binders, organizational standards, and philosophy can help people to consider this in relation to our own conduct). So yes, I have preconceptions that have me approaching everything with skepticism, my “authentic fideism” as Meillassoux puts it, but that skepticism does not result in a denial of what is plainly in front of me, regardless of whether or not it knows I am plainly in front of it, nor do I feel that I have a greater right to exist than a coffee mug, a rain forest, or my dog. Reality doesn’t need me any more than it needs spray cheese and shrinky-dinks. So when I consider what social benefits SR and OOO can provide, I see its egalitarianism of being as its greatest strength. There’s no reason for humanity to keep running around mindlessly destroying things and itself, we’re all on equal footing, there is no privilege, and therefore if we see ourselves as a moral species, than we have a moral obligation to knock it off, or concede that morality is entirely false, self-applied, and it’s just as well that we do wipe each other out because maybe at least everything else will have a chance if we are gone. Religion grants privilege, ideology grants privilege, philosophy questions that privilege with logic, reason, and rhetoric (rightfully so). So, rather than drag out points that we are all plainly aware of, it pains me to see philosophy resort to the same semantic games, petty quibbling, and ultimate resort to fideism that made me look to it rather than religion and ideology in the first place.

Whenever it comes to metaphysics, pre-existence, time, space, and being, fideism is always there to some extent, but at least philosophers were polite enough not to try to defend it as more valid for them than it was religious radicals and oppressive orders. I mean, that would be an outlandish hypocrisy, would it not? If reason is the enemy of ignorance, why resort to the same tools used to propagate ignorance (blind faith) for centuries by religious authorities? Why resort to the same mechanisms that supposedly justified the killing of countless philosophers? I see that religion and philosophy share similar origins, both seek to answer the question of us, being, however you want to frame it and I don’t want to imply that philosophy demands atheism. On this point, I will invoke Meillassoux’s spot on renunciation of what I am complaining about, thus extending my skepticism to my own beliefs (or non-beliefs, not sure which anymore):

“The struggle against what the Enlightenment called ‘fanaticism’ has been converted into a project of moralization: the condemnation of fanaticism is carried out solely in the name of its practical (ethico-political) consequences, never in the name of the ultimate falsity of its contents” (47).

But, since modern philosophy seems to see itself as clearly distinct from religion while still a “liberal servant of any theology whatsoever” (Meillassoux 47), it needs something more than fideism to carry any more validity for me than Zeus, Jesus, or David Koresh.

What do we have beyond a blind appeal to faith? The invisible flicker of substance which is not an amorphous blob, not blank-slate matter, but rather an encapsulating all that is virtual, undetermined, predetermined, exists and does not exist which is then extended not be predetermined at all but rather a potential set that may or may not come to be: sounds a lot like the Catholic notion of Free Will vs. God’s all-knowing omnipotence to me. The One? The Eternal Return? The real qualities? How is this any different from simply brushing it off and saying, “God did it?” Say it is not; say that it is attempting to answer the same questions: ok, fine with me, then philosophy is only as valid as all human beings coming from Adam’s rib, alien planets and Lord Xenu’s hubris, coming from nothing at all, or being entirely dependent on my being around to perceive it. Am I wrong? My answer is YES!!!! I want to be wrong, I believe philosophy does have more to offer. But philosophy, much like the other humanities, is largely confined to academia, which in turn has largely turned away from religion, and as philosophy comes to points that it must take up the same routes that have been slowly killing religion, can we expect it to survive the secular world any more than religion has? Is it taking the rest of humanities with it as philosophy is something of the cornerstone of the humanities in a secularized world?

Ok, I will try to circle back now. While I have actually found Deleuze quite helpful in my understanding of SR and OOO (and very much so in the reverse as well; Harman, Meillassoux, and Bryant have all added a great deal of clarity for me on the former), I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that they are all attempting to explain a faith based fabric of reality without a god (or maybe with a god, or whatever it is that Meillassoux has going on). While I know this was part of last week’s reading and prior class discussions, I have not been able to shake a particular quote from Chapter 2 of Democracy of Objects that quite frankly infuriated me:

“The existence of substance is not something that can be arrived at through an experience or a direct observation, but can only be arrived at as a premise through transcendental argumentation. When we adopt the actualist gesture of restricting knowledge to what is directly given in experience, this way of reaching substance is irrevocably foreclosed” (85).

This in turn brought me back to Meillassoux’s equally frustrating quote:

“It is important to note that the religionizing of reason does not designate the act of faith as such – since the latter can obviously prove extremely valuable. The religionizing of reason designates the contemporary form of the connection between thinking and piety – and hence a movement of thought itself relative to piety; specifically, its non-metaphysical subordination to the latter. Better still: its subordination to piety via the specific mode of destruction of metaphysics. Such is the sense of de-absolutization – thought no longer provides an a priori demonstration of the truth of a specific content of piety; instead, it establishes how any piety whatsoever enjoys an equal and exclusive right to grasp the ultimate truth. Contrary to the familiar view according to which Occidental modernity consists in a vast enterprise of the secularization of thought, we consider the most striking feature of modernity to be the following: the modern man is he who has been re-ligionized precisely to the extent that he has been de-Christianized. The modern man is he who, even as he stripped Christianity of the ideological (metaphysical) pretension that its belief system was superior to all others, has delivered himself body and soul to the idea that all belief systems are equally legitimate in matters of veracity” (47-48).

I see this as a bi-product of separation of church and state, and the exact same variety of dangerous passivity that allows Mormons to claim that Jesus is from America and black people have different colored skin because they chose the side of Lucifer rather than obeying Elohim’s wishes, that human-beings are inhabited by alien souls and that Tom Cruise is both divine and talented, and I could go on and on, but that would probably be drifting dangerously close to religious hate speech. The point is, while our reading has offered a great deal of incredibly enlightening thoughts on being, and I would say a fairly thorough history on philosophy in general, it always seems to boil down to an appeal to faith. This is why I prefer the sciences over philosophy in matters of metaphysics, I cannot give myself over to blind faith, but my belief in science can be equally construed as blind faith. So what I am left with is a question: can anyone posit anything without ultimately appealing to fideism? Does the principle of sufficient reason always lead us back here? Is it possible to ever escape fideism? I am starting to think the answer is probably not, which in turn has me reconsidering whether I think metaphysics has any value beyond “this is something we should all consider, but it’s pointless to argue it.” I am shocked that my answer is suddenly emerging as a cautious/skeptical maybe on the side of metaphysics.


From → Quadruple Object

  1. jmdaven permalink

    Whether or not fideism is something that holds one, or that one must escape, or that is implied in any choice one makes seems itself to be a ideological or fideist no? Whether it is something from which one needs to flee or whether it is impossible to flee maybe should not be the question so much as why or whence fideism arises. Why or how is belief implied in any system seems to be the better question to me if that makes sense or helps.

  2. That really does actually, and after a thorough re-reading of chapter 5, I am inclined to agree. While I freely admit to having a certain biased against fideism based on its rather dubious applications throughout human history, that is exactly what Meillassoux was cautioning against. But I felt the discussion of Badiou’s power set axiom was helpful in this respect. While Bryant seemed to consider it more in terms of ideology, this seemed a more plausible explanation for change than the structuralist argument of Levi-Strauss that was presented, i.e. that floating signifier (which again, came off as a philosophical cop-out to me, basically saying I’m not sure exactly what does this, so i will just say it is invisible). Maybe I am just too grounded in Western philosophical thought, I take a certain comfort in numbers while simultaneously calling them arbitrary, but the idea of set-relations accounting for a nearly (if not) infinite permutations of endo/exo-relations, while absolutely relying on a fideism that all of these potential manifestations are equally in play, this resonates (no pun intended) with me more than the former explanation of “something we just can’t observe does this, and we should not be skeptical because we can’t observe it.”

    For that matter, the section on mereology has quite possibly become my favorite part of the reading this semester, and I love the fact that Bryant actually took up the example of a cancer. While I still have a lot of questions on this topic, I cannot argue with the logic Bryant uses to show that large-scale objects are not the composite of the their small-scale object elements. While I still think this leaves a tremendous grey area as to when pieces become a whole, I found Bryant’s explanation far more satisfying than what say Harman presented.

  3. Just a quick sidenote, I absolutely loved that Bryant extended his onticology to take into account evolutionary biology, the nature versus nurture argument, Marxism, and Ideology and tried to mitigate diverse/practical approaches to OOO: I think it was the first time I whole-heatedly agreed with any of the texts. I loved the section on moving from a critique of culture to one of composition:

    “If regimes of attraction tend to lock people into particular social systems or modes
    of life, the question of composition would be that of how we might build new collectives that expand the field of possibility and change within the social sphere. Here we cannot focus on discourse alone, but must also focus on the role that nonhuman actors such as resources and technologies play in human collectives” (226).

    This is everything I have ever wanted to hear from philosophy: while critiquing existing social structure is an absolutely valid activity (after all, to change we must first know what it is we are changing from), Bryant’s thought on regimes of attraction and resonance makes me want to find him and shake his hand:

    “The point here is that the failure for change to occur despite compelling critiques of the dominant social order cannot simply be attributed to ideological mystifications. Social and political thought needs to expand its domain of inquiry, diminish its obsessive focus on content, and
    increase attention to regimes of attraction and problems of resonance between objects.The social space is far more free and informed than the structuralists and neo-structuralists, in their focus on content, acknowledge and it is more likely that the lack of change arises not from subjects being ideologically duped alone but from the manner in which we are entangled in life. It is not by mistake that often profound social change only occurs when the infrastructure of social systems encounter profound collapse, for in these circumstances psychic systems no longer have anything left to lose and live in the midst of a situation where the regime of attraction in which they once existed has ceased to be operative” (227)

    This point links up so well my perspective on Gravity’s Rainbow (which some of you are familiar) and the idea of false political dichotomies. I wanted this philosophy to give me a practical value, and Bryant in the sense has offered more than all the other texts combined (and then some) in this respect.

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