I made up this term, at least I think I made it up. I call it an argument from adequacy. It’s not a very good term, but I want some term and it’s all I can think of right now. I find arguments from adequacy annoying. Here’s what I mean by the term.

An argument from adequacy is an argument along the lines of “given X objective conditions, Y philosophical argument is now what we need and/or is now even more possible.” An argument from adequacy is about the relationship between ideas and their contexts.

I know I’ve run into other versions of this, but the only example that springs to mind is one like this, which I know I’ve run into as well. “Nowadays there is no place and no social location that is outside the power of state and capital. Therefore, arguments drawn from Spinoza are particularly useful to us, because Spinoza thinks of there being one substance, although with varying modes.” Now, I’m not against Spinoza or people drawing from Spinoza, I just offer this as an example – in this case I think it’s a bad argument for drawing on Spinoza. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t draw on Spinoza, it just means this type of argument is not a good argument for why we should do so. I call this an argument from adequacy because there’s a claim to the particular adequacy of an idea or body of ideas to a particular moment or condition.

The move made in the “situation X makes idea Y make sense” argument with regard to Spinoza is particularly weird in that is proposes a structural homology between conditions and ideas – “there’s one social space, so we need a thought of being as one” or something. That (admittedly reductive) example aside, I want to point out something. To make the identification between situation X and idea Y implies another idea, Z, or at least some kind of framework and reasoning process. Because if the decision to use Y is based on criteria within Y then Y is basically a tautology. (I’m not necessarily averse to tautologies, but that’s another matter.) In that case, if the person one was trying to convince already accepted Y then there’d be little reason to resort to “situation X therefore idea Y” kinds of arguments, because the other person would already be convinced. But if we have idea or reasoning process Z which is capable of apprehending situation X to such a degree that we can make claims like “Y is especially suited to this” then why would we even need Y in the first place? At the very least, the reasoning process by which one argues on behalf of Y seems to suggest that we can get pretty far without Y. Otherwise, if there is no such robust reasoning process like Z then how can we trust the analysis with which the assessment of adequacy (that idea Y is particularly suited to condition X)?

To be clear, I do think we should test ideas based on their adequacy for our uses. But adequacy is not inherent in ideas alone. Adequacy is a matter of what we manage to make of ideas in contexts. That is, adequacy is something we determine after some attempts to make use of ideas. It’s not something we set out from. The real test is in the use (though all of this also implies other ideas with which to formulate and implement the test). That one version of an idea fails doesn’t mean all must. This is part of why I find Deleuze [or Althusser, or whomever] vs Hegel, or immanence vs transcendence, or affirmation vs negativity, etc etc, such an incredibly dull debate with regard to philosophy and marxism – the utility of these ideas in the work done with them, these ideas at best underdetermine what other work can be done with them. And as I said it’s the work done that is the test of adequacy. At the same time, work done is alone not a sufficient criterion of recommendation (I don’t think I believe in sufficiency of recommendation actually, at least not in a strong sense), as it’s always possible to do other work with other ideas.

I think in short this amounts to a restatement of the metaphilosophical minimalist position I was trying to argue for a bit before, at least within marxism, which may amount to little more than a level of skepticism about the possibility for giving strong reasons for adopting any particular theoretical position.

Advertisements