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Friday, 12 September 2014

Giving Birth

This is a month of giving birth:
1. On the first day of the month (my birthday) I sent out my book BUG (Being Up for Grabs) to publisher. A birth-giving moment.
2. On the forth, we started the Journal, called Journal of Questions. It is a Jabèsian and Jarryian endeavor that intends to reflect in many languages about the gaps between thought and translation. It will be available soon.
3. On the 10th, day before yesterday, offspring Devrim A. B. was born. Her name means revolution in Turkish and is a roughly common name. She's very attentive and concentrated - especially on her own fingers that she learned to molest in her youth during her womb months. She was gestated together with BUG.
Hope the world enjoys.

My guess about essences

For years I've been toying with the idea that essences are somehow more related to positions and addresses (to places and connections) than to any ultimate core. It is perhaps a monadological take on essences: instances instead of substances. If essences are not substantial, they can be present even in Latour's MET (the mode of existence of metamorphosis, see this post from last March). A crisis, a tempest, or climate change are things that only make sense in connection to what they affect - essences are like Eleatic placeholders, they reveal what is linked. They are like the node in a graph. Essences then can be understood as something like an I.P. number that relates it to other landmarks; to know the essence of X is to know how to find X. To be sure, such a notion of essence doesn't prevent things to be substantial or to have a core or a substratum. It is not committed to a bundle theory of particulars even though it tends to favor such a view (as any monadology does, for monads tend to be mundane, and not transmundane).

Such notion of essence could be spelled out in Fregean terms: something like what Dummett thought about Sinne: to know the Sinn of something is to be able to determine its Bedeutung. However, even being monadological, I guess it would go better with Kripkean accounts of reference-fixing - or rather with Kaplanian ones for essences would be mainly de re, that is indexical. The origin of a table - that it is made of such and such material, to use Kripke's example in N&N - would not be part of its essence as much as that it is THIS (or rather dTHIS) table. What matters is the contingent a priori mechanism that fixes its reference. This is what establishes something's essence. We can say that we know a priori the instances because we know some contingent things a priori: we know what we are talking about. And essences, in Aristotle, are what determine what we are talking about.

It has to do also with the idea of what is contemporary in Whitehead's P&R metaphysics: an actual entity is actual only with respect to other entities in a given address in time. In this case as well, it is about indexicals. Essences are what things are, that is, they are where things are. To be sure, this idea is inspired by the translation of esse in languages like Portuguese as both ser and estar. The latter is about a transient state, typically a position of something that can be moved, that can become different by being placed somewhere else. It is the location dimension of being, that gets a special name. I guess essences, that tell us what is talked about, are also geographical. An essence is no much more than an url.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Anthropocide: the alternative to anthropocentrism and to anthropomorphism

I always thought Meillassoux and Brassier provided an alternative both to correlationism anthropocentrism and to the anthropomorphism that is frequent among metaphysicians of the subjectivity. (To be sure, I'm not sure anthropomorphism is necessarily present in those metaphysicians and often I think that Descola's animism - for example - is only badly described as anthropomorphism, but this is another story.) The alternative is to find a way for the absolute, and not the human capacities, to be the measure of everything. To go, so to speak, beyond the focus on us through what relates to us or through what resembles us.

Yesterday, while discussing the origins of the Modern idea of nature in my course on Descola, we talked about the enlightenment take on a disenchanted of nature. Descola glosses very little on elements for an archeology of nature in his chapter three: perspective in landscape, Aristotle and the (post-Montaigne) intellectual atmosphere before the 17th century scientific revolution play a role. There are, to be sure, other elements but somehow they lead to the disenchantment idea. Then I started thinking about what Brassier does in his Nihil Unbound, chapter 2 where he critiques attempts to reentrant nature (in Adorno and Horkheimer). Brassier is a clear defender of a disenchanted nature and I found myself praising the mosaic he assembles in the book: the Churchlands, Laurelle, Meillassoux and Freud. It is a cornucopia placed in the service of his extinction thesis - that can be understood as disenchanting the human. Anthopocide. That is, not only there are no spirits (subjectivities, agents, monads, entelechies, intentionality) in nature but also there is no cultural dimension that contrasts to it. Laruelle is an important element to invoke here - and this is where his position contrasts with Meillassoux's. Laruelle's notion of determination in the last instance makes thought no more than a point where there is a confluence of objects making themselves present. The Churchlands are relevant too: eliminate belief and desire and rather teach everyone to describe themselves in neurophysiological ways. The appeal to spirits (or believing and desiring agents, subjects, first-person perspectives) are just illusions to be dispelled. Naturalism: nothing but nature. Disenchantment has to be defended and taken one step further: there should be no realm contrasted with the spirit-less domain. Brassier's extinction thesis is a form of naturalism in Descola's sense. But it prevents a straightforward dilemma between anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism. Maybe the options are naturalism or anthropomorphism. Or, rather, naturalism or animism. But then we're quickly swimming in Descola's waters.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Etre est entente: propositions without predications

Whitehead’s criticism of the subject-predicate form of the proposition is also a critique of the event conceived as subjugation. There is always a superject. That is, events are not composed by one active and one passive element but rather by a plethora of active elements where one is picked up as a subject and all the others are present as the rest of the world that resists the subject. The copula is diplomatic and not a mandate: to be is not to command but rather to negotiate. The copula: être est entente. Perhaps to relate itself is to negotiate - there is a diplomacy between any two relata. A diplomacy occasionalism.

I've been thinking of the subject-superject in Portuguese where superject and subject contains the mot "jeito", the word for way. A proposition is a way: o sujeito ajeita, o superjeito desajeita. An event finds a way around a subject and its circumstance. "Grass is green" or "snow is white" express a meeting point between an expanding force - a centrifuge subject - and a resisting force. A proposition is the pressure of what makes reality on a virtuality - superject, the extensive continuum.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Some further remarks on the origin of anthropocentrism

There is a sense in which anthropocentrism goes hand in hand with patriarchy – or the domain of a man over goods and people - and with corelationism (the Corpernican Revolution or rather the Ptolomaic Counter-revolution). Descola suggests the former link in his chapter on the domestic and the wild (in Par déla Nature et Culture), and at least in two occasions. First, when he talks about the Roman domus and its concentric force separating out everything that is not in it (the central and the peripheral, as in the soul as a core and the body as its provinces, its extensions). Second, towards the end of the chapter, when he compares the Roman ways to the Greek and German ones. The Germanic, for example, wouldn’t quite entertain a dualism between the center and the periphery: the forests were always a space for hunting and hunting and collecting was integrated into agriculture. Anthropocentrism and patriarchy seems to result from the specifics of the Neolithic revolution that encompassed the middle east and the Mediterranean. In the Americas (and in Australia and the polynesia) the neolithic transition was different: no cattle herding - no domesticated animals - and no sharp distinction between the agricultural land and the agrinatural land (the space of the forest). In fact, in the Americas, plants were introduced amid existing ones and were made to co-exist with them.

Anthropocentrism has similarities also with the operation Kant made of keeping the grammatical structure of the proposition while making it revolve around a subject that forces substantiality into the subject. Substantiality becomes less of an independent other (like in a monadology or in a garden with many gardeners, like among the Achuar Descola studies) and becomes issued out of a central subject. Kant's centrality of the subject completes the Modern trajectory towards an exorcism of full-blooded non-human subjects. The transcendental subject is the legitimate centrally governing force of the domus around which everything else is organized. The subject is the transcendental source of necessity: nothing is imposed from outside and all accord is reached from within - from within a subject.

It is of course hard to do more than just point at these rough similarities, but they are thought provoking. It is not enough to suggest a historical link between these practices and ideas, but there is hope for some light on the vagaries of the origin of these otherwise strange sharp distinction between nature and culture.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Vacuous actuality and the structure of a proposition

Whitehead's monological rejection of vacuous actuality - the idea that something can exist actually without any subjective mediation - without any connection to anything else - has implications for his rejection of the thesis that subject-predicate form is a suitable structure for a proposition. The idea of vacuous actuality, he remarks, haunts realistic philosophy (P&R, 29 [43]). Its rejection is the basis of Ewing's formulation of idealism implying no epistemological idealism: the interconnectedness of all things means no dependence of the cognized object to the cognizing subject. Ewing suggests that Bradley and Joachim are not really correlationists - they could be metaphysicians of subjectivity. This is maybe why Whitehead claims that at the end of the day he is not too far away from Bradley (P&R, xiii): both reject vacuous actuality - and none are epistemological idealists.

The rejection of vacuous actuality is also the rejection of the Aristotelian primary substance - the inherent qualities to a subject that makes it capable to hold predicates. The haecceitas of a subject that subsists independently of any actual entity (of any sponsoring, of any com possibility). If there is no vacuous actuality, there is no unconnected noumenon to a subject, independent of any of its predications. Whitehead welcomes the holism of Leibniz (and of Bradley, but also the semantical counterpart put forward by Quine and his followers: no meaning independent of use, no distinction between language and theory). To fix something to be a subject for a predication - and enable a proposition to have the form of a subject coupled to a predicate - is to postulate that something is disconnected from the network of relations that provide the content of predications. To be sure, one can abstract something away of all changes, but this is a concerted effort undergone only by a subject. Whitehead claims that only in subjective forms the subject-predicate form expresses the content of a proposition.

Kant's note 24 to his Prolegomena: the structure of something fixed holding predication implies no substance, it is only an obligation imposed by the workings of predication. In my book (BUG, just finished), I claim that predication is possible because there are procedures of reference-fixing; that is, there are things that are contingently and yet knowable a priori. The operation of fixing something to receive the working out of a predication has to be done by a subject - it is only in the workings of a subjective form that a subject can be the guesthouse for passing predications. It is only then that anything can be deemed determinately individuated and sufficiently stable.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The social basis of anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism

I've been giving the final touches to Being Up for Grabs and giving my first classes this term. A course on a Leibnizian reading of Whitehead and another on Descola. This first week, talking about Leibniz, animism and anthropomorphism, we discussed how much of a feudal (and aristocratic) way of thinking is present in Leibniz. It is about areas of jurisdiction and government. In fact, ontological thinking is very often about archés - and governing powers. (Or about their absence.) The monadology of fragments I propose in the book is about reinventing authority on the flight - while things get decomposed and recomposed. We can then ask what would then be the thinking on authority that guided the anthropocentric turn - being it either a Copernican revolution or a Ptolomaic counter-revolution. It emerges a bit like the Operation Oedipus in Deleuze and Guattari: turning the rest of the world as equally under human authority - no more autonomous horses but horses for humans, representing humans, telling us something about other humans in human terms. Anthropocentrism is not about making the rest of the world human-like, it is putting them under human's authority. It is cleaning up the baroque: cleaning up the complex structures of authority to make it revolve around a sole centre, as if paving the way for a global world: a world as a single feud.