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Monday, 26 January 2015

Perception, co-existence and transcendental empiricism

Co-existence (and genuinely meeting something) has to do with experience: the impact of what we meet can only be accesses in a posteriori manner. If to be exist is to co-exist, to exist is to be in the plan of experience (to exist is like, as I said in one of my posts yesterday, being in a crowd). This plan of experience is where something encounters something else and whatever is encountered is a pole in the subject-superject structure of a proposition, according to Whitehead, and therefore an actual entity. Whitehead takes perception to be the metaphysically cement of the world - it should replace substance. As a consequence, as he puts it, the genetic story about an actual entity precedes the morphological story - actual entities are detected by perception and then located in the organization of space. The genetic story - where prehensions and their capacity to bring in novelty takes place - is where experience takes place; it is a story of perceptions of all kinds and what acts as their object. Experience precedes placing in space, it is the condition for an actual entity to take place as nothing can exist while being indifferent to all perceptions (there is no vacuous actuality).

I was thinking that this was indeed Deleuze's inspiration for his transcendental empiricism. He puts in different terms this precedence of the genetic. It is his (Whiteheadian) way to break with a metaphysics of substance that had made Locke gone astray and not take seriously, again according to Whitehead, his account of perception. Genetic is immanent - morphology is the emerging transcendence that shapes, through experience, further experience.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Affair Figal

I gathered Figal is quite a well-known person in the Heideggerian circles. Don't know him but I liked his attitude of resigning the presidency of the Martin Heidegger Geselschaft for it seems that one has to be more faithful to philosophy than to any philosopher.
This is an interview with him. Whether or not he knew the content of the Black Notebooks beforehand is an issue but not a crucial one, I guess. It is unlikely, as a chair, that he didn't have privileged access to this writings of Heidegger. But still, he did what seems to be the right thing making clear that he believes that one doesn't think the way Heidegger does (in the Black Notebook), not if one is a philosopher.

On "être est entente"

Been thinking a bit about this idea that came to me lecturing on Whitehead last year: to be is to be part of a current agreement ("être est entente"- call it "EEE"). Sponsoring something is a way to make something exist as the agreement has to be enough to make something come into being (or bring something about, or "instaurer"). I hope to soon spell out details of a sponsoring account of truth, that is part of the broader EEE thesis, in terms of contributors as articulators of truth-makers. I also hope to soon articulate EEE in terms of the structure of a proposition, and adopt a Whiteheadian take on it by considering the subject and the supraject (and how they have meet up in some sort of copula). EEE is an ontological thesis that fleshes out the idea that to exist is more like being part of a crowd - where nothing subsists on its own - than to have a property of existence - that could be reached by being for instance the most perfect - or to have be a predicate of position - or an indexical. (To be sure, the Lewisian indexical view can be put together with the EEE conception that to exist is to co-exist: a possible world could be like a crowd, to be in a possible world is to be with a collection of other denizens of the world, to exist in the actual world is to be with a collection of other denizens of *this particular* world.) In any case, EEE holds that existence is somehow related to a critical mass, in the sense that coming to existence is never made justice by (at least ontological) monism. For what does it mean to become existent if there is nothing else that exists?

But in the last few days I was somehow focused on the politics of EEE. I've been teaching a small course on Amazonian politics (and its relation to ontology) based on remarks made by anthropologists Pierre Clastres and Philippe Descola and Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa. The idea of a society against the state and the idea of aanimist shamanism, where non-humans are endowed with interiority, point towards the idea that nothing can come to social existence (including our ecological relations with the non-human) without negotiation. It is as if the political power - and Modern naturalism - comes to displace a diplomatic generalized endeavor where everything has to be negotiated in a case-by-case basis. Hence, the war chief has to negotiate peace of war within the limits of his/her community as there is no political power that makes agreement come without saying. There is no state mechanism to make people fight or stop fighting. Similarly, the shaman has to negotiate with animals what is about to happen in the upcoming hunt. Game is not simply at our mercy but rather its availability results from the capacity to craft alliances. This diplomatic power requires presence - this is why the shaman's knowledge is like a technique that cannot be trusted to a treatise or a report for it is, more than knowledge about how things are, something like a know-how, a craft, a capacity to deal with alliances and to negotiate. Political power crafts its own alliances and ententes, but case-by-case negotiation is circumvented by a shortcut that makes the sovereign force prevail - a society with state. Political power makes the non-human out of reach for negotiation; apart from technology, which is not very thought through, the Moderns have no tools to negotiate beyond their human boundaries. Negotiation got limited to the devices of political power (and the devices of capital).

What is still unclear is exactly how this political dimension of EEE fits in. Maybe I want to say that negotiations are always present - even covered up by a political state (or by the capital, or by technology that makes the non-human somehow in touch with us). Maybe rather that we are somehow ontologically alienated of the entente character of being by whatever makes some agreements invisible or impossible. In any case, if politics is just ontology of the whos - or the agents - than it is not more normative than politics. If it is so, I can just preach: craft alliances, let things be.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Laws and realontologie

I draw from Latour a slogan about how to conceive ontology from the point of view of politics: look at the realpolitik. It is as we were invited to look at a realontologie, something that goes beyond laws and principles while taking them as part of the landscape.Interestingly, von Rochau, who created the term realpolitik defines it as focused on: "the powers that shape, maintain and alter the state [a]s the basis of all political insight" and that it "leads to the understanding that the law of power governs the world of states just as the law of gravity governs the physical world". Ontology is not about the execution of general principles or the instantiation of laws but rather it is about what is made to generate, discard and circumvent these laws. Latour talks about the practice of the real politicians, how they do their petty negotiations in parliament, in think tanks, in lobbying institution and inside palaces. They knit a network of agreements that range from their personal interests to what they need to achieve for those they represent - which interact in a complex allagmatics as there is no once and for all given representative mandate to anyone. They have to act as a network without ever being sure that they are not going to be stripped off all their allies and left on their own as a minimal agent, isolated from previous strengthening power. The same with actual entities and laws of nature: no natural law persists without entities reinforcing it. There is nothing to be instantiated without its instances. Laws are ceteris paribus because they work only if we assume entities will carry on as they have been - but they are virtual because no repetition brings in no difference. Whitehead has that natural laws are such because they depend on a cosmic epoch. That water is H2O is true in every cosmic epoch where there is water - but natural kinds are themselves dependent on cosmic epochs.

The idea that truth is an agreement between sponsors, such as I maintain in this post
can be understood in line with realontologie. Truth is not self-maintained; it is not like a constitution, it is more like jurisprudence, more like the real dealing with laws that lawyers and other contract-mongers make and break. Natural laws are not themselves true because they are no more than part of a framework where truth takes place. Truth belongs in the realm of all the petty negotiations of all real actual entities. Laws lie - but they help understanding the routes of the many leveks of negotiation that makes something true.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ontoscopies: metaphysical reasoning through picture investigation

I've been reading Anne Sexton and Peter Handke. Sexton's Death Notebooks and Handke's Essay on tiredness. While writing something on pictures in my Buca L'Ombrello blog, I had some thoughts about how I understand philosophy. I self-quote some bits:

<< The intensity of the picture is enough for me. I don't mind how sad or upsetting a film or a book is - to have a convincing picture is the pinnacle of overcoming the uninspiring. In pictures also dwells Coetzee in his Elizabeth Costello episodes. Dialogues are indeed sometimes explicit scaffolding for pictures. Anne Sexton is summoned in the poem: "Interrogator: One day is enough to perfect a man. Anne: I watered and fed the plant." Peter Handke, in his Essay on Tiredness, is also summoned by an interrogator of sorts. Handke speaks of the heartlessness of his attempt to content himself with "investigating the pictures, or images, that my problem engenders in me, with making myself at home in each picture and translating it as heartlessly as possible into language with all its twists and turns and overtones." Then the interrogator comes in asking about Handke's remarks on the tiredness of working in common and comparing it with the tiredness of solitary work. Handke replies: "When I told you all that, it wasn't for the sake of contrast, but of the pure picture; if such a contrast nevertheless forces itself on the reader's attention, it must mean that I haven't succeeded in communicating a pure picture. In the following, I shall have to take greater care than ever to avoid playing one thing off, even tacitly, against another or magnifying one thing at the expense of something else [...]". The contrast is an after-effect. [...]>>

I then proceed to say that I think in pictures, in plots and not in oppositions: to affirm rather than to dwell in contrasts. To investigate a picture, as Handke puts it, seems a good methodological guideline for metaphysics. In the book I wrote this year, hopefully to appear soon, I present three ontologies under the name of ontoscopies. They are pictures of things driven by fragments, doubts or rhythms. They are pictures: perceptions of what there is. But, maybe because, as Whitehead would insist, perception is constitutively creative, they contrast with each other. What I try to do there is to explore the pictures - something emerge not from the picture, but to its investigation. Hence, for instance, intuition is gained by exploring the world as composed centrally of doubts (or of contagious rhythms). Such method is thoroughly pluralist - there are always more than one picture - while being decidedly realist - there is a reality to be found through the pictures.

To some extent, also, the method contrasts vividly with the pursue of criticism and argument. Determinate negation is the opposite of a picture. Pictures can be convincing to the point that there could be no denial of them that can be held without appealing to another picture. Pictures are denied by other pictures (and deconstruction is at its best when another picture frictions the target one). Negation in itself is often presented as if it can be persuasive simply out of the difficulties of the picture under criticism. I reckon, though, that presenting pictures have often more direct persuasive effects. It is maybe one of those failures in rationality like those that Kahneman and Tverski diagnosed and reported. Like some of the others, though, it is a heuristic failure - it somehow points towards several directions at once. Replace a world of rhythms by, say, a world of arbitrarily timed events. Both pictures suggest. Dealing with pictures is like speculating - a good persuasive picture commands support but also up to the point when an alternative picture replaces it.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Truth-makers and truth-consortia

I think there is a lot to unpack in Latour's observations about truth. I think his thoughts here are in the right directions. For example, in Irréductions 2.4.8. he goes:

Une phrase ne tient pas parce qu'elle est vraie;
c'est parce qu'elle tient qu'on la dit vraie.
Elle tient à quoi? Mais, justement, à beaucoup de choses.

Truth is what is maintained - it supervenes on its truth-makers, on what contributes to it. I wonder whether I can understand truth in terms of supporters, of what holds a relation of instauration, of sponsoring the true proposition (or belief, or statement, or sentence). My model is that of an agreement, but not only with the human agents but between a sufficient number of relevant actants. If it is so, the truth-bearer is somehow a truth-maker, a contributor.

Truth could then be taken to be a report on the agreement between sponsors. Truth lies in the agreement between sponsors – but it is always subject to new tests of resistance, as Latour puts it (Irréductions, 1.1.5). The agreement is always up for grabs: any sponsor, including those who can state truths (and falsities), can affect it. Stating that the snow is white is endorsing that this is the case. Endorsement, in this case, is almost entirely irrelevant, but it is not always so. Truth could be therefore better presented as an agreement between truth-bearers and all its other truth-makers; “the snow is white” is true provided that all flocks of snow behave in coherence with it, implicit lightning conditions satisfy it etc.

The import of endorsement has to do with the fact that truth, for Latour, is produced. Latour talks about this production often when considering the activities of the scientists: the results are independent of the humans but scientists produce them at great cost . He analyses correspondence – what he broadly refers as an adequatio rei et intellectus – as a difficult construction that requires action taken on both sides, in the intellectus side and in the res side to which the former intends to correspond. He provides a detailed example of how a map of Mount Aiguille is maintained. The map is intended to convey something true and in order to do so its maintainers have to make sure some things hold together: the landmarks signed in the maps have to be preserved in the mount (houses, tracks, roads), the changes in the mount through season or the passing of (some) years have to be discarded by the representation of the map. Clearly, as he points out citing Borges famous claim about a useless map of scale 1, a complete isomorphism between the truth-bearer (the map) and the truth-maker (the mount) would amount to no more than a duplication of the mount. The map has to select some features of the mount to rely on and has to make sure these features are stable enough. Truth-bearing, as much as truth-making, is about maintaining. (It is perhaps even more graphically clear if we consider GPS navigation devices guided by bar and QR codes.) In order for the map to be kept updated, the mount has to be maintained in a certain way that enables the map to depict it. Latour writes in AIME, chapter 3:

[W]e can talk about correspondence [...], but this “co-response” is no longer the one between the “human mind” and the “world.” No, we now have a tense, difficult, rhythmic correspondence, full of surprises and suspense, between the risk taken by existents in order to repeat themselves throughout the series of their transformations on the one hand and the risk taken by the constants in order to maintain themselves throughout another no less dizzying series of transformations on the other. Do the two series sometimes respond to each other? Yes. Do they always do so? No. If it is true that it takes two to tango, it is equally true that it is meaningless to speak of co-responding unless there are two movements in the first place, each of which will respond to the other—often multiplying their missteps.

He changes the focus from something that corresponds to something else to a co-responding movement on both sides where truth is maintained. Truth, as he points out later in the same book, goes hand in hand, and not in opposition, with good constructions. Something that is well-constructed could be, precisely because it is well-constructed, true. Truth is not an episode of resemblance of something else, it is rather an engagement with things that enable the extraction of good constructs. Those are resilient if they display a low cost of maintenance. Truths require efforts of the same kind of those needed for a construction of anything resilient: good materials, reliable connections, responsive interlocutors, an amount of indifference to change and a capacity to neglect details. Some constructions are not true – but this is because they have not engaged with sponsors enough to make it hold together. It is somehow like a failed negotiation. It is a matter of how many sponsors are hired in the maintenance process - and how good, how relevant, how well-sponsored they are.

This emphasis on production could also help bridging the old gap between knowing that and knowing how. To know something, arguably, is to be part of a truth-consortium: to be part of a network that sponsors a truth. If I hold a truth-bearer that is part of a consortium of sponsors that is enough to make the truth-bearer true, I know it. It is a state in which I am, but also, it is a production, an action, the result of a practice of coming to terms with the world (calibrate my thinking - my beliefs - to what I endorse as strong enough to be hold up).

Monday, 15 December 2014

Whitehead, the ontological distinction and an ever-growing world

If we accept an ontological distinction between the ontological and the ontic we can maybe see in Whitehead an ontological dimension of growing: the world is itself ever-growing. Cosmic epochs follow one from another, God is incomplete, novelty is introduced through any act of prehension, objective immortality registering what is achieved in the world are ontic counterparts of an ontological drive towards growing. To be is to grow, to be in an ever-growing process. It is an interesting conception of becoming: the movement of self-expansion is a feature of being qua being. What grows depends on the actual ontic population (in Whitehead, it is composed of actual entities). There are, therefore, different ways to expand and to promote expansions - mostly to do with making room for further elements in that population. Novelty arises from everywhere in a non-structured manner - prehending is creative. But growing is ontological constitutive: it is of the very nature of being exposed to whatever exists.