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Saturday, 18 June 2011

Physical intentionality and anomalous monism

Sometimes I find myself still a Davidsonian with respect to how to things thinks through. I felt like that when we were working on qualia qua qualitons and I do now, working on physical intentionality without priority monism. The idea is that what is intended is always a type, while relations between objects are external ones. This gets us world holism (the internal relatedness of all things) without monism. Objects could be common to everyone (to every object) but types are not common. Maybe mental causation could then be thought of as a special case of intentionality based internal relatedness of things without internal relations between objects.

Maybe physical intentionality entails no more than an anomalous monism...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Schaffer and Heraclitus

Been neglecting this blog for more than a week. In fact, my previous post was mostly concocted more than a week ago before meeting Manuel to write a paper on Schaffer's priority monism. Our take was roughly that the step from the internal relatedness of all things to priority monism (there is something that everything depends on and that doesn't depend on anything - for him, the cosmos) is not warranted. In order to do that we developed a notion of internal relatedness of all things (what we call world holism) that clearly entails nothing like a cosmos, or a whole.

After that, I came to Efes to be part of this film on Heraclitus. Today we are going to do some unarcheology, bury a stone carved with two recent fragments of the Obscure close to Artemis' temple. One fragment is: in order to understand the logos we ought to be like rolling stones. The other one, however, is quite more to the point of our argument against priority monism as a consequence of world holism: while there is no whole, everything is tied to everything.

The open horizon of life and the absolute other

Interestingly the discussions at the Object-Oriented event and my current enthusiasm for a possible Millnong project led me back to the old preoccupations from the time of my 2008 black book. There I draw both on Kripke's move away from descriptivism and from Lévinas' move away from thought that does no more than fit the other on the same. In both cases, there is an appeal to an other beyond our descriptive thought - some kind of transcendent other. It brings back Meillassoux to my mind, when he insists on making room for the different in nature that cannot blend into a monism of the all too human.

I think most process philosophies – including the ontology of fragments – can be seen as having problems with the transcendent other. One possible line to take is to exorcise the craving. I myself feel the attraction of a transcendent other – and the craving for some room for that is in the kernel of my sympathy towards Kripke (and to Lévinas, and to Meillassoux). But I'll try to exorcise the craving in two different directions here – and I want to make clear that I think the second is promising, even though the first way of exorcising the craving can be eventually effective.

The first line I thought was to try and take the craving from a transcendent other as a left over from creationism. It could be compared to absolutely different species. In a Darwinian nature, there is no species that is absolutely different from all others. Otherness is never complete – nothing is fully outer, just as there is no all-pervasive doubts. Doubt has to be held by belief, otherness is intimately intertwined in sameness. It is not about reducing the other to the same, but it is about finding relations (of the very kind Lévinas would call metaphysical as opposed to ontological) that tie the other to the same. The absence of absolute other could provide room for singularities taken as unique measures of sameness and otherness. In other words, maybe process philosophy would just have resources enough to exorcise the absolute other without falling prey of the idea that everything belongs in a single whole, in a cosmic blob.

The second line is to think that the open horizon of life that made us postulate well-constituted individuals provide is never complete. So, if we say with Kripke that Socrates could have gone away from philosophy, we also say would have to say that he could not go away from individuality (not from his socraticity, because I understand Kripke wants to distance himself from Russell and Quine, but from the fact that he is in one well-defined piece, one identity). But if we allow the different pieces of Socrates to have each an open horizon of life, then we loose our capacity to hold on to them in thought (to refer to them). This is indeed a predicament. However, maybe there is a way out if we just follow this thought: different things are to be kept fixed in order for other things to change. We can elaborate this by saying that reference is always with respect of a frame of reference, a background of constant posits. In one use, it could be Socrates, but in other uses it could be the philosopher who lived in Athens and impressed Plato – that could have been, say, Democritus. That description – in a somehow referential use – has an (modally) open horizon of life ahead of it. I reckon this doesn't make me into a two-dimensionalist. In fact, I think this is the thrust of Kripke's remark that possible worlds are not foreign countries or distant planets; it is from something fixed in the actual world that we relate to possible worlds. Something fixed is what is needed in order to preserve a (modally) open horizon of life, it doesn't have to be anything that is there once and for all. The need for a (modally) open horizon of life requires nothing but some fixity to be postulated in the ontology (and nothing fixed).

The second line does the trick for me, at least right now. I think the crave fro otherness doesn't have to lead to an ontology of fixed others, individuated once and for all.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Object-Oriented: Exhibition opens tomorrow

We are a group of artists, philosophers and programmers who have been meeting up to share our thoughts on art objects, object oriented programming and object oriented metaphysics.

The event we are organizing at Leighton Space combines an exhibition, talks and one workshop; we would like it to be an informal forum to reflect on the many ways objects can be perceived, used, made, thought and studied.

Phil Jones has been a musician and software developer for nearly 20 years. As the former, he's composed music to accompany ballet, poetry recitals and gallery exhibitions, as well as exploring a number of interactive compositional toys. As the latter he's developed everything from social networks for social entrepreneurs, through industrial scale materials management software for Brazilian pharmacies, to desktop applications in Java. Phil is now a full time student on the MFA in Computational Studio Arts at Goldsmiths College, University of London. (
Hilan Bensusan I am a Brazilian philosopher and artist currently between Paris - lecturing at the University of Paris 8 - and London. My current interests revolve around fragments and composition, both as a topic for my philosophical thinking and as a guide for my art research. I have worked with video and performance touching topics such as orientation, queer bodies and decomposition. In the last years I've been developing ways to put together philosophy and performance, mostly by combining the performing gesture with the philosophical talk. I'm currently exploring ways in which we can view objects as being themselves performers. (
Tim Weston He was born from the loins of a woman not long after a time of great strife. All too soon his instincts were tamed and tarnished by the educational system. He fell into work and later, much later, woke again. Now he spends his time trying to be an object among objects. As a means to this end, he has adopted the process of art, hoping that by paying close attention to the objects he draws and paints, they will consent to admit him to their flock or fold. (Tim is a part-time student on the Art Doctorate ,UEL)
Mark Sowden studied Fine Art at North East London and Manchester Polytechnic in the mid 1980's. He has continued to make art since graduating while working part time as a workshop Technical Demonstrator at University of East London. Using photography, sculpture and drawing, his practice is rooted in an understanding of the potential of process to examine and manipulate the physical environment he lives in. Using what is near at hand he uses process to transform objects to a point at which their identity is on the point of dissolution.
Gisel Carriconde Azevedo I am a Brazilian artist currently doing a professional doctorate in Fine Arts, at the University of East London. In the last few years, I have been working with installations which involve appropriation of cultural references, mainly from art history and museums. As sculpture have become more central to my practice, I have become interested in what makes an object into an art object. (

Challenges for the Millnong Project

Tomas is having problems posting things as comments on this blog, so I paste it here. In any case, what he writes is too important:

I believe your question about the possibility of pointing at nonexistents points in the right direction. I think that is what asking if there can be direct reference to nonexistents, the core question of the Millnong project, really amounts to.

At first sight, it might seem clear that there can be no such a thing as direct reference to nonexistents. This sounds natural, since there can be no causal relation between utterances of names and nonexistent objects and it happens that the causal chain theories of reference, despite its problems, are the main option to Millianism. But this reasoning is not quite right. Causal chain theories are theories of reference transmission only, that is, they are accounts of how reference is passed on from one utterance or speaker to another. The baptism of an object itself need not be explained as a causal event. Surely, in order to baptize an object one first needs to pick it out. This can be done by physically by pointing at it, given that the object is in our field of vision. But one can also pick an object out by a definite description. This is basically Graham Priest's account of why Meinongianism is not inconsistent with direct reference (Towards Non-Being, pp. 141). (Priest goes even further and insists that one can also pick an object out by mentally pointing at it. According to him, this should be a corollary of taking intentionality seriously. In its turn, this should not mean embracing internalism, since nonexistent objects are not private.) So there surely can be real causal reference transmission from one real person to another where the referent is a nonexistent object, provided we explain how a nonexistent object can be baptized in the first place. That is, provided we explain how is it possible to 'point at' nonexistents. As your question suggested, I think this is the main challenge of the Millnong project.

Naturally, an answer to the question of how one can point at nonexistent objects will heavily rely on our account of what are nonexistent objects and, ultimately, on our very notion of objecthood. I have been supposing we already have a common and solid account of nonexistent objects, which we do not, but we probably wouldn't be able to delay its details once we got into the details of pointing at nonexistents. So I suspect we'll be able to account for reference to nonexistents as soon as we account for nonexistent objects themselves. This seems to be too easy or uninteresting though, since we quickly reach a dead end. For Meinongian objects, existent and nonexistent, are normally simply defined after the primitive notion of (nuclear) property in Meinongian theories of only one kind of predication. Remember Parsons's account: for any set of nuclear properties, there is an object that has exactly the nuclear properties in that set.

Nevertheless, I sense you might be unhappy with this quick start for other reason then the obvious problem of defining nonexistent objects. As I understand the problem you pose, it seems one can not genuinely refer (with a purely referential expression) to an object which was baptized by means of a definite description. It seems in this case the object referred to would be hostage to a description and hence not enjoy the modally open horizon of life. My own guess is that an object baptized by means of a definite description enjoys the same modal life as any other object. Only we might not be sure, depending on the description, as to which object our description happened to pick out in our world - whereas pointing at an object we can perceive might seem somehow to assure us we picked out something that enjoys full modal life, as if we had picked it out by its numerical identity. It seems to me that this opposition is problematic. For instance, I doubt that the act of pointing at something is not itself a descriptive act. Perhaps Millnongism needn't rely on a Donnellan-inspired theory of ambiguous definite descriptions, though I do think one should take seriously some version of it.

Yes, the starting point is not transmission of reference, but rather specification of what is being denoted. We need to find an equivalent for ostension in nonexistent contexts. The alternatives, roughly speaking, are: a) find a way to make sense of Donnellan-like referential use of definite descriptions of what doesn't exist or b) find another way to refer to nonexistent objects. Both seem tough as existence itself plays a role in the determination of what is being denoted.

I was reading an interview with Darwich where he talks about what he does when he uses mythological characters in his poems - or rather, mythological names, as he puts it. He says names bring up a bundle with them, a bundle of associations. He can then make Helena of Troya sell bread in Paris, which is not the same as talking about any other nonexistent bread monger. Names have this role, they can be seen as tags even when tagging the nonexistent (the Mill in Millnong). But I guess we will quickly moving towards issues in possible world semantics as Kripke's original view made room only for actual objects. David Lewis' account has room for counterparts. But this seems a bit too descriptivist for me. Is there any other way out?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Millnong Project and the objects

Can nonexistent items be pointed at? Can there be ostension of things that don't exist? I guess an affirmative answer to this questions would be the starting point of a conception of nonexistent objects that would not make them hostage to descriptions. This would be the goal of The Millnong Project I concocted yesterday with Tomas: Mill for names as tags and nong for Meinongism. This would be the way to clarify how far can our Donnellan-like intuitions about the non-attributive role of language dealing with non-existent can go. What is the equivalent of presence when we move to nonexistence?

On the other front, that of putting together my anti-desciptivism and my ontology of fragments I thought about using the notion of composition a bit more heavily. The same composition could be viewed differently in different perspectives - individuation precedes the individual composed. Once individuation is done - an object is brought about - we can try and have a firm grip on Kripke's intuition that the trans-world identity problem is misformulated as possible worlds are not like distant planets of foreign countries, they depend of relations of accessibility. However, this is still not good enough because fragments are not elements that are there independently of any composition and therefore the components of the compositions could be themselves seen as composition-laden (and the suspicion that they are description-laden can be brought back). Maybe the ontology of fragments just have to put the whole question of identity in totally different terms. And here, of course, one can feel the pull towards objects (in a heavy-duty full-fledged form as Harman has them). I want to resist this pull.