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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Millnong project and descriptions with no author

Kripke's take on fictional characters is in line with the idea that those characters are description-dependent. They don't have in themselves the modal open horizon of life. They have no world other than the one fixed by their defining descriptions (if they live in a world at all). They are like monads: worldly beings. On this account, there is a clear difference between fictional and non-fictional characters. To be sure, there are many ways to be in-between - one of them is when we don't know whether the character is fictional, in which case there is a sheer (maybe incorrigible) ignorance about the character. Another intermediary case would be characters around whom there are many legends. I guess then one can say: what is true of the legendary character could be untrue of the real one. If we insist in the principle of indiscernibility of the identicals, they would be two different entities. Proceeding like this, one could maybe always determine the crucial question concerning about what the term is - about a fictional or a non-fictional character. And maybe (if we still go with Kripke here) it doesn't matter whether we can answer this crucial question. (For example,the crucial question about a gospel is whether it was written with the intention of being about Jesus or not.)

The idea of the Millnong project (direct reference for non-concreta, especially for non-existing objects) is that fictional objects could be accessed in ways that dispense (and revise) descriptions. There could be a revision about fiction, and we are not slaves of descriptions (I do want to make the analogy with the contrast between descriptive and revisionary metaphysics vivid here). The project - maybe impossible to be executed - is to find a way to enable characters to escape from their original fiction. The first trick that comes to mind is to make use of the multiple description associated to a fictional character so that the character satisfies most but not all of them (like in Searle's cluster theory). So, if someone looks like Holmes, it is enough for him to be Holmes in another world (where other things could happen to Holmes). From Kripke's perspective, this won't do. I'm looking for other ideas to pursue the Millnong project. It is not enough to postulate a separate realm of objects (mental or otherwise) and claim that they are not just description-satisfiers.

The Millnong project seems important for me because there are cases where there is no fact of the matter about what the description was about. Maybe all fiction is somehow about things the author is unaware of - like in a shamanic revelation. Markus Gabriel's ontology of senses would make a lot of sense for these cases. But it makes everything hostage to their corresponding (multiple) senses - or descriptions. The alternative would be to find a way for a description to fix a reference without caging it. In non-fictional characters, we appeal to the features of the concrete - mostly spatio-temporal. These features compose a plane, a space where things happen, where everything else is - concrete things co-exist (somewhere). The Millnong project asks whether there is anything like this plane of haecceities for non-concreta.


Monday, 29 July 2013

The necessary a posteriori and the synthetic a priori

In the last meeting of my course on (introduction to) metaphysics, I found myself lecturing on two different ways to unbind factual necessity from what it has been usually connected: the analytic and the a priori. These two ways to unbind the necessary correspond to two ways to reinvent metaphysics - the Kantian and the Kripkean. In other words, given a Humean critique of the availability of necessary connections known a priori about the world (there are no accessible necessary a priori judgements about the world), we can either give up that they must be about the world or give up that they must be accessible on a purely a priori basis. Kant reinvents necessity as something to do with our obligations as subjects of experience while Kripke insists that it can be found in whatever truth is found about an otherwise fixed denoting term. In both cases, necessity stops being attached to analyticity - either because it is more closely linked to the a priori or because it is more closely linked with being about the world. One could think that in both cases metaphysics is replaced by something lesser. Kripke's take is considered to pave the way for a metaphysical resurgence (an ontological turn) while Kant's take is seen as the renunciation of metaphysics because giving up the a priori seems today less drastic than to have the world in itself (the great outdoors) well lost.

In a sense, the fate of metaphysics depends on that of necessity. Can it renounce necessity altogether? A way to formulate the question is in epistemological terms: is there a science of the symbebekos - of the accidental? Aristotle, of course, would take the question on whether there is metaphysics beyond necessity as the question on whether there is a science of the accidental. The two questions could be distinct: there could be no science, and yet there could be a metaphysics of the accidental. (This is Lévinas approach: metaphysics ought to be not science, not cognition, not based on ontological thinking). Metaphysics, in this sense, could be something different from the access to the ontoscape. Maybe it is another type of ontotechnics, another kind of getting close to what it is - maybe something like ontodrama or diplomacy. This is maybe an easy way out. Another way around the question is to think of metaphysics as disolved in the observations concerning the contingent, the perennial flow - and consider the time of apprehension as much as the time of flowing (the Doppler effect). The question then becomes a question about thinking: for how much time one apprehends something.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Some remarks on Aristotle's Metaphysics, book M

1. Aristotle introduces his intensional account of universals in Z, 10 (to be extended to dunamis in book H, and to mathematical entities in M, 3). In book M he compares his take to the Pythagorean one - that numbers (or other mathematical entities) are parts of sensible things and therefore themselves to be counted among sensible things - and the Platonic one - that numbers (as ideas and mathematical entities) are separate from sensible things. Aristotle proposes that mathematical entities are, like universals, aspects of things - in fact aspects of substances and, as such, enjoy a mode of being (tropon) which depend on what is substantial. Aristotle held that ousia protai to onton (substance has priority over other modes of being). Aspects are associated to his intensional turn in ontology, so to speak. He's explicit about that in M, 3: mathematical entities are aspects of sensible things just as, for geometry, it is an accident that a circle is white but not that it is circular while if we study the whiteness, the shape is to be treated like an accident. Aspects are out there and this is why we can have a perfect knowledge of them. In fact, this is maybe the hidden inspiration for McDowell's idea of de re senses and for his response dependence account of the content of perceptual experience - requiring conceptual capacities to have contents. Aspects are in the world - things harbor affordances.

2. Book M clarifies further Aristotle's idea of substances, especially of sensible substances when he discusses the Pythagorean and the Platonic alternatives to his intensional view of abstracta. Incidentally, these two alternatives are the ones commonly mentioned now-a-days as typical forms of realism about mathematics if we accept the similarities between the Pythagorean view and Quinean or Millian naturalisms. In both cases, abstracta are somehow among sensible things. But going back to Aristotle's substance-oriented ontology: substances are the units of reality. They are not like objects in OOO because their parts are not necessarily substances and there are things that are not as prior as substances but do exist - his ontology is not flat. Otherwise, there are similarities. Substances are everywhere and the fundamental relations are between are the important ones. It is pluralist - there are many substances and many types of substance. They have priority (ousia protai to onton) over all other modes of being and they are units that (supposedly) carve the world in its joints.

3. M, 4 presents explicitly an attempt to debunk Plato's doctrine of ideas in terms of its Heraclitean roots. Aristotle says that Plato's theory of ideas comes from his acceptance of a Heraclitean doctrine of the sensible according to which every sensible thing is in a perennial flow. No knowledge or science is possible without the aid of a separate intelligible realm with immutable realities. It is an interesting diagnosis. In fact, one can then compare Plato's move with Hume's conception of the sensible as unpredictable actuality - and the next steps are to criticize metaphysics (as the study of anything necessary within the sensible) and to appeal to our efforts for second creation to provide stability, predictability and some kind of knowledge. Aristotle's answer to Plato can then be put like this: we cut the evil by its roots by proposing a substance-oriented account of the sensible.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Laws of nature as immovable animators

Discussing Book Lambda in my course on Aristotle's metaphysics. A central element of the book is the idea of an immovable substance and the associated notion of pure act (en-ergeia gar). In chapter 6 he says that without something which is capable of doing things but that it is not actually doing anything, then movement would not happen as nothing in act would putting things to work, making things active, in activity (am Werk). The immovable mover introduces movement into things that would be otherwise inanimate. Movement (kinesis) and also change in general (metabole) - movement is one of the three types of change according to Book Kappa, 11 - has to start somewhere, if it doesn't the universe would be no more than potentiality resting asleep (something akin to merely finkish dispositions). There should be a starting point (to avoid the infinite regresses that Aristotle dreads) and this cannot be something potential but has to be an act, a pure act, with no dunamis and therefore no matter. The idea of an immovable mover (or an unchangeable changer) that is always in activity but not primarily over itself could sound odd. Aristotle had his reasons for positing it. He claims that a chain of events has to start and a genuine start cannot be preceded by anything that was already potentially present. It is like a genuine deliberation explained through autonomy (Kant's Kausalität des Freiheit), if your deliberation is explained in terms of something else other than a starting point (say, your psychological predispositions etc), then it is not genuinely autonomous. The chain has to start with the deliberation and not be preceded by any tendency, capacity etc. The same for pure act: no potentiality can precede it without damaging its character of a starting point responsible for the chain (and for instilling animation in an otherwise inanimate world).

It is fruitful to compare the immovable mover to a nomological realist view that was quite popular in the 20th century. Ellis and Mumford claim that this is the typical metaphysics behind nomological realism. Mumford, for example, writes: "this view is an essentially Humean one where the laws animate an otherwise inert world of discrete qualities and particulars"(Laws in Nature, 151-2). Here laws introduce what is not actual and therefore not inert in a Humean world. For Hume, a world of actualities is not a world in work, in activity, but rather a disconnected discrete mosaic of items. For Aristotle, act is connected to activity and mere potentiality could sleep for ever. However, putting aside the differences, we can see the laws of nature in this nomological realist image as typically unchangeable, immovable, non-material, non-sensible and yet capable of animating the rest of the world. The laws of nature would be the immovable animators of a world otherwise inert made of a mosaic of particulars and qualities just as pure act in Aristotle is constantly in activity while never being subject to any change (movement, corruption or generation). Laws would also be quite a special element in the ontology - thought typically as transcendent to the governed rest and always as something that is immune to whatever else changes in the world. (It does sound like something made of immovable substance...).

of the laws of nature that

Sunday, 7 July 2013

A hinge of the ontological turn

Finishing up my lectures on Naming and Necessity (that we read together with my novel Southern Pacific - A general theory of reference). It became clearer to me how Kripke is a crucial hinge or a crucial fold in the ontological turn of the last 40 years or so. Maybe he started it all, as some people say. We can think roughly in terms of three poles: a term, its denotation and a description. To be sure, fixing a reference is often done by means of a description (Hesperus is the evening star, Cats are animals, Gold is a yellow metal etc). This far Kripke is surely in a descriptivist territory. The Russell-Frege theorists would add that when we fix a reference by means of a description, the denotation is necessary tied to it. There is a necessary connection between the description that fixes the reference and the denotation. This cannot be anything other than a conventional connection, one that establishes a relation of synonymity or definition. It is not a necessity in the world but rather a linguistic one. It belongs solely to the definition of our terms. Kripke's point is that a description, by fixing a reference, doesn't become necessarily connected to the denotation of the corresponding term. Gold is not necessarily connected to "yellow metal", but yellow metal fixes the reference and now the denotation can be tracked (through its name - or another suitable indexical or rigid designator) independently of any appeal to the description and eventually prove the description wrong. Importantly, Kripke agrees with the necessary connection between description and denotation. If the description is true, it is necessarily so. If cats are animals, cats are necessarily animals and something about the essence of cats is stated. Cats, of course, can prove to be not animals (but robots, automata, whatever), we don't know that cats are animals a priori, but if they are, the description is necessarily tied to the denotation.

Necessity becomes not an issue of our linguistic convention but something that can be assessed a posteriori - that can be discovered - and that reveal essences. These is done because we, in language, contact things independently of what we know or believe about them. Descriptions that fix reference are such that they can be utterly false - they act as reference-fixer, they are used in a referential way. Attributively use of descriptions are restricted to those that do express essences. Not all descriptions capture necessities - they do when they are true but they can be false. Because of this, our subject matter doesn't depend as much on us - and our descriptions - than the linguistic turn descriptivists thought.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Le ressassement eternel

Thinking about what I believe was once Armstrong way to describe pan-dispositionalism: always packing, never travelling. The motto, and the corresponding postponing of complete actualization (in the back of my mind I'm thinking of David Ross' translation of entelecheia, in Aristotle's Metaphysics, Kappa, 9, as "complete reality" when Aristotle is trying to make sense of movement and change in terms of dunamis and energeia), provokes an anxiety related to the openness of preparation. Things are always being prepared. The pan-dispositionalist universe is deprived of any telos, of any realization, of any giving birth - it is constantly pregnant. It ia universe that, in a sense, never started, with a postponed future, a postponed beginning. A deferred environment: actualities in deferrance - always unready. It reminds me of Souriau's inachèvement of all things. Things are never product, they are always being produced - they never arrive anywhere, they never achieve. This deferrance provides a difference between each of them. Deferrance is like a repetition, things never reach a telos which is the equivalent of an arché - they never exit and they never exhaust dunamis, they live in constant potentiality both in their origins and in their destiny - both in their past and in their future.

Pan-dispositionalism seems then akin to the idea of repetition. To be sure, Deleuze's ontology appeals to repetition to avoid having modalities beyond virtuality - to be exorcise dispositions as anything close to directness. But the idea that an eternal return replaces the original in a sequence of repetitions rids the past of all readiness while projecting nothing in the future but the repeated. The past is always a preparation - qua past - for what is being repeated now, the past is a répétition, a rehearsal. Repetition, as a kind of deferrance, is what brings about difference. Things have no original past, they are all simulacres. This is similar to pan-dispositionalism but it also seems like its mirror-image. It is almost as if they are entelecheias, or rather pure activity with no original pregnancy where they all came from. It is constant work, constant en-ergo, am Werk as Heidegger translates energeia. It is as if things were always giving birth, never in pregnancy, never in state of gestating something else. Pure preparation is strangely similar to no preparation at all. Pure dunamis, pure energeia.

However maybe in both images the real change - and maybe movement - remains unthought. Aristotle (in Metaphysics, Kappa, 11) considers movement a kind of change that involve a transition from a hypokeimenon to another hypokeimenon (as opposed to generation or corruption). Maybe both pandispositionalism and Deleuze's eternal return are incapable of thinking generation or corruption. But this is what happens when pure immanence is invoked. There is no salvation, no decay - no paradise lost, no messiah to be regained. Hypokeimenon is always there - all that there is is movement, a ressassement eternel, in Blanchot's words.