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Jocelyn Benoist (2021-vii-x) – realidade (Wirklichkeit)

domingo 4 de fevereiro de 2024, por Cardoso de Castro


A grande conquista do século XX foi a descoberta da incrível riqueza e variedade do domínio simbólico, da quantidade de signos e códigos que articulam a nossa relação com a realidade. Talvez um dos aspectos negativos deste enorme avanço seja a impressão de que todos esses sinais e códigos apenas nos separam da realidade, formando uma espécie de ecrã entre ela e nós próprios. Como se a realidade estivesse escondida por detrás do significado e, consequentemente — uma vez que o significado se revela muito complexo —, infinitamente longe de nós.

Talvez então o realismo deva ser entendido como a afirmação de que existe realmente algo para além do véu do significado. Mas o que é que "realmente" significa aqui? É difícil perceber o que poderia significar para além de assinalar uma espécie de "transcendência": há realmente algo que não pode ser reduzido a um ídolo de significado, há algo que existe para além do significado.

É muito tentador traduzir esta ideia da transcendência da realidade ao sentido numa espécie de falta de sentido essencial e metafísico. Como se a realidade precisasse de ser sem sentido para estar verdadeiramente para além do sentido.

Esta caracterização, porém, é equívoca. Pode significar que a realidade é uma categoria à qual não faz sentido aplicar o conceito de significado; a realidade é apenas o que é — essa é a sua definição — e, portanto, não tem significado em si mesma. No entanto, num entendimento substancial de "ausência de sentido", não faz sentido chamar à realidade "sem sentido". Porque, nesse entendimento, chamar a algo "sem sentido" pressupõe a possibilidade de ser "significativo", caso em que a noção de sentido se aplica, afinal, à realidade.


To what kind of worry should a statement of realism be a response? Probably, in the first place, a sense of having lost contact with the world.

The great accomplishment of the twentieth century was the discovery of the incredible richness and variety of the symbolic realm, of how many signs and codes articulate our relation to reality. Perhaps a downside of this huge step forward is the impression that all those signs and their codes merely separate us from reality by forming a kind of screen between it and ourselves. As though reality were concealed behind meaning and consequently—since meaning proves to be very complex—infinitely far from us.

Perhaps then realism should be understood as the affirmation that there really is something beyond the veil of meaning. What, however, should ‘really’ mean here? It is hard to make sense of what it could mean apart from signalling a kind of ‘transcendence’: there really is something that cannot be reduced to an idol of meaning, there is something that exists beyond meaning.

It is very tempting to translate this idea   of the transcendence of reality to meaning into some kind of essential, metaphysical meaninglessness. As if reality needed to be meaningless in order to be truly beyond meaning.

This characterization, however, is equivocal. It can mean that reality is a category to which it makes no sense to apply the concept of meaning; reality is just what it is—that is its definition  —and thus does not   have meaning itself. However, on a substantial understanding of ‘meaninglessness,’ it does not make sense to call reality ‘meaningless.’ For on that understanding, to call something ‘meaningless’ presupposes the possibility of its being ‘meaningful,’ in which case the notion of meaning applies to reality after all.

One powerful trend in contemporary philosophy has understood the meaninglessness of reality in the second sense, that is, not as a categorical difference but as something more substantial; as if meaninglessness were a positive   property of reality. [1] Jean-Paul Sartre  , for example, having avoided the pitfall of conceiving reality as an ‘obstacle’—which is still a way of interpreting it from a perspective which grants it some definite ‘meaning’—insists on reality’s indifference to meaning, as though it were a kind of stupidity or, put differently, an essential, and apparently agonizing meaninglessness. Reality, however, is not ‘stupid’: it just is what it is. Why should we feel a lack of meaning here? Is this not a way of once more mistakenly expecting something reality cannot give, not because of any kind of positive metaphysical impossibility, but simply because it is a category mistake to think that reality could possess meaning?

It seems, however, that a large swathe of contemporary philosophy is convinced of having lost contact with reality to such an extent that it feels the need to discover some kind of break in meaning, in order that it might recover the feeling of making contact with it again. An interesting example of this attitude can be found in the Italian philosopher Maurizio Ferraris’s conversion to realism a few years ago, which he describes in his book The External World. [2] Ferraris explains cum grano salis that he was, so to speak, struck by a reality beyond every construction or representation when he experienced an earthquake in his hotel room whilst staying in Mexico City. Of course, the anecdote speaks for itself precisely because that [ix] particular instance of reality may well be beyond the reach of our familiar speech. The earthquake questions that very ‘grounding soil’ of evidence that Edmund Husserl   highlighted as an essential basis for meaning. From that point of view, the image of the earthquake is powerful.

Now, it is necessary to ask how it comes to pass that a philosopher needs anything like an earthquake in order to get real. Reality is everywhere, not just in brutal breaks in or from meaning—not only in what we cannot make sense of. Why should reality necessarily take on the form of a catastrophe? This kind of view can correctly be described as a subtle form of negative anthropomorphism.

In fact, I do not think Ferraris himself endorses such a ‘catastrophic view.’ He believes, like everyone else, that the rooms we are all familiar with are just as real as an earthquake. What is interesting, however, is that he feels compelled to use that kind of example in order to make his point about the ‘non-cancellability’ (in-emendabilità) of reality. Reality is, in some sense, ‘stronger’ than meaning—and at any rate independent of it. In this kind of argument we always find the same basic idea of reality’s ‘transcendence,’ as if what primarily characterizes reality in its irreducibility is that it is beyond the sphere of meaning.

Now, from time to time making sense of reality presents a difficult challenge. That this is possible is surely an essential part of what we call ‘reality.’ It is an aspect of the concept of reality. But it would be a mistake to think that it forms the core of the concept— that it is, so to speak, reality’s trademark.

This is firstly because, as we have mentioned, ‘failing to correspond to human meaning’ is a characterization of reality that remains within meaning and so, to some extent, makes the concept of reality dependent on meaning—at least in a negative way. Secondly, it seems important that when circumstances are favourable, meaning is able to capture reality—just as it is true that we can find no meaning for it when circumstances are unfavourable. Of course, the simple fact that we can succeed or fail in meaning something is [x] already proof that meaning something occurs on solid ground. Both success and failure are only possible within reality.

Through this remark we have already switched from a point of view according to which reality is, or fails to be, in front of what we mean, to a point of view according to which it is, so to speak, all around it—its very element. I will return to this point at the end. However, let us first explore in greater depth the fact that if we succeed in meaning something, then—when what we mean is real— our meaning adequately captures the thing in its reality. Yet depending on the perspective we adopt, this assertion may or may not turn out to be tautological.

According to one perspective it is tautological, since—on a fairly central use of the word ‘meaning’—nothing need be added to meaning in order for it to reach reality: this is just what meaning does. From a different perspective, saying that meaning—when successful— captures reality as such, is not to have said nothing. It is to insist on the fact that the ‘the thing itself’ is met within meaning. This presupposes that such a thing can be thought of as ‘being itself.’ Indeed, this is what we call its ‘reality.’

Ver online : Jocelyn Benoist

BENOIST, Jocelyn. Toward a contextual realism. Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2021

[1One can find traces of this view at the core of ‘speculative realism’ as it has been framed by Meillassoux (2010).

[2Ferraris 2001.