The Onticological Dialectic

Like Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, onticology has its onticological analytic and its onticological dialectic. However, where Kant’s transcendental analytic and dialectic deals with structures of cognition so as to answer the question “how are synthetic a priori propositions possible?”, the onticological analytic and dialectic is concerned with the being of objects. The onticological analytic is concerned with the internal structure of objects independent of their relation to anything else. It is objects as they exist from the “inside”. Unlike Kant’s Transcendental Doctrine of Elements where a distinction is drawn between the transcendental aesthetic and the transcendental analytic, or where intuition/sensibility and understanding/concepts are distinguished, the onticological analytic collapses this distinction. Much of the arguments for this thesis are already developed in my Difference and Givenness. The content of the onticological analytic will not become entirely clear until The Democracy of Objects is published. However, forerunners of the endo-relational structure of objects would be Leibniz’s notion of “monads”, Alfred North Whitehead’s notion of “actual occasions”, Latour’s understanding of objects as “entelechies” in Irreductions, DeLanda’s understanding of multiplicities and attractors in Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, Deleuze’s account of virtual multiplicities, and Harman’s account of withdrawn or vacuum packed objects.

Where the onticological analytic deals with the interior world or endo-consistency of objects, with their being as processes or organisms, the onticological dialectic is concerned with relations between objects or what happens when one object relates to another object. The onticological dialectic is thus interested in processes of translation. Translation refers to what happens when an object receives a difference from another object. Plants, for example, translate photons of sunlight into sugar through photosynthesis. One of the central theses of onticology is that no object receives the difference or act of another object without translating that difference. In other words, every object transforms the differences that it receives from other objects in the world.

Latour expresses this point beautifully in a rather Leibnizian moment of Irreductions in the second half of The Pasteurization of France. There Latour writes,

1.2.8 Every entelechy makes a whole world for itself. It locates itself and all the others; it decides which forces it is composed of; it generates its own time; it designates those who will be its principle of reality. It translates all the other forces on its own behalf, and it seeks to make them accept the version of itself that it would like them to translate.

“Entelechy” is Latour’s all purpose word for “object”. Persons are entelechies. Societies are entelechies. Rocks are entelechies. The particles composing rocks are entelechies. Each, claims Leibniz is an object that defines a boundary between itself and the world (sound like an autopoietic system?), and each transforms the differences it receives from the world in its own particular way. Once again, sunlight becomes sugar for the plant. Latour goes on to ask,

1.2.9. Is it a force of which we speak? Is it a force that speaks? Is it an actor made to speak by another? Is it an interpretation or the object itself? Is it a text or a world? We cannot tell, because this is what we struggle about, the building of a whole word.

* What those who use hermeneutics, exegesis, or semiotics say of texts can be said of all weakness. For a long time it has been agreed that the relationship between one text and another is always a matter for interpretation. Why not accept that this is also true between so-called texts and so-called objects, and that even between so-called objects themselves?

If one does not like the term “translation” to describe the manner in which objects relate to the differences of other objects, then the word “interpretation” will do as well. Each monad, entelechy, actual occasion, objectile, or object interprets the world about it. There is no difference that does not make a difference. Not only does a difference received make a difference to the internal organization of the object or entelechy by selecting a system state within that organization, but additionally a difference is made in the sense that the difference received is received not as identical, but as transformed, interpreted, or translated by the internal organization of the object receiving the difference. There is no such thing as a docile body.

read on!

Rather than talking about specific inter-ontic relations, it seems to me that the best way to proceed in developing an onticological dialectic is through formalism. Formalism has the virtue of drawing our attention to relations, rather than focusing on specific instances. Towards this end, I am experimenting with Lacan’s theory of discourse as a way of generating “categories” or “Ideas” (in the Kantian sense) to discover properties of inter-ontic relations. There are 24 such “categories” in all. I do not claim that these categories are exhaustive, but 24 is more than enough to keep me busy for the time being.

At the outset, I shall stick with four of these categories drawn from the four discourses that Lacan investigated in the most detail. However, where Lacan uses the symbol $ (barred subject), S1 (master-signifier), S2 (battery of signifiers), and “a” (objet a) to represent relations between an agent and his addressee, I instead propose the mathemes Ø, O1, O2, and δ to represent these relations. Some commentary is required for these symbols, however it should be borne in mind that the symbols are polysemous and can take on different senses depending on the relations they entertain. Moreover, this is very much a work in progress.

Let “Ø” stand for the “barred object”. As I have already hypothesized following Latour, objects are abyssal interior worlds that have no windows or that are withdrawn– as Harman would put it –from the rest of the world. No object ever presents itself but rather all objects are radically interior, radically withdrawn, radically in excess of any manifestation they might take on. For every object there is an excess of the object over any of its appearances or manifestations. It is in this sense that objects are “barred”. For onticology, as for ontography, this is a generalized ontological phenomenon. Objects are not barred simply for humans (i.e., the difference between things and objects or things-in-themselves and phenomena or appearances) such that we as humans only ever experience objects as they appear for us and not objects as they are in themselves. No. Onticology sees this as true of all exo-relations among objects or all inter-ontic relations. Onticology thus sees no particular reason to focus on the relation between humans and objects as this structure is already true of all objects.

Predictably, O1 will stand for the manner in which a barred object (Ø) manifests itself or appears in any particular field. The beingness of a rusted iron knife is in excess of its manifestation in the world. It always contains a withdrawn, subterranean element that cannot be summed up in however it happens to manifest itself in a particular field. Nonetheless, the rusted iron knife does present itself as rusted, it does actualize a specific set of properties, when it encounters oxygen. O1 is the matheme for this dimension of presentation or actualization. It refers to the differences or phase states an entity actualizes at any particular point in time. From this simple observation we can draw an additional implication. Ø is the split between the objectness of an object or what I refer to as an object’s endo-consistency or endo-relations, and whatever properties, predicates, qualities, or differences an object happens to present in a particular state of its ongoing adventure through time. In short, an object is not its predicates or qualities, though it does possess an internal relation to its predicates. As I have suggested elsewhere, predicates are an actualization of a point in the phase space of the attractors presiding over the endo-consistency of interiority of an object.

O2 is similar to O1 in that it refers to an actualized state of an objectile or a divided or split object. The point here is that objects only ever present themselves to other objects through actualized states. There is thus the volcanic interior world of objects that is forever beyond the reach of any other object and the actualized state of an object like the crust of a loaf of French bread that objectiles present to the world or other objects. If, nonetheless, there must be a mark indicating a minimal difference between O1 and O2, then this is because, in the initial schema of exo-relations among objects a mark must be made to distinguish objects acted upon and objects that act. Initially, then, O1 will denote an acting object, whereas O2 will denote an object being acted upon.

Finally, the matheme δ will be the marker of difference. In the initial schema, as we will hopefully see, δ will mark the difference produced in and through O2 as a result of being acted upon by O1. Not only does O1 produce a change in the endo-relations or the endo-consistency of O2, but in receiving the act of O1, O2 translates or interprets the difference received from O1 according to its own endo-consistency producing a new difference. We could thus say that this initial process generates a new O1 for O2 in the sense that O2 now presents itself differently to the world than it did before.

The schema or matrice in which relations among these four mathemes are to be formalized will be as follows:

Actor —–> Recipient
Truth…//…. Product

“Actor” is my all purpose word for objects of any sort. It is what is engaged in the “doing” of any exo-relational category or inter-ontic relation. “Recipient”, of course, will be the receiver of the action. “Product” is what is produced in the recipient as the result of the difference conveyed by the actor. And “truth”– an unfortunate choice of words perhaps have to modify later as I experiment with these formalisms to see if they can do anything –is what lies beneath the actor as what propels it to act.

A couple of points are worth noting here. Each category is designed to capture the constitutive incompleteness of inter-object relations. For example, when an actor acts upon a recipient, the product produced is in excess of the qualitative difference transmitted by the actor. Likewise, “truth”, which lies beneath the position of the actor, should be understood as the excess in the actor that withdraws in the act. In this regard, I follow the Lacanian psychoanalytic orientation in treating “truth” not as an adequation between representation and represented, but as that which is excluded from the relation, withdrawn from the relation, in a way that nonetheless drives the interaction. I’m not entirely clear on this myself where the onticological dialectic is concerned, so I’ll have to work it out as I proceed.

At any rate, based on the four mathemes of inter-ontic relations or exo-relations and the formal schema of inter-ontic relations, we can generate our first category:


What we have here is a presentational object acting upon a second object producing a difference, with the abyssal object or “objectness of O1” in the position of truth (the excess of the object over any of its presentations to another object). In my next post I will give commentary on this first category which I have not yet named, and see whether or not I can derive any insights from the other three categories that formally follow from it as a result of the permutation of the group. Hopefully this will help to put some flesh on the concept of “translation” or “interpretation”.