Just a throw away post. Denunciations of materialism are generally premised on a highly tendentious concept of matter that is of the order of a straw man. The moment you hear terms such as “mechanism” or “reductionism” thrown about, you know you’re before a 17th century corpuscular concept of matter (basically the theory of Democritus and Lucretius) understood as indivisible particles that enter into various combinations. This ignores work done in the sciences over the last three hundred year; and, in particular, the fluid and energetic nature of matter. The concept of matter is unique in philosophy insofar as we don’t begin, in advance, with a concept of matter. It’s not an a priori concept. To be sure, there’s a root intuition– matter is “stuff” or “physical” –but what that might be is an open question: processes, relations between forces, energy? The being or nature of matter is something to be discovered, it is a knowledge to come. It is not something we have already. It is a concept on the way.
Of course, the interesting question here is why materialism seems to evoke so much hostility within the humanities? Materialism seems unique in raising ire among those of us who work in fields like philosophy and literary theory. What is the source of this ire? Does it arise from unconscious religious commitments about the nature of self or the soul? Is it that there’s a strong tendency towards idealism within the humanities, towards the mind mastering and conditioning and even forming all that is, that gives rise to this hostility? After all, matter is that which resists thought, that prevents concept from swallowing thing (as Adorno well recognized in his concept of a negative dialectics). Given how successful materialism has been in accounting for various phenomena– though it still has a long way to go –hostility towards materialism doesn’t seem to arise simply from inadequacies in the ontology (inadequacies, incidentally, that have a history of being overcome in response to criticism). This is an indication that materialism touches on the real, on that which is other than a correlation.