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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Latour: the allagmatics of correspondence

Chapter 3 of AIME (An Investigation into Modes of Existence) is dedicated to a criticism of the idea of adequatio rei et intellectus as a basis of scientific procedures of truth. He considers correspondence as something that has to be two-sided: both the intellect and the thing are to help out in order for a suitable correspondence to hold. The thing side helps out at least by showing itself - and determining how much of itself is going to be apparent (see Heraclitus' new fragments, fr. 204). He engages the image of Borges that a map of scale 1 is useless and blind. He considers a trip to Mount Aiguille (close to Grenoble) with a map - a GPS would put him completely within a network, like a termite, fully blind and fully located. Map-making requires work not only in the intellect side of things - the map - but also in the thing side - the field that is mapped. The latter is crucial for his argument: the field itself is so to speak prepared to be represented. One has to intervene - as folks do in the labs - in the reproduction (REP) of the truth-maker. It is not merely about work done in the map (or in the statement) but rather work to be done to approach the field (or the facts) to what tracks it (Latour calls it, very appropriately, reference (REF)).

It seems like he is here criticizing correspondence definitions of truth. In particular, he could be placing Borges remark on maps of scale 1 against isomorphism-based conception of correspondence (say, Russell's). In fact, Latour is saying that work has to be done to individuate Cassio and Desdemona in order for the proposition to correspond to a state of affairs - a state of affairs needs to be worked on so that it can properly make something true. It is not only about getting to the truth-maker (like identity theories favor the image of not stopping anywhere shorter than the facts, inspired in Wittgenstein's PU 95, see for instance McDowell's Mind and World, lecture 2). It is a two-sided movement. Truth-makers would have to be thought as genuinely making something, and they eventually need help to do it. Correspondence is to be thought as an alliance, as an agreement that requires movement from both sides.

But I think the bite of Latour's argument against correspondence is not really a correspondence definition of truth (or an adequatio one). Such definition says nothing about how much work has to be done in each of the two parts, it is rather about the holding correspondence. Latour's bite is rather about a conception of knowledge that is based on the idea of arriving at a correspondence with things or states of affairs. It is against an image of knowledge as a one-sided march towards corresponding beliefs (or statements), a route towards the unmoved facts. Our intervention is claimed to be crucial. In AIME, p. 95, he presents a brilliant dialogue, if correlationist, between the anthropologist of the moderns and a modern (a correlationist, in this case, for that matter) who complains about her impossibility to get to the things in themselves. The anthropologist says: why are you so unhappy that you don't get to the things if your do have an access to them? The answer: because we don't disclose them as they are without us. The anthropologist: yes, but things without you would be things that you don't approach at all, and you seem to be happy that at least you can find a way to approach them. The modern: yes, because if we don't access them, we can't know them. And the anthropologist: it is as if you're happy that there is a way up Mount Aiguille but unhappy that they let you climb up. And Latour compares the situation with that of the tourists that enjoy having the site prepared for them but don't like meeting other tourists there...

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