Originally published in French in seven volumes, Cosmopolitics investigates the role and authority of the sciences in modern societies and challenges their claims to objectivity, rationality, and truth. Cosmopolitics II includes the first English-language translations of the last four books: Quantum Mechanics: The End of the Dream, In the Name of the Arrow of Time: Prigogineâs Challenge, Life and Artifice: The Faces of Emergence, and The Curse of Tolerance. Arguing for an âecology of practicesâ in the sciences, Isabelle Stengers explores (...) the discordant landscape of knowledge derived from modern science, seeking intellectual consistency among contradictory, confrontational, and mutually exclusive philosophical ambitions and approaches. For Stengers, science is a constructive enterprise, a diverse, interdependent, and highly contingent system that does not simply discover preexisting truths but, through specific practices and processes, helps shape them.Stengers concludes this philosophical inquiry with a forceful critique of tolerance; it is a fundamentally condescending attitude, she contends, that prevents those worldviews that challenge dominant explanatory systems from being taken seriously. Instead of tolerance, she proposes a âcosmopoliticsâ that rejects politics as a universal category and allows modern scientific practices to peacefully coexist with other forms of knowledge. (shrink)
The question of universalism and relativism is often taken to be a matter of critical reflexivity. This article attempts to present the question instead as a matter of practical, political, and always-situated concern. The attempt starts from the consideration of modern experimental sciences. These sciences usually serve as the stronghold for universalist claims and as such are a target of relativism. It is argued that the specificity of these sciences is not a method but a concern. To be able to (...) claim that they have not unilaterally imposed their definitions on the phenomena they study is the leading concern of experimenters and should be understood in terms of the following achievement: the creation of a very particular “rapport” that authorizes claiming that what is operationally defined “lends itself” to this correlation. Linking knowledge production with a creation of rapports entails a pluralization of sciences along with the pluralization of modes of concern associated with the rapport. However, resisting unilaterally imposed definitions is not enough, since with the coming “knowledge economy” the questions that this article raises will soon be part of a romantic past. Thus it concludes with a speculative touch, which may be a requiem, relating the creation of rapports with an ecology of practices akin to William James's always-under-construction pluriverse. (shrink)
Throughout much of his writing, Whitehead outlines a critique of what he termed the `bifurcation of nature'. This position divides the world into objective causal nature, on the one hand, with the perceptions of subjects on the other. On such a view, truth lies in a reality external to such subjects and it is the task of science to deliver clear and immediate access to this realm. Further, judgments about this external reality are the province of human subjects and it (...) is the task of philosophy to ascertain the validity or otherwise of these. This article outlines Whitehead's attempts to develop a conception of nature which avoids this premise; it also explains how he offers a way for contemporary theories to construct or engineer abstractions which go beyond notions of social construction or deconstruction. This article argues that not only does Whitehead offer a coherent alternative to such approaches but that the manner in which his major text is written reflects his commitment to the inherently constructed and constructing character of all existence. (shrink)
At the end of his life, Michel Foucault wrote of ‘problematization’ as what he had done all along. Yet some commentators see a ‘new’ Foucault emerging together with this term. This essay accepts the last hypothesis and connects it with the French scene, where problematization was already familiar, and its use under tension. Starting with Bachelard, problematization was related with a polemic epistemological stance, but its reprise by Gilles Deleuze turned it into an affirmative theme dramatizing the creation of problems. (...) Situating Foucault’s problematization in this philosophical line permits us to develop the relation he proposed between problematization and the test of contemporary reality on the thinker. This paper will put problematization itself to the test of our present, that is, to the prospect of the social-ecological devastation associated with climate disorder. Both following and betraying Foucault with the help of Whitehead and Haraway, problematization will then be related to the power of sensible events, a power which requires allowing oneself to be touched, and allowing what touches us the power to modify the relation we entertain to our own reasons. (shrink)
This introduction to the Common Knowledge symposium titled “Comparative Relativism” outlines a variety of intellectual contexts where placing the unlikely companion terms comparison and relativism in conjunction offers analytical purchase. If comparison, in the most general sense, involves the investigation of discrete contexts in order to elucidate their similarities and differences, then relativism, as a tendency, stance, or working method, usually involves the assumption that contexts exhibit, or may exhibit, radically different, incomparable, or incommensurable traits. Comparative studies are required to (...) treat their objects as alike, at least in some crucial respects; relativism indicates the limits of this practice. Jensen argues that this seeming paradox is productive, as he moves across contexts, from Lévi-Strauss's analysis of comparison as an anthropological method to Peter Galison's history of physics, and on to the anthropological, philosophical, and historical examples offered in symposium contributions by Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Marilyn Strathern, and Isabelle Stengers. Comparative relativism is understood by some to imply that relativism comes in various kinds and that these have multiple uses, functions, and effects, varying widely in different personal, historical, and institutional contexts that can be compared and contrasted. Comparative relativism is taken by others to encourage a “comparison of comparisons,” in order to relativize what different peoples—say, Western academics and Amerindian shamans—compare things “for.” Jensen concludes that what is compared and relativized in this symposium are the methods of comparison and relativization themselves. He ventures that the contributors all hope that treating these terms in juxtaposition may allow for new configurations of inquiry. (shrink)
It may be that denouncing the ideals of objectivity or neutrality associated with the sciences leads us into a trap: that of accepting, in order to criticize it, that there would be a common identity for the many ways to produce science. Learning to laugh, we choose to laugh with and laugh at. But we accept the risk of being interested, that is, of giving up the position of a judge.
In this article, Isabelle Stengers questions the sudden receptivity that now accompanies the rediscovery of Simondon ’s thought. Rejecting an aura of piety which threatens to surround his work, she warns us not to take « transindividuality » for an empty word, nor for a theoretical panacea; instead we should see it as an immanent vector of perplexity, an invitation to construct experimental practices and collective agencies - a tool for empowerment.
Nature always refers to something inasmuch as it relates to something else. This « something else » is highly variable. The role of Nature as the respondent of judgements which are both hierarchical and moral is always present in modern science, without thereby being deducible from modern science. Today it presents new contrasts, new oppositions which involve multiple natures, interlinked and historical, which does not result in anything like a neutral Nature. The best example, linked to the idea of Gaia, (...) is the greenhouse effect. Our interventions, even if they take place over a very short period of time, might disturb situations which arose over very long periods. Gaia is a new figure of Nature which must be respected because we are dependent on her, not in the sense that she must be respected as a goddess, but in the sense of her sensitivity. Now, a Nature that could thus be defined once and for all, with an identity that could be opposed to humanity’s, does not exist. Nature in the other sense does not exist objectively either, but is more interesting because it participates in human historicity. It exists in the sense in which it forces us to think, negotiate, take into account, imagine, take note without saying that Nature, too, thinks, negotiates, takes into account, imagines, and takes note. We must think and imagine with something that does not do so. This is the beginning of a culture of non-symmetry. If Nature as Gaia teaches us something, it is that we must take care : the fact the current regimen of interdependence suits us is in no way a privilege of this regiment. Gaia has no innate reason to care about us ; rather, we must care about her. Non-symmetry, then, is this interesting situation in which Nature interests us while we do not interest her. (shrink)
We all know, in fact we are sure, that our medical practices are very different from those in the times of Molière or of Louis XVI. In one way or another medicine has today become ‘modern’ in the same way as the whole set of knowledges and practices that call themselves rational. This is obvious, but I would like to interrogate this obviousness. Not to debunk it so as to show that beyond these appearances nothing has changed, but in order (...) to focus in a slightly clearer way on ‘what’ has changed. To be even more precise, I would like to focus on ‘what’ has changed for the doctor, the one who practises medicine. (shrink)
This paper proposes a triple hypothesis. First that the construction of a political position, today, demands that the reference to progress lose its power of « putting into perspective ». Second, that the answer to this demand implies taking a full measure of the extent and manner in which this reference offers arms and power to our « habits of thought ». Third, that producing such a measure be inseparable from a process of creation and experimentation. Indeed, the canonical formula (...) of Progress awaits those who would feel critical debunking is sufficient. The proposition to address Capitalism as « sorcery », a decision that cannot be separated from a pragmatic of resistance and struggle, tries and materialises this proposition. Some consequences of this proposition are envisaged in this article. (shrink)
The first question I wanted to ask you has to do with the manner in which you do philosophy, in the sense that the concepts that you create, develop and experiment with, always resist the temptation to tell others what to do. In fact, at the very beginning of your “The Cosmopolitical Proposal”, you begin with a question that I think resonates with this. You write: “How can we present a proposal intended not to say what is, or what ought (...) to be, but to provoke thought?” So what I wanted to ask you is, how would you characterize the importance of this challenge of creating concepts that provoke thought, rather than instruct others on how to think?Well, probably you never know why you do what you do as you do it.... (shrink)
Reading this collection of articles is a troubling experience because, each in their own manner, they produce something like a “portrait of a philosopher with her problem” – to recall Gilles Deleuze’s proposition about how to characterize the work of a philosopher. I am most grateful to Martin Savransky and those who accepted his invitation because, in order to obtain such a “portrait,” they needed not to stop at the obvious but respond, each in her or his own way, to (...) what has been a learning process rather than the obstinate development of one ever- recurring problem.Indeed, as many of the contributors emphasize, my work can hardly be associated with such a development. It may rather look like an opportunistic... (shrink)
The scientific world is, as I have often repeated, a shadow world, shadowing a world familiar to our consciousness. Just how much do we expect it to shadow? We do not expect it to shadow all that is in our mind, emotions, memory, etc. In the main we expect it to shadow impressions which can be traced to external sense organs. But time makes a dual entry and thus forms an intermediate link between the internal and the external. This is (...) shadowed partially by the scientific world of primary physics (which excludes time's arrow), but fully when we enlarge the scheme to include entropy. Therefore by the momentous departure in the nineteenth century the scientific world is not confined to a static extension around which the mind may spin a romance of activity and evolution; it shadows that dynamic quality of the familiar world which cannot be parted from it without disaster to its significance.—Arthur Eddington,The Nature of the Physical World. (shrink)