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Materialism, Terry Eagleton

01 May 2021 09:39 - 16 Apr 2022 07:45

    • A synoptic overview of a bunch of quite different strains in philosophy that all in various ways share the name "materialism". It explicitly doesn't pay much attention to the kind of materialism I am familiar with, the scientific naturalism of Dennett, cognitive science, and general tech-atheist-rationalist discourse. It's focused more on people like Marx, Nietzsche, and the various ways they have thought about the body and the corporeal nature of thought and existence.
    • I found this a lot more agreeable than most philosophical treatments of mind/body issues. A book like Physicalism, or something near enough (Jaegwon Kim) seems to take it for granted that we know what minds are and what material is and the problem is to figure out how they are connected, and give that connection fancy names like "supervenience"
      • Possibly I'm being grossly unfair to this book, which I've only lightly skimmed, but it seems typical.
      . Eagelton's historical and comparative approach avoids that problem, it implicitly recognizes that the meaning of those basic terms varies over time, and that the division of the world into inert matter animated by something outside of itself was as much a reflection of political attitudes as anything else.
    • For Newton and his colleagues, matter was brute, inert, stupid stuff, and as such had to be set in motion by the external power of the divine will...in the Newtonian view, spiritual forces rule Nature from above rather as monarchs and despots govern their states. For the radical lineage stemming from Spinoza , by contrast, there is no call for such august authorities. Matter itself is alive and self-determining, like the populace of a democratic state...It is thus that one can speak of a politics of matter. To be a materialist in this sense is to invest human beings with a degree of dignity by seeing them as part of a material world which is identical with the Almighty. Such, at least, was the view of the pantheistic Spinoza. (p3, edited a bit)
    • There is then, an ethical dimension to materialism as well as a political one. In the face of a hubristic humanism, it insists on our solidarity with the commonplace stuff of the world, thus cultivating the virtue of humility...Materialism of this kind fosters not nihilism but realism...Aware of the intractability of matter, materialist thought promotes a respect for the otherness and integrity of the world, in contrast to the postmodern narcissism that sees nothing but reflections of human culture wherever it looks. (p5)
    • I'm not exactly sure how to characterize Eagelton's stance here. he seems to have an extremely prosaic approach to his subject, he sort of exudes a kind of sturdy British common sense, especially compared to some of the continental philosophers he writes about. Sometimes that's refreshing; other times he just seems dense, like when he says:
    • It is not clear what to make of the claim that everything is related to everything else. There seems little in common between the Pentagon and a sudden upsurge of sexual jealousy...
    • What an odd example; did he never see Dr Strangelove?
    • Scattered Notes
      • Dialectical materialism (metaphysical) vs. historical materialism (a more modest theory of how human society evolves)
      • Cites (critically) that that New Materialist volume/effort. "neovitalism (Bennett) and “New Materialism”" Honestly I can't make sense of this stuff, and I suspect as a field it's a waste of time, despite being thematically close to my own obsessions.
        • Nor do they appeal to the strictly “flat ontology” of the speculative realists, according to whom “everything exists equally—plumbers, cotton, bonobos, DVD players, and sandstone, for example.” Like the new materialists, the speculative realists (especially those on the “object-oriented” branch) seek to unsettle philosophy’s traditional privilege of the human but reject what they call “process relationalism” insofar as it privileges “alliances” over entities, “couplings” over objects, and motion over rest. Demanding a theory of “sharp, specific units,” these thinkers proclaim the ontological equality of every discrete thing.
        • Matter, in short. must be rescued from the humiliation of being matter...it is onvious enough that the brand of materialism it advoctes is really a species of post-structuralism in wolf's clothing...Matter may be self-activating, but this is not the same as achieving one's ends. Matter has no ends to achieve.
        • If reductive materialism finds it hard to make room for the human subject, not least for the subject as agent, so too does this 'new' version of the doctrine. (p13)
        • Some of the chief vices of vitalism can be found in the work of Gilles Deleuze, a full-blooded metaphysician for whom Being consists in an immanent creativity..a Romanic-libertarian philosophy of unbridled affirmation and inccessant innovation, as though the creative and innovatinve were unambiguosly on the side of the angels. ..Being is univocal, which means all things are faces of God or facets of the life force. (p16)
          • I don't know enough about Deleuze to judge whether this is a fair reading or not.
      • Other materialisms
        • cultural materialism (Raymond Williams)
        • semantic materialism (Wittgenstein)
          • signs are themselves material, ok, maybe this was a revelation to pre-computationalists.
        • cite: Samantha Frost, Fear and the Illusion of Autonomy, in NewMat