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The Myth of the Given: Nominalism, Naturalism & Materialism (Ray Brassier)

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Published on May 25, 2013

Ray Brassier discusses the work of the philosopher Wilfrid Sellars regarding the myth of the Given, nominalism, naturalism, and materialism. Nominalism denies the real existence of any abstract entities or universals (e.g. properties, attributes, forms, natural kinds, numbers, essences, propositions, etc.). Traditional nominalism proceeded from an empiricist epistemology that challenges the very possibility of metaphysics, whether idealist or materialist. The critique of empiricism is taken to entail the refutation of nominalism. But nominalism contains a valuable insight for materialists: reality does not have propositional form. This is an insight that should be taken up by post-Darwinian materialists, who ought to deny that reality has a conceptual structure. For a consequent materialist, realism about abstract entities or universals is problematic because it re-iterates the theological presumption of a pre-established harmony between the conceptual order and the order of the real. The question is whether materialism can take up this nominalistic insight while still jettisoning the empiricist prejudices that tie it to skeptical relativism. For the claim that reality is devoid of propositional form need not require denying that we can use language to capture aspects of reality, or that concepts have ontological purchase. In this talk, Ray Brassier discusses these philosophical issues in connection with the work of Wilfrid Sellars, who managed to combine nominalist semantics, epistemic naturalism, and methodological materialism.

Ray Brassier is a member of the philosophy faculty at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, known for his work in philosophical realism. He was formerly Research Fellow at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Middlesex University, London, England. He is the author of Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction and the translator of Alain Badiou’s Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism and Theoretical Writings and Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency.

This was from a workshop titled "War Against the Sun". Credit goes to 'The Matter of Contradiction' for this. For more information, check out the following: http://lamatiere.tumblr.com/

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