In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche famously argued that metaphysics is a product of grammar.
With regard to the superstitions of logicians, I shall never tire of emphasizing a small terse fact, which these superstitious minds hate to concede—namely, that a thought comes when “it” wishes, and not when “I” wish, so that it is a falsification of the facts of the case to say that the subject “I” is the condition of the predicate “think.” It thinks: but that this “it” is precisely the famous old “ego” is, to put it mildly, only a supposition, an assertion, and assuredly not an “immediate certainty.” After all, one has even gone too far with this “it thinks”—even the “it” contains an interpretation of the process, and does not belong to the process itself. One infers here according to the grammatical habit “thinking is an activity; every activity requires an agent; consequently—.” It was pretty much according to the same schema that the older atomism sought, besides the operating “power,” that lump of matter in which it resides and out of which it operates, the atom; more rigorous minds, however, learned at last to get along without this “earth-residuum,” and perhaps some day we shall accustom ourselves, including the logicians, to get along without the little “it” (which is all that is left of the honest little old ego). (Part 1, §17)
The world is parsed into nouns in the form of subjects and objects, adjectives or predicates, and verbs. Subjects and objects are then treated as substances or that which endures in times and lies beneath. Verbs or events are treated as that which happens to objects and subjects, such as the movement from one position to another in space as if on a sheet of graph paper. And finally predicates are what are said of substances. The ball, a substance, is red and spherical (predicates). The ball moves this side of the table to that side of the table.
As a consequence of this parsing of the world, all sorts of metaphysical and epistemological problems emerge. Insofar as subjects and objects are conceived as substances, the epistemological question arises of how it is possible for a subject to relate to an object. The object, as a substance, forever transcends the subject, necessarily being beyond the subject in all ways. We know the object through its predicates or properties, yet we encounter the entire problem of primary and secondary qualities or the indiscernibility of properties. That is, how do we determine whether the predicates we find in the object are a product of us or whether they belong to the object itself? Is color, for example, in the object or is it in me? On the metaphysical level, is the object simply a bundle of properties or is the substance something more, in addition to its properties, beyond these predicates? If the object is nothing but a bundle of properties, doesn’t it cease to be that objects when it gains or loses properties? If the object is a substance beyond its properties, what does it mean to speak of it as this object at all insofar as the substance which the object is is always in excess of any properties that it might have (the bare substratum problem).
Yet certainly “to be”, to exist, is something more than simply being a substance characterized by identity? Generally we restrict the verb “to act” to living beings. Animals act in bringing themselves to motion. Some claim that only humans are capable of acts. Action here is conceived as necessarily containing a component of will or self-willing. A rock, it is said, does not act insofar as it cannot will itself to act but can only be made to move through external forces. Etymologically the term act comes from the Latin actus, “a doing”, and actum, “a thing done”. These are derivatives of agere, “to do, set in motion, drive, urge, chase, stir up”. These Latin terms, in turn, derive from the Greek agein, “to lead, guide, drive, carry off,” and, interestingly, agon, referring to “assembly, contest in games,” as well as agogos or “leader”.
When we shift from conceptualizing objects as substances, but rather as acts, do matters change with respect to metaphysics and epistemology? Here the distinction between verb and noun is collapsed, such that the noun becomes a verb and the verb a noun. To exist is to act, to be set in motion in a particular way, to drive, and to stir up. Objects are no longer to be thought as substances in which predicates inhere, but rather as “objectiles” or “ob-jects”, that unfold in duration like a blooming flower. The term “objectile” should be read as a sort of portmanteau word like “projectile”, 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. Generally we oppose space and time to one another. Yet if objectiles are verbs or events, then it becomes clear that the ob-ject must be a spatio-temporal dynamism rather than a substance that maintains its identity in space, moving from position to position.
(This picture is supposed to be dynamic, but unfortunately I can’t get it to work on this blog so I invite readers to view it in motion here.) Where the ob-ject is thought as objectile, the question is no longer that of how predicates inhere in substances, or whether a substance is nothing more than a bundle of predicates. Rather, the question becomes one of how the im-plicate becomes the ex-plicate or how events are unfolded. The treatment of objectiles as fixed, solid, and stable things other than events would here be a product of relative differentials of speed between our own bodies and objectiles. The stable objectile, the relatively enduring objectile, would be, as it were, a sort of stability among forces. Rocks are relatively inert due to gradients of heat and pressure, yet become flowing magma under intense heats and pressures. If my body ascends in the ocean too quickly or is thrown into outer-space, the nitrogen in my blood begins to boil. In other words, what appears to be an individual (the object), is in fact a dynamic relation between an environment and the objectile, whereby this environment evokes certain properties in the objectile.
As a consequence, it becomes clear that all objectiles are attached to a field, a field of relations, a field of forces, through which properties of the objectile are evoked or ex-plicated and upon which the objectile acts in turn. Part of the reason the endless debate between sub-stances and predicates emerges is that objectiles are thought in abstraction from the fields in which they are immersed and through which that which is im-plicated or en-folded is ex-plicated or un-folded in the ob-ject. Iron, for example, only manifests the property of rust in relation to a broader field where water and oxygen are present. The iron is ex-plicated in relation to the field composed of oxygen and moisture. Objectiles must thus be thought based on a principle akin to that of magnetism, where properties are qualities are perpetually being drawn forth from the objectile in relation to its field and their singularities. The question is no longer that of whether an object is a bundle or collection of properties and nothing more, or whether, in addition to properties, there is something deeper in objects, substance, that is in excess of the object (a sort of negative theology of objects where substance perpetually eludes any relation). Rather, the question now becomes one of those conditions under which the ob-ject is drawn out of itself producing these particular properties.
As a consequence, it now becomes clear that objectiles must be thought first as assemblages insofar as their being or nature only occurs as act in relation to field from which it is drawn forth; and second, as multiplicities. If objectiles as acts must necessarily be thought as multiplicities then this is because, first, objectiles are multiple in their un-folding or ex-plication. Objectiles are durational multiplicities undergoing continuous variation within themselves. If objectiles appear permanent and unchanging, if they appear to be substances rather than events or blooming flowers or explosions, then this is because of differentials of speed at which our bodies move relative to other objectiles and because of differences in scale. As Lucretius observed so beautifully, all objectiles are in a perpetual state of motion and only appear to be still due to the scale at which we view them. Like sheep on a hill viewed from a great distance away, rocks appear to be still despite the fact that they are perpetually unfolding or ex-plicating themselves in relation to their field of interactions. Second, objectiles are necessarily multiplicities due to the assemblage or network they form through their external relations to their field and other objectiles, such that ob-jects must be thought as forming a field of mutual implications, both being produced and producing one another. A number of significant questions emerge here as to those conditions under which objectiles and fields can enter into various relations with one another. As Spinoza observed, some modes are complementary, others are indifferent, and yet others tend to destroy one another. Finally, objectiles are multiplicities in themselves like Leibniz’s famous pool of water where each drop contains an entire universe. As Leibniz so poetically put it,
65. And the Author of nature has been able to employ this divine and infinitely wonderful power of art, because each portion of matter is not only infinitely divisible, as the ancients observed, but is also actually subdivided without end, each part into further parts, of which each has some motion of its own; otherwise it would be impossible for each portion of matter to express the whole universe. (Theod. Prelim., Disc. de la Conform. 70, and 195.)
66. Whence it appears that in the smallest particle of matter there is a world of creatures, living beings, animals, entelechies, souls.
67. Each portion of matter may be conceived as like a garden full of plants and like a pond full of fishes. But each branch of every plant, each member of every animal, each drop of its liquid parts is also some such garden or pond.
68. And though the earth and the air which are between the plants of the garden, or the water which is between the fish of the pond, be neither plant nor fish; yet they also contain plants and fishes, but mostly so minute as to be imperceptible to us.
69. Thus there is nothing fallow, nothing sterile, nothing dead in the universe, no chaos, no confusion save in appearance, somewhat as it might appear to be in a pond at a distance, in which one would see a confused movement and, as it were, a swarming of fish in the pond, without separately distinguishing the fish themselves.
Insofar as objectiles are not static substances but rather acts and dynamic processes, it follows as a consequence that they must be infinite multiplicities insofar as their being will be a function of the relations and assemblages into which they enter. In other words, there are no ultimate identities or “simples”.
If we begin from this premise, the questions of epistemology change significantly as well. Epistemology has been obsessed with the question of how it is possible to represent the object, endlessly finding itself trapped in a circularity where subject and object are conceived as independent of one another and as individuals in abstraction from one another, such that the question of how it is possible to represent the object in-itself insistently and perpetually returns. However, if objectiles are acts or verbs, if they are drawn out always in relation to other objectiles and fields, then the question is no longer that of how to represent the object in-itself because there no longer are objects in-themselves. Rather, knowing is itself an activity where the subject as “superject” and the objectile co-imply one another, each drawing forth properties in the other through their interaction. To know is to pro-voke the objectile under determinate conditions, not to touch something independent of its projectiles. But enough for now.