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Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Deictic Absolutes and Being Up For Grabs


s section of the coda of Deictic Absolutes:

Insufficiency was also a central concern in Being Up For Grabs.1 There, a route through necessity led to the idea that, while the hyper-chaos is not all-encompassing as for Meillassoux, what is up for grabs is the cornerstone of reality. Accident is not everywhere but it is sine qua non for the understanding of anything concrete. Due to that primacy of contingency over anything else that existed, the book itself presented not a complete metaphysics but rather three narratives, called ontoscopies, each of them failing to be sufficient. The three narratives made clear that contingency comes out of pluralism; so not only what Peirce labelled necessitarianism was rejected in each of the three ontoscopies,2 but also none of them were deemed sufficient to fully address an up for grabs reality. Metaphysical insufficiency informed each of the three ontoscopies but also their friction. In the book, this insufficiency that grounded contingency and plurality – and both the accounts of contingency and the plurality of them – enabled a multi-narrative metaphysics that is arguably a step towards meeting Tsing's injunction. The upshot was that contingency is a metaphysical cog behind everything – including the story told in the book.

Indeed, to be contingent is to be dependent on something else – to be in the hands of something else, so to speak. Being up for grabs is being hostage to something other. There is a family resemblance between a metaphysics of contingency and a situated metaphysics – not only both press in the direction of shaking off the burden of necessity that metaphysical endeavors usually carry, but the latter can only make sense if situations are themselves to a large extent accidental. Indexicalism makes the accident of being in an indexical environment the ultimately relevant piece in the furniture of the universe; the contingency of a situation is all that there is. As such, for sure, it constitute no totality – there is no complete account of all situations. A situated metaphysics is not a metaphysics of situations; the latter would take situations to be substantives. It is not about extracting the intelligible features of a situation in general – or of kinds of situations – from the experience with distinct situations. A situated metaphysics is in fact hostage to situations and not presenting a complete view of them. It is therefore not clear from a situation – from an indexical environment, say from being in front of the Sumaq Urqo – how anything is contingent on it. This is what ushers paradox in: it is a general account of reality according to which reality affords no general accounts. The metaphysical situation contemplated by the metaphysics of the others – and by indexicalism – is to be before the Great Outdoors; that is, metaphysics lies in facing exteriority. This is where reality can be grasped – a reality that depends on deixis and cannot be viewed from nowhere. A situated metaphysics cannot but be paradoxical, but still its attraction stems from two conflicting and yet intertwined generally accepted ideas: that a general account always transcends a situation and that transcendence itself is situated.

The path from indexicalism to a worked out situated metaphysics shows how crucial it is to steer clear of substantives. Possibly, the attachment to the idea that substantives are central to reality is what makes most of what lapses into a paradoxico-metaphysics seem intolerable. From an indexicalist, situated perspective, several paradoxes are the consequence of lack of attention to the plurality of situations. Implicit appeals to standing locations in a substantivist background could be the key to the puzzlement brought up by paradoxical scenarios. In any case, several paradoxes depend on the mix of indexical and substantive language; typically, the Liar paradox (with indexicals like “I'm Cretan” or “This sentence”), Russell's paradox (with “a member of itself”) and the Richard-Berry paradox (with “less than a number of words”).3 I won't explore further the paradoxes here from the point of view of the friction between substantives and indexicals, but I think a closer look into these formulations would provide intuitions about the tight links between paradoxico-metaphysics and the pervasiveness of deixis that is indexicalism starting point.

In Being Up For Grabs, there are several moments where the focus on insufficiency paves the way towards a situated metaphysics (and its paradoxical condition). The chapter that discusses doubts proposes a contrast between Sextus Empiricus' Neo-Pyrrhonism according to which belief is prey of endemically insufficient reason – uncovered through diaphonía – and an ontology of doubts – perhaps close to the original Pyrrhonic idea – according to which reality is not always determined to be one way or another. The contrast between unknown determinations and the lack of determinations to be known brings home that one could suspend judgment about whether there are determinations in reality. Suspension of judgment, in both cases, is an activity of thought guided by a quest for insufficient reasons – it produces a diaphonía. It is therefore an exercise in hearing another equally grounded voice. The starting point of this exercise is what appears, the phenomenon, which is a common ground to show that each voice has insufficient reasons. It is interesting to remark that the Neo-Pyrrhonist phenomenon is not defined in terms of sensorial input or of a fixed set of accepted appearances. It is hardly definable; the starting point of the suspension of judgment is situated, dependent on circumstances. A situated phenomenon orients suspension of judgment; epokhé takes place in the agora, it is shaped by circumstances. If we embrace this situated notion of phenomenon, there are no universal doubts because insufficiency is grounded in circumstances. If the starting point for suspending judgment is situated, it seems like something like a situated metaphysics is in the vicinity. Still more if an ontology of doubts – in contrast with standard Neo-Pirrhonism – is adopted for the indeterminacies in reality are then dependent on the circumstances that shape the phenomenon on the basis of which we find out that something is not determinate. The indeterminacies of reality are themselves relative to the phenomenon taken as the starting point of the enterprise of doubting – and doubting is, according to the ontology of doubts, a way to uncover real indeterminacies. Understood along these lines, the ontology of doubts is very close to a situated metaphysics.

Further, the book presents two other ontoscopies, one based on fragments and another on rhythms. In the former, contingency is conceived in terms of a process monadology where the basic units enjoy a triple mode of existence as fragments, composers and compositions. In the latter, rhythms are the vehicles of contingency as they interact with each other in indeterminate ways. A metaphysics of fragments thought in terms of a monadology entails that a totality is always being composed. Since fragments are composers and compositions, they can be units of spontaneity that can be interrupted – and in this respect this ontoscopy is close to the idea of interrupted nexûs. It falls short of the metaphysics of the others because, as a monadology, it is not situated – it makes fragments still part of a landscape viewed as a totality. Clearly, a metaphysics of fragments could rather embrace the idea that fragments supplement each other from outside and replace monadological assumptions by indexicalist ones – make no room for a sideways-on view of what the fragments are composing. Similarly, a rhythm-based account of contingency approaches the metaphysics of the others by postulating a plurality of interrupted timings. In the book, the rhythm-oriented ontology has no room for interiorities – rhythms just infect each other in a way that can equally be described from the point of view of a totality constantly being modified. To be sure, one could conceive of interiorities that are rhythmical and exteriority as what interrupts the inner pace. The metaphysics of the others prefers to understand interruption in terms of demands that are received and trigger responses. Interruptions don't impose anything, they simply break the pace of spontaneity and open alternative courses of action.

The main friction between indexicalism and the metaphysics of the others of this book and Being Up For Grabs lies, however, in the substantive character of contingency. Both endeavors provide departures from the idea of a necessary totality composing reality. Indexicalism, however, posits no account of what replaces a necessary totality – it only attempt to be faithful to the idea of exteriority. In contrast, a metaphysics of contingency attempts to find in a substantive underlying structure behind deixis and what makes exteriority disrupting: that things are so that they are dependent on their circumstances. These dependence ushers in rather a metaphysics of situations than a situated metaphysics. While to postulate contingency as central is not a non-interrupted speculative gesture – as the one Meillassoux does to attempt to establish his principle of facticity – it appeals to a neutral term common both to interiorities and to the Great Outdoors. Further, as substantives make no (explicit) reference to deixis, to say there is contingency connecting what exists together is to picture a substantivist bound to deictic operations. In other words, the indexicalist complaint about the metaphysics of Being Up For Grabs is that it deals with the insufficiency in reality in a substantivist manner. Yes, things are up for grabs, but rather because there is genuine exteriority, genuine interruption and an underlying deictic structure to reality. To be sure, for several purposes both converge in their primacy of insufficiency and in their rejection of necessitarianism. In both cases, metaphysics is stripped of its attachment to substantial structures and necessary connections in favor of an attention to insufficiency, accidents and circumstances.