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Friday, 13 March 2015

Monadology and design

Leibniz was in the endeavour of putting forward a political theology - and, at that, he was close to what was then called natural religion. His way of doing that was to conceive a Great Architect, who was the perfect designer of all things. The design problem for him was one of optimization: how is it possible for a designer to build a perfect order so that he wouldn´t have to interfere whenever things go wrong. The optimal project was the best of all possible worlds. But worlds were conceived in terms of local agents. He optimized design by ascribing agency to the greatest possible number of entities - divide to govern, could be the motto. In this process of optimization, he created the idea of monadology: different entities that are interconnected by a common plan, each makes sure that the common plan is reinforced. It is like a government that tries to maximize its power by maximazing its civil servants. The idea of a monadology was a new deign idea: direct rule works worse than widespread delegation - not sheer atomism where atoms are independent, neither sheer monism where the only agent is the whole (and the parts are no more than obeying parts). But then, monadology was an invention that goes beyond natural religion - and its insistence on a designer, as Latour claims in his first Gifford lecture.

Once freed from design, the idea of interconnected monads that respond to all the others while having full-blown agency can florish, as indeed it did in the hands of Tarde, Latour and Whitehead with his continuity atomism without vacuous actualities. It is also the interconnectedness that appears in the Lovelock´s idea of Gaia. This is what Deleuze called, in Le Pli, capture monadology. Without design, monads have to work by entente, they have to find ways to negotiate. Further, political theology goes Clastrian - monadology against state for negotiation between prevalent entities and other political bodies has to be case by case, what avoids the institutionalization of an overall power. Non-design monadology is a monadology that is cout d´etat-proof.


In his third Gifford lectures, Latour remarked how difficult it is to conceive what is not capable of intentionality - what is, so to speak, not an intentionality-bearer. The issue is, he claims, not that people quit animism, but that most of them became inanimists. To be sure, bearing intentionality doesn't mean to act intentionally always: the presence of different actants in the world accounts for inintended acts. He says: final causes seldom reach an end but rather are interrupted by other final causes. Just like Whitehead's satisfaction, it only for a short period of time that an actual entity enjoys fulfillment of its aims. Actants interrupt each other and therefore there is plenty of unintentionality in the world. But unintentionality is a byproduct of the spread of intentions - a crowd of whos gives an impression of a what. Latour puts things in a Derridian way: providence is itself spread, he aims at a political theology with a plurality of providences as opposed to a single, architectural design that encompasses every act. This is a world of as many architects as there are things - and there is no way to simply count them; still these are the architects on which we stand. These architects are also like messiahs - another design can save us from our current fate. (As we wrote in our updated fragments of Heraclitus, there are no fate, but there are fates.)

How can we make the idea that an-intentionality could be fully replaced with unintentionality seem attractive? We often think of lack of intentionality in terms of objects and (categorical) properties, objects with no dispositions (capacities, tendencies, potentialities). Non-intentionality is a chapter in an actualist conception of the world. But further, it is a chapter of what we can call distinctness atomism - the version of atomism according to which things are distinct and don't interact. Why do these objects have these properties? Well, it was not intended. What could be interesting to think is that in Latour multi-intentional universe, most things are also unintended. It is not about denying a designer - by saying that there is no design - instead it is the denying the effectiveness of the many designs; there are gaps between them, they are not concerted. It is as if we were heading towards some sort of poli-atheism: the many designers are not powerful enough to take care of the world because they are not concerted. In any case, much is unintended, this much is what can then be described in terms of objects and (non-dispositional) properties. In other words, the issue is now what is the best strategy to exorcise the single-designed world - a multiplicity of intentions and unintentions or rather a Spinozan route of exorcizing all forms of (local and global) transcendence.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Soft facts vindicated

Been thinking of my very old paper with Manuel on soft facts. The main inspiration there was Wittgenstein's remark that God needs to do maths in order to know something mathematical (for instance, how does pi expands). God cannot be a mere observer, any truth-monger is also an agent, in terms of my previous post. This goes well with the idea that scientists deal in construction, and construction is not something whose authority has to be found in their representational capacity. As Latour says somewhere in AIME, it is because they are good constructions that they are true. These are the idea behind soft facts: facts that are product of processes (or ententes). They cannot be reached unless you make the path that negotiation between agents require. In other words, years later, I guess that the idea of soft facts is tenable and recommendable. As it is formulated in the paper, its (implicit) account of agency - restricted to human - and God's - agents - tainted it.

Truth-mongers, truth-contributors and sponsors

I've been working on a new way to conceive and present my sponsoring account of truth. The account is inspired by the following quote of Latour:

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. Pourquoi?
Mais parce qu’elle a été accroché à plus solide qu’elle.
Personne ne peut maintenant l’embraler sans défaire le reste à quoi ele tient.

(Latour, Irréductions, 2.4.8)

Been involved in the literature around the work on truth-makers started by the work of Mulligan, Simons and Smith and in the literature around propositions present mostly in Wettstein's work and in the book by Soames, Speaks and King (New thinking about propositions, Oxford Scholarship 2014). Currently, my schema for the new version of the sponsoring account is the following:


Sponsors: these are the basic item in the ontology. They are like agents, capable of bringing something about. Sponsors are fully animated and the sponsoring account is a theory of truth for an animated community and not primarily a conception of truth in representational terms (as a, so to speak, mirror of something out there).

Entente: what sponsors do on their own. (Not always explicitly in terms of agreement between agents) Entente is a sort of a provisional balance between sponsors. There are short and long-lasting ententes.

Truth components:

Truth-contributors: those include truth-makers, truth-bearers and truth-mongers. All of them are sponsors.

Truth-mongers: sponsors that exchange truths and engage in ententes through their capacity to assert and deny propositions.

Propositions: these are the main and primary truth-bearer. Following an intuition of King, I would probably say that truth-mongers endow ententes with the capacity to be true and false. Ententes become then propositions.

Truth-bearers: primarily propositions. They also contribute to truth, for truth-bearers (and truth-mongers) somehow are instrumental in making something true.

Truth-makers: sponsors turned by truth-mongers (and propositions) into agents that sponsor the truth or the falsity of an entente (turned into a proposition).

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The propositional turn

Since 2009 I have been toying with the idea, that titled a paper I gave with Manuel in a Metaphysics of Science conference in Nottingham, of making a linguistic turn of 360 degrees. If the linguistic turn amounted to move from things to words, to the structure of the world to the structure of language (and from the believer to the speaker), a linguistic turn of 360 degrees would move through words, language and speakers only to get back to things, world and believers only in a more informed way. In other words, to adapt an image put forward by Tim Williamson, language can be a telescope for metaphysical inquiry.

I´ve been reading King, Soames and Speaks interesting book on propositions (New Thinking about Propositions, Oxford Scholarship, 2014). More than the arguments themselves against sententialism and a Davidson-like theory of meaning, the idea of the book enticed me to have another look at propositions. In fact, much philosophical enlightenment lies in the very possibility of propositions - and not merely sentences - as bearers of truth. A metaphysics of ´the proposition would investigate what is the role of predication in the world - how the copula between subject and predicate in fact take place. Once propositions are at least prima facie accepted in an ontology, the issue of its nature seems fascinating and open (given that Russellian, Fregean and possible worlds-based accounts fail, as chapter 3 of the book persuasively argues).

Such a metaphysics of the proposition could benefit from a linguistic turn of 360 degrees - it could be informed by philosophy of language. Hence, for instance, it is a propositional issue what takes place in the process of reference fixing. So, if fixing a reference is something different from giving a description of what is being refered, it is maybe constituting maybe pinpointing a proposition. ´Cats´ are about cats even if cats are not animal - to use Putnam´s famous example - because ´cats´ carves the world in a way such that some propositions arise (say, "cats are animals", "cats are robots"). The act of fixing a reference is the act of giving rise to propositions - or access a realm of them. Reference-fixing is perhaps not an issue in language, between terms and parts of the world, but rather an issue in intentionality where an expression picks a particular way to track, or to individuate, bits of the world.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Against property (and sumak kawsay)

A beautiful theme that emerges from Noys book on accelerationism (Malign Velocities, Winchester: Zero Press, 2013) is the appeal to innovative, even glamourous ideas to counter the seemingly daring gestures of accelerationism (and one-track left reasoning in general). Noys stresses the importance of rethinking work. (See my post on Noys'book.) To reconceive work in order to make it less precarious and also less dull requires rethinking property. The left is nowadays very vague or very modest in its critique of property in general, as a political and ontological outrage. It is vague because Marxists insist on the various processes of proletarisation (of dispossessed peasants, of illegal migrants, of those rendered redundant by technological advances) and make clear that a work force has to own nothing but their labour, in contrast to those who own means of production. But it rarely proposes policies and strategies to weaken property. It is modest because people like the Pirate Party are clearly against intellectual property but rarely make clear that the problem is more general and lies in property in general. I think the left ought to make clear that property is something that would better go.

Property of non-humans by humans has to be replaced by different sorts of stewardships. A proletarian society means: no one has property of the means of production. I mean, not even the state; not even the commons. To abolish property means to undo the concept altogether so that care for the non-human could take other shapes. It is to exorcise the potestas idea that one has all rights over something - no one does. The idea that there are taxes over property is a step in the direction of understanding that there are things that are more important than ownership (good use, meaning also general well being in the sense that squatting corrects the absurd of having unoccupied states in a city etc). In a sense, to abolish property is an accelerationist measure for property is the ultimate territory of capitalism, and the flow of capital is such that it has to go around property - to brake for it - and not to make it flow. But it is also something that can be thought against the drive for production - it is not about producing more, it is rather about common sumak kawsay, that is good actualization of potentialities within a community. I take sumak kawsay to mean something like openness for ideas to take space, as opposed for them to wait for capital to help or property rights to allow. This is why so much can be done when intellectual rights are more flexible and also why so much can be rendered possible by devices like crowd funding. There is much to be explored in a critique of property, but I believe to replace it by stewardships of all sorts is what can make the left vibrant and enthusiastic again. There is much to imagine in a world without ownership.

Phil Jones tells me the right believes it has evidence in favor of private property, evidence linking private property to some general good, a sort of a conditional imperative argument. They say people take better care of what they own. It seems like no more than a disguised form of the old form of appeal to human nature, but there is something more to the point. Even though they know that gas and water corporate ownership in Bolivia was a disaster, they seem to believe that land reform is a bad idea because productivity goes down. Well, it is hard to establish this is the case in the long run. But if they are right on this, there is an interesting point: folks that defend the opposite of economic growth as a way out of capitalism would be right in that productivity cannot be the only measure of a good (access) policy. Private property of the means of production has generated capitalist wealth but also loads of misery through proletarization. Things only got better when a different model was a real possibility (as Piketty's results suggest) and collective (meaning state) property was on the political agenda (and not only as a token of the reactionary left). Again, a better take would be to consider something like sumak kawsay. What does a regime of stewardship has to offer to the general (human and non-human) well-being of a collective?

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Whitehead and Quine's ontological criterion

Quine famously pontificated that "No entity without identity". He understood identity in terms of qualities - properties of an object, or rather predicates that could be applied to the term that is quantified and deserves ontological commitment. On that account, Whitehead's actual entities would not qualify for they have no independent quality-based identity. Their identity is no more than a product of they being subject of a perception. There is no identity that is independent of other entities, as I wrote in my recent post about Whitehead's realism. Quine, who had been supervised by Whitehead, was perhaps not aware of his speculative thoughts on actual entities. But to be sure, his slogan can be understood in a Whiteheadian mode: if nothing identifies an actual entity in its perceptions, there is no entity. No entity without (perceptual) identification.