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Thursday, 26 April 2012

Is the world a container?

In Larval Subjects:


Bryant discusses the connectedness of all things. I take his relations are external, and yet they compose a world. There is an interesting discussion on whether accidental, incidental, coincidental relations could be forged. I suppoose they can be forged in the sense that they have to be instauré - that is, brought about and maintained. If all relations in the world have multiple sponsors, there are many elements (objects, actants) involved in any forging of a relation. An external relatedness of all things could be thus defended (but this is not Bryant´s line).

Bryant then discusses whether the world is in some sense a container. He goes:

"Tim seems to conceive world as a container that entities are in. For me, by contrast, the world is anything but a container. Ultimately there are no containers, there are just relations between entities. And as a consequence, in the framework of my ontology, a world is nothing but a network of relations between structurally coupled entities."

Surely, the issue is what is meant by *structurally*. If the relations are external, the world is a contingent assemblage. If the world were a container, it would have to have borders fixed independently of the existing (or future) alliances between its components. There should be containers only in the sense of parameters of existing (external) relations for further (external) relations.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Kairós, location, external relations

To talk about relations of co-presence as primitive, like trope theorists often do to take care of objects (concrete particulars), makes location derivative. Location is built out of, say, degrees of co-presence. It is a bit like monads having no location in space - see post below on points of view and perspectives. Monads govern bodies (the whole universe but specially a region where it expresses itself more distinctly) but are not in the bodies. They relate to the other monads through some kind of diplomatic relation - a relation between governing instances. Of course, those relations are taken to be internal by Leibniz.

In fact, often external relations appear to be tied to location (in space and time). It is a matter of opportunities, of kairós - contact and contagion as opposed to a kinship, typically. If locations are undestood in terms of something else - say, relations of co-presence - then it could be difficult to understand external relations. Maybe it is possible to understand them in terms of alliances between governing instances. But is it possible to think of contingency without any appeal to the occasion one has in space and time? In other worlds, can contingency dispense with (primitive) location considerations (something that Kairós attempts to capture)?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The horizon of the concrete

I´ve been calling the horizon of the concrete that line that divides properties from objects. (In my square representation, properties are in the northern hemisphere in the universal and abstract corners while objects are south in the particular and concrete corners). Abstract things - like mathematical items or properties or even tropes - are such that the Leibniz law (that claims both that the identicals are indiscernible and that the indiscernibles are identical) holds. Leibniz, as a radical bundle theorist, takes it to hold all the way. There is no concrete, no horizon of the concrete. All items belong to the abstract hemisphere and their particularity satisfies Leibniz law. Leibniz finds a way to get rid of all concretude, it is the basis of a mathesis universalis.

To invert Leibniz up side down could be to consider no more than the side of concretude; to allow for no abstracta where the Law is satisfied. No indiscernible is identical and no identical is indiscernible. There is no principle of reason (maybe rather something akin to the principle of unreason put forward bu Meillassoux) or maybe no principle whatsoever. There is no more than history, the history of the processes of individuation. Only things being treated as individuals in a specific region of the process. This amounts to say that contingency is the mark of the natural. And the concrete is the harbour of contingency. But I suspect there are other ways to think about the concrete that finds alternative ways to keep the horizon of the concrete instead of dissolving it.

Indexicals and dispositions: two varieties of perspectivism

It is common to understand opaque contexts as those where things appear as something - as opposed to transparent contexts where things appear as such. It is a tricky distinction, surely. But still sometimes a useful one. Descriptions of qualities or modes of presentation introduce a sort of opacity. Think of dispositions, for example.
When A is (physically) intended towards B, A intends a bill to be fitted that it happens to be satisfied by B. It doesn´t really matter what else B is, provided that it is, say, a mammal, a glass of water or a piece of solid ground that holds some weight. A sees B as something. I have been suspecting for a while that here we are very close to the talk of perspectives. There is a sense in which A has a perspective on B. Interestingly, it is not the kind of perspective that is brought about by indexicality.

Kit Fine, for instance, in his studies of perspectives focused primarily on tense, considers those perspectives brought up by the A-series of McTaggart (past, present, future). Fine´s approach could also tackle perspectives like that of the actual world (as this world) or the ones of my (first-person) view as opposed to a third person perspective. In all those cases, perspectives arise from indexicals - me, now, this, here etc. Similarly, when Viveiros de Castro diagnoses a perspectivism in the multinaturalism of the native Amazonians, he connects a perspective with a body: different bodies (like that of a human and that of a jaguar) have different perspectives. Perspectives has to do with the position one occupies, it is a point of view, a pointer towards something and, in that sense, it depends on being in a space, in a location - a view from somewhere.

Leibniz, in his late work Monadology, talks about the perspectives of a monad and, in section 57 compares these perspectives with the point of view on a single town available from different parts. It is a complicated comparison because he conflates two varieties of perspective. The idea of a point of view insinuates a location from which something is viewed. And yet monads have no location. They occupy no space in the system of late Leibniz. In a letter to des Bosses dated of 1709 Leibniz explains his shift from a notion of individual substance as souls that are like points (with a location in space but no dimention) to his later view that they are not spatial and have no location. It is part of his move from a doctrine of bugs all the way down to the doctrive of monads representing and expressing themselves in the bit of matter they govern - and that is itself governed by other monads. But if the monad has no location, it cannot have a perspective in the point of view sense, in the indexical sense. Leibniz´s monads have perspective in the former sense above, of taking something as something. Each monad takes the others to be something for it. It is a perspective on the world so far as there is a preestablished harmony. Monads have no body (they express themselves best in bits of the matter, but not for ever). To be sure, perspective in this sense is also related to location, but it is rather about location in the configuration of things (of monads). To have a perspective is somehow to represent something as something. The representation can be anywhere. Dispositions also represent. Dispositional perspectives are different from indexical ones.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Haecceitas: pointing at objects, tropes and concepts

We were discussing today in the metaphysics course the very idea of thisness - of haecceitas. Given a frame of reference - it could be the keepers of proper names, a repository of labels or a finger pointing at a particular - something can be tracked independently of anything universal (like qualities or properties). I always thought that there ought to be something of this idea played whenever one is pressed with a challenge related to the identity of indiscernibles. De re tracking is the first way that comes to mind when we try to avoid taking particulars as examples. The original Duns Scotus haecceitas was applied to objects - concrete particulars. Pointing at one object and not another (maybe indiscernible from the first) makes it this object and not the other. Whenever pointing - any kind of indexicality, proper names, for example - is possible, we can deal directly with particulars. We can then take an object as whatever is pointed and not as an instance of something universal. We use indexicals to present examples - this is a chair, Socrates is a philosopher - so that we can see the universal in the particular being pointed. (It is no coincidence that Wittgenstein talks about the many possible understandings of a pointing gestures at the end of section 185 in the Investigations: it is a section about how pointing can deceive, we point at a sequence of numbers but we cannot be sure at pointing at what that sequence intends to stand for - or exemplify. Demonstrative reasoning is the crux of the matter.)

But also when we talk about tropes - abstract particulars - the best thing to do is to present them by demonstration: this red, this way of being square etc. We can also present a trope by showing other tropes similar to it. But then we are already pointing at particulars. Pointing is relating to particulars no matter whether they are abstract or concrete.

And still we can also use pointing to present something universal (the concrete, the abstract but also the universal pole of the square of these four properties thought to be so seminal). This is the case when McDowell talks about demonstrative concepts. I point at a colour and say: this colour. It is a concept I´m refering - what I take to have an universal element. But I´m presenting it by pointing. I can master the concept of that shade of blue - think of those colour books in catalogues for products - while I´m looking at it but not without the shade being pointed. I cannot grasp the concept in terms of other concepts (other universals) just like qualities are not enough to specify the object I´m pointing when there are other, indiscernible ones. Yet, the concept has universal application. And it revolves around a haecceitas.

Skendes and recursive ontology (partly by Imogen Reed)

Imogen Reed wrote to me kindly offering a piece of writing to this blog. I suggested him to write something on Skendes, the Ethiopian philosopher, which he promptly did. Skendes´life and his decision for silence as a punishment self-inflicted for having fooled his mother and cause her to suicide through his speech calls my attention. It could also be seen as yet another slant on the Oedipus narrative. Plus, his silence - his oral quietism - probably influenced the image of a philosopher - or of a wise person - in some parts of the world.

I was reading some of the questions and answers of Skendes book. Question 18 is about the ocean and he connects it with a womb. Not a surprising connection (with even an evolutionary ring to it). It made me think of the recursive element here: the womb is a generator of all that exist - "the whole world is in its womb" - and yet it is exists. The womb is not outside the world as the monads are not outside matter. Ontogenesis is part of ontology. It is not outside it like we think of abstraction. It can even be thought as an object amidst others, but it can also be a repository of matter ("it has no boundaries", writes Skendes) that germinates future bodies as it acts as unemployed matter. Unemployment is what points at what is yet to be a job - unregistered production. The ocean - or the womb - is made of what is going to exist or, rather, is going to be made of what exists.

I include below part of the text on Skendes sent by Imogen:

The much celebrated story of Skendes an ancient philosopher has occupied the storytelling generations of Greek, Syrian, Arabic and Ethiopian scholars over centuries. It has been argued between Arabic, Greek and Ethiopian who the text is based on – with the Ethiopian text based on Arabic and yet some scholars state it is stylized on the Greek people. The story itself as the Ethiopian version goes tells of Skendes, son of shrewd parents, wanting the best education for their son, that decided to send him for a classical education to Berytus (Beirut) and Athens. At the time Skendes left for this scholarly mission he was just thirteen years old.

Whilst abroad Skendes was exposed to the thoughts of so called wise philosophers who told him “All women are prostitutes”. Determined to test this theory after staying away for twenty four years he returned to his former home country and decided to test his own mother. By tricking a maid into letting him into his mother's house he ended up spending the night with his own mother. Upon revealing himself as her son she was so appalled by the discovery that she hung herself.

As a punishment for allowing his tongue to ultimately cause his own mother's death via his deceitful means Skendes made a vow never to speak again. From that moment on he remained mute as a penance for speaking at all.

At the time the emperor was Andryanos – upon hearing of Skendes' unusual story he invited him to his court. Instead of speaking his thoughts when ordered to he wrote them down. As a result Emperor Andryanos communicated back to him through writing with his responses being organised into two sections.

The first section contained fifty-five sections and the second, one hundred and eight questions. Skendes developed theories in answer to these questions, all about the essence of God, the angels, man, the world, the sun, moon, stars, sky, clouds and earth as well as the mind, the spirit, the winds, thunder, the air, the ocean, the soul, man and woman. After the emperor listened with great care to what Skendes was saying (writing) he was acutely impressed and did not again order the philosopher to speak. Instead he officially declared that Skendes by treated as a national treasure and be preserved in the priests' archives.

Monads, death drive and panbiosis

Around section 67 of the Monadology, Leibniz firmly embraces an object-oriented ontology (it is a monad-oriented ontology where the particulars are individuated with respect to the rest of the world, but the rest of the world itself boils down to monads.) Matter is made of monads all the way down and a mind relates to a body only when we consider a single layer; the body itself is made of monads and some matter and this matter is itself made of monads and some more matter and so forth. This recursive operation could also be used by the materialist who would take a mind to be composed of matter and further minds and so on. In any case, it is a thoroughly infinitist ontology. Each monad is singular and everything is full of them - Leibniz panbiosis insinuates a chain of beings that points towards some form of recaptulation thesis where more of the same (not quite the same) is found when we look for what is inside.

Interesting to consider the Leibniz scheme in a Nick Land / Brassier / Nigarestani environment. Monads long to become matter - in their own singular way they thrive for composition that would render them unnecessary. Like a clock-maker who aims to be perfect enough to afford to leave the stage (Leibniz´s God, who seems often to want to disappear in the cogs of the world). Monads entwine a death drive in their dealings with life: mattter is something to aspire to. They compose bodies because they want to dissolve in a world and yet matter is never fully realised as further layers of monads ever appear. The will for anihilation is perpetually postponed, deferred, left for the next layer. The state of pure matter is unreachable.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Leibniz. materialism and compossibility

In Leibniz, the internal relatedness of things - that may follow from a general principle of reason - entails priority monism and certainly affords talk on the complement of a substance as the whole world minus that substance. He is committed to the impossibility of gunk (at least in the actual world, see IX, Discours de métaphysique) as units cannot be divided (have no parts) and his ideas suggest that no junk is possible, i.e. not everything is a part as worlds are not. Schaffer´s position comes therefore quite close. I keep wondering, though, how his system fares with no appeal to God.

Interestingly, God knows a priori contingent truths not because he has a special faculty of knowledge but rather because he can grasp the infinite notions of the substances. In other words, in his infinite wisdom, he can see what is there in each substance - say, that Alexander would beat Darius in a battle. It is there, in Alexander, past events leave signs (traces) in the substances and those, seen together, carry the signs (seeds) of events to be. Substances are themselves filled with memory and capacity to project. It´s like the layers of a geological structure, carrying information about past turbulences and future disturbances. God sees all that (a priori) but it is as if he reads (in advance) from the substance, say, from the traces in the stones.

The choice of substances - the dramatis personae of the world - amounts to the choice of a world. Once this choice is made, it is all there, in the world - in the chosen substances. And the wise choice for the best possible world is guided by considerations of compossibility: God allows for some evil because its removal wouldn´t be compossible with some greater good. Now, compossibility is a logical relation, if anything is. A logic is a theory of compossibilities. I think this gives an interesting dimension to the attempt to make abstracta closer from nature. But what makes something compossible with something else is what makes a logic, as opposed to a theory within that logic. If we take Quine much forward than he ever went, as the distinction between definitions and theoretical statements within a (say physical) theory is itself grounded on nothing beyond our sovereignty, so is the distinction between a logic and a theory formulated within it. If we go this far, the distinction between possibility and compossibility is itself blurred (or becomes a result of our sovereignty as well). But them, of course, the talk on possible worlds is already made either meaningless or irrelevant.