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Tag Archives: Degree of Being

More on the Disavowal of Badiou – The Father Who Enjoys


I see that there are others noting the revolt against (or tiring of) Badiou. Complete Lies checks in with his non-believer transformative commitments toward Badiou as a possibility, Anodyne Lite counters with Laclau, and Larval Subjects (which I only now just read), finding that Badiou does not appreciate Levi’s mandatory (though inconsistent) application of epistemological and ontological distinctions (Levi at times makes this a most important distinction but then when faced with a Spinozist criticism that the epistemological must also be ontological, tends to retreat from the category). I post a nice passage here because it points up the problem with a fundamental epistemological/ontological divide. Discussing Badiou’s examination of Hubert Robert’s Bathing Pool:

Badiou claims that every object has an intensive degree that indexes its being-there or appearing in a world. To illustrate this thesis Badiou spends a tremendous amount of time analyzing Hubert Robert’s painting Bathing Pool (above). It is here, I think, that the difficulties of Badiou’s account of objects, from a realist standpoint, become clear. Badiou asserts, for example, that the columns to the left behind the foliage have a lower degree of intensity or being-there than those in the front. He makes similar observations about the women among the pillars compared to those bathing in the foreground and the statue to the right of the pool compared to the one on the left. These sorts of claims make me want to pull my hair out in frustration and ire. Such a thesis can only be epistemological and made from the standpoint of a viewing subject because the degree to which a being is or is not is an absolute binary such that it make not one bit of difference whether or not some appears intensely to us or not. From the realist standpoint something either is or is not, it is absolutely actual.

While I certainly agree with Levi’s notion that linking a degree-of-intensity (being there) to a perceiving subject carries with it all of the human-centric difficulties of a locked in Phenomenological world, one certainly cannot follow with the hair-pulling claim that Realism demands that “the degree to which a being is or is not is an absolute binary such that it make not one bit of difference whether or not some appears intensely to us or not”. I think I follow what this sentence means, yet indeed there is a long heritage of at least a kind of Realism that is founded upon things having degrees of Being (or degrees of Intensity) apart from any observer, and these degrees of Being are not “an absolute binary”. Starting from Plotinus (at the very least), and continuing on through a variety of panpsychic thinkers that culminate in Spinoza, there is a strong sense that things exist in their own right, in degrees of Being. A thinker like Spinoza wants to tell us what we ourselves fluctuate in our degrees of Being as our power to Act fluctuates (in a register of Pleasure). This the key to resolving the epistemic/ontological boundary that Levi has so much trouble orienting himself to. Things in themselves have degrees of Being which are measured by their capacity to affect or be affected, but also, our own degree of Being is expressed via our epistemic status, our ability to affect and be affected due to the adequacy of our ideas. Epistemology is Ontology.

Indeed the pillars in the back have a lower degree of Intensity/Being. But this reflects our own degree of Being, not necessarily theirs.

Graham Harman’s New Weblog: Object-Oriented Philosophy

Graham Harman’s new weblog has begun, and one can only look forward to the Latour and Heidegger friendly development of his metaphysical thought (responded to in brief by me here).

In his opening post, My Favorite Philosophers, he lists them in this order, Leibniz, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Plato and then an unexpected Brentano, Plotinus (a hidden favorite of mine) and Levinas get honorable mention. His list of 5 and reasons are worth quoting:

1. G.W. Leibniz

Here is the perfect package, as far as I’m concerned. He’s a hard-harded realist, BUT he has the weirdest imagination on the market, AND he writes such short major works that I often have “Leibniz afternoons” where I read 5 or 6 of his key works without leaving the house. Leibniz, to me, is the essence of what philosophy ought to be- take reality firmly into account, but then push it so far that you burst out laughing at what you’ve come up with.

2. Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s not that I agree with his doctrines; in fact, a majority of them are the opposite of my own. But this guy could really write. (In fact, what Leibniz really needed to achieve godhood was a devastating writing style; he had to settle for “clear,” which was good enough given his many other talents.) But no one in philosophy can write like Nietzsche. And for me, style in philosophy is not frivolous ornament atop a set of boring true propositions- style is a scalpel cutting toward the bottom of the world. Nietzsche has it.

3. Martin Heidegger.

I’m not saying he’s the 3rd greatest, just my 3rd favorite. (He’s surely one of the 10 greatest, though.) His strength and weakness are the same: the utter monotony of his ideas. Heidegger famously said that every great thinker has just one great thought, though this was probably a case of projection. Whatever one says about being, however we try to determine it, being slips away because it is always something more.

4. Plato.

I must admit that Plato was an acquired taste for me. My students tend to love reading about Socrates in the Platonic dialogues, but at age 18 I just thought it was a bunch of boring, pious, preachy drivel about justice and virtue. Nietzsche’s literary brilliance walks up and smacks you in the face. Plato’s literary genius is at least as great, but requires years of refined taste to appreciate fully.

5. Franz Brentano.

The top 5 needed a dark horse pick, and this is it. Most people know him only as Husserl’s teacher. Occasionally one goes and looks at his Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint to find a quote or two about intentionality, but it’s generally assumed that whatever is worthwhile in Brentano has already been assimilated by other, more interesting, later thinkers. But try this experiment… sit down for a weekend with something by Brentano and forget that you ever heard anything about him before. The man is incredible. He tears you apart with amazing arguments; he has wide mastery of numerous historic figures; he is self-confident in the good sense, not deferring to his elders with faked modesty; his wit is often devastating. Also, just look at his photo. I always think “Rasputin” when I see this one, and that’s the sort of charisma he had, luring both Husserl and Freud into his circle of students through his sheer oratorical power in the classroom.

 He makes an interesting point in this list to specifically address Spinoza, in particular to say why he did not enjoy him, calling his stock, humorously (and in some sense insightfully), over-priced. It is interesting because as a Spinozist I find great affinity for his project and many of his commitments. In particular though, it is his appreciation for Plotinus (a long neglected thinker of tremendous proportions) that I imagined would give him a love for Spinoza. Spinoza, in my view, is a modern Plotinus. Below I post his interesting take on Spinoza, and my lettered response to those thoughts:

Graham: “As for Spinoza, I won’t deny he’s one of the greats, but his stock is overpriced these days. Everyone rushes to show that their own views were foreshadowed by Spinoza. I happen to think that nearly every one of his ideas was on the wrong track: only one substance; determinism; stoicism. I’d flip those all upside-down.”

Myself: I love your list (especially your reason for loving Nietzsche). as a Spinozist, but not of the fanatical Continental variety, I cannot help but draw a comparison. You list Plotinus as a darkhorse thinker of preference, and Spinoza a man whose stock is way over-priced. Much praise I offer for both. Might I suggest that there is a vital connection between the two that is quite undeveloped, and that is Plotinus’s luminary view that Being exists in degrees (using the image of a halo of light rolling out into non-Being, full of Being but still ebbing). It is this concept of Being that Augustine took up (Evil as privation), and I believe eventually Spinoza secured (Falsity as privation). It provides some antidote to the visualization of Being that binary, while still giving flat ontologies a certain depth (much like the depth you give Latour). Might I (eventually) seduce you into purchasing this stock, not in a Deleuzian way, but a Plotinian way, in an analytical way, I would be much joyed.

This is not to rescue him completely from your criticism, for Spinoza is everywhere, practically as omnipresent as his God. But he seems to speak to a certain pre-Kantian, alter-Cartesian future. And we do know that Leibniz had a bit of a weakness for Spinoza, both as a philosopher and an optical instrument maker (Spinoza’s much obscured materialist, and even cybernetic side). (Multitudnal Substances are nothing more than his modes, determinism is only the power of the explanation and description, and stocism is just the purity and power of the affects.) Part of the pleasure of their being so much Spinoza is the chance to read him outside of, that is beyond, the tradition(s), much as you have done for Heidegger who had his nice run at ubiquity.

A primary location for Spinoza’s Plotinian degree-of-Being conception, the General Definition of the Affects, explanation:

“I say, further, whereby the mind affirms concerning its body or any part thereof a force for existence greater [or less] than before. For all the ideas of bodies, which we possess, denote rather the actual disposition of our own body (E2P16C2) than the nature of an external body. But the idea which constitutes the reality of an affect must denote or express the disposition of the body, or of some part thereof, which is possessed by the body, or some part thereof, because its power of action or force for existence is increased or diminished, helped or hindered.
But it must be noted that, when I say a greater or less force for existence than before, I do not mean that the mind compares the present with the past disposition of the body, but that the idea which constitutes the reality of an affect affirms something of the body, which, in fact, involves more or less of reality than before. [sed quod idea, quae affectus formam constituit, aliquid de corpore affirmat, quod plus minusve realitatis revera involvit, quam antea]”