486 pages, no illustrations
In this new book, Bruno Latour offers answers to questions raised in "We Have Never Been Modern, "a work that interrogated the connections between nature and culture. If not modern, he asked, what "have" we been, and what values should we inherit? Over the past twenty-five years, Latour has developed a research protocol different from the actor-network theory with which his name is now associated – a research protocol that follows the different types of connectors that provide specific truth conditions. These are the connectors that prompt a climate scientist challenged by a captain of industry to appeal to the "institution" of science, with its army of researchers and mountains of data, rather than to "capital-S Science" as a higher authority.
Such modes of extension – or modes of existence, Latour argues here – account for the many differences between law, science, politics, and other domains of knowledge. Though scientific knowledge corresponds to only one of the many possible modes of existence Latour describes, an unrealistic vision of science has become the arbiter of reality and truth, seducing us into judging all values by a single standard. Latour implores us to recover other modes of existence in order to do justice to the plurality of truth conditions that Moderns have discovered throughout their history. This systematic effort of building a new philosophical anthropology presents a completely different view of what Moderns have been, and provides a new basis for opening diplomatic encounters with other societies at a time when all societies are coping with ecological crisis.
"Magnificent [...] An Inquiry into Modes of Existence shows that [Latour] has lost none of his astonishing fertility as a thinker, or his skill and wit as a writer [...] Latour's main message – that rationality is 'woven from more than one thread' – is intended not just for the academic seminar, but for the public square – and the public square today is global as never before. Thanks to what Bruno Latour describes as the 'formidable discoveries of modernism,' we have come to share a world of material interdependence and incessant communication, just at the time when the threat of climate change gives desperate pathos to our common stewardship of the planet. Latour speaks with urgency when he asks us all to set aside the script of secular modernity – to stop insulting each other and learn to pluralize, apologize and ecologize. We must prepare ourselves for diplomacy, he says: we must talk to one another or die."
– Jonathan Rée, The Times Literary Supplement
"[An Inquiry into Modes of Existence] is not just a book; it is also a project in interactive metaphysics. In other words, a book, plus website [...] Intrigued readers of Latour's text can go online and find themselves drawn into a collaborative project. Collective collaboration – some would call it 'crowdsourcing' – is rare in philosophy, but Latour, a sociologist and anthropologist by training, is used to collaboration with scientists [...] Latour's work makes the world – sorry, worlds – interesting again. And, best of all, it is a project to which you can attach yourself."
– Stephen Muecke, Los Angeles Review of Books
To the Reader: User’s Manual for the Ongoing Collective Inquiry
Introduction: Trusting Institutions Again?
A shocking question addressed to a climatologist that obliges us to distinguish values from the accounts practitioners give of them.
Between modernizing and ecologizing, we have to choose by proposing a different system of coordinates.
Which leads us to define an imaginary diplomatic scene: in the name of whom to negotiate and with whom to negotiate?
The inquiry at first resembles the one involving speech acts while we learn to identify different modes of existence.
The goal is, first, to accompany a people vacillating between economy and ecology.
Part I: How to Make an Inquiry into the Modes of Existence of the Moderns Possible
1. Defining the Object of Inquiry
An investigator goes off to do fieldwork among the Moderns without respecting domain boundaries, thanks to the notion of actor-network, which makes it possible to distinguish networks as result from networks as process.
The inquiry defines a first mode of existence, the network [NET], through a particular “pass,” or passage.
But networks [NET] have a limitation: they do not qualify value.
Law offers a point of comparison through its own particular mode of displacement.
There is thus a definition of “boundary” that does not depend on the notions of domain or network.
The mode of extension of objective knowledge can be compared with other types of passes.
Thus any situation can be defined through a grasp of the [NET] type plus a particular relation between continuities and discontinuities.
Thanks to a third type of “pass,” the religious type, the investigator sees why values are difficult to detect because of their quite particular ties to institutions, and this will oblige her to take into account a history of values and their interferences.
2. Collecting Documents for the Inquiry
The inquiry begins with the detection of category mistakes not to be confused with first-degree mistakes; only second-degree mistakes matter.
A mode possesses its own particular type of veridiction, as we see by going back to the example of law.
True and false are thus expressed within a given mode and outside it, provided that we first define the felicity and infelicity conditions of each mode and then the mode’s interpretive key, or its preposition.
Then we shall be able to speak of each mode in its own tonality, as the etymology of “category” implies and as the contrast between the requirements of law and religion attests.
The inquiry connects understandings of the network type [NET] with understandings of the prepositional type [PRE] by defining crossings that form a Pivot Table.
A somewhat peculiar [NET • PRE] crossing, which raises a problem of compatibility with the actor-network theory.
Recapitulation of the conditions for the inquiry.
What is rational is what follows the threads of the various reasons.
3. A Perilous Change of Correspondence
To begin with what is most difficult, the question of Science by applying principles of method that entail identifying passes, which allow us to disamalgamate two distinct modes of existence.
Description of an unremarkable itinerary: the example of a hike up Mont Aiguille will serve to define chains of reference and immutable mobiles by showing that reference is attached neither to the knowing subject nor to the known object.
The notion of Subject/Object correspondence conflates two passes since it is clear that existents do not pass through immutable mobiles in order to persist in being.
Although there is no limit to the extension of chains of reference [REF] there are indeed two modes of existence that co-respond to each other.
We must therefore register new felicity conditions that will authorize a different distribution between language and existence. This becomes particularly clear in the prime example of the laboratory.
Hence the salience of a new mode of existence, [REP], for reproduction and of a crossing [REP • REF] that is hard to keep in sight, especially when we have to resist the interference of Double Click.
4. Learning to Make Room
To give the various modes enough room we must first try to grasp existents according to the mode of reproduction [REP] by making this mode one trajectory among others in order to avoid the strange notion of an invasive material space.
If those who have occupied all the space nevertheless lack room it is because they have been unable to disamalgamate the notion of matter by the proper use of the [REP • REF] crossing.
Now, as soon as we begin to distinguish two senses of the word “form” the form that maintains constants and the form that reduces the hiatus of reference we begin to obtain a nonformalist description of formalism, which turns out, unfortunately, to be wiped out by a third sense of the word “form”.
At this point we risk being mistaken about the course followed by the beings of reproduction in that we risk confusing two distinct courses in the idea of matter.
A formalist description of the outing on Mont Aiguille generates a double image through a demonstration per absurdum that would lead to a division into primary and secondary qualities.
But once the origin of this Bifurcation into primary and secondary qualities has been accurately identified it becomes a hypothesis too contrary to experience and the magic of rationalism vanishes since we can no longer confuse existents with matter, a matter that would no more do justice to the world than to “lived experience”.
5. Removing Some Speech Impediments
If we had to begin with the hardest part it was because of an insistence on “straight talk” that connects formalism with closing off discussion.
Although this straight talk cannot rely on the requirements of reference [REF], it leads to the disqualification of all the other modes by creating a dangerous amalgam between knowledge and politics [REF • POL], which makes it necessary to abandon the thread of experience in order to put an end to debates.
Fortunately, the method that allows us to recognize a crossing will succeed in identifying a veridiction proper to politics [POL], which has to do with the continual renewal of a Circle that the course of reference cannot judge properly.
Thus we have to acknowledge that there is more than one type of veridiction to foil the strange amalgam of “indisputable facts” and thus to restore to natural language its expressive capacities.
The most difficult task remains: going back to the division between words and things while liberating ourselves from matter, that is, from the res ratiocinans and giving ourselves new capacities of analysis and discernment in order to speak of values without bracketing reality.
Language is well articulated, like the world with which it is charged, provided that we treat the notion of sign with skepticism.
Modes of existence are indeed at stake, and there are more than two of these, a fact that obliges us to take the history of intermodal interferences into account.
6. Correcting a Slight Defect in Construction
The difficulty of inquiring into the Moderns comes from the impossibility of understanding in a positive way how facts are constructed, which leads to a curious connivance between the critical mind and the search for foundations.
Thus we have to come back to the notion of construction and distinguish three features: 1. the action is doubled; 2. the direction of the action is uncertain; 3. the action is qualified as good or bad.
Now, constructivism does not succeed in retaining the features of a good construction.
We thus have to shift to the concept of instauration, but for instauration to occur, there must be beings with their own resources, which implies a technical distinction between being-as-being and being-as-other and thus several forms of alterity or alterations.
We then find ourselves facing a methodological quandary, which obliges us to look elsewhere to account for the failures of constructivism: iconoclasm and the struggle against fetishes.
It is as though the extraction of religious value had misunderstood idols because of the contradictory injunction of a God not made by human hands, which led to a new cult, antifetishism, as well as the invention of belief in the belief of others, which turned the word “rational” into a fighting word.
We have to try to put an end to belief in belief by detecting the double root of the double language of the Moderns arising from the improbable link between knowledge and belief.
Welcome to the beings of instauration.
Nothing but experience, but nothing less than experience.
Part II: How to Benefit from the Pluralism of Modes of Existence
7. Reinstituting the Beings of Metamorphosis
We are going to benefit from ontological pluralism while trying to approach certain invisible beings.
There is no such thing as a “visible world,” any more than there are invisible worlds if we make an effort to grasp the networks [NET] that produce interiorities.
Since the autonomy of subjects comes to them from the “outside” it is better to do without both interiority and exteriority.
Back to the experience of emotion, which allows us to spot the uncertainty as to its target and the power of psychic shifters and other “psychotropes”.
The instauration of these beings has been achieved in therapeutic arrangements and especially in laboratories of ethnopsychiatry.
The beings of metamorphosis [MET] have a demanding form of veridiction and particular ontological requirements that can be followed rationally, provided that the judgment of Double Click [DC] is not applied to them.
Their originality comes from a certain debiting of alteration, which explains why invisibility is among their specifications.
The [REP • MET] crossing is of capital importance, but it has been addressed mainly by the other collectives; thus it offers comparative anthropology a new basis for negotiations.
8. Making the Beings of Technology Visible
The singular silence imposed on technologies and on their particular form of transcendence requires, in addition to an analysis in terms of networks [TEC • NET], the detection of an original mode of existence different from reproduction [REP • TEC].
We need to return to the experience of the technological detour, which is hidden by Double Click and the form/function relation.
By drawing out the lessons of the [REP • REF] crossing on this point we shall no longer confuse technology with the objects it leaves in its wake.
Technology offers a particular form of invisibility: the technological labyrinth.
Its mode of existence depends on the [MET • TEC] ruse as much as on the persistence of the beings of reproduction [REP • TEC].
The veridiction proper to [TEC] depends on an original folding detectable thanks to the key notion of shifting.
The unfolding of this mode gives us more room to maneuver.
9. Situating the Beings of Fiction
Multiplying the modes of existence implies draining language of its importance, which is the other side of the Bifurcation between words and the world.
To avoid confusing sense with signs we have to come back to the experience of the beings of fiction [FIC].
Beings overvalued by the institution of works of art and yet deprived of their ontological weight.
Now, the experience of the beings of [FIC] invites us to acknowledge their proper consistency an original trajectory as well as a particular set of specifications.
These beings arise from a new alteration: the vacillation between raw material and figures, which gives them an especially demanding mode of veridiction.
We are the offspring of our works.
Dispatching a work implies a shifting different from that of the beings of technology [TEC • FIC].
The beings of fiction [FIC] reign well beyond the work of art; they populate a particular crossing, [FIC • REF], where they undergo a small difference in the discipline of figures that causes the correspondence to be misunderstood.
We can then revisit the difference between sense and sign and find another way of accessing the articulated world.
10. Learning to Respect Appearances
To remain sensitive to the moment as well as to the dosage of modes the anthropologist has to resist the temptations of Occidentalism.
Is there a mode of existence proper to essence?
The most widespread mode of all, the one that starts from the prepositions while omitting them, habit [HAB], too, is a mode of existence with a paradoxical hiatus that produces immanence.
By following the experience of an attentive habit we see how this mode of existence manages to trace continuities owing to its particular felicity conditions.
Habit has its own ontological dignity, which stems from the fact that it veils but does not hide.
We understand quite differently, then, the distance between theory and practice, which allows us to define Double Click more charitably [HAB • DC].
Each mode has its own way of playing with habits.
This mode of existence can help define institutions positively, provided that we take into account the generation to which the speaker belongs and avoid the temptation of fundamentalism.
Conclusion, Part II: Arranging the Modes of Existence
Wherein we encounter an unexpected problem of arrangement.
In the first group, neither Objects nor Subjects are involved.
Lines of force and lineages [REP] emphasize continuity, while the beings of metamorphosis [MET] emphasize difference, and those of habit [HAB] emphasize dispatch.
A second group revolves around the quasi objects [TEC], [FIG], and [REF], originally levels n + 1 of enunciation, produced by a rebound effect at level n – l.
This arrangement offers a conciliatory version of the old Object/Subject relation and thus another possible position for anthropogenesis.
Part III: How to Redefine the Collectives
11. Welcoming the Beings Sensitive to the Word
If it is impossible not to speak of a religious mode, we must not rely on the limits of the domain of Religion but instead return to the experience of the love crisis that allows us to discover angels bearing tumults of the soul, provided that we distinguish between cure and salvation as we explore their crossing [MET • REL].
We then discover a specific hiatus that makes it possible to resume Speech but without leaving the pathways of the rational.
The beings of religion [REL] have special specifications—they appear and disappear—and particularly discriminating felicity conditions, since they define a form of subsistence that is not based on any substance but that is characterized by an alteration peculiar to it: “the time has come” and by its own form of veridiction.
A powerful but fragile institution to be protected as much against the misunderstandings of the [REL • PRE] crossing as against those of the [MET • REL] crossing and the [REF • REL] crossing, which produces unwarranted rationalizations.
Rationalization is what produces belief in belief and causes the loss of both knowledge and faith, leading to the loss of neighboring beings and remote ones alike as well as to the superfluous invention of the supernatural.
Hence the importance of always specifying the terms of the metalanguage.
12. Invoking the Phantoms of the Political
Can a contrast be lost? The case of the political.
An institution legitimately proud of its values but with no grasp of practical description: before it can be universalized, some self-examination is required.
To avoid giving up reason in politics [POL] too quickly (333) and to understand that there is no crisis of representation (334) we must not overestimate the unreason of [POL] but rather follow the experience of political speech.
An object-oriented politics allows us to discern the squaring of the political Circle, provided that we distinguish accurately between speaking about politics and speaking politically.
We then discover a particular type of pass that traces the impossible Circle, which includes or excludes depending on whether it is taken up again or not.
A first definition of the hiatus of the [POL] type: the curve and a quite peculiar trajectory: autonomy.
A new definition of the hiatus: discontinuity and a particularly demanding type of veridiction, which the [REF • POL] crossing misunderstands.
[POL] practices a very distinctive extraction of alterity, which defines a phantom public in opposition to the figure of Society, which would make the political even more monstrous than it is now.
Will we ever be able to relearn the language of speaking well while speaking “crooked”?
13. The Passage of Law and Quasi Subjects
Fortunately, it is not problematic to speak about law “legally”, since law is its own explanation.
It offers special difficulties, however, owing to its strange mix of strength and weakness, its scarcely autonomous autonomy, and the fact that it has been charged with too many values.
Thus we have to establish a special protocol in order to follow the passage of law paved with means and to recognize its terribly demanding felicity conditions.
The law connects levels of enunciation by virtue of its own particular formalism.
We can now understand what is distinctive about quasi subjects while learning to respect their contributions: first, beings of politics [POL], then beings of law [LAW], and finally beings of religion [REL].
Quasi subjects are all regimes of enunciation sensitive to tonality.
Classifying the modes allows us to articulate well what we have to say and to explain, at last, the modernist obsession with the Subject/Object difference.
New dread on the part of our anthropologist: the fourth group, the continent of The Economy.
14. Speaking of Organization in Its Own Language
The second Nature resists quite differently from the first, which makes it difficult to circumvent The Economy unless we identify some gaps between The Economy and ordinary experience.
A first gap, in temperature: cold instead of heat.
A second gap: an empty place instead of a crowded agora.
A third gap: no detectable difference in levels.
All this allows us to posit an amalgamation of three distinct modes: [ATT], [ORG], and [MOR].
The paradoxical situation of organization [ORG] is easier to spot if we start from a weakly equipped case that allows us to see how scripts turn us “upside down”.
To organize is necessarily to dis/reorganize.
Here we have a distinct mode of existence with its own explicit felicity and infelicity conditions and its own particular alteration of being-as-other: the frame.
So we can do without Providence for writing the scripts, provided that we clearly distinguish piling up from aggregating and that we avoid the phantom metadispatcher known as Society while maintaining the methodological decision that the small serves to measure the large, the only way to follow the operations of scaling.
This way we can bring the arrangements for economization into the foreground and distinguish between two distinct senses of property while including the slight addition of calculation devices.
Two modes not to be conflated under the expression “economic reason”.
15. Mobilizing the Beings of Passionate Interest
Whereas the whole is always inferior to its parts, there are several reasons for making mistakes about the experience of organization: confusing it with the Political Circle [POL • ORG]; confusing organization with organism [REP • ORG]; ballasting scripts technologically [TEC • ORG]; confusing unequal distribution of scripts with scaling; all this leads to an inverted experience of the social.
By returning to the experience of what sets scripts in motion we can measure what has to be passed through in order for beings to subsist while discovering the beings of passionate interest [ATT].
But several obstacles to the depiction of this new experience have to be removed: first, the notion of embedding; then the notion of calculating preferences; then the obstacle of a Subject/Object relation; fourth, the obstacle of exchange; and fifth and last, the cult of merchandise.
Then a particular mode of alteration of being appears with an original pass: interest and valorization and specific felicity conditions.
This kneading of existents leads to the enigma of the crossing with organization [ATT • ORG], which will allow us to disamalgamate the matter of the second Nature.
16. Intensifying the Experience of Scruples
Detecting the [ATT • ORG] crossing ought to lead to praise for accounting devices.
However, economics claims to calculate values via value-free facts, which transforms the experience of being quits into a decree of Providence capable of calculating the optimum and of emptying the scene where goods and bads are distributed.
While the question of morality has already been raised for each mode, there is nevertheless a new source of morality in the uncertainty over ends and means.
A responsible being is one who responds to an appeal that cannot be universal without experience of the universe.
We can thus draw up the specifications for moral beings [MOR] and define their particular mode of veridiction: the taking up of scruples and their particular alteration: the quest for the optimal.
The Economy is transformed into a metaphysics when it amalgamates two types of calculations in the [REF • MOR] crossing; this makes it mistake a discipline for a science that would describe only economic matter.
So The Economy puts an end to all moral experience.
The fourth group, which links quasi objects and quasi subjects, is the one that the interminable war between the two hands, visible and invisible, misunderstands.
Can the Moderns become agnostic in matters of The Economy and provide a new foundation for the discipline of economics?
Conclusion: Can We Praise the Civilization to Come?
To avoid failure, we must use a series of tests to define the trial that the inquiry must undergo:
First test: can the experiences detected be shared?
Second test: does the detection of one mode allow us to respect the other modes?
Third test: can accounts other than the author’s be proposed?
Fourth test: can the inquiry mutate into a diplomatic arrangement so that institutions adjusted to the modes can be designed while a new space is opened up for comparative anthropology by a series of negotiations over values?
For new wars, a new peace.
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Bruno Latour is Professor at Sciences Po, Paris and the 2013 winner of the Ludvig Holberg International Memorial Prize.