– Edmund Zagorin: Harman’s Latour: An Epiphany of the Obvious?

In a philosophical world of proliferating neologisms and the increasingly tangled concepts that they append to, there is certainly something to be said for simplicity. Ever since Occam’s Razor (the principle that “entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily”) was incorporated as a principle of rigorous scientific thought, Western thinkers have refreshingly (albeit somewhat irregularly) attempted the occasional theoretical closet-cleanings designed to simplify both the substance and communicability of their ideas. In the era after the medium and the message have long been co-habitants and more, Graham Harman’s recent treatise on the metaphysics of Bruno Latour represents exactly such a closet-cleaning, with a monumental scope and ambition. Harman, as a Heideggerian philosopher, a contemporary intellectual category defined by the man who once famously quipped that “making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy”i, must be well-aware of the allure of simplicity for his readership, who maybe simply overtaxed by complex jargon and the billowing frills of superfluous conceptual verbiage. And especially where hard sciences (or ‘natural philosophies’) are concerned, this allure of simplicity is not without good reason. Early in the twentieth century, the philosopher of science Karl Popper argued that pragmatic and aesthetic concerns aside, Occam’s Razor could be justified theoretically by the criteria of falsifiability, arguing that since more simple theories inevitably apply to more cases than complex ones, that they are therefore falsifiable to a greater degree, and therefore capable of greater empirical truth. In other words, to be simpler, for any theory, is to be truer.

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