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Monthly Archives: May 2008

Rorty and Davidson Talk

See and hear this 1997 conversation between philosophical fellow travelers Richard Rorty and Donald Davidson, posted by Gundlegung, which ends:

Davidson: “Well, it sounds to me that by your standards I am a straight-forward pragmatist.”

Rorty: “Even in the romantic sense?”

Davidson: “Even in the romantic sense.”

Rorty: “That’s nice.”

One gets the dramatic sense that these two souls are still in tension from their ethos, even though they repeatedly come to agreements in principle. There is a bodily sense in which the comfort of ideas tugs each in opposite directions. Rorty seems to work with the breadth of thinking, and Davidson with the micro-structures. Agreement seems to be what they have agreed upon.

Closely Related Post: Davidson’s Razor, Vico’s Magnet

The Reality of the Affects: Spinoza’s Plotinian Real

In counterbalance to the points made in the post below, I have the following thoughts which stem from Lilli Alanen’s response to Della Rocca:

In reading Alanen’s response to Della Rocca’s “Rationalism Run Amok” I have a few questions. In particular it is her trouble with the idea that all affects are illusionary.

Here is the germ of it:

So existence is not an all or nothing affair but comes in more and less. But then the conclusion that we with our passive affects exist to a much lesser degree than the eternal and infinite God does not seem very startling. It becomes so only if one, as Della Rocca seems to do, sides with idealist Spinoza commentators in thinking that anything less than full intelligibility, and with it full perfection or being, lacks reality.

Do we really need to draw such drastic conclusions? More to the point: do we need to draw these drastic conclusions?

Here’s a worry: There is, Della Rocca argues, a sense in which passive affects are real and fully intelligible, namely qua ideas in God’s mind. The very same ideas which are confused in my mind are distinct and adequate in God’s. This is just a manifestation of what he calls the mind-relativity of content (p. 19). Does this mean affects are fully real in God’s mind? Hardly qua affects, since God’s mind contains only adequate ideas. So are they unreal after all? I’m troubled by mind-relativity here and have a hard time seeing how adequate ideas in God’s mind could be the same as the confused one in ours?

This is the difficulty that I have. Alanen seems to argue that because our intuition tells us that if something exists to some degree, it can be said to exist completely so. That is, because Spinoza grants that affects are idea-expressions of degrees of being, these affects themselves must be said to exist, fully. But isn’t it Spinoza’s entire point that such ideas and affects in so far as they have being, are already perfect (in the mind of God), and in so far as they don’t have being, are imperfect and inadequate? Because Spinoza makes being itself the vector of inadequacy, I don’t see how one can say that affects actually are (despite our intuition, and experience that they are). The way that Spinoza has set it up seems to be that the predicate of being is entirely linked to the degree of adequacy. By insisting that affects are “real” Alanen is insisting something of the order that “degrees of being are real” has full being, and I am not sure how in Spinoza’s system on could do that.

If I put my question a different way, Spinoza in a famous letter to Jellis, denies the being of “negation”:

As to the doctrine that figure is negation and not anything positive, it is plain that the whole of matter considered indefinitely can have no figure, and that figure can only exist in finite and determinate bodies. For he who says, that he perceives a figure, merely indicates thereby, that he conceives a determinate thing, and how it is determinate. This determination, therefore, does not appertain to the thing according to its being, but, on the contrary, is its non-being. As then figure is nothing else than determination, and determination is negation, figure, as has been said, can be nothing but negation.

Letter 50 to Jellis, June 2, 1674

The negation of which a particular figure is composed, pertains only to its non-being. Would one say then that “negation” for Spinoza must have being? Or even that “non-being” for Spinoza, must have “being”? This seems like a similar kind of assertion to the one that Alanen proposes, and it appears to undercut what Spinoza is attempting to say.

A similar problem occurs in the assessment of the Blind Man in his letter to Blijenbergh (Letter 21, Jan 28, 1665). Here Spinoza wants to tell us that a blind man is no less perfect than a stone is perfect:

“I proceed further to the explanation of the terms “Negation” and “Privation”…I say, therefore, that Privation is, not the act of depriving, but only the pure and simple lack, which is itself nothing. Indeed it is only a Being of reason, or mode of thinking, which we form when we compare things with one another. We say, for example, that a blind man is deprived of sight because we easily imagine him as seeing…But when we consider God’s decree, and his nature, we can no more affirm that of man than of a Stone, that he is deprived of vision…God is no more the cause of his not seeing than of the stone’s not seeing, which is pure Negation”

If one replaces “seeing” with “affect” we see that having an affect is only a negation, a negation which is nothing (has no Being). If we connect up any affective being with the Totality of which it is an expression (that is, remove all its negations and border), the affect disappears, because there is no transition in power or degree of being. That is Spinoza’s point, is it not?

The same thing seems to register on the level of epistemology:

E4p1dem: Falsity consists only in the privation of knowledge…”

What Alanen seems to be want to say is that the “privation of knowledge” is real, the “negation of sight” in a blind man (and a stone) is real, that non-being is real. But this seems to undercut a primary embrace of Being, the idea that Being is a plentitude and that negation is an illusion of perspective, comparison, projected ideas and inadequate ideas. Although she critique’s Della Rocca for accepting an Idealist-type conclusion, one that makes the changes in the world to be mere illusions, she seems accept the very thing that Hegel critiqued Spinoza for failing to see, the Reality of the Negation. Rather it seems, Spinoza has to be taken at his word, that degrees of being are exactly that, degrees of being.

I wonder how she would square her interpretation with the clear comments on Negation and Privation taken above?

Closely Related Post: Negation and the Unseeing Stone


Della Rocca’s Spinoza: Do Affects “represent” Anything?

Recently though I have been reading Michael Della Rocca’s essay, “The Power of an Idea: Spinoza’s Critique of Pure Will,” and despite my embrace of its conclusion as to the radically anti-Cartesian nature of 2p49, something of its intermediate conclusions troubled me. I may not fully understand the position, or it may be simply that I understand it, and disagree with it slightly.

It is Della’s Rocca’s conclusion that all modes of thought are indeed only those of ideas, and thus, of representations that confuses me. I do understand how he uses this principle causal reading of Spinoza to deny any possibility of a mental x (non-representational, will) determining a mental y (idea). But for me the difficulty arises with the nature of affects themselves, for while Spinoza certainly has argued that there is no will which determines which ideas we hold, it seems rather that the ideas that we hold indeed do determine the affects we have, and these affects are to be understood as “modes of thought”. I will go over this point a few times, so feel free to skip the examples.

What struck me was his exclusive reading of modes of thought so to be “fully reduced” to ideas was this kind of argumentative aim, as he writes, “I would also show, more generally, that there can be no item in thought, and thus no states of desire, hope, love, etc. that do not reduce fully to ideas” (Nous, 220).

I am unsure of just what he means to say, “states of x” are “fully reduced to ideas”. Is he reading an affect of Joy or desire to be an “item in thought”, even though it is defined as a transition that is “accompanied by”, and presumably not identical with, an idea? I might tend to agree that “representational content does all the causal work in the mind” for Spinoza (ibid), but something seems amiss here; if one is to fully describe Spinoza’s theory of the affects this something seems to be an account of the very degree of perfection of the ideas themselves. For the degree of the perfection of ideas determines the affect one has, and the very transition from one degree of perfection as a bodily power affirmation, (as found in the definitions of Joy and Sadness) should be considered a mode of thought, and perhaps a non-representational mode at that: for love itself apart from what is loved (Joy), represents nothing. In fact 2ax3 it would appear makes just this kind of distinction, an affect taken to be mode of thinking which is not its necessarily accompanying idea.

So we see the possible non-representational nature of affective modes of thought in a few places.

First, Spinoza in his attempt to deal with volition apart from desire presents representation-type model, (2p48s: “by will I understand a faculty…not the desire by which the mind wants a thing or avoids it”), gives his affirmations of a triangular example which he cites [the relationship between the ideas of a triangle and the angles therein]. Yet, in his General Definition of the Affects, he presents a very different kind of affirmation, that which is affirmed in examples of inadequate thought; here it is not some rational entailment as to the nature of the idea to itself (triangle/right angles), but of the body a degree of force of existing, or perfection. This affirmation of a degree of perfection seems to be a non-representational mode of thought, that is, it is only “born out of an idea” orta ex idea (for instance in the definition of the affect of Confidence), but remains distinct from that idea. We see this same distinction between the idea and the transition itself marked out in the definitions of Love, “Love is a Joy [an increase in perfection] with the accompaniment of (concomitante) an idea of an external cause”. What an idea affirms, that is, the mode of its thought, seems of paramount importance. In the instance of love, what is being affirmed as represented, is the idea of an external cause, but what is being affirmed (non-representatively) is the very power of the body to exist, in a specific degree. The question is, is “affirmation” necessarily representational (and not say, expressional).

For Spinoza, the modes of inadequate thinking are componented as to what they affirm, and what they represent. For instance, if I think I am saddened by a man betraying me (Hate), this is an affirmation of the belief that he is the cause of my sadness, (thus the idea is taken as a true representation of the causal explanation as to my state); but also by this very idea the Mind acts to affirm a weakening force of the body to exist such that it does exist to a lesser degree. Is this affirmation a “representation”? Spinoza says that it is a kind of representation, that is, it is something that “indicates or expresses” indicare vel exprimere the constitution of the body. But the very transition itself into a less real state, the feeling of sadness coming out of the idea which “constitutes the form of the affect”, does not seem a representation as we take the word.

This may of course have consequences for the nature of consciousness, that which “determines the mind to think this rather than that” (General Definitions of the Affects). Spinoza writes at 2p18s, defining Memory as “the certain connection of ideas involving the nature of things outside the body” and that this connection is the connection of the “affections of the human body”. Thus there is a kind of shadow parallel postulate which mirrors the parallel postulate of 2p7. There is the order and connection of ideas and things which is the same at the adequate level; but there is the order and connection of ideas about the nature of external things, and the affections of the body which are the same at the inadequate level. Of this second order, we think of an apple when we hear the word “apple” because the affections of our body are such that these have coincided, the hearing and the seeing. Presumably, this is also because in each affection, we have had the affect of joy, in that the Mind has affirmed in our body a greater degree of existing, transited (transito) to a greater perfection of being. These are two “orders” so to speak, the order of causal explanations provided by the Intellect’s ideas (2p18s), and the order of the affections of the body which produce the affirmations of the body, and affects via inadequate ideas. Both orders are modes of thinking, but how essentially representational, I am not sure. The first affirms and negates conceptually (as in the case of triangles), the second through its inadequate ideas “indicates or expresses” the degrees of being of the body, whose shifts (states of Joy, Sadness and Desire) do not seem represented.

This is the same fundamental tension which exists in the way he wants to talk about the will (voluntatem ). On the one had, it is a faculty (facultatem ) of presumably ideational affirmation and negation (2p48s); and yet he still wants to define Desire (Cupiditas) by its strivings, impulses, appetites and volitions (volitiones), which are as manifold (varia ) as with the constitution (constitutione ) of each man that is manifold (hominis…varii ), taking as their objects the very bodily states themselves; that is to say, volitions follow the order of bodily affections (Definition of the Affects, I). The faculty of voluntatem which rests with the affirmations and negations of ideas, and the inadequate production of volitiones result in two kinds of affirmations, and two different notions of representation. One affirmation occurs at the ideational level with adequate ideas, such as one does when discussing the ideas of triangles, (a triangle and not a circle), with no reference to the body at all, and one that occurs at the seemingly non-representational affective transition, “born of” inadequate ideas/images which indicate a degree of being of the body, affirming that, through the order of its affections.

What makes an idea=representation equivalence confusing is that Spinoza would like to distinguish ideas from images (“fictions we feign from the illusion of free will”), yet each can be taken as a representation. What Spinoza privileges as a true idea, what I would read as “an idea insofar as it is an idea” (2p49) isn’t really a representation in the usual sense, that is, it is not an idea about the nature of an external thing (that is, it does not literally re-present it). The intellect, insofar as it affirms or negates, understands things through their first causes, it explains them (2p18s). Thus, the intellectual Idea of God or Substance explains modal reality, but does not represent it, except perhaps in the most Scholastic of senses.

Axiom 3, Ethics Part II: There are no modes of thinking, such as love, desire, or whatever is designated by the word affects of the mind, unless there is in the same Individual the idea of the thing loved, desired, etc. But there can be an idea, even though there is no other mode of thinking.

I think key to reading 2ax3, on which Della Rocca’s interpretation rests, is understanding that when Spinoza writes “There are no modes of thinking, such as love…unless there is the idea of the thing loved,” he announces that the affect of loving (Joy), is a non-representational mode of thinking (already admitted by the axiom as distinct) which is concomitant to a representational, affirming mode of thought (inadequate idea) regarding an the external thing. That is, the affect arises out of the idea, but is distinct from it.

I agree with his thought, “Spinoza claims that because an idea cannot be conceived without a certain affirmation, and because that affirmation cannot be conceived without the idea, it follows, given Spinoza’s conception of essence (2def2), that affirmation pertains to the essence of the idea, and that the affirmation is identical with the idea” (Nous, 202). But we must distinguish between adequate and inadequate ideas. It is the particularity of the affirmation which marks it as such. The rational affirmation that is involved in the Intellect’s understanding through first causes, is not the same affirmation involved in affects as passions, though the latter can be explained through the former. Spinoza views all ideas, insofar as they are in the mind of God, as true. That is, what they affirm and negate constitute their essence. But in instances where we are not thinking of triangles, but inadequately of external objects, what is being affirmed is not the ratio of angles unto a conception of triangles, but a power of the body, an affirmation which is largely, if not entirely unconscious.

As I look closely at 2p49, affirmations (including the affirmation of the degrees of power of the body to exist) exist because they are involved by ideas (involvit ) insofar they are ideas. This quatenus idea est, can only mean as far as I can tell, ideas as opposed to images, adequate ideas as opposed to inadequate ideas, ideas as they are taken to be in the mind of God. The difficulty with strictly equating this aspect of affirmation (that of an idea insofar as it is an idea) with belief, is that it would be at the level of strictly true belief. As one passes from the strong notion of adequate ideas, to the weaker notion, what is being affirmed, by Spinoza’s definition of affect and inadequate idea, has changed. The affirmation (and negation) which at the level of adequate ideas would constitute true belief, at the level of affects is an affirmation of the body’s capacity to act. Indeed, having ideas of any sort is a kind of belief, an affirmation. But what is being affirmed seems for Spinoza to slide along a gradated, asymptotic line, at whose pinnacle adequate ideas as explanations of the causes of things, affirm and negate the internal particularities of those ideas; but insofar as they are not (true) ideas, they produce a non-representational change in the body’s power. These affective affirmations of the body may be said to be “enfolded by, wrapped by” adequate ideas which involve them involvere, but are they “reduced to” those ideas, for their effects remain modally distinct, as expressions?


I am thinking of a description of affects I once found in Deleuze’s lectures on Spinoza, one which made me think deeply about the restrictions Della Rocca was placing on mental action; it lead me to my close reading of Della Rocca’s line of thought. Deleuze writes, explaining the fundamental difference between an idea and an affect:

“Thus we start from a quite simple thing: the idea is a mode of thought defined by its representational character. This already gives us a first point of departure for distinguishing idea and affect (affectus) because we call affect any mode of thought which doesn’t represent anything. So what does that mean? Take at random what anybody would call affect or feeling, a hope for example, a pain, a love, this is not representational. There is an idea of the loved thing, to be sure, there is an idea of something hoped for, but hope as such or love as such represents nothing, strictly nothing. Every mode of thought insofar as it is non-representational will be termed affect”

(Cours Vincennes – 24/01/197eight)

Deleuze, whatever one makes of him, reads affects as essentially non-representational modes of thought; this seems to answer at first blush Della Rocca’s position “…this argument rule[s] out other modes of thought not ultimately ideas or representational states” (Nous, 220). This depends on what he means by “ultimately”. It would also depend on what one means by “representational content”. For, in his essay he seems to often take as identical in meaning, idea and representation. Yet as Spinoza distinguishes between idea and image (2p49s), and Della Rocca understands image to be the means by which the mind represents an “external state of affairs” (Nous, 210; via 2p17); just how “representational” are the affirmations of adequate ideas, for they are not representing external states of affairs (alone), but rather are explaining them. It seems rather, what is taken as “representational” in the usual sense, for instance the idea of a frog, that frog there, insofar as it makes me think of this or that, feel this or that, is merely for Spinoza an image, and not an idea proper.

I think this disjunction in what representation means can be seen in the way that the different kinds of affirmations are approached by Spinoza. Those of triangles and the such, by the intellect, involve no reference at all to states of the body itself, even though, all ideas in the Mind are supposed to take as their object the Body as it actually exists, an object in fact constituted (constituentis) by that state of the body (2p13). When discussing our ideas of triangles (and what they are supposed to represent, if we take such ideas to be fundamentally representational), there is no mention at all of the actual object of those ideas, the human body. Spinoza does not, in fact cannot say with any sense, “the idea that the two angles of a triangle add up to two right angles is affirmed because the body is in actual state x, which forms the actual object of this idea of the mind”.

The conflation of image representations and idea representations seems to undermine the thought that there can be no “interaction between…ideas and any non-ideas” (Nous, 223). While I certainly agree that there is no room for a Cartesian free will as an explanatory cause of belief in ideas, what does not seem supported by Spinoza in that he takes representations (inadequate ideas) to be unconscious affirmations of the body which give “rise to” shifts in perfection, transitions which are not representational in character. In the end, Spinoza actually seems to invert Descartes, and makes what we commonly take as “will,” the products of consciousness and choice, a non-representational, ontological effect, caused by largely representational states (inadequate ideas, images of external states), and these inadequate representational states in turn to be further caused by Intellectual affirmations and negations, which in the mind of God are less “representations” in the common sense term, as immanent expressions of modal states of the world, as ideas.

Key becomes the question, are the risings and fallings of degrees of power of the body to exist (and act), those transitions to and from perfection, to be considered “modes of thought” or of some alternate category, neither extension nor thought. There seems no room in Spinoza’s ontology for this third category.

I wonder if I have misunderstood a vital component of Della Rocca’s argument. I can certainly see how it makes clear the very nature of Spinoza’s radical refutation of Descartes, but I feel that some of his uses of “representation” go too far to adequately capture what Spinoza means by affect.


Michael Della Rocca is in my mind the clearest expositor of Spinoza living, and teaching at Yale. Highly recommended, his Represenation and the Mind-Body Problem in Spinoza.

Closely related posts: Spinoza’s Two Concepts of Order ; Spinoza: The Body of Ideas as Lens ; Wasps, Orchids, Beetles, Crickets

Panthea’s Jewel

Xenophon, Cyropaedia 6.4.2

 “And Abradatas’s chariot with its four poles and eight horses was adorned most handsomely; and when he came to put on his linen corselet, such as they used in his country, Panthea brought him one of gold, also a helmet, arm-pieces, broad bracelets for his wrists–all of gold–and a purple tunic that hung down in folds to his feet, and a helmet-plume of hyacinth dye. All these she had had made without her husband’s knowledge, taking the measure for them from his armour. [3]  And when he saw them he was astonished and turning to Panthea, he asked: “Tell me, wife, you did not break your own jewels to pieces, did you, to have this armour made for me?”


    “No, by Zeus,” answered Panthea, “at any rate, not my most precious jewel; for you, if you appear to others as you seem to me, shall be my noblest jewel.”


    With these words, she began to put the armour on him, and though she tried to conceal them, the tears stole down her cheeks.”




 A sister post, to the one below. Both problematic, and enhancing. We break to decorate what cannot be broken.


Spinoza’s Human Core: Proposition 27, Ethics Third Book

Spinoza wrote, founding his theory of social effects upon a rationality of imagination. It is an underestimated, yet profound, significant observation (brought to the fore in analysis by, among others, Balibar in his excellent Spinoza and Politics). This is called the affectuum imitatio, the “imitation of affects.” When combined with Davidson’s theory of triangulation, it produces a plane of communication which is hard to deny. From it flows a muliplicity of the ethical, both rational and imagined. Something to be thought about; in brief:

E3, Proposition 27: If we imagine a thing like us, toward which we have had no affect, to be affected with some affect, we are thereby affected with a like affect.



Closely related Post: Wasps, Orchids, Beetles and Crickets

The Objective truth of Rorty

Richard Rorty, more than any other philosopher, perhaps due to his apostasy from strict Analytic Philosophy, has become the symbol of a seen-to-be corrosive Relativism, one that distains any notion of truth or objectivity, besides the pragmatic regulative of “sentences which work”.

This manifested itself in a more than decade long debate between himself and Donald Davidson, a philosopher whom he held in great esteem, and whom he worked to help popularize in his best selling books and essays. Rorty wanted to tell Davidson that he was merely a pragmatist, who had failed to drop the last vestige of metaphysical thought, the notion of “truth” in need of a theory. And Davidson wanted to tell Rorty that the skeptic needed to be answered, that a theory of “truth” was the very thing that (neo) pragmatism was missing. The two intelligent readers talked “passed” each other in a spirited way, with Rorty trying to appropriate Davidson’s position, without Davidson’s permission.

Finally this stalemate broke with Bjorn Ramberg’s essay: “Post-Ontological Philosophy: Rorty vs. Davidson”. In it he told Rorty that he had been misreading Davidson’s concept of truth all along, and that if Rorty indeed was devoted to a notion of a community of values, he must be also devoted to a distinction of truth. To my surprise (when reading the volume, Rorty and His Critics), Rorty agreed.

I can think of no such a reversal in the context of modern contemporary philosophy, where a near-career-long position is abandoned in favor of a better argument, with that argument being presented in a single, turning essay (even if for literary effect). Surely there were many other factors involved, but for an intellectual authority as willful and criticized as Rorty enjoyed himself to be, to admit that he had always misunderstood the philosopher he had read closely, is an event worth commemorating.

Below are some of the worthy quotes from his response to Ramberg’s essay, those which characterize his admission that a theory of truth rests on the recognition that the prescriptive preceeds the descriptive.

Rorty, at times quoting Ramberg, at times referencing Davidson, wrote:

I have turned a blind eye to the fact that the mind-body distinction is intertwined with the person-thing distinction. I have not tried to relate the two distinctions. Davidson by combining a theory of action with a theory of truth and meaning, has. Ramberg helps bring Davidson’s two lines of inquiry together when he says that an account of truth is automatically an account of agency, and conversely. He helps us see that Davidson, like Dewey, is trying to break down the distinction between knowing, theorizing, spectatorial mind and the responsible participant in social practices…

…Ramberg suggests that we see the ability to ascribe rights and responsibilities (along the lines of Brandom’s “social practice” reconstruction of the vocabularies of logic and semantics) as (usually) a prerequisite for the ability to predict and describe. The key to understanding the relation between minds and bodies is not an understanding of the irreducibility of the intentional to the physical but the understanding of the inescapability of the normative…

…As Ramberg says “Describing anything, if Davidson is right, is an ability we have only because it is possible for others to see us as in general conforming to the norms that the predicates of agency embody.” Agency-the ability to offer descriptions rather than just make noise-only appears if a normative vocabulary is already being used: “descriptions emerge as descriptions of any sort at all only against a taken for granted background of purposive-hence normatively describable behavior on the part of the communicators involved…

…‘The basis of knowledge, any form of knowledge, whether of self, others, or shared world, is not a community of minds, in the sense of mutual knowledge of neighboring belief-systems…Rather, it is a community of minds, that is, a plurality of creatures engaged in the project of describing their world and interpreting each other’s descriptions of it. (Ramberg, pp. 361-2)’

I can epitomize what Ramberg has done for my understanding of Davidson by saying that he has helped me understand the point of a sentence of Davidson’s which I had previously found utterly opaque. Ramberg quotes Davidson as saying:

‘We depend on our linguistic interpretations with others to yield agreement on the properties of numbers and the sort of structures in nature that allow us to represent those structures in numbers. We cannot in the same way agree on the structure of sentences or thoughts we use to chart the thoughts and meaning of others, for the attempt to reach such agreement simply sends us back to the very process of interpretation on which all agreement depends.’

I did not understand the second sentence in this passage until I read it in Ramberg’s way. Read in that way, it can be paraphrased as saying, ‘Whereas you can, in the course of triangulation, criticize any given claim about anything you want to talk about, you cannot ask for agreement that others shall take part in the process of triangulation, for the attempt to reach such an agreement would just be more triangulation.’ The inescapability of norms is the inescapability, for both describers and agents, of triangulating.”

“Response to Ramberg,” in Rorty and His Critics, (371-374).

It still amazes me to hear a philosopher say of a sentence that she/he had read and reread countless times, “I did not understand this sentence”.

For myself, I think that there is indeed an analytic wisdom buried in the “the prescriptive precedes the descriptive”, something that upturns the is/ought distinction and chasm. Because prescription precedes description, a normativity of communication pervades any of our notions of “is” and guides our capacity to act, in a sensus communis, in the world.


Producing Producers: Interlocking of Oppression

Interlocking Divisions of Labor and What it Means to Produce: Notes on Patricia Collins’ “Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought”


The aim here is to explore Patricia Collins’ use of the concept of “Interlocking of Oppression” via Marx’ primary definition of the “division of labor” as found in The German Ideology and in so doing, to open up both Collins’ standpoint thinking and Marxist foundations to questions and development. First by considering Collins’ appeal to the binaries of oppression, and then by looking to Marxist intellectual origins of bifurcation itself, it is my focus to show that the importance of examining the notion of a “simultaneity of oppression” (Collins S19) lies in the very diversity of production it exposes in the development of all materialist relations. Only by recognizing these multiplicities of domination and production, can novel or still silenced forms of oppression be uncovered and taken into moral account. Further, it is my hope that the ultimate question of the produced-a wider view of what is produced, and how it is produced-may then establish even greater relevance for Black feminist thinking.

When quoting the ambitions of Black feminist Anna Julia Cooper as paradigmatic, there is a sense in which Collins relies upon the very “construct of dichotomous oppositional difference” (S20) that she is otherwise at pains distance herself from. Principally, there is a subtle contradiction. For Cooper in her vision expresses a hidden and perhaps core binary which may lie beneath all other dichotomies, that of nature vs. culture:

We take our stand on the solidarity of humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice of all special favoritisms, whether of sex, race, country or condition…not till race, color, sex and condition are seen as accidents, and not the substance of life…is woman’s lesson taught and woman’s cause won…not the white woman’s nor the black woman’s, nor the red woman’s, but the cause of every man and every woman who has silently writhed under a mighty wrong (S21).

The appreciation of this division, that of the produced class “humanity,” as distinct from what is not human-obscured here by the ambiguous terms “life” and “unnaturalness”- may seem like a necessary, and indeed vital distinction for moral positioning. For it is within the context of “humanity” that one sees with greatest clarity the oppressive binaries, “black/white, male/female, reason/emotion, fact/opinion, and subject/object” (S20), which African-American women have found themselves diversely subject to and from which Collins’ critical use of “interlocking oppressions” is derived. It should not be lost though that this distinction of the “human” also is an essentializing dichotomy, and as such, may prove foundational to the basic dichotomous ideas that for Collins ground and “crosscut multiple systems of domination” (S20). If so, one’s non-oppressive aim might be not a return to the broadest of these dichotomies, but rather new divisions of even greater communicability. There would be no turning back to a primordial simplicity of dichotomy imagined to be more “natural”, but only the more intricate and whole systems of relation, formed by giving voice, which recognize the oppressive nature of necessary divisions themselves.


It is significant that Marx starts from this same exact point, the emergence of the human from Nature, as a primary binary-what Collins and Cooper take as a direction, Marx makes as a beginning: “Man can be distinguished from animals by consciousness,” he writes, “[humans] begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence” (Marx 150). What I would like to highlight, is that almost immediately Marx draws a distinction that momentarily seems to threaten the standing of women as producers, leaving their biological production of children potentially on the wrong side of the human vs. nature divide. “This mode of production,” he states emphatically, “must not be considered simply as being the reproduction of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite form of activity, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are” (150). But because the biological carrying and birthing of children by women, that reproductive labor, is for Marx human only when it is seen as a “mode of life,” we see exactly the kind of line Marx is intellectually forced to draw in order to make a producer to a “producer” (α).

So Patricia Collins’ exemplar and Marx seem to be on the same page regarding this fundamental distinction that will universalize what is human. Yet in this primary distinction the bifurcating action of dichotomies has already begun, the human has been broken off from the material, and production from its means. By separating the world into the mentally made and the materially found, the superior and inferior halves of binaries upon which oppressions are formed have been initialized.

But let us dig deeper into the nature of such line-drawing, a nature which will be made clearer in the principle of Marx’ ‘division of labor,’ the production of a new means of producing a thing to be used through a specialization of the workforce. The “degree to which the division of labor has been carried,” says Marx, is shown by each “new productive force.” And a “new productive force” is defined as something that is “not merely a quantitative extension of productive forces already known.” Such a new force, that which exceeds that which is already known, “causes a further development of the division of labour” (150). When a plow has been invented, a new kind of metal is smelted, a population is enslaved, a production line is put in place, a town agora established, there is a new form of production, division of labor that increases relatedness-that is, a quantitative increase in the complexity of modes across which effects may pass. What is salient to my point here, is that the developmental degree is dependent upon newness itself, and newness is dependent upon what is already known. To return to our illustrative example, just as in the myth of a distinction that supposedly once made woman’s reproduction into a “baby,” so too new modes of production are framed by the recognition of material possibilities different than those already understood. The way something has been conceived in the past, its history, contributes to the material distinction as to whether there has been a new and productive division of labor. Marx’ materially oriented examination of the human world begins with a mental recognition of historic differences.

Now these divisions of labor are readily taken by Marx to be such things as specializations of a workforce along particular tasks or modes of the produced: the slave, farmer, the serf, the blacksmith, the cog-maker, and then the legislator, the priest, the teacher; but there is nothing in this definition that restricts these productions to solely those of the economic sphere (β). In fact, beyond Marx’ materialist aims (he seeks to foreclose the ideational as less real and subsidiary), because the very newness of divisions is dependent upon current states of knowledge and conception, one could argue that the economic character of the “division of labor” is solely that of the conceived-that Marx sees the division of labor strictly to be brought about at the moment of a division between mental and material labor (159), does not mitigate the productive dependence on thought in the entire process. Thinking and valuation creates difference. All material distinctions are mentally recognized, and all mental distinctions are materially manifested, if by degrees (γ). Indeed, what for Marx would place the reproduction of children on the right side of the nature/culture divide is in the fact that a birth is seen as an expression, as a mode of life (150). The point I put forth, beyond Marx’ intention, is that what is humanly produced in the reproduction of babies-and analogously in all reproductions- is the category of “mothers,” of “daughters,” “sons,” and so many other material instantiations of already-known differences. In this way one is to understand that the things we produce are not limited to instrumental material objects of use and exchange, things to be sold at market, but also to see that we produce ourselves, the material basis for known forces of production, and also that we are the fecund nexus of differences that may found new forces of production, through kinds of recognition, and recombination. There is a technology of selves.

So why is this important to Patricia Collin’s argument for the “interlocking of oppression?” She convincingly sets forth the assertion that African-American woman speak from a unique place in history, that,

The oppression experienced by most Black women is shaped by their subordinate status in an array of either/or dualities. Afro-American women have been assigned the inferior half of several dualities, and this placement has been central to their continued domination (S20).

 The painful truth of this resonates throughout the claim of her position. It provides the far-reaching, crosscutting aspect power of her criticism. There are several trajectories of binary domination which have historically converged upon the African-American woman; as such, their voice becomes a voice that cannot be silenced by the privileging of any single binary as the primary complaint to be addressed. Collins asserts that attempts to “prioritize one form of oppression,” as in traditional Marxism, and “handle the remaining types of oppression as variables” (S20), proves wholly deficient to a group that has historically experienced oppressive binaries with oscillation: one form of oppression at a particular time takes a dominant role, only to recede as another that takes its place. Taking the historical example of the male black rights movement, and citing feminist Sojourner Truth, Collins makes this point. Black men would eventually gain legal rights as men, but this would only lead to new gendered forms of domination for African-American women, obscured by changes on a particular front (S19). Further, there is a complex circuitry with which ruling parties enforce these dualities, for instance the essentialization of the passionate character of black women by whites justified their sexual abuse, but an alternate structuring of their essences as irrational was accomplished by keeping black women from literacy (S20). This shows a network of as-knownreproductions which extend beyond any simple stratification of class, race or gender. By seeing the pervasive and nexus nature of oppression, Collins calls one’s attention to the diversity of what is produced in material instantiations of the new (δ).


Marx compares ideology to a kind of reflected image. Like the camera obscura, which guided the new realisms of Renaissance painters, upside down it actually reflects the material conditions that were thought by Hegel to be its products (154). If Marx made an essentialist mistake, it was not to see the complexity of vectors upon which his original definition of the “division of labor” could and does manifest itself. The newness of productions that depart from the known, are not just the specializations of the marketplace, but also new forms of oppression, new ways of exacting binaries to which peoples can be institutionally “assigned the inferior half” (Collins S20). Because what is “known,” is essential to the “newness” that distinguishes the advance of the division of labor itself-a division which founds the very character of our interrelatedness-one must grasp just what it means to produce. There was a time in history when “blackness” was not known, and then a time that it became a new “quantitative extension” of what was known, a new productive force of the difference. It seems a simple, if not obligatory move to imagine that “blackness” only followed the economic “slave,” but indeed as produced effects of difference, it is very likely that they developed on parallel but independent tracks. If ideology does indeed reflect the material means of production, as Marx imagined, perhaps it is most advantageous to understand that what is ever being produced in divisions of labor is a material form of newness, itself to be exchanged in circuits of power.

What African-American women have experienced is being the bodily producers of “blackness,” of “womanness,” of the “worker” to be segmented into organizations of the known (ε). Only more rarely have they been producers of “humanness.” Their history of words, expressions, mannerisms and culture, what Patricia Collins sees as “different expressions of common themes” (S18), has become the material basis for those inferior half productions. When Ms. Collins argues for self-definition, and self-valuing (S18), and for and an emphasis on African-American Culture (S20), what she is radically arguing for is the organized reclaiming of that which has been produced. But not only this. She is also calling for a new “quantitative extensions of productive forces already known,” a division of labor, though she does not frame her position consistently as such. Her appeal to a universal humanity that does not distinguish via substantive difference already relies upon a culture/nature dichotomy which classifies the human as essentially human against a backdrop of the non-human. This is a fair violation of anti-dichotomous principles for many moralists, for one need only make of all interactions “humanity” the guiding universal, a nice, clear biological, species-specific definition of justice. Yet there is an infinitely grayed, ever-productive boarder of the new that threatens even this class. The line between the humanity of the unborn, and the humanity of the agency of unionized and corporate persons for instance, defies such a clean moral judgment. And this essay suggests that such a move is not strictly possible.

What Patricia Collins’ use of interlocking oppression points to is that binaries proliferate and extend themselves on any number of newly produced trajectories. While ‘the human,’ may seem like a safe place to stop in our favor, what it ignores is that, as an examination of Marx’s definition of ‘the human’ shows, the bifurcation of the known into the newly known is a product of conscious development itself, it is the means of a growing interrelatedness. What interlocking oppression tells us is that the “oppressed” occur along any number of vectors, and very often with several such vectors converging on a particular people, a people whose very invisibility and silence may mark their status. What a radicalized version of Marx’ division of labor tells us is that the freedom of the oppressed does not occur through a return to an primordial “whole,” or an all inclusive depositing of people on the right half of conceptual binaries, but through the political production of new forms of voiced power, the countermanding of the products of one’s own image, the seizing of the knowness of one’s material existence. As Patricia Collins draws upon the lived experiences of the oppressed, the actual wisdom and analysis of Nancy White for instance (S17), her standpoint theory becomes the material reorganization of what was once historically organized in a different way. In so doing, exactly in accord with Marx’ vision, she allows what was once taken as material to speak, and in speaking to bring material change.


(α) The ideological component of this core distinction may not seem immediately evident. But illustrative of the resonant ideological aspect of even this most basic division, nature vs. culture, “reproduced physical existence” vs “distinct mode of life,” when reflected back upon something as simple as childbirth, is two-fold: one, women as the physical bearers of children ever threaten to fall materially on the silent, not-yet-human side of production, the side of the speechless “body”; and two, in that the meaning of biological reproduction is human only to the degree that it is culturally framed; the ideas that frame it are substantial in determining the place such reproduction has in social contexts. Its power and place are circumscribed and directed.

(β) The family and its gendered and age divisions as an Ur-type for Marx (156), indeed blurs the economic foundation of such distinctions, for although certainly one can see the significant economic core of recognitions of wife, son and daughter, the original cognizance of those gender and age differences certainly seems to transcend, or at least foreground even economic distinction. The awareness of difference must precede its function.

(γ) When the first homo sapiens looked up into the night sky and recognized the moon as a distinct object, was this material labor, or mental labor? Marx would claim that nothing “material” was produced, but because material relations between persons would be changed, those material relations-gestures, words, rites, amulets-would instantiate that newly conceived production. The newness of a moon is definitionally no different than the newness of a plow, so conceived, in that each produces a material increase of relatedness. And if a plow is insisted to be indistinctly new until it is actually fashioned, then so might also the a moon be thought so until fashionedwith gestures, words and rites. The ideational and the material in terms of the produced are not separable.

(δ) Marx attempts to foreclose these seemingly ideational productions because he does not wish to acknowledge the full ideational character of his original bifurcation…newness of relations conceptually produced. In seeking to drive his analysis away from ‘the conceived’ he does not fully recognize the material effects of all conceptions. In seeking to reduce all production to objects of industry, his analysis, and the analysis that is derived from his intent, does not appreciate the industry of distinction alone, that ‘objects’ are formed of relations alone, and hence are more plentiful and diverse than he might have allowed. Glances are exchanged as well as crops. His foundational dichotomy human/nature is not in error, simply not fully explored by Marx

(ε) The question of agency is central here, as one comes to grip with conceptions of historical determinism. While “blackness” and “womanness” can be described as historically  produced, the empowering thought behind the critical dialogue between Collins and Marx, is that just as workers in Marx are awakened so to take hold of the means of their production, so too are subjected groups, and individuals themselves awakened to take hold of the means of their social production. In terms of agency, moving from a passive to an active, self-determining state, as a black woman realizes that she is producing the actual“blackness” and “womanness”, the material instantiations, the thereness of each, upon whose circulation the economy of the social whole relies, she then is called to lay claim to those productions, just as a worker does of cogs.



 Works Cited

Collins, Patricia Hill. (1986) “Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought.” Social Problems. 33: S14-S32.

Marx, Karl. (1978 [1846]) “The German Ideology: Part I” (selections). In The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. Robert C. Tucker, 146-175. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Savant Rule Following, What Shape is a Number?

A Short Film on Daniel Tammet, mathematical Savant.

Philosophical Bloggist Anderson Brown, would like to tell us that the calculations of Autistic Savants are somehow the rule-following equivalent of digestion. We may use rules to describe what is happening, just as we can use rules to describe what is happening in our stomachs, but because these calculations are somehow not “out in public” they are not what he calls “literal” rule-following.

There is some problem with this notion of a rule-following distinction, a favorite of those of the Wittgensteinan bent. Somehow Real rule-following must be categorically distinguished from only seeming rule-following (central I believe to Wittgenstein’s Private Language argument). First, is the idea of intentionality, which regards choice. Anderson would like to make the intentionality of persons the vector of their status as literal rule-followers. But there is a problem with this, since Wittgenstein himself, at least to some degree, actually takes choice (intentionality) out of what “rule following” is:

 “How am I able to obey a rule?” If this is in not a question about causes, then it is about the justification of for my following a rule in the way I do.  If I have exhausted the justifications, I have reached bedrock, and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: “This is simply what I do” (PI §217).

When I obey a rule, I do not choose. I obey the rule blindly (PI §219). 
So to separate out “real” rule following under an index of choice alone, is difficult. Indeed, we are all following rules to some degree involuntarily. Just because “our spade is turned” does not mean that we, or Daniel Tammet has fallen into the world of strictly “causes” (as opposed to “reasons”, an important Wittgensteinian distinction).
Secondly, I have difficulty with Anderson’s idea that:
“Actual rule-following is done by persons, out in the world. Thus the savant is “rule-following” (computing with his brain), but he is not rule-following (thinking with his “mind’).”
Somehow savants seem to be denied, in such a conclusion, the status of being “real persons”, doing things “out in the world” here, that they are not “thinking”. I don’t know what, for instance, such doing out in the world would consist of. I would say that f I am doing calculations in my head, I indeed am rule-following, even though I am not “out in the world”, whether a Wittgensteinian would allow me that official distinction. A Wittgensteinian may like to tell me that whatever is going on in my head when I add 124 and 28 together may appear to be “rule-following”, but isn’t really rule-following until it is checked by others. For, afterall, I may be halucinating the answer to be correct (leaving aside the logical potential that those checking my answer might be halucinating the answer they think is correct).
I can certainly see the intersubjective aspect of creating a ballast for what is correct or incorrect, but rule-following cannot be broken up merely into the shadowy realm of internal, black-box, pseudo rule-following (in the “characteristic accompaniments” theatre of the mind), and “actual” rule-following which ONLY occurs “in public”. This is too sharp a categorical distinction, I would say, and misses some important aspects of how rule-following works. 
The ballast lies in two places, in a differential. Daniel Tammet the mathematical savant indeed is, I would say, rule-following when he tells you what shape the number 1012 is (this is not the equivalent of digestion). When he tells us that he knows what the answer is because the answer is a certain shape, this is not absolutely different than saying that I know where the town is, because the sign has just pointed me to it. Wittgenstein makes the very good point that these ARE different. What pops into my mind, functions more like a cause, than a reason. But there is a depositional orientation to causes that makes up our experience of intentionality. Tammet does not involuntarily blurt out the answer when a certain shape pops into his head. He evaluates it. He can in fact sculpt it in clay. He looks to it. In this way Wittgensteinian causes can be act like reasons (and reasons can be like causes: see Donald Davidson). This aspectual nature of orientation to own’s own metal events, the way that we can take an orientation to them, epistemically, is the counter-ballast to the public knowing which makes our knowledge intersubjective. One can justify, in part, to one’s self, without such justification being simply “buying several copies of the morning newspaper”.  Because it is not done “out in the world” does not make Tammet’s calculation the rule-following equivalent of “digestion”, as much as Wittgensteinians may like to by-definition, make them so.

Towers and Bridges, From Ada to Tolkien


Nabokov’s Ada

Children of her type conceive of the purest philosophies. Ada had worked out her own little system. Hardly a week had elapsed since Van’s arrival when he was found worthy of being initiated in her web of wisdom. And individual’s life consisted of certain classified things: “real things” which were unfrequent and priceless, simply “things” which formed the routine stuff of life; and “ghost things,” also called “fogs,” such as fever, toothache, dreadful disappointments, and death. Three or more things occurring at the same time formed a “tower,” or, if they came in immediate succession, they made a “bridge”.

(74, Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, VIE 1990)

Ada’s concept of Towers and Bridges has such strong explanatory value in the synchronic and diachronic, condensations of vertical, stacked, and therefore eternal significations, and transitive happenings, things that lead from one state to another. Beyond Ada’s immediate meaning in the text, the two are striking tropes.

The image of a tower recurs in Tolkien’s criticism of the Critics, and their abuse of the “tower” of Beowulf:

 A man inherited a field in which was an accumulation of old stone, part of an older hall. Of the old stone some had already been used in the building of the house in which he actually lived, not far from the old house of his fathers. Of the rest he took some and built a tower. But his friends coming perceived at once (without troubling to climb the steps) that these stones had formerly to a more ancient building. So they pushed the tower over, with no little labor, in order to look for hidden carvings and inscriptions, or to discover whence the man’s distance forefathers had obtained their building material. Some suspecting a deposit of coal under the soil began to dig for it, and forgot even the stones. They all said, “This tower is most interesting!” But they also said, (after pushing it over): “What a muddle it is in!” And even the man’s own descendants, who might have been expected to consider what he had been about, were heard to murmur: “He is such an odd fellow! Imagine him using these old stones to just build a nonsense tower! Why did he not restore the old house? He had no sense of proportion.” But from the top of that tower the man had been able to look out upon the sea.

 “Beowulf: The Monsters and Critics”

The full force of his analogy comes forth when one considers that Beowulf ends with the building of the pyre for the hero, and its service as a signifying tower over the sea.

What is compelling here, is the realization that synchronic towers, whether they be made of the unique, “real” things in life, as they are for Nabokov’s Ada, or be they artistic re-stackings of ruins, seeing the Horizon through the material of the Past, are condensed verticals which serve as Bridges. Narrative scales.

There is more to say here. But it is a beginning.


Wittgenstein, The Structuring of the Ego, and Autopoiesis

[the below was written to an anonymous professor of Wittgenstein, who recommended the reading of A. H. Almaas, a self-styled spiritual teacher, on the nature of the Ego and its relationship to Autopoietic theory (which I hold interest in). What develops is a brief address of Almaas’ appropriation of Autpoiesis to examine the nature of the Ego, when contrasted with the soul, and a critique of Wittgenstein, in view of these same egoic expectations (this professor took a particularly sprirtualized approach to Wittgensteinian “truths”). Where I use the word “soul,” read “the full affective capacities of a person”.] 


Almaas says of the Ego,

We see that the egoic life basically does not respect the autopoietic nature of the soul; it tends to make the open, living system that is the soul in a closed and isolated one, more like a machine. The difference between the egoic and the essential life is not absolute, for the soul cannot become completely a machine. She is inherently an open and dynamic system, and hence rigid ego structuring only limits this openness and constrains her dynamism; it cannot completely eliminate them (559)

This is a little off from the biological Autopoietic theory, but it is very useful. Autopoiesis is not only “open” but it is also “closed”. The theory speaks of autopoietic systems as being “organizationally closed”, but “structurally open”. As long as the changes do not (radically) change the organization of the system it remains autopoietic and in that way “closed”. What Almaas is describing is the structural closure of the system, in a way, that which could starve it. The calcifications of the ego would close off it’s dynamic of exchange. It would begin to suffer entropy at a rapid rate.

Now the structural openness of autopoietic systems, it seems to me, occurs in three ways.

1). It is able to take in energy/forms from the outside, for instance the way that food is able to permeate the cell membrane of amoeba. The organizational closure is preserved, but the structure is open.

2). A system can be called “open” from the perspective of an observer, who sees that the recursivity of the system is “linked” or “coupled” to regularities of another system. In this way, one cell and another cell can fall into a co-dependent pattern. They can form a composite whole even. Matuana and Varela call this “structural coupling”.

3). Here, a system can be open to the structural replacement of one of its parts. The example they use is that in “toilet system”, a wooden float in the tank can be replaced by a plastic one, and the system would remain organizationally closed, that is the same.

So when one imagines that the egoic identity, a major component of intersubjective, conceptual discourse, is a tendency to becomes structurally closed, this means that, a). it might cut itself off from energy input, and starve itself (such as a hurricane would die out if it could not include new material), that, b). that it would loose the ability to structurally couple with other living systems, and become isolated, and, c). it would loose the ability to change out structural components that would alter its capacity to grow (because structural differences in components that fulfill the same function, let us say the shift from a wooden to plastic floatation device in a toilet, are central to the capacity of the organization itself to grow, adapt in history). The calcifications of the ego, cut of an organization from its possibilities and its growth.

So one has to ask, when considering the normative language of Wittgenstein’s descriptions (sense vs. nonsense), how much of this conceptual normativity is part of the ego-complex that makes up social discourse, that is intersubjectivity. Now certainly being able to correspond to grammatical forms of “the way we speak” is a necessary part of the structural coupling between individuals, just as egoic structures aid in such coupling. The way we speak is a part of our composite relations, and only in the extreme of egoic structures, let us say those that through a paranoid fear of the loss of organizational integrity, does truly structural closure set in. (That is to the degree that structural coupling cannot be performed). Examples of psychosis, psychotic language, (perhaps, though interestingly, autism), are of this variety. So we can see how egoic structures might aid structural openness.

One can also make the same judgment about the first aspect of openness, as paranoia and fears might create a recurisivity that does not allow the openness that allows the entrance of other energies, creating a rigidity that starves itself by atrophy and entropy. (Such radical loops of course might also perform leaps to other kinds of openness, jumping the local system: the played out (in)efficacy of Schreber’s “nerve-language” with God.)

But when considering the third kind of structural openness, the replacement of parts, this is where Wittgenstein’s normative language becomes problematic, and a bit too conceptual (egoic). When approaching “the way of doing things” in language, called “grammatical”, one is approaching a structure that contains in its interpretation a logic of sense, imposing a kind of direction upon actions: this is sense, that is nonsense. But because this grammatical form is simply a series of paths already taken by others, entrenched into constraints, it is part of the ego-form of societal intersubjectivity. That one cannot regularly say “she is in pain, but is showing it”, only reflects the series of uses that has compiled that form, and these are historically contingent. But one, as a soul, is certainly capable of using that phrase, in a new way, in a way that recontextualizes it to sense and use.

The soul, in use, is not bound by grammar, as though grammar is an ahistorical arbiter of use. Instead, the soul, uses grammar (in Wittgenstein’s sense of it), or does not. It can invent connections, by context, that transcend the accretions of grammar. That one cannot say “God spoke to me and you over heard it”, grammatically, does not mean that such a sentence cannot be used, and be used powerfully to communicate a truth. What the violation of grammatical forms is, such as those made in metaphysical investigations, is the structural openness of the third kind, the possible replacement of part(s) by another part(s), such that a function is maintained, but a new capacity is enacted. This is exactly what poets do, (and what metaphors do…and there are no strict rules for how to make a metaphor). Wittgenstein said that nothing new is discovered in philosophy, and imagined that he was putting those philosophers who thought they were “discovering something” in their place. Well, I would ask, is anything new ever “discovered” in poetry? Yes. All the time.

The confusion of sense that Wittgenstein marks out, when he tries to let us know that there is no “object” (mental or physical) which corresponds to “understanding”, does not mean that the pursuit of such an object does not have “use”. Indeed it has, for it lead to all kinds of science, seeking out the “process” of understanding, a process referent that Wittgenstein suggests is something of a conceptual error. Rather, such non-grammatical object searching is exactly that which is the openness of the autopoiesis of the soul, in common intersubjective historical circumstances. Not only do the sciences benefit from the conceptual mistake, as they search for process referents, but also does man’s self-conception benefit, as she/he projects her/his center, her/his soul, in relations of increasing complexity to the world.

The soul, as part of the matrix of relations, many of them confined by grammatical groupings of “the way we do things”, insofar as it violates those constraints, allows for the swapping out of parts, the parts of which compose its structure, opening it to growth. It is exactly the clarity of Wittgenstein’s conceptual parsing of the grammatical that is the most egoic, since it takes “sense” to be a product of “what has been” (grammar), and not a product of the creative actions of use alone. The “rough ground” is generally the ground the ego knows. Language “not on holiday” can be seen as the language-work of the ego. These are the things which confirm the structures that the ego, as an intersubjective isolation, has built.