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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Substances and being in the parricide tradition

In this last part of my metaphysics course I'm bringing together the features we explored from Plato's Sophist all the way to Simondon and Latour through Aristotle, Leibniz, Kant and Schelling. The idea was to sketch a history of the notion of substance and of its gradual erosion. The first operation that makes this whole history possible - maybe the founding gesture of the way we think of substance - was the parricide. Parmenides' exorcism of nothingness amounts to an exorcism of non-substantial being - something that has no self-sufficient interior that makes it stay what it is (like nothingness) cannot be. If nothing is, there is something nonsubstantial that reaches to existence. The parricide opens the way for a less-than-substantial being, a being that is not independent, is not self-sufficient and has no interior. In fact, Plato's Stranger's move was to address the relationships that make nothingness be - the parricide untangles being and substance. A being can therefore be dependent on something that is more substantial - relations enter the scene. In Plato, some beings were because other beings were substantial. There is, just like in Aristotle, more than one mode of being. For Plato substance is in the super-sensible while non-substantial beings are sensible - they acquire substance by relating to the substances (in a relation of metexis etc). In Aristotle substances and non-substances are sensible and it is in this realm that we find both primary and secondary substances as well as relations, quantities etc. Many modes of being. This plurality is possible because of the parricide. (This shows how Emanuelle Severino's endeavor to reject the parricide and go back to Parmenides can reinstate a different path altogether in metaphysics.)

In monadologies, like in Leibniz, substantiality is really distributed. Leibnizian monads have interiority but only because they are connected through their kernels to the world where they belong. They have no independence or agency in themselves - in fact, they are worldly to the point where their world is what stabilize them. Stabilization, the Simondonian take on how substances are kept what they are, is already prefigured in Leibniz's monadology. Substantiality is therefore hostage to the relations that a monad enjoys - and ultimately substance is spread into the world through relations. The source of being - that was substance in Aristotle - is now fully moved towards relations. Relationality - being in the world - becomes central while substances themselves fade away becoming both lacking in substracta and hostage to the world where they are placed. Leibniz still takes the world to be interior to the monads - there are maps that represent the bits of the world that are known to each monad. Monads are representational devices and they represent the bits around them that they can access. They cannot understand why this is the best possible world, they think locally while acting globally (as every monad is worldly). Non-Leibnizian monadologies are not representational: they are Brooksian in the sense that their best model is the world itself (cf. Rodney Brooks famous motto that the best model of the world for an intelligent being is the world itself). They do know and their knowledge has to do with what they are - and their connection to their world. But their knowledge is not representational, it is achieved through trying to establish relations (alliances, prehensions etc). Yet, they still do that locally while the effect of their action is global (worldly). In any case, monads derive their being from relations. Dependency, and not substantiality, is the main feature of being. (If we take a whole world instead of a monad as the paradigm of being, it is relationality, and not substantiality, the main feature of being - it is the world architecture, and not its constitution that makes it what it is.) We are moving in parricide territories.

Kant himself had an account of substance - one that made it dependent on a transcendental subject. Here it is not nonsubstantial beings that depend on substance, but the other way round - the so (mis-)called Copernican revolution. Substance becomes dependent on something else. Things can be something else for us because there is an operation - akin to the ones that stabilize phenomena - that make them be what they are for us. The operation has no necessary link to how things are and therefore there could be an absolute illusion. There are different modes of existence: that of things in themselves (that could be independent of the transcendental operation) and that of things for us. We are very far from monadological lands, but still we are hostage to the parricide: there is more to being than substantiality. It is interesting to extend this considerations to Schelling: there a transcendental nature stabilizes substance. Substance is not only non-unique but also dependent on something else. Here, it is not a subjective but a natural operation that makes substance stay what it is. The transcendental operation opens the way for allagmatics. Allagmatics is the generalized account of stabilization operations. According to Simondon, these substance-producing operations are everywhere. They lie at the very place where individuals come to life. It is a place that can only be entered through the parricide
gates.


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