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Nature and Realism in Schelling’s Philosophy

Emilio Carlo Corriero
Andrea Dezi

Sum ergo Cogito

Schelling and the Positive Realism

Maurizio Ferraris

Texte intégral

  • 1 Ferraris M., Il mondo esterno, Milano: Bompiani, 2001.
  • 2 See Eco U., Di un realismo negativo, in De Caro M., Ferraris M. (eds.), Bentornata Realtà, Torino: (...)

11. Does realism mean claiming that the world merely says ‘no’? I am no longer so certain about that. Contrary to what I wrote in Il mondo esterno,1 and contrary to what Eco posits in a recent essay of his,2 realism is not only negativity, but, instead, it can present itself as a total positivity. Not only every determination is a negation, but the inverse also holds true: every negation orientates towards one or more determinations.

2Take the debate with Rorty that Eco refers to. Rorty affirms that “I can clean my ear with a screwdriver” (which, by the way, demonstrates that at least once in his life he did clean his ears with a screwdriver). Eco replies that (1) you cannot clean your ears with a screwdriver because it is too long and hard (he tried, at least once, and got hurt) and that (2) a screwdriver can be used for a murder (Eco remembers the praxis of the ‘screwdriver murder’ on Italian streets in the Sixties).

3Eco asserts that you cannot derive obliged senses from being, but (2) is a very despicable possibility, not a prohibition. I state, therefore, that in every forbidden sense (that cannot be amended) there is an obliged sense (that can be transgressed or disregarded, but that is still there). Which is, indeed, confirmed by the screwdriver, because: 1. With a screwdriver you can very well clean your ears, as long as you are careful and skilled enough – a surgeon would certainly manage. Therefore, Eco’s is not a merely negative criterion. 2. By saying “I cannot use a screwdriver to clean my ears” I am implying a series of hidden ‘musts’: you must clean your ears with something soft; you can use wounding things to hurt someone (screwdriver murder); if you don’t want to be violent, you can use a screwdriver to open a cardboard box, or to actually screw or unscrew a screw. 3. Upon closer examination, the right response that Eco should have given Rorty is: you can use a screwdriver to clean your ears (it suffices to be careful), but you simply cannot sew a button with it, no matter how hard you try.

4The contraposition between Rorty’s maxim “you can use a screwdriver to clean your ears” and Eco’s “you cannot use a screwdriver to clean your ears”, which presents itself as an alternative between limitless constructivism and “negative realism”, should be corrected. Realism can never be radically negative. The spirit denies, reality affirms. For at least three reasons.

5The first is that, indeed, in any negation a series of possibilities open up. If you cannot use a screwdriver to sew your buttons it is because it has affordances that make it apt for cleaning one’s ears (pace Eco), for opening a cardboard box, stabbing an enemy during a fight and, obviously, if you really want to be perverse, to screw a screw. All these possibilities are implicit in the ‘no’ that reality sets against the request to use a screwdriver as a needle to sew a button.

6The second reason regards perception in general. Perception, as I have been extensively arguing ever since Il mondo esterno, has a cognitive value not so much for the knowledge it can offer in positive (which always tends to be exposed to the deceit of the senses), but rather for the resistance we mentioned above. Nevertheless, in each resistance there is also a positive resource: the opposition is also a surprise, namely something unexpected and new that comes to the fore. Omnis negatio est determinatio, and every negation is a revelation.

7There is another element indicating the ontologically constitutive character of perception. Without perception, which is properly the organ of the external world, many of the logical abilities and distinctions we use every day, and that are essential to thought, would be inapplicable. For instance, in the absence of a perceptive world, would we be capable of distinguishing logical conclusiveness from physical causality, or formal necessity from material necessity? There are very good reasons to doubt this.


82. Now let us move from screwdrivers to metaphysical systems. The negativity that Eco appeals to so as to limit the hegemonic pretensions of conceptual schemes – as well as the unamendability I referred to in many occasions – is, so to speak, the reaction to an even greater negativity, which doesn’t regard neither simply the past thirty years of postmodernism nor the past century of philosophy, but that is rather related to the essence of modern thought which, with Descartes, was born as the negation and neutralization of the world in the name of thought. Hence, as I insisted in much of my ‘post-postmodern’ work, the limitless constructivism that characterised modern philosophy.

9The reaction to constructivism should not entail a reinstatement of a hypothetical ‘metaphysical realism’, a straw man consisting in the (really too naïve) thesis that the mind is the truthful mirror of the world. It should rather consist of an overcoming of negative realism that would lead, indeed, to a positive realism capable of locating the origin of thought and possibility in the real. In short, after the season of constructivism, it is not a matter of ‘thinking small’, but rather of thinking bigger than philosophy ever did in the past four centuries.

10I am aware of saying something that might come across as hyperbolic, so I will try to justify my statement. Few philosophers – apart from, for instance, Schelling (and we shall get back to this) – have managed to pinpoint the degree of negativity deposited in the strategy used by Descartes in the Metaphysical Meditations, whose fundamental attitude lies in doubting being in the name of knowledge. The whole world is denied and reduced to thought. After a series of suspensions nullifying the certainties of the senses and then of thought itself, being comes to be identified with thought and after that – with an overturning that anticipates Kant’s Copernican revolution – being is made to depend on thought: ontology depends on epistemology. Let us try to sketch out how this passage took place.

11Descartes invites us to doubt the certainty of what we see, because senses can deceive, because it could be a dream and so forth. Then he invites us to think that our thought could also be radically deformed by an omnipotent daemon. At this point, the only thing we are certain of is that we are thinking, independently from the contents of our thought (which could be all deceitful). The singular aspect of this strategy is that it turns an epistemological function (i.e. thought) into an ontological one, namely into the proof that something exists. Then there is an even more ingenious passage. Thought has but one certainty, beyond that of existing: namely, the fact of feeling limited and insufficient. But if it can feel limited and insufficient it is because it has the idea of an unlimited and perfect being, an idea that cannot be ‘factitious’ – that is, produced by the I – but must be innate, because it is unclear where it would come from otherwise. The idea is thus that there is a supremely perfect being, and because perfection necessarily entails existence – given that imagining a supremely perfect being without existence is like thinking of a mount without a valley – then that being necessarily exists. And if it necessarily exists, since it is endowed with all perfections, it cannot deceive me: therefore, all it shows me – the external world – is true, I have no reason to doubt it, I only have to (occasionally) be careful in case of possible deceits by the senses.

12This story is fascinating and somehow fablelike, almost Ariostesque – after all the time was roughly the same. Yet, if we replaced God with science, then this story would be about the history of the last four centuries. This can be seen very clearly in the Critique of Pure Reason, that indeed substitutes God for physics. Our knowledge is guaranteed by the equivalence between science and experience, and our way of relating to the world is exactly the same as that of physics. The world, taken away from us as immediate experience, is returned to us through knowledge. And knowledge is the product of thought, namely a very strange thing that, just like in Descartes, seems to appear out of the blue, being a res cogitans that has nothing to do with the res extensa. It is precisely against this mind frame that realism (what I call ‘positive realism’) is set, manifesting itself first of all in the world’s resistance, in the fact that the world says ‘no’. This is the point I have extensively insisted on by referring to the notion of ‘unamendability’ as opposed to the constructivist hyperbole coming from Descartes. Now, though, I would like to take a few steps forwards.


133. Some significant help in this comes from ‘the later Schelling’, for whom ‘cogito ergo sum’ – namely Descartes’ starting point – was a false passage from thought to being. The whole of modern philosophy, from Kant to Fichte to Schel-ling himself (in the first phase of his thought) to Hegel (who replaced Schelling in the Germans’ philosophical preferences), is therefore negative philosophy. ‘I think therefore I am’, ‘intuitions without concepts are blind’, ‘the rational is real’: these expressions mean that certainty is to be found in epistemology, in what we know and think, and not in ontology (i.e. what there is). Thus, an abyss opens up between thought and being: a hiatus destined to be never recovered, as is testified by the history of philosophy of the past centuries.

14For the later Schelling, though, we must proceed inversely. Being is not something constructed by thought, but something given, that is there before thought exists. Not only because we have the proof of very long ages in which the world existed without mankind, but also because what initially manifests itself as thought comes from outside us: our mother’s words, the residua of sense we happen to find just like, at the Mecca, one happens to find a meteorite.

  • 3 As it was defined in Meillassoux Q., After finitude, London: Continuum, 2008 and in Gabriel M., Il (...)

15Here we witness a possible extension of the argument from facticity.3 We build cars, use them, sell them, and this undoubtedly depends on us, our conceptual schemes and perceptive apparatuses, as Kant would put it. Yet the fact that we build cars, that there were things before us and that there will be things after us does not depend on us. There cannot be a generalised constructivism with regard to facts, and this is because, banally, there are facts that precede us: we could all say, like Erik Satie, “I have come into the world very young into an era very old”.

16In particular, in Schelling’s philosophy of mythology we realise that, with a return to the myth, we are not witnessing a regression, but rather a valorisation of what we might call the positivity of something that is given and transmitted (like the myth, whose inventor we do not know) and not created (like, for instance, a novel). Here we have a chance to understand with particular clarity what Schelling meant when he spoke of a positive philosophy as opposed to post-Cartesian philosophy, which is ‘negative’. ‘Negative’ essentially means constructivist. While – as we have seen – ever since Descartes philosophical certainty has been obtained through a construction of thought (whose models are maths and geometry, namely things that are made by human mind and are therefore certain), for the later Schelling (who in his youth was one of the greatest supporters of philosophical constructivism) truth and the objects of philosophy are the more certain the more they are given, namely the more they impose themselves on human consciousness instead of being produced by it.

17The same can be said about mythology and revelation. In myth we find a very powerful facticity: as we were saying, no one can claim to be the inventor of a myth, as it is something that precedes us, just like dinosaurs precede us, and that is such precisely because it was told to us. An analogous situation can be found in jokes: no one says ‘I have invented this joke’, it wouldn’t be funny. Fairy tales, myths and jokes have therefore something in common: they are not the product of a single person, nor are they the construction of a scriptwriter, but they are given. When Wittgenstein speaks about language games as things that can be found and not as things we can make up as we please, he is suggesting something of this kind. We blindly follow the rule. And we follow it before we understand it.


184. Thought is, first of all, nature: that is, it is not a transparent cogito but a subconscious that progressively reveals itself. We encounter objects that have an ontological consistence independently from our knowledge and that, either suddenly or through a slow process, are then known by us. We find out parts of ourselves (for instance, that we are envious or that we have fear of mice) just like we discover pieces of nature. We notice elements of society (for instance, enslavement, exploitation, women’s subordination and then, with a greater sensitivity, also mobbing or political incorrectness) that turn out to be unbearable and that were previously hidden, namely assumed as obvious by a political or sociologic unconscious. The moment of consciousness will undoubtedly and hopefully come, but it will be a matter of detachment with respect to a previous adherence, not an act of absolute construction of the world by the means of thought. In the psychological and social world, Schelling’s motto could be “I am therefore I (sometimes) think”.

19The same goes for the natural world. Schelling’s thesis is that nature is unconscious spirit, which might seem like a romantic sentimentality, made worse by the fact that in his last years the philosopher engaged in séances with the Queen of Bavaria. Yet, it does lead to a completely different worldview. First of all, it explains why thought adheres to the real with a pre-theoretical strength that no scepticism can overcome: very simply, thought is a part of the real. As Freud would put it – after all, he was born two years after Schelling’s death and shared with him the climate of the age – the Es (that, for Schelling, is also nature and history) must become the I, which is not the maker of the Es, but rather a result of it.


205. Hence the fact that the world is not made up of phenomena, but of things in themselves. In fact, for at least the past two centuries, we have been suffering from an exotropic strabismus as regards things. With one eye, that of common sense, we are convinced to be surrounded by things that are exactly what they are: tables, chairs, computers. These things rarely turn out to be different from what they look like, or to be illusions or mirages. These are only fleeting moments: things do not usually deceive and, for certain, they deceive less than people do.

21But there is a second eye with which we look at the world, that is more exigent and philosophical and sees things in an entirely different way. For it, we deal not with things but with phenomena that are the outcome of the encounter between an inaccessible thing in itself – the object we are referring to – and the mediation offered by our perceptive apparatuses and conceptual schemes. The thinker that most of all tied his name to this transformation is Kant, by means of his Copernican revolution (which, really, is a Ptolemaic revolution, as it places man at the centre of the universe): instead of asking how things in themselves are, says Kant, we should ask how they must be in order to be known by us.

22And here is where strabismus manifests itself. On the one hand, in everyday life, we are naïve realists; on the other, when, say, we have to explain our experience to a doctor or, if we are professors, in class, we are idealists or at least constructivists, because we are convinced that reality is the product of processes taking place in us no less than outside us. It is a situation that Kant foresaw when he defined his doctrine as an ‘empirical realism’ (we are certain of the reality of experience) as well as a ‘transcendental idealism’ (at another level, reflexive and philosophical, we know that things depend on conceptual schemes and perceptive apparatuses that lie within us). Now those terms might seem antiquate, but when someone tells us that a table is made of atoms and that its density is only slightly greater than that of the surrounding air, or that what we call ‘pain’ is really the stimulation of certain neural fibres, he is playing the transcendental idealist: the world is not what it seems, and it hides something elusive and often mysterious.

23This is entirely legitimate on a scientific level, but not so much if, indeed, we refer to everyday experience. We don’t usually say “please pass me what to me, and hopefully to you, looks like salt”, but rather “pass me the salt”. Notwithstanding all this, to claim that everyday things truly are what they look like, namely that they are things in themselves and not simply appearances for us, is considered as an unforgivable act of naïveté. Hoping to access them means to nourish the (irremediably primitive) dream of getting in contact with a world ‘out there’ – a contact that seems more mythological than Jove and Juno, and even vaguely comical.

  • 4 I have articulated this point in ‘Ding an Sich’, forthcoming in the conference papers of the Zweite (...)

24But is it truly so? Let us take natural objects. For Kant, they are the phenomena par excellence: they are situated in space and time, which are not things that are given in nature because they lie in our mind, together with the categories through which we order the world. Which means that, without men, there would not be neither space nor time. We should conclude that, before mankind, there were no objects, or at least not as we know them. Yet it clearly is not so: fossils prove that there were beings that existed before any human being. So how do we deal with this? If they existed before us, they were things in themselves and not phenomena (i.e. things that appear to us). Obviously, one could object that the minute we look at them, now, they are phenomena. But let us hypothesise that the fossil is accidentally found by a dog. The dog has conceptual schemes and perceptive apparatuses radically different from our own, and yet he manages to interact with fossils (and with a number of more recent objects, like non-prehistoric bones) just like we do. So, is there any good reason to believe that there are two objects, the fossil seen by the dog and the fossil seen by me? And if there is only one object, why should it not be a thing in itself?4


256. Thus, there is a sense in which, when the spirit investigates nature, it also discovers itself. Not because nature is the product of the spirit, as negative thinkers want it, but rather because the spirit is an outcome of nature, just like gravity, photosynthesis and digestion.

26So, metaphysical realism, i.e. (as I said) the straw man of constructivism and antirealism, supposes a full mirroring of thought and reality:


(1) Thought ↔ Reality


27Constructivism, finding this relation between two distinct realities inexplicable, rather suggests a constitutive role of thought with respect to reality:


(2) Thought → Reality


28Positive realism, instead, sees thought as an emerging datum of reality, just like gravity, photosynthesis and digestion.


(3) Thought ← Reality


29Being precedes thought and thought emerges from nature. This, obviously, does not mean that, once emerged, thought must blindly follow nature. It can give life to the social world, for instance. Yet, in turn, the social world will also determine (in a usually non-transparent way) the thought of single individuals. If this is how things are, then thinking that we are surrounded by phenomena and not things in themselves is one of the most curious illusions of negative philosophy. The world is made of things in themselves, and thought is generated by the world.

30All the essential differences underlying our thought, that we tend to forget although they lead our practices, derive from the real and not from thought: the difference between ontology (unamendable) and epistemology (amendable), between experience and science, or between external world and internal world. And again, the difference between objects and events, or the essential difference between reality and fiction. If things are this way, then we have in front of us not a world of phenomena – as negative philosophy wants it – but a world of things in themselves, originating from the real.

31In the same way, sense ‘gives itself’ and is not at our complete disposal, just like the possibilities and impossibilities of the screwdriver. The sense is the mode of organisation for which something presents itself in a given way. But it doesn’t ultimately depend on subjects, as it is not the production of a transcendental I with his categories. It is something like Husserl’s passive synthesis, or like the ‘synopsis of sense’ enigmatically mentioned by Kant in the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason: the fact that the world has an order prior to the appearance of the subject. There is something on the background that can become a figure. There is always an unconsumed leftover, said Schelling, there is always an ‘irreducible remainder’.

32In short, the mind emerges from the (natural and social) world and in particular from the piece of world that is the closest to it: the body and the brain. Then it confronts itself with the social and natural environment and with itself. In this encounter – that is a reconstruction and a revelation and not a construction – the mind elaborates (individually, but even more so collectively) an epistemology, a knowledge that assumes being as its object. The perfect encounter between the mind and the body, just like that between ontology and epistemology, is not granted: mistakes are always possible. But when the mind manages to reconcile itself with the world it comes from, then we have truth.


  • 5 Nagel T., Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certain (...)

337. One could wonder how the derivation of thought from being took place, and whether by appealing to this one might risk recovering Schelling’s fablelike and mysterysophic perspective. Yet, it is not the case: Darwin is enough. Nevertheless, one might object that Nagel has recently tried to question our age’s common sense precisely by opposing Darwin.5 His idea is that the debate between the Darwinians and the supporters of the ‘intelligent design’ of the universe has not proved the validity of the theses of the latter, but revealed some weaknesses in the former. While professing to be an atheist, and thus excluding the existence of a mind that orders the universe, Nagel states that the Darwinian hypothesis does not manage to explain phenomena such as consciousness, knowledge and values.

  • 6 Nagel T., ‘What Is It Like To Be A Bat?’ in The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974), 435 (...)

34In fact, what is the point of having a consciousness that, as Hamlet put it, makes cowards of us all? And how can we explain the emergence of intelligence in matter? A defender of Darwin such as Daniel Dennett claims that, just like the living is made up of inorganic elements to which it will return (and we find nothing miraculous about this), so intelligence can very well stem from non-intelligent elements. Nevertheless, Nagel sees in this conception a reductionist bias that seems all the more evident when consciousness and intelligence reach more abstract levels that seem to exclude the very necessity of a mankind capable of thought. As he wrote in 1974: “after all, there would have been transfinite numbers even if everyone had been wiped out by the Black Death before Cantor discovered them.”6 Now, what would the evolutional advantage of transfinite numbers be? A neo-Darwinian such as Stephen Jay Gloud would have claimed that it is a collateral effect of a more developed central nervous system (which is an evolutional advantage per se). Nagel, instead, asserts that this is one of the many aspects of the world that Darwinism cannot explain.

35Nagel’s real objective, though, is not to criticize Darwinism (although it is easy to imagine that his book will be used exactly for that purpose), but rather, in positive, to propose a right and ambitious idea of a vaster science, almost a reborn speculative knowledge à la German idealism. The fundamental trait of this enlarged science consists in resorting not only to causal explanations (A causes B) but also to final explanations, with what, in philosophical jargon, is called ‘teleology’: A causes B because B’s purpose was C. For instance, man developed a cerebral mass superior to that of other primates because he was part of a finalised project, whose end was to produce a consciousness because – as Dante, a great supporter of teleology, put it – “you were not made to live as brutes, but to pursue virtue and knowledge”.

36Nagel refers to Aristotle in his claim, but his real predecessor is rather Leibniz in the Discourse of Metaphysics (1686), critical of the ‘nouveaux philosophes’ of his time, who wanted to ban final causes from physics. According to Leibniz, a physicist who wished to explain nature only through efficient causes would have been limited no less than a historian who tried to explain the conquest of a stronghold without taking into account the objectives of the general who led the battle, merely saying that the particles of powder in the cannon managed to push a hard solid body against the walls of the place, so that it crumbled down.

37Now, as for the exigency of a teleological science, we could note that natural science (and not only social science, where the recourse to final causes is ever-present) is intrinsically teleological, without nature being itself teleological. Kant, in his Critique of Judgment, had seen this very clearly: when we observe nature through the lens of a scientist, we consider it as a whole and hypothesise its ends. Epistemology, namely what we know or believe to know, is intrinsically teleological: if they show us the section of an eye we won’t manage to understand much until we hypothesise that the eye is made for seeing; then the function of the pupil, the crystalline lens and the retina will become clear. But ontology, what there is, is not necessarily teleological. It is so in the social world, not in the natural world that Darwin refers to.

38Saying that the purpose of the eye is to see helps us understand its functioning, just like saying that the objective of the two teams is to score allows us to understand a football match. But this does not force us to claim that the eye was intrinsically created to see any more than it authorises to say that the nose was created to support the weight of glasses. It could be an evolutional chance. In such a long time as that separating us from the Big Bang and with such a vast material as the universe, anything can happen, including consciousness and transfinite numbers. This is analogous to the library of Babel imagined by Borges, which contains everything, including the day and exact time of our death – only, this piece of information (of uncertain evolutional usefulness) is buried between billions of other likely or unlikely hours and days, and billions of billions of meaningless books.


  • 7 See, for instance, Bryant L., Snircek N., Haman G. (eds.), The Speculative Turn. Continental Materi (...)

398. At this point, though, the perspective and the possibility of a vaster science – which seems to be required by many aspects of contemporary philosophy7 – is still entirely open. After the criticism of postmodernism, it is time to pass to a constructive phase. This reconstruction is not only based on the recovery of realism, but also on that of three elements that are strongly foreign both to the analytical and to the continental philosophy of the past century: speculative philosophy, systematic philosophy and positive philosophy. Here is what I mean by ‘reconstructing deconstruction’. It is far from a restoration or a ‘rappel à l’ordre’ (and what order, after all?). On the contrary, it is the attempt at constructing a vaster theoretical frame. It is the return of thinking big: the project of a philosophy capable of accounting for the whole of reality, from physics to the social world, beyond twentieth century specialisms. The real problem is therefore the following: are we able to conciliate a great speculative perspective (the one for which epistemology emerges from ontology) with a realistic perspective and without falling back into the limits of post-Kantian idealism? I believe this ought to be the challenge for a positive realism, and I wish to conclude on this note with three ideas to start from.

40The first concerns the notion of ‘speculative’. In the perspective I propose, it is associated with materialism and realism, whereas it was traditionally linked to spiritualism and idealism. The spiritualist twist was typical of twentieth century Italian and Anglo-American neo-Idealism, which, à la Descartes, started from the spirit. There is nothing of that kind in Hegel, for whom the concept emerges from being and the spirit emerges from nature. For Hegel, logical elements are not produced by the I (as posited by Descartes and Kant), but emerge from nature, i.e. from things themselves. Of course, Hegel was forced to imagine this emergence with the tools he had at his disposal – such as the development of the concept and of the spirit – and even with a reference to mythological principles like the soul of the world. Thanks to Darwin, though, we can now think of it as the development of (intelligent) epistemology on the basis of an unintelligent ontology, in accordance with Dennett’s proposal. It is not necessary to think of a spirit or a teleology that determines the passage from nature to the spirit or, in other words, from ontology to epistemology. One can very well imagine it the other way round: the organic is the outcome of the inorganic, consciousness emerges from unconscious elements and epistemology emerges from ontology. Sense is produced by nonsense and possibilities stem from the resistance of reality, without this leading to the fact that philosophy should be reduced to a fragmentary vision, giving up the aim of offering the overall meaning of the real.

  • 8 In particular Documentality. Why It is Necessary to Leave Traces, Fordham University Press, 2012.

41The second element regards the possibility of a systematic philosophy. What organises the system? What is the engine of it? In traditional idealistic systems, the organisation of the system came from the spirit or from the concept. But as we have seen, thanks to Darwin, today we dispose of more efficacious and less binding explanations. At this point we have everything that is necessary for a fully articulated system. The first level is that of an ontology of the natural world, in which we pass from the inorganic to the organic and, finally, to the conscious. And this does not necessarily entail any kind of ‘intelligent design’ (after all, classical idealists did not suppose it either). At this stage, we have the constitution of an ontology that offers the premise for an epistemology, i.e. knowledge on what there is. This epistemology is developed through consciousness, language, writing, the world of laws, politics, science and culture. It is at this point that it becomes capable of two operations. The first is the reconstruction of the natural world, which is the object of natural science. The second is the construction of the social world, which is the object of social science and where epistemology plays not only a reconstructive role but a constructive one, in accordance with the law ‘Object = Inscribed Act’ that I illustrated in my works on social ontology8 – which I refer the reader back to for the systematic articulation of the hierarchies of objects present in the ontology I propose (natural objects, social objects and ideal objects).

42One last point on the notion of ‘positive realism’. In the final analysis, the twofold articulation I described above presents itself as the symmetrical inversion of Cartesian negative philosophy. If negative philosophy was a matter of denying any ontological consistence of the world so as to refer everything back to thought and knowledge and thence proceed to reconstitute the world by the means of epistemology, with positive realism – recovering the lesson of German idealism and linking it to evolutionism – it is possible to start from ontology so as to found epistemology. Which in turn, when related to the social world, can and must become constitutive (it is obvious that laws are made by man, not by atoms), whereas it cannot be so in the natural world, unlike what was posited by the strand of philosophy that from Descartes led to postmodernism. If all the realist stirrings that have started to manifest themselves in several areas were to be developed, I believe our century would have good reasons to be satisfied: philosophy is not dead and it is not limited to the critical dimension but, under the name of realism, it managed to think big again.


1 Ferraris M., Il mondo esterno, Milano: Bompiani, 2001.

2 See Eco U., Di un realismo negativo, in De Caro M., Ferraris M. (eds.), Bentornata Realtà, Torino: Einaudi, 2012.

3 As it was defined in Meillassoux Q., After finitude, London: Continuum, 2008 and in Gabriel M., Il senso dell’esistenza. Per un nuovo realismo ontologico, Roma: Carocci, 2012.

4 I have articulated this point in ‘Ding an Sich’, forthcoming in the conference papers of the Zweites Bonner Humboldt-Preisträger-Forum: Das neue Bedürfnis nach Metaphysik, 24 October 2012.

5 Nagel T., Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, Oxford University Press, 2012.

6 Nagel T., ‘What Is It Like To Be A Bat?’ in The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974), 435-450.

7 See, for instance, Bryant L., Snircek N., Haman G. (eds.), The Speculative Turn. Continental Materialism and Realism, Melbourne:, 2011 and Galloway A. R. (ed.), Les nouveaux réalistes, Paris: Éditions Léo Scheer, 2012.

8 In particular Documentality. Why It is Necessary to Leave Traces, Fordham University Press, 2012.


Full Professor of Philosophy at the University of Turin, where he is also the director of the LabOnt (Laboratory for Ontology), and fellow of Käte Hamburger Kolleg “Recht als Kultur” (Bonn). He wrote more than forty books that were translated into several languages, among which History of Hermeneutics (Humanities Press, 1996), Documentality or Why it is Necessary to Leave Traces (Fordham UP 2012) and Goodbye Kant! (SUNY UP 2013). His latest books to be published in English are Where Are You? An Ontology of the Cell Phone (Fordham UP 2014) and Manifesto of New Realism (SUNY UP 2014).