Joost De Raeymaecker is an Antwerp-based architect, philosopher, and PhD candidate at the Erasmus School of Philosophy (EUR). His research focusses on the Principle of Sufficient Reason and its transition from critique to care in American pragmatism and French empiricism. In addition, he teaches in the LDE minor ‘Modes of Existence: Architecture and Philosophy (MAP)’.
On Principle of Sufficient Reason, connections, amalgamations and hybridity
SMcD: What is the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and how does it relate to transdisciplinarity?
JDR: The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) was coined by Leibniz and states that nothing is without reason. Traditionally this has been understood to mean there must be a ground for every fact; a house is built in virtue of a set of drawings, for instance. The problem with this is that either these grounds are there and existence is grounded in thought by human thinking, or they are not there at all, and anything goes. In other words: either reason rules the world or all is chaos. I propose a different interpretation of the PSR that focusses less on the rigid logic of ‘ground’ and ‘fact’, and more on the process or event from which they result. For me, reason and ground never coincide; there is a correspondence between the drawings of the house and the built house, but they are never identical. Transdisciplinarity is an interesting concept for me because it fabricates the same type of connections; it looks for amalgamations and hybridity beyond mere identity.
On teaching, speculation, openness to perspectives of others
SMcD: How does this appear in your teachings?
JDR: On the one hand, I teach about it. At ESPhil, there is a strong focus on social engagement and politics, so we look at theory as much as we do at practices. On the other hand, it is also in the way I teach, which is provoked by whom I teach. We offer a bachelor’s program for students who want to study philosophy besides their main studies. This means I face large groups of students with a wide variety of different backgrounds. Some study economics, others medicine, psychology, architecture, etc. What they have in common is an interest in philosophy and a habit of thinking that questions demand correct answers. This means they have another thing in common: cold feet when it comes to speculating about what a concept means and what else it could also mean. Teaching, for that matter, is about getting people to read, think and talk together about questions or problems. The fact that students have different backgrounds is not a problem but rather a big plus. It gives them a specific perspective on things; I merely try to get them to share this and relate this to the perspectives of others. I think of it as something very intimate. Thinking together in a group is like being naked, without taking your clothes off.
On disciplinarity and transdisciplinarity
SMcD: So transdisciplinarity requires disciplines first?
JDR: I think discipline offers cohesion, but its truth is habitual. This movement yields disciplines. So, in that sense, I think that what we call transdisciplinarity while thinking of existing disciplines actually comes first. Every field is impure; every tradition is queer. We are all pirates.
On piracy, care, and violence
SMcD: It’s interesting you mention both discipline and piracy in one go. How does this relate to care, which is one of the major topics in your research and often focusses more on comfort and support?
JDR: Terms like piracy and hacking have a destructive ring to them, while comfort and support sound more constructive. However, all of these terms have the potential to express something of the transdisciplinary movement. Getting out of your comfort zone can be an act of piracy —queer behaviour you may want to foster and nurture. Whatever you opt for, the challenge is to keep doors and windows open, to keep reason from becoming Reason, to keep your method or formula from blinding you from other possibilities. As such, care takes the form of an art of consequences, as Isabelle Stengers calls it (Isabelle Stengers, ‘William James: An ethics of thought?’. In: Radical Philosophy. Nr. 157 Sep/Oct 2009), that seeks not to hinder becomings by, for instance, grounding them. In that sense, an act of piracy can be incredibly caring, while wielding words like care or queer can be violent.
On interruption, vulnerability, groundlessness and failure
SMcD: What does it mean to fail? I don’t mean academically, but in terms of the risks you take when you dare to get out of your comfort zone.
JDR: When you venture out and away from solid grounds, from this logic of ground and fact, from what you think you know, you encounter a kind of groundlessness that can be quite scary. And there is definitely some kind of reflex to immediately search for grounds in order to validate what you are doing, or to somehow control this groundlessness —thinking ‘there is strength in vulnerability’, for instance. What interests me, both in terms of my research and the responses of myself and my students, are the ways in which to navigate this groundlessness without either attempting to control it or to dismiss it. To try and find our ways, to construct and to confabulate our ways; to try and stay afloat. Take, for instance, the way students interrupt during class. I’m not against raising your hand and waiting for me to give you the word if you want to say something, but I do appreciate it when students manage to interrupt me or their fellow students at the right moment. What is interrupted or intruded is the authority of the speaker; what is nurtured, if you prefer the more constructive words, is the collective conversation. So, the ‘right’ moment is not something determined by me or by whoever interrupts, but by the conversation itself which no one owns. I suspect that in my vocabulary, ‘failure’ takes the form of pragmatism and empiricism, of attempts and tries.