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An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An…
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An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns

by Bruno Latour

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LATOUR'S AGON: Systematise vs Pluralise

This is an important book advocating a new and exciting form of pluralist ontology. Building on the work of Deleuze, Lyotard, Foucault, Derrida, and Michel Serres, Latour attempts to take the pluralist perspective even further and to illuminate the state of contemporary Western societies (called by him the "Moderns"), to call into question its own self-description, and to propose a more adequate one.

Other Continental thinkers like Badiou and Zizek have rejected the pluralist heritage of this preceding philosophical generation and have returned to more intellectually conservative syntheses, recycling the sterile perspectives of post-Lacanian Freudo-Marxism. Latour is part of the movement, along with Bernard Stiegler and François Laruelle, that refuses the intellectual regression that has become popular in Continental philosophy, of which the recent fad for a so-called "Speculative Realism" is one more sign.

Latour with his actor-network theory and his modes of existence project, Stiegler with his pharmacology and organology, and Laruelle with his non-philosophy and non-standard philosophy are all trying to break out of the limiting vocabulary of the recent philosophical past and to propose new vocabularies and new ways of thinking.

One of the major accomplishments of Latour's book is that by distinguishing 15 different "modes of veridiction" that are also different "modes of existence" he has brought a decisive blow to the various reductionisms that surround us. From the scientism that takes mathematics or physics, or more recently cognitive science, as the model and foundation of our knowledge, to the religious fundamentalism pushing its own political agenda behind the mask of faith, Latour's book allows us to isolate and analyse the coonfusions and conflations at work, and to dissipate the false images (of science, religion, and politics) deployed to consolidate these hegemonic ideologies and the practices that they legitimate.

New perspectives are provided on classical philosophical subjects such as the nature and relation of subject and object (brilliantly deconstructed) and the model of truth as correspondence. The book also gives very interesting and innovative accounts of a number of subjects, notably fiction, technology, politics and the law. There is also a chapter on Latour's approach to religion, but this is less innovative and less convincing.

Latour presents all this as if it were the result of empirical research rather than philosophical speculation, but there is good reason to doubt that this is the case. As remarked his take on religions is unconvincing, and seems to be a combination of autobiographical confession and quasi-theological speculation. The systematic nature of the work fits badly with the empiricist rhetoric.

Further, Latour proposes a new concept of "being-as-other", which is somewhat similar to earlier pluralist concepts such as Deleuze's difference and multiplicities. However, he immediately contains it within one particular mode, that of the "beings of metamorphosis". This is another point where we can feel the tension between Latour's system and his pluralist project.

My conclusion is that the project behind the book is laudable and deserves to be taken seriously and developped further. The actual system contained in the book has many interesting features, but suffers from important flaws. Latour's philosophy to date exemplifies the modern dilemma and agon: oscillating between radical pluralism and democratic openness on the one hand, and consevative consensus and systematic closure on the other. I would not wish to simplify this struggle by eliminating one of its elements, but I would like to reinforce the pluralist passion underlying it. ( )
1 vote TBlake | Jan 21, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674724992, Hardcover)

In this new book, Bruno Latour offers answers to questions raised in We Have Never Been Modern, a work that interrogated the connections between nature and culture. If not modern, he asked, what have we been, and what values should we inherit? Over the last twenty-five years, Latour has developed a research protocol different from the actor-network theory with which his name is now associated--a research protocol that follows the different types of connectors that provide specific truth conditions. These are the connectors that prompt a climate scientist challenged by a captain of industry to appeal to the institution of science, with its army of researchers and mountains of data, rather than to "capital-S Science" as a higher authority. Such modes of extension--or modes of existence, Latour argues here--account for the many differences between law, science, politics, and other domains of knowledge.

Though scientific knowledge corresponds to only one of the many possible modes of existence Latour describes, an unrealistic vision of science has become the arbiter of reality and truth, seducing us into judging all values by a single standard. Latour implores us to recover other modes of existence in order to do justice to the plurality of truth conditions that Moderns have discovered throughout their history. This systematic effort of building a new philosophical anthropology presents a completely different view of what Moderns have been, and provides a new basis for opening diplomatic encounters with other societies at a time when all societies are coping with ecological crisis.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:03 -0400)

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