Get Reassembled: PAF Seminars

I’ve just gotten back to the UK from France after visiting PAF, as part of Get Reassembled: Time, Intelligence, Acceleration. This was a really fantastic event, and I can’t thank the organisers enough (Amy Ireland, Katrina Burch, and Deanna Khamis; with special mentions to Lendl Barcelos and Ben Woodard) for putting it together and inviting me to contribute. My contribution took the form of three seminars, which were very graciously streamed and recorded by The New Centre for Research and Practice. The seminars covered a lot of work I’ve been doing in various areas for several years, a good deal of which is catalogued here on deontologistics, but which I haven’t before had the chance to present in a unified form. As such, it is only fitting that I present them here, along with links to the reading I recommended for those attending them. The first two seminars are around 2 hours each, though the last is over 3 hours, partly because of the need to pull together the disparate ideas into a coherent thesis, but also because of some very good questions and subsequent discussions initiated by the participants. This is a lot to watch, but some of you might find the whole thing to be worth the effort.

Freedom, Reason, and AGI 




Desire, Autonomy, and Capital

Required: The first two sections of this post: 


Optional: The rest of the CR post and 

Beauty, Justice, and Acceleration





I normally don’t post images on the blog, but I’ve just realised that I now have some diagrams of my own to put up. Here’s the two diagrams from my essay, suitably inverted to match the decor, just to wet the appetite of anyone who hasn’t taken a look at it yet.

First, the outline of my taxonomy of truth.

Second, my partitioning of the set of truth claims (i.e., those things we take to be true).

Transcendental Realism Ahoy!

Hello all, the Transcendental Realism workshop is on tomorrow. I’m busily finishing my paper, and the some of the speakers will be congregating later today (in my house). This post is primarily a series of brief announcements for those who both read my blog and might be turning up, followed by a little excursion on something related to my paper.

1. Announcements

First, the running order of the speakers hasn’t been decided yet (apart from Ray, who will be on last). We should have it up tonight though, once we’ve had a chance to talk it through between us. However, whichever way it turns out, it’s going to be a tight schedule. Registration begins at 12:00 in LIB2, so there’s a bit of time to mill about and chat beforehand, and the first talk starts at 12:30. We’ve then got 5 talks, each of which is 30 minutes + 15 minutes of questions, to squeeze in between then and 5:00pm. This means that we’ve only got time for one measily break of 15 minutes during that time. At 5:00pm there’ll be a 30 minute break, where we’ll shift rooms to to S0.11, which is quite close. Ray’s talk will then begin at 5:30, and you can expect it to go on till 7-7:30.

All of this means that there will be precious little time for grabbing food, so I recommend getting yourself some food before you get here (or during the registration period, from the library cafe around the corner). We should be heading for food an drinks afterward Ray’s talk, depending on where will accommodate us.

Second, I’m still writing my paper, and it’s currently a bit long. This means it might have to be a bit dense to fit into my timeslot. I’ll do my best to make it as comprehensible as possible, but, if you wanted to do a bit of preparatory reading, I’d recommend Meillasoux’s presentation at the original SR conference, published in Collapse III. As well as tackling Meillassoux, I’ll be taking you on a whistle stop tour through analytic metaphysics (Quine, McDowell, Blackburn, Lewis, Price and Brandom), and even taking some time to talk about Hegel’s concept of natural consciousness from the introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit. It should be very interesting, if I can squeeze it all in.

2. What does ‘real’ mean? Vs. What is the real?

Given that it is relevant to my paper, I thought I’d comment briefly on something Graham Harman and Peter Gratton talked about yesterday (herehere and here). It all starts with this point by Graham:-

I suppose you could take the eliminativist route and claim that the sensual objects don’t necessarily exist in any sense (this seems to be the heir of Russell’s response to Meinong). But the problem with eliminativism, as I see it, is that it makes no room for real objects at all. Its sense of realism is that of scientific realism, and so there isn’t any concept of withdrawal there. The difference between real and unreal, for that position, is is simply a difference between realimages and scientific images. It is a mere metaphysics of images, despite all its huffing and puffing about reality.

You can see this in Ladyman and Ross, and you’ll also see it this summer in Brassier’s piece in The Speculative Turn, which takes a few digs at the “metaphysical” distinction between real and sensual, demands “criteria” for distinguishing between real and unreal, and neglects to admit that it has already made a metaphysical decision by assuming that all that’s at stake is the development of criteria for calling some images Bad Folk Images and others Good Scientific Images.

But philosophy is not just about images, and the sense of the real in scientistic philosophy is generally quite feeble. These positions collapse into pragmatism or instrumentalism at the slightest touch. “Realism” for them really just means: using science to beat up unscientific people. The real is never addressed at all.

Now it may come as a surprise that I have a certain amount of agreement with Graham here. The main point of the paper I’m going to give tomorrow is that most forms of realism don’t know what they mean by ‘real’. The only form that I think has a good idea of what it means is what I call deflationary realism.

Deflationists point out that classical realism wants to deploy a thick sense of ‘real’, but that it doesn’t know what it means by it, and so in response they propose a thin sense of real. This thin sense of real is usually indexed to truth. So for example, whereas the platonist (a local realist) says numbers really exist, and the nominalist (a local anti-realist) says numbers don’t really exist, Quine (the deflationist) comes along and says that the ‘really’ doesn’t make any sense here. Quine says that if we take there to be true statements in which we quantify over numbers, then we’re committed to their existence. If it is true that ‘there are infinitely many primes’ then numbers, and more specifically prime numbers, exist. This makes the question of whether numbers exist a completely trivial matter. So, yes, deflationists have a fairly feeble notion of ‘real’, but they’re pretty explicit about it. However, there are many others who have quasi-deflationist positions which are very problematic (I’d even go so far as to say inconsistent).

However, I’m not sure that Graham has the high ground here. Yes, like many other classical realists he has an account of what the real is. I just don’t think he’s got any better an idea of what ‘real’ means. This is the difference between having an account of what the real is, and having an account of what it is to have an account of what the real is. This is analogous to the difference between knowing who the president of the united states is, and knowing what it is for someone to be president of the united states. It’s perfectly possible to know that Obama is president, and nonetheless have a hazy idea of what this means. I think there’s a fairly simple way to demonstrate this point.

If we take ‘real’ to mean ‘that which is radically independent of thought’ in such a way that this is equivalent to ‘that which withdraws’ in Graham’s sense, rather than simply to be ‘that which withdraws’, then the concept is not sufficiently broad to perform two different functions that it’s required for. First, it is required to distinguish between real objects that withdraw and the sensuous objects that don’t. It does this adequately. However, it is also required to describe precisely what such a distinction is doing. We need to be able to say that this distinction is getting at the real metaphysical structure of objects. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (here and here), Graham thinks that the real properties of each object are unknowable (except through allusion), insofar as they withdraw, but he nonetheless thinks that this very fact (which is not a fact about any given object, but about objects qua objects) is knowable. This means that the second use of real cannot be equivalent to ‘that which withdraws’, because it would automatically disqualify the possibility of such metaphysical knowledge (in effect, we’d be back in correlationist territory).

Now, this second use of ‘real’ is necessary in order to delineate the task of metaphysics. Specifically, it is necessary in order to counter deflationism and positivism. When the deflationist says “there is nothing more to the structure of objects than our talk about the objects”, and when the positivist says “there is nothing more to objects than decreed by science”, Graham must be able to turn around and say that no, there is a real structure of the object in excess of either, and it involves withdrawal. As such, I don’t think that Graham is in a much better position than scientific realists, and I certainly don’t think he’s entitled to claim that he’s more of a realist than they are.

Anyway, there will be more on this problem tomorrow. Back to writing my paper!

Rational Animals

I’ve written a piece for the Speculative Heresy/Inhumanities crossover event on Realism and Ethics, and it’s been selected to be the first put out on Speculative Heresy (here). I managed to go over the word limit by 500 or so (the piece is 2,500 words or thereabouts), and as anyone who reads this blog already knows, I find it difficult to constrain myself to anything less than 3,000. I’m happy with it overall, although I do introduce some more technical stuff with regard to rationality and normativity that I can’t fully back up there for space reasons. Regardless, I’m very happy to have contributed, and I look forward to the rest of the essays!

Praying to the Evil Demon

This is a short thought, but it struck me when reading a post on the Event (a la Badiou) over at Fractal Ontology. As I have mentioned before, I find Badiou’s conception of the Event to be somewhat troubling, precisely insofar as it suspends the principle of sufficient reason, and appeals to the ever present possibility of some occurrence which comes without reason, changing the given state of affairs. It seems that a lot of the appeal of this kind of position is political. This is because it holds out the promise of something, anything, that could change the current political state of affairs of which we are currently sick. Moreover, because this change will come in a way which is unthinkable from within the present situation, we are thereby excused the burden of trying to think how such a change could come about.

As I have stated before (here), this kind of position, in which an Event irrupts literally ex nihilo, i.e., out of ‘the Void’, to be a negative theology. Badiou’s conception of the Void seems to push Levinas’ Absolute Other even further than he was willing, stripping it of all possible predicates, be they divine (e.g., perfection, benevolence, etc.) or otherwise (e.g., hardness, warmth, etc), until we are left with pure nothingness. But nonetheless, we find ourselves hoping, praying to this Nothingness that it will deliver unto us some change, because even though there is no reason for it to do so, there is no reason for it not to.

This negative theology is not really something other than onto-theology, as much as it is the limit-point, or ‘degree zero’ (a popular phrase these days) of onto-theology, wherein everything is grounded in an un-ground, an abyss, but nonetheless something, even if it is distinctly other than beings. This otherness has two dimensions: the denial of any of the determinations of beings to the ground (as indicated above), but also the separation of the ground from beings.

However, what struck me just now is how much this harks back to Descartes. It is as if we have abandoned all hope of proving that whatever it is that has power over the apparent (or presented) world is really benevolent, and yet in our desperation we are praying to the evil demon to bring us change, to overturn the apparent world, because we are so thoroughly sick of it.

Of course, there is some virtue to the Event for Badiou, insofar as it is the irruption of Truth, rather than a mere rejigging of appearances for its own sake. Still, even this just gives the Void a minimum of ‘benevolence’ and it still strikes me as theological, and the corresponding language of fidelity as precisely eschatological.

Maybe I am being too harsh, but I cannot but help see this in appeals to the power of Events to bring us change.

Explanatory Networks and Political Reason

There has recently been an interesting (and somewhat turbulent) discussion regarding Latour’s Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and the Object-Oriented Ontologies (OOO) that are influenced  by it, in relation to the kind of politics these theories can support.

There is obviously Nick Srnicek’s very interesting piece from the Militant Dysphoria conference (available here), which tries to show how ANT provides some useful resources for reconsidering the nature of political action, and his recent additional commentary on it (here), which situates this piece in relation to the notion of folk-politics (something I myself have talked about here, but with a slightly different twist).

Then there is the more fiery (though now thankfully cooled) exchange between Reid Kane at Planomenology (here and here) and Levi at Larval Subjects (here, here, here and here) over whether either Latour’s ANT or OOO has neo-liberal political implications. This obviously got out of hand, but it strikes me that the real intuition behind the argument that Reid was making (and that others have also been making), was never made fully explicit. Without wishing to blow on the embers, I feel that it would be helpful for this intuition (as I see it) to be properly formulated. This also gives me an opportunity to work out some other thoughts about Latour’s position which have been haunting me.

The proviso here is that I am neither an expert on Latour or on OOO, although I will admit to having read more of the former than the latter. So, it is possible that my reading, and the implications I draw from it, will be faulty. As ever, I am happy to be corrected. That being said, I will proceed anyway, while the point is fresh in my mind.

Edit: It is of course also important to note that there are different variants of OOO, and not all will endorse or take up the Latourian positions I’m trying to analyze here, at least in the way they are found here.

Continue reading Explanatory Networks and Political Reason

The Plane of Immanence

Over at The Naked Void, Nikola recently put up a post about Deleuze’s proximity to idealism (here). Very loosely, his argument ran that any philosophy of presence is essentially idealism, and that Deleuze’s notion of the plane of immanence commits him to such a philosophy of presence. As might be expected, I strongly objected to this characterisation of Deleuze, and I posted quite a long (albeit dense) comment, which tried to undermine the Badiouian assumptions latent in Nikola’s argument. Nikola has since posted a reply to my objections (here), and I feel like it would be more productive to re-present some of my original points and then show what appear to me as the inadequacies of Nikola’s response in light of them.

Insofar as this means that I have to discuss the plane of immanence, this also gives me an opportunity to better formulate some of the issues I have with Levi’s claims about ‘flat ontology’ and immanence (which are linked to here). I do like hitting two birds with one stone, and so I’ll address these after I discuss Nikola’s points.

Continue reading The Plane of Immanence