hubble-eagle-nebula-wide-field-04086yReid has written another interesting post developing his concept of Dark Matter and responding to my remarks in an early post in relation to his thoughts. Reid writes,

Whatever the value of these realist alternatives to object-realism, this nonetheless missed my point. I am no more trying to restrict humanity from any possible knowledge of the Real than I am trying to offer an alternative picture of it. My point is that all of these options – the reality of individual objects, of a formless unity, of an intensive spatium, or of noumena as unknowable but thinkable – simultaneously posit the Real as separate from thought, and nonetheless bind it to a given conceptual articulation.

Objectality, unity, intensity, unknowability – these are all concepts. If we are to hold to the rejection of correlationism characteristic of Speculative Realism, we must altogether abandon images of the Real that bind it to a concept, and instead posit that the Real is already given without concept. Philosophy cannot determine the mode of existence of the Real as it is apart from thought, because existence itself is still a determination of thought, through the concept. Non-philosophy properly begins by accepting this essential limitation of philosophy, and instead claiming that it is not thought that may (or may not) determine the Real, it is the Real that determines thought (in-the-last-instance).

So when Levi says:

The minimal condition for whether or not a philosophy counts as “realist” can be found in what that philosopher thinks can be said of a world in which all humans and rational animals have ceased to exist. Here the dividing line is not between whether or not the philosopher holds that a world independent of humans exists, but rather whether or not certain entities known by humans would exist as they exist even if humans did not exist…

he nonetheless betrays that for his onticology, the Real itself is amenable to concepts, to human thought. Even if the world is indifferent to its ‘being thought’ by humans at any given time, it is nonetheless still essentially bound to conceptual determinability.

My point here is not that the Real would fundamentally change if thought were to vanish, nor that the Real exists in some unthinkable form beyond thought. The thought of objects is not some ‘mere appearance’ of a greater Reality. My point is that the Real is neither genuinely thinkable nor unthinkable, but foreclosed to thought; it cannot be contained by either concept (thinkable or unthinkable), but eludes this decisional dyad. Both thinkability and unthinkability are modes of givenness, positing the Real as given in one or another concept. But for non-philosophy, the Real is already given-without-givenness; it is indifferent to either concept.

read the rest here.

In response a few points are in order. First, I think Reid misses a key consequence of the Ontic Principle in his critique of conceptual determination of the real. The Ontic Principle states that there is no difference that does not make a difference. To be, in other words, is to make a difference. It follows as a consequence of this that if something makes a difference then it necessarily is according to my ontology. Here, then, I think we encounter a fundamental difference between my ontology and the Laruelleian ontology with which Reid is working. Within Laruelle’s ontology, the real is something that is entirely beyond the human and indifferent to the human. Within my ontology, since being is to produce a difference, it follows that conceptual distinctions are. Conceptual distinctions are not something other than the real, but are one way in which the real is. In this respect, it cannot be said that conceptual distinctions prevent us from reaching a real that is unthinkable and beyond all thought because conceptual distinctions are one way in which the real is. My position is more subtle, here. It is not that conceptual distinctions are not, but rather that conceptually determined being is not the only way beings are.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, one of the reasons I’ve been resistant to the Laruellean strategy of realism is that I feel it simply concedes too much to correlationism. Reid claims that I do not recognize that determinations such as existence, being, relation, etc., are concepts. This is not the case at all. What Reid claims of my position, following Laruelle, is that I am still stuck within correlationism because I must evoke these conceptual determinations to speak of the real. As a result, the story goes, the real is determined by the conceptual. My strategy isn’t based on a naive misrecognition of the role my own determinations play in what I speak of, but rather seeks to sidestep this entire way of arguing altogether.

read on!

eagle_nebula_heic0506b_fIn this respect, rather than taking the correlationist at his word and then articulating a real foreclosed to philosophy, I think it more fruitful to look at some key moments in the history of philosophy and how they led to the correlationist double bind in the first place. The key moments that led to transcendentalism can be located at two precise moments in the history of philosophy. The first of these moments is to be found in Plato’s account of learning in the Meno and the Phaedo. There Plato provides the first transcendental accounts of knowledge. The second key moment in the history of correlationism is not to be found in Kant or even Descartes, but rather in Hume. This is one of the reasons I have been spending a good deal of time discussing Hume lately. If the correlationist move is to first be sought in Hume rather than Kant, then this is because Hume’s account of causality, based on the actualism of sensations and relations between sensations, was what first spawned correlationism as the only possible solution to his skepticism. I would argue that every subsequent form of correlationism is implicitly based on Hume’s claims about the nature of sense-impressions. This implies that if these claims fall, so too does the urgency of correlationism.

Finally, third, I think a good deal of the plausibility of correlationism arises from certain assumptions about the nature of construction and the passivity of subjects seeking to know being. It is assumed that if something is constructed then it is artificial or cannot touch the real. Thus, when following someone like Foucault or Kuhn, it is argued that because knowledge and knowers are constructed, these things are merely human and social, sharing no relation to the real that is independent of the human, social, or linguistic. Two different paradigms, the story goes, are every bit as good as one another and are entirely different, incommensurable, ontologies. Two different epistemes are simply different universes of reference that are equally as good as one another without touching any real. This is the move that needs to be addressed. What a thorough-going realism needs to establish is that while knowledge is indeed transitive (it has a history of changing theories, it’s imbricated with formations of power, it’s linguistically structured, its socially constructed, etc.), the objects of knowledge are intransitive. Knowledge only reveals beings transitively, but what it does reveal when it reveals it is intransitive to that knowledge and would be what it is regardless of whether any humans knew it. In short, knowledge, as Reid puts it, is determined by the real, not the real by knowledge (though here in a very different sense than the one intended by Reid.

My thesis is that the reason philosophers have such a great difficulty making this move in their thought has to do with how they relate to knowledge. Philosophers receive knowledge as a black box or in punctualized form. This way of relating to knowledge has profound consequences for how questions of epistemology are posed and is, in many respects, responsible for the epistemological deadlocks we find ourselves in today. When I speak of black-boxes or punctualization, I am referring to the manner in which we simply receive the results of inquiry, and not all of the assemblic relations that were necessary to produce these results. Money, for example, is a black box or something we relate to in punctualized form. When I use a dollar bill I treat it as something that has value intrinsically, not as something with a variable value that arises from all sorts of labor relations (or however else goods and money come to possess value). The case is similar with philosophers and knowledge.

If philosophers relate to knowledge as a black box, then this is because they treat knowledge as a body of propositions that are about the world, ignoring the networks through which these propositions were built. This can be seen in the case of Hume and Kant. Lurking in the background of the thought of both of these thinkers is the stunning achievement of Newton’s Principia. The Principia is treated as knowledge in the form, to use Kant’s terminology, of a completed organon. Beginning from the premise that these propositions are knowledge, the philosopher then seeks marks or criteria within the propositions that would explain how this knowledge is known. Predictably we get an account of knowledge based on a passive subject, mirroring the world, that relates sense-impressions together in a regular fashion to generate universal or lawful statements about regularities in the world. Not surprisingly, the issue of how we distinguish the truth of one theory from another theory quickly becomes irresolvable in this manner.

If this approach to knowledge, this approach to knowledge as a body of propositions, is so inadequate and generates so many false problems, then this is because it ignores the Principle of Irreduction or the point that all translations between one medium and another medium are thermodynamic or require work and labor. That is, what is missed under this way of posing the question of knowledge is the laboratory and the experiment. And what is the laboratory and the experiment if not 1) the active intervention of material bodies into the world of objects (i.e., the activities of the scientist and the use of tools or instruments), and 2) the construction of environments that de-suture objects from other worldly relations? Now why does this make a difference to questions of epistemology and conceptual determination? The difference here is that conceptual determinations are, to employ the dramatic and seductive language of Laruelle, determined in the last instance by the real in the laboratory setting. At the heart of experiment what we find is risk or wager that creates an artificial and constructed environment where the real might speak. The scientist can hoist all the concepts on the world he might like in his theories, but the object has a funny way of speaking back and asserting its own rights as an actor in the experimental setting.

And this is really why, at the end of the day, contemporary forms of social constructivist correlationism fare so poorly in articulating the world around us. What they hypothesize are “world-versions” without friction, without thermodynamics, where the world independent of humans and their world-schemes are simply passive matter with webs of the symbolic, language, the social, concepts, models, etc., thrown over it. We then ask “how can we get to a world that is en-webbed by our conceptual webs? What is here missed is that objects are actors too, and these actors tend to have very stern things to say about the adequacy of our webs. These very stern things become determiners, in the last instance, of our concepts, not the reverse. So yes, while there is certainly a transitive dimension to the world characterized by history, discourses, power relations, economics, language, social constructions, and all the rest, this transitive dimension is perpetually haunted by an intransitive dimension that endlessly disrupts it and which is the object of our investigations. If we go to such great lengths in the experimental setting to build artificial environments where, for the first time in the universe pure water is distilled and poked in a variety of ways, this is so the intransitive dimension that is beyond all that is human might speak. Were this not the case, were it simply a matter of conceptual models humans throw over the world, then the entire project of experimentation would be entirely incoherent as the world would have nothing to say. In other words, the real, a real that is not dependent on the human, is a transcendental condition for the intelligibility of these activities. One will respond that we can’t even reference these entities without our language for the world is always shifting and changing, yet language, as Lacan said, provides a stability through which things might be picked out. This, in short, is what Lacan had in mind when he said, echoing Hegel, that “the world kills the thing”. However, only school children are persuaded by such arguments, for only school children miss the obvious contradiction in which the units of language must too be identified as constants, thereby making language no better fitted than objects to deliver us a solid ground for reference.