Jaspers, Latour — and Buber, too

I love Jaspers, but I have to classify him with Rorty as another pre-material turn thinker who manages to say amazing things despite an uncannily precise neglect of the role nonhuman actors play in generating truth, and in Jaspers’s case, scientific truths.

His distinction between scientific modes of truth and original truths of being, and the application of a universal knowledge versus individual intuition schema to draw the line between the two conceals the all-important continuity between the two and the controversy around where that fuzzy gray line between established fact and questionable opinion ought to be drawn. It is too bad that Jaspers relied so heavily on scientific understanding as a foil, because he seems to have a lot to say about the nature of communication between individuals interacting in an interpersonal/interhuman — as opposed to social — mode of communication.

And now that I think about it from this angle, I view science as a social-material milieu — a setting where individuals and instruments and materials all socially interact, not as individuals, primarily but as representatives of roles. In other words, the social as Latour conceives it overlaps considerably with the social as Buber conceives it. In social interactions both human and nonhuman and actors play socially-defined roles and represent some ideal type in their acting.

And perhaps interpersonal interactions are possible with nonhuman actors… for instance when an artist works sculpts one particular piece of wood, with its own shape and grain. I think it is this intuition that makes me prefer interpersonal to interhuman… Let’s not limit personhood to humans.

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