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Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Deictic Absolutes and Being Up For Grabs


s section of the coda of Deictic Absolutes:

Insufficiency was also a central concern in Being Up For Grabs.1 There, a route through necessity led to the idea that, while the hyper-chaos is not all-encompassing as for Meillassoux, what is up for grabs is the cornerstone of reality. Accident is not everywhere but it is sine qua non for the understanding of anything concrete. Due to that primacy of contingency over anything else that existed, the book itself presented not a complete metaphysics but rather three narratives, called ontoscopies, each of them failing to be sufficient. The three narratives made clear that contingency comes out of pluralism; so not only what Peirce labelled necessitarianism was rejected in each of the three ontoscopies,2 but also none of them were deemed sufficient to fully address an up for grabs reality. Metaphysical insufficiency informed each of the three ontoscopies but also their friction. In the book, this insufficiency that grounded contingency and plurality – and both the accounts of contingency and the plurality of them – enabled a multi-narrative metaphysics that is arguably a step towards meeting Tsing's injunction. The upshot was that contingency is a metaphysical cog behind everything – including the story told in the book.

Indeed, to be contingent is to be dependent on something else – to be in the hands of something else, so to speak. Being up for grabs is being hostage to something other. There is a family resemblance between a metaphysics of contingency and a situated metaphysics – not only both press in the direction of shaking off the burden of necessity that metaphysical endeavors usually carry, but the latter can only make sense if situations are themselves to a large extent accidental. Indexicalism makes the accident of being in an indexical environment the ultimately relevant piece in the furniture of the universe; the contingency of a situation is all that there is. As such, for sure, it constitute no totality – there is no complete account of all situations. A situated metaphysics is not a metaphysics of situations; the latter would take situations to be substantives. It is not about extracting the intelligible features of a situation in general – or of kinds of situations – from the experience with distinct situations. A situated metaphysics is in fact hostage to situations and not presenting a complete view of them. It is therefore not clear from a situation – from an indexical environment, say from being in front of the Sumaq Urqo – how anything is contingent on it. This is what ushers paradox in: it is a general account of reality according to which reality affords no general accounts. The metaphysical situation contemplated by the metaphysics of the others – and by indexicalism – is to be before the Great Outdoors; that is, metaphysics lies in facing exteriority. This is where reality can be grasped – a reality that depends on deixis and cannot be viewed from nowhere. A situated metaphysics cannot but be paradoxical, but still its attraction stems from two conflicting and yet intertwined generally accepted ideas: that a general account always transcends a situation and that transcendence itself is situated.

The path from indexicalism to a worked out situated metaphysics shows how crucial it is to steer clear of substantives. Possibly, the attachment to the idea that substantives are central to reality is what makes most of what lapses into a paradoxico-metaphysics seem intolerable. From an indexicalist, situated perspective, several paradoxes are the consequence of lack of attention to the plurality of situations. Implicit appeals to standing locations in a substantivist background could be the key to the puzzlement brought up by paradoxical scenarios. In any case, several paradoxes depend on the mix of indexical and substantive language; typically, the Liar paradox (with indexicals like “I'm Cretan” or “This sentence”), Russell's paradox (with “a member of itself”) and the Richard-Berry paradox (with “less than a number of words”).3 I won't explore further the paradoxes here from the point of view of the friction between substantives and indexicals, but I think a closer look into these formulations would provide intuitions about the tight links between paradoxico-metaphysics and the pervasiveness of deixis that is indexicalism starting point.

In Being Up For Grabs, there are several moments where the focus on insufficiency paves the way towards a situated metaphysics (and its paradoxical condition). The chapter that discusses doubts proposes a contrast between Sextus Empiricus' Neo-Pyrrhonism according to which belief is prey of endemically insufficient reason – uncovered through diaphonía – and an ontology of doubts – perhaps close to the original Pyrrhonic idea – according to which reality is not always determined to be one way or another. The contrast between unknown determinations and the lack of determinations to be known brings home that one could suspend judgment about whether there are determinations in reality. Suspension of judgment, in both cases, is an activity of thought guided by a quest for insufficient reasons – it produces a diaphonía. It is therefore an exercise in hearing another equally grounded voice. The starting point of this exercise is what appears, the phenomenon, which is a common ground to show that each voice has insufficient reasons. It is interesting to remark that the Neo-Pyrrhonist phenomenon is not defined in terms of sensorial input or of a fixed set of accepted appearances. It is hardly definable; the starting point of the suspension of judgment is situated, dependent on circumstances. A situated phenomenon orients suspension of judgment; epokhé takes place in the agora, it is shaped by circumstances. If we embrace this situated notion of phenomenon, there are no universal doubts because insufficiency is grounded in circumstances. If the starting point for suspending judgment is situated, it seems like something like a situated metaphysics is in the vicinity. Still more if an ontology of doubts – in contrast with standard Neo-Pirrhonism – is adopted for the indeterminacies in reality are then dependent on the circumstances that shape the phenomenon on the basis of which we find out that something is not determinate. The indeterminacies of reality are themselves relative to the phenomenon taken as the starting point of the enterprise of doubting – and doubting is, according to the ontology of doubts, a way to uncover real indeterminacies. Understood along these lines, the ontology of doubts is very close to a situated metaphysics.

Further, the book presents two other ontoscopies, one based on fragments and another on rhythms. In the former, contingency is conceived in terms of a process monadology where the basic units enjoy a triple mode of existence as fragments, composers and compositions. In the latter, rhythms are the vehicles of contingency as they interact with each other in indeterminate ways. A metaphysics of fragments thought in terms of a monadology entails that a totality is always being composed. Since fragments are composers and compositions, they can be units of spontaneity that can be interrupted – and in this respect this ontoscopy is close to the idea of interrupted nexûs. It falls short of the metaphysics of the others because, as a monadology, it is not situated – it makes fragments still part of a landscape viewed as a totality. Clearly, a metaphysics of fragments could rather embrace the idea that fragments supplement each other from outside and replace monadological assumptions by indexicalist ones – make no room for a sideways-on view of what the fragments are composing. Similarly, a rhythm-based account of contingency approaches the metaphysics of the others by postulating a plurality of interrupted timings. In the book, the rhythm-oriented ontology has no room for interiorities – rhythms just infect each other in a way that can equally be described from the point of view of a totality constantly being modified. To be sure, one could conceive of interiorities that are rhythmical and exteriority as what interrupts the inner pace. The metaphysics of the others prefers to understand interruption in terms of demands that are received and trigger responses. Interruptions don't impose anything, they simply break the pace of spontaneity and open alternative courses of action.

The main friction between indexicalism and the metaphysics of the others of this book and Being Up For Grabs lies, however, in the substantive character of contingency. Both endeavors provide departures from the idea of a necessary totality composing reality. Indexicalism, however, posits no account of what replaces a necessary totality – it only attempt to be faithful to the idea of exteriority. In contrast, a metaphysics of contingency attempts to find in a substantive underlying structure behind deixis and what makes exteriority disrupting: that things are so that they are dependent on their circumstances. These dependence ushers in rather a metaphysics of situations than a situated metaphysics. While to postulate contingency as central is not a non-interrupted speculative gesture – as the one Meillassoux does to attempt to establish his principle of facticity – it appeals to a neutral term common both to interiorities and to the Great Outdoors. Further, as substantives make no (explicit) reference to deixis, to say there is contingency connecting what exists together is to picture a substantivist bound to deictic operations. In other words, the indexicalist complaint about the metaphysics of Being Up For Grabs is that it deals with the insufficiency in reality in a substantivist manner. Yes, things are up for grabs, but rather because there is genuine exteriority, genuine interruption and an underlying deictic structure to reality. To be sure, for several purposes both converge in their primacy of insufficiency and in their rejection of necessitarianism. In both cases, metaphysics is stripped of its attachment to substantial structures and necessary connections in favor of an attention to insufficiency, accidents and circumstances.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Cabrera's book at Cambridge Scholars is out


Julio Cabrera's new book on negative ethics is out. He's my metaphilosophical guru and has been in an intense dialogue with me in the last two years or so about procreation, negation and interruption. The result of these conversations will come out in a book soon, called "A moral do começo" (The morality of beginning). There we end up formulating two versions of anti-natalism and of negative ethics.

For the moment, his book on his own brand of anti-natalism can be read:

Discomfort and Moral Impediment -
The human Situation, radical Bioethics and Procreation
by Julio Cabrera
has been published by the Cambridge Scholar Publishing.

The book is about how humans in the world can cope with two traditional moral demands: that of not manipulating and that of not damaging the others. The human situation is described as structurally marked by a double discomfort: sensible and moral. The book is about the rapports between this structural discomfort and the traditional requirements of morality.

The primary motivation of this book is to connect suffering and morality. Suffering is understood not only in sensible terms, but especially in moral terms, as the difficulties to be a moral person in a world with features persistently adverse to human efforts. How much requirements can ethics reasonably demand from a sensibly and morally suffering being placed in an adverse situation? It is the very compatibility of life and morality what is at stake.

The main themes are the rigorous description of the minimal ethical demands, the presentation of the phenomenon of “moral impediment”, the structural difficulty to be morally correct with everybody in all circumstances; the creation of positive values as a reaction to the basic situation of sensible and moral discomfort; the negative redefinition of traditional categories of “freedom” and “evil”; a long and detailed argumentation about the morally problematic nature of procreation and related issues (education, sexuality and abortion).

Book summary:

Part I: Ethics and human situation.

I. The minimal ethical articulation.
II. Human life and discomfort (The non-structural arguments)
III. The structural argument.
IV. Positive values are reactive against the terminal structure of being.
V. The idea of Moral Impediment and its hardships.
VI. “Evil” as affirmative category.
VII. The radical asymmetry of birth and its impact on “freedom”
VIII. Ethics for a minimal life.


Part II: Procreation.

I. The primary ethical question: the moral justification for procreation
II. The PROC Thesis.
III. Development of the PROC thesis.
IV. Some few words on “accidental births”
V. Phenomenology of the child.
VI. Educating and punishing.
VII. Procreation meets more ethical problems than heterodox sexuality
VIII. Abstention is not the same than abortion.
IX. From Procreation to suicide

Monday, 17 December 2018

Levinas, Kierkegaard, OOO and indexicalism

Finally back to Deictic Absolutes. This is a piece that contrasts indexicalism and the metaphysics of the others on the one hand to monadology and OOO on the other. It is about transparency and what escapes any system. I compare the contrast to that between Kiekegaard and Levinas. The bit goes like this:

To take interruption metaphysically seriously is also to take metaphysics to be driven by the capacity of what is outdoors to interfere. Metaphysics is itself vulnerable to interruption. In any case, the interrupted nexus of each actual entity by the Other is what makes each agent's agenda hostage to what is exterior. The interruption coming from the Other drives the agent away from an agenda. If monadological agents are driven towards satisfaction, agents in a metaphysics of the others are subject to interruption. The metaphysics of the others can be described as an interruption in the metaphysics of subjectivity – an interruption in transparence but also in the agenda formed by the nexus that is attached to each subject. Agents can no longer trigger process by being oriented by their nexus in the company of the others but this solidarity is broken by a demand that might not become intelligible within one's nexus. The Other makes subjectivity capable of substitution – a subject can give up being oneself for another. Subjectivity becomes a space of possible replacement where everything can take a different direction, including identity. If monadological co-existence depends on interdependence, a metaphysics of the others depends on the capacity to interrupt identity itself. In fact, I understand the metaphysics of the others as a result of Levinas interrupting Whitehead.

The metaphysics of the others is also an interruption in transparency. Levinas' appeal to infinity brings transcendence to the scope of co-existence. Infinity cannot be transparent, it cannot be available in a glance. Harman's object-oriented philosophy objects and revise in Whiteheadean and Latourian process philosophy by positing real objects that are withdrawn from what is manifested in qualities and relations. Objects transcend their interactions and appearances. They host a singularity in themselves; real objects can withdraw into a singular realm alien to every interaction. Here we can compare the contrast between indexicalism and object-oriented ontology with the one between Levinas' singularity of the Other and Kierkegaard's singularity of the self. Kierkegaard posits a subject that is never fully manifested neither in any description of her relations nor in any of her interchanges with other subjects. There is something in me, according to Kierkegaard, that resists any system, a sui generis element that makes any neutral picture of what exists incomplete – what I am escapes any systematic approach. Levinas writes that what is the same is “essentiellement identification dans le divers, ou histoire, ou système.” He continues: “ce n'est pas moi qui me refuse au système, comme le pensait Kierkegaard, c'est l'Autre.”1 The Other is what escapes any effort to systematize; an ontology of the Other is impossible – there is no quadruple theory, no substantive account. The infinite in the other is part of what makes the other leave a trace on my image of the world – and make it incomplete. The Other brings in interruption – the metaphysics of the others is the interrupted nexus.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

More on nihilism

A neo-Klugean take on this.

Subtitles still missing.

Nihilism, prometheism, capitalism

The history of nihilism, prometheism and capitalism are in many ways intertwined and recent debates around accelerationism have made this clear (see work by Nick Land, Ray Brassier and Reza Nigarestani for example). These processes are mutually illuminating in many respects. First, they all draw on lack of bounds: capital closes no cycle and is always seeking room for expansion while the limitless technological advances defended by prometheism requires no circumventing authority from anything that could be grounded in nature and nihilism paves the way for groundlessness. Second, they have rich connections to the history of Western metaphysics in its effort to make universal principles explicit and in its endeavor to present reality as something that admits fully exposure. Third, they all somehow connect to artificial devices capable of control – nihilism severs the connection between controlling stances and their scopes, prometheism promises to turn intelligence into artifact and capitalism is perhaps itself led by a drive akin to a growing collective artificial intelligence composed by money, credit and financial means. The three intertwined histories point towards what could be the transversal key to think about the near future in terms of human choices and human predicaments.

Heidegger interprets Nietzsche's nihilism (and the statement he attributes to a mad man that “we killed God”) as the gradual demise of any intelligible force in the concrete. Not only God but anything supra-sensible looses its force as nihilism advances. This loss of natural control is a transition towards something unknown – what was previously controlled now is available, at the disposal of something, up for grabs. Nietzsche predicts that a super-human will replace the controlling stances that nihilism gradually discredited and weakened. The automation of the world as much as the history of metaphysics witness this shrinking in power of the so-called natural (as much as super-natural) forces. Heidegger assimilates the history of nihilism to the history of metaphysics – the history of separating out the supra-sensible from the sensible. The essence of technology – the Ge-Stell, as he calls it for example in the Bremen Lectures – is that of splitting apart an area of experience from its governing power. Ge-Stell guides the history of metaphysics as much as that of science and technology with is goal to extract general principles from working functionalities. The critique of metaphysics in the Kantian vein is itself a chapter in this history of nihilism for it extracts from experience its transcendental architecture and paves the way for sensorial experience to be automated by an artificial transcendental subject (for example in the form of artificial learners capable of deciding inductive strategies). In any case, nihilism points at the metaphysical operation of separating intelligence from the sensible.

The general movement guiding nihilism is that of making room for a progressive automation of all kinds of intelligence by extracting intelligible principles from any concrete item. This progressive automation of intelligence makes room for the artifice which is the implementation of the extracted principles. The process, which itself is neither controlled nor predicted, is one where autonomy begets automation. In this sense, prometheism concerns a future where human control is mitigated by the digitalization of humanity. The turning artificial of intelligence increasingly embeds artifacts and devices in the practices of human co-existence. Recent literature of prometheism – chiefly by Nigarestani and Brassier – wed it with inhumanism, a conception of a gradual automation of reason and of human norms. Based on the idea drawn from Robert Brandom's reading of Kant's conception of norms, inhumanism conceives that applying a norm is a way of committing to it while (slightly) changing its content – the institution and the application of a norm are not different in nature. Brandom holds that the norms are us; not simply that they are ours, but they constitute us. As artificial intelligences become introduced to the human norms, they contribute to their constitution and therefore to our constitution. The outcome is that the borders of what counts as human become blurred from the inside.

The prometheism debate in its connection to the idea that capital is already a working artificial intelligence inserted in human practices is developed in the accelerationist debate, mostly in the work of Land influenced by Bataille, Deleuze, Guattari and Lyotard. Land, mostly in the context of the CCRU in the 1990s, formulated a cybernetic account of the effects of capital as an exogenous intelligence that has been guiding the technical development of machinery. This accelerationist picture described capital as a cyberpositive force that does not close its circuits but rather promotes open drifts in a directed line. This open circuit provides a key to understand both the drive towards technological growth and the very mechanism of turning intelligence artificial. Accelerationism itself can be described as reckoning with the intertwined forces of nihilism, capitalism and prometheism. The difference between left accelerationism – such as that recommended by the inhumanists but also present in the original work of Deleuze and Guattari – and unconditioned accelerationism – which is how Land prefers to label his position recently – lies in the way these forces are considered to be manageable. Land claims the future is already out of any possible (human) control. The left accelerationists, on the other hand, believe in taking action to make sure nihilism and prometheism will eventually lead the planet beyond capitalism – albeit in a way that could only be possible by going through a capitalist stage.

The issue is them whether there is a way out of what is structured by these intertwined forces. To a large extent the future of Earth and humanity depends on whether such a way out is possible and how it is to be conceived. Further, the future of human sovereignty – and therefore of juridical institutions and of political action in general (and democracy in particular) as much as of spontaneity in theory-construction – depends on how much intelligence can be extracted from human and natural processes. The intertwined histories of nihilism, capitalism and prometheism can be to some degree understood and described itself as an intelligence. If this intelligence can be extracted from the processes that compose these histories, it can be also automated with consequences that are hard to predict. In any case, the issue of how to understand the connection between these histories and the future becomes central – as Heidegger addressed in his sometimes not straightforward remarks about destiny.

Are the three intrinsically connected? And, if so, does that mean that the way out of one of them requires distancing from the two others? Anti-accelerationists as different as Donna Haraway and Silvia Federici have understood the history of capitalism in contrast with alternative ways of being in the world – communal and animist practices weaken both the nihilist and the prometheist drives. Can we think beyond the intertwined histories is to somehow take distance from the three of them at once.

Friday, 9 November 2018

The tragedy of South America and Mary Daly's patriarchal cycle

This blog was silent and me absent for the whole of last month. I was too shocked with the local elections in Brazil and too sad for the terrible fate of Abya Yala in the coming years.

We live terrible days were capitalist realism seems to be the only reasonable explanation - that will run in terms of how collective intelligence works these days when there is no culture beyond the dogma of capital - for the increasing choice for more control and greater misery and for the boosted stupidity that is making this continent give up anything that was communal, interesting, creative or inspiring.

There is a cyclic historic scheme that I believe is Mary Daly's (didn't read the end of Gyn/Ecology yet, but Robin Morgan in Demon Lover quotes Berit Äs as the author of the scheme and Berit tells me is all Daly's). The cycle has that patriarchy is a system with three stages, it is successively preparing for the war, waging war and recovering from the war. The third phase, surely, is the most inventive, welcoming, open, creative, gentle and capable of new instruments of fairness - and yet is still patriarchal. This is the phase of grief and grief makes people less self-centered, more tolerant, less keen on luxury and to some extent more inclined to solidarity. Capitalist realism, I said in my class on Mark Fisher yesterday,is perhaps the passage from a time of recovering from the war (the thirty glorious and their more ambivalent aftermath) to a preparation for the war. The coming war, for sure, is the climate cataclysm that is orienting a great deal of political decisions although its shape and speed are still fairly unknown. Moving from phase 3 to phase 1 really feels like the end is near, the present is thin and there is not much new ahead. According to the scheme, this can only be remedied in patriarchy by a war.

Urgently needing a way out.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Nigarestani and the space of the inhuman

The inhumanists claim that reason which is autonomous can be automated; that humans can be redefined by a navigation in the space of norms where institution and application is always simultaneous. Nigarestani gets from Brandom the idea that we are norms and in that sense we are open to modification while we apply the very norms by which we recognize ourselves. He intensifies the political element in Brandom´s construction by pressing autonomy towards automation. (It is a move that makes the space of norms similar to the space of desires where human practices are changes and reshaped.)

The question here concerning AI is whether capital is already a norm-mongering which institutes and applies - maintains and modifies - directly or indirectly the existing (human but not all too human) norms. Does the Nigarestanied Brandom us include already the prothetic capital?