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Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The deictic universe in Potosí

In Potosí writing a book. Working title: "The Deictic Universe - experience and the metaphysics of the others". After a long introduction presenting the ingredients of the plot, the book will have three chapters and a coda. I copy here the first two paragraphs of the intro for No Borders readers. They are still in the works, but they are the current starting point.

Introduction: The Deictic Universe – the ingredients

The universe made of this and that

When considering what there is around me I can resort to some sort of pointing: this and that, or maybe this hand and that mountain. I can proceed this way because I am in the middle of things, in media res to use the latin phrase; my though is about things around, it is de re, that is, about the specific things around me and dependent on my position around them. Resorting to this sort of pointing – this and that – is often taken to be sufficient to present what is around but not more than a starting point in the business of offering an image of the furniture of the universe. There is a line of argument – call it substantivism – according to which the claim that the universe is made of this and that is at best the beginning of an account of what there is without me – it is at most like a vague assertion about everything. According to substantivism, it is incomplete and imprecise: there is more to the universe than this and that and while it is (arguably) true that the universe is made of whatever is denoted by 'this' and 'that', it is not made by this and that themselves. An account of what the universe is like should rather involve something like a description of whatever 'this' and 'that' denote – at least a partial and tentative description of the hand and the mountain I'm pointing at. Substantivism favors nouns and not demonstratives when it comes to give an account of the universe; there are hands and mountains and, as a consequence, this hand and that mountain. In terms familiar to the discussions in the philosophy of thought, an account of the universe should not be made in de re terms, but rather in de dicto ones: it should be free of the inextricably positioned character of talk of 'this' and 'that'. The perils of positioned talk, the subjectivist line continues, are manyfold. I can miss the point of how things are “out there” by confusing them with what is around – confusing the furniture of the universe with my own surroundings, maybe my own perceptions or perhaps my own way to relate to what is outside. The perils go by names such as idealism which is different from subjectivism which are both different from correlationism. In order to make sure that what is out there is properly considered, the substantivist recipe is that any positioned talk must be exorcised in favor of an impersonal view from nowhere that is the only way to account for how things are “out there”. To be sure, subjects, positions and point of view could be considered as they are part of the furniture of the universe in a subjectivist approach, but they would have to be treated in a de dicto, impersonal way in the language of substantives. One could describe subjects in terms of their capacities, or in terms of their qualities or relations, with substantives. To describe a position, a perspective or a point of view, according to substantivism, is neither to endorse it nor to accept any other.

The main contention of this book is that this and that – and other indexicals – are the ultimate furniture of the universe. (As we will see shortly, they are paradoxical furniture.) The universe is deictic or indexical and therefore demonstratives rather than substantives are best equipped to describe it. I reject, as a consequence, substantivism: although nouns can be used to provide useful accounts of great part of what exists, they provide no more than a façon de parler. The thesis is that the starting points of any metaphysical account of the universe are neither substances, nor actual entities, neither objects (or subjects) nor material items, neither neutrinos nor forces but rather this, that, in, out, same, other, here, there, horizons and other indexicals. As a consequence, it is not only thought or language that are arguably mostly de re, but to be is to be an indexical; or rather, to be is to be indexed. In other words, to be is to be capable of being pointed (and by that mean to be determined and somehow individuated). The ultimate realities of the universe are concrete indexicals – the very structure of what is concrete is deictic. The contention – call it indexicalism – is that everything is constituted by deictic elements including around and away, internal and external, farther, outer and different. One can find a possible precursor of indexicalism in Plato's Stranger in his Sophist where five μέγιστα γένη (greater kinds) are posited: Same, Other, Rest, Movement and Being. Being appears surrounded by four indexical kinds that are external to it but affect it from without. One can find here a process whereby indexicality shape being – whatever there is occupies a position with respect to what else co-exists. The Stranger promotes the parricide of Parmenides by holding that not being could be if it is other than being; nothingness is not a greater kind but a product of Other applied to Being. It is as if the Stranger comes from outside to provide Being with an address: it is only in relation to what is other than being that being is. Nothing precedes these ultimate five kinds, there nothing substantive underneath them. They are, the five of them, equally ultimate. In any case, indexicalism is far from a standard view in metaphysics. To spell it out and argue for it – which will be done in a more or less intertwined way – will involve a non-standard combination of input from different traditions in a composition that will bring together some central ideas of Emmanuel Levinas, elements of the philosophical reflection on demonstratives and de re language, attention to perceptual experience and insights coming from process philosophy, especially from Alfred Whitehead.

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