Sunday, July 8, 2012

Patrik Schumacher on Philosophy Among the Disciplines

My recent complaint about Levi Bryant’s misuse of physical concepts (entropy here, phase space and attractors here) is one aspect of thinking through the questions: What is philosophy for? Do I need it? Why? How?

Patrik Schumacher has an article which speaks to the issue (H/t Graham Harman). Speaking of architecture:
The adoption of an “ontology” within a discursive field like architecture is more than the mere adoption of certain basic concepts and propositions. The adoption of a new ontology worthy of this title would have to include the adoption of a new set of primitives and operations within the design process.
Concerning philosophy’s dependence on other disciplines:
If anything, the inverse is true: a philosophical doctrine or system succeeds or fails to the extent to which it is adopted, adapted and operationalized within the specialized, professional discourse-practices (societal function systems) like business, politics, the sciences, medicine, engineering, and architecture, among others. Philosophy does not have its own domain of practical engagement and responsibility. Rather it is both a conceptual agent provocateur and exchange hub relative to all the other function systems. It gathers, compares, abstracts and distributes the most advanced modes of conceptualization from each field. Philosophy is also to some extent creative and proposes its own conceptual inventions in response to what it observes in the specialized discourses. It has often aspired to construct an overarching conceptual system that somehow tries to cohere and encompass all or most of the specialized discourses. However, philosophy is no master discourse that could settle conceptual questions and instruct all function systems accordingly.
A critical assertion:
The more general and comprehensive a philosophical system tries to be, the more vague it must remain, and the more degrees of freedom it will have to leave to the various specific domains that might (or might not) appropriate, adapt, and apply it.
I am sympathetic to this notion. But I’ve not thought it through. In fact, this is a good statement of what I’m trying to think through.

My complaint about Bryant’s onticology is that it gains its generality (consider the range of examples he summons) by using concepts that are in fact quite vague but he pretends to precision and rigor by adopting pseudo-scientific terminology. Harman, by contrast, uses a much leaner set of terms and does not appear to be guilty of the kind of over-reaching so evident in Bryant.

A bit later in the article Schumacher observes on the matter of interaction among often incommensurable (his word) disciplines:
... full conceptual integration is out of the question. However, this does not exclude that irritation or even inspiration operates between autopoietic systems. An irritation or inspiration is not a rigorous conceptual operation. It is a perturbing impact that might be absorbed within the observing (receiving) system on its own terms. Philosophy often acts as an exchange hub or transmission belt for conceptual innovations or irritations between different disciplines. In this way post-structuralism as well as the new science of complexity (chaos theory) were appropriated and interpreted within architecture, on architecture’s own terms. There is no point in complaining or worrying that architects misunderstand and misappropriate the concepts of philosophy and science; that is to be expected.
I am, of course, lodging pretty much that last complaint against Bryant and I can easily imagine him replying as Schumacher does. The architect’s ultimate defense of his philosophy, whatever its fidelity to its sources, lies not in his written statements of that philosophy. It lies in his buildings. The philosopher has nothing but his philosophy.

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Beyond that fact that it is an important and pressing issue, one of the attractions that pluralism has for me is that, as far as I can tell, it is NOT on the agenda of any of the more specialized disciplines nor are they equipped to deal with it. It is about Being and our world in the largest sense.

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