I’m in a rush as I have to get cooking for my dinner guests coming over tonight, but I thought I would draw attention to this post. Deontologist has written a post on my thesis that things like fictional entities exist. It appears that I’ve really irritated or provoked him with this thesis and discussion is getting to the point now where there are little jabs here and there, but perhaps it can still go somewhere. Where I, being the ontological slut that I am, wish to remain indiscriminate as to what is and is not, advocating what Pete nicely refers to as a “generic ontology”, Pet wishes to draw a strong distinction between what he calls “pseudo-existence” and “existence”. Clearly the ontic principle forbids me from making this move. If a difference is made then, within the framework of my ontology, I am necessarily committed to the existence or being of that difference.
However, while I am committed to the thesis that all differences are equal with respect to being, I certainly am not committed to the thesis that all beings are equal in terms of their intensity, subsistence, and so on. All of this has gotten me thinking once again about Latour’s Irreductions, which can be found in the second half of The Pasteurization of France. It would be terrific to see others read this work as it is so rich and provocative in the execution of its thesis. Over at Grundledung, Tom has been writing some critical commentary on it here and here. I am certainly not in agreement with all that Latour claims here, but it is nonetheless, I believe, one of the great works of object-oriented ontology from the relationist camp.
At any rate, Deontologist’s or Pete’s criticisms have gotten me thinking once again about Latour’s criteria for the real. Latour writes:
184.108.40.206 The Real is not one thing among others but gradients of resistance.
220.127.116.11 There is no difference between the “real” and the “unreal”, the “real” and the “possible”, the “real” and the “imaginary.” Rather, there are all the differences experienced between those that resist for long and those that do not, those that resist courageously and those that do not, those that know how to ally or isolate themselves and those that do not.
18.104.22.168 No force can, as it is oftenn put, “know reality,” other than through the difference it creates in resisting others.
Now, there are important differences here between my own position and Latour’s, but I am nonetheless sympathetic to his claims. For me the criteria of existence lies in difference. Even if an entity does not produce a difference on another entity, so long as it produces differences (in an empty void say), I hold that it exists or is. In this regard, I cannot follow Latour in treating resistance as the criteria for reality, as whether or not an entity shares a relation to another entity is irrelevant to whether it is within the framework of my ontology. For Latour, by contrast, entities are completely exhausted in the differences they produce on other entities. Latour, along with Whitehead (under one reading anyway) and perhaps Deleuze, falls in the relationist camp of object-oriented ontology. Latour’s entities are, like Peirce’s pragmatic principle, the sum of effects they produce on other entities.
Nonetheless, I do think Latour’s principle of resistance is useful within the framework of the discussion I’ve been having with Pete. Rather than distinguishing physical entities and fictional entities along the lines of existence and pseudo-existence, we can instead talk about the gradients of resistance these entities exercise. Like a cloud or a morning mist, fictional entities present a very low degree of resistance with respect to another entity. By contrast, a rock produces a very high degree of resistance. An important caveat here is that this sorting has a lot to do with scales and speeds. Water presents a very high gradient of resistance to an object falling from on high. Skin presents a strong gradient of resistance to a dull pencil point, but to the microscopic mite it is a labyrinth of caverns easily navigated and traversed. A fiction has a very low gradient of resistance in terms of how easily it can be manipulated or how plastic it is, but a symbolic institution and a myth have very high gradients of resistance, replicating themselves all throughout the world and a group of people. Rather than drawing an arbitrary ontological distinction between pseudo-existence and existence that creates all sorts of endless problems, the notion of gradients of existence allows for a generic ontology that is nonetheless able to make important distinctions among differences ontologically rather than epistemically. It also allows us to see how things like fictions, myths, and signs contribute to assemblages and the organization of assemblages. Anyway, I’m off to cook.