Brian Kim Stefans writes:
The one principle that is inarguably shared by these philosophers [i.e. "speculative realists"] is quite simple: they wish to retrieve philosophy from a tendency initiated, or at least made unavoidable, by the work of Immanuel Kant. Kant believed that the subject (meaning a human being) can [n]ever know anything about the external world due to the very fact of subjectivity.Surely many philosophers, including Wittgenstein, reject this skepticism. But there is more to speculative realism than this:
Harman’s philosophy displaces the mind→object relationship with that of object→object, the “mind” being just one object among many.Compare Chon Tejedor on the early Wittgenstein:
Wittgenstein suggests that, given the fundamental contingency of facts, it is a source of profound wonder that any possible state should obtain as a fact. This sense of wonder arises in connection to all facts: physical facts (involving the rocks, plants, animals and human physical bodies we describe in language and think about) but also mental facts (i.e. our thoughts, desires, beliefs, emotions and, more broadly, our minds and empirical selves). Being clear in one's grasp of certain formal concepts involves being disposed to use signs in particular ways so as to reflect the fundamental contingency of facts. But this involves treating ourselves (i.e. human beings) as facts on a par, with respect to their contingency, with all other facts in the world.Now back to Harman:
An idiosyncratic feature of Harman’s philosophy is that “objects” for him are not just things, and certainly not just natural things, but also concepts, imagined entities, and nearly any entity that can have some effect on reality for however long or short a time, on however large or small a scale, and at whatever level of availability to human perception or “science.”This is not a radically new idea. Compare Russell’s notion of a term in The Principles of Mathematics:
Whatever may be an object of thought, or may occur in any true or false proposition, or can be counted as one, I call a term. This, then, is the widest word in the philosophical vocabulary. I shall use as synonymous with it the words unit, individual, and entity. … A man, a moment, a number, a class, a relation, a chimaera, or anything else that can be mentioned, is sure to be a term; and to deny that such and such a thing is a term must always be false. (p. 43)See also Frege: “Places, instants, stretches of time, logically considered, are objects,” p. 42— “On Sinn und Bedeutung” in The Frege Reader. I speculate more about what the early Wittgenstein might have meant by 'objects' and, especially, 'things' here.
So speculative realism does not sound all that incompatible with Wittgenstein's philosophy, except for its metaphysical ambitions. How does Lovecraft fit in?
In Lovecraft’s version of reality, laws seem to function in ways that make our foundational certainties — Euclidean geometry, the private experience of dreams, the inviolable divisions between human, animal, plant, and the nonliving, etc. — merely contingent: just the way things appear to us, rather than absolute necessities.This makes Lovecraft sound not so much anti-Kantian as a product of the post-Kantian world. Apparently what makes Lovecraft so great is that he takes the world to be weird, and he is not a linguistic idealist (nor someone who focuses on language rather than the world). Sounds like Musil. Or Wittgenstein (see the emphasis on contingency in the Tejedor quote above). (Or Kafka, for that matter. And many other people.) Wittgenstein certainly pays attention to language, but not because he's a linguistic idealist, and not because he isn't interested in life or the world.
Lovecraft seems Schopenhauerian, given his Kantian emphasis on the unknown but with a horrible, pessimistic twist. (He's also Shakespearean, or Macduffian, given this from Macbeth:
O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heartTo use Harman's words, I would say that here "language is overloaded by a gluttonous excess" of negatives and iterations of 'horror.' But I digress.)
And Wittgenstein's ethics, or religious attitude, if you prefer, is rather Schopenhauerian too, though in a different way. Schopenhauer links art and genius with a kind of knowing that is independent of the principle of sufficient reason. There is little room for the principle of sufficient reason in Wittgenstein's philosophy, at least in the early Wittgenstein. The only necessity is logical necessity, so there is no reason sufficient to explain why things have to be as they are. Compare also the later Wittgenstein on the two identical-seeming seeds that produce different plants. Wittgenstein challenges the assumption that there must be some undetected difference in the seeds.
In short I quite like the sound of speculative realism, but mostly because it reminds me of Wittgenstein. I wonder whether the two could be brought fruitfully together. Perhaps I should investigate further.