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Friday, 29 July 2011

Mereology going funky: gunky and junky

Schaffer thinks that pluralism entails atomism. This is because he assumes that there should be a grounding - things are not ungrounded, there should be an end to grounding, there are archés. In fact, the debate about monism too often takes archés for granted. It is as if there is no other options but some sort of creationism applied to grounding. In any case, if grounding is assumed,
pluralism entails atomism.

Schaffer's argument against pluralism is that it is possible that the world is gunky - everything has parts. Everything is infinitely divisible. In this case, monism would still make sense, but not pluralism. Bohn replies that it is possible that the world is junky - everything is a part. In this case, monism (there is a prior whole - priority monism - or there is only the whole - existence monism) is impossible. If the world is junky pluralism but not monism is possible.

I believe the world is gunky and junky. It is a consequence of the ontology of fragments, and of generalized Darwinism. There is no creation ex-nihilo, not even in the plural. It follows that there is only recombination. The issue seems really to be the arché assumption. I think it is better to refuse thoroughly this assumption.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Relations with non-existent relata

Manuel and me are about to finish a first presentable draft of our paper against Schaffer's argument that the internal relatedness of all things lead to priority monism (see past entries for details). We were just helping ourselves to the idea that when there is a dispositional link between a thing and a type - through Molnar's or C.B. Martin's physical intentionality - there is a relation (an internal one, for that matter). But then it dawned on us that we cannot safely use the word relation because most people (for Russellian reasons) take that there cannot be relations with non-existent relata and this is what physical intentionality could imply.

I was thinking that a word like "relation" cannot be hijacked by a philosophical tradition like that. This is where we sense the strength of the Russellian consensus: there are non-existent relata so the word "relation" cannot be used when the relata may not exist. This is also a consequence of the very peculiar status of the Plato's beard problem, it is not about different conceptions of relations (or objects etc), it is about whether the word can be appropriately applied.

In any case, we decided to shy away from the word and use something else instead...

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Occasionalist holism

My crave for a holism without wholism (or connectedness without monism) can be seen as an attempt to elaborate and argue for a fragment of the misknown Heraklitus where he writes something like this:
While there is no whole, everything is connected to everything
In the original in Portuguese:
Tudo se conecta a tudo mas não há tudo
I myself buried a stone with this fragment (and another saying: in order to understand the logos people ought to be like rolling stones) in the castle of Sappho in Eressos, Lesbos as both Heraklitus and Sappho were both devotees of Artemis:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BDBcKW72Oc
One way of making sense of the fragment is to cut the line Shaffer for instance finds between internal connectedness of all things and priority monism. But I'm growing convinced that there is an Occasionalist way to avoid monism by avoiding internal relations altogether. It is a Humean way, but not an atomist way, not one that makes the world look like a mosaic. Occasionalism holds that no (external) relaton can involve only two relata. There should always be (external) mediators. The path towards pervasive connectedness is ready: there are no atomic relations between any two relata. It is like a mosaic in the sense that there are no pre-existing, internal ties between things. However, two pieces relate only by invoking others to mediate, to be inbetween. Not all moves are allowed. There is no essence, there is no necessary connection between any two items, but not all contingent, external relations are possible – the other items of the world have to collaborate. As Latour would say, a relation always needs to pay the cost of transport between two relata, and that involves bringing together other relata.
The occasionalist move breaks the Schaffer chain between holism and wholism straight away. There is no internal tendencies, there is no contraints on modal freedom but as a matter of fact, things are connected to each other. It is of the nature of relations to depend on mediators. Their nature, yes and in this case they do have an essence, to be expressed by Latour's principle of irreduction: there is a cost to reduce and a cost not to reduce anything to anything else. Occasionalism is itself full of problems in other areas. The principle of irreduction, for example, is a a claim about the absence of unmediated contact between any two things: contact would require always an infinite chain of mediators. It opens the door to infinitism in metaphysics, and this can be another hard to swallow consequence of having holism without wholism. Further, it has problems with individuation of particulars – which is what maybe inspired Graham Harman to try and wed Latour's occasionalism to a primitivism about objects. In any case, occasionalism does the job of avoiding priority monism without biting into unreconstructed atomism.
In fact, I was thinking about the four possible images and wondering whether they can be put in a square akin to the square of oppositions:
1.The world is a jigsaw
2.The world is mosaic (contrary to 1)
3.The world has some jigsaw features as pieces connect together with the aid of others (contradiction to 2)
4.The world has some mosaic features as some pieces are connected together by sheer contingency (contradiction to 1)
Maybe while occasionalist holism holds 3, our modal holism based on physical intentionality spouses 4. (It says that the internal relatedness is between things and types and the instantiation of the latter is contingent and therefore there are mosaic features in the world.) But I'm not as yet sure yet how these four claims relate to each other in general.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Schaffer and Latour

In our take of the internal relatedness of things, Manuel and me are considering the case of physical intentionality. We think we can show that an all-pervasive internal relatedness of things entail no priority monism - the thesis that there is an object on what any other depend but that itself depends on nothing, according to Schaffer. There is at least one way to understand the internal relatedness of things that entails no internal relation between things but only between things and types. In any case, we have to show that physical intentionality amounts to a genuine case of internal relatedness of things in Schaffer's sense. His take here is that internal relatedness requires some kind of constrain on modal freedom.

Now, we name the claim that there is an internal relatedness of all things World Holism (which affords the catchy contrast between holism and wholism, the latter being something akin to Schaffer's priority monism). Hpwever, I would also see occasionalists like I take Latour as world holists since in any connection between two things, the rest of the world intervenes. The trouble is that occasionalism is actualist (skeptical about modality) and requires no kind of internal relation (or internal relatedness). It is maybe the reverse image of a modal connection. Take the dispositional link between sugar and a solvent, say water. On the modal take, there is an internal relation (that could be a necessary connection) and things that can block it (like temperature and pressure, or more sophisticated scenarios). The space opens then to talk on finks, antidotes etc. On the occasionalist take, there is no internal relation but it is only due to all the other elements around (temperature, pressure etc) that water affects sugar, it is only by means of these media that a connection is established, there is nothing internal, nothing that survives its surroundings. As a consequence, there is no room for essences.

Occasionalists would have nothing like the internal relatedness of things if that requires constraining relations. But I think there is something substantial in common between them and the thesis of internal relatedness of all things. Occasionalism entails the following:

(1) No two things relate independently of their surroundings.

While modally informed world holism entails this:

(2) No two things relate independently of their modal constraints.

Both (1) and (2) entail this:

(3) No two things can relate in full independence.

I believe (3) is substantial: it is enough to exorcise some sort of atomist conception of contingent relations. Occasionalism postulates contingent, external relations, but they are not atomic. In this sense it is in the same boat as modal world holism.