Ruth Groff (her blog here) has published extensively on the nature of power and causality and the relation between metaphysics and social and political theory--who or what can be said to have powers and capacities? What does it mean to attribute causal powers to something?
Her recent book Ontology Revisited (OR) details the sort of Humean assumptions that she sees undergirding standard accounts of causation in contemporary metaphysics. Humeanism entails a view of the world as comprised of independent, successive events (Groff uses the image of a flip book). In this world nothing, strictly speaking, causes anything. Moreover, she specifies how these sort of metaphysical assumptions influence contemporary social and political thought. As she writes below: "you can’t do radical social theory with a passivist, anti-essentialist, atomistic, physicalist metaphysics (no more than you can with a logical positivist epistemology)."
Nine Questions for Ruth Groff:
1) In OR you argue that “Humean assumptions” structure a prominent strain of contemporary analytic metaphysics. Taken together, these assumptions lead to the view that nothing does anything. There is no substance that has any powers-to-do; causation amounts to order of appearance, is a species of predictability or regularity, but never a doing. This view is, after all, surprising. What accounts for this Humean hold on the philosophical imagination?
Thank you so much for your interest in my work, and for these excellent questions. I’m very much looking forward to further conversation and exchange.
To start things off on a suitably authoritative note, I will say that one answer to this first question is “I don’t know.” That there is such a thing as real activity is so clearly the case, in my view, that it’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to think otherwise.
This said, a point that I think is significant is that there is a sense in which passivists don’t quite have to come to terms with the view of the world that they take themselves to hold, if they don’t want to. There are some tricks of the trade that facilitate this. For instance, one may say such things as: “I believe in productive causation; it’s just that what productive causation actually is, is counterfactual dependence.” Or, more recently, “I’m a pan-dispositionalist. I love powers! What’s a power? Powers are properties the otherwise-Humean identities of which are had by them essentially.”
More generally, I think that some passivists think of themselves as believing in the same activity, the same productive causation, that the powers theorist believes in. They just (they think) conceptualize that same phenomenon differently. The idea that the difference in conception doesn’t change anything is widespread, and plainly false in my view. But it makes it easier, I think, for people to reject their causal powers cake and eat it too, to turn a cliché into an aberration.
Of course, this is to just to say that some passivists don’t really mean it. But even if they don’t – and maybe especially if they don’t – your question still holds: “Why talk that way at all?” I suspect that part of it is the influence of empiricism at the level of epistemology. Apparently it’s hard to observe a power (though Reid gives a perfectly good empiricist argument from the experience of proprioception; Hume only rejects the version of it that he anticipates in the Treatise because Hume conflates powers with necessitation in the relevant passage). I think too that there is a feeling that the view’s being surprising, as you put it, is a good thing: especially, that being surprising is a mark of scientificity, and therefore of philosophical rigor. At the level of rhetoric, the idea that there is no such thing as activity, not really, is routinely compared to the “discovery” – it’s always put this way, and it’s always the same example – that tables are made of molecules or atoms, quarks even. Finally, related to the issues of empiricism and scientificity, I think that there is a default presumption that something called “science” has proven that there is no such thing as a causal power.
2) As you write, Humeanism has left us with an unacceptably passive account of matter. Some people might associate that as the legacy of Cartesian Dualism rather than Hume. Why is it important to diagnose it as Humeanism (as opposed to Cartesianism)?
I associate the position with Hume paradigmatically because Hume is the one with the maximally passivist stated ontology. He slams “the Cartesians,” as he calls them, for holding on to the idea that God, at least, has real causal powers. The very idea of a power is vacuous, Hume insists (unless we re-define it to mean something completely different from that the existence of which we were arguing about in the first place).
Another reason to invoke Hume by default is that contemporary non-Continental passivists tend to be empiricist-friendly. They like Descartes for some things, but they are less inclined to take themselves as being in a conversation with Descartes about what causation is (or isn’t) than with Hume. This self-conception may not be objectively accurate, since some of the recent analytic moves to recover necessity without taking on activity align those who make them more closely with Descartes or Spinoza than with Hume, Mill or even Kant, but I think that the presumptive identification with empiricism makes it be that, if one is working within this intellectual context, it’s just as well to refer to Hume unless there is a reason not to, especially since his is the pristine version of the position.
3) You seem to be sympathetic with both “substance causation” and “agent causation.” I have a number of related questions about this position.
a) “Agent causation” elaborates the straightforward idea that there are agents that do things—and you argue that it is much easier to defend this view once we reject Humeanism (which you argue we have good reasons to do). Swapping out Humeanism for a powers-based metaphysics promises a better account of human agency and may also dissolve the problem of compatabilism since distinctively human agents are situated amongst other types of causal bearers in nature.
I wanted to ask you to elaborate on this view a bit with reference to Thomas Reid’s account of agent causation. As you characterize it in Ontology Revisited, Reid does not seem to think that there are a range of causal bearers in nature (including substances). For Reid, causes are active powers possessed exclusively by agents (causation=agency). An agent is any being that enjoys the power not to act. This restricts agency and power to intentional beings. As I understand, you don’t hold such a restrictive view with respect to active powers. Can you say more about why Reid thinks that causation (as active power) implies a power not to act and why he might be wrong?
Let me respond to the two parts of the question in turn.
With respect to Reid, I should say that I am not an expert on his work, and also that it might be that there is no way to give a non-circular answer. But let’s think about it. Reid, talking directly to “Mr. Hume,” makes an empiricist case for the meaningful content of the concept of a real causal power, claiming that the idea of causation comes from the impression, to use Hume’s language, of proprioception. We should register that this isn’t exactly the same as Locke’s account, which is that the clearest idea of an active power comes from reflection upon the specifically mental power of free will, not felt bodily experience. Even so, the claim is that in forming the concept of a cause, we abstract from our sensory experience substances who are agents. So we might say that it’s the fact that the ‘original’ of the idea is an impression had only by substances that are sentient – that inclines him to equate causal powers as such with the second-order powers of intentionality. But I don’t know: it’s not unique to the impressions given by proprioception that they are had by sentient substances only. All impressions are that way. I think that Reid’s just willing to be a passivist about purely material objects. This leaves what Aristotle called “rational powers,” which involve being able to both phi and not-phi, as the only powers.
With respect to the second part of your question, I might first pose it this way: “Why reject the idea that second-order powers of intentionality are the only active powers?” And I’d tweak the terminology, too, because I don’t like the term “active power.” I think that it muddies our thinking about so-called “passive powers.” If “passive powers” are what powers are, good; they’re powers. If not, then we shouldn’t call them powers. I suppose that my answer to “Why reject the view that there are real causal powers, but second-order powers of intentionality are the only ones?” is that it doesn’t do justice to the fact that salt can melt ice. And I’m not willing to make the move of saying that it only looks as though salt can do that, that really it’s God who is doing it.
Now we’re in a better position to ask the question in a way that is closer to how you did pose it, which is “Why reject the idea that causation just is the second-order power of intentionality?” The answer will be the same at this level of abstraction, but it might be easier to see the structure of how I’m thinking about it, having first asked whether or not intentionality is the only power that things can have. Here too, that is, there are problems accounting for the ostensible doings of non-sentient entities if we simply identify causation with intentionality. Plus it implies that there were no causal relations at all prior to intentional substances being on the scene, and that doesn’t seem right.
3b) I think this cluster of issues about agency/power/causation is important in the contemporary context because there are a lot of influential theorists (particularly in feminist theory)—I’m thinking in particular of Karen Barad, who calls herself an "agential realist"—that seem motivated by a Reidean-type view: in order to get an account of matter as active we need an account of matter as agential (as responsive, striving etc.). On your view, what might go wrong with this strategy of trying to distribute agential or intentional properties to matter? How does a power-based approach differ
For me, the problem with the animist approach is that if one is serious about it, and not just helping oneself to romantic language rhetorically, then one really does have to think that everything is sentient. And I just don’t. (Though if I did, then yes, of course, I would also think that all material substances have agential powers.)
This isn’t so much a strategic consideration as a straight-up disagreement between the animist and me about what the world is like – not so different in nature (as it were) from the disagreement that I have with my friend who’s a hard-core objective idealist, though a little bit different. If we’re thinking about ascribing agential powers to non-sentient phenomena as a strategic move, however, I would say that I see it as an artifact of a default passivism (one that has not yet entirely subsumed a hypostasized mental into the physical, which is to say: a Cartesian passivism in this case) to think that material substances, if they have powers-to-do, must therefore be agent-like.
The advantage of the neo-Aristotelian position is that it renders perfectly mundane the fact, if it is one, that different kinds of things (“things” as a count noun only) have different kinds of powers. Agential powers (however exactly one wants to carve these out) are really interesting ones, but rational powers, say (if one wanted to do the carving in the way that Aristotle does), aren’t even the only powers that agents have, let alone the only powers that anything has. Notice, when it’s put this way, how easy it is to see the implicit Cartesian logic of the view that if material things have powers, it must be that they are the same powers had by agents. Of course, as I said before, I’m in a position to think of this point as an “advantage” because I’m not an animist. Still, for those who aren’t independently committed to animism, it’s good to know that one can defend productive causation without ascribing agential powers to substances such as salt.
4) There are a number of thinkers in the history of philosophy who have thought that we get our concept of cause-as-active-power from “inner experience.” As you note, Reid held this view. Descartes articulates a similar view (in his letter to Princess Elisabeth) arguing that it is illegitimate to project the idea of efficacy (proper to the soul and its capacity to move the body) to matter. More recently, Sellars argued that we start off with an “original image” of the world in which all things are person-like (having the power-to-do) but that this image is gradually "disenchanted" or pruned into the manifest image (where only people have causal powers). Thus, for Sellars, the idea that inanimate objects have powers-to-do is a kind of ativism, a regression to an original “enchanted” world. How can we resist this idea that substance causation involves an (illegitimate) “projection” of human capacities onto things?
I would want to distinguish (a) the issue of what otherwise-passivist moderns have had to say about mental powers, including but not limited to their role in securing our concepts of ‘power’ and/or ‘cause’; from (b) the question of whether or not one should think that mental powers are the only ones, such that if I say “salt can melt ice” I can only but have improperly projected a mental power (or, I guess, the form of a mental power) onto ice. I’m going to assume that the question is getting at (b).
The claim that ascribing physical powers to things such as ice is a projection is only compelling if one has independent reasons to doubt that things such as ice have powers. I think that there are good grounds for understanding causation to involve the display of powers, and I’m not inclined to think that causation is actually two different phenomena, one for agents, one for everything else (or, alternately, as I said above, that the apparent powers of non-agents are not theirs but God’s), so I think that if salt really can melt ice, then there are powers involved, powers had by salt.
But even if we entertain the supposition that two completely different things are what causation is, as otherwise-Humean agent-causalists often maintain is the case (i.e., that productive causation is what causation is in the case of agents; counterfactual dependence underwritten by the fact of order in all possible worlds, or something along those lines, is what causation is for everything else) – even if we do, it’s easy to see that such a move leaves the agent causalist in a weak position with respect to what then turns out to be special pleading for agents. As with the appeal to animism, here too it seems to me that unless one honestly believes that minds have causal powers but nothing else does, and also – and this is important – that causation is a phenomenon that both does and does not involve the display of powers, then one ought not commit oneself to holding contrary, domain-specific accounts of what causation is.
That was a roundabout response, but there are multiple issues involved and they are so interconnected that it’s hard to avoid. The direct answer is that the way to resist thinking that ascriptions of powers to non-sentient phenomena are projections is to reject passivism from the outset.
5) One of the main points of OR is that, far from being metaphysically neutral, social and political thought is founded on Humeanism and that Humeanism allows for this illusion of metaphysical neutrality. Can you say more about why Humeanism produces the illusion that one can discuss, say, Rawlsian principles of Justice while bracketing metaphysics?
I’d maybe soften this just a little. Much contemporary social and political thought is founded on, or in one way or another caught up with, Humeanism – though I do think that all social and political thought involves basic metaphysical commitments. Meanwhile, the point that “the myth of metaphysical neutrality” itself has an implicit ontology is important, but it’s not integral to the analysis.
What I meant by it was only that in order to think that the object-domain of social and political theory is consistent with any and all metaphysics, one would have to think (if only tacitly) either that the phenomena in question don’t really exist, or that they are infinitely malleable inherently. In retrospect it’s probably incorrect to equate the degree of metaphysical indeterminacy that is presupposed with mere anti-essentialism, but I do think that the idea that objects are formless on their own is conducive to thinking that that they will turn out to be the same objects regardless of which underlying metaphysics turns out to be the right one.
I want to emphasize that in saying that social and political thought is always already metaphysically committed, I am not saying the converse, i.e., that metaphysical commitments necessarily do (or should) generate any kind of full-blown normative ones. As I suggested in the opening paragraph of OR, not even Aristotle thinks that if you know what it is to be a substance you know what the best distribution of resources is – and he’s a nice example to illustrate the point, since he does think that if you know what it is to be a substance, you know that substances have kind-identities, and also that it’s good, with respect to any given substance, for it to fully actualize its potential to be fully what it is (indeed, that’s what “good” just means, as Aristotle has it). Even with Plato, though, it doesn’t follow from thinking that ‘Goodness’ is a universal (and from being a realist about universals), that one will know what to do – other than whatever it is that is the Good thing.
Admittedly, if a metaphysics includes a deity (or deities) who has issued specific instructions regarding human conduct, then there is a sense in which the metaphysics alone will decide whatever is covered by the instructions. And you can see why, for just this reason, the idea that it is possible to be metaphysically neutral may seem to be the same thing as a principle of permitting only secular justifications in the public sphere. The problem – as I say in that same opening passage – is that there really is no way to talk about even the simplest of social or political phenomena without immediately committing oneself with respect to certain basic metaphysical issues, such as what kinds of things exist, and what they are like – including whether or not they have any causal powers. This is so, I think, whether one is undertaking to explain them, or is making normative claims about them, or is doing both.
This is starting to be a long answer, but I’d like to add that what I called just now a metaphysics of formlessness plays a role at the epistemic level too, in the context of which it doesn’t bottom out in contradiction quite so quickly. Specifically, the condition of possibility for Rorty-style relativism about causal claims to itself be true is that everything has to be able to cause everything else. At least, this is so if we tighten up what Rorty meant by ‘true.’ (And we sort of have to, since if we stick with “‘True’ equals ‘I or we like it,’” then there is no need to engage with the view at at all). The idea that, in principle, anything can cause anything else is the crux of Hume’s argument against there being a metaphysical connection between causes and effects. Strictly speaking it’s not the repudiation of powers that is doing the work, since absent a notion of substantial form, we could at least imagine a powers-based account in which all things have all powers. But unless you’re Leibniz, anti-passivism tends to come along with the view that different kinds of things have different causal powers.
Sorry for this aside. It was the topic of my dissertation. I had thought that the core contention of the book that it became was outdated now, given that that type of relativism is no longer a staple of cutting-edge academic debate. But recent developments in analytic social philosophy make it worthwhile, I think, to point out again what it would take, metaphysically, for all claims about the world to be true. (Note that it doesn’t follow from Rorty-style relativism being precluded on ontological grounds, if it is, that we know which beliefs about the world are the true ones; we just know that they can’t actually all be true.)
6) You make a very interesting point about the way that Humeanism determines how we think about sociological phenomena. Humeanism is reductive, atomistic, and anti-essentialist and hence precludes thinking of sociological phenomena (e.g. states, markets) as having distinctive and emergent powers and “essences.” It is as if Thatcher were speaking Humean when she said that “there is no such thing as society only individuals—and families.” (Families in turn, are nothing, but individuals duly arranged—hence a reducible after- thought). You also say, provocatively, that you are tempted to think capitalism, racism and patriarchy as having essences and power. It would certainly help any account of institutional racism if we didn’t have to define racism in psychological terms (qua “belief” or “implicit bias”). Could you sketch out a strategy for how to think of racism in non-psychological terms (as having essence/power)?
I probably do think that social formations as emergent entities can have power, but they have it, it seems to me, in virtue of having powers. I tend to think about the issue in those terms: “What are the sorts of powers that phenomena such as social formations have?” They can’t melt water. Or initiate courses of action. Or do stand-up comedy. So what, if anything, can they do? This is something that I am planning to be thinking about a lot in the next little while. And yes, with respect to essences it seems clear to me that concrete social reality includes structural phenomena that can be isolated analytically (albeit not concretely), via an account of what they are (i.e., via what Aristotelians call a real definition), and which, in the context of a causal explanation, can be foregrounded on that same basis.
In the case of capitalism, I think that what Marx termed The General Formula for Capital – M-C-M’ – is a starting point, at least, for thinking about the “What it is” (as Aristotle defines ‘formal cause’ in the Physics) of this peculiar, historically specific, emergent sociological entity. Not all societies are capitalist societies, and it is possible to say when one is and when one isn’t. I haven’t thought a great deal about how to define racism, but at a minimum I would say that it is a macro-level relational phenomenon the materially instantiated organizing principle of which is a set of inter-subjectively established meanings that attach to certain phenotypic properties of individuals. I’d probably define white supremacy in the same way. The stipulation “materially instantiated” is meant to flag that racism isn’t exhausted by the meanings that distinguish ‘race’ from physical characteristics – though the role played by meaning is important. As is the fact that the meanings are inter-subjective ones. They are social facts, to use Durkheim’s term, not individual ones.
Here too I very much want not to be misunderstood. Concretely, social structures are just as intersectional as intersectional subjectivity is. But it is possible (I believe), and important (I also believe) to be able to think dialectically about the whole, via analytic abstractions that allow for the identification of multiple and distinct operative forms.
7a) Speaking of Thatcher’s Humeanism: in a recent talk, you make the fascinating and apparently Marxian point that Humean metaphysics is the metaphysics of capital. To quote you a bit:
“The claim, then, is that Humeanism contains ideologically encoded information about capitalism…these core precepts of Humeanism, insofar as they are representations of a commodified reality, function, if and when they are generalized into universal metaphysical principles, to naturalize (or, we might say, eternalize) the commodity-form. They are ideological in this precise sense…in addition to this we can certainly say that, as with passivism as a global principle, the denial of agents with causal powers reflects, in thought, the reality of alienation.”
One can well imagine an analytic metaphysician resisting this point. Can you fill out the story a bit more of how our dominant metaphysics came to describe the commodity form?
I’m not sure that I have a lot more to say about how. Forms of thought certainly get reproduced, and change over time, and there is a complex diachronic story to be told in this case, albeit not by me. In terms of a general synchronic analysis, though: as I wrote in that little paper, I’m not prepared to say that capitalism causes there to be forms of thought that are consistent with it. Although it’s not something that I have thought about rigorously yet, I think that it is more likely that capitalism as a social formation includes forms of thought that are abstractions from it, than that it causes them.
I think too that we need to be as precise as possible about which part of what I said, a Humean would be likely to resist. (It doesn’t make sense for me to reproduce that paper – really just a talk – here. It’s up on the Powers, Capacities and Dispositions blog on Wordpress, so if anyone would like to read it they can access it there. The title is “Contemporary Humean Metaphysics and the Commodity Form.”) It seems to me that the Humean who knows Capital will agree that Hume’s metaphysics tracks the nature of a commodity in its value-form. They’ll just think that it does so because reality is, in the end, as they claim it to be – rather than, as I suggested, because a commodified society has Humean features in virtue of being commodified.
But the whole thing is tricky. I mean, alienation as Marx conceptualized it is a phenomenon (if it is one) that doesn’t actually translate into a passivist register; it’s got the concept of real causal powers built right into it. So a Humean can’t properly weigh in on which forms of thought may or may not be associated with it. At the same time, it’s in the nature of the case that the Humean will think that people have no powers period. Indeed, if we were to allow our Humean to grant, for the purposes of argument, the existence of the phenomena that figure in my analysis, it’s perfectly likely that s/he would just give the thesis a positive spin: thanks to the commodity-form, it’s easier to get our metaphysics right.
In any case, we know (a) that passivists and anti-passivists disagree about the existence of causal powers; (b) that anti-essentialists and essentialists disagree about whether things, or even some range of things, have identities on their own; (c) that atomists and holists disagree about whether or not wholes are something other than a plurality of parts; and (d) that post-Cartesian physicalists (even non-reductive ones) and neo-Aristotelians disagree about what it is to be a sentient material substance. None of these disagreements are news.
Probably what is controversial in what I said is the suggestion that you can’t do radical social theory with a passivist, anti-essentialist, atomistic, physicalist metaphysics (no more than you can with a logical positivist epistemology). I can imagine resistance to that. My reply would be that it depends upon what you want to be able to talk about, qua radical social theorist. For example, if nothing has powers, then we can’t refer to thwarted creative capacities, i.e., to alienated species-being. If you deny the existence of emergent entities, then you don’t get to have phenomena such as unions, corporations or the state figure in your ontological inventory; you just get to have individuals. (And you might have trouble with them too, since you’ll have to be able to say how a person isn’t just a plurality of whatever the smallest bits of material stuff are.) I should say for the record that it was my friend Howard Engelskirchen who said to me in conversation once, some years ago, that it is no surprise that the dominant metaphysics is one that disallows powers and wholes.
To be clear, though: it doesn’t follow, in my view, from the fact that Humeanism disallows the very phenomena to which a radical social theorist might be expected to attend – it doesn’t follow from this that Humeanism is false, if it is. I’m old-fashioned about the concepts of truth and justification both, and also about what it is to be a radical thinker. If Humeanism is false, it’s not because it doesn’t suit my political purposes. What makes a metaphysics radical, meanwhile, is not that I do like it, but that amounts to saying of x that it is x.
7b. As a follow-up: You suggest that the sort of metaphysics we have determines how radical is our social theory, and the kind of metaphysics we have is – as it happens—a good description of the commodity form. If, in some subterranean way, our metaphysics has historically been determined by (let's call it) "Capitalism”, what makes it possible to challenge Humeanism today? What conditions make it possible to awaken from our dogmatic slumbers or break the commodity-spell?
I’m not sure what I think about this – other than that it definitely matters who the “our” is, and when we think that the spell broke, if we think that it has. Also important is that even within the academy, some people have been rejecting passivism all along. It’s a good sociological question, though, why, 35 years after Harre and Madden published Causal Powers and Roy Bhaskar came out with A Realist Theory of Science, there was a burst of interest in powers and dispositions amongst analytic metaphysicians. I don’t have a settled answer.
But to reiterate: I don’t believe that forms of thought are deterministically produced, let alone by any sort of social-material “base.” My claim regarding the relationship between Humeanism and the commodity form was nowhere near that. I said only that inasmuch as Humeanism expresses that same form at the level of thought, then if Humeanism is false, it is also (a) ideological and (b) of limited critical purchase vis-à-vis the analysis of a commodified reality.
8. In your introduction to Subject and Object, a marvelous collection on epistemological and ontological dimensions of the Frankfurt School, you recall being surprised to discover that no such collection already existed. Is the relative neglect of these writings a symptom of the assumption that social/political theory is “metaphysically neutral”? What is distinctive about how these early Frankfurt school theorists understood the relation between social theory and ontology?
Thank you for the compliment; it was a labor of love, that collection, in particular the summaries that I did of each of the pieces. I did know that those writings hadn’t been anthologized in one volume. What surprised me was that some of them were out of print. I’m so glad that that’s no longer the case.
This is another tricky question, in a way, because Adorno and Horkheimer, especially, were so queasy about “metaphysics,” as they understood it. But all three of those guys (Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse) thought not only (a) that different types of social theory are informed by different conceptions of reason; and (b) that different conceptions of reason and different metaphysics alike both express abstractly, and are functional in various ways for, different kinds of social formations; but also (c) that social theories involve basic ontological claims necessarily.
I would say – do, hereby, say <smiling> – that (c) is characteristic of them, but not unique to them. Many of the canonical Western political philosophers wrote about metaphysics and the social both, and explicitly connected the two levels of abstraction: Aristotle, Hobbes, Hume, Hegel, Mill for a quick, uncomplicated sampling. And it’s not just metaphysics that contemporary analytic philosophers, by contrast, often take to be a self-enclosed domain of inquiry. Ethics too is cordoned off, and neither metaphysics nor ethics is presumed by default to be central to the concerns of epistemologists in their capacity as epistemologists. Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse all engage in the older, more traditional style of philosophy. That’s the model that I’ve adopted, too.
You may be right, actually, that what I’ve called “the myth of metaphysical neutrality” contributes to the full significance of their work not always being appreciated. On the one hand, it may lead someone who is interested in the sociological and cultural aspects of critical theory to disregard the connection between the analysis at that level and the more overtly philosophical analysis. On the other hand, someone with traditional philosophical interests in metaphysics is unlikely to read work by the Frankfurt School at all. I think that there is more than one reason for the lack of interest, but no doubt the belief that social theory doesn’t have anything to do with questions of fundamental metaphysics is one of them.
9. Are there are other “progressive” metaphysicians that we should be reading?
I would honestly put Aristotle at the very top of the list, followed by Marx (Capital, in particular) and Durkheim’s The Rules of Sociological Method, especially chapters 1 and 5. I also think that Adorno’s Lectures on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is a must-read, as are a number of the pieces in Subject & Object. There is excellent new work being published by junior and senior scholars alike, and I know that there are people who want nothing to do with classic texts by dead white men, but these are works that have been indispensible to me, and they aren’t especially fashionable, so they are the ones that I’ll take the opportunity to recommend.
Thanks so much, again, for such thoughtful and probing questions.