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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Vacuous actuality and the structure of a proposition

Whitehead's monadological rejection of vacuous actuality - the idea that something can exist actually without any subjective mediation - without any connection to anything else - has implications for his rejection of the thesis that subject-predicate form is a suitable structure for a proposition. The idea of vacuous actuality, he remarks, haunts realistic philosophy (P&R, 29 [43]). Its rejection is the basis of Ewing's formulation of idealism implying no epistemological idealism: the interconnectedness of all things means no dependence of the cognized object to the cognizing subject. Ewing suggests that Bradley and Joachim are not really correlationists - they could be metaphysicians of subjectivity. This is maybe why Whitehead claims that at the end of the day he is not too far away from Bradley (P&R, xiii): both reject vacuous actuality - and none are epistemological idealists.

The rejection of vacuous actuality is also the rejection of the Aristotelian primary substance - the inherent qualities to a subject that makes it capable to hold predicates. The haecceitas of a subject that subsists independently of any actual entity (of any sponsoring, of any com possibility). If there is no vacuous actuality, there is no unconnected noumenon to a subject, independent of any of its predications. Whitehead welcomes the holism of Leibniz (and of Bradley, but also the semantical counterpart put forward by Quine and his followers: no meaning independent of use, no distinction between language and theory). To fix something to be a subject for a predication - and enable a proposition to have the form of a subject coupled to a predicate - is to postulate that something is disconnected from the network of relations that provide the content of predications. To be sure, one can abstract something away of all changes, but this is a concerted effort undergone only by a subject. Whitehead claims that only in subjective forms the subject-predicate form expresses the content of a proposition.

Kant's note 24 to his Prolegomena: the structure of something fixed holding predication implies no substance, it is only an obligation imposed by the workings of predication. In my book (BUG, just finished), I claim that predication is possible because there are procedures of reference-fixing; that is, there are things that are contingently and yet knowable a priori. The operation of fixing something to receive the working out of a predication has to be done by a subject - it is only in the workings of a subjective form that a subject can be the guesthouse for passing predications. It is only then that anything can be deemed determinately individuated and sufficiently stable.

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