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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Metaphysics without neutrality (and animism)

In my dialogues with Adriana Menassé (soon out in Stoa) I sketched a view that brings together some elements of animism with a Levinasian ethical outlook. Involved with the discussion of Derrida's Violence et Métaphysique it strikes me as if in fact a Levinasian take could inform a contemporary form of animism. Levinas stresses the need for a second parricide: the inclusion of alterity and multiplicity in the kernel of things beyond being and non-being in their strive for unity. Levinas insists against the operation of neutralization that, according to Derrida, is the very Greek element common to Parmenides and Plato (and his Stranger), and also echoing in new Greeks like Husserl and Heidegger. Neutralization is to consider the other as, in its arché, not a new command (or a new commencement) but rather more of the same, conceived as a neutral element. There is a common stuff to all beings (seiende), whatever exists is in its ultimate stance something common, call it being (Sein). Neutralization is the abolition of differences (a bit like the operations ascribed to Aristotle, Leibniz and Hegel by Deleuze in Différence et Répétition). What replaces the neutral is the face, the visage which points towards infinity and appears irreducibly in the meeting, in the encounter one has with the other. The face is never neutral for it resists being part of anything, it is an irreducible particular (or singular) that neither is part nor participates. It cannot be summoned by an anamnesis. It cannot be known, it can only be met. It is, as I would say in my Excessos e Exceções (Sâo Paulo: Ideias e Letras, 2008), a purely non-cognitive acquaintance. It inaugurates a metaphysical gaze, as opposed to an ontological one because the call of a face is fully non-theoretical, one doesn´t talk about a face, one talks to a face. The face also resists all forms of formality (one of the criticisms to Buber´s I-Thou that Derrida ascribes to Levinas, in a footnote in page 156 of L´écriture et la difference, Seuil 1967). The face is meant to be the pure countenance of the other.

Now, one can read this in animist terms. According to Viveiros de Castro´s perspectivism, the Amerindian sees the jaguar as the other while aware that she is a human and sees a fellow human as a human as much as a jaguar sees a fellow jaguar as a human. Everything is about meeting the other (and meeting the same). It is about how something appears in a meeting, whether as the other or as the same. According to Descola´s view on animism, the non-human admits of no general knowledge before each meeting - apart from the knowledge of a common agency, a common interiority that is what enables the Amerindian to negotiate with the jaguar from agency to agency. Animism contrasts with naturalism that holds the idea of nature as something that can be known and is common to everything I can meet (and is neutral). Nature can be known before any meeting and in a sense subsumes the meeting - there is something neutral preventing the other to bring genuine (and complete) novelty. It is ontological in this sense, while animism can be constructed as being metaphysical in Levinas sense: the other appears as the other, and the only common element is the face that relates to me, in an ethical relation (that is mediated by the diplomacy of violence). Such a diplomacy contrasts with the empire of violence that ontological (naturalit) views would promote. Derrida (footnote, p. 136, op. cit.) has a description of such diplomacy in terms of an economy of violence: ..."toute philosophie de la non-violence ne peut jamais, dans l´histoire, [...] que choisir le moindre violence en une economie de la violence". The animist negotiates with what is present - it is not about the general plan, it is about who one happens to meet - and meeting is gazing an agency in a world of iletés that somehow are capable to summon.


Monday, 30 March 2015

Immigrating to philosophy

Rereading Derrida's Violence et Métaphysique I'm stuck in his opening remarks that are meant to introduce the crucially non-Greek (and therefore foreigner) thinking character of Levinas. Derrida stresses from the beginning this Greek character of philosophy. He goes: "il ne s'agit pas, on le sait, d'occidentalisme ou d'historicisme. Simplement les concepts foundadeurs de la philosophie sont d'abord grecs et il ne serait pas possible de philosopher ou de prononcer la philosophie hors de leur élément". And yet, this is only to show how Levinas works out an undertone that makes Greek thought incommensurable in his thinking, a genuine foreign substance. The foreign (Hebrew) undertone shows up in the discomfort with the maneuvers of Husserl and Heidegger - these Greeks, says Derrida - all the way to face Parmenides as a double stranger who has to undertake a second parricide so that the absolute solitude of what engages in being can be properly highlighted. To be sure, the episode of a non-Greek (also Hebrew) intrusion in philosophy could be perhaps exemplified by Rosenzweig - so present in Levinas thought - and his struggle to deal and distort Hegel's conceptual vocabulary. This is where Derrida appears in his best: making explicit the foreign accent doing philosophy. It is as if there could be a way to sense the gap between what is expressed in philosophy and the tonality of thought - a way to hear the accent of those engaged in philosophical thought. It is not that philosophy is polyglot - although it can be, but only to some extent, that is only if its languages are etymologically tied -, it is rather that it admits of multiple accents. It admits because it resists them. But accents change the lexicon - and change the syntax. In particular, they change what Derrida calls the very syntax of the question.

The foreigner often doesn't find the right word in the language - as such it reveals the foreign character of thought. Levinas, described by Derrida, thinks in terms of "neither this... nor that" (neither Husserl, nor Heidegger...). He doesn't feel philosophy makes justice to the ways his thought goes - philosophy traps them either through the web of theory or through the pitfalls of implicit unities. He provides what Derrida labels "a non-marxist critique of philosophy as ideology": philosophy is committed to a logos that endorses a drive towards totality. He provides the critique of a stranger coming to town - and willing to play the game, at least to show its blind-spots. The Levinas operation, observed from this translator-viewpoint and in metaphilosophical terms, appears as one of forcing the philosophy talk to be able to say what his thoughts urge.

It is interesting to consider other immigrations into philosophy. In particular, I'm involved in the discussion concerning Afican philosophy and I'm convinced that animism (or perspectivism) for one is genuine philosophy or rather a genuine way to speak philosophy. Here again, maybe it is not the question of different philosophy in themselves, but rather of different ways to come to it. We have to make these different thoughts speak philosophy to hear their accent. Once we do that, we realize that they feel another kind of discomfort thinking within the borders of philosophy - but also a new kind of hospitality unsuspected by Greek ears. Immigrating is not only a way to show how native are the natives, but also a way to spell out contrasts. Derrida's image of philosophy is not one of a congregation of nations, it is rather one an urban conglomerate full of newcomers.



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Saturday, 28 March 2015

Resources: the proletarianization of the non-human

Been discussing the latest book of Deborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro ("Há mundo por vir, Rio: Cultura e Barbárie, 2014) in my course on the philosophy of the anthropocene. This week we covered both the chapter on the us after the world - on accelerationism, singularity and the Breakthrough Institute - and the following one on us before the world - on the pre-cosmological era in amerinidian thought. According to such idea, animals, plants, sky, sun, moon etc - together with metereological or geological events - were people as we are the ancestors of all beings. It seems like we are the arché, both in the sense of origin and in the sense of ultimate physis of all things. Hence, while we see jaguars and wild pigs as non-humans - and we must do it in order to do some important interactions with them, including hunting and eating them - we know that at heart they are humans. There is nothing but humans around, no world. Cosmography is no more than a superficial - yet important to avoid literal cannibalism - cover to an underlying anthropography. The world is therefore an assemblage of humans eating themselves but it is organized in a way that makes a group see themselves as humans while seeing other groups as non-humans in a sort of a masquerade. Because they now that jaguars are jaguars-for-us and yet humans-in-themselves, Amerindian humans would act towards jaguars like we act towards characters while we're (say) on stage. We would have to believe that it is Romeo and not Lawrence Olivier in front of us, so that we can act our part as Juliet. Yet, if there is something challenging the health of Lawrence - say, a badly positioned dagger - we would interrupt the play altogether because it should not affect the integrity of Lawrence (although it may affect the integrity of Romeo). This animist (or perspectivist) take on things make non-humans ultimately similar to all sort of human others, even though we may play with them different economic and ecological plots - predation, trade or gift-giving, for example. It also makes clear the difference of waging a war and running a farm. Amerindian groups would treat non-humans diplomatically (and war is diplomacy) - and therefore as part of their political constitutions.

This makes me think of the (modern) idea of natural resource - in contrast. It is like depriving non-humans of anything but their labor; i.e. their service for our purpose. The modern notion of nature is a device to proletarianize non-humans, they are treated as reduced to the service they can provide and they have to leave off it. The maneuver sounds like one that strips off any diplomacy capability from them - they are useful just for a service, just for their labor. Ultimately, in their arché, non-humans are just a source of labor and their life is reduced to their service to humans. There is nothing else they can do economically and ecologically but to present their services. To be sure, sometimes they are engaged in all sorts of hybrid negotiations that could seem like being sheer diplomacy among humans. But then again, human proletarians also carry on acting beyond their labor life.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Monadology and design

Leibniz was in the endeavour of putting forward a political theology - and, at that, he was close to what was then called natural religion. His way of doing that was to conceive a Great Architect, who was the perfect designer of all things. The design problem for him was one of optimization: how is it possible for a designer to build a perfect order so that he wouldn´t have to interfere whenever things go wrong. The optimal project was the best of all possible worlds. But worlds were conceived in terms of local agents. He optimized design by ascribing agency to the greatest possible number of entities - divide to govern, could be the motto. In this process of optimization, he created the idea of monadology: different entities that are interconnected by a common plan, each makes sure that the common plan is reinforced. It is like a government that tries to maximize its power by maximazing its civil servants. The idea of a monadology was a new deign idea: direct rule works worse than widespread delegation - not sheer atomism where atoms are independent, neither sheer monism where the only agent is the whole (and the parts are no more than obeying parts). But then, monadology was an invention that goes beyond natural religion - and its insistence on a designer, as Latour claims in his first Gifford lecture.

Once freed from design, the idea of interconnected monads that respond to all the others while having full-blown agency can florish, as indeed it did in the hands of Tarde, Latour and Whitehead with his continuity atomism without vacuous actualities. It is also the interconnectedness that appears in the Lovelock´s idea of Gaia. This is what Deleuze called, in Le Pli, capture monadology. Without design, monads have to work by entente, they have to find ways to negotiate. Further, political theology goes Clastrian - monadology against state for negotiation between prevalent entities and other political bodies has to be case by case, what avoids the institutionalization of an overall power. Non-design monadology is a monadology that is cout d´etat-proof.

Unintentionality

In his third Gifford lectures, Latour remarked how difficult it is to conceive what is not capable of intentionality - what is, so to speak, not an intentionality-bearer. The issue is, he claims, not that people quit animism, but that most of them became inanimists. To be sure, bearing intentionality doesn't mean to act intentionally always: the presence of different actants in the world accounts for inintended acts. He says: final causes seldom reach an end but rather are interrupted by other final causes. Just like Whitehead's satisfaction, it only for a short period of time that an actual entity enjoys fulfillment of its aims. Actants interrupt each other and therefore there is plenty of unintentionality in the world. But unintentionality is a byproduct of the spread of intentions - a crowd of whos gives an impression of a what. Latour puts things in a Derridian way: providence is itself spread, he aims at a political theology with a plurality of providences as opposed to a single, architectural design that encompasses every act. This is a world of as many architects as there are things - and there is no way to simply count them; still these are the architects on which we stand. These architects are also like messiahs - another design can save us from our current fate. (As we wrote in our updated fragments of Heraclitus, there are no fate, but there are fates.)

How can we make the idea that an-intentionality could be fully replaced with unintentionality seem attractive? We often think of lack of intentionality in terms of objects and (categorical) properties, objects with no dispositions (capacities, tendencies, potentialities). Non-intentionality is a chapter in an actualist conception of the world. But further, it is a chapter of what we can call distinctness atomism - the version of atomism according to which things are distinct and don't interact. Why do these objects have these properties? Well, it was not intended. What could be interesting to think is that in Latour multi-intentional universe, most things are also unintended. It is not about denying a designer - by saying that there is no design - instead it is the denying the effectiveness of the many designs; there are gaps between them, they are not concerted. It is as if we were heading towards some sort of poli-atheism: the many designers are not powerful enough to take care of the world because they are not concerted. In any case, much is unintended, this much is what can then be described in terms of objects and (non-dispositional) properties. In other words, the issue is now what is the best strategy to exorcise the single-designed world - a multiplicity of intentions and unintentions or rather a Spinozan route of exorcizing all forms of (local and global) transcendence.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Soft facts vindicated

Been thinking of my very old paper with Manuel on soft facts. The main inspiration there was Wittgenstein's remark that God needs to do maths in order to know something mathematical (for instance, how does pi expands). God cannot be a mere observer, any truth-monger is also an agent, in terms of my previous post. This goes well with the idea that scientists deal in construction, and construction is not something whose authority has to be found in their representational capacity. As Latour says somewhere in AIME, it is because they are good constructions that they are true. These are the idea behind soft facts: facts that are product of processes (or ententes). They cannot be reached unless you make the path that negotiation between agents require. In other words, years later, I guess that the idea of soft facts is tenable and recommendable. As it is formulated in the paper, its (implicit) account of agency - restricted to human - and God's - agents - tainted it.

Truth-mongers, truth-contributors and sponsors

I've been working on a new way to conceive and present my sponsoring account of truth. The account is inspired by the following quote of Latour:

Une phrase ne tient pas parce qu'elle est vraie;
c'est parce qu'elle tient qu'on la dit vraie.
Elle tient à quoi? Mais, justement, à beaucoup de choses. Pourquoi?
Mais parce qu’elle a été accroché à plus solide qu’elle.
Personne ne peut maintenant l’embraler sans défaire le reste à quoi ele tient.

(Latour, Irréductions, 2.4.8)

Been involved in the literature around the work on truth-makers started by the work of Mulligan, Simons and Smith and in the literature around propositions present mostly in Wettstein's work and in the book by Soames, Speaks and King (New thinking about propositions, Oxford Scholarship 2014). Currently, my schema for the new version of the sponsoring account is the following:

Ontology:

Sponsors: these are the basic item in the ontology. They are like agents, capable of bringing something about. Sponsors are fully animated and the sponsoring account is a theory of truth for an animated community and not primarily a conception of truth in representational terms (as a, so to speak, mirror of something out there).

Entente: what sponsors do on their own. (Not always explicitly in terms of agreement between agents) Entente is a sort of a provisional balance between sponsors. There are short and long-lasting ententes.

Truth components:

Truth-contributors: those include truth-makers, truth-bearers and truth-mongers. All of them are sponsors.

Truth-mongers: sponsors that exchange truths and engage in ententes through their capacity to assert and deny propositions.

Propositions: these are the main and primary truth-bearer. Following an intuition of King, I would probably say that truth-mongers endow ententes with the capacity to be true and false. Ententes become then propositions.

Truth-bearers: primarily propositions. They also contribute to truth, for truth-bearers (and truth-mongers) somehow are instrumental in making something true.

Truth-makers: sponsors turned by truth-mongers (and propositions) into agents that sponsor the truth or the falsity of an entente (turned into a proposition).

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The propositional turn

Since 2009 I have been toying with the idea, that titled a paper I gave with Manuel in a Metaphysics of Science conference in Nottingham, of making a linguistic turn of 360 degrees. If the linguistic turn amounted to move from things to words, to the structure of the world to the structure of language (and from the believer to the speaker), a linguistic turn of 360 degrees would move through words, language and speakers only to get back to things, world and believers only in a more informed way. In other words, to adapt an image put forward by Tim Williamson, language can be a telescope for metaphysical inquiry.

I´ve been reading King, Soames and Speaks interesting book on propositions (New Thinking about Propositions, Oxford Scholarship, 2014). More than the arguments themselves against sententialism and a Davidson-like theory of meaning, the idea of the book enticed me to have another look at propositions. In fact, much philosophical enlightenment lies in the very possibility of propositions - and not merely sentences - as bearers of truth. A metaphysics of ´the proposition would investigate what is the role of predication in the world - how the copula between subject and predicate in fact take place. Once propositions are at least prima facie accepted in an ontology, the issue of its nature seems fascinating and open (given that Russellian, Fregean and possible worlds-based accounts fail, as chapter 3 of the book persuasively argues).

Such a metaphysics of the proposition could benefit from a linguistic turn of 360 degrees - it could be informed by philosophy of language. Hence, for instance, it is a propositional issue what takes place in the process of reference fixing. So, if fixing a reference is something different from giving a description of what is being refered, it is maybe constituting maybe pinpointing a proposition. ´Cats´ are about cats even if cats are not animal - to use Putnam´s famous example - because ´cats´ carves the world in a way such that some propositions arise (say, "cats are animals", "cats are robots"). The act of fixing a reference is the act of giving rise to propositions - or access a realm of them. Reference-fixing is perhaps not an issue in language, between terms and parts of the world, but rather an issue in intentionality where an expression picks a particular way to track, or to individuate, bits of the world.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Against property (and sumak kawsay)

A beautiful theme that emerges from Noys book on accelerationism (Malign Velocities, Winchester: Zero Press, 2013) is the appeal to innovative, even glamourous ideas to counter the seemingly daring gestures of accelerationism (and one-track left reasoning in general). Noys stresses the importance of rethinking work. (See my post on Noys'book.) To reconceive work in order to make it less precarious and also less dull requires rethinking property. The left is nowadays very vague or very modest in its critique of property in general, as a political and ontological outrage. It is vague because Marxists insist on the various processes of proletarisation (of dispossessed peasants, of illegal migrants, of those rendered redundant by technological advances) and make clear that a work force has to own nothing but their labour, in contrast to those who own means of production. But it rarely proposes policies and strategies to weaken property. It is modest because people like the Pirate Party are clearly against intellectual property but rarely make clear that the problem is more general and lies in property in general. I think the left ought to make clear that property is something that would better go.

Property of non-humans by humans has to be replaced by different sorts of stewardships. A proletarian society means: no one has property of the means of production. I mean, not even the state; not even the commons. To abolish property means to undo the concept altogether so that care for the non-human could take other shapes. It is to exorcise the potestas idea that one has all rights over something - no one does. The idea that there are taxes over property is a step in the direction of understanding that there are things that are more important than ownership (good use, meaning also general well being in the sense that squatting corrects the absurd of having unoccupied states in a city etc). In a sense, to abolish property is an accelerationist measure for property is the ultimate territory of capitalism, and the flow of capital is such that it has to go around property - to brake for it - and not to make it flow. But it is also something that can be thought against the drive for production - it is not about producing more, it is rather about common sumak kawsay, that is good actualization of potentialities within a community. I take sumak kawsay to mean something like openness for ideas to take space, as opposed for them to wait for capital to help or property rights to allow. This is why so much can be done when intellectual rights are more flexible and also why so much can be rendered possible by devices like crowd funding. There is much to be explored in a critique of property, but I believe to replace it by stewardships of all sorts is what can make the left vibrant and enthusiastic again. There is much to imagine in a world without ownership.

Phil Jones tells me the right believes it has evidence in favor of private property, evidence linking private property to some general good, a sort of a conditional imperative argument. They say people take better care of what they own. It seems like no more than a disguised form of the old form of appeal to human nature, but there is something more to the point. Even though they know that gas and water corporate ownership in Bolivia was a disaster, they seem to believe that land reform is a bad idea because productivity goes down. Well, it is hard to establish this is the case in the long run. But if they are right on this, there is an interesting point: folks that defend the opposite of economic growth as a way out of capitalism would be right in that productivity cannot be the only measure of a good (access) policy. Private property of the means of production has generated capitalist wealth but also loads of misery through proletarization. Things only got better when a different model was a real possibility (as Piketty's results suggest) and collective (meaning state) property was on the political agenda (and not only as a token of the reactionary left). Again, a better take would be to consider something like sumak kawsay. What does a regime of stewardship has to offer to the general (human and non-human) well-being of a collective?