Okay, so I have falsely advertised: I can’t actually say what Bruno Latour said in his e-mail to me, because he asked that it stay private. I am incredibly grateful for his response, and I respect his request and his reasons for the request; so I will comply. However, I assume the meta-information, such as what my initial email asked, is okay to discuss, as are those things that I thought before the email. I will say —again, this is meta-information— that what he said surprised and even shocked me, so let me get right to what I asked him.
My email to Latour was exactly as follows:
Dear Dr. Latour,
I write to you with the hope that you might be able to clarify a point of concern and interest for me and a few of my colleagues. You have explicitly stated that you entirely disagree with Quentin Meillassoux’s solutions proposed in After Finitude, which is in print on the back cover of that very book. What I (and a few others) cannot figure out is why. I don’t know that you have given any explicit lines of reasoning for this rejection, and, as best as I can tell, Meillassoux’s proposals are largely in line with quite a bit of your own thought. May I bother you for a word or two about what your disagreement is?
The similarities in the work of Meillassoux had been brought to my attention by friend, philosopher, and mentor, Dr. Steven Gans. Being that I am so sympathetic to Kant’s project, Gans challenged me to get outside of my Kantian way of thinking, just to see what the possibilities were with Meillassoux’s anti-Kantianism (anti-correlationism). Having had little background in late twentieth century philosophy, I was intrigued, and saw it as a way to “get up” on my contemporary philosophy. What I found was that I agree with Gans’ assessment of how Meillassoux’s philosophy seems to correspond and overlap with Latour’s in many ways. In fact, I have gone so far as to explore and draw lines between the frameworks in a way that suggests that Meillassoux’s philosophy isn’t too far off from being able to serve as a foundation for Latour. In saying this, it should be noted that Latour is a voluminous scholar, and I have hardly tasted his corpus; but, as of right now, this is my assessment, that Meillassoux and Latour fit together reasonably well. One thing can be said, I think, for sure —and I would eat my shoe if I find this not to be the case, after further study— Latour is not a correlationist, to echo a wise man.
Some of the basic relationships I have seen in their work is, first and foremost, the fact that Meillassoux wants to bring back the notion of secondary qualities (and primary qualities), which takes one’s mind to Latour’s “empirical.” Latour’s “empirical” stands in strict contradistinction to “empiricist,” where the former means, very simply, “of or relating to the senses”; the latter refers to the general method of scientific enterprise. Both philosophies rest on the phenomenological, which, in an era when many philosophers have an eye toward realism, fundamentalism, or some unity of science project, is not quite the norm. I especially mean this in the sense of the way that they privilege the senses. There are quite a few of these approaches that correspond to one another, between the two thinkers’ works. To move over a second very quickly, they both seem to have a Heidegger in mind in all cases; and this is a topic that I am looking into at the moment.
Part of what surprised me in Latour’s response was what he didn’t pinpoint as an issue. (I presume I can talk about what he didn’t say in the email.) I thought Latour would say that Meillassoux disagrees with his ANT (Actor-Network Theory), or that he didn’t see how ANT could fit into Meillassoux’s framework. I know next to nothing about this part of Latour’s work, as I have studied works like Science in Action and Laboratory Life, and a few similar papers; but I had imagined that the relation-relata stance, or anything like it, which I presume is involved with ANT, would be problematic in fitting it into a system that consciously rids itself of signifier-signified, subject-object, and couplings of the like. Perhaps, I simply have some false impressions about ANT? Anyway, this all provides a starting place for a deeper exploration of Latour’s work, and how it might relate to Meillassoux. In the immediate future, I am writing a chapter, in a larger project (one devoted to Meillassoux and science/philosophy of science), that is to feature preliminaries in associating these two thinkers with one another by way of how they stand in relation to science.