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Sunday, 29 September 2013

Leibniz, Aristotle and the unsubstantial sensible

This week, in my metaphysics course, I have been steadily contrasting an Aristotelian and a Leibnizian world. In fact, they could be seen as two answers to the charge Aristotle (Metaphysics, M, 4) makes of Plato (no matter whether it is a fair one) of giving up the impermanent within the realm of the sensible. Plato, as the charge goes, has accepted a Heraclitean view of the sensible that makes it accidental, transient, flowing and harboring no more than contingencies. Aristotle's attempt was to find necessities (and substantialities) within the sensible. (In Kit Fine's taxonomy of necessities, such necessary connections would be metaphysical or natural - and Aristotle is not clear they should all be uncoverable a priori, even though we normally take them to be.) Leibniz's take, on the other hand, was to take substantiality to be a mathesis universalis - substances are no more than their discernible properties and those are no more than what boils down to the substances. In Aristotle there are genuinely concrete, sensible substances while in Leibniz the model is mathematical: each substance has something impermanent to it. As a consequence, the indiscernibles are identical and the identicals are indiscernible. There is no identity (or substantiality) apart from the entity's property (apart from what occurs to the entity). In other words, Leibniz answer to Plato would be: infinite mathematics brings the sensible to the realm of the intelligible through the notion of virtual - what is unknown to finite minds that cannot take everything into consideration and yet part of what makes the world as a whole what it is. In both cases, the Heraclitean character of the sensible is exorcized.

But I wonder whether the two approaches map into Williamson's distinctions between necessitism and contingentism in ontology. (Would Aristotle be the former while Leibniz the latter?)

In any case, we can think of the way process philosophy (being, I believe, Leibnizian in spirit) thinks of the sensible in terms of an approach to infinity. The infinite is thought as the realm of the open, where there is no room for clausure - just enough room for series of captures. And then, a different infinite means a different virtual, a different conception of what the world is, of what dependence is.

Objects being singled out: le ballon rouge

Being oriented to objects - to the point of singling out one among all the others. In Le Ballon Rouge (Albert Lamorisse, 1956), a kid pets a balloon and the balloon responds by following the kid - that ends up being known by the balloons as a balloon-protector. The force of singling out is such that the object is ascribed with an integrity - the balloon together with its string composes a body capable to preserve its integrity and to be challenged. The film upgrades balloons to a status of a being that cares for their borders, and who's life could be chosen against all other objects. These objects are brought to the realm of politics because they receive singled out ethical attention. When other kids capture the balloon to destroy it, they attach a second string to it - this string is the string of capture, not part of the balloon's body. It is not animated like the first one - it is external to the body of the balloon and holds it. Ethical attention, like an alliance, determines the borders of the object. Singling out cannot be general and indiscriminate because a world where everything is singled out is undifferentiated, it is a world of white ethical blindness. A world requires indifference. Singling out means being indifferent to the background around. What is not object of attention is object of disattention. Something has to be a mere object for another object to be the focus of an effort of orientation.

The short film is not about orientation towards objects, but rather of orientation towards balloons. Balloons could be treated like pets or fellow humans - and become such (for us). But this is not like a state of flat ethical attention where everything is equally important. The very idea of such a re-enchantment of the world would require rethinking or rejecting the idea of importance - and of singling out. It would be attention itself that would have to be challenged.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

More on ftonosophy as a Stimmung towards wisdom

My article with Carol about ftonosophy is about to come out. It presents ftonosophy in a script for a screen-dance. Characters involve Novarina, Ftonos, Lacan, Kakia, Maguy Marin, Ben Woodard, Plato and Duchamp. I've been thinking about friendship with wisdom to define the overall Stimmung of what we do. I do like friendship, but closeness to wisdom could yield to pride. Envy - and jealousy - is an antidote to pride. It corrodes pride: I'm nothing, I know nothing. I suppose envy is one of the many faces of friendship. It is a dazzling and unsettling form of love. I would say: beware of what you criticize because criticism opens your gates to whatever comes from the object of your criticism. This makes me think that philosophy should be closer to speculation: it is a form of amor fati - turn your gaze to the unknown. Now, envy doesn't require any intimacy. It is a love at a distance, for what is inaccessible and yet can be somehow seen from afar. It is not about criticizing others, but a constant state of instability and insecurity of one's own thoughts that seems a precondition for hospitality within thinking. Envy a wisdom that is unattainable and the openness of vistas would make any current position insufficient. Of course, it all depends on how we think wisdom is. In the text we say it is precarious, naughty, self-transforming, violent and elusive.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Being a foreigner to what there is

I always suspect there is too much between the lines of Plato's Sophist. Severino, for example, sees there the origin of Western Nihilism as the Stranger ends up spousing the idea that being can be other (in fact, non-being) and that it changes (turns into something else, other than what it is). The existence of movement appears as the existence of an other to what there is and therefore as a proof that what there is can be other. If it can be other, it has to be able to not-be (what it is). This is the parricide thesis: it is possible to predicate of an S that is not P that it is P. It is possible to say, of (this yellow) banana, that it is blue. Parmenides claim, on the other hand, appears elusive. The claim seems to entail some sort of necessitism (in the Williamson's sense: whatever exists, exists with necessity). But what does it mean that we cannot say or think (supposedly because it cannot be) that the non-being is? Maybe that appearances are meaningless - to say the false is meaningless. Is it about predication or about existence? If it is about existence, it might seem more harmless: falsity is basically just like fiction (just like pretense, in Kripke's approach). The only thing that exists is a banana that is not blue, to say that the banana is blue is not to talk about a banana, it's to talk about nothing. It can be taken as form of extreme descritivism: to talk about Adam is to talk about a sinner (a non-sinner Adam is not Adam, the discernible are not identical). Or can a Parmenidean be less descriptivist?

But Plato's (the Stranger) option for privileging the vocabulary of the same and the other. A way out all together is to avoid all talk about negation (or opposition) in favor of mere differences. Deleuze himself (in D&R) doesn't go that far as to replace all opposition by difference. This shows how hard it is to think beyond the Sophist options. To think of difference as basic would require exorcizing completely the thoughts based on the Same and the Other.