The always brilliant Asher Kay has an interesting post up on the whole dust-up surrounding Badiou’s Logics of Worlds over at Spoonerized Alliterations. Picking up on my almost obsessive critique of the confusion of epistemological and ontological questions– what I call, following Roy Bhaskar, the “Epistemic Fallacy” –Asher writes:

As I noted before, this providential trap – this luxurious cage with its limitless supply of ‘Nilla Wafers – is not the same thing as what Badiou is being accused of. Badiou is being accused, as Levi says in one of the linked posts, of “conflating questions of epistemology with questions of ontology”.

Why would someone consider this a bad thing? After all, concepts play a central role in doing ontology, and any ontology worth its salt will be able to explain its concepts.

One possible reason is that one believes that epistemological questions are – ontologically – different from ontological questions, and that conflating them (or outright claiming that they’re the same) is simply getting the ontology wrong. Also, if one believes that ontology is different from epistemology, then the person who is conflating them isn’t really even *doing* ontology.

As it turns out, I am about half-finished with an article outlining the principles of my Onticology that deals heavily with these issues. In the course of my preparation for this article, I came across a terrific set of distinctions in Zubiri’s magnificent On Essence that helps, I think, clarify the problem in question. Aristotle distinguished between three different types of ἀρχή or principles, two of which, I think have largely been lost in the last 300 hundred years. When we speak of ἀρχή, we are speaking of the “whence” of things. According to Aristotle there are three different ways of speaking about the whence of things: ἔστιν, γίγνεται, and γίγνώσκεται. ἔστιν refers to the principle whence something is, γίγνεται refers to the principle whence something becomes, and γίγνώσκεται refers to the principle whence something is known.

I’m in a hurry at the moment so I’ll only make a few remarks. Beginning largely with 17th century thought, philosophy became increasingly preoccupied with ἀρχή of the third sort, and specifically questions of certainty and skepticism. While we can raise these questions with respect to principles pertaining to knowledge, the epistemic status of the ἀρχή pertaining to ἔστιν and γίγνεται have a very different status. Nothing prevents us from claiming that claims about principles in this domain have a hypothetical or speculative status, subject to further revision and development. More importantly, when we speak of ἔστιν and γίγνεται, the issue isn’t one of knowledge or how we can know, but of the principles or ἀρχή pertaining to the things themselves. This I think, is a very simple point. The question of ontology is not a question of being qua subject or being qua language or being qua Dasein or being qua body or being qua power and social forces. No, it is a question of being qua beings. Yet endlessly we mix up these questions of the principles from whence knowledge comes and the principles whence things are and become. They are two distinct issues.

It might seem that such a conflation is perfectly innocent and without importance, but really it makes quite a difference. Take Husserl’s famous Principle of All Principles. As a result of his restriction of claims to what can be presented in intuition to consciousness, he unwittingly ends up excluding all non-presentable (for us) differences from the domain of philosophical speculation. I think that’s a big mistake. When I object to certain elements of Badiou’s ontology– and I genuinely have a deep and abiding admiration for his work –it is because I see him implicitly introducing some form of consciousness into every ontological relation. Thus, for example, when Badiou talks of the “count-as-one” as the condition under which consistent multiplicities are forged out of inconsistent multiplities or the infinite abyss of being, I think we should exercise tremendous caution with respect to this use of the term “count”. Counting implies someone who counts. If Badiou wishes to adopt a realist account of being, then he should avoid the use of this sort of subject-centered language. Yet we find it all throughout his work and, to add insult to injury, we find that with very few exceptions, the only consistent multiplicities he ever talks about are cultural in character. This suggests to me that for Badiou there isn’t a world independent of humans. One can object that Badiou calls himself a realist and a materialist, that he excludes anything like the transcendental subject, etc., but this issue is to be judged in terms of the content of his position, not his declarations about his position. Merleau-Ponty makes similar claims about his own position on the grounds that it is the body not a cogito, transcendental subject, or ego that presides over manifestation, yet his position is no less anti-realist for all that.

There is far more to be said here, but I have to scoot.

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