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Towards the beginning of The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt writes that,

Men are conditioned beings because everything they come in contact with turns immediately into a condition of their existence. The world in which the vita activa spends itself consists of things produced by human activities; but the things that owe there existence exclusively to men nevertheless constantly condition their human makers. In addition to the conditions under which life is given to man on earth, and partly out of them, men constantly create their own, self-made conditions, which, their human origin and their variability not-withstanding, possess the same conditioning power as natural things. Whatever touches or enters into a sustained relationship with human life immediately assumes the character of a condition of human existence. This is why men, no matter what they do, are always conditioned beings. (9)

In a Kantian context, a condition is an a priori ground of both knowledge and the objects that is itself unchanging. That is, the conditions of experience are themselves outside of history and immune to the flux of change. The twelve categories of the understanding– unity, plurality, totality, reality, negation, limitation, inherence and subsistence, causality and dependence, community, possibility/impossibility, existence/non-existence, and necessity/contingency –along with the forms of intuition (space and time), and the transcendental unity of apperception, do not themselves change or become. As a result, the knower is subtracted from the field of becoming as an objectifying observer immune to the becoming of nature itself. In short, a certain premise of identity, of the identity of the knower, of its unconditioned existence, is operative in nearly all philosophical formations. Objects might become– indeed, the march of the sciences has almost universally been characterized by the erasure of substances in favor of relational and genetic accounts –but the knower does not itself become. All of this presupposes a certain theory of individuation. As Peter King writes in relation to the problem of individuation in Medieval philosophy,

…Socrates’ individuality should be explained in terms of features intrinsic to Socrates: his individuality is independent of other things and the relations in which he stands to them; were other things to come into existence or pass away, or change in their relationship to Socrates, it nevertheless seems implausible to think his individuality would be affected. If everything but Socrates were to be destroyed, he would remain individual. (Peter King, Theoria 66 (2000), 161)

King’s remark here sounds reminiscent of Husserl’s thesis that the transcendental ego would remain exactly as it was were the entire world to be annihilated. One wonders why it seems implausible to think that Socrates’ individuality changes when other things come into existence or their relationship to Socrates changes. In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze argues that, “…impersonal and preindividual nomadic singularities constitute the real transcendental field. The way in which the individual is derived out of this field represents the first stage of the genesis. The individual is inseparable from a world…” (109). These singularities are nomadic not because they are sovereign individuals free of conditioning, but because like the nomads of the steppes, they have no fixed or hierarchical localization, but instead form a quasi-random constellation. A constellation of stars lacks any ratio of harmony or proportion as in the case of Plato’s Pythagoreanism, but are rather thrown across the sky in such a way that they can only be found or discovered, not deduced. Would Socrates have been Socrates without the Athens of his time and his shifting relations to the world about him? Echoing King, it seems implausible to suggest so.

Yet why, despite the implausibility of such a thesis, do philosophers nonetheless implicitly and explicitly adopt such a position with regard to individuation? Whether we are speaking of Platonic forms that condition the objects of the world without themselves being conditioned by the world, or of the Cartesian subject, Kantian Transcendental Unity of Apperception, or Husserlian Transcendental Ego, or again of normative prescriptions like the categorical imperative or Mill’s greatest happiness principle, or conceptions of God as eternal and unchanging, itself immune to becoming (Whitehead and Schelling might be notable exceptions), again and again we find that a term is subtracted from the field of conditions such that it comes to condition everything else without itself being conditioned. More often than not, this conception of individuation is implicit, such that a theorist is happy to argue that all forms come into being, that they all have their cultural and natural history, and that they can pass away, all the while failing to explain the position of the theorist itself according to these principles. The theorist is here treated as a view from nowhere, like Laplace’s Demon, capable of surveying the whole without itself being conditioned by the constellation in which it finds itself. In this connection, Bourdieu argues that,

The construction of the field of production, substituting for a polemic where prejudice is disguised as analysis a polemic where scientific reason challenges itself, that is, challenges its own limits, implies a break with naive and self-indulgent objectification unaware of their own sources. It can only be an unjustifiable abstraction (which could fairly be called reductive) to seek the source of the understanding of cultural productions in these productions themselves, taken in isolation and divorced from the conditions of their production and utilization, as would be the wish of discourse analysis, which, situated on the border between sociology and linguistics, has nowadays relapsed into indefensible forms of internal analysis. Scientific analysis must work to relate to each other two sets of relations, the space of works or discourses taken as differential stances, and the space of the positions held by those who produce them. (Homo Academicus, xvi-xvii)

If Arendt is correct in her thesis that human existence is always conditioned– and having only limited familiarity with her work I am only developing my associations in relation to the passages cited at the beginning of this post –then any philosophical position that begins from the stance of an unconditioned individual whether in the form of a knower, Forms, normative universals, etc., finds itself in ruin for the simple reason that thought itself always finds itself within a historically specific (both naturally and culturally) field of conditions. As Bordieu points out, it is not enough to take up positions with regard to the cultural productions themselves (i.e., the arguments of a philosophical text or the results of scientific investigation), but rather the field of production in which these artifacts are themselves produced must be an object of critique as well (on the premise that Laplace’s Demon does not exist). Not only does thought always find itself within a field of conditions that condition the productions of thought, but the production of thought, technology, and society themselves enter this field becoming what Hegel called “Objective Spirit”, and, in turn, conditioning the productions of thought. Thought changes with the advent of writing, the printing press, the phone, satellite communications, the internet, new formations of the university, new distributions of power, and so on. While fabricated by humans, these objects nonetheless stand over and against humans in much the same way that the adaption of a species now itself becomes a feature of the environment to which other species must adapt and to which the species itself must respond. Yet thinkers tend to place these “extra-intellectual” factors of thought under erasure, leading to a situation “…where texts are transmitted without the context of their production and use,… [counting] on receiving a so-called ‘internal’ reading which universalizes and eternalizes them while derealizing them by constantly relating them to the sole context of their reception” (Bourdieu, xv).

The consequence of such a thesis regarding individuation– that beings are always conditioning and conditioned –would entail that thought must always begin between. That is, the subject of philosophy is not the sovereign and unconditioned knower or mind, but rather the constellation of conditions and conditioning out of which thought is produced. It is, of course, fashionable to declare that philosophy requires a radical critique, yet nonetheless it is the case that a meta-philosophical critique is absent in philosophy. Such a critique would be a prolegomena or propaedutic to philosophy, seeking to determine its very possibility or conditions. As such, it would not be, after the fashion of Kant’s critique, a critique that took positions vis a vis the stands and positions of philosophy itself. Rather, its questions would revolve around the field of production in which philosophy itself comes to be produced– The social field, the economic field, the field of power, etc., out of which philosophical concepts and positions are generated. Murmers of such a critique already populate the history of philosophy. Nietzsche, at least under Deleuze’s reading, argued that critique had not gone far enough as it had not subjected the values of critique (truth, the good, justice, etc) themselves to critique. For Nietzsche it was above all necessary to ask what wills in the philosophical will, and such an analysis necessarily required recourse to a genealogy. Marx saw fit to show how philosophers had inverted the world, treating ideas as more real than material conditions of production, and how epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and political thought are always conditioned by the field of cultural production. Freud and Lacan explored the underworld of desire in relation to knowledge. Foucault introduced the idea of a historical a priori exceeding that of the individual knower and conditioning his productions. Kuhn, in his own way, showed something similar. Latour and Stengers have explored the way in which scientific objects are produced. And Bourdieu has shown the functioning of power within the field of knowledge production and taste. Such a meta-critique would thus be reflexive, and would seek to determine both the way in which the figure of the philosopher is produced within a particular cultural constellation and how philosophy produces its own objects, eternalizing and universalizing them, while placing this production under erasure.

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