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Markus Gabriel and the modally open horizon

Last week in Porto Alegre I talked to Markus Gabriel about his notion of fields of sense. He defines existence as presence in a field of sense. The inspiration is Fregean (and, although not admittedly, the flavour is Meinongian) but he adds an element of pluralism that could be understood in terms of existential pluralism (in the vein of Souriau´s different modes of existence, for example). A field of sense encompasses domains of discourse or thought, perspectives, modes of presentation such that each work of fiction or each folk ontology have a corresponding field. The notion inherites the ambiguities and the vagueness of the notion of "Sinn" in Frege. But Gabriel holds that senses are somehow de re, they are in the world and in that sense he could side with McDowell interpreting Sinne as a way to determine reference (and not necessarily a method, a criterion, or a description and not even an explicit mode of presentation). Strangely, though, he wants to have no room for denotation. This is interesting from a perspectivist point of view, but I believe it also makes explicit a drawback of some forms of perspectivisms.

If to exist is to be in a field of sense, existing things are attached to a field. They don´t enjoy what I called in this blog the open horizon of life, which is primarily modal. You could think if it in less modal terms if it looks convenient: existing things cannot escape from their field of sense without collapsing. I made my point in the conversation using Kripke´s examples. I think the thrust of Kripke´s criticism of Frege and Russell is not only that descriptions cannot determine denotation, but that a certain element of independence in what is denoted is to be recommeded. As I said in this blog (previous posts about the Millnong project), this independence doesn´t have to be connected to existing among concreta or with an attachment to reference per se. A Meinongian could claim that there are objects independent of whether they belong in an ontology and associate these objects with something other than a description (or a mode of presentation). One could be Meinongian and yet respect the right for an open horizon for each existing thing (and therefore add a Millian element to her Meinonianism - Millnong). In a sense, it is an intuition I find in process philosophy in general, things are not locked in their scopes - they couple, they are taken, they flow. Of course Gabriel could accommodate these transitions by multiplying fields of sense. I find compartimentation has to have a limit. The solution is rather something like Souriau´s surexistence - the crossroads of existences. Different fields of existence bump into each other in the streets. This is what I take to be the crucial Deleuzian legacy in ontology: there are ontological streets - the plan d´immanence. It is not necessarily composed by concreta or of concreta only, but ontologies ought to have streets so that the addresses can be found (and lost).


  1. Curious what you think of Gabriel's distinction between a "field of sense" and a "domain". I'm not clear on what precisely the distinction is. To exist is to appear within a field of sense. But, why isn't the existence-condition, to exist is to appear within a domain. While you correctly point up Gabriel's Fregean influence, and the extent to which his ontological position may in fact entail a Meinongian flavor, I think his fields of sense ontology can be better understood as an improvement on Alain Badiou's work in both Logics of Worlds and Being and Event. That is, in the former, LW, Badiou defines existence as appearance within a world, which in BE was called "situation". Because Gabriel critiques Badiou's (philosophical) equation of ontology with mathematics, for obvious reasons, the structure of his ontology works strictly within this Badiou framework. While Badiou has developed a logics of appearance, an "objective phenomenology" to explain the manner (and degree) of appearance within a world, Gabriel has yet to make any sense of his conception of appearance. Anyway, thanks for the post and the interesting connections you make. Just wanted to hear your thoughts on the distinction mentioned above.


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