The central failure of Continental philosophy has been the rejection of naturalism. With few exceptions, Continental thought, since the 19th century, disavowed the naturalistic revolution that began in the 16th century. Rather than choosing nature– which is to say materiality and efficient causation –as the ground of being, again and again it has made obscurantist gestures based on a recoil to the naturalist revolution: subject or lived experience as the ground of being (phenomenology), spirit as ground of being (Hegel), economics as ground of being (Marx), signifier as ground of being (structuralism and post-structuralism), power as a ground of being (Foucault), history as a ground of being (Gadamer), text as a ground of being, ect. We even get romantic visions of nature evoking the will to power and élan vital.
In Freudian terms, these are so many responses to the narcisstic wound of nature and materiality. It is not the subject, lived experience, history, intentionality, the signifier, text, or power that explains nature, that explains nature, it is nature and materiality that explains all of these things. If these things aren’t treated as natural phenomena, then they deserve to be committed to flames. The point is not that these other orientations have failed to make contributions to our understanding of the natural world, but that they have mistakenly treated these things as grounds of the natural world, rather than the reverse.
It’s difficult to escape the impression that these rejections of naturalism and materialism are a massive reaction formation on the part of the humanities. On the one hand, the humanities still suffer from a theological prejudice, and fear the dislodging of human privilege or exceptionalism that naturalism and materialism betokens. Great apes such as ourselves cannot stand the thought that we are contingent beings among other beings and, in our narcissism, cannot bear the thought that everything else isn’t for us and dependent on us. On the other hand, the humanities are terrified by the thought that our areas of inquiry might be usurped by the natural sciences. We worry that physics, biology, chemistry, will steal our work. In typical narcissistic fashion, we then try to argue that some specific to what we inquire into is the ground of everything else: the subject, politics, text, the signifier, culture, lived experience, will to power, élan vital, etc. We do everything to evade the truth of our age, to preserve our privilege.
The truth of the matter, however– and I won’t even bother to make arguments here –is that naturalism and materialism are the only credible philosophical positions today. If you find yourself explaining being in terms of the signifier, text, rhetoric, culture, power, history, or lived experience, then your thought deserves to be committed to flame. If you don’t begin from the premise that we are evolved to get around in the world and reproduce– and that we are put together to do this in particular circumstances –then your thought deserves to be committed to flames. Your thought is a reaction formation to the narcissistic wound of the fact that your existence is contingent and that you are only the third of the three great apes.
This does not entail that what you’ve said is entirely useless. Nothing entirely misses the truth, including your secularized theological conception of being. There’s even a bit of truth in Christ, Paul, and Buddha. All you need to do is abandon the notion that humans aren’t an animal, that somehow being is dependent on humans and culture, and that somehow we have ends like knowledge and transcendence. All you have to do is re-interpret the entirety of your claims about lived experience, the signifier, culture, power, etc., in naturalistic terms. Then you might make a real contribution, rather than engage in one more reaction against the narcissistic wounds of Copernicus, Darwin, Freud, and neurology. Absent this, you deserve to be treated as apologists suffering from narcissistic denial.