Rhetorical Humanism vs. Object-Oriented Ontology: The Ethics of Archimedean Points and Levers


Archimedes of Syracuse has long provided a touchstone for considering how we make and acquire knowledge. Since the early Roman chroniclers of Archimedes’ life, and especially intensively since Descartes, scholars have described, sought, or derided the Archimedean point, defining and redefining its epistemic role. “Knowledge,” at least within modernity, is rhetorically tied to the figure of the Archimedean point, a place somewhere outside a regular and constrained world of experience. If this figure still leads to useful ways of thinking about knowing, we are left with the question of how different modes of making knowledge approach their “Archimedean” points. The question is especially important today as a renewed ontological enthusiasm sweeps through humanities disciplines that have grown wary, perhaps rightly, of epistemological skepticism. I distinguish here between epistemic approaches that focus on the firm ground of the Archimedean point, offering certitude à la Descartes, and approaches more oriented, like Archimedes himself, toward assemblages where “knower,” point, and lever are mutually implied.

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