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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Sketching a speculative dermatology

Hume’s attack on necessary connections (and powers, causes, forces) starts out with the remark that while distinct things can be perceived by our senses, the connection between them is always unclear and seemingly unavailable to unaided sensible intuition.
We can use the lever of Hume’s remarks concerning necessary connection and extend his attack to substrata and substances – the permanence of things over time and over changes in the quality space. If we then point out that there is less to the content of sensorial experience than distinct things that remain, we can postulate that our senses give us no more that the joints. Joints that could be borders between things or articulations of parts of things. These joints are the differences between things, not substances but rather the sunekes between substances (the contact between them). They are arguably what is directly sensed (if one accepts the Humean idea that the content of sensorial experience has a fixed form). In fact, we sense no more than surfaces. We then posit some substantiality that those surfaces cover. We understand that the wrap is no more than the skin of something else. (Or we abstain from any postulation as Hume would recommend.) But those surfaces could also be the starting point of a speculative ontology of articulation, of joints, of membranes: a skin-oriented ontology.

Instead of substances (or objects, or things, or individuals), we should look at the divide between them. The divide - the skin - is what ends up producing them by selective permeability. The thesis: Skins are ontologically more important than what they cover. Things are rather made of a skin that divides them from the rest of the world. They have a skin that sponsor a separation between what is inside and what is outside. Membranes are filters that enable elements in and out and also antenna decoders that regulate the interface between signals coming and what to do with them. They determine what difference makes a difference - differences that matters matter to the skin. The skin is what is deepest - as said Valèry. A skin ontology has got also to do with floor (etymologically related to "pele" - related to skin - and to "plane"). It's also connected to contingency, to non-substantial forms. In Aristotle, ousia is already somehow connected to necessity, as the accidental (katà symbebekòs, for instance, in Metaphysics H, 5) contrasts with the substantial.
Membrane ontology - speculative dermatology - could be an way to deflate the ontological import of individuated ready-made substances.

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