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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Some further remarks on the origin of anthropocentrism

There is a sense in which anthropocentrism goes hand in hand with patriarchy – or the domain of a man over goods and people - and with corelationism (the Corpernican Revolution or rather the Ptolomaic Counter-revolution). Descola suggests the former link in his chapter on the domestic and the wild (in Par déla Nature et Culture), and at least in two occasions. First, when he talks about the Roman domus and its concentric force separating out everything that is not in it (the central and the peripheral, as in the soul as a core and the body as its provinces, its extensions). Second, towards the end of the chapter, when he compares the Roman ways to the Greek and German ones. The Germanic, for example, wouldn’t quite entertain a dualism between the center and the periphery: the forests were always a space for hunting and hunting and collecting was integrated into agriculture. Anthropocentrism and patriarchy seems to result from the specifics of the Neolithic revolution that encompassed the middle east and the Mediterranean. In the Americas (and in Australia and the polynesia) the neolithic transition was different: no cattle herding - no domesticated animals - and no sharp distinction between the agricultural land and the agrinatural land (the space of the forest). In fact, in the Americas, plants were introduced amid existing ones and were made to co-exist with them.

Anthropocentrism has similarities also with the operation Kant made of keeping the grammatical structure of the proposition while making it revolve around a subject that forces substantiality into the subject. Substantiality becomes less of an independent other (like in a monadology or in a garden with many gardeners, like among the Achuar Descola studies) and becomes issued out of a central subject. Kant's centrality of the subject completes the Modern trajectory towards an exorcism of full-blooded non-human subjects. The transcendental subject is the legitimate centrally governing force of the domus around which everything else is organized. The subject is the transcendental source of necessity: nothing is imposed from outside and all accord is reached from within - from within a subject.

It is of course hard to do more than just point at these rough similarities, but they are thought provoking. It is not enough to suggest a historical link between these practices and ideas, but there is hope for some light on the vagaries of the origin of these otherwise strange sharp distinction between nature and culture.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Vacuous actuality and the structure of a proposition

Whitehead's monadological rejection of vacuous actuality - the idea that something can exist actually without any subjective mediation - without any connection to anything else - has implications for his rejection of the thesis that subject-predicate form is a suitable structure for a proposition. The idea of vacuous actuality, he remarks, haunts realistic philosophy (P&R, 29 [43]). Its rejection is the basis of Ewing's formulation of idealism implying no epistemological idealism: the interconnectedness of all things means no dependence of the cognized object to the cognizing subject. Ewing suggests that Bradley and Joachim are not really correlationists - they could be metaphysicians of subjectivity. This is maybe why Whitehead claims that at the end of the day he is not too far away from Bradley (P&R, xiii): both reject vacuous actuality - and none are epistemological idealists.

The rejection of vacuous actuality is also the rejection of the Aristotelian primary substance - the inherent qualities to a subject that makes it capable to hold predicates. The haecceitas of a subject that subsists independently of any actual entity (of any sponsoring, of any com possibility). If there is no vacuous actuality, there is no unconnected noumenon to a subject, independent of any of its predications. Whitehead welcomes the holism of Leibniz (and of Bradley, but also the semantical counterpart put forward by Quine and his followers: no meaning independent of use, no distinction between language and theory). To fix something to be a subject for a predication - and enable a proposition to have the form of a subject coupled to a predicate - is to postulate that something is disconnected from the network of relations that provide the content of predications. To be sure, one can abstract something away of all changes, but this is a concerted effort undergone only by a subject. Whitehead claims that only in subjective forms the subject-predicate form expresses the content of a proposition.

Kant's note 24 to his Prolegomena: the structure of something fixed holding predication implies no substance, it is only an obligation imposed by the workings of predication. In my book (BUG, just finished), I claim that predication is possible because there are procedures of reference-fixing; that is, there are things that are contingently and yet knowable a priori. The operation of fixing something to receive the working out of a predication has to be done by a subject - it is only in the workings of a subjective form that a subject can be the guesthouse for passing predications. It is only then that anything can be deemed determinately individuated and sufficiently stable.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The social basis of anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism

I've been giving the final touches to Being Up for Grabs and giving my first classes this term. A course on a Leibnizian reading of Whitehead and another on Descola. This first week, talking about Leibniz, animism and anthropomorphism, we discussed how much of a feudal (and aristocratic) way of thinking is present in Leibniz. It is about areas of jurisdiction and government. In fact, ontological thinking is very often about archés - and governing powers. (Or about their absence.) The monadology of fragments I propose in the book is about reinventing authority on the flight - while things get decomposed and recomposed. We can then ask what would then be the thinking on authority that guided the anthropocentric turn - being it either a Copernican revolution or a Ptolomaic counter-revolution. It emerges a bit like the Operation Oedipus in Deleuze and Guattari: turning the rest of the world as equally under human authority - no more autonomous horses but horses for humans, representing humans, telling us something about other humans in human terms. Anthropocentrism is not about making the rest of the world human-like, it is putting them under human's authority. It is cleaning up the baroque: cleaning up the complex structures of authority to make it revolve around a sole centre, as if paving the way for a global world: a world as a single feud.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The muteness of intuitions

I was invited to speak in a Hegel-McDowell event next year. I was wondering about McDowell's account of what the senses deliver. I'm going to present a prehension-based account of the interplay between sensibility and conceptual capacities. This is the abstract I sent.

A. C. Ewing has debunked the connection between what he labels epistemological idealism and the internal nature of all relations. To be sure, his target is the argument that purports to infer antirealism from the ontological thesis that all relations are internal - and not a much weaker version that has been recently considered by Schaffer and others, namely that there must be at least one internal relation between any two or more concrete items. In any case, the thrust of his debunking is to open the landscape for a realism that posits internal relations as central and spanning to the ones between knowledge and its object. Now, the issue of what senses deliver can be considered from the point of view of the nature of relations. A realist and response-dependence account of how senses respond to their objects could be grounded on the intrinsically common conceptual character of both relata. McDowell suggested that sensible intuitions, rather than blind without concepts as Kant claimed, are mute when deprived of a conceptual voice. The ontological nature of this common character of senses and their objects - and the muteness that result from its absence - is the main topic of this work. Placing the deliverances of the sense in the broader context of the nature of relations enable us to see what could be gained by different accounts of how an internal relation holds. In particular, I will explore what would follow from conceiving relations as Whiteheadian prehensions and taking subjective forms as the kernel of a strong version of process realism.

The space between nobody and nothing (few remarks on the politics of predication)

Been thinking a bit - while finishing Being Up for Grabs - about the politics of predication. The gap between someone and something - and between nobody and nothing - is the black hole of politics (and of metaphysics). This black hole is the space where different politics and metaphysics can be cartographer and it is, in fact, the space between politics and metaphysics. This is the space inhabited by animals, plants, parts of people, all sort of auto-poietic devices, prehensions, correlations, intentional stances, proto-subjects etc. The cartography of this space is also a chronology: when does a what generate a who, when do a who bundle into whats - organisms have components that can be described mechanistically, people get together to form resources (or nationalities, or identities, or work force). The endeavor to explore this space starts with a descriptive metaphysics, and descriptions of the world are politically charged (see for instance Galeano's Los Nadies). In fact, most political and metaphysical projects of this time traffic this space: the exacerbation of naturalism, animism and perspectivism, post-humanism, rights of animals, ecology. Political language, and whatever grounds it, draws this line. Politics flows in a riverbed of metaphysics.

This division line is independent both of views concerning the substantiality of what there is and of approaches to the negative - whether there is an absolute nothingness or absence is always relative. In other words, no matter which other options in metaphysics are taken - for instance, no matter whether necessitism, haecceitism or concretism are held - the issue of what counts as an object and what counts as a subject is central. Flat ontology, for instance in the form of object-oriented ontology, holds that anything is a who and a what. For instance, objects are amphibious enough to be sometimes subject. But is this just a way to conceal the black hole?