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Sunday, 28 October 2012

Flat ontology and plot metaphysics

Thrilling conversation with André Arnaut on the way back from Curitiba. We were considering Viveiros de Castro's claim that ontographies are either antropocentric or antropomorphic. There is, according to the claim, a tertium non datur connecting anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism. To be sure, Brassier's alternative (as well as Meillassoux's factualism) is not easily accommodated in either horn of the dilemma. No matter whether the dilemma holds, it is interesting to consider the paths from one pole to the other and vice-versa. It is the road between correlationism and the metaphysics of subjectivity and back – for instance, between an enchanted nature and a world stripped of all secondary qualities and filled with our (anthropocentric) projections or between a transcendental idealism and a Whiteheadian view where there is no centrality of one form of (anthropomorphic) actual entity. The anthropomorphic pole – favored by Viveiros – sees some element of humanity everywhere and, in this sense, Meillassoux seems quite right in taking the metaphysics of subjectivity as an ontology where to be is to be a correlate. As general formulae, both sides of Viveiros opposition, though, seem to be portraying a metaphysics constituted by a project that can be to some relevant extent presented with no appeal to its instantiation. It doesn't matter how the (human) center is implemented, it doesn't matter how the (human) form is achieved. If we see things this way, we can eventually feel that process philosophy, for example, is entirely about a plan of transcendence, with no appeal to how things contact and contaminate each other in a plan d'immanence.

Tomas Cardoso and me have defined a plot metaphysics (as opposed to a landscape metaphysics) as one where there is room for a plan d'immanence. That is, it cannot be presented as a project because its instantiation makes a crucial difference. If there is no genuine room for a plan d'immanence in process philosophy, it falls short of being a plot metaphysics. I believe there is (at least) two ways of presenting process philosophy: roughly, as an anthropomorphic set of pieces of furniture and as an openness to processes. The latter but not the former is a plot metaphysics. We moved then to flat ontology – as we believe flat ontology is a way to understand, among other things, what is at stake in process philosophy. Again, we agreed that flat ontology is some sort of project that deflates the importance of implementation. It is as if it takes all things to be equal in ontological status so that the domain of one thing over the others becomes is somehow played down. Things are not up for grabs because of their ultimately democratic nature. There is at least an element of the plan of transcendence that is prior and untouched by the nitty-gritty whereabouts of instantiation. The plan somehow supersedes the plane.

André is working on whether the speculative turn is committed to some sort of primacy of the theoretic over the practical. He conjectures that the exorcism of anthropocentrism (and of humanist paradigms in general) stimulated philosophers to be less careful to the relevance of the practice. One way to put it is to say that speculation paved the way to a renewed and revamped primacy of the theoretic by stimulating varieties of landscape metaphysics. Flat ontology, under these lights, is a (democratic) general theory with no attention to the effects of the practical. If we see things this way, an ontology of objects, an ontology of alliances and even perhaps an ontology of matter stop short of a full-fledged plot metaphysics. The move from flat ontology to plot metaphysics is one where no (ontological) theory can fill the blanks that need to be left for practice, for some non-human notice of practice, a practice of things.

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