January 2009


360_bacon_1006In an a previous post I referred to the problem of “Plato’s Full Nelson” as one of the reasons Badiou strives to avoid providing any concept of difference in the formulation of his ontology. Plato’s Full Nelson can be read as one of the earliest versions of the correlationist argument. We find a particularly nice formulation of this argument in the context of a discussion of Plato’s theory of recollection and the immortality of the soul in the Phaedo.

And when the recollection is derived from like things, then there is sure to be another question, which is, whether the likeness of that which is recollected is in any way defective or not.

Very true, he said.
And shall we proceed a step further, and affirm that there is such a thing as equality, not of wood with wood, or of stone with stone, but that, over and above this, there is equality in the abstract? Shall we affirm this?

Affirm, yes, and swear to it, replied Simmias, with all the confidence in life.

And do we know the nature of this abstract essence?
To be sure, he said.
And whence did we obtain this knowledge? Did we not see equalities of material things, such as pieces of wood and stones, and gather from them the idea of an equality which is different from them?-you will admit that? Or look at the matter again in this way: Do not the same pieces of wood or stone appear at one time equal, and at another time unequal?

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superstringsI’ve been really delighted by the discussion that’s emerged in the blogosphere with Reid, Kvond, Jerry, Nick, Alexei, Mikhail, Nate, Graham, NrG, and others surrounding realism, speculative realism, correlationism, and object-oriented philosophy. The entire flavor of the discussion is entirely different than anything I’ve witnessed in the three years I’ve been writing here, as it’s revolved almost entirely around working through claims, counter-claims, and the development of positions, rather than already established positions. It’s a little surprising to see just how readily possible such discussions are and just how much thirst there seems to be for such an approach to philosophy.

Recently, responding to Nate’s queries about the notion of non-relational difference or difference in itself, I wrote:

I’m committed to the thesis that there is no bottom or top of the universe. As a result, it follows that objects contain other objects, somewhat like Russian dolls. Put differently, an object is an assemblage of objects. On the one hand, this requires me to give an account of how objects enlist other objects in the formation of their objecthood. Here I’m somewhat committed to the thesis that objects are more than the objects of which they’re composed. I think this follows from the Principle of Irreduction which states that nothing is either reducible or irreducible to anything else. On the other hand, this suggests that the idea of an internal difference or a non-relational difference is something of a rhetorical sleight of hand.

In the “Scheme of Translation” I introduced the thesis that internal difference is disequilibrium within an object, functioning as a ground for the acts of an actuality. Yet from whence do these inequalities or disequibriums arise if not clashes between the objects that make up an object? This, then, would seem to return the notion of internal difference or non-relational difference to the domain of relational difference. However, I think the characterization of these differences as internal or non-relational difference lies in the fact that they are intra-assemblic differences rather than inter-assemblic differences. In other words, non-relational difference tries to do the work of accounting for why an object cannot be reduced to its milieu or external conditions, such that the object becomes a mere vehicle of this milieu (for example, the thesis that as humans we are only products of our environment, contributing no difference of our own).

In a terrific, thoughtful comment, Nate responds:

I guess I’m having trouble seeing how to square difference in itself with all objects being assemblages of objects. It seems to me that to say the latter means that really what we think of as objects are assemblages of assemblages of assemblages of …. and so on, and as your post on objectiles suggests, all of these assemblages are in motion at various speeds along various vectors. That’s not necessarily a problem (I think I believe that this is true, actually, in the sense that I think your point speaks in a satisfying way to an intuition I have, so definitely not a problem).

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Sexologists attempt to answer Freud’s question.

water_liliesIn a response to “The Ontic Principles Tangled Beard“, Alexei contends that difference is an insufficient ground for an ontology:

Leaving aside the idea that ‘difference differs’ (which suggests to me that you can’t actually identify a difference because identification is re-identification, cognition is recognition, and something that is always differing isn’t stable enough to be identified) I am claiming that there’s a paradox here, but it’s not exactly the one you outline. To put the matter simply, ‘difference’ is an insufficient notion for developing an ontology and this insuffiency is exhibited in the lack of context and context-dependence that differentially construed objects exhibit.

The idea seems to be that if everything differs then we don’t get enough stability within being for entities to exist, much less be theorized. It seems to me that this criticism moves too quickly, failing to explore the resources that difference offers in responding to these sorts of issues. What this criticism fails to take into account are differences in scale and duration characteristic of the world. A blooming flower is constantly undergoing change at each moment of its existence, both at the cellular level of the processes or operations being undergone by each cell and at the the level of the petals, opening and turning towards the sun. On the one hand, I am unable to perceive the cellular activity of the flower because of the scale at which I exist. Likewise, I seldom notice the process the flower undergoes as it blooms, instead noting only the result or final product of the now open flower. If this is the case, then it is because of the relatively slow duration that characterizes the movement of the flower with respect to the duration that characterizes my being.

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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.

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raphael_athens_platoOver at Now-Times, Alexei has written a post criticizing the central claim of the Ontic Principle. In response to some questions Alexei had over at Perverse Egalitarianism, I had evoked my Ontological Principle and wrote,

One of the strange things about the ontology I’m trying to develop is that anything that produces a difference would be included under the umbrella of the real. Consequently, insofar as concepts contribute differences– and often very important differences –they would, for me, be included under the real. I take it that this is one of the consequences of what I’ve called the Ontological Principle, which states that being is said in a single and same sense for all that is, i.e., being is univocal. Consequently, in my ontology, there is not one world that is “really real” like, say, physical objects, and another world that is not really real like, say, minds. Both are really real insofar as they contribute differences.

In short, the Ontological Principle asserts that if something is a difference or makes a difference it is real, full stop. Or, put otherwise, being is said in a single and same sense for all that is. This, of course, leads to a very strange ontology, for it commits me to the thesis that, say, the world depicted in Neal Stephenson’s Anathem has a claim to being. Insofar as this world makes a difference, it would follow from my ontic principle that it is real.

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Alexei has written a very valuable response to my post responding to his diary over at Perverse Egalitarianism.

In a previous post, Alexei had objected to my Ontic Principle on the grounds that some differences are more important than other differences. I had responded by arguing that this conflates normative and epistemic issues with ontological issues. Additionally, I pointed out that the Ontic Principle only states that for anything that is, that thing both is a difference and makes a difference. In short, to be is to differ. I have never suggested that all differences are equal. Indeed, as my Principle of Reality states, the degree of reality or power of an entity is a ratio of the extensiveness of the differences it produces. Thus, while by the Principle of Translation or Latour’s Principle there is no difference that does not make a difference, there nonetheless are degrees of power among differences where one or more differences can overdetermine the rest.

Before responded to the passage quoted above, I would first like to thank Alexei for the tone and thoughtfulness of his response above. While Alexei certainly disagrees with my position, he disagrees without being disagreeable. Rather than suggesting that I have failed to understand Kant and should go back to the text, and rather than suggesting that I am equivalent to the disgruntled first-year student that simply has a violent reaction to the difficulty and foreignness of philosophical texts, thereby wishing to simply dismiss them like the horse swatting its tail at an irritating fly, Alexei instead opts to clearly state his own position and argument, showing why he believes that object-oriented philosophy is doomed to failure. As I remarked in responding to another interlocutor here at Larval Subjects, I generally think one is on the losing side of an argument when they begin from the premise that their opponent is ignorant. This is not to suggest that misinterpretations of philosophers do not often take place– indeed, it’s likely that development in philosophy is the result of philosophers misinterpreting one another –but when one makes a charge of misinterpretation, the specifics of this misinterpretation should be clearly detailed and laid out so that those involved in the discussion can get back to the philosophical issues at hand.

Alexei has approached discussion in the right way. Rather than treating the issue as a textual dispute over whether or not Kant has been understood, he instead states his correlationist commitments as a philosophical (not interpretive) claim and proceeded to show both why he believes we must both begin with correlationism and why it poses a significant challenge for realism. I wish I were myself better at emulating Alexei’s approach to discussion. wanda155Like Kevin Klein’s ridiculous character in A Fish Called Wanda, I become really enraged when I experience someone as calling me stupid– “don’t call me stupid!” –or suggesting that I am ignorant. It’s something that I need to work on. In my view, charges that another has not understood or that they have misinterpreted something tend to be counter-productive– even when true –because they implicitly send this message and thereby generate polemic. I strongly believe that one of the most serious diseases infecting how Continental philosophy is practiced in the United States lies in a tendency to perceive all philosophical disputes with a philosopher as a failure to correctly interpret that philosopher. Interpretation is a tremendously important activity and skill, but we really need to get over this sort of knee-jerk reaction.

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