STS Study Group

Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Half Way: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Luciano Floridi’s The Philosophy of Information, and Bernard Stiegler’s Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus. These three thinkers demarcate approaches to STS, broadly conceived, and present novel ways of thinking about fundamental ontology, epistemology, in addition to arguing for the importance of seeing and confronting the ethical implications that follow from their respective theories. In all three thinkers we see the intertwinement of epistemology, ontology and ethics. For anyone not familiar, I’ve tried to provide a quick glance at these three theorists.

Barad is a theoretical physicist in the area of quantum mechanics. She is also adept in the traditions of post-structuralism, feminism, feminist philosophy of science, epistemology and ontology. Barad’s work builds off of Neils Bohr’s “philosophy-physics” and has implications for how we make sense of the concepts of agency, realism, identity, difference, meaning and materialism just to name a few. Her concept of “intra-action” as the creation of a coherence of forces that give rise to matter and meaning has been influential for a number of theorists. She is also explicitly concerned with the place of ethics in science and philosophy and she argues that ethical life cannot be separated from them.

Floridi is rooted in the analytic philosophies of logics, maths and formal epistemologies. He works primarily from within the computational/information theoretic approaches. Arguably, according to Floridi, we’re experiencing a paradigm shift in philosophy and the sciences, wherein the formal application of the concept of information is revolutionizing not only our epistemic landscape but also the ontological structure of reality, i.e. we are having to reconceptualize not only matter and energy but also fundamental ontological categories like subject and object. He wants to emphasize the importance of philosophy as conceptual generation, and to formalize a system that tracks epistemologically across different registers or shifting granulations of analysis based on the ideas of levels of abstraction and gradients of abstraction.

Stiegler is rooted in the continental traditions of Heideggerian phenomenology and Derridean deconstruction. Through the lenses of french theorists Bertrand Gille, Gilbert Simondon and Andre Leori-Gourhan, all important thinkers in the philosophy of technology, Stiegler is interested in understanding the development of technics (tools and techniques) and in situating technics at the origin of a temporal structure of retention and protention specific to the genesis of the human. In other words, memory and externalized devices that transcend the life of the designer are the repositories that give shape to a future that is not yet and form the background conditions of inhabitants who in their turn anticipate and engineer a projected future.