February 2009

In case anyone wondered, Graham is not guilty of anything I claim. I have adopted the term “object-oriented philosophy” to describe my own position, which, while sympathetic to Graham’s position, is not, as has become increasingly evident, Graham’s position. I use the term “object-oriented philosophy” to name any ontology that affirms realism or the independence of objects in their own right. When the term object-oriented philosophy is evoked– and given remarks he’s made about his own position, my position, and Latour’s position, I think Graham would agree –it should be understood as being similar to evocations of empiricism, rationalism, or idealism. There are vast differences between Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, as well as Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, as well as Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. Yet these thinkers belong to the traditions of empiricism, rationalism, and idealism respectively (with some overlap). This is also the way in which Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Philosophy should be understood… Not as a particular position, but rather as a general orientation of thought and a shared set of enemies.

I am hesitant to write this post because I believe that metaphysical and epistemological issues should be grounded in metaphysical and epistemological reasons, rather than normative reasons. Indeed, this was one of my main critiques of Deleuzian scholarship in Difference and Givenness: That it was too often conflating normative considerations based on a particular politics with grounds for endorsing Deleuze’s ontology. However, given the aridness of me and Alexei’s recent debate over the grounds of mathematics vis a vis correlationism (Alexei) and realism (me), I thought it might be worthwhile to say a word or two as to just why such a debate is important. It is not unlikely that Alexei– and he’s said nothing that would indicate this to me, I’m just speculating –gets worked up about this debate for very similar reasons to the ones that work me up. Moreover, it’s not unlikely that Alexei’s reasons for getting worked up about such an arid issue– despite claiming he wasn’t worked up… he certainly spilled a lot of ink for someone not worked up –are not simply about the soundness of a particular argument or philosophical theory. However, I can only speak for myself.

One of my reasons for getting so worked up about correlationism has nothing to do with flaws I see in the position (and I’ve become increasingly convinced that it is a deeply flawed position), but rather with a certain skepticism it introduces into philosophy and, more particularly, science. Speaking in a very crude way, the correlationist claims that we can only ever know things as they appear for us, not as they are in-themselves. This, in and of itself, is not the skeptical consequence of correlationism. The philosophical pay-off of making the correlationist move is that you get a rejoinder to the Humean skeptic concerning our inability to ground inductive reasoning. That is, because the structure of mind is a universal and a priori structure, the apparent subjectivism of correlationism (that we can only speak of things for-us, not in-themselves) yields an empirical realism. Appearances are, according to the correlationist, law-like in how they appear. In other words, the subjectivism of correlationism is not a private subjectivism restricted to individuals, but rather phenomena are universal and objective. The correlationist is thus able to defeat Hume’s skepticism.

The price the correlationist pays for this defeat of Humean skepticism is that our knowledge is restricted to phenomena or appearances, not things-as-they-are-in-themselves. It could be, the correlationist claims, that the things themselves, independent of the structuring activity of our minds, do not follow these laws at all. But none of this really matters, because insofar as the structures of mind are transcendental and universal, phenomena will always be structured accordingly and science and mathematics will be well grounded. Additionally, the correlationist argues that there are limits to this knowledge. As Kant so pithily puts it, “concepts without intuitions are empty, intuitions without thoughts (concepts) are blind.” Pure a priori categories of the understanding only find their legitimate employment in relation to sensibility. This sensibility, of course, can be of either the empirical variant (what we must receive through experience) or the a priori variant (the pure forms of space and time that mind imposes on the world), but nonetheless concepts employed independent of sensibility or intuition are illegitimate. Consequently, one meritorious consequence of the correlationist move towards finitude (our restriction to sensibility), is that we can no longer claim knowledge of things beyond the scope of our experience. In a single stroke Kant is thus able to banish rational psychology (attempts to demonstrate the immortality of the soul, for example) and natural theology (attempts to rationally demonstrate the existence of God), from the domain of what can be known as these things exceed the limits of our intuition (and here I’m simplifying quite a bit as to how Kant goes about demonstrating this as the arguments of the parlogisms are quite different than those of the ideas).

read on!

432411_fpxtifJerry the Anthropologist kindly responds to my recent post on Brassier and Correlationism:

Let me see if I can come back to two or three things.

First, I’m a good deal less convinced that string theory is a well formed scientific theory than apparently you are. Einstein’s work has been experiementally vindicated, so too has much of quantum mechanics. Huxley was able to make powerful arguments in favor of Darwin’s theories within 4 years (more or less) of the publication of On the Origin of Species, see his Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature published in 1863, on the basis of comparative anatomy alone; nor should we forget the fabulous intuitions (reimaginings) of Alfred Russel-Wallace. But as I understand matters, its been twenty years more or less for string theory and nada. So I do not have to accept the if-then nature of the argument; I really should leave aside the ethnographic fact that not all forms of human reason and human language allow if-then statements as grammatically well formed or linguistically fluent, but I can’t resist. So maybe you are right and I’ve over read an argument.

Nonetheless on this basis I do not have to accept the premises of what follows from Brassier’s invocation of string theory (perhaps better the string hypothesis). Nor do I am right about mathematics, do I have to accept the reading of moving beyond the image of the world.

I take mathematical objects to be extant in thought and not in the proportions of (especially) living things. Indeed mathematical objects seem to me an extremely good example of myth, understood in anthropological sense and not a colloquial one; I said as much in an earlier comment.

I simply do not agree with you about Copernicus or Darwin. We ask questions for reasons at particular times, but we ask them given oddities in what we perceive; this is not ethnographically insignificant as can be understood if we think about why mayans did not use wheels on carts or the classical Mediterrean folks did not use steam engines to power looms. This is why I think your dismissal of the question of the calculation of Easter is a bit premature. It is also why I think we need to come back to the movement of the planets. These motions has been known of for a very long time and by a variety of sciences not all of which are western. The point however for Copernicus is not just that the planets move forward against the apparent background of stars, they also move backwards, and in the case of Venus move from evening to morning and back to evening with periods of being unobservable between. If we do not attend to these sorts of movements, so be it, why should we. Hence the sense many have of the moving of the sun, moon and the so-called fixed stars, which if I understand you you equate with some sort of common sense (forgive me, but as you know any idea of common sense just gets anthropologists’ juices going–what is common about this or that sense?). But the backwards movements are still there in the heavens and in the image of the world (I suppose this is an example of what you mean by correlationism??). These movements are precisely the sort of detail which leads to a reimagining of the image of the world in the sense I’ve spoken of, and not the other way round as some sort of suspension. Indeed, if I’m right about mathematics (and yes in English of our era if-then statements are grammatically well formed) then then mathematics is not such a suspension but rather a way or means of reimagining the world.

What disturbs me about the cultural constructionists in anthropology (I won’t speak of other disciplines) is that they often seem to forget that there is a world out there being thought by someone, individually and collectively. What I find disturbing in the sort of materialism Brassier puts forth in those few pages is what I take to be a forgetting of the conditions of and for thought or maybe even a contempt for those who seek to explore these matters, of certain types of psychology and anthropology; he says of those forms of knowing that they are repugnant, and in that sense misunderstands how Darwin’s thought has entered into neurology, psychology and anthropology in ways that makes these three disciplines potentially unitary. What I’m also saying here is that he is ethnographically mistaken or put another way that his choice between Darwin and Husserl (or at least phenomenology as it has come to influence certain strands of psychology and anthropology) is a false choice. Its because I see this as a false choice (my notes refer to the top of his page 18 but without going back and rereading I can’t reconstruct this further) that I see Basskar as dreaming of a transparent language, shall we say mathematics??, without seeing this, apparently, as a reimagining of the image of the world.

I’ll grant that we can describe that we can describe human beings as “a carbon based information processing system” but that description also applies to marmosets, earthworms, my cats and the trees outside in that all of these living entities respond to events around them; this is what I mean, at least in part, when I speak about form the way that I do. The difference that makes a difference would be, I think, that we tell stories about the world as a part of thinking the world whereas my cats tell less complicated stories, if you will; I take mathematics to be a profound example of such a story, and in Husserl’s version as articulated in the quote, Nature is also a profound example.

I would agree that on its face Husserl’s quote is nonsense, that is until we take Husserl (my variable or term for phenomenology as it enters psychology and anthropology where I assure you it has been helpful because knowledge, even false knowledge, has conditions as well) to be talking about the conditions of knowing and Nature as myth; I’ve not read alot of Husserl and I’m not a philosopher, so nothing in my argument depends upon extensive exegesis of Husserl as such or in the problems facing western (continental?)philosophy as such.

I’m not claiming that there isn’t more in heaven and earth than is encompassed in my philosophy (if I even engage in philosophy), but in my discipline and those related to it we have had to try to take the circumstances of the thinker (human or otherwise, individually and collective) rather more seriously that Bashkar appears to me to do. Indeed I seem to think (ah, Bali and the distinction between niskala and sekal which I mentioned in an earlier comment) that any time a thinker arises so will correlationsism as a phenom,enological event, if I understand you correctly.

As to the last point you make (1) all thinkers find themselves at the center in that they have points of view from which they look out even if they are not at some mystical center, but please unless one wants to enter into lengthy attempts to understand centuries of Asian capitalism spare me getting over this myth of subjective interiority as Brassier puts it as a way of getting over capitalism (2) any trauma depends, it seems to me, upon some notion of special creation (and yes you and I live at the buckle of the Bible Belt where such notions are prevalent) but this (special creation) is not a universally human form of common sense, so (3) any comment about a policing mechanism refers to a provincial event, meaning of a time and place and not of the human condition (whatever the fullness of that may be) or the structure of ordinary lived experience (whatever the fullness of that may be) more generally.

I don’t think the soundness of my argument depends on whether or not superstring theory is confirmed as the issue revolves around whether or not the objects science can talk about are constrained to the structure of experience. Consequently, if one likes, you can just substitute subatomic physics for superstring theory. In either case we’re talking about entities that are wildly different than the mid-range objects of phenomenological experience that, were we to treat this structure of our experience as the measure, would render these objects of subatomic physics completely incoherent.

read on!

evolution11In response to my post expressing enthusiasm for Brassier’s hymn to science, Jerry the Anthropologists has expressed some criticisms of what he takes Ray to be claiming. Jerry writes,

He [Brassier] writes “to attain an adequate conceptual grasp…it is necessary to achieve a complete theoretical suspension.” I take your reading to be very charitable, or probably just a great deal clearer understanding of scientists and their activities. At the same time I don’t think what he’s saying (and I read him in a way I think is pretty literal) is possible. I think what we’re learning from the neurologists like Edelman runs entirely counter to his view; the workings of our nervous systems do not allow for the suspension of the image of the world. Further what I know of Copernicus and Darwin would be consistent with the operations and processes of intuition given certain connundrums, in Copernicus’s case about the movements of the planets and the increasing difficulties making an accurate calculation for Easter and in Darwin’s case of variation within and between species in a circumstance of ongoing struggle over great long periods of time. In both these cases I sense greater attention to the image of the world not lesser attention. I gather that he’s so seduced by the existence of the world that he wishes to avoid the very realities that we work with images of that world, constantly changing images but images nonetheless because of the ways in which our nervous systems work. Thus science may pose a challenge to certain systems of common sense and to certain folk metaphysics but not to others and further the activities of science generate other systems of common sense and metaphysics.

It seems to me that Jerry is making two distinct claims in this post. First, Jerry is claiming that the desire for a complete theoretical suspension is untenable. Second, he is advancing the correlationist claim that all of our access to the world is mediated through our relationship to the lived phenomenological world of day to day experience or what Heidegger called the world of “everydayness”. I am grateful to my great, gray lion maned friend (and still embarrassed by getting completely blitzed when I last enjoyed dinner last at his fine table) for these criticisms, so I’ll take this opportunity to expand a bit on just what I find attractive and refreshing in these ten pages of Brassier’s Alien Theory.

read on!

eclipse-5exposuresContinuing my discussion of Spinoza, questions of individuation are at the heart of his metaphysics. Where one stands with respect to these questions of individuation will determine whether or not one follows Spinoza. The aim of my discussions here is the clarification of my own views pertaining to these issues through the use of Spinoza as a foil to bring into relief my positions.

Perhaps the key proposition of Part 1 of Spinoza’s Ethics, the proposition from which all else follows, the most important link, is 1p5. There Spinoza asserts that:

There cannot exist in the universe two or more substances having the same nature or attribute


This seemingly innocent proposition will be the lynchpin of Spinoza’s most important ensuing claims, for on the basis of this proposition Spinoza will demonstrate that in the universe there is one and exactly one substance, that this substance is necessarily infinite, that all other things are therefore modes or affections of this one substance, and so on. If one concedes Spinoza’s arguments for the first five propositions of Part 1, then the rest follows as a matter of course.

read on!

Reid over at Planomenology has an excellent– genuinely excellent —post up outlining the contours of Laruelle’s non-philosophical engagement with philosophy. Note how Reid outlines non-philosophical engagement with philosophy in the clearest of terms, drawing minimally on Laruelle’s own dense language. This is how it’s done. Hopefully Reid will write a similarly clear account of concepts such as One-without-unity, determination in the last instance (this one particularly irks me), how Laruelle arrives at a radically immanent one anterior to philosophical operation, etc.

I’m a bit behind the curve on this, but unbeknownst to me a number of recent posts have been written jumping in on the critiques of Badiou’s ontology by Graham and me. Over at Complete Lies, Michael develops a critique of Badiou on the grounds of onto-ontology. Stellar Cartographies weighs in making its own points. Reid over at Planomenology has two excellent posts developing a critique of Badiou’s account of the event.

It seems to me that it is important to point out that any discussion of Badiou, correlationism, and whether or not Badiou’s ontology is a variant of idealism should unfold at the level of Badiou’s ontology, not his theory of the event. When Graham writes,

if I were to start saying: “I’m a Badiouian, but I think that rocks and earthworms are also capable of invoking the generic through art, politics, science and love,” what do you honestly think Badiouians would say in this case? Would they say: “Cool. Badiou never specifies that it has to be a human”? You know full well that they would dismiss such a position as vitalist crap. The whole spirit of Badiou’s philosophy is of a militant human subject disrupting given states-of-situations in truth events.

I think this misses the target. Too much attention has been paid to Badiou’s theory of the event, yet the theory of the event, truth-procedures, and subjects is, as Badiou quite clearly states, what is other or outside of being qua being or the domain of ontology. As Badiou likes to put it, events are subtracted from ontology. In this respect, there is nothing wrong, from the standpoint of realist ontologies, with Badiou’s insistence that events belong to the domain of the subject and are restricted to the human. That’s exactly what we would expect. The theory of change Badiou develops pertains to change at the level of human formations: art, science (as a body of knowledge), politics, and love.

Any discussion of whether Badiou falls into correlationism should, therefore, completely set aside any discussion of the event, truth-procedures, or subjects, treating these aspects of Badiou’s thought as an entirely distinct issue. The ontological questions instead unfold at the level of something far more mundane and much less sexy: Badiou’s account of the count-as-one, structured situations, members and parts of sets, and worlds. This is where questions of whether or not Badiou is a realist emerge and this domain is entirely distinct from Badiou’s theory of the event. Interestingly, these aspects of Badiou’s thought have received almost no significant and prolonged discussion. No doubt this is because the primary reception of Badiou’s thought has been among Continental circles that treat questions of politics as the sine qua non of philosophy as such. The question of political implications should be set aside in raising these questions as normative considerations are independent of questions of what is and how things are.

fn3ontoOne of the most attractive, problematic, and astonishing features of Badiou’s ontology is his strictly extensional understanding of sets or multiplicities. A set is not defined by its members sharing a common predicate or quality, nor by the relations among members of the set. Rather, a set is defined strictly by its extension or the members that belong to that set. From the standpoint of 20th Century French and German Continental philosophy, this thesis cannot but be a heresy, for the predominant trend in Continental thought has been a relational conception of entities. Whether we are speaking of language as a diacritical set of negative oppositions as defended by the structuralists and the post-structuralists, or Heidegger’s being-in-the-world where entities, the ready-to-hand, are defined by the relational networks to which they belong, the predominant trend has been to treat beings as bundles of relations such that the entity is nothing apart from its relations. In a spirit similar to Deleuze’s declaration that relations are always external to their terms, Badiou will have none of this. For Badiou entities are not defined by their relations and there are no intrinsic or internal relations that define the being of the entity. Rather, they are simply defined by their relations.

From the standpoint of both Heidegger’s being-in-the-world where each entity is thought as a “being-in” belonging to the worldhood of the world defined by an ensemble of relations defining meaning, or from the standpoint of structuralist and post-structuralist thought where the entity is an ensemble of internal relations from which it cannot be detached, or from the standpoint of Hegelianism where, as Hegel painstakingly shows in the Doctrine of Essence in the Science of Logic, where the entity simply is its relations or mediations, this move cannot but appear stunning. For what this extensionalist conception of sets authorizes is combinations of subsets in whatever order we might like. This, in short, is what the axiom of union tells us. What the axiom of union allows– if I understand it correctly (I’m sure Dominic will educate me if I don’t, thankfully) –is the construction of whatever sets we might like based on those elements belonging to our initial set. Thus, if I have a set composed of an umbrella, an apple, and the moon ({umbrella, apple, moon}), I certainly have a set composed of the apple and the moon ({apple, moon}), or a set composed simply of the apple ({apple}).

equalizer_category_theoryNow all of this sounds silly and unremarkable so long as we don’t contrast Badiou’s extensional notion of sets with the relational ontologies that have predominated during the 19th and the 20th century. If to be an entity is to be a bundle of internal relations, it follows that entities cannot be grouped in any way we might like. Rather, a model of the world based on internal relations dictates that each entity necessarily has a place within an Order and that the entity is nothing apart from this order. Thus the phoneme {c} is nothing apart from other phonemes such as {p}, {b}, {f}, etc., by virtue of the differentiality that allows it produce different senses at the level of the signifier: cat, pat, bat, fat. Insofar as these phonemes take on their value (in the linguistic sense of “value”) differentially in relation to one another, they are nothing independent of their relations to one another. This is what it means to say that each entity takes on a place within an Order. The Order is the totality of internal relations defining a system or structure, whereas the places are locations within that Order relative to the other terms. Because the relations are internal to the various beings in the Order, there is thus a Law that governs these beings and exhausts their being, legislating how they can and cannot act.

In proposing that sets are defined purely by their extension or their membership, Badiou undermines the thesis that to be is to be a bundle of internal relations. At the level of ontology, there is thus no intrinsic Order that defines entities. Rather, in their stark independence, the elements that make up a set not only can be decomposed into infinite subsets (through a recursive process of taking the power set of each power set), but the elements of each set can be related in a variety of different was or simply taken as singletons, thereby abolishing the notion of intrinsic or internal relations as in the case of Hegel’s logic of essence.

read on!

I’m a bit behind the curve on this one:

The Theory Reading Group at Cornell University invites submissions for its fifth annual interdisciplinary spring conference:

“Particularity, Exemplarity, Singularity”

Featuring keynote speaker Ian Balfour (York University)

Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
April 17th-18th, 2009

The place of the particular, the exemplary, or the singular in contemporary philosophical practice has yet to be decided. While much of the critical thought of the last fifty years has focused on affirming the rights of ephemeral experience or the singular instance by refusing grand narratives or universal systems, more recent years have seen the rebirth of a rationalism that, at least in one of its forms, again relegates particularity to the debased realm of illusion, solipsism, and doxa. At stake in the tension between these two positions is the possibility that there exists some form of specifically artistic or empirical truth, or even a non- phenomenalizable reality of the singular, even if this truth or this reality are not of the order of propositional knowledge.

This conference is guided by the following question: what is the role of the particular, the exemplary, or the singular in critical thought today? Alternatively, how might these terms mark an impasse within systematic knowledge? We understand these questions to accommodate and encourage original reflection on a wide range of topics within philosophy, aesthetics, and literary theory. We invite participants to consider such issues as the relation between literature and philosophy, the status of history or materiality with regard to aesthetic objects, and the contemporary inheritance of the critique of representation as it has been elaborated in continental philosophy since Kant.

Suggested paper topics include (but are not limited to):
Singularity and Event
Literature and its Outside
The Persistence of the Dialectic: Particularity and Universality
The Sublime Limits of Representation
Rhetoric and Philosophy
The Rebirth of Rationalism
The Future of the Linguistic Turn
Taste and Community
Poetics and Aesthetics
Literature and Epistemology, Literary Ways of Knowing
The Literary Absolute
Example, Instance, Case, Sample
Genre, Archetype, Paradigm
Origin, Originality
The Concept of Criticism
Literature and Disenchantment
The Transcendental and the Empirical
The Literal and the Figurative
Problems of Inscription
Symptomatic Reading
Bad Examples
The Genesis of the Singular

Please limit the length of abstracts to no more than 250 words. The deadline for submission of 250-word abstracts for 20-minute presentations is February 28, 2009. Please include your name, e-mail address, and phone number. Abstracts should be e-mailed to theory@cornell.edu. Notices of acceptance will be sent no later than March 5, 2009. For more information about the Cornell Theory Reading Group, visit http://www.arts.cornell.edu/trg.

Having picked up Brassier’s dissertation once again, I find myself thoroughly delighted and exhilarated by the hymn he sings to modern science in contrast to reactionary correlationism and phenomenology. This remark by Husserl sums up the entire problem and underlines just why phenomenology is so reactionary: “The existence of Nature cannot be the condition for the existence of consciousness since Nature itself turns out to be a correlate of consciousness: Nature is only as being constituted in regular concatenations of consciousness” (Ideas I, 116). Such, in a nutshell is the entire problem with correlationism. Read pages 10 – 22 of Ray’s dissertation (after the chronically obscure discussion of Laruelle; drop the language guys, it doesn’t advance the argument and doesn’t seem necessary to what’s being articulated) and see if you don’t find yourself electrified.

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