A Lacanian aphorism states that all communication is miscommunication. Another states that we always say more or something other than what we intend to say. I wonder how much of this has been the case with the signifier “Speculative Realism”. In astronomy black holes are detected indirectly, through wobbles in nearby stars, sudden accelerations in their orbit, curvatures of light, etc. Often the situation is similar in philosophical dialogues. The bone of contention is not something explicitly stated by one of the interloctors, but rather is an absent term that nonetheless presides over the entire discourse.

In a number of debates surrounding “Speculative Realism”, I wonder how much the term “speculation” has played a role similar to that of a black hole. The verb “to speculate” does not have very happy connotations. From Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: spec·u·late
Pronunciation: \ˈspe-kyə-ˌlāt\
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): spec·u·lat·ed; spec·u·lat·ing
Etymology: Latin speculatus, past participle of speculari to spy out, examine, from specula lookout post, from specere to look, look at — more at spy
Date: 1599

intransitive verb 1 a : to meditate on or ponder a subject : reflect b : to review something idly or casually and often inconclusively
2 : to assume a business risk in hope of gain; especially : to buy or sell in expectation of profiting from market fluctuationstransitive verb 1 : to take to be true on the basis of insufficient evidence : theorize
2 : to be curious or doubtful about : wonder “speculates whether it will rain all vacation”

It did not occur to me until recently, but I wonder, when certain others hear the term “speculative” are they equating this with the sense of “reviewing something idly or casually”, or “taking something to be true on the basis of insufficient evidence”? Is this what they believe the speculative realists are proposing and doing… That they are advancing the thesis that we should just make claims without arguments?

This would be a curious conclusion, especially for philosophers trained in the Continental tradition who are steeped in the tradition of textual commentary and interpretation. First, none of the so-called “speculative realists” use the term “speculation” as a key concept in their work. And where they do use it, they certainly do not employ it in the sense of authorizing philosophy to make idle claims without support. Second, it is odd for Continental philosophers, above all, to think that anything valuable can be gleaned about a philosophy from the ordinary language connotations of terms. To determine the meaning of a philosophical term ordinary language cannot be relied on, but rather it is necessary to look at how it is used by the philosopher. Finally third, one wonders about the psychological make-up, one’s way of viewing the world and experiencing others, that would lead to such an uncharitable interpretation.

At any rate, no, the “speculative” of “speculative realism” is not a call to authorize idle speculation without support. Yes, the speculative realists all are committed to the view that as philosophers they are obligated to make careful and rigorous arguments in defense of their positions. The term “speculative” has connotations not of making claims without support, but rather is to be opposed to the term critical, where critical is to be understood in its precise philosophical sense of any philosophy that holds that all philosophical questions are to be posed in terms of our epistemological access to entities such that ultimately all philosophical questions reduce to epistemological questions. “Critical”, in philosophy, does not mean “someone who is always scrutinizing and pointing out flaws in arguments.” I suspect that the term “Speculative Realism” was chosen as the title for the Goldsmith’s event back in 2007 to signify the commitment to posing ontological questions in their own terms without striving to reduce all ontological questions or questions about what things are to epistemological questions. Do those of us who engage in ontology believe that we don’t have to justify our claims, that we don’t have to answer questions of knowledge, etc? No.

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