Speculations IV: Daniel Sacilotto on Representationalism

Daniel Sacilotto whose blog Being’s Poem always brings intelligent clarity to philosophical issues offers us a return to Wilfred Sellars in his essay for Speculation IV Realism and Representation: On the Ontological Turn (here: pdf). Like many of the other essays he gives us a litany of the history of SR and its Ontological Turn. Right off the bat he centers us in on the battle between two meanings of this ‘Ontological Turn’: 1) the radicalization of critique; and, 2) the overcoming of critique altogether. Ever since Kant moved us into epistemic territory, developing a transcendental logic that ultimately led us toward Idealism and Anti-Realism, philosophers have been trying to find there way back to what Meillassoux called the ‘Great Outdoors’. For Daniel the term Speculative Realism is almost a misnomer, a sort of loosely coupled conceptual framework or heuristic device to align a group of disparate philosophers who “share nothing more than an antipathy to post-Kantian anti-realism,” and are more like a dysfunctional family who use SR as a term that “coins nothing but an exceedingly vague family resemblance, rather than a concept announcing the advent of a new philosophical epoch, or a reformation of Continental thought.”

What binds these otherwise disparate formations or vectors of the Ontological Turn he tells us is their “rejection of transcendental philosophy understood as critical epistemology, and indeed a sustained attack on the concept of representation”. After outlining a short history of representationalism through its various proponents and opponents he teases out the two senses of its trajectory: 1) the break with the pre-modern vision and a turn from a resemblance theoretic to one based on isomorphy (“The possibility of thinking a correspondence between thought and the Real would then be amplified to be understood in terms of the isomorphy between a perspicuous formal ideography and the structural dynamics of spatio-temporal systems in the real order.”); and, 2) this form of representation deals with the long history of representationalism, of its concepts and its relations between the various domains of knowledge and world, etc. (“The distinctions between appearance and reality, mind and world, concepts and objects, statements and facts, would all partake thus of this more general concept.”).

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