Materialism And Nihilism. (or: What is Philosophy?)

We have to be careful when mining resources from traditional discourse. I have proposed here and there that we need to clean up philosophical discussion, and so I’m going to give an example, a brief and not exhaustive nor rigorously thorough, rendition of what I mean when I say we have to clean up philosophy.

Check out this post on materialism.

From a certain perspective, this ( the link) approach is not incorrect. The basis of his argument and indeed what he is saying is not incorrect in itself, which is to say, the content of his argument is not what is at issue here (though you can see my questions upon the content in the comments of his post). We might recall from an earlier post of mine I suggest there are two routes upon objects; the issue with today’s philosophy is really about one’s orientation upon objects. His argument is in good form in the content that is assumed of some sort of traditional heritage, in this case Wiki as a sort of base from which to place his discussion, is used as a sensible base today to make further statements. The Wiki reference to materialism might be a philosophically established definition, but it doesn’t take into large account that even the idea of materialism is debated as to what it’s really talking about. We might even be tempted to ponder how we are even able to come up with a category that is common enough to call materialism.

Let’s take a look at the opening statements of the wiki entry on materialism:

Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental things and consciousness, are results of material interactions.

Materialism is closely related to physicalism, the view that all that exists is ultimately physical.

Keep in mind that I’m not suggesting that this entry does not make sense. At least, it does have a certain sense so far as it may reference other ideas to other wiki entries and generally goes on to discuss various ideas around let materialism may be.

First, the simple question has to be “what is materialism?” Then, there are two routes to go in finding out what ‘materialism’ might mean. One route is to do a Google search (above) or go to a professor of philosophy or critical thoery and ask all these places or look up in these places, “materialism”. And you get the usual type of philosophical answers. This route is so common that it is never even questioned; in fact, I would venture to say that it is usual and of course not to question this route, but more, that the contents of the search is likewise not questioned for what it contains (as a discursive form), but the only valid manner of questioning is upon meaning of the content as if the syntax is automatically correct as a (redundantly) syntactical form that conveys direct and equivocal meaning (that can be reduced to common) .

This may sound as if we are rehashing old postmodern modes, but it is distinctly modern in the sense that the reader cannot dismiss herself from that fact that is taking place at this moment: This moment is modern. Even if we were to attach some theoretical qualifiers to define this moment as post- modern (or post-post modern, as I like to call it), the manner by which we are able to come to the idea that this particular reading is postmodern is a modern manner. The segregating present modes or forms into categorical definitions is a modern form. The theoretical denial of this fact allows us to come to certain sensibilities about what is occurring in this moment, that is, the moment of this reading (now – are you dismissing yourself from your reading! you are reading this right now. Not in the present: Only in this moment, this modern moment) which we will not go into detail here.

The question on the table is “what is materialism”? Where do I look for this answer is the next question, the supporting question. Then, for this route that we are shedding light upon (a light that many are ((color)) blind to), the next question is: What am I trying to accomplish by taking this route? I think this is really the fundamental philosophical question involved in everything that we call philosophy; but as well, it is a question that philosophy in general, I think, largely ignores. So I can say this in the original sense of postmodern, a sense that is not the common sense of our day’s view. It is a different sense that few people care about because its basis of value is different. What is the purpose I am fulfilling or attempting to complete through taking this route? To answer ‘to gain information’ is too vague, and too redundant, but if you are OK with that answer then perhaps it is not philosophy that you are involved with (hence another reason why I say we need clean up philosophy).

The first answer to the first question shows what is involved with philosophy. If my first answer is to seek the answer somewhere else, then we already know about a certain orientation upon things, and we need not look anywhere else: This route is the route which places modernity within a prior structural situation by which the agent of that structure lives out her days. This is found because the first answer is not so often: I already know what materialism is. The answer to the first question is: Materialism is a philosophical category that is defined by or otherwise associated with material. If this question is not asked and answered first, then we have a particular kind of philosophical undertaking that yields a particular kind of philosophical answer. When this is asked and answered first, then the next question becomes: What is material? And the answer again comes automatically to sense: It is the stuff that things are made out of or otherwise constituent of.

Now; lets look at a simple definition of ‘material’ without all the previous hoopla:
{Btw: I have not yet looked it up; the definition I am putting here is after I wrote this promt. So lets see:}

– Material. “The matter from which a thing is or can be made”

So now:
– ‘matter’: “That which occupies space and has mass”

– ‘space’: (we will forego the strict mathematical definitions that are given first):
“An extent or expanse of a surface or three-dimensional area”

– ‘Mass’: “1. a coherent, typically large body of matter with no definite shape. 3. physics
the quantity of matter that a body contains, as measured by its acceleration under a given force or by the force exerted on it by a gravitational field.”

I don’t know about you, but there is no definition here, in this series, that is anything unexpected forme. I bet I could go on defining the various terms, in a plain an uncomplicated manner, and never encounter a meaning that I didn’t expect (even though with physics I would probably begin to encounter definitions that I don’t immediately understand, in particular, if they began to use mathematical symbols to denote the specific meanings).

So I will ask the same question I asked at the beginning, again: What am I trying to accomplish, not only by asking the question, but by taking the route to find the answer?


The problem I am seeing must take into account that there are different levels of learners, and that when doing a blog, I must consider the possibility that people are of various stages in their learning, but are coming across (online; through text) with a strong sense of assertion and propriety, like they have been taught to act like (sometimes, I do come across people who are humble enough to admit to their shortcomings, and that is a breath of fresh air, because then I get to learn in a whole new way also). What I mean is, while online I tend to take everyone on the same level, and deal and treat them as equals, the facts tend to show themselves to the possibility that many people are actually somewhat, either, immature in their thinking, or representative of a certain type of thinker. It is this latter that brings me to consider why we need to clean up philosophical discussion: We are not only talking about different things, we are indeed using different methods to come to various answers. But because no one has delineated or come up with a way to distinguish these types, everyone takes philosophy as a general category in which everyone participates in a sort of common arena of ideas. I am saying that there is no such common arena, or, that the common arena is an assumption that is not, or becoming, no longer a valid assumption. The common arena is not only assumed, but enforced.

It is not merely that people are in various stages of learning or in different departments, different philosophical aspects, such as epistemology or ontology, nor the worn-out continental and analytical traditions. It is that there are two different manners of enacting, appropriating and elucidating philosophical problems as well as solutions, and the assumption that these two arenas can cross-communicate is creating a situation of philosophy that we can rightly call miscommunication, or just plain, no communication. (see Leotard, Badiou and as well as a few others who grapple with this same problem, but who were, frankly, not able to enact or accompany the ‘impossible’ solution. Laruelle may be the only one who actually takes a chance – but there are probably others). The assumption that the discrepancy can be overcome is a categorical error that is enacted due to the traditional modern mode of philosophcial thinking, what we can loosely call Enlightenment thinking – but we might also loosely categorize these thinkers as those who view the failure of this Enlightenment to equate to The failure of civilization. And, in so much as we can also rightly understand modern and postmodern as complicit in the maintenance of a particular program of Enlightenment, it is then not too far off the mark to call the perpetuation of this enterprise post-postmodern, or just get un-theoretically honest, and call it Neo-modernism, a type of ages old effort of declining civilizations to rehash, and reinstate a dying ‘realism’ of yesteryear, a ‘return to the good old days’ of definite real truths (Realism).

But did we ever really stop moving forward ? Re-read (or read) “The Postmodern Condition” again and tell me if Leotard was not situating things in light of techne. Is it any wonder that a certain Realist has attempted a discussion about over- and under-determinations? Despite how short those discussions may extend, various truths about the ability and function of human consciousness must always show itself in time even if through different frequencies and angles. We are caught in a technical motion that has little to do with how we constitute our state of Being: The State is known, that is how, logistically, we are able to interact with technology the way we do. The various issues of consciousness are now inseparable from our technical world (if they were ever understood as separate). Any argument to the contrary is nearly superfluous (if not different).


This is not bleak; it is not an apocalyptic prophecy. Such gloom and doom are from the “prophets of the old Testament” projecting their dismay on the manner by which they only have to make a (dishonest) living (in the production of “honest” theory). They misunderstand reality; they are caught in a kind of upside-down ‘hope’ (faith), a kind of transcendental yearning for a ontological justification of a religious affect. 

In a way, we could see this effort (here, behind this essay) is the uprooting of the whole discursive paradigm by which we come to not only traditional philosophical conclusions, but indeed the manner that the tradition remains intact as a common method. By this, I mean to alarm the philosophical police, those philosophers that Slavoj Zizek mentions in his book “Event”. The philosophical police are on guard for philosophical statements or proposals that would seek to undo all our social political and ideological structures; basically, the philosophical police are the clerics of our current religious ideology (reality).

We have to ask what exactly these philosophical police might be on guard against, because so many of the philosophical police don’t even know that they’re working for the department; they naturally uphold a traditional sense of rationality and reason without even contemplating or being able to approach the idea that the sense that they have of rationality is itself an actual religious attitude. In short, what the philosophical police do is look for nihilism. They look for philosophical statements that represent or argue for, to them, nothing (good), and then basically assert their religious identity upon that which otherwise appears to them as chaos, anarchy or just plain nonsense (they have no criterion by which to discern real nonsense from logical nonsense: Real nonsense makes no sense to the practical and actual living that occurs in the real world; logical nonsense has no sense and cannot be made to have sense). They are apparently incapable of understanding what nihilism means without the context of their traditional religious dogma. The content of nihilism to them is effective negation of their belief system, or what should be more probably called a real religious scaffolding of meaning, even extending into the philosophical metaphysical justifications. Indeed; we only use the term to indicate where it lacks.

But we already know, if we understand what Jean-Francois Lyotard said in The first chapter of his essay “The Postmodern Condition”, what happens to people that are attempting to develop a discourse of the content of what is traditionally known as nihilism: They are ignored, de facto; they are unheard and they are automatically and axiomatically excluded from what is already understood – through the modern religious dogma (if I may be so bold) – as knowledge. Those who would discuss the content of what has been X’d-out and marked off on the map of real and valid knowledge as “monsters be here” are unheard.

So it is with this small and quick primer that I say as soon as someone said the word ‘materialism’, 150+ years or so ago, to continue along various definitions of how that materialism may be wrong in its definition or this materialism is a more proper way to situate it, the basic problem has been that these subsequent authors, the subsequent religious philosophers who basically are unable to consider their position as a religious position due to the same phenomenon that I’m talking about with materialism, founded nihilism – where such philosophers, who want to argue against and improve upon the definitions of fundament or and establish terms (what are they doing?) cannot bring themselves to understand the nihilistic intention behind the term itself, there do we have (do I have to really say it), the philosophical police. We then need to reflect upon where my capacity as a philosopher is breached. We have to consider that what I understand as true is different from what is real (has differentiated), and we have to consider the fact that I am able to make sense out of it that is communicated in one moment, and not in another.

So; if I am in to remain in good form, as form is form despite what tradition might say, then I can no longer take the term materialism and add or subtract something to it, like Badiou talks about. The addition and subtraction of term identities must occur in an arena that is different from that which posits the ordinary definition.


Then all the alarms go off with this one. If my readership goes down to zero then I know I have succeeded in offending religious sensibility. (Just kidding! Please keep reading.) Getting back to the question: Is there any part of the definitions above that indicate or inherently and automatically attaches to a referent? An imperative where things in-themselves are automatically and mutually excluded from the thoughts about them? From where does such an exclusion take hold and for what purpose? What is offensive or incorrect in the statement “Only material exists”? Material is that which we deal with. It is that which we deal with always and at all times. It is ultimately and always discursive, and any reference of discourse to something outside or beyond discourse is automatically discursive. The proof is found in the question: If there is something outside of discourse? What is it? Can you tell me without using discourse? Can discourse refer to something that is not discursive? These questions are foundational and pivotal to discerning what philosophy is able to do and what it is allowed (permitted) to do.

I see nothing in this which contradicts any of those extsnsions of definition above. Yet, once we understand this, once we see that there are indeed people who will have issue with this, then we can begin to notice where people, philosophers in general, are being somehow deceptive or at least being or carrying on a certain incognition about the state of affairs; and we have to ask them: For what purpose? I call such people ‘real philosophers’, or philosophers that are concerned with reality. Nothing wrong with that; just there is discussion that is as valid and pertinent to what is occurring that those kind of philosphers will not consider. This is not an accusation; it is a mere fact of what occurs. Am I ‘incorrect’ or am I accused because I have breasts? This is also a foundational and pivotal type of question.


To wrap this little ditty up, to really nail it home and sew it up tight, we must bring in Lyotard postmodern condition again and point out how so utterly honest and true his statements were: The state will be no longer of concern and eventually will be left behind all together.

Damn. What the hell was I talking about?



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