Speculative realism is a movement in contemporary Continental-inspired philosophy (also known as post-Continental philosophy)[1] that defines itself loosely in its stance of metaphysical realism against its interpretation of the dominant forms of post-Kantian philosophy (or what it terms "correlationism").[2]

Speculative realism takes its name from a conference held at Goldsmiths College, University of London in April 2007.[3] The conference was moderated by Alberto Toscano of Goldsmiths College, and featured presentations by Ray Brassier of American University of Beirut (then at Middlesex University), Iain Hamilton Grant of the University of the West of England, Graham Harman of the American University in Cairo, and Quentin Meillassoux of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Credit for the name "speculative realism" is generally ascribed to Brassier,[4] though Meillassoux had already used the term "speculative materialism" to describe his own position.[4]

A second conference, entitled "Speculative Realism/Speculative Materialism", took place at the UWE Bristol on Friday 24 April 2009, two years after the original event at Goldsmiths.[5] The line-up consisted of Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, and (in place of Meillassoux, who was unable to attend) Alberto Toscano.[5]

A third conference, entitled "Object Oriented Ontology: A Symposium", was held at Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Literature, Communication and Culture (now the School of Literature, Media, and Communication) on April 23, 2010.[6] This symposium was hosted by Ian Bogost and included Levi Bryant, Graham Harmon, Steven Shaviro, Hugh Crawford, Carl DiSalvo, John Johnston, Barbara Maria Stafford, and Eugene Thacker.

Critique of correlationism

While often in disagreement over basic philosophical issues, the speculative realist thinkers have a shared resistance to what they interpret as philosophies of human finitude inspired by the tradition of Immanuel Kant.

What unites the four core members of the movement is an attempt to overcome both "correlationism"[7] and "philosophies of access". In After Finitude, Meillassoux defines correlationism as "the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other."[8] Philosophies of access are any of those philosophies which privilege the human being over other entities. For speculative realists, both ideas represent forms of anthropocentrism.

All four of the core thinkers within speculative realism work to overturn these forms of philosophy which privilege the human being, favouring distinct forms of realism against the dominant forms of idealism in much of contemporary Continental philosophy.


While sharing in the goal of overturning the dominant strands of post-Kantian thought in Continental philosophy, there are important differences separating the core members of the speculative realist movement and their followers.

Speculative materialism

In his critique of correlationism, Quentin Meillassoux (who uses the term speculative materialism to describe his position)[4] finds two principles as the focus of Kant's philosophy. The first is the principle of correlation itself, which claims essentially that we can only know the correlate of Thought and Being; what lies outside that correlate is unknowable. The second is termed by Meillassoux the principle of factiality, which states that things could be otherwise than what they are. This principle is upheld by Kant in his defence of the thing-in-itself as unknowable but imaginable. We can imagine reality as being fundamentally different even if we never know such a reality. According to Meillassoux, the defence of both principles leads to "weak" correlationism (such as those of Kant and Husserl), while the rejection of the thing-in-itself leads to the "strong" correlationism of thinkers such as late Ludwig Wittgenstein[9] and late Martin Heidegger, for whom it makes no sense to suppose that there is anything outside of the correlate of Thought and Being,[citation needed] and so the principle of factiality is eliminated in favour of a strengthened principle of correlation.

Meillassoux follows the opposite tactic in rejecting the principle of correlation for the sake of a bolstered principle of factiality in his post-Kantian return to Hume. By arguing in favour of such a principle, Meillassoux is led to reject the necessity not only of all physical laws of nature, but all logical laws except the Principle of Non-Contradiction (since eliminating this would undermine the Principle of Factiality which claims that things can always be otherwise than what they are). By rejecting the Principle of Sufficient Reason, there can be no justification for the necessity of physical laws, meaning that while the universe may be ordered in such and such a way, there is no reason it could not be otherwise. Meillassoux rejects the Kantian a priori in favour of a Humean a priori, claiming that the lesson to be learned from Hume on the subject of causality is that "the same cause may actually bring about 'a hundred different events' (and even many more)."[10]

The primary foundation from which Meillassoux extends the rest of his theory by arguing for a principle: the necessity of contingency itself. That is, the only thing objectively necessary is that no thing/object is necessary to every subject. Thus, all things are contingent. Using this as an objective position, he proceeds to redevelop a metaphysics for science and technology which recovers what he calls ancestral events: materially real events which occur outside of phenomenological subjectivity. He claims that without the objectivity of contingency, a philosopher of metaphysics should reject that such events like the Big Bang are legitimate. Although, some have argued that the problem is not that these ancestral events are outside of human notions of time, since many such examples of these events in fact do have materially sensible data which places them in terms of human interpretations of time, but rather it applies more strongly to real things which are not empirically observable:[11] e.g. quarks or genetic information. While not committed entirely to speculative materialism, Yuk Hui references and uses an analogous line of reasoning in Recursivity and Contingency[12] in his development of cosmotechnics, and actively works within similar philosophical lineages.

Object-oriented ontology

The central tenet of Graham Harman and Levi Bryant's object-oriented ontology (OOO) is that objects have been neglected in philosophy in favor of a "radical philosophy" that tries to "undermine" objects by saying that objects are the crusts to a deeper underlying reality, either in the form of monism or a perpetual flux, or those that try to "overmine" objects by saying that the idea of a whole object is a form of folk ontology. According to Harman, everything is an object, whether it be a mailbox, electromagnetic radiation, curved spacetime, the Commonwealth of Nations, or a propositional attitude; all things, whether physical or fictional, are equally objects. Sympathetic to panpsychism, Harman proposes a new philosophical discipline called "speculative psychology" dedicated to investigating the "cosmic layers of psyche" and "ferreting out the specific psychic reality of earthworms, dust, armies, chalk, and stone".[13]

Harman defends a version of the Aristotelian notion of substance. Unlike Leibniz, for whom there were both substances and aggregates, Harman maintains that when objects combine, they create new objects. In this way, he defends an a priori metaphysics that claims that reality is made up only of objects and that there is no "bottom" to the series of objects. For Harman, an object is in itself an infinite recess, unknowable and inaccessible by any other thing. This leads to his account of what he terms "vicarious causality". Inspired by the occasionalists of medieval Islamic philosophy, Harman maintains that no two objects can ever interact save through the mediation of a "sensual vicar".[14] There are two types of objects, then, for Harman: real objects and the sensual objects that allow for interaction. The former are the things of everyday life, while the latter are the caricatures that mediate interaction. For example, when fire burns cotton, Harman argues that the fire does not touch the essence of that cotton which is inexhaustible by any relation, but that the interaction is mediated by a caricature of the cotton which causes it to burn.

Transcendental materialism

Iain Hamilton Grant defends a position he calls transcendental materialism.[15] He argues against what he terms "somatism", the philosophy and physics of bodies. In his Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, Grant tells a new history of philosophy from Plato onward based on the definition of matter. Aristotle distinguished between Form and Matter in such a way that Matter was invisible to philosophy, whereas Grant argues for a return to the Platonic Matter as not only the basic building blocks of reality, but the forces and powers that govern our reality. He traces this same argument to the post-Kantian German idealists Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, claiming that the distinction between Matter as substantive versus useful fiction persists to this day and that we should end our attempts to overturn Plato and instead attempt to overturn Kant and return to "speculative physics" in the Platonic tradition, that is, not a physics of bodies, but a "physics of the All".[16]

Eugene Thacker has examined how the concept of "life itself" is both determined within regional philosophy and also how "life itself" comes to acquire metaphysical properties. His book After Life shows how the ontology of life operates by way of a split between "Life" and "the living," making possible a "metaphysical displacement" in which life is thought via another metaphysical term, such as time, form, or spirit: "Every ontology of life thinks of life in terms of something-other-than-life...that something-other-than-life is most often a metaphysical concept, such as time and temporality, form and causality, or spirit and immanence"[17] Thacker traces this theme from Aristotle, to Scholasticism and mysticism/negative theology, to Spinoza and Kant, showing how this three-fold displacement is also alive in philosophy today (life as time in process philosophy and Deleuzianism, life as form in biopolitical thought, life as spirit in post-secular philosophies of religion). Thacker examines the relation of speculative realism to the ontology of life, arguing for a "vitalist correlation": "Let us say that a vitalist correlation is one that fails to conserve the correlationist dual necessity of the separation and inseparability of thought and object, self and world, and which does so based on some ontologized notion of 'life'.''.[18] Ultimately Thacker argues for a skepticism regarding "life": "Life is not only a problem of philosophy, but a problem for philosophy."[17]

Other thinkers have emerged within this group, united in their allegiance to what has been known as "process philosophy", rallying around such thinkers as Schelling, Bergson, Whitehead, and Deleuze, among others. A recent example is found in Steven Shaviro's book Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics, which argues for a process-based approach that entails panpsychism as much as it does vitalism or animism. For Shaviro, it is Whitehead's philosophy of prehensions and nexus that offers the best combination of continental and analytical philosophy. Another recent example is found in Jane Bennett's book Vibrant Matter,[19] which argues for a shift from human relations to things, to a "vibrant matter" that cuts across the living and non-living, human bodies and non-human bodies. Leon Niemoczynski, in his book Charles Sanders Peirce and a Religious Metaphysics of Nature, invokes what he calls "speculative naturalism" so as to argue that nature can afford lines of insight into its own infinitely productive "vibrant" ground, which he identifies as natura naturans.

Transcendental nihilism

In Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, Ray Brassier defends what Michael Austin, Paul Ennis, Fabio Gironi term as transcendental nihilism.[20] He maintains that philosophy has avoided the traumatic idea of extinction, instead attempting to find meaning in a world conditioned by the very idea of its own annihilation. Thus Brassier critiques both the phenomenological and hermeneutic strands of continental philosophy as well as the vitality of thinkers like Gilles Deleuze, who work to ingrain meaning in the world and stave off the "threat" of nihilism. Instead, drawing on thinkers such as Alain Badiou, François Laruelle, Paul Churchland and Thomas Metzinger, Brassier defends a view of the world as inherently devoid of meaning. That is, rather than avoiding nihilism, Brassier embraces it as the truth of reality. Brassier concludes from his readings of Badiou and Laruelle that the universe is founded on the nothing,[21] but also that philosophy is the "organon of extinction," that it is only because life is conditioned by its own extinction that there is thought at all.[22] Brassier then defends a radically anti-correlationist philosophy proposing that Thought is conjoined not with Being, but with Non-Being.

Controversy about a "philosophical movement"

In an interview with Kronos magazine published in March 2011, Ray Brassier denied that there is any such thing as a "speculative realist movement" and firmly distanced himself from those who continue to attach themselves to the brand name:[23]

The "speculative realist movement" exists only in the imaginations of a group of bloggers promoting an agenda for which I have no sympathy whatsoever: actor-network theory spiced with pan-psychist metaphysics and morsels of process philosophy. I don't believe the internet is an appropriate medium for serious philosophical debate; nor do I believe it is acceptable to try to concoct a philosophical movement online by using blogs to exploit the misguided enthusiasm of impressionable graduate students. I agree with Deleuze's remark that ultimately the most basic task of philosophy is to impede stupidity, so I see little philosophical merit in a "movement" whose most signal achievement thus far is to have generated an online orgy of stupidity.

Further Brassier suggests that a philosophical movement cannot believably be bound to merely anti-correlationism.[24] Despite this, many of those who discuss different approaches to escape Meillassoux's correlationist cycle, suggesting active philosophical discourse on a particular topic. Ian Bogost's work, Alien Phenomenology,[25] rethinks what OOO phenomenology would be while others argue OOO rejects phenomenology outright. Similarly, Steven Shaviro actively endorses panpsychism[26] and reaffirms his earlier endorsement of process philosophy,[27] rejecting certain aspects of Harmon's work and Brassier's criticisms about the existence of a movement. Additionally Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter[19] also enables forms of phenomenology as she exemplifies through several chapters. In doing so, these authors suggest some form of phenomenology in speculative realism despite the rejection of correlationist philosophy.

As such, one of the fundamental controversies within Speculative Realism is less agreement or disagreement about correlationism as a problem, but instead is a discussion of the feasibility or need of philosophies of phenomenology and cognition after being separated from philosophies of ontology. On this debate Harmon and Meillassoux suggest there is no need for phenomenology while Shaviro, Bennett, and Bogost suggest a separation of anti-correlation of ontology and phenomenology does not render either to be empty philosophical topics.

Another controversy is how important Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy and speculative philosophy[28] are to anti-correlationism. While Meillassoux associates anti-correlationism to "speculative materialism," he does not cite Whitehead in association in the development of After Finitude.[29] Additionally Brassier's statements above suggest he rejects the association. However, between Shaviro, Strengers, and many others, the association of Whitehead is largely consistent with anti-correlationism and thus remains a valuable inspiration.


Speculative realism has close ties to the journal Collapse, which published the proceedings of the inaugural conference at Goldsmiths and has featured numerous other articles by 'Speculative Realist' thinkers; as has the academic journal Pli, which is edited and produced by members of the Graduate School of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Warwick. The journal Speculations, founded in 2010 published by Punctum Books, regularly features articles related to Speculative Realism. Edinburgh University Press publishes a book series called Speculative Realism.

In 2013, Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies journal published a special issue on the topic in relation to anarchism.[30]

Between 2019 and 2021, the De Gruyter Open Access journal, Open Philosophy, published three special issues on object-oriented ontology and its critics.[31]

Internet presence

Speculative realism is notable for its fast expansion via the Internet in the form of blogs.[32] Websites have formed as resources for essays, lectures, and planned future books by those within the speculative realist movement. Many other blogs, as well as podcasts, have emerged with original material on speculative realism or expanding on its themes and ideas.

See also

Notable speculative realists

See also


  1. ^ Paul John Ennis, Post-continental Voices: Selected Interviews, John Hunt Publishing, 2010, p. 18.
  2. ^ Mackay, Robin (March 2007). "Editorial Introduction". Collapse. 2 (1): 3–13.
  3. ^ "Past Issues". crln.acrl.org.
  4. ^ a b c Graham Harman, "brief SR/OOO tutorial."
  5. ^ a b "Speculative Realism | Frieze". 12 May 2009.
  6. ^ "Object Oriented Ontology Symposium". 2010-04-23. hdl:1853/70942.
  7. ^ Mackay, Robin (March 2007). "Editorial Introduction". Collapse. 2 (1): 3–13.
  8. ^ Quentin Meillassoux (2008), After Finitude, p. 5.
  9. ^ Journals, Ruth at EUP (December 12, 2014). "Correlationism – An Extract from The Meillassoux Dictionary". Edinburgh University Press Blog.
  10. ^ Quentin Meillassoux (2008), After Finitude, p. 90.
  11. ^ Wiltsche, Harald A. (September 2017). "Science, Realism and Correlationism. A Phenomenological Critique of Meillassoux' Argument from Ancestrality". European Journal of Philosophy. 25 (3): 808–832. doi:10.1111/ejop.12159. ISSN 0966-8373.
  12. ^ Hui, Yuk (2019). Recursivity and contingency. Media philosophy. London Lanham, [Maryland]: Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd. ISBN 978-1-78660-052-3.
  13. ^ Graham Harman (2009), Prince of Networks, p. 213.
  14. ^ Graham Harman, "On Vicarious Causality," in Collapse II (1997), p. 201.
  15. ^ Bryant, Levi; Harman, Graham; Srnicek, Nick (2011). The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism (PDF). Melbourne, Australia: re.press. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-9806683-4-6.
  16. ^ Bryant, Levi; Bryant, Levi R.; Srnicek, Nick; Harman, Graham (2011). The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism. re.press. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-9806683-4-6.
  17. ^ a b Eugene Thacker (2010), After Life, p. x.
  18. ^ Eugene Thacker (2010), After Life, p. 254.
  19. ^ a b Bennett, Jane (2010). Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-4619-7.
  20. ^ Michael Austin, Paul Ennis, Fabio Gironi (2012), Speculations III, Punctum Books, p. 257.
  21. ^ Ray Brassier (2007), Nihil Unbound, pp. 148–149.
  22. ^ Ray Brassier (2007), Nihil Unbound, pp. 223–226, pp. 234–238.
  23. ^ Ray Brassier interviewed by Marcin Rychter "I am a nihilist because I still believe in truth", Kronos, March 4, 2011.
  24. ^ Brassier, Ray (October 8, 2014). "Postscript: Speculative Autopsy". In Wolfendale, Peter (ed.). Object-Oriented Philosophy: The Noumenon's New Clothes (1 ed.). United Kingdom: Urbanomic (published 2014). pp. 407–421. ISBN 978-0-9575295-9-5.
  25. ^ Bogost, Ian (2012-04-01), "Alien Phenomenology", Alien Phenomenology, or What It's Like to Be a Thing, University of Minnesota Press, pp. 1–34, doi:10.5749/minnesota/9780816678976.003.0001, ISBN 978-0-8166-7897-6, S2CID 250398654, retrieved 2024-02-08
  26. ^ Shaviro, Steven (2014-10-01). The Universe of Things. University of Minnesota Press. doi:10.5749/minnesota/9780816689248.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-8166-8924-8.
  27. ^ Shaviro, Steven (2009). Without Criteria. The MIT Press. doi:10.7551/mitpress/7870.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-262-25516-5.
  28. ^ Whitehead, Alfred North; Griffin, David Ray (1985). Process and reality: an essay in cosmology. The Gifford lectures (Corr. ed.). New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-0-02-934570-2.
  29. ^ "Bibliography". After Finitude. 2008. doi:10.5040/9781350252059.0005. ISBN 978-1-350-25205-9.
  30. ^ "No. 2 (2013): Ontological Anarché: Beyond Materialism and Idealism | Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies".
  31. ^ "Open Philosophy Volume 2 Issue 1". De Gruyter. Retrieved 2022-01-06.
  32. ^ Fabio Gironi, "Science-Laden Theory" in Speculations 1 (2010), p. 21.

Note Thanapong Jantanam