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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.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Accelerationismusstreit 1

Thinking about Srnicek's sort of defence of accelerationism against the charge of collaboration with neoliberalism. In a sense, he makes a good counterpoint to Ben Noys suspicions about the politics of an accelerationism ontology. Srnicek claims that neoliberalism is in fact a regime of concentration of powers that protects trusts and corporations against the free flow of liquidity. The discourse of free flow coincides with accelerationism only superficially because the effect of the neoliberal gesture was crucially to open way for more concentration of powers as if to create and protect some feudal territories within the space of capitalism. Srnicek praises relative accelerationism as a political weapon to add liquidity in solidified structures - and therefore as a tool for the political left. He is less committal concerning absolute accelerationism, a position like Nick Land's according to which the flows will dismantle everything including humanity itself. He thinks that while the former form of accelerationism is political and human, the latter is speculative and inhuman. He then goes on to defend a strategic use of relative accelerationism against the financial and corporate feuds.

I take accelerationism as not committed to capital flows and even less to a capitalist machine. This is the only way we can say the Anti-Oedipus is an accelerationist book - which I believe it is (and a provocative one at that). I tend to think that accelerationism - I don't see much point in Srnicek's distinction between the absolute and the relative variety - presses for further acceleration no matter what gets on its way and ultimately capitalism (and capital flows) will find themselves in its way. Srnicek then sheds light to an interesting phenomenon: neoliberalism is an advanced version of capitalism and, as such, it has to create concentrations of power. Noys, for one, holds that capitalism can survive the end of nuclear family and, he hints, even of individuals. I'm not convinced of either, and I fail completely to see how it can carry on without individuals. Capitalism is concentrative. It works by bringing flows somewhere. Accelerationism could be ultimately showing that centrifugal flows are faster and then capitalism will be on its way. Accelerationism (as a typical branch of Marxism) has learned with capitalism, but it is not committed to it. Anything faster will deterritorialize the concentration of power that capitalism harbours (that depends on individuals, as money don't flow from my left hand to my right hand). Yes, neoliberalism is about trusts and corporations but that seems to me another chapter of the history of capitalism - an accelerated history, but a concentrative one.

Friday, 12 October 2012

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).

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Transcendental Surrealism

Last night for no simple reason to explain I remembered transcendental surrealism. I believe it was because somehow I was toying with the interdiction Noli Me Legere in the way Blanchot deals with it in Après le coup. In any case, in my thesis, years ago, I presented briefly what I understand now as an embrionary form of process philosophy I called transcendental surrealism. Surrealism came from Leplin. He claimed that a scientific surrealism was an alternative way to understand the predictive successes of science - alternative to a realism that posits the approximate correspondence truth of scientfic theories in terms of the denotation of its major terms (and an ontology built accordingly). Leplin´s surrealism held that things are as if theories of mature sciences with predictive successes were true. As if, he claimed, was enough. My transcendental surrealism was about other cognitive devices - that I called other inductive biases. I wrote that each bias had an "as if" associated to it - and that was based on my research with machines that perform induction due to their biases. Transcendental surrealism was about the plurality of biases and the plurality of appropriate as ifs. Quite Leibnizian in spirit and I believe, those as if, are very close to waht Whitehead calls subjective forms.

I had a conversation with Eros in Porto Alegre about dispositions versus projections. The background was our common interest in Goodman´s work on counterfactuals. My point could be put in terms of transcendental surrealism: each bias sees things in a way and interact with what they see. The bias for green, instead of grue, makes us act according to a projection. The same for the tick, the bee or the grain of sugar. Now, there is no need to postulate dispositions if we just appeal to the horizon of sight (the horizon of prehension) of a bias. This horizon is enough to enable the bias to be inclined to act one way or another. Other things can intervene, as there is a whole world affecting this seen realm, a whole world that is not perceived clearly - the extensive continuum, in Whitehead. So, whatever happens to the grain of sugar has only to do with the actual relations it holds. If we want to make sense of dispositional predicates, we just need to appeal to what its bias prehends in its corresponding subjective form (it sees apple juice as water, for instance). Is this story appealing to as much internal features as the dispositional story? I believe it is not because it doesn´t have to appeal to dark quarters (say, of the grain of sugar) where it has somehow the rest of the world lined up.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Factual thought, populated thought


Been to the conference on the ontological turn in Porto Alegre organized by Rodrigo Nunes and his MaterialistS friends. Good discussions with Markus Gabriel, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Benjamim Noys, Stephen Shaviro, Eduardo Luft, Caroline Marin and many others. Here is the text of my comment of Shaviro's interesting paper called Uncorrelated Thought.

I believe one of the major attraction of Meillassoux's work lies in its diagnostic power. He makes us see the efforts of philosophy in the last centuries as fitting a general, albeit claustrophobic, pattern. Correlationism, with its two poles of inextricable dependence – thinking and being, has exerted its various charms on the efforts to relate to the world in ways that involve thought. His diagnosis is presented in broad terms: no matter how thought is conceived, no matter how being takes place. His diagnosis provokes many effects. Among them, several ways to deny its bite and several ways to wage heroic battles against the confinement of the correlationist walls. In most of these cases, Meillassoux's gestures is an invitation to speculation. As Shaviro appropriately points out, “philosophy must necessarily take the risk of engaging in some sort of speculation, if it ever hopes to approach the great outdoors. […] it must seek to evade the conditions that are imposed upon thought by the very nature of thought itself” (p. 2). The diagnosis is therefore an invite to the risk involved in speculating. My main aim in this comment is to expand a bit on Shaviro's remarks on thought, in the direction of pointing out that speculation is not only required to approach in a non-correlationist fashion the great outdoors, but also to find alternatives to correlationism in the indoor quarters – within the realms of thought.

Meillassoux's diagnosis gives rise to a geography of alternative routes and positions. We can think of his geography in terms of four poles. One pole is certainly that of correlationism – strong and weak – according to which we cannot reach beyond the correlation of thought and being (weak) and not even think beyond this pale (strong). A second pole is that of a metaphysics that ignores correlationism altogether: a position that hasn't engaged with the correlationist gambit at all and manage to proceed as if the specter of the correlation didn't loom in its shadow. A third position is what we can label the speculative factualism embraced by Meillassoux himself in his Aprés la finitude – a position according to which the correlation points in the direction of the factuality of all things. And the fourth pole, crucial for the articulation of the third, a pole that encompasses several seemingly different positions and the one that I will be primarily concerned here. This is the pole of what he labeled the metaphysics of subjectivity and lies in the roots of what he now calls subjectalism. I sometimes prefer to call this pole the metaphysics of correlation, for it starts out by an effort to focus on the correlation itself – either to make it irredeemably part of the world itself or by multiplying it by finding a plurality of correlations in the world. This fourth pole – that Meillassoux sees as the wrong way out of correlationism – involves most varieties of vitalism, of process philosophy together with varieties of absolute idealism and phenomenology. It lumps together disparate positions such as those embraced by Schelling, Hegel, Bergson, Whitehead, Deleuze and Latour. It is, to be clear, a speculative attempt to escape the trap of correlationism – and as such it responds to the diagnosis in the way Meillassoux recommends. He in fact acknowledged that the metaphysics of subjectivity takes the advisable speculative flight that is nonetheless headed in the wrong direction.

Meillassoux's main problem with the metaphysics of subjectivity has to do with factuality – something that is itself central to his own preferred alternative, that of the third pole of speculative factualism. He claims that the metaphysicians of subjectivity fail to see an important part of the bite of correlationism: that the correlation is not absolute. The metaphysics of subjectivity fails to do justice to the facticity of the correlation. The correlation is a matter of fact, it is neither a structural component of things nor an inescapable dimension of subjectivity. The metaphysics of subjectivity takes the correlation to be either all that there is to be accessed – there is nothing absolute beyond the correlation as things are irreducibly for-us and not in-themselves – or the very dimension of what there is even beyond the correlation we are supposed to be confined to – and therefore there are other correlations beyond ours. The former is the metaphysics of subjectivity of Hegel or, maybe, of some varieties of the linguistic turn. The latter is the one of Whitehead and vitalism, of process philosophy and actor-network ontologies. Meillassoux's complaint concerning all those positions is that they make correlation absolute – either by stating that there is nothing beyond a correlation or by multiplying correlations so that there is nothing that is outside a correlation. Clearly, the sense of 'correlation' here has changed at least slightly: it is not about a confinement we find ourselves within but rather a structure in the world.

Now, let's consider the charge Meillassoux has against this pole. He claims correlations are factual while this pole make them absolute. But why is it important that correlations are factual? I guess it is because it is a matter of fact that something is found within the boundaries of a correlation. It so happened that we find ourselves in a correlation. This could be because we could have been intelligible intellects (as Kant considers in his third Critique) that would see things through as we can think them but it so happens that we're not. But it could also be that we are in this particular correlation, and we could have been in others. We could be in a different correlation altogether. There are two senses of factuality here. But, it seems to me, that the important bit is that we could be outside this correlation. Whether or not what there is beyond this correlation is a bunch of other correlations or something entirely different is up for speculation. Clearly, following Meillassoux's line of argument, to say that there is something beyond this correlation is to engage in a speculative flight. The predicament of correlationism is that we are locked in this correlation.

But here is the blind spot in Meillassoux's diagnosis that Shaviro begins to uncover. Thought, he claims, is not only an intentionality device. Thought is something. He envisages “[a] thought that is nonrelational, or 'autistic'.” It is, for him, a deflationary panpsychism. The uncorrelated thought is already available. I would go further in debunking the assumption that we are confined in a correlation (this correlation) when we think. For what is we? Meillassoux is hostage to an anthropological sleep. Thought is something – and as such it is made of parts, it is coupled with other things and it is, at any moment, a factual assemblage of tools, resources, continuities, granularities and, there we go, (maybe) correlations. Thought is always populated. In fact, it is a population and quite a heterogeneous one. To say that it responds basically to an “us” is already to set the stage for a single, confining correlation. The panpsychist answer could be that thought itself is full of thoughts – full of psyches. If we take the kind of metaphysics of subjectivity that multiplies subjectivity, a debunking reply to correlationism becomes then available: the plurality of subjectivities – the ecology of subjectivities – doesn't stop short of the inner quarters inside this correlation. In other words, the line available to the now-called subjectalist is to proliferate correlations. Then, there is no confinement because there are just too many correlations.

This was my comment. An image of thought that presents it as something other than an intentional unity would itself harm correlationism. Thought is full of foreign elements, of small machines, of roads, of fragments of operation systems, of small animals, of flows. Speculative psychology? Yes, as part of a speculative psychology of the universe, as Nietzsche hailed in the Genealogy. Surely, this is all speculation - just as Meillassoux's factualism. However, there is something else here. There is maybe a pointer to something like an alien phenomenology of the mind. If consciousness is a chorus of voices, we can hear all sorts of haunting voices coming from the great outdoors inside...

Monday, 1 October 2012

A (Quinean) flat ontology of thought

Last week in my metaphysics classes I was on about physical intentionality and virtuality. I tried to explain the contrast in terms of what is internal and what is external - dispositions being internal and virtuality external. Incidentally, or not quise so, connectedness through dispositions leans towards internal relations and the kind of connectedness of things that Schaffer finds indicative of monism. Dispositions place tendencies (or inclinations) inside things - this is why Molnar´s use of Brentano´s notion of intentionality seems so suitable. Dispositions are properties and, only as such, they can be such that water (to which soluble sugar is disposed) could prefigured inside sugar. It does look like mental intentionality. It points towards the world inside - towards the dark quarters of a monad. Surely, dispositions depend on the rest of the world to be triggered, they can find antidotes, they can never be actualised and something can carry finkish ones for ever in its wake. On the other hand, if there is nothing inside things, they act only through external alliances. Nothing internal - things are possible because they are virtual. It is like an occasionalism where everything needs to interfere for sugar to disolve in water.

Harman, in his book on Latour, makes a fruitful comparison between occasionalism and Humean suspicion of necessary connections. Hume´s suspicion concerning what is going to take place tomorrow can be taken as deriving from atomism concerning events. The rise of the sun tomorrow depends on too many things - including everything that sponsors the coming to being of tomorrow. There is an interesting connection between being and thinking here. I cannot think: I don´t know of anything concerning tomorrow, because if I think that, tomorrow itself loses its meaning. One can remark that both thinking and being work in critical masses. It is a Davidsonian remark - and one based on a Davidsonian strategy to overcome correlationism. As such, it is a Quinean remark: all beliefs move in a flat surface, a flat ontology of thought. Everything is outside, nothing is like a meaning locked inside the dark quarters. My belief concerning tomorrow cannot, on its own, find a reference - it is, in this sense, not a thought. The point is not really the critical mass remark, but rather a process ontology of thought. Thought deals in virtualities. If there is nothing inside me about tomorrow (no meaning, no intentional internal object) then my beliefs about tomorrow depend on tomorrow (and what makes tomorrow happen). And some of my beliefs about tomorrow have to stand - otherwise, there is no meaning of tomorrow to which I can recoil.