In response to my post Problems of Immanence, Jon writes,

I think you are absolutely right that the key is to think of beliefs etc as objects in the world. This may be simplifying the problem too much, but I think that early Heidegger and late Wittgenstein go some way towards doing this (the problem of reference is just a linguistic version of the problem of the external world; and I think Heidegger was working against both in Division One of Being and Time; and that maybe Graham’s non-correlationist Heidegger is a really promising direction in solving or dissolving both problems).

Reference already exists in a non-representational way in the structure of our practical activities (and if Graham is even half correct, in the structure of the pre-human world too), as does something analogous to predication (the “as structure”) and communication (”the they”).

We primordially use words to “point out, predicate, and communicate” (Being and Time, Section 33) as ways to co-ordinate our practical activity in the manner of the block language at the beginning of Wittgenstein’s Investigations. When person A says “block,” person B hands him a “block.” It is indeterminate whether this is an assertion or a command. It’s a word that does something in ethology of the builders.

But, if one properly understands objects (again, I follow Harman as I understand him) then pointing out, predicating, and communicating are all things that happen non-linguistically.

I know there’s a literature around whether or not you can get a coherent notion of falsity out of Heidegger’s truth=alethea? And I think this is the same issue as you raise. But I think the other stuff in Being and Time maybe allows you to circumvent it.

Here’s a stab that may be stupidly pragmatist, but maybe if you have a non-Cartesian understanding of language, then falsity is in some manner just a species of plans-gone-awry? Our prelinguistic ancestor attacks too big of a bear and doesn’t come home. Or person B hands Person A the wrong thing when Person A says “block.”

There are obviously lots of problems with this: (1) is there really anything analogous to plans gone awry in the non-biological world? If not, does having to appeal to at least creatures that respond to selective biological pressures make one guilty of correlationism, and perhaps reinstate some for of Dualism? and (2) As Nietzsche argued in his more plausible mode, the equation of truth and what works is really implausible. A Heideggerian pragmatist model of word meaning better not yield a pragmatist model of truth.

There are a lot of interesting things going on here that I can’t immediately respond to as my brain is mush from grading all day, debating all day, and commencement, so hopefully Jon will forgive some free association. I especially like the points Jon draws out on Heidegger and predication with respect to objects themselves (rather than propositions about objects) and his reference to Wittgenstein’s “block game” at the beginning of the Investigations. For Heidegger, predication is something that is already at work in our relation to the object itself. I’ll have more to say about this in a moment, but one of the key points not to be missed about Heidegger’s conception of aletheia is that it identifies a strata of truth that precedes the relation of correspondence between a proposition and an object. The interesting thing here in the reference to Wittgenstein is that there’s a way in which, under a model of immanence, words themselves become blocks. We get, as it were, blocks entering into relations with blocks (though different types of blocks). As such the relation between word and thing would be a sort of network of different types of objects relating to one another but also enjoying a sort of autonomy with respect to one another, not a relation between entirely autonomous domains.

read on!

All of this has gotten me thinking about a passage from Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. In the third chapter of Difference and Repetition Deleuze analyzes what he calls the “image of thought”, which is a sort of a non-philosophical dogmatic image of what it means to think that nonetheless informs philosophy and leads it to ask a number of bad questions. He argues that there are eight postulates that belong to this image. Two are of particular interest in this connection. The first is that knowledge is recognition or that to think is to recognize. But as Deleuze rather colorfully points out,

…it is apparent that acts of recognition exist and occupy a large part of our daily life: this is a table, this is an apple, this the piece of wax, Good morning Theatetus. But who can believe that the destiny of thought is at stake in these acts, and that when we recognise, we are thinking?… However, the criticism that must be addressed to this image of thought is precisely that it has based its supposed principle upon extrapolation from certain facts, particularly insignificant facts such as Recognition, everyday banality in person; as though thought should not seek its models among stranger and more compromising adventures. (135)

When we raise certain questions about representation, reference, and the external world, we seem to be postulating recognition as a model of thought. To think, it is said, is to recognize. We therefore conflate thinking with simple cognition and make the destiny of philosophy hinge on this simple and common act. Isn’t thought more of the order of a disruptive encounter that pulls us out of these recognizable habits and challenges them? As Russell once said, we are lucky to think for five minutes of a single day in a single year because our day to day life is primarily pervaded by habit and recognition where we can thoughtlessly navigate the world in the way Graham describes, the objects withdrawing as we take hold of them and use them.

This gets really interesting, I think, when we notice that the model of recognition then leads us to treat the question of knowledge as a problem of avoiding error. But, Deleuze asks, is error really a problem?

…it rather seems to us that there are facts with regard to error, but which facts? Who say ‘Good morning Theodorus’ when Theatetus passes. ‘It is three o’clock’ when it is three-thirty, and that 7 + 5 = 13? Answer: the myopic, the distracted, and the young child at school. These are effective examples of errors, but examples which, like the majority of such ‘facts’, refer to thoroughly artificial or puerile situations, and offer a grotesque image of thought because they relate it to very simple questions to which one can and must respond by independent propositions. Error acquires a sense only once the play of thought ceases to be speculative and becomes a kind of radio quiz. (150)

In other words, Deleuze strategy is to shift the terms of the discussion in epistemology. Where epistemology asks “how can we know” and seeks to avoid error, Deleuze asks “what does it mean to think?” and treats error as a real phenomenon but one that is more or less banal. He establishes this banality by tracing the question of error back to the who that falls into error: the tired, distracted, myopic, and the young child. Something similar could be asserted of the domain of ethics. Perhaps one of the strangest things about both utilitarian and deontological orientations in ethics is the implicit view that the proper vocation of ethics is to demonstrate that we should keep our contracts, that we should not kill, lie, steal, etc. Does the destiny of ethics really depend on this or are these sorts of things not the equivalent of what we find in an episode of the child’s show Yo Gabba Gabba where we are instructed not to bite our friends. It is difficult to see the destiny of ethical thought as residing in these sorts of issues, and perhaps this is why introductory students in ethics classes have so much trouble seeing the point in uncovering grounds for ethical claims. Rather, just as the real question is not “what does it mean to know?” but “what does it mean to think?”, perhaps the ethical question is that of how it is possible to be equal to the events that befall us, or to follow through the truth of the events we encounter, or how it is possible to decide in thoroughly undecidable questions, or what it might mean to achieve beatitude.

In rejecting error Deleuze is not suggesting that anything goes or that we throw everything out the window. Rather, Deleuze thinks there are far more interesting questions where knowledge is concerned:

There are few who did not feel the need to enrich the concept of error by means of determinations of a quite different kind. (To cite some examples: the notion of superstition as this is elaborated by Lucretius, Spinoza and the eighteenth-century philosophes, in particular Fontanelle. it is clear that the ‘absurdity’ of a superstition cannot be reduced to its kernel of error. Similarly, Plato’s ignorance or forgetting are distinguished from error as much as from innateness and reminiscence itself. The Stoic notion of stultitia involves at once both madness and stupidity. The Kantian idea of inner illusion, internal to reason, is radically different from the extrinsic mechanism of error. The Hegelian idea of alienation supposes a profound restructuring of the true-false relation. The Schopenhauerian notions of vulgarity and stupidity imply a complete reversal of the will-understanding relation). What prevents these richer determinations from being developed on their own account, however, is the maintenance, despite everything, of the dogmatic image, along with the postulates of common sense, recognition and representation which comprise its cortege. (150)

In the domain of ethics we could add to this list Sartre’s bad faith, Nietzsche’s ressentiment, Lacan’s giving way on desire, etc., etc., etc.

These points all seem remote from the original issue of immanence and truth, but in one way or another they go back to a representational model of thought where the object is understood to be entirely transcendent with regard to the subject. The question then becomes one of how we represent the object. Everything changes when we understand the object in relational terms, where the relations an object enters into with either a subject or with other objects are not a betrayal or departure from the identity or being of the object, but are rather ways in which the object reveals itself in and through that relation. Hopefully I’ll have more to say on this later.

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