Iain Hamilton Grant



Graham responds to my note below here. I did not intend to say that he was saying Grant was Fichtean, that was meant in relation to the previous point about reflection and intuition (bad writing on my part!). I have tried to clarify it below.

Something that has been bothering me is that when SR is discussed in print and online Iain Hamilton Grant’s name is left out. Obviously I find this personally frustrating as Grant’s work is hugely important to me but it also does injustice to the full range of what Speculative Realism (for all its much discussed nebulousity) means. There are plenty of reasons for this: for one Grant does not have an internet presence (though neither does Brassier), another is that Grant is sometimes seen as simply doing German Idealism and puts him in the shadow of Zizek and others. Lastly, Grant is not direct in what it is he is doing besides a reading of Schelling. This last bit causes confusion and I think leads to the second problem in particular.

So what is it that Grant is doing? From even his earliest work on Deleuze and Guattari (Burning AntiOedipus, At the Mountains of Madness) Grant is interested in grounds and/or conditions of thinking in a naturalistic world. In a broad sense Grant believes that what is required is a meontology or force-based metaphysics which defer (at least in part) to the sciences (in particular physics) which does not make philosophy science’s handmaiden (as Kant famously put it) but pushes philosophy (and in Grant’s case post-Kantian thought) to redefine the transcendental and the conditions of thinking in the wake of a thoroughgoing naturalism. This is why Grant has long been supportive of a field-theoretical ontology in which becoming is segmented by the interaction of activities themselves.

Hence the critical push of Philosophies of Nature after Schelling being against somatism, logocentrism, and hyper-subjective Fichtean idealism as tactics which attempt to run nature aground  in the name of the subject or the subjectified absolute (whether as Transcendental I or as ‘Objective Idealism’). For Grant Schelling’s project is one that seriously and deeply questions what does it mean to say productive nature exists? That is, how is it that given the apparent truths of transcendental philosophy (ie post-Kantian thought about thought)  do we grapple with the ontological posteriority of nature, of being?

It is this concern with productive nature that puts Grant close to Deleuze (and to new materialisms vaguely). But as the closing pages of Philosophies shows (as well as comments in “The Eternal and Necessary Bond Between Philosophy and Physics”) he believes that Deleuze does not go far enough in dealing with the split of human and nature brought down like a hammer in Kant’s Third Critique. Largely because Deleuze attempts to seal over the breach of appearance and essence or being and representation by obliterating the latter and replacing it with the intensity of nature (flattened out into a desert of radical immanence) as it appears modally. But for Schelling and for Grant this is too conceptually indiscriminate as one must explain, being a being caught in thought, to get to and think methodologically, the division between nature and thought. How do we get from this methodological split back to the idea as something in nature. This in turn suggests a unprethinkability of nature that is terrifyingly (or wonderfully depending on how you’re feeling that day) coupled to the production of material entities themselves dependent on grounds of chaotic forces. So, despite the transcendentalist moniker, change is more about rotting protoplasm than miraculous grace!

To return to the second problem listed above, and what I think makes Grant hardest to place as simultaneously a historical commentator and a contemporary thinker on his own right, is that he is associated with German Idealism but resists it as something to be explored through contemporary examples and/or married to other discourses (ie psychoanalysis). Furthermore he gives Schelling more consistency than most are willing to give (though the days of calling Schelling a Protean thinker, I think, are numbered) and, furthermore, Grant talks about three topics in Schelling far less than has become expected in Schelling scholarship: the Freedom Essay, Reflection, and Intuition. The most important aspect of the Freedom essay is Schelling’s noumenalization of freedom and reflection is subordinated to intuition throughout Schelling’s work both of which are addressed by Grant. Furthermore, I would argue that the form of intuition that Grant focuses on (since Schelling focuses on it) is productive intuition because productive intuition is not naive pseudo-mystical peering into the depths of things but by which an activity (whether a thought, a process of decay, a beam of light) brings an object into itself. Such a process is only possible by a process making itself into an object (limiting itself, or we might say grounding itself) in order to take the object in (as an activity on its own grounds) in which the result is a thinking according-to the object, hence productive intuition is a modification of any reflective being, (ie a being that can register the change) pushing that activity (whether thinking or not) to face the conditions of nature-as-production. This is the guiding realist thread of the System of Transcendental Idealism which can appear too Kantian or too Fichetean to those who do not read it closely.

I also have difficulty with Harman’s recent comment about Grant’s relation to epistemology is not quite fair I think (ie I think it drives a larger wedge between Grant and Brassier than might be the case though I do know they differ most on epistemological issues). Knowledge is filtered through products/objects via a combination of intuition and reflection pointing to ideation as a process whereas Harman suggests knowledge is a production of the phenomenal. My issue here is that I believe Harman (and other OOO thinkers) solidify (ie phenomenalize) access in a flat way that is not compatible with the breaks and segmentation of Grant’s Schellingian system.  The crux, I think, lies in the different between ontologized objects and how knowledge functions between them versus produced phenomena or object-subjects in Grant of which humans are accessed by Ideas (in way that least appears singular) – not because of an ontological privilege of human beings but because nature thinks in us in such a way that inaugurates a second series (transcendental idealism). We bear a method the result of a symmetry break in nature but the break itself is only sensible in the realm made possible by that very break. Whether the play of concepts following this is implies a methodological naturalism and not an ontological naturalism is tricky because naturalism tends to be collapsed with physicalism – if realism (thinking back to Braver’s book A Thing of this World) could be about a non-physicalist object (ie a field pattern in an activity) than I think Grant’s Schelling can be a realism. This definition of object separates Grant from Harman (at least to some degree) and where I think Grant is closer to Brassier here is it depends on the way in which epistemological grounds are revisable and how this revisability relates to Schelling’s intuitionst or abductive (Peircean logic) – where concepts treated through intuition can be true claims (however regionalized) about nature which go deeper (or are more direct) than the vicarious glimpses of Harman’s substance. But this requires further elaboration on all sides (including my own!)

Furthermore, given that Grant’s next book is titled Grounds and Powers, this will no doubt bring Grant more into the process philosophy camp as well as into discussion with philosophies of dispositions. A little over a year ago I posted on becoming and started a mini-discussion about it. This I will discuss more in the future as it is part of my dissertation but what is interesting in Grant’s recent work is developing a philosophy of becoming which the actual is important as comprising the process of process and where conditions of thinking are not due to thought-as-activity but thought is the activity of the idea’s self limiting (grounding) which is both logical and real in terms of grounds.
More later.

A collection of links to Grant’s work:

A collection of his texts is still here.

A new paper on Transcendental grounds here.

The talk on dynamics in Bonn is here.

A talk from Object-Oriented Thinking, The Royal Academy of Art, London, July 1, 2011 is here.

An introduction to Hegel and writeup is here.

A Video on Philosophy and the Natural history of the mind is here.


17 Responses to “Iain Hamilton Grant”

  1. Hey, Ben, great essay… I agree, Grant has been quietly putting out a steady flow of work in the wake of idealism and SR. His book along with Jeremy Dunham and Sean Watson: Idealism The History of a Philosophy has been quite an eye opener for me, at least. The chapters on Science dealing with Maturan and Varela, as well as the work of Stuart Kaufmann and physicist Lee Smolin are superb in that respect. What he is affirming now is an inflationary idealism:

    “If we put together our view that idealism is realist in respect to ideas with the argument that the philosophy of nature forms a crucial component of it, we arrive at a conception not of the two-worlds idealism beloved of interpretations of Plato, but of a one-world inflationary idealism.”

    I’ve always had my roots in German Idealist traditions and Schelling in particular, but have seen a need to cross the divide an enter into dialogue with both Analytic and Continental traditions in a dialectical interplay that would include rather than exclued each within any philosophical project. Science and Naturalism are at the heart of many of those working in what is now termed the post-analytical tradition; and, it is many of these that are even open to the Continental tradition. Exciting times indeed!

    • 2 Ben Woodard

      Thanks for the comment! I agree on the post-analytic point…part of what I want to do is see what happens when Schelling encounters analytic thought (in a way Hegel has been used by Brandom and MacDowell) which two fruitful avenues I’ve discovered thus far are philosophies of dispositions (Molnar, Bird, Mumford, Ellis, Shoemaker) which Grant himself has pointed to, as well as Sellars’ work where I think his double vision of philosophy is similar to Schelling’s double split of transcendental idealism vs naturphilosophie. This of course opens a whole can of worms epistemologically in terms of Schelling’s use of intution and his anti-logical reputation (particularly evident in his critiques of Hegel post 1833)…

      PS I haven’t seen your blog before…nice to meet you

      • Yea, I forgot to mention, Ben, this is Craig Hickman or Dark Chemistry. I started an alternate blog to deal with communication theory, social media, social ecology, Luhmann, ecological communication, Murray Bookchin etc… it will take things into a different domain than my other blog. As well as revisioning Bookchin’s work, which I see is a muddle of good ideas, but retrograde in his philosophical approach. As well as ideas concerning technology, social practices, network theory, etc. I felt I needed a new site to expand my wilder ideas toward an actual praxis rather than the theoretical. Philosophy should inform social theory and praxis, and I wanted to understand where SR, Materialist, Idealist, and other kinds could inform this domain of practices.

  2. I’d like to clarify a point by saying that your post is accurate (or being more fair to Grant’s work given the fact that Iain doesn’t have an online presence) when you situate Grant within the SR camp of neo-vitalism and/or process philosophy, rather than as situating him somewhere else on some either/or fault line concerning science and epistemology. An “either/or” fault line move seems dubious as it subtly implies that either you are an object-oriented philosopher or you aren’t. But this line easily defeats such an either/or logic: “Becoming is segmented by the interaction of activities themselves. “

    By trying to make a cut and say there are object-oriented philosophers and then there aren’t, I only see ad hominem.

    From what I understand, object-oriented philosophers are primarily concerned with objects as particulars rather than the condition(s) for particulars or further particularization (as a general type or absolute unconditioned condition: Abgrund, Unbedingt). Grant is more of a transcendental philosopher in this way: grounds and powers are plural, true – but he is willing to take the step into discussing such plurality as a general type, transcendental but also naturalized. Actually, concerning knowledge of such ground(s) (epistemology, knowledge of the unconditioned) he is actually closer to Meillassoux and Brassier! And this is also why “the fault line” hypothesis seems incorrect.

    No matter how close an object-oriented philosopher comes to either loving or hating the neo-vitalist or process philosophy camp of SR, the crucial question is not reductive categorial determination (everything is an object, let’s say, a product and does mathematical science give us knowledge of that product) but rather what are the absolute generative conditions of objects in general (within each and every particular evidencing a general type of self-generating process, that is, productivity). In that Grant is in the German heritage no doubt, but then so is Meillassoux (with the question of the Hyperchaos, if it is “productive”).

    • 5 Ben Woodard

      Hi Leon,

      Forgive me…I’m not quite sure if you are critiquing me or Harman’s response here…I was not trying to perpetuate the OOO/vs non OOO I was troubled by what I saw as Harman making it seem that Grant is not interested in epistemology (which I do not think is true as Grant has gone to pains to show how Schelling changes Kant’s meaning of transcendental to mean naturalized epistemology and not a priori non-generated schemata)…sorry I’m honestly confused

    • You may or may not be familiar with Levi R. Bryant’s Larval Subjects blog, and his new book The Democracy of Objects, but he is open to the processual position, and it indeed informs much of his Onticology (his version of Machine Ontology, a sub branch of the Object-Oriented gang: Harman, Bogost, Morton, and Bryant). For him the “notion of potentiality” after Whitehead is central:

      Bryant’s focus is on motion, on doing and acting in the world. Bryant came to the sudden realization that the “concept of potentiality, of potency, is the theme of all of my philosophical work” (Potentiality and Onticology, 5/26/2011).

      Levi tells us “Potentiality, power, potency is pure capacity, pure “can-do”, pure ability. As such, it tells us nothing of the form that the actualized power will take when it becomes a quality or what I call a local manifestation. These potentialities are what I call, following Spinoza, “affects”, or the capacity to affect and be affected. They are structures of the object, they aren’t featureless, yet they do not embody any determinate qualities. In this regard, it is completely misleading to suggest that the power of an acorn contains an oak tree. No, acorns contain the possibility of all sorts of unique and aleatory movements (under specific conditions) that might become an oak tree.” Ultimately the potentiality of an Object exists sometimes as active or at-work, and sometimes as inactive, latent, or withdrawn from all work/relation.

      • 7 Ben Woodard

        Yea, I’m interested in the differences between Harman and Bryant in terms of processes but what I find difficult is the recourse to Spinoza as I feel like the ontological flatness therein (coupled with a necessitarian commitment that ideas and things are parallel by the nature of the One substance) is problematic when talking about forces particularly in regards to temporality or how things produced then effect the production of future things in terms of material constraint. For me, affect doesn’t do more than the world relation or maybe better is connection but I feel like it feels more weighty because it has a related emotional connotation, because it can be exp as joy, sorrow, etc in us gives it a kind of digging power into the brain that I question…

      • Yes, I think of the use of Spinoza on Affect might confuse, but what I think Levi would probably add and has spoken of is the use of that term put to work within the context of his involvement with Deleuze’s appropriation of that term, where in Capitalism and Schizophrenia Brian Massumi in his commentary describes:

        AFFECT/AFFECTION. Neither word denotes a personal feeling (sentiment in Deleuze and Guattari). L’affect (Spinoza’s affectus) is an ability to affect and be affected. It is a prepersonal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body’s capacity to act. L’affection (Spinoza’s affectio) is each such state considered as an encounter between the affected body and a second, affecting, body (with body taken in its broadest possible sense to include “mental” or ideal bodies).

        Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix (1987) [1980]. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

      • Oh, and in that last bit of including mental or ideal bodies by Matsummi I think Levi would disagree, since he is a strict materialist concerning objects: this being one of the central divisions between him and Harman (since Graham affirms non-material objects ).

  3. Hi Ben,
    Sorry, should have been more clear. I was agreeing with you, and I loved your post. It seemed that when Harman was hinting that Grant was not interested in epistemology he was also cutting an OOO/non-OOO divide. (I’d have to look at his post again, but if I remember there a point where he says something to the effect, “Everyone else is an object-oriented philosopher.”) That may be incidental to the point to be made, but more pressing (as you call out in your post) is the question of ground(s) and powers, which I try to emphasize in my comment above.

    Hope that clears things up, no?

  4. 12 Leon

    Ben and Craig,
    Do either of you see “flat” versus “depth” ontologies as a fault line within the camps of SR? Open question, just curious.

    I’m trying to think of some of the issues where SR folks might split or be nuanced enough so as to rightly possess their own “camps.” By “versus” I don’t mean to perpetrate division per se, but only to identify the idea that these philosophers may have a different or nuanced enough take on traditionally opposed terms in metaphysics so as to have a unique view – each has a way pf reconciling the terms or fitting one or the other, or both, into their projects.

    From what I’ve seen so far, here is where I can see some definite differences. Not sure that any one is more important than the other.

    1. process versus object
    2. immanent versus transcendent(al)
    3. abstract versus concrete/sensible/material
    4. scientific or mathematizable property/power versus withdrawing power/essence
    5. form versus object
    6. absolute versus relative relation (internal versus external relation)
    7. pluralism versus monism (this one is a stretch, but admitting a ground,
    general type, transcendental unitary feature would place you one step towards a type of monism)
    8. Epistemological (scientific) realist versus Metaphysical-ontological (scholastic) realist of the general / Metaphysical (immanentist) realist of the particular – this one breaks down to particularism versus someone friendly to a theory of types
    9. Correlationism traditionally understood is opposed, though some may return to it in a modified form.
    10. anthropocentrism versus non-anthropocentrism

    Probably missing a few here.

    • A tall order, but I will try. One of the things I think people get confused on is the idea of a “flat ontology”: first, it does not mean that everything is flattened out into an amorphous soup or flux; it is neither atomistic, nor a continuum. Instead it means that all objects are on an equal footing, yet against DeLanda this does not mean that there is only one type of object: “individuals”; instead, it signifies the trivial thesis that all things that are are objects. Objects differ amongst one another having their own unique properties and qualities (e.g. numbers have a different structure than organisms, obviously) but they are no less objects for this reason. On the other hand, and more fundamentally, flat ontology is designed to stave off strategies of what Harman refers to as ways of undermining and overmining objects. In short, a flat ontology is an ontology that refuses to undermine or overmine objects.

      Undermining is that operation by which the thinker attempts to dissolve the object in something deeper of which the object is said to be an unreal effect. Consequently, the minimal operation of undermining lies in 1) the assertion of a fundamental strata of reality that constitutes the “really real”, and 2) the dissolution of the object in and through that stratum.

      Harman’s concept of overmining is a bit more difficult to follow. Where undermining treats the object as a false appearance produced as an effect of what is alleged to be really real being such as atoms, overmining charges objects with being “falsely deep” and dissolves them in a more superficial strata of phenomena. What does this mean? First, when we describe an object as being “deep” we’re talking about the way in which no description or set of relations ever exhausts the being of the object. Objects, as Adorno liked to say, are never identical to their concept. There’s always something about the object that eludes any description or experience of the object. Thus, properly speaking, objects are one and all infinite in their depths. They can never be exhausted.

      Most of this can be gleaned from both Harman and Levi’s work… hope this helps. I get a little long winded at times…

    • 14 Ben Woodard

      This is very interesting – I’ll have to answer it later as I’m on campus for most of the day!

    • And, yes, I forgot to add that I do think they are nuanced enough to already have their own “camps” so to speak. Bryant is moving closer to his roots in Deleuze and returning to a “Machine Ontology”; while Bogost promotes a “tiny ontology”, and Morton is with his ecological thinking moving toward a hyperobject ontology…. I don’t think there is an imperial vision here with one master narrative… I think as Bogost said in one of his blog posts, relating to all of this as a “mess”:

      A mess is not a pile, which is neatly organized even if situated in an inconvenient place underfoot. A mess is not an elegant thing of a higher order. It is not an intellectual project to be evaluated and risk-managed by waistcoat-clad underwriters. A mess is a strew of inconvenient and sometimes repellent things. It is less an imbroglio of the sort one finds in a painting of Pollock or Picasso, and more the mess one finds in a sculpture of Keinholz. A mess is an accident. A mess is a thing that you find where you don’t want it. A mess is the cascade of broken glass on the floor when you miss the alarm clock and catch the water glass. A mess is the heap of hot, unseen dog shit on the stoop, and then on the stoop and the bootsole. A mess is inelegant, a clutter, a shamble, a terror. We recoil at it, yet there it is, and we must deal with it.

      I’m reminded of Feynman and his “fuzzy logic” in the sense that at the moment Object-Oriented though, SR, and Process oriented philosophies are search for vocabularies to describe things in inventive ways, ways that will help us break free of the last two hundred years of post-Kantian speculation and into something else… what that something else will be is as much up to the quality of speculation as it to the speculations themselves.

  1. 1 I.H. Grant and Speculative Realism « PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR
  2. 2 Woodard on Grant « Object-Oriented Philosophy

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