January 2009


0bkxyflekjzlayxnh9u91gNrG was kind enough to round up the principles and terms I’ve developed as I’ve worked out my differential ontology. I reproduce this list below with some variations.

Terms

Objectile or Ob-ject-ile – A sort of portmanteau word combining “projectile” and “object”, evoking the sense of ob-jects as events or verbs, unfoldings (ex-plications) of what is in-folded (im-plications), standing-forth from a ground against which the event makes or announces a difference. Thought of as both A) assemblages and b) multiplicities.

Field – All ob-ject-iles are attached to a field, a field of relations, a field of forces, through and in which properties of the ob-ject-ile are evoked or ex-plicated and upon which the ob-ject-ile acts in turn. A field can also be referred to as conditions or a world. While all ob-ject-iles are attached to a field, ob-ject-iles are not identical to their field. Moreover, asymmetries, inequalities, or disequilibriums within fields or conditions are only one way in which ob-ject-iles are evoked or ex-plicated. Ob-ject-iles themselves contain asymmetries or disequilibriums through which they can be ex-plicated.

Assemblage– A synonym for “ob-ject-ile”. There is no ob-ject-ile that is not a unified composite of other ob-ject-iles. Put otherwise, there are no Lucretian atoms, but rather the ontic domain is composed of assemblages all the way down.

Split-Object- Kant proposed that objects are split between their being as phenomena (for-us) and their being as noumena (for-itself). This, however, was an epistemic distinction pertaining to our access to objects. Within Onticology, “split-objects” refers not an epistemic split in our access to objects, but rather an ontological split in ob-ject-iles themselves. Insofar as all ob-ject-iles are assemblages, they are constitutively split between their being as a unity or an identity and the other ob-jectiles of which they are composed. These other ob-ject-iles are entities in their own rights and function as both necessary conditions for the assemblage but are also often in tension or struggle with the assemblage to which they belong.

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guide-pollackA while back, Mickhail, of Perverse Egalitarianism, asked me whether there was any particular reason that I formulate the Ontic Principle in negative terms. That is, rather than formulating the principle as stating “there is no difference that doesn’t make a difference”, why not instead state it as “all differences make a difference”. At the time, I had no answer to this question. The Ontic Principle, of course, is a variation of Gregory Bateson’s definition of information. Bateson defines information as the “difference that makes a difference.” If information is the difference that makes a difference, then this is because, loosely speaking, it is a difference that brings about a change in the operations of a system. When, for example, someone shouts “fire!” in a crowd theater, this counts as information because it brings about a change in the organization of this group of people. The second time “fire!” is shouted it no longer functions or counts as information, because it no longer makes a difference. Information, for Bateson, thus brings about a shift in a system and functions to select elements of a code. For more on this I strongly recommend Niklas Luhmann’s wonderful Reality of the Mass Media, which is far more accessible than his daunting Social Systems.

1-756995While certainly indebted to Bateson– and it’s truly sad that Continental social thought didn’t take the path of cybernetics and systems theory rather than structuralism –the Ontic Principle nonetheless says something different (though not necessarily in contradiction) than Bateson’s definition of information. Where Bateson declares that information is the difference that makes a difference, the Ontic Principle states that “there is no difference that does not make a difference”. In other words, Bateson’s definition is restricted to a particular kind of entity– information –whereas the Ontic Principle declares that the most basic essence of being an entity consists in making a difference. To be is to differ and make differences. There is no entity that is not composed of differences and that does not make differences. Here, perhaps, I part ways with Harman while sharing his insight, for where Graham understands objects as “vacuum packed” or infinitely withdrawn from relations to all other objects, the concept of objects as composed of differences, as being composed of differences, making differences, and as differing in themselves, both allows the preservation of Harman’s insight of objects as infinitely withdrawn while also explaining why they are infinitely withdrawn. If objects perpetually differ from themselves by virtue of constantly changing, they will be infinitely withdrawn insofar as none of their predicates will be fixed once and for all. Like Leibniz’s monads that were constantly changing and contained this principle of change within themselves, objects differ from themselves in undergoing constant activity and process. Thus it is not that objects differ from their predicates, but that these predicates are endlessly coming-to-be and passing-away, though often in ways too minute for us to perceive.

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4521_186068One of the things I like most about Badiou is his thesis that the goal of philosophy is to think the present, or to grasp the compossibility of those truths that are both eternal but are the essence of the present. Is it a mistake that philosophy seems to flourish most in periods of profound scientific, technological, artistic, and political transformation? In this spirit, here are a few things characteristic of our present that seem unique to our time:

* We live in a period during which developments in mathematics dwarf all prior cumulative developments, yet philosophers are still talking about how we know that 7 + 5 = 12, as if this understanding of mathematics were in any way relevant to topology, set theory, category theory, and lots of other forms of general abstract nonsense that I can scarcely even imagine.

* Evolutionary theory has overturned the idea of fixed and eternal species, instead producing a picture of the world characterized by endless variation and the production of classes through the accumulation of individual differences, yet philosophers still seem to think in terms of essences and individuals.

* We are unlocking the genome, fundamentally transforming the very nature of how life is conceived, yet again we still seem to think in terms of species and individuals despite now being in a position to play “Magister Ludi’s glass bead game” with life.

* We have a physics that has both revealed that space and time are interlinked and curved in terms of mass, and that has revealed a world of subatomic particles that behave in ways that no a priori reasoning would have ever expected, but we still think of causality in terms of regularities among impressions.

* We have new sciences such as systems theory, complexity theory, and chaos theory that also reveal significant shortcomings in how we conceive causality, yet we still think of causality in terms of necessary succession.

* We have a neurology and cognitive science that are transforming our understanding of the nature of cognition and mental functioning, yet we philosophers still seem to think that folk psychological concepts like “belief”, “love”, “desire”, “will”, “intention”, etc., are adequate to discussing the nature of mind.

* We have new forms of media and communications technology that are transforming the very nature of our cognition by virtue of being fields of individuation, yet we still privilege the book as a model of media.

* Our economic and technological processes have produced the first genuinely global form of social organization, yet we rely on political models unconsciously premised on social relations organized around rather small populations.

The list could be multiplied indefinitely. The issue is not one of abandoning the tradition or ignoring philosophy that has come before, but of doing philosophy in a way that is directed at the present. There is a vast difference between philosophy that is about another philosopher, and philosophy that is directed at its present and the problems and questions posed by that present, drawing on a tradition to think this, while also creating concepts adequate to this present and its own problems and cultural texture.

stephen_king_-_the_mist_mglaDeveloping a comment I made in “The Antinomy of Objects”, NrG asks,

ALL ob-ject-als are assemblages, but NOT ALL assemblages are ob-ject-als. (And I’m sorry you had to repeat yourself, but it does help.)

I like the example of the desk parts that are not yet a desk but (and perhaps I read this wrong) are you saying that every aggregate has the availability (and I like this word instead of potentiality because potential carries with it a notion of motive or purpose – but, as I see it, if no one put together the desk, that purpose or potential would never come to fruition) to become an assemblage? If so, this means that in order for an aggregate to become an ob-ject-al, what is needed is the inter-action with an actor that responds directly to this availability. Or, to put it another way,those desk parts (ob-ject-als and assemblages in their own right, as you pointed out) which now form an aggregate are available for forming an assemblage that is an ob-ject-al (a desk); however, what is needed is an actor (in this case someone who can put together the parts of the desk) who responds directly to this availability.

This is a crucial issue for my ontology and one that I am still working through, so it is worthwhile to comment on it further. The desk example is probably not the best example because, as you point out, it requires a maker to pass from being an aggregate to an assemblage. While this is certainly a common way for aggregates to become assemblages, I don’t think we want to presuppose this for all aggregate to assemblage processes.

cry_of_the_masses_www-vachal-czTake, for example, the process of group formation. You have all of these people that are themselves individual assemblages. These individual assemblages or persons might themselves have network relations of various sorts among one another forming larger-scale assemblages. For example, there might be friends and lovers among this population. The question then becomes that of how we pass from a mere aggregate of people and assemblages to a global assemblage composed of all the people in the population.

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kafka4Carl, over at the marvelously named Dead Voles, has an interesting post up on the so-called “new philosophy” and its relationship to the history of philosophy. As Carl writes:

As I’ve remarked recently, finding repetition in history is subject to a variety of difficulties of fact and interpretation. Context matters, and we may also recall Marx’s quip in The 18th Brumaire that while the first time is tragedy, the second is farce. Still, while philosophers as such are under no obligation to take history seriously, for historians of philosophy it’s important that philosophical ideas claim universality unlike almost anything else in history, so taking philosophy seriously also involves putting decontextualized comparison in play. This procedure does reveal some striking similarities; it seems that folks have been asking roughly the same questions and coming up with roughly the same answers for a long, long time. Apparently none of them have been fully satisfactory.

For historians this is no worry; we find our kicks in context and we’re not so much concerned with what Truth Is as what people think it was at particular places and times. For reflective philosophers who aren’t just interested in joining an intellectual gang it may be more concerning, although in the several thousand years of recorded philosophy any number of soothing ideologies have been invented to cope with its disappointments. And there’s always context to make the difference. As for Mikhail, Graham asks “Could it be that philosophy is starting over again?” There you go, Mikhail. Just be patient. If you wait a couple thousand years, we’ll come back around to Kant again.

Read the rest here.

145503969_e8891b5c1bI’m gratified to hear reference to a “new philosophy”, rather than the conclusion that those developing these positions are just a few crackpots on blogs and out of the way places. I think Carl hints at something important in this post without quite making it explicit. In other word, in addition to approaching new philosophical movements at the level of their content and philosophical claims, I think it’s important to approach philosophy as a social assemblage embodied in entities called universities, colleges, journals, and conferences, that link people together in a particular way and which strives to (re)produce certain form of thought among those lodged in these networks. In short, philosophy should not be examined simply as a body of texts and dialogues, but also as a set of institutional practices that vary from milieu to milieu, historical setting to historical setting. We should take the manner in which job interviews are organized at the APA, how journals function, what bodies are brought together, etc., as we should the texts which are discussed and written.

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nez3Alex, over at the always provocative and thoughtful Splintering Bone to Ashes (damn it Alex, write more!), has written an excellent post continuing the debate over the relationship between politics and ontology. Criticizing implicit normative presuppositions in ontological thought, Alex writes,

I cannot but find the true implications of this for the political to have been safely “bracketed”, to have been separated so far from the political field as to be of little importance. It would seem that if Speculative Realism not only de-couples the world from the human but also necessarily and as a consequence removes all hierarchies between layers and scales, then politics as such is deeply problematised. The current blog discourse seems to hold that this new metaphysics might be deployed as a kind of analytical conceptual technology, in the service of political aims or projects. But this seems to have failed to learn the proper lesson- for surely such political praxes are themselves justified in terms of a system of norms, at the very least a theory of “the good”. It seems as if many writers would want to use the descriptive powers of flat ontologies or network/assemblage theories (of the kind proffered by De Landa and Latour) in the service of pre-existing political orientations. To do so would simply be to fall into a sort of double-think. For each political praxis is itself justified by a theory of what is good, each of which can be genealogically traced to a prior philosophical or religious system, each of which are crucially undermined by the very notion of an ontology without preference.

From this Alex concludes,

Two options seem available. Firstly we think ‘pragmatically’, deploy flat ontological analyses as a mere technological appendage to serve pre-existing political vectors, but this seems to be somewhat paradoxical for it entails a hidden claim that the ontological has no baring upon the political—but this indicates the technological potentials of the philosophy are null and void. Alternatively we might think the other formulation: if being gives us no ability to prefer this over that, then we cannot do so (or seek some other form of validation). But to seek other validation is to inevitably rest upon some other problematic ground (all the different kinds of situated-chauvinism from racial-tribalism to humanism or vitalism). To take SR seriously is to hold to a radical nihilism, and it is in this respect that Ray Brassier comes closest to unravelling the full consequences (in spite of his own apparent gestures towards the continued validity of collective politics, perhaps another example of doublethink?). Either SR has no impact on politics, or destroys politics (and its reliance upon the situated-chauvinistic) altogether. It seems intrinsically a-political. In making of philosophy a science, we can no longer draw political claims from it, or rather perhaps, only a rigorous (though absolutely whimsical) anti-politics where it as good to eliminate the human race as to institute globalised communism. In this sense a kind of political hyperchaos might be thought, or perhaps an anti-phenomenological/inhuman ur-nihilistic existentialism.

read the rest here.

dali33At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I find it difficult to see how the thesis that ontology implies no particular politics is identical to the thesis that we must embrace a radical nihilism such as the sort described by Brassier. Arguing from the Ontic Principle, the relevant question is do values make a difference? If values make a difference, then my ontology requires me to admit the existence of values as real. That is, values would be among the entities that belong to my ontology.

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img_5821_processedThroughout the variant strains of Object-Oriented Philosophy and Speculative Realism, one common thread has been the rejection of the thesis that ontology implies a politics. This can be seen, for example, in Badiou where the event is understood as what is other than being-qua-being. Graham is absolutely insistent on the thesis that ontology does not imply a politics, arguing that questions of ontology should be engaged for their own sake. Nick, of The Accursed Share, wrote a very nice post arguing for the separation of ontology and politics. Continuing this theme, Reid, over at Planomenology, has today written a great post discussing the politics he sees emerging from the non-relation of the real and philosophy:

Here I must be clear. I think that as long as we take ‘non-relation’ as simply meaning ‘no relation’ or ‘not related’, we are missing the point. The non-relation of the Real to politics is one in which the Real is wholly absent from any intelligibility for politics, in which it is indecipherable or opaque for politics. Any political thought encounters the Real in the mode of not knowing what the Real wants. Now of course, this points to an implicit element of fantasy (in the strict Lacanian sense) that is structurally necessary for politics, one in which political thinkers impute such a desire to the Real, even though the Real is without will, and in fact, wholly indifferent to politics.

Nonetheless, the Real is still the ultimate determining factor of political reality. How? When I say that it is indifferent, I mean it is indifferent to any given political position, project or goal – it has no will for any political position, even though politics are minimally determined by this ‘Other’s desire’. Every politics that claims to be the true or right politics must also claim that its desire, its will or plan, is also that which ‘the Real wants’, that its ‘good’ is in fact the Good. Politics cannot cope with the indifference of the Real, and so must attempt to ‘narrativize’ its opacity by imputing to it some political truth.

You can read the rest here.

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