For the last week I’ve been following Shaviro’s advice and reading George Molnar’s Powers: A Study in Metaphysics. Every once in a while you come across a book that is deeply satisfying because it both confirms your own thoughts and helps you to articulate your positions while also providing you with a whole set of new arguments. This is certainly the case with Molnar’s Powers. As I observed in a previous post, the domain of powers analyzed by Molnar corresponds to what I call “virtual proper being”. Within the framework of my onticology, I argue that objects are split or divided between their virtual proper being and their local manifestations. The virtual proper being of an object is its powers, what the object can do, while local manifestation is the properties that an object comes to embody or actualize.
Molnar attributes five features to powers. First, Molnar makes the case for what he calls “directedness” or physical intentionality. Intentionality is not restricted to the domain of the mental, according to Molnar, but is a feature of physical objects as well. The directedness of a power is a form of intentionality insofar as a power is directed towards its manifestation in a quality. Thus, for example, the solubility of salt is directed towards salt dissolving itself in a liquid. The manifestation is that towards which the power (solubility) tends or is directed. Second, powers are characterized by independence. The key feature of powers is that they are independent of their manifestations. Salt has the power of solubility even if it is never dissolved in water. In this regard, powers are non-identical to their manifestations. This is one of the reasons that I endlessly emphasize the role played by regimes of attraction in the actualization of objects. Regimes of attraction can be roughly equated with context. Insofar as powers are independent of their manifestations we never entirely know– to quote Spinoza and Deleuze –what an object can do. We discover the powers of an object by placing it in different contexts and seeing what it does. Yet in doing so, other powers contained within objects remain dormant insofar as they can only be actualized or manifested in other contexts.
Third, Molnar argues, powers are actual. By this Molnar means that powers are not mere possibilities, but are real features of objects. They belong to the actual object itself. Closely related to this, fourth, powers are intrinsic to the objects that posses them. In other words, powers are non-detachable “parts” of objects. It is for this reason that I’ve been led to equate power or virtual proper being with the substantiality of objects. Finally, fifth, powers are objective features of objects. Hume had argued that our notion of powers is merely a psychological effect of how the mind associates events. By contrast, Molnar argues that powers are real properties of objects.
Of these five features, I find the feature of independence particularly fascinating. If the substantiality of objects is defined by their powers and powers are independent of their manifestations in qualities, this seems to entail that it’s possible for there to be objects that are completely unmanifested or “invisible” within the world. This would take place in the case of objects whose powers are actual and real, but which are completely dormant. Such objects would appear as if they don’t exist precisely because they don’t appear at all, but would nonetheless be entirely real and existent. Here we encounter an unexpected cross-over between Badiou and Molnar. In Logics of Worlds Badiou analyzes objects in terms of their intensity or the degree to which they appear in a world. An object with nil intensity would be an object without any manifestations whatsoever. Yet such an object would be entirely real insofar as the powers that define it would be actual features within the world.