Materialism, symmetry and eliminativism in the latest Latour

Social Epistemology 17 (4):381 – 400 (2003)
Abstract
In this paper, part of the ideas developed in Lewowicz (2000) will be reconsidered in the light of Pandora's Hope (1999a) - one of the latest publications of Bruno Latour. We will ponder the significance of these ideas and some of the incidental advances or retreats of the views of this author in the last 20 years. Although we still believe that, from the ontological point of view, Latour's philosophy is materialistic - then eliminativist - and not ontological relativist (contrary to the opinion of his colleague philosophers), some of the symmetries developed in that text show outstanding ontological-epistemological and even methodological deficiencies which we try to show here; especially the symmetry between 'human and nonhuman actors' (Latour 1999a) and his very singular (but not without a fair amount of antecedents) concept of history of the things whose neologism is that of pragmatogony. Andrew Pickering (The mangle of practice, 1999a) proposed and developed the concept of temporary emergency. In view of this concept, he succeeds in criticising Latour's exact symmetries making use primarily of the concept of intentionality to account for the asymmetry (by no means radical, according to the latter) between 'the human and nonhuman collective'. In this paper we will try to reinforce (and inevitably to question) the notion of temporal emergency by giving it a less local aspect than the one given by this author. We will not only hold the asymmetry of certain dichotomies - presumably avoided by and avoidable according to Latour - but we will also claim the historical impossibility of such an avoidance: the concept of historialised emergency and not just temporalised, precludes this. It is concluded, firstly, that only an eliminativist materialism (within the range of materialisms) is able to avoid and even 'overcome' such pairs like nature/society and some of its derivatives like subject/object and individual/collective. Secondly, the decisive character of some dichotomies will be defended and lastly it will be attempted to account for the almost only ontological possibility of constructivism: the eliminativist materialism.
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