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Saturday, 31 March 2012

Verlassenheit and Exigentia Essentiae

The image of nature as akin to abandonment that follows from Heidegger´s analysis of Rilke´s Muzot poem in Wozu Dichter brings to mind the idea that to make something exist is not yet to care for it. Nature is careless, Rilke says, and our Natura is also such that it throws us in risk. Nature is no museum and has no preservatives. Our essences are such that they throw us towards existence and, with no attachment, take no special care of our fate. The centre of all beings are like epicentres, explosive and centrifugal sources. This friction between existence as springing from Natura - an exigentia essentiae - and the Verlassenheit that is hosted in the very dettachment of what makes things happen points at an interia of existence: it survives its sponsors. Not that whatever promotes an instauration cares to keep sponsoring what was brought to the world. It leaves things to their own devices (up for grabs).

Nature is no museum, and yet it is another kind of assemblage (of floor made of left-overs). These left-over character is what makes nature open - it produces raw material while throwing elements to existence. This assemblage is not of what has been equally intesively being sponsored - it is composed of what is left, thrown away, left in the open. No Oikos where things take care of each other and of themselves. (One can then choose between a centrifugal and a centripetal ethical stance: that of spreading and spending and that of care and preservation - but this is somehow a later moment, it is not in itself in the exigentia essentiae if it is plagued with Verlassenheit.) Surely, Leibniz´s exigentia essentiae, in contrast, comes with the stamp of care (through the effectiveness of intraworld compossibility). Leibniz admits of no junk worlds (where all things are part of something else). His internal relations point at some kind of priority of the whole.

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 - are 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.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Looking for ground, reaching the floor

I've been thinking a bit about the connection between what I have once called a metaphysics of landscape - the idea that there is a landscape of things laid out there that could somehow be viewed from a privileged point of view - and the act of contemplation. If we suspect contemplation somehow leads to a tendency to postulate a landscape (because it is not intervening, to think with Hacking, or because it detaches what is viewed from the connections that place it in the world, in Heidegger's sense or for any other reason) we will then look for ways to avoid, trick, shortcut, exorcise or suspect the gestures of contemplation. Heidegger sketched attitudes of being in the world that avoided at least the vivisection that could be associated with contemplation. An interesting attitude is that of looking askance at things, gazing sideways, so that a focus doesn't render the rest oblique. Like looking without staring, attending without contemplating. My friend and colleague Cabrera once described the way one should spot the being: turning backwards very quickly before one gets noticed.

Poet Manuel de Barros inspires, among many other things, an attention to the floor. The floor is the superficial thing that we build everyday - by throwing things on it, by moving it around, through the sewage system, by producing garbage, by living and by dying. The floor has a solidity we need to step on and yet is far from being stable. A floor is always dispensable because there ought to be a floor to any floor - it is superfluous apart from being superficial. It's got etymological connection with the skin (pele) and the plane (one could think of a floor of immanence in contrast with a plan of transcendence). To think of the floor - instead of looking for a ground - is maybe a way to avoid some gestures of contemplation (and a tendency towards a metaphysics of landscape). The floor is always spatial - and in a sense, reference to the floor is often de re. The floor is what is reached, but not as a bedrock, but as a sufficient support.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Leibniz and Meillassoux after finitude

Couturat famously discloses the principle of reason as the kernel of Leibniz's metaphysics. Couturat formulates the principle simply as: all truths are analytic (or rather, in pre-Fregean terms prevalent in Leibniz's time, all truths are such that the predicate is contained in the subject). For Couturat, the principle of reason derives the refusal of external relations and prefigures the appeal to monads as connected while windowless. Monads, taken as perdurantist substances (not fully present at any moment in time), are identical if indiscernible and indiscernible if identical. A mere analysis of their properties is enough to find out what are they ever going to do. But Leibniz, clearly, wanted to make room for contingency. How something (like a true statement) be analytic and not-necessary (i.e. contingent)? If there is any contingent true, this needs to be elucidated. And Leibniz makes use of his usual manoeuvre of resorting to a distinction between the finite and the infinite. While some statements require no more than a finite analysis to disclose the internal relation between its terms, others - those concerning contingencies - are of infinite complexity and only operations involving infinity (that God could perform) can reveal their truth. In other words, every truth is a priori, but only for those who can deal with infinite complexity. Contingency is somehow explained away by infinite complexity - the difference between what is contingent and what is not (what is strictly necessary, in the sense of logical necessity or logical truth) is a difference concerning the finite and the infinite. Contingent truths can be unveiled a priori by considering the harmony
between all monads, considering what makes the actual world actual - its perfection.

Now, Meillassoux also appeals to infinity, not to dispel contingency but rather to dispel what he takes to be the appearance of necessity. The appearance of necessity he wants to dispel is that of the laws of nature - they seem to be good predictors but they are so only because we fail to bear in mind that they are one among an infinite number of alternatives and we cannot use the evidence to weigh their probability. Meillassoux thinks that we are dealing with infinite many alternative worlds and that precludes us to say that the laws are predictive either because they are necessary or because there is a cosmic coincidence. We cannot take the coincidence to be cosmic exactly because of the infinite complexity involved in the class of possible alternatives. He wants us to conclude that this infinite complexity signals the contingency of all things (or, better, the facticity of most things - except for the facticity itself which is necessary). For him, going after finitude is going towards contingency and not, as Leibniz would have, dispelling it or explaining it away. We can even attempt at formulate Meillassoux's principle of unreason in terms akin to those of Couturat: all truths are synthetic. And we can add that they are so because they involve and infinite complexity - that of facticity.

This Leibniz-Couturat thesis on contingency is very interesting: contingency is just a matter of the size of the network connecting subject and predicate. If the network involves everything (the whole series of the actual world) than it is infinite and there is contingency. Otherwise, there is a necessary connection that everyone can see (every finite mind). Yes, all connections are there, the issue is just who can pick it up. Depending on the connections that we can pick up, our life is different (the issue of salvation is brought up here). Now, if we generalise the difference between an infinite mind (who can seize an infinite network connecting the two terms) and a finite mind, we can say that different minds capture different networks as necessary (and fail to capture the others, left out as contingent). I suspect there is something interesting here concerning the nature of contingency.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Monism and grounding

Been somehow thinking about Schaffer's priority monism. I like his stress on the possibility of heterogeneous basic elements of the world - more for the heterogeneous element all the way through than for his stress on the need for basic elements. I'm still unconvinced that gunky worlds are more possible than junky worlds, as Bohn calls a world where everything is a part. I guess my problems lie mostly in what is connected to the acceptance of an ontological foundationalism. Schaffer thinks sometimes in terms of how to build a baseless world - where would one start? He also appeals to the Big Bang as a starting point for an entangled system that would constitute the cosmos. But foundationalism in ontology is far from being the only alternative - as creationism and a single common origin is not the only alternative.

I take, rather, that the relation of grounding is ontologically important. I think there is a relevant type-token distinction to be considered in the relation of ground - grounds can act on types, just like relations of requisite. One thing demands another but by demanding types. Myself and Manuel tried to put this in terms of Molnar's physical intentionality. It doesn't have to be put in those terms, I realise. But the type-token structure in grounding allows for something to play a role, to be used as something else - and for a different bunch of elements to come in the picture at any point. I guess this was Anaxagoras' point. Yes, things are connected in relations of ground - and the ground is something akin to a cosmos - but nothing, not even this cosmos, acts as a unitary whole.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Nature as a board

I've been bumping into an idea about which I have mixed feelings. I'm writing a chapter on the ontology of doubts for my book, provisionally called Being Up for Grabs - On Speculative Anarcheology. There I present the structure of doubts and certainties and make that structure into
something that is not ours, but rather natural. Nature does not deal in determinations but rather in a board where doubts require determinations and determinations open the way for doubts - as each doubt needs a ground. Nature appears therefore as a board where the game of doubting (and that of holding fast to some determinations) take place. One can hold fast to some certainties at the cost of doubting what comes on their way and one can hold fast to doubts at the cost of exorcising the appeal of some certainties. Also, I have been working on some interesting ideas in universal logic that make me wonder whether the plurality of logics - the menu of logics, if you want - is itself out there, like a natural board again. The plurality is there, and it is as if it is up for somebody else to play in that board. I dislike the idea of board if I have to make it structured in a way that it is itself made of determinations - and not doubted, not somehow up for grabs. If it is a general structure - maybe a formal element - of nature, it doesn't sound like what I'm looking for.

But the idea of a board is in other senses interesting. The board is not necessarily made for a single game - and clearly in the case of the ontology of doubts, many games can be played in the board. The question is: who are the players. We can take agents (and actants) to be players in that board - players that shape it like life and movement on earth shaped its geological structure. It is again the idea of a natural second creation - dear to most process philosophies - that act on what is an underlying (but mutable) board. We can then say that agents and actants hold fast to some determinations (and doubts), that they act according to one or another logic (using an interesting characterisation of logic that I'm playing with - that seems more economic than Tarski's notion that a logic L is the pair of a set of propositions and an operator of consequence). The board itself - say, the multiplicity of logics - comes out of those moves in the many games. The board doesn't come first, it is made in the process - like something that registers existence. It is as if nature were just exactly like the geology of earth.