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Friday, 21 April 2017

A grand hypothesis

Reading Heidegger's Bremen lectures with an eye on the possible blind spots of the compelling contrast between nearness and positionality (Nähe and Ge-Stell). It occurs to me a grand hypothesis concerning the metaphysics of the other: the epoch of Ge-Stell, the epoch where being is pursued and therefore is in danger started with forgetting the specific strand of parricide that Plato's Strangers promotes and favors in the Sophist. His picture is one where five categories ground at the same plane and are intertwined: rest, change, being, same and other. Not-being comes from the friction between being and other. It is not nihilism in the Severino sense itself, but a branch of nihilism that forgot the role of the Stranger in the parricide – the Stranger creates a new kind of opposition, different from that of Parmenides, the opposition that is not an object standing against but a thing that, while approaching concernfully, interrupts. Interruption is not a negation in the sense of nothingness, but it is the opposite of being. This epoch makes us see the others as disclosing themselves to us, as objects of disclosure. Being becomes being viewed (or being spied) and no longer interrupted by the other that requires a response. The offer becomes no more than something at my disposal, nothing that commits me or appeals to me. The move towards this epoch in the history of being is an economic move, in the sense of a general economy: one is never even with the other when perception takes place. The other appears as a given in the sense that there is an ingratitude required. The epoch of persecution is also an epoch of ingratitude.

Sophist 258: “We have shown what form of being non-being is, for we have shown that the nature of the other is, and is distributed over all things in their relation to one another, and whatever part of another that is contrasted with being, this is precisely what we have ventured to call non-being” and right below: “[…] and that being, and difference or other, traverse all things and mutually interpenetrate, so that the other partakes of being, and by reasons of this participation is, and yet is not that of which it partakes, but other, and being other than being, it is clearly a necessity that non-being should be”. This is prepared through from 253. The parricide promoted by Plato is not that of flooding being with non-being but rather to understand non-being as a consequence of a friction between being and the other – the other being primary to non-being and at the same level as being. Plato's stranger-led metaphysics has ontology in a pair with dynamics, statics, alterology and the study of sameness as its constitutive parts. The other, and not non-being, is at the basis. The image of the parricide is that of a being flooded with other, broken, fragmented and with cracks. Negation comes from these cracks, and not the other way round. An ontologist rebuttal (to use the term of Levinas) based on an ontologist forgetting of the terms of the Stranger's parricide would rather have that everything sprouts from being and therefore ontology is prior – and metaphysics becomes a coherent, absolute, neutral discourse with no blemishes and no rifts. Ontologist metaphysics is smooth, is frictionless, is like a landscape to be portrayed.

NB: Heidegger, S&Z 7C: “Because phenomenon, as understood phenomenologically, are never anything but what goes to make up Being, while Being is in every case the Being of some entity, we must first bring forward the entities themselves if it is our aim that Being should be laid bare […] phenomenology is the science of the Being of entities – ontology”. This is an ontologist conception of phenomenon (and of phenomenology).

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

My first two talks in the LSU

The metaphysics of what is up for grabs 

Hand Out

Is there a metaphysical picture of the accident, the casual, the contingent? Metaphysics is often constructed as about necessities – necessary connections, necessary principles, necessary properties.
*Does a metaphysics of contingency make it necessary?

Metaphysics and contingency – the friction:
1. (Aristotle) Metaphysics aims at finding necessities (necessary relations) in what is concrete. Metaphysical knowledge is knowledge of the necessary (and the permanent).
2. (Heraclitus/Plato/Hume) There are (or could be) no necessary connections (and maybe no necessary properties) in what is concrete. If it is so, metaphysics cannot focus on the concrete.
A conclusion: (Kant) Metaphysics should look for necessary connections (and necessary properties) somewhere else (for example in transcendental norms, or in semantical rules).
Another conclusion: Metaphysics should carry on looking at the concrete and abandon the focus on necessary connections.
Problem: Can the non-necessary be known (or assessed, or understood).
Scheme of an answer: maybe contingency is accessed through its contrast with necessity; maybe only if everything is equally contingent nothing can be known.

The metaphysics of contingency: the Meillassoux approach
Contingency transcends the concrete, it is its very principle.
The principle of facticity is necessary.
The concrete cannot make anything contingent or non-contingent: it has no power or agency to change the facticity of all things (not even God, as a possible being acting on the concrete could).
There is no immanent alteration that can change how things are; contingency is decided outside the concrete – like Platonic necessity.

The metaphysics of contingency: the BUG (Being Up for Grabs) approach
Contingency is immanent, not determined once and for all.
It is related to the other, to the possibility of the other (another agent affecting what's taking place, another course of events, another interfering pattern).
Contingency follows from the possible (immanent) alteration of all things – things being up for grabs.
Still there are necessary things among the concrete:
Symbebeka prota ton onton – an Aristotelian approach. Contingency as the plural of necessities.

Two senses of contingency:
Contingency (as opposed to necessary) – Leibniz's determination without necessity
Contingency (as opposed to determinate) – Meillassoux's facticity as opposed to determination
In Being up for grabs: contingency and indetermination.

Two contingentisms:
Kristie Miller's contingentism: some metaphysical theses are not necessary.
Tim Williamson's contingentism: necessitism (the thesis that everything is necessarily something) is false.
BUG is not committed to any of these two thesis (but its project relates to both).

Three modes of alteration – three ontoscopies:
1. A monadology of fragments:
Leibniz: a doctrine of deterministic contingency.
The general basic features of monadologies:
0. No ultimate entity is like any other;
1. The ontological principle: no entities, no reason;
2. Flat ontology;
3. Everything perceives (esse est percipi AND percipere);
4. No substrata;
5. No vacuous actuality;
Other features: priority nihilism, contingentism, anti-haecceitism…
A monadology of fragments: actual entities exist in three modes of existence, fragments, compositions, composers.

2. An ontology of doubts
Insufficient reason: the principle of indeterminacy vs the principle of facticity.
How to know an indetermination? By doubt?
Ontologies of doubt – doubts require determination.
Pyrrhonism vs Sextus: how to suspend the judgment about determinations

3. Rhythm-oriented ontology
Repetition and the eyes of the beholder.
Contagion and the influence of an event on its neighborhood.
Event-ontology: Carol Cleland's change of a state in a determinable property.
Events as beats: time and timing.

Coda: possible worlds in different galaxies associated to many logical systems.

Being up for grabs and alteration: the co-existence of rhythms, the insufficiency of reason, the plurality of agents. Contingency is a consequence of plurality – it is the outcome of the inevitability of pluralism brought about by genuine otherness. (An attempt at a metaphysics of contingency that doesn't make it collapse into necessity.)

Agency, co-existence and the future of monadology

Hand Out

The ground and the other: from the indetermination (or underdetermination or anomy) to self-determination (or autonomy, or spontaneity, or sovereignty) to ask a question that could be phrased as: how is it like to be a ground (or one's own ground).

Grounding as agency: a ground is a genuine agency – a command and a commencement. An agency-oriented metaphysics is one where agency plays an important role among what exists. It addresses issues concerning the co-existence of agencies (or their plurality).

Agency and intentionality: I take intentionality to be neither necessary nor sufficient for agency. Rather, agency is the understood as providing a determination while not fully subject to another (hetero-)determination (or not fully grounded grounding).

Metaphysics and social sciences: If there is a single agency, an agency-oriented metaphysics draws from the vicinities of theology but if there are more than one agency, it draws inspiration from the social science: how do agencies relate, how they associate, how they dispute territories. In both cases, why-questions are often translated into who-questions.

Agency: the five positions

No agency
(or no relevant agency)
Agency without agents
Inter-dependent agents
Independent agents
Nothing but agents
(agents as others)

The (human) social science of agency (the anthropology of agency):
1. There is no agency among humans: everything is determined neurologically or psychologically (or by Gods) or rather the human is a domain of indeterminacies where chaos reigns. Humans are either random beings or programmed robots.
2. There is agency among humans but no (human) agent: agency is not to be found in human individuals but rather in the forces, powers and disciplines that shape them. Foucault: the individual is the product of power. Examples of (social, human) agencies: class, race, gender pressures or the strengths of capital (or the economy).
3. There are agents but they are constitutively interdependent: agents cannot be individuated or identified without an appeal to the (human) social collectives and, ultimately, to other individuals on which they depend.
4. There are independent agents: there is no society prior to individuals, every social connection is created and maintained through independent agents that exercise their identity in a social milieu. Social institutions are to be understood in (methodological) individualist terms.
5. There is no anthropology and no room for any (human) social science: the agents are others who cannot be modeled, explained or predicted. The other agents are, nevertheless, an important source of agency. The presence of other agents provide (at least a degree of) heterodetermination.

The five positions: from anthropology to ontology
1. No agency or no agency in the world (agency is transcendent). Everything is contingent or anomic, Heraclitus; the source of anomy is transcendent (Meillassoux), the ground of everything is transcendent (Plato).
2. Individual agents are grounded on individualizing agencies. Simondon's processes of individuation, Karen Barad's intra-actions and agential realism, a reading of Deleuze's double articulation.
3. Agents are interdependent. Monadologies.
4. Agents are already individualized and independent. Object-oriented ontologies like Harman's, where objects are understood as having a substratum independent of their relations and qualities.
5. Agents without ontology. An agents is an other that can, as an agent, affect me. Yet, each individual agent cannot be less than a ground in themselves. Derrida's infinite responsibility read as an extension of Levinas' claim that I am the locus of response.

The five positions: the pressures on 3

The pressure of 1 is that of an anonymous or non-existent ground – a grounder-poor metaphysics. The pressure of 5 is that of the other as other – the upheavals of metaphysics in an agent-rich environment. The pressure of 2 is that of agencies over the individuation of individual agents. The pressure of 4 is that of the independence and self-contained character of an agent.

The idea of a monadology (3): basic and derivative features

These features are extracted from Leibniz's monadology and shared with (at least several) neo-monadologies (those of Gabriel Tarde, of Bruno Latour and of Alfred Whitehead).
B-0. Monads are ultimate and distinct: They are units of action and ultimate reality while each is distinct from all the others.
B-1. Principle of monadological ontology: Nothing comes to existence or remains in it without the concourse of monads.
B-2. Flat ontology: While there are important distinctions between the different types of monads, there is no over-arching ontological hierarchy among them.
B-3. No substrata: The indiscernibles are identical. A monad is what it is due to its qualities and relations (and in function of its states and the events it takes part).
B-4. All monads perceive: All unit of action is also a unit of perception. Perception is a guide to the interaction between the monads.
B-5. No vacuous actualities: Nothing exists without affecting other existing things and being affected by them.
D-1. Compossibility: No monad is necessary or possible in themselves. Modal notions are relative to what else is in place.
D-2. Contingentism: Not necessarily everything is something. In terms of possible worlds, monads are worldly beings that exist in no other possible worlds.
D-3. Priority nihilism: Neither the whole is ontologically prior to its parts nor the parts are ontologically prior to the whole.
D-4 Immaterialism: Monads are like governments that have respective jurisdictions and pure matter (if conceivable) can only be in one or more jurisdictions.

Five monadologies:
1. A monadology for design (Late Leibniz): Designing the world is designing different and infinitely many agents that are substances (persist in time) but have no substrata. Each monad has a territory associated to it – a jurisdiction – and are related to all the other through its interiority that is composed by a perspective on the external world. Monads are tied by compossibility links and yet a world cannot be made but by delegating events and states to units of agency.
2. A monadology of association (Tarde): Monads are substances that exist while they bring a difference to the society and the society of societies they associate. Monads are units of infinitesimal difference. Units of agency are the sole responsible for any animation in the world and are taken to be pure spirits of different natures. But they do associate contingently to other monads and something emerges from these (heterogeneous or homogeneous) societies of agents.
3. A monadology of actual entities (Whitehead): Actual entities are not substances and are in a constant becoming of other actual entities – yet, they are ultimate realities that enjoy a solidarity between themselves (a co-dependence). They compose what there is by their acts of experiencing (perceiving, prehending) which has, as one of its modes, that of efficient causation.
4. A monadology of networks (Latour 1984): Monads (or actants) can only be distinguished from networks in the context of tests of force – where the strength of unity for resistance is challenged. The monads are the ultimate non-substantial actualities but they cannot be counted independently of their associations – nothing is in itself reducible or irreducible to anything else .
5. A monadology of fragments (BUG): Monads exist in three different modes, as fragments, as composers, as compositions. They don't have substrata but in two of these modes (as fragments and as compositions) they are inert and they subsist if their composition is altered. Each monad is a fragment for composition and a composes by perceiving according to its perspective.

Different monadologies: Leibniz vs process neo-monadologies
Where lies the difference? Deleuze: closure vs capture; pre-established vs post-established harmony; design vs chance.
Leibniz's three times: Leibniz understands the co-existence between his monads as shaped by three distinct times:
1) The time of contemplation: The different infinite possible worlds are presented to God. It is the time of the architecture of the Palas palace, where each room is a possible world. To be sure, the first time took no time at all, as God requires no time to accomplish mathematical operations (concerning compossibility) and involves only analytical truths.
2) The time of choice: Then, God dealt not in necessities, but freely and wisely chose between the different possible worlds that had been contemplated. The choice was global and every element in the each world (including the prayers) somehow contributed to the overall (contingent) choice of a possible world once and for all.
3) The present time: The determined history of actions is made actual as the chosen world is put to run. The compossibility between monads (and events, states, qualities and relations) and the choice of a set of them has been already made.
Process neo-monadologies: the three times collapse into the present time.

Time and agency: If there is no time prior to present time interactions, everything takes place at the same time – and every monad's time interacts with each other. In this dense present time, the others are effective constituents of the action of each agent: each agent act by affecting the others and overall time is always a result of a plurality of agencies.

The agent and the Other

Today I was talking to Jon Cogburn about perception and the metaphysics of what is perceived and it became a bit clearer what is at stake in an agent-based metaphysics (of perception) in contrast to an Other-oriented metaphysics. In perception, an agent-oriented approach will attempt to understand what is perceived as an agent and as such as an alter-ego, filled with the agency and the autonomy I allegedly entertain. As such, the perceived can resist my attempts to understand it and it is viewed only to the amount it shows (or to the amount a negotiation between agents can achieve). In contrast, an Other-oriented approach has no assumption about the perceived other that it offers something and that it demands justice. The perceived tears totality apart. Here there is no model of the perceived: the Other is not an agent, not saddled with autonomy, not capable to resist. The Other is something other that demands justice for whatever is in offer. An impossible justice, as there are many others on offer. Still, a justice.

To say that the perception doesn't have a content is to say that it doesn't matter? This is where the metaphysical question comes in: it is made of offerings, of a plea for justice. To make justice to experience is to avoid saying it has a definite content (of any kind, conceptual, conceptualizable or whatever) while not saying it demands no response, or that it is isolated (or isolatable) from any articulation. In other words, experience has an impact on us as an interruption, as an offering – it is in fact this impact itself. (Maybe something akin to Quinean “something wrong in the kingdom of Denmark”, an impact on a web of beliefs; but in fact an offering or an interruption is not compulsory in itself as the other comes like an offer. When there is a setting for an experimentum crucis, and a result is being awaited, we can say that the doors are open. A recalcitrant experimental result is often left outside in the cold if it was not being expected, awaited, ready to be accepted. Here, however, the Other is constrained to give an already shaped answer, normally yes or no.) It is an impact in the sense of a knock on the door.

I thought this has to do with post-parricide ontology: the five genres of Plato:
1. rest,
4.the same and
5. the other.
They are connected and intersect. Nothingness can be understood in terms of the other but being is in an intersecting pentagon with all the other four poles (that could inspire respectively 1. variations of necessitarianism or of a world with no agency or no immanent agency, 2. dynamism or a world full of agencies, 3. ontologism or the idea that agency in hypostasis form agents, 4. the idea of every being as an alter-ego independent and 5. the idea that the Other plagues and dazzles all being). In any case, the Other is what introduces alteration into being, rest and movement. It works as an offer, it is not bare being.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Buber's Saul

Reading an interview answer of Levinas about Buber where he talks about asymmetry as the main feature that distinguishes him from Buber. He comments on a text by Buber about Samuel, Agag, Saul and the Amalekites. Buber stresses that he always thought Samuel must have understood God's message wrongly - the order could not have been to wipe out the Amalekites in punishment and what God was asking from Saul was something else than murdering every one in a town as punishment. The bible (Samuel 15) has that Saul went down to the town and destroyed the weak and useless but kept what was good and also took the king Agag as a prize. Buber prefers to believe God would never ask anyone to do that - to complete their deliverance from evil by doing further evil. Levinas claims that Buber was clearly not thinking of Auschwitz. In fact, he seems right as far as the biblical text is concerned - Saul regrets his sin of disobedience and Samuel states to Agag, before killing him, that he deserves not to be spared and that nothing from that town could be taken for holocaust. It seems like punishment was prescribed. But Buber has an important point here: the idea that God cannot really order punishment. This is not to say that one cannot punish, we punish for many different reasons, but that cannot be a divine (i.e. perfect, morally commendable or right) commandment. I take Buber's insight to be that God's intelligence, wisdom or justice would go beyond what that deals in punishment.

Kant's silencing of the Other

In Kant the other is only considered in terms of her autonomy, as sharing something with me. Kant's ethics is perhaps the origin of the idea of an alter-ego - the other me who is the subject of his ethics. Further, perhaps it is the very starting point of a general idea of ego, an ego that can be generalized like in the categorical imperative: don't do to other what I don't want done to me – and not don't do to others what they don't want to be done to them. Hence, it is moral to tell the truth to the murderer and enable him to kill because enabling someone to so something is an empirical consideration alien to moral issues. In other words, it is up to the murderer to be a moral agent. I should threat all the others in the same manner – the other is universal, they are universal mes. They are never other – I don't deal with the murderer as an other, not even as a murderer for that matter, but only as an autonomous moral agent like me.