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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Monadological contingentism

Williamson defines contingentism as the opposite of necessitism and both as follows:

Call the proposition that is necessary what there is necessitism and its negation contingentism. In a slightly less compressed form, necessitism says that necessarily everything is necessarily something; still more long-windedly, it is necessary that everything is such that it is necessary that something is identical with it. (Modal Logic as Metaphysics, 13 - Oxford UP).

In still other words, necessitism takes existence as necessary while contingentism has that what exists is contingent on something and could be otherwise. Following contingentism, what exists could be dependent on whatever else exists. This is the sort of contingentism a monadological approach (which I would find in Leibniz but also on Tarde, Whitehead, Latour and maybe others) would embrace. In fact, contingentism seems to follow from Leibniz' law - things are what they are necessarily but they don't exist necessarily (the identity of indiscernibles). For Leibniz, Adam has to be a sinner, but nothing forced God create him - this is Leibniz's line against Arnault: Adam is the product of a choice God made, Adam was chosen in virtue of all the other items in the best possible world and given all that, Adam has to be a sinner but he doesn't have to exist. He existed because of a (wisest possible) choice made by God. Spinoza would have that anything exists necessarily, but Leibniz wouldn't. As for Whitehead, contingentism is spoused to no substantiality and yet an actual entity is necessarily the way it is - if it ceases being the way it is, it becomes somthing else. The real essence of an actual entity is understood in terms of all the other actual entities around it, there is nothing in the entity beyond this solidarity and therefore nothing that would make it subsist (qua entity) outside this society of entities. Williamson takes contingentism to claim that ontology - what exists - is contingent. It is through some metaphysical necessity - that what exists is the way it is - that monadologies make sure ontology is contingent.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Fragments of an ongoing dialogue between Whitehead and Kant

Echoes of the dialogue between Whitehead and Kant that goes on often in my mind:

...
Alfred: I actually would like to restate something I said before, and correct what I now think was too much of a concession from my part. I previously said I would start out endorsing your first Critique and then proceed speculatively thereafter. I now think the speculative flight I like to take would be taking off too late if the Critique in its entirety is accepted - and the flight won't go high enough. What I do like in the Critique is that it establishes that experience brings in the concrete (extension and contemporaneity) - it adds movement to the world. Experience is what requires space and time. There is a constitution of space and time - what I call concrescence - for experience. Plus, it also brings in substantiality which cannot be placed by in a transcendental sphere, in a sphere that makes experience possible. Substances are there for experience and in fact I would say that they are required for one type of experience - the one involving propositional feelings...

Immanuel: I can see you still want to find in the Critique - maybe not in all of it as you are now saying - the taking off ground for a general speculative notion of experience that would have a much greater extension than what I envisaged. You are still ready to understand experience beyond the realm of what you experience - that is, you're ready to say there is experience (or events, or whatever) beyond the pale of the phenomenon. Or are you not?

Alfred: I guess I have no reason not to do it. And I have a diagnosis of why you feel entitled to stop in the pale you have drawn. Actually, this is the bit I cannot swallow in the Critique: the distinction between the empirical and the transcendental. The transcendental subject is placed outside the realm of experience - even if empirical subjects are experienceable. I do speak of a bifurcation, and in fact against it. But it is not primarily the one between what is experienced (ultimately by a transcendental subject) and what transcends that experience, but rather the bifurcation that puts in one side what is available in experience - the phenomenon - and what constitutes the (transcendental) subject capable of having experience. It is the bifurcation between the phenomenon and the transcendental that forces you towards placing the noumena beyond the pale. For one thing, the substantiality of the transcendental subject - and of any transcendental item - cannot be understood as being a requirement of experience, it is something that makes experience possible and yet removed from its scope. I see this as endorsing the choice Descartes has made when he created the bifurcation of what is available to the thinking subject and what takes place in an entirely different realm, that of the res extensa. He was hostage to the idea that ultimately reality cannot be entirely made of what the cogito is made of, but of substances and their qualities. In your case, you're still having substances and their qualities as removed from experience, not in the noumena but in the transcendental realm that you want to place outside the scope of experience.

Immanuel: Well, in my experience I make judgments that I can state and I can investigate (transcendentally) how they are possible - what has to be in place for empirical judgments to be operative. Such investigation looks like some kind of metaphysics, it is certainly not empirical for they determine the conditions for experience to happen. I can look towards the transcendental by examining experience not in its products, but in its underpinnings. That is, I can ask what has to be present in the subject for experience happen, who is the subject that is capable of experience (as I know it, in terms of making empirical judgments). What else could I possibly do to engage in this transcendental investigation?

Alfred: I actually agree that part of the transcendental investigation as an investigation of what experience requires has to be done through looking at experience at work (and not taking in its products). But the bifurcation comes in when you establish an ontology for this transcendental realm, an ontology with a transcendental subject and its properties. How can this knowledge of substance be done if not in an Aristotelian manner? That is, you take one type of actual entity - pretty much humans - and assume they are relevantly similar to each other as far as taking in experience and setting up the conditions for experience to happen are concerned. Then you go on and say: these are the subjects of experience and they are enduring substances with a number of properties (a priori forms and categories etc.) This is where you go astray because you assume the transcendental to be modeled on a metaphysics of substances and qualities, and not in what is experienced.

Immanuel: Hold on, hold on. I've heard many times that I made experience hostage to human cognitive equipment and therefore made phenomena anthropocentric. And I've protested many times as well because transcendental philosophy is not anthropology - it is neither empirical nor rational anthropology. It is about what makes empirical judgments possible. It is an entirely different endeavor for it is about a transcendental subject, not about the human...

Alfred: I think you do make your transcendental subject all too human (and maybe, in another sense, too different from concrete empirical subjects). But I'm not pressing this point now. I actually would say it doesn't matter who the transcendental subject is, what matters is that it is a substance and her properties can be disclosed. It is also that is on the side of the bifurcation where experience cannot reach. My worry is that there is not enough concreteness in the transcendental subject - whatever binds us, me and all the other empirical subjects of experience, is bound to be arbitrarily drawn. Even if I take for granted that we have the capacity to make empirical judgments in common, I cannot dismiss the possibility that other features of the experience of some of us would be terribly relevant. I'm sometimes more like animals than like my fellow empirical subjects...

Immanuel: One has to take the maximum common denominator, otherwise one ends up going beyond what experience can tell...

Alfred: I've got to do it, and, mind you, you've got to do it too. You're talking about the experience of all empirical subjects. You say you're talking about empirical subjects as such - the common denominator. But what determines what is the relevant common denominator? And why do you stop short of all actual entities? There is this tree-for-us, which is not the tree-in-itself, granted, but why this "us" has to have a limit in its extension that makes it smaller than the class of all actual entities?

Immanuel: You know why, because there is some structure to experience, something that has to do with reporting empirical judgments. The transcendental realm is made by empirical reporters. This is how I can recognize experience. You say reporters have an unwarranted substantiality. You could be right about this bifurcation I inherited, maybe it is not the best way to go about picturing the transcendental alongside with the phenomena. But still I don't see how you can miss the difference between making an empirical judgment and not being a reporter at all. I think this is really all I need: there is a structure to any empirical report capable to make judgments. And experience cannot disclose this structure. To be sure, there could be experience of a different sort altogether, as I guess you believe. But they are beyond the pale - that is, I guess we both agree they are not phenomena, but I think they are not transcendental, they simply transcend our possible experience.

Alfred: On my book, as you know, without the bifurcation the transcendental and the empirical have to be merged together and a different picture emerges because no experience is the sole parameter. The pale is pushed farther, you see. Anyways, let me ask you something. When you talk about empirical reporting and what can be recognized as such, I wonder, who the empirical reporter reports to?

...

Quitting the A-ism blues?

In June 2013 I wrote a post in this blog called A-ism blues. There, I tell all my despair in the classroom trying to defend any of the versions of A-ist realism that Kit Fine mentions in his "Tense and reality" (in: Modality and Tense, Oxford UP 2005). Fine presents a great analysis of reality and how it could be conceived as not neutral, not absolute and not coherent. I think it is a good way to view the problems, especially when related to possible worlds or first and third persons. But it is, as far as time is concerned, too much of a B-ist way. That is, a presentist view of time is a view where time doesn't passes, a perspectivist view is one where there is no process of changing between different perspectives (but only successive tense perspectives) and a fragmentalist view is a perspectivist view which conceives additionally an über-reality where there is neither time nor tense. These three alternatives make for an important cartography on the way reality is conceived and I like the fragmentalist alternative, as my Cubist Object made clear. But none of them seem to be a good A-ist analysis of time. In 2003 the blues was: could there be a genuinely realist A-ism?

This week I'm back in the same discussion in my metaphysics class. I'm now presenting things more explicitly in terms of events: A-ism is committed to full-blooded events. The issue then becomes: can one make justice to events and be realist about time? McTaggard's A-ism despaired of realism. But how did he do that? Assuming the A-series is something projected onto the B-series, something like an appearance on a real background, then it is brought in by some projecting device. Something that introduces the A-series (that is, events) in an otherwise a-temporal reality. But what could that be? The Kantian solution has that time (and presumably the A-series) is an a priori form of sensitivity for experience has to have a tense. McTaggart ascribes to Hegel the idea that while time is unreal, there are features in reality that enable time to appear (that is, for someone to project it on what is real). The idea, that he tentatively accepts, is that reality is ready for something that exploits its possibilities concerning tense. It looks as if agents can introduce the A-series in an otherwise timeless reality.

A hint for a possible A-ist realism can be found in Whitehead's notion of concrescence. While anti-realism would have that we are the ones to project time into reality, process philosophy would have that any agent would do have to do it. In other words, A-ism would be realist if it presents itself firmly and from the beginning as an ontology of events - and Whitehead's take seems suitable. Any actual entity is involved in events and therefore has a present (and a past and a future). Actual entities introduce indexicality (i.e. actuality) in the world and by doing that they produce the concrete (they concresce). The A-series is brought in by all actual entities and not just the ones capable of having conscious propositional feelings (intellectual feelings, in the terminology of Process and Reality). The main idea is that the ontology of events is an ontology of experience - and therefore there is an important truth in A-ist anti-realism: it is experience itself that makes justice to events. But if experience is widespread, then there are events preceding and succeeding each other and therefore there is contemporaneity. Time concresces as the contemporary is introduced by actual entities always in the middle of events.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Galaxy theory sees the light of the day

Finally, our first paper on galaxies is out. We're somehow far from it. I'm now interested in studying small and large galaxies: the ones with just one possible world, for instance, and the one with all but one possible world. What would be the relation between the two associated logics?

Gaia, Chippel and the double articulation

Elizabeth Povinelli invokes the issue of what makes Chippel, a rock formation at Karrabing, a form of life. It seems like in our naturalist constitution where Nature and Humanity are the guiding entities (very different from each other), life has a special status of something that is natural but with deserving some special normative attention ("it is really guided by a mechanism, even though it it is a complex one..."). The Karrabing community, however, involves Chippel - she cannot be counted out by a mining company. Povinelli argues that we should get out of what she calls the carbon imaginary that drives a line between the geotic and the biotic. Deleuze and Guattari's third plateau (The geology of morals) describes the interesting double articulation where at the same time substances make form (through sedimentation) and form makes substances (through orogenesis, folding). They are at the same time a double articulation of the molecular and the molar and a description of what makes up the floor. Floor is something common to whatever is sublunar: a floor is made by our lives on it (sedimentation) and it produces itself new things (through folding it produces strata but also roots, sprouting seeds etc). The floor is like a skin (pele and floor have apparently similar etymologies) but it is not the limit of an organism (or a planet) for the involving environment, as Deleuze and Guattari stress, is properly part of what is inside for they are fully dependent on what is at the other side of the membrane (as it is in the other way round, i.e. what is inside relies on what is outside the membrane). This is the case for living organisms but also for the Earth's atmosphere (as Lovelock has shown). The issue of whether Gaia is geotic and biotic - and therefore whether Chippel is geotic or biotic - gets metaphyisically dissolved. They are both creatures of the floor.

This is what I explored under the name of speculative dermatology. Dermatological structures should be looked at as the basis for a future animism: wherever there is skin, there is some form of animation even though it can take different forms and very different speeds. This is why professor Challenger - in Deleuze and Guattari's piece - is somehow an alter-ego of Geoffoy St-Hilaire: recapitulation is at the order of the day for skin structures are common animated structures present in the planet as a whole as much as in the interaction between the genetic and the environmental in each organism. Skin is a general scheme for animation - maybe better than life and encompassing the strictures of what is properly human. The animism to come will be dermatological.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Silvia Federici against accelerationism

In the opening lines of her "Caliban and the Witch" (Autonomedia, 2004) Federici writes: "Capitalism was the response of the feudal lords, the patrician merchants, the bishops and popes, to a centuries-long social conflict that, in the end, shook their power, and truly gave 'all the world a big jolt'. Capitalism was the counter-revolution that destroyed the possibilities that had emerged from the anti-feudal struggle - possibilities which, if realized, might have spared us of the immense destruction of lives and the natural environment that has marked he advance of capitalist relations worldwide." She argues that capitalism was a reactionary development that didn't represent any progress and didn't perform any revolution - the emergence of the bourgeois power was accepted by the established elites in order to keep some of their privileges going. Now, this remark challenges the very basis of accelerationism - which is, I take, the claim that capitalism was a move in the revolutionary direction (and therefore capitalism has something to teach about revolutions). In fact, Marx, Engels and other accelerationists have assumed that the flow of capital was progressive and therefore the direction to be preferred is one of flows that move faster. But Federici would have that the elimination of the common property of the land and other forces of production cannot be anything but regressive - capitalism cut people off their human and non-human environment producing poor proletarians out of peasants who where protected by their networks of family and land and therefore farther from poverty. Proletarization cannot be a revolution - it is a shake, but not all shake is a progressive move. It is not about defending the feudal system but rather to indicate how change was defective from the point of view of the peasants who struggled against it and who had some access to means of wealth - and whose lives were not always conceived around work.

To be sure, accelerationists can prefer to call attention to events like the French Revolution against the ancient régime. But this would do only if they consider only the overall end result of the process that indeed was packed with progressive and reactionary steps. Federici points rather towards the witch-hunt that took place in its peak some 150 years before. The destruction of witches, she argues, was a necessary condition for proletarization and an important elements to eliminate the seeds of dissent. In that context, a witchless society was a society of poverty. Federici helps to give insight to a non-accelerationist left: capitalism was just a bad reaction to the peasants' growing power.

That doesn't mean that it didn't open up other alternative routes for resistance or revolution, but it does mean that it cannot itself be a teacher of transgression. Maybe the accelerationist strategy can be seen as an appeal to the idea that we should get rid of all existing social ties in order to build new, so proletarization was a necessary evil. But such line has a blindspot: the ground zero cannot be reached, the proletarized individual is also a (social) product of power.