“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Philosophy Blogging, OOO/SR, Nihilism, and God

It is difficult to describe the effects of the blogosphere on consciousness, especially when the information communicated via blogs pretends to be philosophical. The blog, as a medium, has not yet been swallowed as radio by TV, or the printed word by the digital hyperlink, and so gaining perspective on its effects remains difficult. We’re still in it, like a child in her mother’s womb. I think by the graces of, and so cannot yet understand, this electronic medium. I think the obscurity of the blogosphere’s effects are magnified for academic philosophers, since there are no disciplinary boundaries carving it up in order to assure that interlocutors play the same language games (which is what always happens at university conferences). Academic philosophy, as practiced at conferences and published in journals, is usually myopically specialized. Arguments take place within some narrow field of relevance, while the truly important questions of life on earth remain backgrounded. This is, of course, a caricature. But so long as we are caricaturing, let us hear from Alan Watts:

“This is the current movement in philosophy: logical analysis says you mustn’t think about existence. It’s a meaningless concept. Therefore philosophy has become the discussion of trivia. No good philosopher lays awake nights worrying about the destiny of man and the nature of God and all that sort of thing. A philosopher today is a practical fellow who comes to the university with a briefcase at 9 and leaves at 5. He does philosophy during the day—which is discussing whether certain sentences have meaning and if so what. He would come to work in a white coat if he thought he could get away with it.”

Even where philosophy begins not with pretense, but with the love of wonder and the desire to know the nature of things, it remains subject to the effects on consciousness of the variety of species of media used to communicate it. Modern consciousness, despite its claim to have dropped sophistry for science,  learns to think only given the cognitive augmentation provided by the alphabet.* Postmodern consciousness, similarly, thinks by the graces of the blogosphere, the apogee of the electronic medium. The democratization of information has now become at least technologically feasible, if not politically actual. I don’t think the rise of the blog signals the end of the university (or at least I should hope not), but it does mean that the individual is now shouldering a good deal more of the weight of human knowledge than before.

I am in graduate school myself, though I attend CIIS, an academically marginalized school started by an Indian yogi in the middle of the New Age capital of the world (Watts was once on the faculty). It is impossible for me to escape this context, even though I aim to think individually much in the spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,—and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment…” –Self-Reliance

Thought does not take place in a vacuum, however. Philosophy is not best done alone in the woods. Institutions, with all due respect to the likes of Emerson and Thoreau, are an indispensable part of the evolution of consciousness. The blogosphere is alluring to me because it is both individualizing and institutionalizing. It is a distributed institution of localized individuals, each capable of participating in the co-production of a planetary ecology of ideas, images, and symbols unhindered by the disciplinary boundaries of traditional universities.

This is the ideal, at least. All of this meta-reflection on philosophy blogging is by way of introduction to some final thoughts in response to what is by now old news, namely the discussion surrounding nihilism and theology that took place earlier this month amongst OOOers. Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, Tim Morton, Adam RobbertJason Hills, Tom SparrowLeon Niemoczynski, and others all took part.

More recently, Kris Coffield over at Fractured Politics has posted a summary and some suggestions. I wanted to clarify some assumptions he makes regarding my position.

I have argued that, without some divine function (whether of the theist, pantheist, or panentheist variety), ideas and meanings can have no reality in the universe. I make this claim in order to remain metaphysically consistent, not because I think atheism is immoral. Obviously, atheists can still be ethical people, operating in the world with meaning, purpose, and even humanitarian idealism. I would never dispute this. What I have argued is that atheists who are also scientific materialists/naturalists risk falling into blatant contradiction unless they are able to articulate how thinking, feeling, and willing (faculties normally associated with consciousness) remain possible despite their metaphysical commitment to a thoroughly non-teleological, disenchanted cosmology. If it is the case that the universe operates according to efficient causality alone (as most materialists traditionally assert), then how is it that human beings are capable of entertaining ideas and engaging in meaningful projects? The validity of scientific knowledge rests upon the assumption that the thoughts and purposes of scientists are real. The atheistic materialist is left with two options in order to remain consistent with this assumption: either ideas and meanings are uniquely human capacities not present in the rest of the universe, or human consciousness itself is an epiphenomenal illusion that neuroscience will eventually explain in mechanistic terms. I think both of these options are inadequate: emergentist dualism is too anthropocentric, and eliminativist monism is too mechanomorpic. I maintain that the human soul is not ontologically distinct from the rest of the universe because the universe is ensouled. Whitehead’s panentheist conception of God functions in a way similar to the World-Soul as described in Timaeus; only, instead of actively shaping passive matter as Plato’s demiurge, Whitehead’s dipolar God bends the infinitely diversifying flow of Creativity into the finite occasions of a unifying Cosmos (and is bent, in turn, by these same occasions).

Coffield argues that, despite my apparent support of the anthrodecentric tendencies of OOO, I am “ultimately unable to escape” a human-centric ontology. He continues:

“Even if the noosphere is more putatively sophisticated than the nonhuman objectsphere (a debatable point), it does not follow, from an object-orientation, that the relations of the former should be given precedence over the latter. Instead, as Levi Bryant has previously indicated, existence entails perpetual differentiation, such that to be is to differ. Thus, the very concept of a singular noosphere or inanimate objectsphere is conceptually shaky, and any entity inserted to bridge the sides of this infinitely regressive binary—God, game, golden goose, or Gandalf—is rendered, to borrow Morton’s word, irrelevant.”

Much of the philosophizing I do on this blog reflects my struggle to steer clear of all binaries by weaving Wisdom’s wandering story into a differentiated whole. There are many objects, many perspectives, both human-related and not. In calling them all objects, I aim to think the Absolute, or the identity of identity and difference. My philosophizing is a cosmologizing, and in that sense, all my thinking is in the service of anthropogenesis. I aim to cosmologize the human by anthropomorphizing the Cosmos. Perhaps this sounds tautological, but if we think in terms of process or genesis instead of being or ontos, the Anthropic Principle becomes among the most profound of metaphysical insights. Anthropos is already implicit in Cosmos, not because our particular species represents the supreme achievement of the universe, but because thinking has always been a more than human activity rooted in the nature of reality itself.

“The forces which are at work inside my body”, suggests Rudolf Steiner,

“…are the same as those which exist outside. Therefore I am really identical with the objects; not, however, “I” in so far as I am a perception of myself as subject, but “I” in so far as I am a part of the universal world process […] The universal, primordial Being permeating all humanity thus takes hold of us through our thinking. Life within reality, filled with thought content, is at the same time life in God.” –Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path, p. 98 and 236

I do not think that the noösphere should take precedence over the non-human universe, because I do not conceive of the universe as lacking in νοῦς or ψυχή. The noösphere is a cosmic event, something the whole of Gaia is doing in conjunction with the solar system and galaxy within which it is nested. God, or the World-Soul (ψυχή κόσμου), is not irrelevant to philosophy if the philosopher hopes to think the Cosmos. If, as Bryant suggests, “to be is to differ,” then it is nihilism, indeed, that we are left with. Not that I want to homogenize the individualities of reality; I would just rephrase Bryant’s important insight: “to become is to differ.” Process philosophy is then an attempt to identify and re-enact the divine aim of creative differentiation, to participate in its latent holotropic tendencies by uncovering the divine presence in all temporal things. Only then does the Universe become a reality.

Coffield continues:

“If nihilism fears really are concerns over the implications of anthrodecentrism (a clever term coined by Segall) for value judgement, then demonstrating the capacity for deriving value under realist conditions may allay anxiety about affirmations of meaninglessness, making the more radical articulations of object-oriented ontology mare palatable. Crafting a coherent variant of anthrodecentric normativity can be accomplished, in one sense, through an appeal to naturalistic realism…[or] a radically flattened version of natural selection [productive of] moral norms consonant with an instrumental social rationality, wherein moral arrangements that impede group interests animate the potential for unrest, creating feedback that promotes the development of norms aligned with social rationality.”

In order to avoid being misunderstood as advocating subject-centrism over object-centrism, or unity over variety, or hierarchy over ecology, I should further unpack my cosmotheandrism. Attempts to naturalize our moral needs/wants in this way seems to me to be a form of greedy reductionism neglectful of the extent to which the ultimate values of the Universe pre-exist the species level, since it is these values (like Beauty, Goodness, and Truth) that provide the metaphysical condition for the possibility of local accomplishments of normativity. Reducing morality to an accident of social and/or natural selection does not lead to moral realism, but to relativism. If we seek an object-orientation in ethics, then value must be rooted in the world process itself. Our human characteristics are microcosmic inflections of the divine character of the macrocosm.

This microcosm-macrocosm relation is not deterministic or coercive, such that God becomes responsible for every decision made by human beings or any other organism. The World-Soul is not a universal tyrant, but a poet, who, “with tender patience [leads] it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness” (Process and Reality, p. 346).

Whitehead goes on:

“God and the World are the contrasted opposites in terms of which Creativity achieves its supreme task of transforming disjoined multiplicity, with its diversities in opposition, into concrescent unity, with its diversities in contrast […] God and the World stand over against each other, expressing the final metaphysical truth that appetitive vision and physical enjoyment have equal claim to priority in creation. But no two actualities can be torn apart: each is all in all. Thus each temporal occasion embodies God, and is embodied in God. In God’s nature, permanence is primordial and flux is derivative from the World: in the World’s nature, flux is primordial and permanence is derivative from God. Also the World’s nature is a primordial datum for God; and God’s nature is a primordial datum for the World. Creation achieves the reconciliation of permanence and flux when it has reached its final term which is everlastingness—the Apotheosis of the World. Opposed elements stand to each other in mutual requirement. In their unity, they inhibit or contrast. God and the World stand to each other in this op-posed requirement. God is the infinite ground of all mentality, the unity of vision seeking physical multiplicity. The World is the multiplicity of finites, actualities seeking a perfected unity. Neither God, nor the World, reaches static completion. Both are in the grip of the ultimate metaphysical ground, the creative advance into novelty” (ibid., p. 348-349).


*The alphabet begins with A. A is for aleph, א, which to a mystic’s ear symbolizes to the polar unity (or Trinitarity) of God:

“The letter can been seen as being composed of [1] an upper yud, [2] a lower yud, and [3] a vav leaning on a diagonal. [1]The upper yud represents the hidden and ineffible aspects of God while [2]the lower yud represents God’s revelation and presence in the world. [3]The vav (“hook”) connects the two realms.” –Wikipedia



24 responses to “Philosophy Blogging, OOO/SR, Nihilism, and God”

  1. Casey Avatar

    This is good, interesting. I wrote more than 1,000 pages (saved in a Word .doc) on three blogs from about ’04-’10. And although I gave it up feeling like I was dropping thoughtful letters down a well, I’ve sometimes wondered (fantasized!–ha) whether it might happen that these posts remain posted — for 30, 60, 100 years. There was a time when I felt that some of the most important thinking happening was happening on blogs — wouldn’t be surprised if it still is. Maybe future archivists will figure it out.

  2. Jason Hills Avatar

    I will address two targetted point as they gaze my own views and specialties. First, the issue of naturalism, whereas you implicitly reduce the varieties of naturalism to those within the orbit of scientific naturalisms. Second, you target a natural generative morality–my term for what Coffield describes in quotation–that would also apply to a Deweyan pragmatic view.

    First, there are more varieties of naturalism than the popular scientific naturalism that proposes that only the objects of science are truly real (or some close variant). Hence, your arguments against atheists and for theists cannot be based in part on that motivation, since naturalism need not include only efficient causation. That’s “hard” scientific naturalism, etc. talking. In sum, your premises are quite insufficient for your claim.

    Second, I do not see that you directly respond to your last quotation of Coffield. E.g., I don’t see any “naturalizing of moral needs” in the sense that any operation is being done on something to naturalize it, which is imputed to Coffield which leads you to discuss “greedy reductionism.” It appears that you’re either attacking an unvoiced target or following a speedy red herring. Also, in your response, you presume the existence of values in a reifying realist manner, or at least that’s what it looks like, but I have yet to see argumentation on your blog to defend the presumption of those values being essential to Nature. (I haven’t been reading your blog for too long a time.) If they are essential to God, then what again is God? If you propose a syncretist answer, then why should we feel compelled to believe in your articulation of the godhead? (Pardon my orthodoxy.) Moreover, “value” need not be “rooted in the world process itself” per se. Only “valuing” need be rooted in the world process–a generative principle that can lead to some things being better than others. Homeostasis is good for living organisms, and symbolic homeostasis is good for humans, e.g., a culture and language that orients us to our world and makes it meaningful so that we may flourish as a group.

    I’m trying to give you a more troublesome target than scientific naturalism and popular naturalizing philosophies since arguing against them is like shooting dead fish in a barrel You’ve already won, and they just don’t know it.

    I would probably say more and write it more coherently, but it is late.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Thanks for your comments, Jason.

      I realize there are more varieties of naturalism than the popular scientific kind. I have called Whitehead’s cosmology a “naturalistic panentheism,” following David Ray Griffin. I am not as familiar with Deweyan pragmatism, though I am in the process of learning more about the American pragmatists to better situate Whitehead’s thought. I thus far remain unconvinced by atheistic emergentist schemes that smuggle in formal causation without drawing out the metaphysical implications. Saying consciousness is an “emergent property,” rather than a high grade form of space-time’s/matter-energy’s intrinsically experiential nature amounts to no more than hand waving. I do think emergence provides an important explanatory framework, but only for increases in the complexity of experience (atoms become stars, cells become animals, etc., via emergence); as an explanation for the existence of experience itself, emergence is no better than saying “it arises due to a miracle.” I think a naturalistic panentheism accounts best for the reality of the gradation of experience/consciousness in the universe.

      As for the naturalization of morality, you’ll have to read the whole of Coffield’s post to see what I am responding to. Didn’t quote the entirety of what was relevant to my response. From what I can tell, he is arguing that morality is reducible to herd mentality. There is definitely something to this kind of Nietzschean deconstruction of transcendent ideals, but I don’t think it functions as a complete explanation. Even Nietzsche marks Life as the highest value, something which transcends any process of evolutionary selection because it provides the condition for the possibility of such selection. I list Truth, Beauty, and Goodness as ideals essential to both God and the World, but I’d agree with you that these are brought forth through instances of valuing, rather than subsisting as transcendent and eternal principles. They are to be achieved, and so are not already realized.

      What is God? The short answer is that God is Value. A longer answer: https://footnotes2plato.com/2010/10/17/463/

  3. Whitehead on God and the Universe in “Modes of Thought” « Footnotes to Plato Avatar

    […] the Author « The New Reformation: Whitehead on Christian Metaphysics Philosophy Blogging, OOO/SR, Nihilism, and God […]

  4. Jason Hills Avatar


    Smuggled in “formal causation” without drawing out the metaphysical implications? Whatever leads you to believe that there’s either smuggling or lack of thought? Do you not cite Peirce and Whitehead at least occasionally? Those are just two thinkers that cemented many of the implications of causation qua emergent teleology, which is neither formal nor final causation.

    Moreover, emergentism is not hand-waving, and again I’m confused why you would support Whitehead’s position yet deny it to pragmatism. My only conclusion is that you don’t know pragmatism, and I’m not talking about neopragmatism. (Not giving that qualifier has lead to many confusing conversations in the past.)

    As for the specifics of the Coffield piece, I’ll just state that we’re not doing anything Nietzschean.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Jason, I wasn’t referring to your positions or to the pragmatic point of view when I said that about emergentism. I do not think Peirce or Whitehead use emergence as an explanation for consciousness/experience. Whitehead is a panexperientialist, so experience is taken as ontologically basic. And as far as I can tell, Peirce’s pansemiotic take also roots experience ontologically. Neither have any reason to employ emergence as a supposed explanation for the existence of consciousness in the universe.

      What is it, exactly, that makes the “emergent teleology” you speak of different from formal and final causation, taken generally so as not to attach their definitions too tightly to Aristotle’s original formulation?

      I admit I am not as familiar with Dewey’s position on the matter. Might you elaborate a bit more for me? I’d appreciate it.

  5. astrotometry Avatar

    This is more a comment on the system and role modeling rather than the specific entanglements. But I think it’s important to maintain an awareness of the contextual issues and avoid a sort of unconscious zombie dialog.

    A serious problem with academia is that the language games corrupt the fields. Holy cows withstanding, the games commonly become the primary pursuit. You flagged this as an issue early on in your post, Matt, and then half-way through you seem to dive right into it. If the interaction is what you are in it for, fine, but where is the intellectual value? And notice that sort of political horseplay is conspicuously absent from the classical enduring works. Focus on it and you’ll lose the respect of an important, but largely silent contingent.

    This is one of the reasons I rejected academia. Unbridling yourself and policing these issues is practically impossible, and eventually I made a full-time job… of mocking my own situation. It became quite literally, a pornographic work. But embodying fascism simply for the purposes of complaining about it has limited merit. It can be fun and seductive, and to stop complaining is to give up hope in changing things. But at the end of the day to focus on protest alone… is f*ing a dead crow in an alley. If that becomes the extent of it, then you’ve become a part of the problem you set out to solve.

    Break the taboo’s Matt. It’s the only way to get anything done. But find a way to crystalize the truth already within you and draw attention to that.

    I understand the horses-for-courses name-game methodology to garner interest and engage common ground with your interlocutors. But if you cloak the real issues in a mask of metaphorical murk, the plot is easily lost.

    At the end of our day, we have no choice but to heed the truth in all it’s forms. If you embody that truth you are similarly heeded, and your name will associate with it. “A self describing self.”

    Who is Matthew Segall, what does he think? Personally, I’m far more interested in that. Why? Not just because you read so many books, but because you seem to understand 95 of their points and more importantly… you have your own.

    If you want to save your contributions for your own books, well, that might be a strategy, and we have to eat.

    But I frankly, miss the raw unabashed analysis of your videos before you went back to school. The insights you brought by far outweigh any sloppy (greener) thinking. Diamonds in the rough. Don’t let the spirit which bears them drown in the language games, imitation, and limitation of want for interactive academic acceptance.

    Use the crow to make your point, but beware of it’s diseases. 🙂

    Garlic omelets, pa sha!

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Thanks for the encouragement, John. I will be more vigilant of my participation in the name-game.

      1. astrotometry Avatar

        We’re all in the game wether we choose to be or not. Vigilance is a great word, Matt. Eli – Eleusinian 🙂

  6. Jason Hills Avatar


    Thankfully, you’re talking to a pluralist, so I can speak in many different vocabularies, although I will not call them language games and give in to that cynicism. It’s an issue, but it’s not the one here. The issue here is that you’re not recognizing members of your own family!

    Pragmatism is “pan-experientialist” if that term denotes that “experience is taken as ontologically basic.” Moreover, insomuch as potentiality is basic to both Peirce and Whitehead, they also accept “emergence.” Again, you do not appear to know what pragmatism is or its relation to Peirce (founder) and Whitehead (cousin). It makes me wonder what you think the term “pragmatism” means, because I am now clueless as to what you think the referent of the term is. Dude, we’re family, and I didn’t think we hadn’t seen each other in thaaaat long. Ok, seriously now.

    Strictly per Aristotle, final causation assumes a timeless telos (~end state) as part of a substance. Formal causation assumes the timeless (also, static) formal identity of a thing that the actual entity strives to realize through its prediction. As a first step, eliminate eternity and substance, but keep potentiality and make it basic rather than dependent on actuality or, as it later became, dependent on essence. We’re well on our way to Peirce already. I haven’t the time to go into a long explanation, but I can recommend Thomas Alexander’s book John Dewey’s Theory of Art, Experience, and Nature, esp. chapters two and three. Actually, just chapter 3 and do chapter 4 to get the biological side. Or read the first two chapters of Dewey’s Logic to read the primary. Or, you can ask the blogosphere since many of the community appear to have such understanding, e.g., Leon of After Nature.

    To speak directly to Dewey, “experience” is an activity of nature that is the interaction or transaction of things. Experience is something nature does; rocks experience each other and in doing so generate new potentialities of nature in a manner analogous to Whitehead “concrescence.” We usually mean human experience, the interaction of the body and its environment that under certain conditions manifest consciousness and mind. Hence, experience is ontologically basic to nature and *precedes* consciousness or mind. This may not be a sufficient explanation, but my goal is just to convince you that something other than you think is going on. Ultimately, Dewey leads up to a view similar in many respect to contemporary speculative realism and the overcoming of correlatism, although Dewey adds a lot of things not found in Peirce or Whitehead, whom he appropriates.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Thanks for the clarifications, Jason. I’m not arguing against the kinds of emergence you’ve described here. I take issue with the concept of emergence when it is employed by scientific materialists like, say, Douglas Hofstadter, to explain how consciousnes “emerges” out of self-referential symbolic computations inside the skull. I think emergence has to do with the relations between wholes and parts in complex systems; it isn’t the explanation for the appearance of consciousness or meaning in an otherwise dead and insensate universe. Whitehead and the pragmatists don’t employ the concept in this way, but many other traditional physicalists do.

      1. Jason Hills Avatar


        By the way, as I came back to post it. Whitehead cites James, Dewey, and Bergson as inspirations in his preface. I work on the Dewey qua theory of meaning, experience, consciousness, and representation end.

        When I speak of emergence anglo-american philosophers, they usually hear “ephiphenomenalism” of some sort. I always thought supervenience was a fancy way of saying “we don’t have a substantive theory of that yet.”

  7. sam mickey Avatar
    sam mickey

    Thanks for your blogtastic perseverance, Matt. I saw that Tim Morton linked to your Alan Watts quote, so I dropped by to see how this quote came up for you, and much to my surprise, I find a reprise of the recent exchange about nihilism, theology, speculative realism, and of course, blogs. I just have a few comments, one about atheism and nihilism and one about your “caricature” of academic philosophy.

    A caricature of academic philosophy:
    The caricature was relevant for Alan Watts (I like that quote), but I don’t think academic philosophy is in quite the same condition now as it was when Watts said that. The caricature has become a straw man or red herring. I’m not sure what conferences you’re going to or what journals you’re reading, but they aren’t all as “myopically specialized” as one might think. Things have changed since Watts’ era (due in part to the efforts of Watts himself). The last conference I was at (Society for Philosophy and Technology) included presentations from military personnel, engineers, priests, and activists, not just academic philosophers. There are plenty of journals that avoid myopic specialization. Consider Environmental Ethics, which includes articles from a wide range of perspectives in the public and private sectors, or Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology, which is the leading journal for the cross-disciplinary field of religion and ecology. Both of those journals aim to transform the human and develop more resilient and meaningful relations with the natural world. I think Watts would be pleased, while also remaining vigilant in his criticism of “briefcase” styles of philosophy.

    On atheism and nihilism:
    I’m very puzzled by your comments on atheism and nihilism. You are open to “theist, pantheist, and panentheist” functions of the divine, but not atheist? Is that right? That just doesn’t make sense to me. Are you just thinking of the “new atheists” like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, or are you including the atheisms of Zizek, Badiou, Haraway, Derrida, Deleuze, and Nancy? Ideas and meanings certainly have a reality in the universe for the latter group of thinkers. You seem to favor Whitehead’s panentheism, but I think it’s a mistake to oppose panentheism to atheism. Their contrast is much richer than that. I’m thinking of four anthologies released in the last few years that bring Whitehead into philosophical and theological dialogue with Badiou, Derrida, Deleuze, and others. Process and Difference (Daniell and Keller), Secrets of Becoming (Faber and Stephenson), Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson (Robinson), and Event and Decision (Faber, Krips, and Petus). Regardless, didn’t Paul Tillich already show us decades ago that the atheism-theism distinction is a false dichotomy? Isn’t it a red herring distracting us from the real imperatives of radical theology?

    Did you call Levi Bryant a nihilist? I must have misread you. You aren’t saying that an affirmation of “being” is nihilism, which is overcome by saying “becoming” instead of “being,” are you? Anyway, it sounds like Bryant is saying something not unlike Deleuze, who posits a univocity of being (remember Duns Scotus) wherein being is said in the same way for everything, and everything differs. The univocity of being is the creative process of differentiation. Besides, even if being meant Aristotelian substance and not a creative process, that isn’t nihilistic is it? I’m on the verge of bringing up Vattimo’s take on nihilism, but I’ll save it. If you’re interested in postsecular theology that addresses the challenges of our current historical moment, check out Clayton Crockett’s new book (if you haven’t already), Radical Political Theology. No Whitehead (although he does mention a little process theology, particularly Catherine Keller, perhaps the greatest process theologian), but there are plenty of helpful resources for understanding atheism and nihilism in their contemporary contexts.

    Finally, a bad joke to close. I like what you said about your “struggle to steer clear of all binaries.” I sympathize, and I wonder: If you steer clear of binaries, in what direction are you steering, toward non-binaries or non-dualism? Steering clear of all binaries, I always recapitulate my favorite binary: binary/non-binary.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Glad you stopped by, Sam.

      When I argue against metaphysical atheism in recent posts, I’m not thinking of the sort of “atheism in the name of God” that Alan Watts used to talk about. The “atheism” of the later group of thinkers you mention (Haraway, Derrida, etc.) is unlike the type that Bryant is arguing for in his responses to me. He seems to suggest that naturalism has made the “God hypothesis” (not the way I’d want to construe theological speculation) irrelevant, which is surprising to me since I didn’t think an OOO philosopher would try to lean on scientific materialism/naturalism to marginalize religion. He doesn’t seem to have read his Whitehead, or my posts on Whitehead in response, since he keeps accusing me of employing the concept of a transcendent “God” to explain natural processes when I’ve explicitly criticized such concepts. God is not a hypothesis meant to explain the universe, anymore than “matter” could be conceived of as such.

      Anyways, thanks for your response and suggestions, and sorry mine is so hurried. I’ll try to provide a more developed response this evening.

      1. Jason Hills Avatar


        I would agree with your analysis of the situation. All of my constructive criticisms are aimed at pushing you on how much of a traditional God can you get with your position, especially since you seem to start in philosophy and argue to theology rather than vice versa. But I’m not taking an atheistic position.

      2. Matthew David Segall Avatar


        There is no need to oppose one possibility with the other. Speculative philosophy’s task is to overcome the dualistic limitations of sense-understanding (subject v. object, quality v. substance) by way of a schematic renewal of (or participatory intervention into) our habitual way of imaging the world. Speculative philosophy must hold the binary (God/no-God) together to form a coherent image of the universe. The question is not: “does God exist?” but “what is the universe such that God does and does not exist?” Theism makes no sense without the possibility of atheism, and vice versa: they are interdependent, sometimes parasitic, sometimes symbiotic modes of thought.

        I would employ religious language by suggesting that “Faith” is a pre-requisite for knowledge of the speculative kind, whether banal or beatific. “Doubt” is a pre-requisite for knowledge of the scientific kind. Scientists don’t ask: “is it true?” but “can it be tested?” Without doubt, faith is blind; but without faith, doubt is closed to the experience of truth. How can philosophy hold faith and doubt, experiential potentiality and experimental verification, together? I continue to struggle to think their coincidence.

        Speculation requires opening one’s imagination to the possible, so as to prepare oneself for the perception of what is actual. The search for “proof” is not the primary aim of speculative philosophy, since it operates on an imaginative plane of cognition interested in increasing the conceptual potentiality and aesthetic intensity of experience. Truth co-emerges with valuation and enjoyment, and so instead of attempting to prove anything, I aim only to express and suggest, to seek out exciting propositions whose “errors” (in Whitehead’s sense) are productive of greater beauty and goodness. The aim of speculative philosophy is the transformation of perceptual conflicts into novel conceptual contrasts. Then truth need no longer be opposed to falsity, since it is precisely because of its mistakes that the universe realizes itself as itself. The universe is not “really” a monadic God, or “really” an atomic aggregate. It is more like an unfolding process of nomadic cosmogenesis.

      3. sam mickey Avatar
        sam mickey

        Thanks for your response, Matt. It seems a little more open to atheism than your initial post, but you’re still assimilating atheism into a theism-atheism binary. Even if you are saying that speculative philosophy must hold the binary together, it’s still a binary. For Deleuze and Badiou, the question is not whether God exists or what the character of the universe is such that God does (not) exist, the question is how to affirm an event that exceeds the coordinates of the possible and the actual. The point is that philosophy does not have to be compromised with God. The triangle of self, world, and God does not have to be the focal point of all philosophical inquiry. The red herring of the theism-atheism debate (whether the debate affirms their interconnectedness or their opposition) just distracts us from our philosophical commitments to the event (or to objects). When an atheism emerges, the task of philosophers and theologians shouldn’t be one of uncovering the theistic side of that atheistic coin (e.g., “Hey, Badiou, your book on St. Paul implicates you in theism, even though you claim to be an atheist”). Rather, the task of philosophers and theologians could be one of finding out how that atheism can facilitate the impossible event, forging relations of non-relation (e.g., “Hey, Badiou, your book on St. Paul articulates an unwavering commitment to the event, which makes me wonder how I can facilitate such commitment in my own relations”).

      4. Matthew David Segall Avatar


        Your response is helpful, especially as I continue to discover where my thought might differ from OOO. Does philosophy have a commitment to “objects” that can only be distracted by debates between scientific materialism/atheism and process theology/panentheism? Does the Self, World, God (cosmotheandric) trinity have to be the focal point of philosophy? These are important questions. I wouldn’t want to put any limits on the scope and nature of philosophical inquiry. But as I get further into OOO/SR, I am finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a “flat ontology.” I initially found it a refreshing way to distribute “experience,” “value,” and “meaning” throughout the non-human universe. But I am running into problems trying to distinguish (rather than ontologically divide) the human, as that being capable of philosophical speculation, from Being and/or beings in general. I’m playing with the idea of an “open” ontology, which takes into consideration both the “depth” ontology of traditional characterizations of the Great Chain of Being and the more democratic “flat” ontologies of OOO/SR thinkers. We’ll see where it goes!

      5. sam mickey Avatar
        sam mickey

        I don’t think OOO fails to effectively differentiate human objects from other kinds of objects. Think of Harman in the last chapter of Guerrilla Metaphysics. There are gradations of allure, and humans are the most sincere of all objects and the most object-oriented. With so many O’s, OOO is already open (although every OOO is different, so we should be careful not to hastily lump together Harman, Bryant, Bogost, etc.).

        Cheers to an open ontology (OO)! That sounds like a promising phrase, but it could use another O… maybe an overtly open ontology.

  8. Beatrix Murrell Avatar

    Good for you, Matthew! At least you are *not* boring.

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