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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Freedom and indifference

One of the main targets of Leibniz's criticism (directed to Bayle) in the third part of the Theodicée is the idea that freedom involves indifference. Both in the case of God's free (and wise) choice of one among infinite conceivable possible worlds and in the case of human freedom moved by reasons fully known by God. In paragraph 288 he considers that the three only necessary conditions for freedom are intelligence (distinct knowledge of the object of one's choice), spontaneity (absence of external imposition) and contingency (absence of a logical or metaphysical necessity conducting the course of action). (Incidentally, at least the two last conditions can be ascribed to any agent - or actant - that is not subject to further command either by other agents or by necessities.) Indifference, on the other hand, is both non-existent both for God and any substance (including Buridan's ass) and an anathema to wisdom - God acted wisely, this is why some potentialities were already given before creation which was strictly speaking not ab nihilo, see 335. To act freely is to have a purpose and to respond to preferences and not to be unbiased - which is to act randomly.

Contingency is therefore broader than accident. An accident is indifferent whereas a contingent choice is shaped by differences, by what other existing things provoke. In an ontology of agents, contingency could be the result of an agent's choice for a course of action (not shaped by necessity) or the unintended which is the result of many agents's choices. Still indifference is opposed to necessity, accident is a kind of contingency. Because contingency is understood in terms of compossibility, every agent is equally contingent on the others (and under the necessity of non-contradiction). Arguably, every agent has the elements to be free. Compossibility, on the other hand, is opposed to indifference. Here Leibniz's freedom can be compared to Whitehead's creative advance: both are grounded in the opposite of indifference. In Whitehead, creative advance is traced through the sense of importance for each agent (actual entity). Here again, there is no genuine creative advance in an indifferent scenario where nothing is important.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Intuitions need conversations?

Expanding on my previous post, I wrote a post in PhilPercs about the project of understanding propositions as irremediably dialogical. Perception is therefore always two-handed, something is perceived while being perceived, in a conversational structure that cannot be rendered in terms of sheer description.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Celan and deconstruction

In La bête et le souverain 10 Derrida makes a close reading of Celan's Büchner prize acceptance speech Le méridien showing what is at stake when Celan invokes the voice and the time of the other that constitutes his poetics. Few years before receiving the prize, Celan wrote a short prose called Entretien dans la montagne which introduces the issue of the voice of the other. Celan makes a distinction between the language said to no one, that language without me and you, and the discourse addressed to someone, said to someone. Stéphane Moses, commenting Celan's text, compares his distinction with the one by Benveniste, récit and discours, the latter being the language of the dialogues where voices are coupled one to the other and the former that language of the impersonal description. In the text, two Jews, Gross and Klein meet up and talk. At some point they consider the earth and the language used to talk about it:

"un langage qui n'est fait ni pour toi ni pour moi - car, je le demande, pour qui est-elle conçue, la terre, elle n'est conçue ni pour toi ni pour moi - un langage, eh bien oui, sans Je et sans Tu, rien qu'Il, rien que Ça, comprends-tu, rien qu'Ils, et seulement cela.
- Je comprends, je comprends. Puisque je suis venu de loin, puisque je suis venu comme toi.
- Pourquoi et dans quel but... Peut-être parce qu'il m'a fallu m'adresser à quelqu'un avec ma bouche et avec ma langue et pas seulement avec mon bâton. Car à qui s'adresse-t-il, le bâton? Il s'adresse à la pierre, et la pierre, à qui s'adresse-t-elle?
- À qui donc, cousin, veux-tu qu'elle s'adresse? Elle ne s'adresse pas, elle parle, et celui qui parle, cousin, ne s'adresse à personne, il parle parce que personne ne l'écoute, personne et Personne, et puis il dit, lui et non sa bouche et non sa langue, lui et seulement lui, dit: Entends-tu?"(Entretien dans la montagne, Editions Verdier, 2004, 13-15).

I take this opposition between the language of you and me and that of it and they and this is one of the basis of the idea of deconstruction. The effort is to make written text speak by considering it among different voices. To place text in a dialogue that is not aimed at eliminating the voices in favor of an impersonal discourse - the ultimate truth of the text. It is not a gesture towards an impersonal truth but rather towards a personal justice - personal in the sense of justice among people but also in the sense of lack of permanence for deconstruction is non-ending as new genuine voices can always emerge. Deconstruction is the effort to place philosophy and philosophical texts in something like the Me-You language that Celan talks about. It is about believing in the ultimate need for dialogues.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Externalism about experience

Being talking to Carol Marin about current debates in philosophy of emotion. We were considering whether it is still aptest to make the distinction between cognitivist and non-cognitivist approaches. Maybe the central issue is really around coordination - those who believe emotions are co-ordinated with the rest of one's psychic lives (like most cognitivists but also Gibbard) on the one hand and the Humeans on the other. Also, the issue is that since Aristotle's De Anima (where he separates the animal sensation from the vegetal development) and mostly after Descartes it is common to believe experience (or sensations, or sense impressions or the deliverances of the senses) in a way that is fully distinguished from emotions (or feelings, or sentiments, or affections). This split in the realm of sense and sensibilia shaped our philosophical panorama for centuries. Hence, emotions are irrelevant for empiricism and sense impressions are not emotions and both for no good reasons.

When Whitehead (among others, I'm thinking of Tom Sparrow and Levinas, for instance) challenges this split and argues for a broader conception of experience (see my recent philpercs post on experience without discrimination) he opens the possibility of considering emotions in line with feelings, sentiments, sensations and sense impressions. The difference, to be sure, is that we are not necessarily aware of what we experience. We can have undiscriminated experience that make a difference in our epistemic state. An epistemolgical continent opens up with the idea that experience doesn't have to be awareness to be (epistemologically) good.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Interactions, intra-actions and the present time

Beginning to get acquainted with Karen Barad's notion of intra-actions. The issue that comes to my head is the timing of action in intra-action. Is it the present time of events - that is contemporary to us because it shares our sense of present - or rather is it a presence beyond all present time - a sort of previous time or maybe no time at all?

Much of what goes on in process philosophy - and specifically in monadologically conceived process philosophy, like in Tarde, Latour and Whitehead - is the redemption of the present time as the time where determinations take place. The present time replaces structural relations or ready-made substances. So, in Leibniz's monadology, the presence of God and the interaction between monads take place outside the present time. Relations between the different substances are not necessary ones, as it is not necessary that the world is the way it is. That means that the world and the relation between different substances are not given by reason alone, they are therefore a product of some kind of interaction. In fact, God is present among everything that takes place in the world as He has chosen each bit of the world after considering an infinite number of alternative possible worlds. Hence, that the wind will interact with my hair now is something considered by God when selecting a world to create - the choice was the wisest and the possible world chosen the most perfect. God considered every movement of my hair and decided for one series of movement (the best in terms of maximized uniformity, variety and beauty for the whole world). Likewise, the substances interacted with each other when they where compared with different substances in different worlds. Without the sin, Adam would be someone else, say Adam*. Now, Adam* was compared with Adam in relation to the apple, say. This was an interaction (or rather an intra-action?). As a result of that encounter, it was decided that Adam* would not be part of the existing world and Adam will be such that he would relate to the apple in the known way. All this took place in a sort of previous time (the time of the choice of worlds in the mind of God) or maybe in no time at all. In any case, there is no interaction (and no presence of God in the world) in the present time. In other monadologies - those that Deleuze diagnosed in the regime capture as oppose to that of closure, like Leibniz' - the present time is the time of interaction. The present time is brought in as a deciding instance: what goes on is decided in a time that is contemporary to what is going on. There is no previous time where things are rehearsed and decided. (This is why we have an impression of greater contingency: in those monadologies but not in Leibniz, it seems like things go on only once and einmal is keinmal...).

Incidentally, when the present time overruns every form of a process, it becomes the contemporaneity of the time of the other that doesn't institute anything but simply makes itself present. It becomes an unstructured time. If we take the present time beyond any event, we reach the limit of monadological thinking. There is no more room for an alter-ego, or for an alter-tempo. The present time, with its appeal, dissolves in fact all ontological structure. This is the route opened by Levinas.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Whitehead and Derrida?

Been thinking whether it is just a coincidence that I'm into Derrida now. Maybe there is something to be found in the connection between Derrida and Whitehead. In a previous post
I rehearsed some possible common points if we give a speculative reading of text and deconstruction in Derrida. I just wrote a philpercs post about propositions and perception.

Monday, 19 October 2015

On living agents with head and tail

The other day when we were about to finish a section on my seminar on Derrida's The Beast and the Sovereign we were talking about the ontological turn. Someone then asked me if I had abandoned it and decided to rather go back to text (to writing, to deconstruction, to Derrida). The gist of the question was that prima facie an interest on Derrida's work, unless thoroughly critical, is anathema to a robust commitment to find ways beyond the broadly constructed linguistic turn. I disagreed. First, I tried to explain my growing interest in Derrida (and in Jabès, Blanchot, Nancy) in terms of works like Malabou's where écriture takes a broader scope and is presented explicitly as the opening gate to some sort of ontology (of accident, of plasticity). But then I moved on to rely on the idea that the linguistic turn is not to be just left aside but rather rethought so that its insights can be re-examined in a different framework. This is what I sometimes call "a linguistic turn of 360 degrees" where one goes back to ontological preoccupations after a full round around language. Hence, we can gain insight about indexicality in the world (demonstrative properties, orientation, perspectives) looking at Perry's work on de re thoughts and expressions or at McDowell's remarks about demonstrative concepts or we can learn about attribution of properties in general looking at the way Wittgenstein connects predicate use with family resemblances. With Derrida's deconstruction it is perhaps a bit different - deconstruction moves in many different directions and the way text is a place where differences emerge can be thought in terms of how articulations require text, even if they don't require human-written, correlational text. The idea of a non-correlationist text were we place ourselves amid traces - and not authoring them - provides a 360 degrees linguistic turn but one that certainly takes us to a very different landscape where ontology itself is exorcised not in the name of a correlation, but rather in the name of a sharing text. Our relation to the world appears less as one of apprehension and more as one of co-writing, something akin to a conversation as I wrote in this post last month.

In any case, I find The Beast and the Sovereign filled with interesting points about the difference between who and what - and about the making up of sovereignty and of political areas of governance or jurisdiction. In session 7, the issue is the supplement needed for a command in order to be what it is - the commanded part. It is like a dependence of a governing part on its supplement, the "bêtise" of the other that is either attacked or denounced. There ought to be an area of jurisdiction for every government, something that would be prone to stupidity (to "bêtises", rather) on the eyes of the sovereign. This double structure of sovereignty dialogues with the monadological approach, in Leibniz (or in Tarde, in Husserl, in Latour, in Whitehead). In Leibniz, the supplement question is (dis)solved in the same vein as the difference question is (dis)solved: appealing to infinitesimals. Deleuze, in the first chapter of Différence et Répétition finds in Leibniz a strategy to dismiss difference by appealing to the infinitesimals where being regain a commitment to identity and differences disappear in the name of the smallest component. Analogously, Leibniz postpone ad infinitum the issue of what is governed by a monad - for every piece of matter no matter how small has governing stances inside it. The issue of what is to be governed is resolved by an appeal to the infinitesimal. The governed part is never found before we reach infinitesimals. The problem of difference is in fact very close to the problem of supplement - both are connected to the problem of power which is the problem what is (the what) for which obedience is due.

Further, session 7 articulates the idea that the government-governing pair requires a head and a tail. Derrida doesn't want to side with the idea that only humans have sovereignty (and "bêtise"), as he finds in Deleuze (and Lacan). He rather prefers this conjecture that whatever has a head (and what follows it, supposedly) has episodes of bêtise and episodes where the sovereign head reigns. This is common to whatever is headed and is also composed by something else that is supposed to follow the head (as Agamben would have, following is both not commanding and not commencing). The exercise of command is understood in terms of a who that is intertwined with a what that is supposedly commanded. The stubborn (big-headed) resistance to the head, on the other hand, is what the beast does, it cannot be brought to command, it cannot be made to follow. Animation emerges as an issue of head and tail - of hosting a deontic inside the ontological. There is no genuine who without a what where it is expressed; animation requires not only an anima but also an animated body.