s118r2phyrepro_1Reid, over at the new Planomenology (a very handsome site, btw), has written a Laruellean criticism of the ontology I’m developing. Given that I’ve already written a great deal today, I’ll try to keep my immediate response short and sweet. Reid writes,

In an argument with Mikhail of Perverse Egalitarianism, Levi makes the following Laurellean claim:

[Metaphysical arguments] beg the question or are circular insofar as they’re based on a prior distinction that distributes the transcendental and the empirical that is not itself accounted for. It is by virtue of this prior distinction that the transcendental is created and becomes something that can be indicated. This is why, unlike a scientific dispute, where it becomes, with time and investigation, possible to arbitrate among claims we instead get an endless series of transcendental philosophies all claiming to have discovered the ground whereas the others have not.

Yet his own metaphysics seems to betray a similar illegal, sovereign philosophical decision. This occurs in the Ontological Principle: being is said in a single and same sense for all beings. Here however, the Real is exhaustively determined by way of ‘being said’ or attributed, in other words, in terms of its being sayable, able to be registered. For Levi, this registration of being is possible by virtue of the difference introduced or made by a given being. There is no being that does not minimally make some difference, and hence a ‘being’ that made no difference would, according to his Principle of Reality, have no reality, no existence.

Here my response is rather lame. It is not crucial to my position, or, I think, the Ontological Principle, that being be said. This formulation of the Ontological Principle is actually derived from Deleuze’s formulation of univocity. As far as I’m concerned, all that is required by the Ontological Principle is that being be in a single and same sense for all that is, regardless of whether or not anyone registers it. In this connection, I think Reid has hit on a problem with Deleuze’s ontology. In The Logic of Sense— a work that I confess is still deeply mysterious to me –Deleuze appears to make being dependent on language and speech. In other words, for Deleuze it seems that the fact that univocity is said is crucial to his entire ontology. This is not a direction that I would myself go in. Moreover, it seems that Deleuze later abandons this position.

read on!

mathsetI think Reid misconstrues my Ontic Principle a bit, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to try and clarify matters. My Ontic Principle states that all differences make a difference (thank you, Mikhail!). I have been notoriously vague as to just what this principle means, and Alexei has been right to rake me over the coals for not producing a concept of difference.

Then again, this issue of producing a concept of difference is riddled with all sorts of subtle difficulties for the differential ontologist, for if one wishes to base their ontology on difference then they risk the ruin of that ontology by premising it on a concept of difference insofar as concepts are premised on identity. wag_32-1_derivative_geometryWe can call this problem “Plato’s Full Nelson”, and refer to his arguments in the Phaedo and Meno as excellent examples of how difference gets subordinated to identity by this gesture. Here I am thinking specifically of Plato’s argument demonstrating the necessity of a knowledge or concept of the “same itself” versus things that are the same as a condition for the identification of things that are the same. To my knowledge the only philosopher who has shown any real promise in escaping Plato’s Full Nelson is Badiou, for Badiou proposes not a concept of difference, but rather to leave multiplicity or difference unspecified and to instead operate on multiplicities through axioms. If I’ve been so cagey about providing a concept of difference it’s because I have the problem of Plato’s Full Nelson lurking in the back of my mind. Of course, I know that I can’t hold out on this issue forever.

Back to the issue at hand, Reid contends that I hold that the being of a being consists in making a difference. More specifically, Reid asserts that my position consists in entities making a difference on some other entity. Second, Reid seems to contend (I’m not entirely sure this is an accurate portrayal of what he thinks), that my position holds that beings only are insofar as they are registered for us. With regard to this second contention, I only hold that entities make a difference to some other entity, not that that entity must be us. I take this to follow from the thesis that entities act. Now, I am willing to entertain the argument that this is not a proposition admissible to pure ontology. The thesis that each entity acts on another entity is a contentious thesis that rejects the possibility that there could be entities that exist in vacuums that contain no other entities. I’ll have think through this more.

With regard to the first characterization of my position, my thesis is not that entities only are in acting on other entities, but that entities both are differences and make differences. That is, I [notoriously] hold that each entity contains difference in-itself or non-relational difference. This is another way of saying that the being of an entity does not consist in the difference it makes to another entity, or that it is not exhausted by being registered. I have tried to begin specifying just what difference in-itself would look like in my recent post, “The Scheme of Translation“, as well as in my discussions with NrG.

This aside, as I argued in my response to Nick, I still fail to see why relation should be considered a form of ideality. Drawing on Graham’s favorite example, there is a relation between the qualities of a puff of wool and the qualities of a flame, but certainly this relation isn’t an ideality. It seems to me that the charge that relations are idealities is premised on an implicit ontology that restricts relations to the realm of human thought and contends that only physical objects are “really real”. I do not believe this is a tenable position, but instead hold that there are relations that are entirely independent of humans and that are real.

Reid declares that in order to escape correlationism and the problem outlined by Laruelle’s non-philosophy, we must think of a form of difference-in-itself that is radically separate from and indifferent to difference-for-other.

…we are left with no account of difference-in-itself as radically separate from difference-for-other(-difference)s, or of the Real as an immanence that is indifferent to such registration or attribution, that is already in-One and not that ‘of which the One is said’. A non-philosophical supplement to Levi’s approach would, I think, tend to identify the difference-in-itself, as separate from the difference it makes, with the remainder of null(-being) that is unaccounted for in registration, or what amounts to the same, with the radically indifferent, that which is radically indifferent to whatever difference it might make, which I have previously characterized as the ‘non-difference that does not make a difference’.

transitionscraigcramer-sizePerhaps I am missing the issue here (as I’ve said I only know of Laruelle through what I’ve read by Nick, Brassier, and Reid), but it seems to me that this is a move that my ontology cannot make or tolerate. The problem here [for me] isn’t that being is always registered by humans– as a realist I’m committed to the thesis that it is not –but rather the problem is that my version of differential ontology argues that there are nonetheless some relations between humans and other objects, and, by the Ontological Principle, these relations are real. In other words, the ideal of reaching a difference that is radically indifferent named the Real strikes me as a repetition of the distinction between nature and culture, where nature is the domain of the Real and culture is something else.

My position, by contrast, holds that both nature and culture are real, and thus cannot make a move where we have a really real and then the less than real. For me the issue involved in escaping correlationism is not one of overcoming the human altogether such that we attain the really real that is beyond relation to all humans, but is rather the more modest proposal that the human-world relation is only one form of relation among many, neither more nor less important than the others.