This short book can be seen as, and in fact in many ways is, my personal introduction to the philosophy called speculative realism. This new philosophy has only been defined and developed during the course of the last decade by a handful of pioneering thinkers. As I see it, speculative realism is creating a context for the kind of inquiry that I am advocating for in this book.
When we talk about objective reality, what we commonly mean is that which is real even if we are not around. Objective reality—or the real world—is a reality independent of us. That means if something is objectively real I will see it the same way that everyone else does. If two or more people see things differently, they can’t all be seeing what is objectively real. To get to what is truly real we would have to strip away any errors in perception or biases that any one of us might be holding.
And that is the way we tend to think about reality. Reality, we imagine, is what is left when we are not adding anything extra to the picture. To get from our interpreted picture of reality to an accurate picture of reality all we need to do is strip away the interpretation and move closer and closer to the real world. We discover what is real by stripping away what is false. Reality is out there, and to see it clearly all we have to do is get out of the way. If we think about it for a moment, this implies a belief that in order to get to what is real we have to strip ourselves out of the picture, and that seems to place us outside of reality.
The question that must be asked is, Where does philosophy need to go from here? What kind of philosophy can put us back inside of reality? One insight of the speculative realists is that the philosophies of the twentieth century, while doing important work in pointing out the limits of human knowledge, are still fundamentally philosophies of human reality. When philosophy is exclusively concerned with what human beings know about reality, we privilege the human perspective above all other possible perspectives. Any such philosophy inherently separates the human experience from everything else. According to speculative realism, we need an understanding of reality that takes us beyond a merely human perspective of reality.
The postmodern philosophies of the twentieth century embraced all human perspectives as valid and created tremendous opportunity for many, many people. The validation of all human perspectives brought an unprecedented expanse of human rights and individual freedom. These philosophies were not, however, designed to take us beyond human perspectives. Regardless of their expansiveness they still privileged the human experience, and that favoring cannot help but hold an inherent blindness that we must move beyond.
Philosophically, a realist is someone who believes that there is a reality that exists independent of our human experience of it. Speculative realists are realists in this sense. At the same time they also recognize the inadequacies and limitations of our things-in-space minds to fully comprehend reality, especially as we move into a nonhuman-centered understanding of reality. For this reason they promote a profoundly speculative attitude in philosophy.
We have already established that reality is not bound by our current human experience. Yet our human experience is the only access point we have into reality. We must find a way to be unimaginably free and flexible with our conceptions of reality because wild speculation is the only philosophical attitude that stands a chance to envision a reality that lies beyond our experience of it. Speculative realism is an umbrella category that houses a group of wildly imaginative philosophers who have taken on the bold task of dehumanizing our perspective of reality.
What will we become when we become capable of embracing and responding from a view that extends beyond human perspectives?