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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Process Leibniz and somatism

This week in my Leibniz lectures we were discussing some small texts on existence, including On the radical origin of things. The issue is about existence (and perfection, and exigentia essentiae) and compossibility. I have been insisting that process philosophers (like Latour) embrace a holism with no resource to any kind of internal relation. As such, things are all (externally) related to each other but there is little hint towards monism (pace Schaffer). My student André Arnault, though, is adamant in insisting that process philosophy - especially in the Latourian variety which tends to play down notions like Souriau's surexistence - is not crucially different from the picture Leibniz was putting forward. In other words, the move from internal to external relations is not that much of a big difference in the picture. In fact, if we think in terms of worlds, a move that Schaffer himself makes when considering the whole as a ground, the difference seems to be only whether we're considering the world as a self-organised network or a mechanism. But the world as a whole is such that - as Leibniz says - if something is compossible with all things, then it exists (Principium meum est, quicquid existere potest, et aliis cmpatibile est, id existere). We are indeed very close to the idea that things are brought about (sponsored, to use the traditional translation in this blog) by something else that exists. In other words, the question that Leibniz raises is: (given that contingency is, if anything, global and not local) could there be anything that could be brought about by something, that no force or resistance from any other actant militates against and, still, fails to exist?

Where exactly do we get when we systematically remove God from Leibniz's system? Surely we can frame the issue of existence being an exigentia essentiae in terms of a potential perfectly wise being, but if we're not allowed to do that, the only alternative is to understand perfection, and global contingency, in terms of (holistic) compossibility. Leibniz theory of contingency envisages both a method and a thesis about contingent relations. The method is to say that the network of analytic connections - of those that we tend to take as necessary - could be a model for all network of connections and the difference is only in the size of the connecting links. The connection between a grain of sand and my toes could be said to work like a definition, if we consider a broader system of interactions and the items in the world as part of that broader interaction. This is the method. The thesis, on the other hand, is: if we could consider all things and every connection between all things, there would be no contingency beyond infinite compossibility.

Surely, the thesis is formulated in a somatist fashion. That is, in terms of already constituted items (monads). Maybe it ought to be so. That's an interesting point. Surely, one can say that interaction dismantles networks of actants and prove actants to be resilient to survive further (there is nothing but tests of resistance). But one can also conceive of contingency within the process of ontogenesis, not in the nature of the connections between items but rather in how these items come about. This is what is at stake not in what is reduced to what but in the very process of reduction (or irreduction): the fold, the pli. Maybe matter points at something that makes any attempt of mathesis universalis impossible.

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