Frames /sing


How the PSR lifts OOP out of Occasionalism

Experimental Communication

Larval Subjects, in a charitable gesture proposed an experiment of argumentation, that instead of me simply eluding to a certain thinker from the middle of the 17th century, or specific aspects of that thinker’s thought which I imagine to a great degree would help Graham Harman in his project, I should present specific arguments which would somehow prove my point that now-called Object-Oriented Philosophy is in need of the kinds of thinking being done by this remote thinker, S******.

Larval Subjects writes, quoting me:

Also I would humbly suggest this little experiment. You write:

I would respond to your counter-claims against panpsychism, or your guarding of Graham’s conatusagainst my suggestion to him that Spinoza’s ontology at the very least bears strong resemblance to what he is saying, in particular in resolution to his biggest and admitted problems with his own position…

Try making your case without mentioning the name of Spinoza or the terms Spinoza uses at all. Instead of saying “Spinoza solves your problem” (which implicitly says to the person you’re addressing “therefore you have no work to do”), instead simply state your claims and how you think they have a particular solution to problems you discern in the other person’s position.

Aside from the curious nature of this request by someone other than Graham Harman that I address Graham Harman himself (Levi is not privy to at least some of the talk Graham and I have done on the question of S******), this seems like a worthy thing to do…in part, becauseLevi offers this as a kind of compromise in style. I should leave off my usual near-polemical engagements with his oft stated principles, and he might consider my criticisms more deeply; but also in part because it has always struck me as rather obvious that nearly every position that Graham Harman has put forth has a natural correspondent in S******’s ontology, and that at the very least a thorough dialogue between the two positions (Graham’s new and inventive transformation of Heidegger via Latourand Spinoza’s Classical treatment of Substance), would at least be productive, if for no other reason that we could come clear of exactly where Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy departs from any S******-informed aid, despite the homologies. If I have been vague in my reference to S****** in the past with either Levi or Graham, it has been that I, perhaps wrongly, presumed that the positions I referenced were rather well known, and their beneficent, supporting effect upon the topics considered somewhat obvious. Because I seldom received substantive, argument-centered rejection of my suggestions of homology, I could not tell just at what level my suggestions were dismissed. I will seek to make these connections more clear.

What this has to do withLevi’s own version of Object-Oriented Philosophy, I really have no real idea, since it really is unclear how much he maintains just such a philosophy. It is hard to keep track of his pursuit of affinities with Graham’s OOP, seemingly, as Graham recently commented, to have fallen back onto his own Bergson/Deleuzian tendencies, and possibly, fatally in term of OOP, leaving behind Graham’s corner-stone thought of the retreating essence of objects. In short, aside from a list of Principles, Fallacies and defintions, some of which bear Latourian influence, I am not sure at all just what kind of OOP metaphysics Levi is putting forth. I have been left with only trying to coherently relate the Principles and Fallacies and definitions to each other.

Graham’s Aporia of Objection

In my discussions with Graham over why he resists any informing help from the philosophy of S******, I have received two fundamental objections, only one of which I can systematically approach here. Firstly, and perhaps most insurmountingly, Graham has when pressed simply admitted that his distainfor S****** comes from this thinker’s “fashionable” popularity, with the obvious implication that this popularity is not intellectually justifiable. I can’t tell if he is thinking of the pseudo-S****** exposed by later Deleuze (and Guattari), the BwO kind, or he is simply referring a general Cultural presence. Unfortunately he cites of all people Zizek, the most fashionable of thinkers, who has written a book against the S******-inspired Deleuze, as a confirmation that S****** is merely “in”. It seems that Graham tires of even hearing S******’s name, in the way that many tired of hearing Heidegger’s name. When objection raised is not very much more than, “I just don’t like that style of pants,” there is not much more that one can do (other than just wear that style yourself, try to show how they look pretty good, and ask a person to at least try them on and see how the feel). This may be insurmountable, like so much of fashion.

The other objection that Graham has put forth is that he objects to S******’s determinism and Stoicism, and this can be substantial. By Stoicism I presume that he means his treatment of the affects, the offering of a paththat suggests that we become more active and less re-active the more that we understand how the world is, and how we are. This is an elaborate issue, and I have also creatively struggled with this aspect of S******’s prescription, so at the very least I have some sympathy for how Graham feels. I am a novelist and poet. The last thing I want to be told is that my very path forward which is so rich and significant is somehow fundamentally in error. But I will not address this aspect here as it does not bear upon the specific difficulties Graham has encountered in his own philosophy, a weakness of description which has a particular S****** salve. It is to the question of determinism I turn, the lone remaining substantive objection that seems to have bearing upon Graham’s resistance to help from the 17th century outcast Jew.

Graham’s Problem with his Own Philosophy [the experiment in body]

Workout out a theory of vicarious causation lately, seeking to overcome the difficulties of Latour’s cut-off occasionalism, Graham Harman has been trying to patch up one of the most attractive (for him), but more problematic aspects of his Latourianphilosophy. If nothing “touches” nothing else, and each object/instant is a new one, what is the account for coherent change. His description of Latour’s occasionalism gives context for this problem:

But since these relations shift from moment to moment, the black boxes do not endure for more than an instant, unless we consider them as “trajectories” crossing time across a series of minute transformations. They must also be constantly maintained. This makes Latouran ally of the doctrine of continuous creation, also associated with many of the occasionalists. There is no connection between instants, since each is an absolutely unique event, with nothing enduring automatically from one moment to the next. But occasionalism has an even more powerful implication that we have already mentioned: the inability of any two actors to touch one another directly.

From a draft of the forth-coming Prince of Networks [, this Spring]

Whereas 17th century and earlier Arab theorizers of occasionalism had “God” to be the guarantor of the order of change, Latour presents approvingly a kind of Secular Occasionalism, albeit with the rather large problem of explaining just what does the job that “God” used to do for in prior historical versions. The failure is genetic to his philosophical descendants. It seems, as far as I can tell, Graham has been working very hard on trying to bandaid this rather large hole in the thinking. He is rather drawn to the isolating power of Latour’s occasionalism (perhaps even poetically so), but plagued by the very secularism and localism that also appeal to him. (And he does not want all these occasions to merely be percolating up from some kind of field, a laval mix of intensities in DeLanda or Deleuzian fashion, this would not do justice to the nobility of the object.) To my ear the rather obvious answer is a notion of Substance, not the substance of individuals in the strict Aristotlean sense, and idea which Graham repeatedly orients himself both towards and against, but Secularized Substance in a monism of one world, which expresses itself determinatively (this provides the connective tissue between occasions, this is the “God” of past theories, extended out so abstractly to no longer be “God” per se).

Now this is where Graham will buck. He does not want to see the world as determined. He wants it to be “weird”. The guys of science get to play with all kinds of weird stuff, why not philosophers? They get extra-dimensions, things that pop into and out of existence, crazy and beautiful fractal diagrams, and philosopher get propositions, and “concepts”, like perpetual children they get to play with blocks of ones, twos and threes stacking them in endless but rather dull variety. Who wants a determined world?

But I want to investigate what “determination” means, or what presupposing a “determined world” means. There are quite a few different tacks to take on this, but I want to force forward one. A determined world is merely the presumption which allows for the power of an explanation. That is to say, ifthere is going to a real change in one’s  power, an increase in one’s  capacities to act in the world when one understands the explanation of something, this is because  the world itself is determined. Leave off the great fantasies (or nightmares) of a clock-work universe, clicking like gears, or the unappealing idea that what flavor of icecream  you are going to choose tomorrow at the ice cream shop is already in some sense known. This is not the point of understanding the world to be determined. The point is that when someone explains to you how something works, and you understand this explanation, you and your relationship to the world fundamentally changes. This is the power of explanation.

It may be something as simple as “you have to depress the clutch when starting your car” or more satisfying, the complex reason why this is so; it may be “if you talk to him in a gentle voice, you get better results” or substantively, a detailed reason why this is so either with this person or people in general; it may be “you can only add those two variables under these conditions, because these kinds of equations only work in this way” or, “your disc drive only can hold x amount of data, unless you perform these operations on that data, because…”. The examples are endless, and the changes in power through the comprehension of causes are vital and real (any metaphysics that cannot explain or marginalizes this constitutive power remains marginal to the world). A determined world is one in which explanations have traction. The explanation does not have to be the ultimate or definitive one (in fact, questions must be raised if even such a kind of explanation is a coherent thought). It is rather merely that explanations work. They do work, and they explain work. If you are going to remove the sense-value of a determined world you have to account for the power of explanation, and this is precisely what Graham’s philosophy does remove and then does not do.

If one wants to get a grip on the power of explanation, consider what Michael Della Rocca calls The Principle of Sufficient Reason(PSR). The base assumption of the PSR is this:

Consider first the PSR, the principle according to which each fact, each thing that exists, has an explanation. The explanation of a fact is enough – sufficient – to enable one to see why the fact holds. The explanation of a fact enables us to see the explained fact coming, as it were. If the explanation of the thing were not sufficient in this way, then some aspect of the thing would remain unexplained, unintelligible.

S****** (2008 )

Here we touch on a more enriching aspect of explanation. It is not just that explanation allows us access to what works, but it also allows us to see the facts of “working” coming. It provides the depth of a surface of interactions (occasions) in such a way that our position among them is changed, improved. In fact all metaphysical engagments with the world, either explicitly or implicitly, in the power of the PSR. But the principle does not require that all aspects of a thing are currently being explained in their every degree, but only that they can be explained. This is an important point because here I think Graham would like to have his black hole of the essence of objects forever in retreat from the mind.

First though I would like to take up a foundational aspect of Graham’s OOP, Latour’s so-called Principle of Irreduction. Graham describes the irreducibility/reducibility this way:

Since an actant  cannot be split into durable substance and transient accident, it follows that nothing can be reduced to anything else. Each thing simply is what it is, in utter concreteness. We cannot reduce a thing to some privileged inner core by stripping away its inessential features. But at the same time, anything can be reduced to anything else, provided the proper labor is done. This two-faced principle of irreduction  is less paradoxical than it seems, since both sides result from the same basic insight. To reduce one thing to another is to see it as an effect explainable in terms of a more fundamental layer of reality.

From a draft of the forth-coming Prince of Networks

Hopefully one can see that the second half of the principle, what we can call the Principle of Labored Reduction, rests entirely upon a notion of a determined and explainable world. That is, there is a declared necessity for concrete changes in the world which are specifically traceable, labors, whose accurate description of constitutes the legitimacy of any reduction (such a tracing simply cannot exist in a Secular Occasionalist Universewhere actors simply pass into and out of existence without causation). The very priority of a descriptive labor of translations (the coherent movement from one occasion to another) undermines any strict metaphysical isolation of actors from each other. Instead, causes and the labor of causes must be real and connective chains. There is a determination of translation. Unless one is to do without the second face of the “two-faced” principle (and there is a temptation to fall in love with the postmodernish freedom of the first face), determinations and explanations are essential.

Having granted that there is some determinative power of the explanation, presupposing somelevel of determination in the world, let us return to the hard problem, whether “some aspect [of a fact] would remain unexplained” or unintelligible. The difficulty that Graham might have with this non-missing aspect of fact is resolved if we accept that our finite natures as bodies and minds prevent us from holding completely Adequate, and therefore completely sufficient explanations (Della Rocca as well as myself agree that this is not possible). That is to say, in a Latourian sense, we might have a very good explanation of how automobile parts work together in a car, and how these workings also are expressive in terms of an understanding of thermodynamics, but each of these explanations is a translation of the phenomenae. They are sufficient unto their needs and models, but there is no reason to grant that these explanations capture every aspect of the thing described. In fact, as we search for the completely sufficient explanation, we are pushed ever wider, looking into the conditions of the conditions we are examining. The PSR  becomes an asymptotic limit toward which we head when we attempt to completely understand things. And as we assemble more and more sufficient explanations, creating them materially out of our very position in the world, our position in the world itself changes. What we can grant is that by virtue of the limited nature of our capacities, any description will merely be partial, and that we can only get closer to understanding things, becoming more active in a seemingly contingent, happenstance world, by virtue of our ability to combine with them. 

But there is an additional way in which the PSR  serves Graham’s engagement with Latour, for OOP has difficulty to the way that Latour flattens out the ontology of actors such that a thing is nothing more that its relations to other things. Graham wants to say that the essence of objects stands apart from, or in retreat from all the effects of other object/actors. The essence is the difference that does not make a difference, so to speak. In this way Graham sets Latour’s implied metaphysics in the family of other flatten ontologies such as those of DeLanda and Deleuze, the matrix of a sush of mere intensities (in Latourperhaps Plasma) which suddenly give riseto actors. Graham wants a certain depth below the object, something in surplus to its qualities in effect.

From our perspective we can grant with Latour that manifestations in the world, modal manifestations are utmost and complete (that is, they do not leave anything is reserve). Yet, the PSR directs us to the immanent cause of those concrete and full manifestations, so in keeping with Graham’s need to deepen these postmodern ontologies, grants a ground of Immanent depth. In order to fully appreciate this “save” one has to compare varieties of the idea of an “essence” of an object.

But what of the modal essences that do not involve existence and are contained in the attributes? What do they consist of? Each essence is part of God’s power insofar as the latter is explained by the modal essence [E4p4dem]. S****** always conceived of the modal essences as singular, starting withthe Short Treatise. Hence the texts of the Short Treatise that seem to deny the distinction of essences (ST II, chp. 20, n. 3; app. II, I) actually only deny their extrinsic distinction, which would only imply their existence in duration and the possession of extensive parts. The modal essences are simple and eternal. But they nevertheless have, with respect to the attribute and to each other, another type of distinction which is purely intrinsic (65)

S******: Practical Philosophy, Gilles Deleuze

Here, in the intrinsic distinction of eternal essences which form part of a sufficient explanation of concrete manifestations, lies the depth that Graham Harman wants to add to Latourand others. As to the nature of the depth that Graham wants to give to esssences, it seems to be something between positing entities which are somehow dormant in the way that we are when we sleep (only much, much deeper, something like a coma). They lie in something like a dark sea, but not in any sense of the kinds of flat intensity ridden ontologies of DeLanda or Deleuze. They have something specific to them, something intrinsic, but non-relational. I cannot help but think that the kinds of essences of Substance that PSR  reasoning drives us to, eternal but still not-yet-existent, or just-having-existed intrinsic relations, is very close to what Graham is idiosyncratically and creatively driving towards.

Not S******

Because Graham’s OOP solution the aporia of Occasionalism is not yet completed, one cannot really critically address its possibilities. In as much he has put forth reasons why he will would not appreciate a S****** cueing  of his philosophical problems I am left with either a highly problematic question of the “fashionability” of a thinker, or the strong problem of seeing the world as determined and subject to powerful concrete changes through explanation. If one is going to do away with explanation as a vector of changes in power, what keeps the world from jumbling together into one incoherent saute pan of sauces, and upon what does the demand for the tracings of translation anchor itself?

In the main body of this I have refrained from using S******’s name, even in code, and only have resorted to his terminology at a bare minimum, as Levi has proposed. The violations were be the use of the term “determination” (which is the name of that which Graham objects, a term needing to be explained), and “essence” a term which Graham uses himself, and makes for a necessary correspondence (some words simply have no equivalents). “Modal” as it is found in the Deleuzequotation simply means “particularized way of existing,” something which is both immanently caused and transitively caused. Hopefully I have provided at least sense of how I imagine OOPcan be deepened by a dialogue with a thinker who is perhaps now fashionable. If it is any solace to those that shrink the popularity of this marano, he spent a very long time not being fashionable at all, but rather lived many of these centuries out of joint, either as a dispicable atheist or an out-moded and naive Rationalist. If any thinker’s “essence” retreated from his or her qualities, it was probably this one.


5 responses to “How the PSR lifts OOP out of Occasionalism

  1. key February 6, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    I’ll be as brief as possible. It would be a stretch to claim that I understand the origins of the argument you’ve presented or even its point. Being left with a lack of understanding, it would seem, is the problem at it’s crux, core, essence—which ever word is harmonious to your thinking.

    It may be pithy to censure the name Spinoza while making reference to it repeatedly, but no one is left with a greater understanding as a result of such strategies. The obscenity here is not the word itself—something I’m sure you know—but rather the profuse usage of the term without it’s subsequent “hashing out.” Spinoza said something, and he said it plainer than you have.

    I am sure I am missing the point here, but that is the point, isn’t it?

  2. kvond February 6, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Sure. Very good point. Hopefully this post goes to the very hashing out that was requested. The blotting out of Spinoza’s name actually comes from my intitial attempt to write the post under Levi’s strict rules of engagement. As I found that there was required a rather extensive prologue which included the reference to Spinoza in particular, so his blotted out name became a kind of meme to the project, replicating itself. (I do not use his name in the body of my hashing out.)

    This blotting out has a curious effect of actually showing in the body of the text how prevalent the name is, and in some ways makes Levi’s point for him. This I don’t mind. There are many other conceptual points being made as well, through the crossing out of the name. (I also had in mind the tendency of epistolary novels and others of distant centuries to blot out the names of correspondents. It feels like something of this is being done here as well.)

    Good points though.

  3. kvond February 6, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    As to this: “I’ll be as brief as possible. It would be a stretch to claim that I understand the origins of the argument you’ve presented or even its point. Being left with a lack of understanding, it would seem, is the problem at it’s crux, core, essence—which ever word is harmonious to your thinking.”

    You would also be at the disadvantage of not following what “essence” means to Graham Harman or OOP either. One of the points is that Graham’s retreating “essence” is Spinoza’s eternal modal essence.

    I’m sorry that I don’t have the time to explain these two better.

  4. Barrett Pashak February 6, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    On the question of “essentia“, it may be useful to look at the Introduction to Henri Lurié’s translation of Spinoza’s Ethics. Lurié, an associate of Constantin Brunner, writes:

    I solemnly affirm that the Latin word essentia as used and defined by Spinoza (Eth. II. /d. 2) must be correctly translated into English as “beingness” and not as “essence” as all other translators have done.

  5. kvond February 6, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Thanks B.P., I like that.

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