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Jeff Kochan

Published On


Page Range

pp. 111-150

Print Length

39 pages

Chapter Three - Finitude, Humility, and the Bloor-Latour Debate

  • Jeff Kochan (author)
Chapter Three focuses on the high-profile debate between SSK practitioner, David Bloor, and STS scholar, Bruno Latour. At the base of their dispute is the Kantian thing-in-itself, a thing to which we can attribute independent existence, but about whose independent qualities we can know nothing. A version of this concept is presupposed by minimal realism, and also by SSK. Latour attacks the concept as incoherent, and so rejects SSK as an unfit method for STS scholars. Kochan begins with Rae Langton’s argument that Kant’s concept of the thing-in-itself follows from his recognition of the finitude of human knowledge. This recognition manifests itself in the ‘humility’ we feel before the insuperability of nature. He then turns to the Bloor-Latour debate. In Latour’s view, Bloor’s endorsement of the thing-in-itself reflects his allegedly uncritical adoption of the Kantian subject-object distinction. Latour rejects both this distinction and the thing-in-itself. Like Rouse, Latour exploits weaknesses in SSK’s treatment of the orthodox subject-object distinction. And, as with Rouse, Kochan argues that SSK, once combined with Heidegger, can successfully counter Latour’s criticism. Indeed, Heidegger deconstructs the Kantian subject-object distinction, reformulating the thing-in-itself in a way commensurate with his own model of the subject. Crucially, the thing-in-itself correlates with the ‘affectivity’ of the subject. We know it exists because it affects us, causing us, for example, to feel humility or anxiety. Heidegger’s account preserves finitude and humility, but rejects Kant’s notion of transcendence. It also preserves minimal realism. The chapter concludes with a brief survey of clinical studies of anxiety, which seem to empirically support a belief in the thing-in-itself, as reformulated here.


Jeff Kochan