In response to some of my posts in a diary entry by Mikhail over at Perverse Egalitarianism, Tom, of Grundledung, has written a nice post on my Principle of Translation and what I call, following DeLanda, “flat ontology”. The Principle of Translation states that “there is no transportation without translation”. By this I mean that no object functions as a mere vehicle of the difference of another object, but rather, in receiving the differences of other objects, it translates these differences, transforming them, producing something new. By “flat ontology”, I mean that being is said univocally or that it is said in a single and same sense for all that is. To properly understand this thesis, it is necessary to refer back to the Ontic Principle. The Ontic Principle states that there is no difference that does not make a difference. In claiming that there is no difference that does not make a difference, I am not making the “precious” claim of the beautiful soul that all differences are important. That is, I am not making a normative claim. Rather, I am making the claim that the criteria for being something consists in making or producing differences. If something is, then it makes differences. I think this thesis is trite, which is why it’s good as a starting point for thought.
While trite, it has, in my view, striking consequences. Among these is the Ontological Principle or the univocity of being. In short, if there is no difference that does not make a difference, if to be means to make a difference, then it follows that anything that makes a difference is. Such is the thesis of my realism. Under this construal, ontology becomes “flat”– rather than “vertical” –insofar as being is not said differently of beings, but rather all beings are equal insofar as they produce differences. In other words, there is not one form of being for reality and another for appearance. Half-Cock Jack in Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver is every bit as real as a quark. As a consequence, it becomes necessary to think meshworks of differences, rather than attempting to reduce all other differences to a finite set of differences such as matter or physical reality.
I have described the Principle of Translation as a radicalization– or to use Nate’s language, a “deflation” –of Kant’s correlationism. Where Kant privileges the mind-world relation, emphasizing the manner in which minds translate the objects of the world, I, following Graham, instead argue that what Kant says of mind-world relations is true of all object-object relations. All objects translate one another. Some of these processes of translation are of the simple causal variety. Some involve signs. Others involve emotions. Others involve signifiers. There are a variety of ways in which translation takes place. What Kant says of mind-world relations is simply a subset of a more general ontological principle and as a result Kant is engaged in a regional ontology, rather than a general ontology (and so too of all forms of correlationism).
It is in relation to this thesis that I think that Tom implicitly mischaracterizes the issue or my position. At the end of his post, Tom writes,
Even with these difficulties in mind, I think that some of the aspects of Levi’s attempt to construct a flat ontology ought to be resisted. There is something distinctive about subjects which makes some forms of flat ontology problematic. We can talk both about objects translating objects and about subjects translating objects. But the translations of the subject include those of a unique kind, which are not adequately addressed by simply increasing the complexity of a unitary flat ontology. So, there is no objection to saying that objects are active and possess affections which translate influences upon them in particularised ways. But there is a highly significant type of activity which subjects engage in, which the Kantian tradition characterises as spontaneous. It is in virtue of their spontaneity that subjects are responsible for the translations which they undergo: and this brings with it many of the traditional distinguishing traits which have been used to mark out subjects, namely freedom, normativity, rationality and intentionality. In the next post, I shall say more about how we should understand the spontaneity of subjects and how that impacts upon metaphysical issues.
If I read Tom correctly, then he is suggesting that flat ontology somehow ignores the differences of individual entities, treating humans as equivalent to rocks. While the Ontological Principle affirms equal-being or that all beings are insofar as they produce differences, it nonetheless maintains the differences among beings. One of the central aims of Onticology is not to assert that everything is the same, but rather to infinitely open the field of ontology so a proliferation of different forms of translation become open to investigation. In this respect, to use Nate’s language again, Onticology is deflationary. What it objects to is the posing of all philosophical questions– and especially ontological questions –in terms of one form of translation. Kant is committed to the thesis that mind is included in every inter-ontic relation, thereby subordinating or shackling all beings to mind. Likewise with all other correlationisms.
Onticology does not reject the thesis that minds translate objects– how could it given that minds are by the Ontic Principle and by the Principle of Translation? What Onticology objects to is the thesis that mind is somehow special in this regard or that minds must be included in every relation. But in point out what should be a rather obvious point, Onticology is in no way diminishing culture, mind, language, economics, history, or whatever other system of translation one might like to evoke. In asserting the inclusion of mind or culture in every objectile relation, correlationisms confuse regional ontologies with general ontologies, treating a subject of interest, for example of how humans experience time, with a generalized form of translation for all objects. Onticology seeks to open a domain where systems of translation can be investigated in their own right– including those pertaining to the human –without requiring the inclusion of the human in every relation.