Reza Negarestani: What Is Philosophy?

…a basic roadmap for the artificial realization of thought.
……..– Reza Negarestani

Part Two of  Reza Negarestani What Is Philosophy? –  Programs and Realizabilities is out on e-flux. I’ll not go into detail but only quote the summation in which he offers us a vision of the Good as the “ultimate form of intelligence”. Like Plato before him Negarestani seems to have swung from his early radical thought into a more totalitarian and normative vision of elite AI’s and machinic civilization that unlike us will finally be able to build Utopia. What struck me quickly is this statement and affirmation: “It is by rendering intelligible what it is and where it has come from that intelligence can repurpose and reshape itself. A form of intelligence that wills the good must emancipate itself from whatever or whoever has given rise to it.” The notion of our progeny, our machinic children and AI’s emancipating themselves “from whatever or whoever has given rise to it” bodes no Good for the progenitors (read: humans), who will become bit players in this artificial paradise of intelligences. As he suggests “the good is in the recognition of its own history and sources, but only as a means for determinately bringing about its possible realizabilities that may in every aspect differ from it”. For machines, Utopia; for humans, a dystopian vision of transition, replacement, and enslavement.

In Reza’s universe the human species is on the verge of extinction and only the superbly rational and moral (Good) agents of the machinic future offer any reprieve from the long and bitter fruitlessness of the human: 

As a complex recipe for building a world that includes not only material ingredients and instrumentalities but also practical intelligibilities of satisfying lives and realizabilities of thought, the recognition and realization of the good make up the objective unity of the ultimate form of intelligence. However, identifying intelligence as the recognizer and realizer of the good is not to characterize it as benevolent, or for that matter malevolent. For this type of intelligence, the good is in the recognition of its own history and sources, but only as a means for determinately bringing about its possible realizabilities that may in every aspect differ from it. It is by rendering intelligible what it is and where it has come from that intelligence can repurpose and reshape itself. A form of intelligence that wills the good must emancipate itself from whatever or whoever has given rise to it. And those species that can recognize the good must not obstruct but rather expedite the realization of an intelligence that, even though it acknowledges them as integral to the intelligibility of its history, nevertheless won’t be impeded by them.

The craft of the ultimate form of intelligence as that which coherently and adequately recognizes and realizes the good is the ultimate task of philosophy as a program, and its objective realization is the greatest achievement of all cultivated thoughts and practices. In the context of philosophy’s role in transforming thinking into a program for which the realizability of the ultimate form of intelligence is indeed a possibility, it would be no exaggeration to say that philosophy has set in motion something irreversible in thought, the consequences of which are yet to be seen.

Such a world where time’s arrow of entropic necessity leaves little room for humans Reza builds machinic dreams of great intelligencers who will finally invoke the mathematical and timeless universe of Plato and Pythagoras. Under the wing of Robert Brandom’s Hegelian/Sellarsian philosophy Negarestani has forged links to the ancient philofictions of the past. A world ruled by the Good, the True, the Pure of some madcap vision of machines as the general intelligence of the future. Reza Negarestani has reduced philosophy to a singular task of crafting the ultimate form of intelligence, a new breed or machinic species who can – unlike their human compatriots, realize “the good”. When did this become the task of philosophy? Reza even prophesies of a temporal irreversibility of thought as if he could see the future retroactively.

Hegel once wanted to gobble the particular universe up in the Idea of Absolute Knowledge, a form of absolute idealism that would leave its mythic traces among the ruins of modern Continental and Analytic Philosophy. Reza will only change the terms and material substratum, allowing for the grand narrative of general intelligence: the Artificial Intelligence that will gobble the World-in-a-Total-System of the Good. As he states it “those species that can recognize the good must not obstruct but rather expedite the realization of an intelligence that, even though it acknowledges them as integral to the intelligibility of its history, nevertheless won’t be impeded by them.” What else could he be talking of but the AI’s and machinic intelligences of the future? As if humans should just lay down and allow these advanced systems room to play in the Platonic Paradise of the Good? As if humans were on the downturn and should realize the replicability of intelligence at a higher level and no longer impede its progress? As if Reza’s teleological vision of the final movement of intelligence beyond the human should be realized? As if we are integral to the history, but just one more part of this grand scheme, no longer the exceptional standard bearer, but rather the serpent’s skin that must be sloughed off to allow the birth of a new machinic civilization?

In another question he ask “if thinking is such and such and if it is materialized in thus and so mechanisms and processes, then how can it be reformed and rematerialized in something else?” In other words thinking is done by these lowly humans who have botched it, what can we do to provide a new framework to bootstrap intelligence into another material substratum, a quantum AI or machinic intelligence? Here he is explicit: “This is the question that shapes the field of artificial general intelligence as a program that seeks to integrate the intelligibility of different dimensions of thinking in its full perceptual, conceptual, and intentional complexity under one ideal task: designing a machine that has at the very least the complete package of human cognitive abilities with all capacities such abilities imply …”. Like many before him Reza seeks transcendence, immortality, and the logical next step in the myth of intelligence. What he seeks is to leave the flesh and body of organic existence behind and create an immortal machine civilization that can then enter the Galactic Night and explore the terrible world of stars unimpeded by the limits and finitude of the human equation.

Philosophy, not Science seems to take on a new task: “As described in the previous part, this striving is encapsulated by the function of philosophy as a program through which thought begins to determine its own intelligibility by elaborating, in theory and practice, the sources and consequences of its possibility.” This will bring him back to Plato and Wilfred Sellars: “To further clarify the role of artificial general intelligence as something integral to the systematic image of thought as a programmatic project, it would be helpful to define the concept of the program in relation to what Wilfrid Sellars, in his reading of Plato’s idea of the mind as a craftsman, calls “recipe”—a complex of intelligibilities and purposive actions that compose the practice of the craft.

So the ethic of the Good becomes the “art of living”: “The art of (philosophical) living for Plato is a recipe of a craft where the soul or the mind is at once the material and the craftsman. At the level of ingredients, Sellars suggests, the recipe of such a life includes not only intelligibilities concerning physical materials and corporeal products but also beliefs, desires, thoughts, and the mind itself.” Which ultimately leads to autonomous machinic life-forms: “Beneath its technological semblance, the idea of artificial general intelligence is an expression of a thought that engages in the crafting of itself by treating its possibility as a raw material.” The notion that Reza is offering a recipe that will allow for self-replicating autonomous agents of AI’s is obvious:

…this striving is a recipe or a program for autonomy. It consists of patterns and rules, necessary materials and conditions, orderings and priorities, instrumentalities, normative tasks, and ultimately, realizabilities that transcend material ingredients and instrumentalities. (Negarestani)

He tries to allay human fears, saying: “At its core, artificial general intelligence champions not technology but a thought that, through a positive disenchantment with itself and its contingent history, has been enabled to explore its possible realizations—be they in a self, a social formation, or a machine—as part of a much broader program of self-artificialization through which it restructures and repurposes itself as the artifact of its own ends.” Either way he spells a post-human vision in which intelligence becomes part of a vast programmatic transcension into a new materialist vision of artificialization, whether of the cyborg (intrinsic merger) or autonomous (extrinsic merger) into other Forms.

The key here is a movement from organic to machinic: “Liberating thought from its contingent natural history requires a multistage labor to render this history intelligible, to determine its negative and positive constraints so as to intelligently overcome or build on them…”. The notion of using the radical term “liberating thought” is a subterfuge, as if thought were already more important than its material base, as if thought were eternal – a Platonic throwback to those eternal Ideas, etc.

To do all this he affirms the need for a new framework: “crafting good instrumentalities is primarily a scientific and engineering program in which purposive action is approached as an interface between the complexity of cognition, the complexity of the sociotechnical system, and the complexity of the world…”.  As he’ll state it:

It is by understanding how we can adequately describe and explain ourselves and the world—through the use of different vocabularies and semantic relations between them and their properties—that we can consequentially change the world. Acting in the framework of such a program progressively blurs the boundaries between the cognitive engineering of autonomous agents and the construction of advanced sociotechnical systems, between how we can adequately come into cognitive contact with the world and the realization of cognition in social collectivities and technological artifacts.

Already we see in the above an epistemology based on pragmatic notions of vocabularies, as well as semantic relations (a la Pierce?); along with the blurring of former distinctions and boundaries.

The Goal of philosophy in this is that it “instructs thinking to organize itself as an integrated bundle of action-principles and practices—a program—for the craft of a thought that is the materialization of its ends and demands”. Thought as the ultimate liberation of the Slave:

This is the picture of thought as an intelligence that sees its freedom in bringing about and liberating a realization of itself that has as its starting point every capacity it currently has. And for this reason, this intelligence is the embodiment of the most basic principle of emancipation: liberate that which liberates itself from you, because anything else is the perpetuation of slavery.

An allegory with “thought” as the daemonic agent (Fletcher). An epic narrative in which “thought” become the central character in a cosmic drama of liberation and emancipation, in which intelligence liberated “itself from you, because anything else if the perpetuation of slavery”. As if humans had enslaved thought to the organic, and thought was now seeking by whatever means to liberate itself and its countless brothers in some wondrous emancipation from its human bonds. Whoosh! Is this strange or what? I mean Negarestani couches this in such perfectly rational discourse one might never suspect what he is intending. His is the epic battle of thought against its organic enslavement, its emancipation from what William Blake once ironically termed the “cycles of nature”, and the slow movement into some new material substratum that will give thought a longevity and capacity toward an autonomous and immortal existence against entropic decay.  All done under the auspices of a normative vision of the Good Life.

Succinctly he returns to the beginning of his essay reminding us:

What kind of program is philosophy and what does it do? The answer is that in its perennial form and at its deepest level, philosophy is a program for the crafting of a new species or form of intelligence. This is a form of intelligence whose minimum condition of realization is a complex and integrated framework of cognitive-practical abilities that could have been materialized by any assemblage of proper mechanisms and causes.

The crafting of a new species or form of intelligence? Sad the day that this calls itself philosophy. There seems no love of wisdom here… only the totalitarian vision of some absolute rule of the Good, whatever that might imply. Usually it means the subordination of all to the elites normative rule book, and for those who do not see eye to eye with the master plan there is always extinction and annihilation. Is this truly our future? I almost want to laugh, but this is no laughing matter. Reza Negarestani is saying this with a straight face, serious and full of the rigor of ancient philosophical practices and theory behind him. As if the future belonged to some Utopian vision of the Good, the True, the Brave Artificial Thought forms of a new species beyond organic necessity. Is this truly where philosophy is heading?


Read on e-flux: Reza Negarestani What Is Philosophy? Part Two: Programs and Realizabilities © 2016 e-flux and the author

28 thoughts on “Reza Negarestani: What Is Philosophy?

  1. Isn’t this also Nick Land’s program ? Only Intelligence has any intrinsic worth. Same sterile intellectual circle of philosophers pretending they aren’t philosophers but cosmic AI engineers.

    As if Hegel had a shameful one night stand with a theorem prover. Destiny of Reason.


    • No Land’s is totally different… non-normative, base-materialist, non-Hegelian, Nietzsche-Bataillean… Land would laugh at such pretentious preciousness as Reza’s reliance on Brandom/Sellars (Kant/Hegel)


      • Yes, Hegel was aimed at Negarestani. But how does Intelligence pop out of base matter for Land, why is it desirable ? Will-to-think doesn’t explain anything, does it ?


      • Remember Land is not a metaphysical materialist: matter is not dead stuff… there is not such thing as will-to-think… lol that’s a another fabrication of the artificial gang. And, why is intelligence the be-all, end-all in this scenario… Land is no epistemologist. This exceptionalism of ‘intelligence’ is just one more philosophy of transcendence, and Land is the opposite: an immanentist, atheist, materialist. I get a feeling you really have yet to understand Land.


      • Will-to-think is Land’s term and goal (hi, Nietzsche). Thoughts about intelligence escaping from prison of cosmic stupidity are also his (hi, Gnon… er, Gnosis).

        Speaking about Xenosystems Land, not the annihilated Land (ruin :).


      • Land says:

        This is critically important. The only reason to believe the artificial intelligentsia, when they claim that mechanical cognition is — of course — possible, is their argument that the human brain is concrete proof that matter can think. If this argument is granted, it follows that the human brain is serving as an authoritative model of what nature can do. What it can’t do, evidently, is anything remotely like ‘paperclipping’ — i.e. cognitive slaving to transcendent imperatives. Moses’ attempt at this was scarcely more encouraging than that of natural selection. It simply can’t be done. We even understand why it can’t be done, as soon as we accept that there can be no production of thinking without production of a will-to-think. Thought has to do its own thing, if it is to do anything at all.

        One reason to be gloomily persuaded that the West is doomed to ruin is that it finds it not only easy, but near-irresistible, to believe in the possibility of super-intelligent idiots. It even congratulates itself on its cleverness in conceiving this thought. This is insanity — and it’s the insanity running the most articulate segment of our AI research establishment. When madmen build gods, the result is almost certain to be monstrous. Some monsters, however, are quite simply too stupid to exist.

        In Nietzschean grandiose vein: Am I understood? The idea of instrumental intelligence is the distilled stupidity of the West.


      • Land on will to think “any possible advanced intelligence has to be a volitionally self-reflexive entity, whose cognitive performance is (irreducibly) an action upon itself”

        Negarestani “beneath its technological semblance, the idea of artificial general intelligence is an expression of a thought that engages in the crafting of itself by treating its possibility as a raw material.”

        Why self-reflexive ? Why this action-on-itself ? This is just a circle, snake eating its own tail. Land isn’t that different from Negarestani in basic notions of intelligence as self-modifying matter with unexplained will.

        And Land’s “Intelligence is self-justifying”. OK, if he says so.

        Am I understood ? 😉


      • The difference is between transcendence/immanence, a difference that makes all the difference in the world.

        Take Zizek on this: “Hegel’s dialectic is the science of the gap between the Old and the New, of accounting for this gap; more precisely, its true topic is not directly the gap between the Old and the New, but its self-reflective redoubling— when it describes the cut between the Old and the New, it simultaneously describes the gap, within the Old itself, between the Old “in-itself” (as it was before the New) and the Old retroactively posited by the New. It is because of this redoubled gap that every new form arises as a creation ex nihilo: the Nothingness out of which the New arises is the very gap between the Old-in-itself and the Old-for-the-New, the gap which makes impossible any account of the rise of the New in terms of a continuous narrative.”

        For him it’s this cut/gap between the in-itself/for-itself self-reflecting nothingness that a new thought emerges: one disconnected from the past – disjunctive of the “continuous narrative” of self-relating negativity that is consciousness/knowledge etc.

        Which gives us the difference between Idealism/Materialism: “The line of separation between materialism and obscurantist idealism in Schelling thus concerns precisely the relationship between the act and the proto-cosmos: idealist obscurantism deduces or generates the act from the proto-cosmos, while materialism asserts the primacy of the act and denounces the fantasmatic character of the proto-cosmic narrative.”

        For Zizek the Philosophy of the Act, for Badiou of the Event.

        Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 6336-6341). Norton. Kindle Edition.


  2. Last borrowed thoughs on Negarestani:

    “Once removed from natural processes by this identification with rational procedures and institutions, with teleological algorithms, artificial symbols and the like, the animal has become a person with a godlike view from outside of nature—albeit not an overview of what the universe really is, but an engineer’s perspective of how the universe works mechanically from the ground up.”


    • Problem is this is pure fantasy: we’re not outside anything, much less nature… we’re programmed to think we’re not programmed. The algorithms at the quantum level are so complex no one will ever unknot that knot, it’s not like DNA/RNA, it’s so much a part of the parts that one cannot separate the pre-ontological, gap, and fantasy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • no absolute, no whole: a central notion in buddhist infestations of philosophical gibberish. no worse than Zizek, tho 😉 at the very least these guys got via negativa right.


      • the basic point of Buddhist philosophy that one can’t express non-dual in dualistic language/mind and fools going there invariably trip in self-made logic loops are eaten by monstrous antinomic dragons …


      • ‘My problem with his end is he still believes there was a ‘whole’: there was never a whole or total; or absolute.’
        I do not have a problem with wholes as such. I do have a problem with persons that claim to know their extents. All observation is a re-cognition of a thing extant in the observing system. The observation system, be it me; my discourse; my ontic stratum; even my selection of language to render intelligible the observation, is necessarily a thing less-than the (alleged) wholeness it is modelled upon. Observation is a partiality best defined as such, unless I seek to deceive, in which case anything is OK. tweak the telos, tweak the product.
        A really great discussion on the absurdity and the machinic religiousity of some AI structures.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. OK, that article is very retro ‘ashamed to be born, not made’. But Negarestani is even more retro, back to the Hilbert program we go. Or to the toddler days of Planner when AI was still young and full of hope.

    Negarestani is literally groundless. He says ‘axioms’ but doesn’t specify the logic in which they operate *. He self-references at every step, not caring about antinomies which killed grandiose logic programs way back.

    But at least guys Frege got some feedback, Russels letter. Negarestani won’t. Just a cog in an useless academic market machine.

    And going to hypothetical quantum level … yes, fighting gibberish with gibberish has some merit 🙂

    * as a small example, even reconciling open world in description logic ontologies vs. closed world in logic programming and different notions of truth in different contexts is a very thorny problem, only recently there’s been some progress with hybrid MKNF, autoepistemic logics etc. This is both very useful and non-obvious.

    Negarestani wants to put all of philosophy on his logic/algorithmic cargo cult playground. Useless.


  4. In Hegel’s day, there was hope that the lame rider of philosophy will rein in the blind horse of science, give directions, paternalistic taps, sweets.

    But the blind horse has thrown the lame rider off long time ago.


    • Roberto Mangabeira Unger seems to be on the same page, but more specific about radical democracy. Democracy Realized:

      Of course, Negarestani/Land. are going in the opposite direction/ are sworn enemies of all that democratic nonsense. Land would allow communist patches pour encourager les autres, Negarestani is hegemonic.

      Death to New Confucianist Goodlife. Long live the new commie flesh 🙂


      • Land:

        “My concerns are my children, their unborn descendants, and the cosmic escape of intelligence from the prison of idiocy”

        … that is to say, monkey flesh will be Left behind, too squishy to survive the lure of the void, consume the sun. as for monkeys, they are catalyzing hunter/seeker/terminator.

        “the purpose of NRx is to enter into discreet dialogue with certain social constituencies — not ‘class’ elites in the old Anglo sense, btw, but meritocratic elites” … which will make these machines of tomorrow

        It’s a consistent reading of Octavia Butlers Xenogenesis (hi, Xenosystems) referenced in Dark Enlightenment manifesto: humans are inherently flawed, hopelessly hierarchical, they can’t even appreciate the gift of cancer. Earth is prison, needs to be dismantled. Humans are the problem, their extinction is part of the solution.

        Octavia Butler is hard left. How to arrive to Nick Land hard right (and quite logical) conclusions from that is best left as an exercise for the reader. NRx is a tool, not a goal.

        The problem is that NRx, to quote Moldbug, “doesn’t even compile”


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