Frames /sing


Harman Brings Central Clarity to the Issue (wink, nod)


Looking Beneath Being

When reading Graham’s latest thoughts on the nature of my objection to his Husserlian/Heideggerian universe I got the warm feeling that we are getting closer to the crux (a Four Fold extraordinare) of our incommunication. And I am very glad that he quoted my email to him, as it really did a better job of honing my much broader conceptualization. The best part of his post is where he again characterizes my own position, for here is where I think we can find valuable differences (what he thinks I am saying, and what I think I am saying), which might open up what is possible between our thoughts:

But on to one other issue… Kevin’s main point, if I understood him correctly, is that the concept of objects per se is implicated in presuppositions of a lucid human clarity. He sketched an alternative model, which seemed to hold that qualities or accidents were the real stuff of the world and objects were merely posited in that stuff by a human. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but that’s what I made of his model. Assuming that that really is his model, I oppose it for two reasons…

 It has caused some problems in the past when I too exactly take apart a claim, people can get a sense that I am being uncharitable, but I know no other way as to get right to what is being said, by literalizing it. The first correction I would make is that the concept of objects is found in the presumptions of a “lucid human clarity”. This deviates from a very particular analytic wedge that I would like to drive into both the Continental and the Analytic schools. It is not simply “human clarity”, but it is specifically “central clarity” that I read as an inheritance of Descartes. As I have pointed out elsewhere, Spinoza, perhaps the ultimate philosopher of clarity, and a grinder of lenses, maker of optical instruments and theorizer of dioptrics, built his entire philosophy on the notion of clarity. But as he argued in his treatment of lenses and vision, it is not from a “central clarity” that truth comes, but through a composite clarity. For Spinoza human beings are clear to the degree that they participate in and express clarity (if we can say it that way). We are lucid to the degree that we think from a greater lucidity (hence his PSR rationality). The objects that I critique in Descartes, and then Husserl and lastly in their negation in Heidegger, are products of, presuppositions of “central clarity” (and this central clarity is upturned if we pay attention to either the phenomenological quality of perception and thought, attending to exactly what is at the center, or to the way that clarity stretches out conceptually beyond any border).

But more important than this correction is his summation:

He sketched an alternative model, which seemed to hold that qualities or accidents were the real stuff of the world and objects were merely posited in that stuff by a human.

I can’t really see where I called anything the “real stuff of the world”. I know of a fair number of positions which might say this, some of them very interesting, but I did not put them forth. (I must also clarify that talking of “qualities” or “accidents” in dichotomy to “objects” is already granting a distinction I don’t find helpful, since the very notion of “object” is one that is under critique from my side). I have two responses in mind to this. The first is that I am pretty comfortable with a Spinozist vision in which the “real stuff” is seen as first of all Substance (which is the totality of nature in all its manifestions), and that all of modal expressions of the “real stuff” are themselves real TO THE DEGREE (forgive the caps), that they are active. Being is best seen as Being in terms of Degree (an idea derived from Plotinus). So to speak of the “accidents” or “qualities” being the “real stuff” is a very odd thing to say in my model. But the second point, which is where I think that Graham got this characterization, is that it is what he wants to call “accidents/qualities” which are the important stuff, that is, what consciousness attends to are the eruptive aspects which then direct the mind to various states of the world or itself (also part of the world). The reason why we care about an object (in the loose sense of the word) is the way that it interacts with the rest of things (among which we are included), and this interaction is found in its “accidents/qualities”. But in no way do I want to ontologize these features as more or less real. The mind attends to them, but their ultimate reality is constitutive of complexes. As to the reality of objects, indeed there are objects. But they are not hidden (what is behind an object is not another hidden, shadow object which refuses to disclose itself to our central clarity), they are there, manifesting. Objects are what is related to “objectivity”, and objectivity requires a sharing of criteria and is largely based on ostensive defintion.

That is a “object” because we can we can both point to it, and if we cannot point to it already starts to lose its literal objecthood (it becomes more and more a metaphorical object). When we set up criteria which we agree on, we can point to, or refer to, the criteria when discussing a non-present object (but we can set up criteria for all sorts of things /conditions which are not best thought of as objects). When criteria breakdown, so too does objecthood. But there is another sense of object, and that is that we necessarily assume that states in the world cause us (and others) to experience things. This is an anchor point for object as well. That very epistemologial grounds by which we read the world and others is that mutally the world that we share has causal effects upon not only us, and our friends and enemies, but also causal effects on other parts of the world. So “object” has a double sense to it, typified by criteria reference and causal effect. That thing there is a table, not only because we can reference shared criteria which make it a table, but also because it is taken to have a causal effect on criteria users (giving them experiences, causing their beliefs), and also upon all other living things and otherwise considered inanimate states of the world (colloquially). To ask if it is the objects that are being referred to or their qualities is to divide something that has no need to be divided. Its like asking if mathematical objects are real and trying to separate out the state of the world from its description or effects, I don’t think a fruitful enterprise (its outcome influences little). To talk of internal objects is to risk playing too close to “central clarity” metaphors which assume that the world is made up of nouns alone, and that noun perception is what makes up what consciousness is (centrally so). One should also point out that the conceptual causal relationship to objects is not only a human capacity, that is a great majority of animal life regularly organize themselves through an understanding that states of the world cause experiences in themselves and others, and that orienting themselves in the world depends on this coherence. To speak of the “mere positing” of humans would have to include the “mere positing” of sentient life. Again, the very notion of “object” starts to break down and one gets the sense that we are starting to use the wrong word, perhaps even generally.

It must be admitted that there is a sense in which Graham’s characterization of the “concept” object as human is right, that is, as linguistic beings, following Davidson’s Conceptual dualism, there are two main conceptual ways of describing the world, the physical and the mental. These coincide with Spinoza’s two Attributres of Extension and Idea (and might have parallel in Latour’s material and semiotic, I have not looked deeply into it). As I have begun to suggest elsewhere there is a sense in which there may even be a third, found in the way that Spinoza treats the conatus and joy, and the way that Davidson ends up with a “prescription proceeds description” ethics which undercuts Hume’s Fork. But I cannot see that this ends up with the conclusion that objects are only conceptual posits of humans, but rather with the sense that the distinction of the physical and the mental (and the moral) which runs through language is perhaps better understood ontologically, as modes of expression in the Spinozist sense, and as such only understood by humans by degree.

When it comes to the reasons why he objects to critique then, I think each of them fall to a misunderstanding of my point and position (perhaps understandable, because I have not presented everything at once). His first objection is an objection to Hume, whose position I do not hold at all. I sense though that he is heading towards the horns of a bull that cannot be avoided unless one embraces his objects beneath objects. His second objection is more interesting to me, for it does touch on the nature of my position:

2. On the level of withdrawn reality itself, if you deny objects, then you’re probably headed toward either the doctrine of the monolithic world-lump, or a subtler variant that argues for a field of pre-individual intensities arranged in a continuum (Manuel DeLanda defends such a model fairly well). My claim is that neither of these work. Both of them will tend to fuse the world into a ball of molten slag without parts, and once that’s done, individuals can never be accounted for. They are buried in the rubble.

From my Spinozist position this is essentially Hegel’s critique of Spinoza, calling his view an acosmism. The entire universe does not even really exist, but is only collapsed into an undifferentiated Substance (or indeterminately in the DeLanda version, a “molten slag”. We know that Hegel applied this critique of Spinoza because he was driven by the need to have human consciousness (and Germany) at the center of an ontological development. Spinoza gave no special place for the human being, the human being was like a stone that thinks it is free, flying through the air. And one wonders has Graham reaches towards a de-centralization of the human why he has an instinctive appeal to Hegel’s objection (reliant upon the the newly acclaimed reality of the negation, the one thing that Spinoza missed).

But what Hegel missed, because he was thinking in terms over verticals, was the horizontal dimension of causation (term drawn from Gatens and Lloyd), that is, the modes as they transitively cause each other are God as it “exists and acts”. That is, the reality of comisism, is God seen under horizontal causation, and a product of its vertical causation. When Graham sees only the “lump” world of DeLanda (objected to though fairly well defended, in Graham’s point of view), perhaps we can join him in some of this criticism. Much as Hegel missed the reality of horizontal causation, perhaps DeLanda misses (or minimizes) the reality of the vertical causation. This is the missing “depth” that I believe Graham wants to bring to Latour. But while Graham would like to instantiate it at the level of a ubiquitous object that forever hides (under an opticality metaphor), each objecting being an eddying pool of objecthood, in my view this partakes too much in the Central Clarity conception of conciousness, or in another vein, too much in the reality of the Negation which Hegel supplied in the service of centralizing human beings. How Heidegger loves his non-Being. Instead the solution is, I suggest, that the depth that Graham calls for is supplied not in pockets, but in Substance, the reality of  which is discerned in degrees of Being which reveal the power of explanation and communication. Stopping at objects is does not seem defensible.

Lastly, I want to return to the very useful reduction that Graham supplies of his own point about the kinds of objects he believes in,

My own concept of objects is of a fourfold tension that erupts into view most clearly when you look at the two domains of intentional objects (Husserl) and real objects (Heidegger, in my reading at least). Each of those kinds of objects turns out to be involved in an analogous thing between its unified reality and the plurality of its traits. My thesis is that all of what we know as the universe is generated by the fourfold tension between these two kinds of objects- artworks, emotions, causal relations, time and space, essence and eidos, etc.

Firstly, his complaint that it is the difference in object between Husserl and Heidegger which makes him immune to my criticism of Central Clarity Consciousness seems to have no play here, for distinctly he builds his view using Husserlian intentional objects wholesale. IF my objection to Husserlian objects indeed has deep traction (a point that need have nothing to do with Heidegger which is another question), then the fundamentally inclusion of these objects in his model would be highly flawed. That is, if Husserl’s objects are conceptualized through the retention of a mistaken view of consciousness come from Descartes’ treatment of hyperbolic lenses and doubt, their employ for me us under acute questioning.

But following this, Graham sets up a kind of analogy for perception, that is real Heideggerian objects (as he find them) are doing something analogous to what intensional Husserlian objects are doing (both exhibiting a tension), and one presumes that perception is constituted by a seconary analogous process, or even deeper symmetry, a reflection, of these two objects upon each other. Well, we all love symmetry (or at least I do). It compells our thought. But the primary reduction of consciousness to a kind of object-staring (as it seems to be) is highly problematic. As mentioned, Graham imports the Cartesian metaphor of central clarity, upending one half of the analogy process. (And I still call Heidegger into question on the same issue, seeing a negation of object which perhaps also is the very thing that helps Graham make this analogy between inside and outside objects in the first place.)

I like very much Graham’s extension of his categories to the realm of the arts and the emotions but it is precisely here, where Graham expects to find primordial objects, buried beneath objects that I think that the very problem of presumed central clarity of consciousness becomes unhinged. Can the world of the arts and emotions be a world only of nouns, of names? What of verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, gasps, sighs, pauses?


2 responses to “Harman Brings Central Clarity to the Issue (wink, nod)

  1. Pingback: Downunder: Central Clarity Consciousness (CCC) « Frames /sing

  2. Pingback: The Harmanic Impassibilty of Monism…Spinoza Sails Through « Frames /sing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: