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Friday, 27 July 2012

Sellarsians and the correlate

I was fortunate earlier this month to spend four days in Bonn during the first week of Markus Gabriel´s summer school on the speculative turn. It is interesting to see where the movement is going. For example, to see how Meillassoux´s book is being (deservedly) taken as the starting point of the whole thing, at least in terms of introducing a suitable vocabulary to organise discussions concerning the 20th century with hindsight. I think the distinctions between weak correlationism, strong correlationism and metaphysics of the subjectivity open up new ways to distinguish the absolute from the relational and the relative.

I was particularly pleased to see Sellars, Brandom and McDowell being discussed. I always thought that these people had grand projects that had a strong speculative flavour to their advantage. McDowell, as I read him, fares as a good and sophisticated version of metaphysics of the subjectivity as the world is re-enchanted and access to it is through fully conceptualised deliverances of the senses. Brandom would be more of a strong correlationist, especially because his inferentialism would not hook beyond our norms - us. Sellars is a more interesting case, he was certainly uneasy to dismiss truth-makers and a defender of a correspondence account of truth as he wanted to embrace a robust realism. It is reasonable to take Sellars as wanting to break out of the correlationist circle and attain some sort of absolute. I´m not so convinced, however, that the thoroughly kantian framework was his best guide.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Abesences, negations and oppositions

Tristan Garcia (Forme et Objet) seems to be proposing a kind of monism of things with nothing but things in a plan de n´importe quoi. Whem he goes on about nothingness, he seems to point at a dissolution of oppositions. In pages 55-58 he criticizes a notion of absolute nothingness which results from a conflation between what he calls the contrary of a thing (or its negative) - that seems to amount to the complement of the thing - and the absence of a thing. The latter is the product of an event while the first is something that always appears in conjunction with the thing. Then he summarizes his position in three lessons:
Premier enseignement: rien ne préexiste à quelque chose qu´autre chose ; deuxième enseignement : le négatif d´une chose ne peut ni la préceder ni la suivre, mais est inséparable de son existence ; troisième enseignement : l´absence d´une chose ne peut que la suivre.
If we take the absence of something to be a thing (as I considered in the post on abhava in this blog, ) and if the absence has to follow from a thing, it is traceable back to it. The absence of a book on my table is not the absence of a pad because it is tied to the thing absent. Still, however, the absence of a book cannot be something that makes "this is the absence of a book" false.

In any case, the effort to dissolve oppositions in a world of things amounts to an anti-realism about lack - about negativity. The two elements that compose absolute nothingness - to be disentangled - are absence and contrariety (complement) and both boil down to things. (In fact, Garcia seems to be exorcising the possibility of conflating absence and contrariety and therefore understanding opposition in terms of complement - other things but the thing - and removal - or exil.) Negativity is just in the eye of the describer (the eye is also a thing). Surely then, there are no more than things, things and more things - negation being nowhere and being no more than the name of an operation (perceptive or active) over things.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Composing ontographies

Coetzee is good at pointing out the price of writting. It is the price of inspiration but it is also the price of possession and it points at the ethics of inspection. The last pages of The Master of Petersburg bring the point home explicitly: Dostoyevski had to turn the habitat of his stepson upside down to be able to see through (of course in the process, all his corners were tried by Nechaev). If inspecting the world cannot be an act of inconspicuous voyerism - but at least more like going to a peep show where the world undresses in a job shift and being compensated for it - it is not clear that contemplation could provide any sort of landscape ontography nor that it is open for us to investigate things without instigate them. Ontographies, in this sense at least, come out from plots we get involved.

Speculation affects the world by its products - this is why the stakes are high for a text like Meillassoux´s L´inexistence divine - but also by the means employed to produce it. The ontographer is like a reporter and not like a being-spotter. She cannot see anything from above, the world is not open to a landscape view, it has to be harmed, inflicted and even tortured - as Jelinek says the words ought to be - to reveal something. What is the political price of an ontography? In fact, torturing the world and torturing words amount to something similar, a certain disposition to deal with blood, to sell one´s soul (as Coetzee has Dostoievski saying), to disrupt whatever flows.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Abhava, Millnong project, abstraction: descriptions and negation

In the Square of Oppositions conference last month in Lebanon, Mihir Chakraborty considered absence to understand negation and as a positive concept. The idea is central to the notion of abhava in Indian logic. Then there are objects and absences of objects over which, supposedly, once could quantify. I asked him how close Abhava was from a Meinongian theory of objects. His first reaction was to say that to think of the absence of something as an object was not a Meinongian move. In fact, it could seem that one can refer to absences using the original objects - and not descriptions - allowing them to have a modally open horizon of life (as I defined previously in this blog (for example, and The name of an absence would be designed through the name of the lacking object. If this were so, I thought absences could be a way to implement the Millnong project - the project of combining Meinong and Mill by considering non-existing objects as independent from descriptions.

However, this individualization procedure would fail precisely because in this case there is no concretude: the absence of a book on the table is also the absence of a pad on the table unless I describe it one way or another. Nothing can then come and upset my modal tales about how the absence of the book would be if something else were the case. The absence of the book would be necessarily such absence - no modally open horizon. Absence of objects are like mathematical objects - utterly Meinongian in the sense of fully dependent on descriptions. No trace of the independent life that concretude can provide.

Interestingly, Juan Manuel Benitez had discussed, minutes earlier, Buridan´s octagon of oppositions. From a nominalist point of view, predicates should also not be devoid of the modally open horizon of life: they are not associated to descriptions and, viewing them as concrete universals, one could quantify over them. So if being mortal is an object, one can quantify over it and say, for example, being some mortal or being every mortal. (Then, clearly, instead of an A proposition, s is P, we have at least two, s is all P and s is some P.) However negation introduces abstraction and makes it impossible for something to carry on enjoying the modally open horizon: when we say s is no P, we would be close to the notion of absence. And, unless absence can be thought somehow not in purely Meinongian terms (which would amount to the Millnong project), descriptions would have to be fully brought in. It seems that a theory of descriptions is a chapter of a theory of negation.