A central aim of Bhaskar’s A Realist Theory of Science is to diagnose what he refers to as the “epistemic fallacy”. In a nutshell, the epistemic fallacy consists in the thesis, often implicit, that ontological questions can be reduced to epistemological questions. The idea here is that ontology can be entirely resolved or evaporated into an inquiry into our access to beings, such that there are no independent questions of ontology. As an example of such a maneuver, take Humean empiricism. As good Humean empiricists, we “bracket” all questions of the world independent of our mind and simply attend to our atomistic impressions (what we would today call “sensations”), and how the mind links or associates these punctiform impression in the course of its experience to generate lawlike statements about cause and effect relations.

Note the nature of Hume’s gesture: Here we restrict ourselves entirely to our atomistic sensations and what can be derived from our sensations. Questions about whether or not our sensations are produced by entities independent of our mind are entirely abandoned as “dogmatic” because we do not have access to the entities that might cause or produce these sensations, but only the sensations themselves. Consequently, the order of knowledge must be restricted to what is given in sensation. Hume’s epistemology is thus based on a thesis about immanence or immediacy. Insofar as our minds possess and immediate relation to our sensations, we are epistemically warranted in appealing to sensations as grounds for our claims to knowledge. We are not however, warranted in appealing to objects, powers, selves, or causes because we do not have sensations of these things. Consequently, all of these ontological claims must be reformulated in epistemological terms premised on our access to being. If we wish to talk of objects, then we must show how the mind “builds up” objects out of atomistic impressions and associations. If we wish to speak of powers, then we must show how the mind builds up powers out of atomistic impressions and associations. If we wish to speak of causality we must show how the mind builds up an idea of cause and effect relations through impressions and associations. If we wish to speak of selves and other minds we have to show how mind builds up our sense of self and other minds out of impressions and cause and effect associations.

At the level of the form of the argument, not the content, nearly every philosophical orientation since the 18th century has made the Humean move. While the content of these positions differ, the form of the argument remains roughly the same. That is, we perpetually see a strategy of attempting to dissolve ontological questions through epistemological questions. This move always proceeds in two steps: First, one aspect of our experience is claimed to be immanent or immediate. Second, the furniture of our ontology is then dissolved through an analysis of those entities with reference to this plane of immanence or immediacy. The immediate can be impressions as in the case of Hume, the transcendental structure of mind as in the case of Kant, the intentions of pure consciousness as in the case of Husserl, or language as in the case of late Wittgenstein or the thought of Derrida. Other examples could be evoked. In each case, the gesture consists in showing how the being of beings can be thoroughly accounted for in terms of our access through this immanence or immediacy. The point is that we no longer treat the entities in our ontology as existing independently of this field of immanence or immediacy, but now see them as products of these modes of access. Whether the world is really like this independent of our chosen regime of construction is a question that is abandoned as dogmatic.

read on!


the_fallIn an interesting response to my post on A-Theology, Nikki over at Prosthetics writes:

levi, hello…
I am interested in what you wrote here:

In this connection, we are reminded of another gloss on the father where Lacan remarks that the only father is a dead father. Clearly fathers are not always dead, so we must understand Lacan as referring to the father not as a living body, but in his function as a signifier, as a symbolic function, in the Oedipus, naming the enigmatic desire of the mother and enacting the prohibition against incest. In this respect, to say that God is unconscious would be to say that God is the dead signifier that establishes prohibition.

First i would like to propose that, in light of what you and Lacan are working in this vicinity ‘dead signifier’ is a redundant phrase – but at the same time, perhaps redundancy is where living takes place, or more precisely, where living shows up on the radar? This is the case for Badiou, and also for Jean-Luc Marion… Yet as Derrida points out in limited. inc signification, signing, the desire to underwrite what cannot be insured, is always a hollow(ing) enterprise. I am thinking redundancy, repetition and ritual.

Nikki makes an interesting point about the nature of the signifier, death, and life that had not occurred to me in quite these terms. For the sake of those not very familiar with Lacan’s work, early Lacan– the Lacan of the first two seminars and of Function and Field of Speech –often emphasized that the signifier “kills the thing”. I read this in somewhat Derridean terms. With the advent of the signifier in our subjective economy absence is introduced into the world. It becomes possible to refer to the thing in its absence, but every relation between word and thing necessarily requires the institution of this sort of a priori absence. Moreover, where the thing is perpetually changing and becoming over the adventure of its existence, there is a way in which the signifier freezes the thing, turning it into a fixed statue.

read on!

Just some more quotations from Anti-Oedipus, no commentary.

With his general conception of microcosm-macrocosm relationships, Bergson brought about a discrete revolution that deserves further consideration. Likening the living to a microcosm is an ancient platitude. But if the living organism was thought to be similar to the world, this was attributed to the fact that it was or tended to be an isolated system, naturally closed: the comparison between microcosm and macrocosm was thus a comparison between two closed figures, one of which expressed the other and was inscribed within the other. At the beginning of Creative Evolution, Bergson completely alters the scope of the comparison by opening up both ends. If the living being resembles the world, this is true, on the contrary, insofar as it opens itself to the opening of the world; if it is a whole, this is true to the extent that the whole, of the world as of the living being, is always in the process of becoming, developing, coming into being or advancing, and inscribing itself within a temporal dimension that is irreducible and nonclosed. (AO, 95-6)

I assume these are the sorts of passages Anthony Paul Smith is picking up on in his project of reading Deleuze as an ecological thinker. Such a project is also supported by their discussion of materialist psychiatry, pages 22-35, where the nature/human distinction is collapsed in terms of production. I do, however, think this passage needs to be read alongside Deleuze and Guattari’s discussions of wholes and parts on pages 42-50, where Deleuze and Guattari fiercely critique concepts such as the One, Whole, and Totality– in short the idea of a Universe –while also arguing that wholes come to be as a part alongside the other parts.

NOTE: HTML and Lacanian mathemes don’t mix very well. In what follows I’ve used “*” to represent the “losange”, “punch”, or diamond in Lacan’s formulas for fantasy.

Filled with exhaustion from the excitement of last night and the lack of sleep it engendered, I don’t really have much to say today, but I simply wanted to post this passage from Zizek’s Plague of Fantasies as it so nicely encapsulates the Lacanian theory of fantasy, first developed in Seminar 6, Le desir et son interpretation, and culminating in Seminar 14, La logique du fantasme.

Tomorrow I head to Washington D.C. for job interviews.

  • Courses I’m able to teach, along with course designs… Check
  • Teaching methodology and philosophy… Check
  • Specific questions about their universities… Check
  • Research program… Check
  • Nice suit and tie… Check

Am I forgetting anything? Let’s just hope I can get some sleep the night before so I don’t go into the interviews like a zombie. Although I would be delighted to land any of these positions as the programs are terrific, it would be great to have more time for research and writing, and I would be thrilled to teach more advanced courses in my areas of expertise, it’s nonetheless good to go into interviews knowing that I’m not going to starve to death if I don’t get one of the positions. Apart from administrative irritations (that exist anywhere), I’m already in a very good place and will be sad to leave my great colleagues, friends, and students should I get one of the positions. The bottom line is that I love teaching above all other things (well not the grading part), and so long as I’m doing that I will be happy. At the very worst, I’ll suffer some humiliation at having discussed things here. For whatever reason, my anxiety finally broke yesterday and I feel full of a fighting spirit today. With any luck that will last. At any rate, those of you who detest me, get out your voodoo dolls and needles. Those of you who have some passing fondness, wish me luck.

Well I’ve been fortunate enough to land at least one job interview at the American Philosophical Association conference in December. Hopefully there are more invitations to come. This isn’t half bad as my research focus is contemporary French philosophy, and U.S. philosophy departments tend to have a highly allergic reaction to anything French, instead allowing language, literature, and cultural studies departments to do scholarship in this area. At any rate, this is pretty good for having only sent out eleven application packets.

Although this is happy news, I’ve found myself in the midsts of a massive anxiety attack, following me about for days. I tossed and turned all night, filled with anxiety and feverish thoughts as to who I am. In short, I’m wallowing in the midsts of the question of fantasy Che vuoi? “You’re asking me this, but what do you really want?” That is, what is my research about? And when I ask myself this question, I am asking what it is about philosophically. In my fantasy life, things would be easy for me if I were pursuing positions in rhetoric, literary theory, cultural studies, or political theory– it’s always elswhere that things would work out for us –but explaining my work philosophically, that’s far more difficult. How am I to explain the relevance of Lacan to philosophy in a non-dogmatic fashion, free of difficult jargon, that isn’t simply about ideology critique a la Zizek? I feel as if I need some pithy statement of my philosophical project that resonates with more traditional philosophical questions in epistemology and ontology, but when I try to articulate such a project I suddenly feel paralyzed like a deer in the headlights. “My work is focused on differential and relational ontology.” “I’m interested in the manner in which the formation of reality emerges from the impossible-real of irreducible antagonism. By the impossible-real I mean…” “I’m focused on questions of how it’s possible to break with socio-historical mediation so as to articulate a truth.” “I’m interested in the consequences that follow from the death of God. By the death of God I mean… Here I’m thinking primarily of the function God serves in Descartes’ third meditation, and implicitly in the work of other philosophers that posit a whole…” “My work primarily revolves around the thought of Badiou, Deleuze, Freud, Lacan, Ranciere, and Zizek because…” “I’m interested in the relationship between the symbolic, imaginary, and real from the perspective of how our relationship to reality is organized, and am interested in the role desire and intersubjectivity play in questions of epistemology and our relation to being…” “I’m interested in questions of emergence and self-organization such that…”

Everything that falls from my lips ends up sounding vague, empty, or in need of too much clarification… Or I worry that I end up sounding like a posterboy for the typical postmodernist. What does the Other want from me? What am I for the Other. “What is the philosophical project that defines me as a human being?” I think I’ll go curl up in a ball now. Fortunately I don’t need a job, so at least I have that going for me. I have terrific colleagues, am in an intellectually stimulating environment, have lots of things going on such as conferences in the work, and am generally very content here. About the biggest irritation is bs administrative things, but you find that anywhere. It’s much nicer to interview when you’re not facing the prospect of hunger and debtors.