void-709422In a rather humorous response to my satire on transcendental philosophies, Mikhail writes:

Actually, as I pointed out in my non-satirical bits before, the whole thing about mind conforming to object or objects conforming to mind is a pure caricature – so this is really not a satire at all, but a kind of desperate mocking, like a student who after a frustrating evening with Descartes declares in class: “This is bullshit, why will I ever need to know this?”

“Critical Philosophy” was never a queen of anything, if Critical Philosophy is Kant.

“Endless disputes” are not an evidence of failure, otherwise mathematics, physics, neuroscience, chemistry and many other sciences that still dispute data and interpretations are failed sciences.

if oxygen is the ultimate transcendental principle, if it is the principle of principles, the principle without peer…

I think I’m starting to see my issues with your “principle” – oxygen is a word, not a principle, principle is a statement, if you are going to mock something, at least give it a bit of brains, I suppose.

Moreover, could Descartes have declared “I think therefore I am!” without the vital power of breath?

Of course, and he did – my students just wrote papers on that yesterday! I mean I like the funnies as much as the next man, but this is not really funny at all, it’s mostly mocking of what you either don’t understand or refuse to consider. It’s kind of sad – where exactly is the humor? Do you really think that someone like Kant proceeds in this way? This sort of explains things…

Apparently Mikhail, that close reader of close readers, that defender of the Downer Principle, missed the point that I was aping the styles of various transcendentalists or defenders of variants of correlationism from Kant to Heidegger and Derrida. For instance, how could Mikhail fail to recall Kant’s famous remark in the first Critique where he declares that “Time was when metaphysics was the queen of the sciences…” Moreover, it’s surprising that Mikhail doesn’t recall that for Kant the endless disputes of metaphysics are offered as evidence of its failure and the need for critique. At any rate, you know you’re in trouble when you need to explain your own satire!

The real target of this little satire is not so much Kant as the critical/dogmatic divide. We are told that one approach to philosophy is critical while another is pre-critical dogmatism. The curious thing is that nearly anything can be treated as the ultimate condition or the fundamental condition required for a philosophy to count as critical. Thus you get the Kantians talking about the constitutive role that mind plays, such that any philosophy that does not take this role into account is dogmatic. The Gadamerians and Foucaultians respond by making history the constitutive condition, denouncing the Kantians as dogmatically ignoring our fundamental historicity. The Kantian retorts that history wouldn’t be possible without these constitutive structures of mind. The Marxist Critical Theorist intervenes by showing how the Kantian categories are actually generated from economics. Derrida leaps in showing how all these folks are wrong because the role that Arche-Writing plays has not been taken into account. Every one of these positions is able to one-up and explain the other position in terms of what it has located as the transcendental, and every position being denounced as dogmatic is able, in its own turn, to respond by showing how the allegedly critique is in fact dogmatic by the lights of its own critical structure. For example, the Husserlian denounces the Marxist for failing to carry out the reduction and engage in a phenomenological analysis of intentionality, while the Marxist turns around and denounces the Husserlian for failing to carry out a historical and economic investigation into the origins of his very conception of the world (i.e., the Marxist denounces the Husserlian for bourgeois individualism).

read on!

otto_rapp_contemporary_fine_art_investment_asset_1If I have understood Nick and Brassier’s work on Laruelle correctly, this is what Laruelle is getting at with his “non-philosophy”, where Laruelle shows how various philosophies construct the transcendental and factum in such a way as to produce a sort of self-referential circle that is unable to ground itself in a way that does not ultimately beg the question. The charge of being “dogmatic” thus reveals itself as a sort of rhetorical epithet, that, far from distinguishing the critical from the dogmatic, is instead simply a dogmatism of its own sort (the critico-transcendental move always being based on a ground or gesture that can never itself establish its own necessity). Here I’m led to think of the cryptic mathematician Spencer-Brown and his Laws of Form. Spencer-Brown argues that mathematics can be derived from the activity of drawing distinctions. Indeed, the first line of the second chapter of the Law of Forms makes the imperative command Draw a distinction! Spencer-Brown’s thesis is that nothing can be indicated without first drawing a distinction. Spencer-Brown’s symbol for distinction is the mark or cross:


Once the distinction has been drawn it becomes possible to distinguish a “this” from a “that”. For example, you can indicate what is under the mark, and what is outside the mark. Spencer-Brown’s thesis is thus that distinction is a prior and necessary condition for any and all indication. Put otherwise, we could say that distinction is the “condition for the possibility” of indication. However, the important point is that, according to Spencer-Brown, it is impossible to indicate anything prior to the drawing of the distinction.

Now what makes Spencer-Brown’s discussion of distinction interesting is that the drawing of distinction itself is a sort of abyssal act, an act of absolute freedom, that can’t be grounded in anything else. The why or wherefore of a particular distinction cannot itself ever be accounted for because this would indicate that the distinction was already operative in the world. But as Spencer-Brown dramatically puts it, a world only comes into being after a distinction has been drawn. Prior to distinction, claims Spencer-Brown, the world can’t be said to exist at all. Once the distinction is drawn we get higher and higher orders of complexity in the drawing of further distinctions and the making of further indications, but prior to the distinction nothing can be said at all, because indication requires prior distinction in order to be possible (clearly this would be a crucial problem for any and all realist orientations of thought). The paradox, then, would be that all indication is auto-referential or self-positing insofar as it necessarily presupposes the distinction that enables access to beings in the first place.

Spencer-Brown’s calculus or laws of form could thus be characterized as the formal schema of all possible transcendental philosophies. In short, all philosophies of access or forms of correlationism would presuppose a distinction that produces the manifestation of the very things they experience themselves as finding. Thus, the transcendental philosopher experiences himself as discovering conditions of one form or another (mind, language, history, text, Arche-Writing, power, etc) in indicating these conditions as conditions for access or manifestation. The paradox is that this “discovery” is already auto-posited by the distinction that precedes the work of indication. Thus, through a sort of transcendental illusion common to all transcendental philosophies, conditions are experienced as found rather than auto-posited.

The upshot of all this would be that every transcendental philosophy is dogmatic at its core as the originary distinction that allows the operation of distinguishing conditioned from condition, the transcendental from the empirical, can never itself be accounted for, grounded, or demonstrated. To do so would require further distinctions, a “transcendental transcendental” analysis, that would, in turn, be based on its own abyssal acts of drawing a distinction. If I have understood Nick’s discussions of Laruelle correctly, this would be part of what Laurelle has in mind when he argues that philosophy is always Decisional, such that not only is each and every philosophy based on an unaccountable decision (similar to the Lacanian Act or the Badiouian nomination of a truth), but also such that the Decision that enables or opens the philosophy always withdraws from the thought of the philosopher as a sort of abyssal transcendental unconscious– a dogmatic presupposition –that haunts the thought of that philosophy. The sort of logic at work here is similar to how Schelling describes the origin of God’s creation of the world in Ages of the World. But if all philosophy is based on an abyssal Decision not unlike Badiou’s axiomatic method, would it not follow that the project of critique as a preparatory exercise to any and all philosophical investigation should be abandoned? Moreover, wouldn’t the charge of dogmatism really amount to the charge of not making distinctions as do others?