Third Dogma and SR

In a recent online debate, Harman defended SR against the charge that it is nothing new, that you can search far and wide for a 20th century philosopher who didn’t believe that there are objects that exist autonomously of whatever conscious access we may have of them. In addition to listing Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty as each failing, in their own way, to be realist with regard to objects, he cites Whitehead as one who clearly is a realist. Agreed. But are there any other clear precursors, any speculative realists before the name? I would list Donald Davidson. In his “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme,” Davidson criticizes Quine and a host of others for continuing to adhere to the dualism of a conceptual scheme and a content that is then processed and forged by this scheme. Our access to objects for Quine, for example, is by way of sensory promptings, and thus it is a similarity of sensory promptings that is the basis for our agreeing whether we are looking at the same object or not. Davidson refers to this dualism as the third dogma of empiricism and he rejects it. What Davidson argues for instead is what he calls a ‘form of monism’ which accepts that there is nothing but objects and events, including human and nonhuman objects and events. Our understanding and knowledge of the world, therefore, is not founded upon a discourse or language, but rather language itself is founded upon interactions between humans themselves and between humans and objects. I discuss this a bit more over at the PE blog. Moreover, none of the relationships between humans and nonhumans is privileged or incommensurable to other objects and events. Understood in this way, Davidson sounds a lot like Latour, and hence a lot like a speculative realist.