Ecological Realism as Ontographic Sincerity

Below are some thoughts I had while reflecting on a new paper from Katrina Kolozova available here. This passage in particular set off an avalanche of pondering:
In order to circumvent the possibility of a conversation of the post-human to turn into a transhumanist phantasm, I propose that we radicalize the concept of the human. The procedure of radicalization, as conceived within Laruelle’s methodology of non-standard philosophy, consists in arriving at a concept whose determination in the last instance is the real. It is homologous to Marx’s notion of the determination in the last instance which is material. Both Marx and Laruelle, however, avoid the concept of “the material” as overly philosophical—or as an inverted version of idealism as Marx explains in his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy in General—and resort to the notion of the real. In addition to the real, Marx speaks of the physical and the sensuous. When speaking of the human instantiations of the real Laruelle equates the real with the concept of “the lived” (levécu), also avoiding philosophical materialism, or more specifically dialectical-materialism. He too declares materialism to be philosophically indebted and moreover inextricable from philosophy (Laruelle, 2014). Both Marx and Laruelle demand an exit from philosophy: a science of humanity that operates with “philosophical [conceptual] material.” [Kolozova 2018]
Materialism as constellation of philosophical ideas has a long and tangled history. Many philosophers have argued that this history included a kind of dependency upon idealism, it’s supposed inverse, and, more cryptically, the sort of metaphysical dualism that modern science now reveals as sham (see here).
However, if we jettison materialism as a legitimate philosophical interpretation what can we replace it with? What kinds of conceptual systems or discourses are capable of anchoring speculative thought in ways that remain consistent with scientific methodology?
Let me suggest one workable substitute for philosophical materialism: ecological realism. I join others (see here, here, here and here) in the proposal that ecological realism is the philosophical synthesis of scientific naturalism and ontographic pluralism. Ecological realism as embodied epistemic practice takes up the intellectual challenge of thinking explicitly the constructed nature of semiosis and perception in direct relation to the incursionary presences of non-human forces and potencies in everyday affairs. The persistent reality of the push and pull of ecological embeddedness delimits thought-as-action while affording the very contexts in which human thought and communication is actually deployed.
Here is Gary Williams attacking these questions in his work on Heidegger and Ecological Realism and Affordance Ontology:
The best way to make entity realism consistent with being idealism is through what I call “ecological realism”. This version of realism must be decisively distinguished from classic or “philosophical realism”. Understanding the difference between these two styles of realism will help bolster my case that Heidegger understood himself to be a realist but denied the validity of “classical” realism. The key difference between ecological and classical realism is that whereas both believe that the Earth exists independently of the mind, ecological realism takes this as the starting point and philosophical realism takes it as something to be proved.
What interests me in this is how ecological realism takes as a starting point the radical embeddedness (as zero point immanence) and intimacy with-in the world (being-in-the-world), rather than as something requiring philosophical justification. Being-in-the-world as entangled in presences and context is disclosed to us in visceral ways that requires no semantic elaboration whatsoever.
“This is the fact, derived from Heidegger’s preliminary account of questioning, that, as with any question, there must be some prior understanding of the object of the question of Being, in order to ask the question. This is to say that we must possess some pre-ontological understanding of Being in order to ask the question. It is the fact that Dasein has such pre-ontological understanding which makes the existential analytic of its particular kind of Being the beginning of the inquiry into Being as Such.” (Wolfendale)
The immediacy of our experience of situatedness can be formulated, following a tongue-in-cheek aping of the traditional Cartesian axiom, as ‘I am therefore there is’. Existing as the kind of thing that perceives evinces a transcendental conditionality wherein our existence unfolds. For now I’m going to use the term generalizable ecology for this dynamic, pre-conceptual matrix of productive facticity.
It is within this milieu, then, that we begin the process of differentiation and critical review. There is much to say in this regard, but for now I will only suggest that an ecologically situated critical realism suspends (epoché) philosophical judgement on the various flows, things and relations that make up “the lived” in favor of an always already engaged openness (ontological vulnerability) towards the world.  Ecological realism actively adopts constructionist insights when composing intellectual abstractions for understanding (coping) and acting (coping), while remaining attentive to relative independence of the “fanged” and “cutting” noumenal contexts in which we live. Thus the need for operationalize our creaturely openness in ways that remain keenly sensitive to issues of both methodology and epistemological limit in regards to the ever-present persistence of the Real.
Here is Heidegger on a version of realism attuned to the self-disclosing ecological world:
Along with Dasein as being-in-the-world, entities within-the-world have in each case already been disclosed. This existential-ontological assertion seems to accord with the thesis of realism that the external world is really present-at-hand. In so far as this existential assertion does not deny that entities within-the-world are present-at-hand, it agrees – doxographically, as it were – with the thesis of realism in its result. But it differs in principle from every kind of realism; for realism holds that the Reality of the ‘world’ not only needs to be proved but also is capable of proof. (Being and Time, p.251)
Ecological realism can register as both internalized cognitive orientation (coping style) with-in the world and act as an externalized discourse explicitly and methodically attuned to the potent affective character of the Real – as ‘the great outdoors’, the Outside, wilderness, etc. And the methodological and conceptual pluralism that accompanies such orientations and practices can, I want to argue, offer more sophisticated means of taking up the challenges arising from certain technomic trends and the wide-ranging capitalist restructurings of our very life-conditions. Ecological realism offers philosophical resources and intellectual opportunities to help facilitate more coherent responses to the inhuman, posthuman and transhuman possibilities.
I could go on and on about this, incorporating my take on radical empiricism and pragmatism (which are not synonymous) and how these dispersals can inform our loose definition of ecological realism, but I’ll save that for some future post. What I want to emphasize here is that any thorough-going ontographic endeavor, generally, must remain both grounded in an appreciation of the immediate contextual tangibility of existence as well as methodologically and conceptually open in order to successfully negotiate (cope and adapt with-in) a primordial ecological entanglement.
To be sure, all of this obviously requires proper argumentation and unpacking to be taken further. The coming ruptures, divergences, and ‘crash spaces’ (see Bakker) developing from accelerating techno-capitalism and a post-stable climate are hard to predict, and this will require us all to be agile in thought and action. But some version of an ecological realism, as perceptual-skill and intellectual orientation, will be necessary in order to cognitively and socially cope.
More from Katrina Kolozova to close my first attempt at describing this territory:
At this point of technological development and accelerationist euphoria, Firestone’s warning that technology does not possess immanent emancipatory tendencies, but can rather be used against women and children, seems urgent to consider… If we are to establish a socialist and feminist critique of the contemporary project of technological development, moving beyond this type of metaphysics and also beyond philosophy is to be considered its unavoidable grounding gesture. The non-humanist human or the non-human constituted of the machine-body continuity and the signifying automaton affirmed in its brutal and senseless reality escapes philosophy and allows for a historical-materialist conceptualization of technology and its role in the constitution of the post-humanist self.
For those of us who are less interested in participating in the conspiracy against our species, some form of ecological realism might help us resist the tendency of capitalist technics to reduce ecosystems and their inhabitants to algorithmic control by eschewing those philosophical decisions and systems of conceptual closure that fail to account for the thick ontic complexity at play in our lives. Perpetually negating our certainties and distractions with transcendentalism, in this way, will only open the field of thought and action to more collaboration and possible adaptive recombinations. Open source ontology, anyone?
Again, these are just notes on the way to something else.


19 responses to “Ecological Realism as Ontographic Sincerity

    • It can do very little, besides generate books, papers, unemployed grad students (not a diss but a lament), and academic tenures. What Laruelle calls “philosophical material” can certainly be useful for instigating thought and tinkering on theory – obviating the role of certain kinds of questioning and strains of reasoning – but, in general, philosophy is (much like many other traditional disciplines) becoming more and more obsolete. There are various discourses and theoretic constellations and then there is praxis. That’s it.

      How would you answer those questions?

      • Lol. Yes 😆

        I am kind of a “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” kind of person.

        I’m not really a “hey we call it something else and thus it’s a different thing” kind of person.

        I mean if you think about say the idea “justice”. There is obviously something in essence about the word justice that we all know. We would not even be able to talk about what justice is unless we all knew it. Now if one day I just decided like hey there is no justice because we can’t identify exactly what justice is and so we should come up with a different term to identify whatever it was that justice was indicating , I would say that all we did was change the term and we did not change the thing that it was indicating.

        Like if I say ‘grass’.

        The fact that I might want to start calling grass cement does not change the thing that I lay down upon and enjoy the summer sun upon.

        I think the postmodern idea that discursive reality is something that we can choose to manipulate and thus change our realities is an over determined idealism.

        But this does not mean that it doesn’t work as such. But it does mean that there is a certain group, or certain set of people for which such ideal does indeed function in that way for them.

        Now the sticky part is that what this means is that it does not function for me in that way. And I think this is an uncomfortable philosophy for many people.

        So just in what I’m talking about right there I am indicating something that philosophy does, as opposed to what it is allowed to do.

        For example I am not allowed to extricate myself, to exceptional eyes myself from a common humanity.

        But yet somehow computer scientist is able to be different than a tree trimmer.

        But I am not allowed to say that the human being does not exist across a continuum of sameness.

        I think that philosophy can be used for various things like I might have a philosophy of driving on a highway in the city as opposed to a philosophy of driving on a highway in the middle of Nebraska in the cornfields.

        Or I might have a philosophy on what it is to exist as opposed to a philosophy of acting in the world.

        • that’s just silly the plants we call grass exist while Justice doesn’t exist, we can talk and do talk about all sorts of things that don’t exist as if they do, we are masters of reification, this is part of what Wittgenstein (to go back to your earlier questions today) was trying to free us from, “bewitchment” by grammar

          • I am not sure if we can find the correctness of things through language. I think W Marks a point in philosophy but, similar to Kant’s various breakdowns of propositions and judgments and things like that, I do not see it as a method that actually works to find out the truth of things.

            Since we are talking about W: does existence exist?

            I’m not entirely sure about what point you’re making right here.

          • I mean similar to Miellassoux. Who thinks that somehow we should abandon magical thinking. Are you saying that W is suggesting something similar?

      • But I feel like that is kind of what you were getting at by the ecological realism. Like you are attempting to define a certain arena where philosophy, as an activity as a thing that human beings do, can find validity.

  1. Pingback: Realism as Open Source Ontography? – The Philosophical Hack·

  2. we might talk of such things to try and manipulate situations but a metaphysics isn’t (couldn’t be) an environment, that’s the sort of bewitchment by grammar Wittgenstein was trying to free us from.
    Certainly language is used to try and coordinate other behaviors but it only works or not based on the interactions of the people at hand you can’t just change the words/grammar and expect results (well one can generate poetry I suppose) to follow let alone the hyperbole of “unlocks incredible creativity, dynamism, and flexibility.” Look at Burroughs’ cut ups and all mildly entertaining perhaps (try reading a bunch of them) but hardly world-making, see how he actually lived:

    • I agree with that assessment – only if it is made explicit that there are aspects of human worldmaking that are always linguistic-cognitive. Words/discourse matters. And if we ‘mutate’ the poetics and rhetorics of our lives we can enact novelties. BUT, like you always insist, ecological conditions determine, “in-the-last-instance”, what is possible in terms of real change.

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