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Spinoza’s Substance Stripped Bare

Duchamps The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors Even (The Large Glass) (1915-23)

(above Duchamp’s “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even,” 1913 -23)

Just a Blob of nothing, an intellectual Sleight of Hand…?

Levi, over at Larval Subjects has a well-worded summation of the possible difficulties and assumptions contained in Spinoza’s Proposition 5 (Ethics, part I: ) “Proposition Five: Questions of Individuation”, in particular how they reflect upon just what Individation is. He seems to feel that if one accepts this proposition (and its referenced assumptions) one is by the force of logic to accept a great deal of what follows in Spinoza’s philosophy. So he sees this as something of a keystone. If one can effectively challenge it, the entire edifice of Spinoza thinking is threatened to collapse. I can’t say that I agree with this because I read the rationalistic cohension of Spinoza’s Ethics a little differently than most, but he does raise interesting points.

I commented extensively on the posting (much in greater detail than I expected), so it seemed best to re-present the issues here, with a bit more quoted material. I think it worthwhile to dig into this proposition as Levi has given us the lead to do, but in the end I am not sure as to the final spear point of his objection.

First off, let’s give the proposition, and then I’ll post the context of my comments:

In rerum natura non possunt dari duae aut plures substantiae euisdem naturae sive attributi.

In the nature of things they are not able to be granted two or multiple substances of the same nature or attribute.

I provide the Latin and literal translation so one can see the lexical doubling that Spinoza performing, as well as the “of things” individuation which shows the proposition to be an explanation of things we already perceive as distinction, but Curley translates a bit less literally and much more fluidly,

In nature there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute.

The reason for this that Spinoza puts forth is that it is the attribute itself that tells us exactly what a thing is, its essence. It is the attribute which grounds all our other attributve properties. If there were multiple substances which had the same attribute (the same conceptual manner of distinction), there remains no specific additional qualification which distinguishes them from each other. I will reference and cite Della Rocca’s treatment below, for his presentation is a good clean exposition. And it is his argument I will follow. What Spinoza has in mind here is Descartes’ somewhat unspecified assertion that there actually are two kinds of Substance, the Aristotlelian kind of individual things which are dependent upon other things for their existence, and then the soon-to-be Spinozist kind, the kind that is self-caused. The move that Spinoza is making here is turning against the notion that it is Attributes themselves that distinguish things as individual kinds, but rather it is modal expressions alone. Descartes’ two kinds of Substance simply can’t be rationally supported. Unfortunately for the Christian, this leaves of of creation to be literally part of God. There is no gap between God and the world. Once we remove the unjustified kind of Substance inherited from Aristotle, we are just left with an ultimate and immanent ground.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Anyways, that is where Spinoza is going. But what Levi objects to, after a thorough engagment with the problems with the argument is that there seems to be a kind of non-sensicalness of Substance itself, the way that if we say that an object in the world (and he uses his friend Melanie), is stripped of all her qualities, we really are left with nothing at all. What would remain under Spinoza’s description, is somehow blob-like and indistinct. Spinoza has provided us with a concept that seems to do nothing. Here is a quote from Levi’s post, and my consideration that follows:

Levi: ” Suppose I strip my friend Melanie of all her affections or qualities. In striving to think Melanie as a substance, I ignore all of her physical properties, her quirks of thought, her personal history, her mannerisms, her love of okra, etc., so as to think this hypothetical “Melanie-substance” in and through herself. What am I left with at the end of this exercise? Absolutely nothing!. In other words, a substance subtracted from all of its affections turns out to be nothing but a formless void.”

Kvond:…I’m not sure that I follow exactly your objection here. The complaint that you make as to the blobness of Substance is actually very close to the one that Descartes made against Medieval Aristotelian “Prime Matter”, a completely non-quality “stuff” which is suppose to inertly just be there as a support for inhering form and qualities. As Della Rocca tells it, it was this seeming superfluousness of Prime Matter that got Descartes to just do away with it. Instead, a Substance simply had a form, was defined by its form, which in Descartes was its Principal Attribute.

[inserted from Della Rocca’s Spinoza  a selection which lays out Descartes’ thinking on Substance and attribute in terms of prime matter]:

But why must all the properties of a substance be subsumed under a fundamental feature? Why can’t there be a feature of substance that does not presuppose the principle attribute of the substance, but is nonetheless a feature of that substance? Thus, for example, why can’t an extended substance also having some thinking features, features that cannot be understood through extension? Descartes does not, as far as I know, explicitly address this question, but its clear what his answer would be: there would be no good account what makes this free-floating thinking feature a feature of this extended substance. What would bind this thinking feature to this extended substance? For Descartes, the conceptual connection provided by an attribute furnishes the link to make a particular property of a given substance. Without the link afforded by an attribute, we cannot see a property as belonging to a substance. In other words, Descartes insists that there be this over-arching feature because otherwise there would be no explanation of why a given feature is a feature of a particular substance.

Because the principle attribute helps us to understand all the properties of a substance, it tells us what kind of thing the substance is, what its essence is. And for this reason, purely formal features of a substance do not count as attributes in this sense. Each substance has features, let us say, of existing and being powerful to some degree. But exitence and power are not principal attributes for Descartes. This is because these features do not tell us what kind of thing a substance is and do not tell us what kinds of more particular properties it has.

In this way we can see that on Descartes ontology of substance and attribute, substances are explanatory engines. Each substance has a nature that can be articulated or explained in terms of its principal attribute, and this principal attribute in turn articulates or explains all the properties of the substance. Thus for Descartes each substance is fully conceivable. Everything about a substance must be capable of being understood and what it is understood in terms of is its principal attribute.

This is, of course, a rationalist dimension of Descarte’s ontology, and we can appreciate this dimension by contrasting Descartes’s view with a broadly Aristotelian account of substance. On the Aristotelian account (or at least on the Aristotelian account as it is developed by medieval philosophers such as Aquinas), a corporeal substance consists of prime matter and a substantial form. The substantial form, is in some ways, like a Cartesian principal attribute: it tells us the nature of a substance and the kinds of properties it can have. But the form is not the only constituent of substance. The substantial form must somehow inhere in the subject and this subject is prime matter, a featureless, bare subject for a substantial form. The prime matter is a thing is some sense, but, precisely because it is featureless, it cannot be articulated or explained. Literally, prime matter is no “kind” of thing, and precisely for this reason Descartes rejects the notion as unintelligible (see CM I 91, 92/AT XI 33, 35). Marleen Rozemond sums up the view here nicely:

“Since Descartes eliminates prime matter from the hylomorphic conception of corporeal substance, the result in Aristotelian terms is that a substance just consists in a substantial form. In Descartes own terms, the result is that substance just consists in a principal attribute” (Spinoza, 2008; 38)

Prime Matter, Begone!

[continuing my response] But as Prime Matter was done away with because it lacked explanatory value, we have to ask the same of Spinoza’s overriding Substance itself. If we strip Melanie of all her qualities are we left with Prime Matter, or with Substance, and what would be the difference?

There are a few ways to proceed. As you know, Substance is what it is because it is the only thing that is its own cause, by virtue of nothing lying “outside” of it (I don’t know if you accept this, but it is fundamental to answering the question). As such, it is the only thing which has existence in its very nature (it does not depend on something other than itself to exist), it must, logically and ontologically exist. So, in a certain sense, the question being asked has something of a non-sequitor in it. Because Substance “exists and acts” through its modal determinations, asking what Melanie is (if merely Substance) without her modal determinations, in a way does not follow. In Spinoza’s universe, Melanie must have certain modal properties, given the state of the rest of the universe, which has determined her to be a certain way.

Now there is a kind of aporia we run into here, for in Spinoza’s framework it is not entirely clear why Melanie when she is five years old and has a cool-aid stain on her mouth, and Melanie when she is 33 and has a broken arm, is the very same thing (has the same essence). It is perfectly conceivable that from moment to moment or stage to stage, there are different essences expressing themselves. It seems that only Spinoza’s definition of a body as a specific ratio of motion in communication between parts that restricts this possibility. And because this “ratio” is unspecified and really unidentifiable, this is a rather tenuous barrier. So there is a very real sense in which Spinoza’s depiction can be read as a kind of Occasionalism.

But generally, when thinking about Melanie, sub specie aeternitatis, what she is in or out of existence, this is a modal “essence”, a certain beingness which depends upon a provisional modal interaction with other modal essences, each bringing each other into being in a kind of co-dependent fashion, what Gatens and Lloyd term “horizontally”.

Is this very close to the blob of Prime Matter? It doesn’t seem so. Because Substance itself is an expressional thing, a thing which by its very nature determines itself to exist, if you do the thought experiment and ask what any one modal expression is without its current state of modal expressiveness, one is left with the explanatory ground of Substance, its very capacity to press forward in existence and acts.

Indistinguishable Melanie

Now is this a bit of a slight of hand? Has Spinoza just made up a buried capacity of a hypothetical under- or over- thing? Perhaps one can say that. But what he has in mind (and one cannot undervalue this), is that things must have an explanatory context for what they are. If you are going to say something like:

“Sure, you tell me that Gravity is some mysterious force which causes this apple to fall with such and such a rate at such and such at time, but what then is this apple-event if stripped of all its qualities, its rate and timing?…It is just a blob of a force called Gravity”

If you take away what is being explained, and then ask what good is the explanation, one might really be dissatisfied with the answer. So in answer to what Melanie is in or out of existence requires that we define what she is in existence. And for Spinoza this answer is a conatus, a striving. She is pure striving (expressed in human beings as either appetite or desire). That is her existential essence. It is the diagnosis of this striving that gives weight to Spinoza’s view of Substance as explanatory. What is Melanie’s striving, her conatus, stripped of all the particular “strivings for”? It is the existential strivings of Substance itself. But there is no blobness to it, for the strivings of Substance must be particularized, that is expressed in determined modal forms. Substance does not collapse on itself, or meld into one great sea of potentiality. It is always particularized in concrete, existential manifestation.

You [Levi] bring this up when you conclude:

[Levi writing]:”However, again, we run into the same problem: Is an attribute such as extension thinkable independent of all spatial determinations (modes)? Again, the thought of space without any spatial things turns out to be the thought of nothing or the absence of all determination. The conclusion then would be that the idea of an affectionless substance- such as Spinoza evokes in 1p5 -is an incoherent idea that functions as a sleight of hand, rather than a genuine concept.”

But seem to have inverted the reasoning. It is precisely because one cannot conceive of space without its spatial determinations that Substance must be an expressive grounds of spatial things, in the Attribute of Extension. It is precisely that there are spatial things, and that they can only be understood fully by understanding their cause, that Substance is what it is. It seems that you have reversed the Explanans and the Explanandum, and argued that the Explanans is meaningless without the Explanandum, but it the requirement of the Explanans due to the existence of the Explanandum [the nature of things], that grants it its coherence. It is the very fact of its explanatory nature that Substance logically must express itself in the concrete things that it is explaining, that gives the argument its force.

Michael Della Rocca, Chair of Philosophy at Yale

Michael Della Rocca, Professor of Philosophy at Yale

To end I would like to reprint a lengthy selection from Della Rocca’s book that deals particularly with 1p5 so as to give immediate context to my points, but also to provide a place of comparison for much of the same ground covered by Levi’s also worthwhile summation. At the very least it will give those unfamiliar with Spinoza’s argument one more clear presentation of the issues at hand in the notions of Substance, Attribute and mode, and their possible objections. Its interesting, but when I first got Della Rocca’s book I was a bit disappointed and distracted from it. It possessed none of the verve of his first book, Representation and the Mind-Body Problem in Spinoza (1996): But as I have turned to it in reference, it really has grown on me. In its quietude one can feel the delicate care of Della Rocca’s mind as he weighs the meanings and implications of Spinoza’s assertions, and is invited to consider them as he does.

Thus let’s take 1p5 first: “In Nature there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute.” To prove this proposition, Spinoza considers what is required in order to individuate two substances, i.e. what is required in order to explain their non-identity. For Spinoza, the distinctness between two distinct things must be explained by some difference between them, some difference in their properties. In the case of the individuation of substances, this amounts to the claim that they must be individuated via a difference either in their attributes or in their modes. Thus Spinoza says in 1p4d:

“Two or more distinct things are distinguished from one another, either by a difference in the attributes of the substances or by a difference in their affections.”

In 1p5d, he makes clear that such a difference in properties is needed for two things to be “conceived to be” – i.e. explained to be – “distinguished from one another.”

In insisting on some difference in properties between two things, Spinoza endorses the Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles. This is a principle – more often associated with Leibniz that with Spinoza – that if a and b are indiscernible, i.e. if a and b have all the same properties, then a is identical to b. One can see that this principle turns on the notion of explaining non-identity and, as such, one can see its roots in the PSR [Principle of Sufficient Reason]. Non-identities, by the PSR, require explanation, and the way to explain non-identity is to appeal to some difference in properties.

Thus two substances could be individuated either by a difference in their attrributes or in their modes. Spinoza dismisses right away any differentiation of substances in terms of their attributes because he says we are considering whether two substances can share an attribute. Thus a case in which substances might have different attributes might seem irrelevant to the case at hand. However, as we will see in a moment, this dismissal may be too hasty. Spinoza then considers whether they can be distinguished by their modes. Spinoza eliminates this possibility as well, offering the following argument.

Since a substance is prior to its modes (by 1p1), we are entitled, and indeed obligated, to put the modes to the side when we take up the matter of individuating substances. Thus, with the modes to one side and with the attributes already eliminated as individuators, it turns out that there are no legitimate grounds for individuating substances with the same attribute, for explaining why they are distinct. Thus, since substances with the same attribute cannot legitimately be individuated, there cannot be any sharing of attributes.

Obviously this argument turns crucially on the claim that we should put the modes to one side. But what justifies this claim? Spinoza appeals here to the notion of priority introduced in 1p1. What exactly does this priority amount to? For Spinoza, as well as Descartes, it is a conceptual priority. One can have the idea of a substance without having ideas of its modes.

Thus, we can see why Descartes would have a problem individuatin, say, two extended substances. All Descartes could appeal to in order to individuate the substances is the modes, but given Descartes’ own explanatory notion of substance, according to which all of a substance’s modes are explained through its attributes, such an appeal is illegitimate.

Of course Descartes might at this point simply give up the claim that the non-identity of substance is explicable. Fair enough. After all, Descartes does not explicitly assert the Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles. But Descartes’s rejection of prime matter is in the spirit of such a principle. For Descartes, there is no way to articulate what prime matter is precisely because it has no qualities. In the same way, there is no way to articulate what the non-identity of a and b consists in because no qualities are available to do the job of individuation. Thus, even on his own terms, Descartes should feel the force of this Spinozistic argument that rules out a multiplicity of substances sharing an attribute.

But even if substances that share an attribute are not individuated by their modes, perhaps such substances are individuated by attributes they do not share. Spinoza does allow, after all, that a substance can have more than one attribute. So why can’t we have the following scenario: substance 1 has attributes X and Y and substance 2 has attributes Y and Z. On this scenario, while the two substances share an attribute (i.e. Y) they differ with regard to other attributes and can thus be individuated after all. So perhaps then, contrary to 1p5, there can be some sharing of attributes by different substances. This objection was first raised by Leibniz, one of the most acute readers of Spinoza.

This objection is harder to answer than the charge that substances that share an attribute can be individuated by their modes, but Spinoza clearly has the resources to handle this objection too. To see why, let’s assume that Leibniz’s scenario is possible. If so, then attribute Y would not enable us to pick out or conceive of one substance in particular. The thought “the substance with attribute Y” would not be a thought of one substance in particular, and thus attribute Y would not by itself enable us conceive of any particular substance. For Spinoza, such a result would contradict the clause in the definition of attribute according to which each attribute constitutes the essence of substance. As Spinoza says in 1p10s, a claim that he clearly sees as following form the definition of attribute, “each [attribute of a substance] expresses the reality or being of substance.” So for Spinoza, if a substance has more than one attribute, each attribute by itself must enable us to conceive of the substance, and this can by the case only if each attribute that a substance has is unique to that substance. Thus Leibniz’s scenario is ruled out (46-48)



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.

The Difference Without a Difference…What?

Spinoza to the Rescue

Reid over at Planomenology made a very interesting series of points on Larval Subject’s “difference that makes a difference” take on Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy, points which read in a direction that at first blush seems to come from a different tack than the one that I employ. Reid finds as key to finding an ontology of things which may not make a difference is looking for the non-difference that does not make a difference. A creative approach.

Yet there is a third reading of the ontic principle that could undermine the apparent consistency of the Deleuzian approach, and I believe it is a reading that would fit Harman’s own variant of object-orientation. If there does not exist a difference that does not make a difference, that nonetheless means that there could exist a non-difference that does not make a difference. Levi’s ontic principle says nothing about the non-existence of non-differences.

It was only a passing thought at the time, but Reid’s non-difference making non-difference richly struck me as exemplifed in the formal relationship between Attributes in Spinoza. That is, there is a fundamental non-difference between them that allows them to reveal differences, and make the mind work. Reid gave a positive reaction to this line of thinking, so I thought that I should post the comment here as well.

As it turns out,  I had to appeal to Spinozist distinctions in my last response to Graham Harman so as to get a positive notion of the my lay of the ontological land, and perhaps by providence it seems that my associative thoughts on Reid’s thinking about difference may have more legs than first imagined. For in the end, what I argue to Graham, is that the depth of his Heideggerian objects is better served as the depth of Spinoza’s Substance, which is all the deper (and a degree of Being conception of Being). This may very well have grounds in the non-differential point that Reid was making. What is interesting is that Reid uses this distinction to undermine Deleuze who is in some sense operating under Spinozist influence.

My comment on non-difference:

The non-difference which makes no difference would be the order and connection of things and ideas as they are expressed in parallel Attributes (actually an infinity of Attributes)as found at the Ethics 2p7. The differences between Attributes are the same in terms of order and connection (thus a non-difference which makes no transitive transitive). Across Attributes non-difference pertains.

The difference that makes a difference is simply the horizontal modal and transitive causation, wherein differences between modes cause the differences between other modes. Each modal difference is “seen” by other modes (Berkely’s esse est percepi).

But, the non-difference which makes no difference, actually does make a difference (but not in the transitive sense of modal expression), but in terms of suturing the very immanence of the Mind’s ability to read the essence of Substance. That is, because the order and connection between things and ideas is the same (undifferentiated unto each other), the mind through the expression of the Attribute of Thought can establish the relative differences between modes. It can read along a vector of same and change. Relational defitions of objects are given a kind of depth. This does not mean that the objects themselves, (merely the expression of Substance in the Attribute of Extension), harbor or hide some “in-itself” (internalized relation) buried in its heart, but only that the immanent-same (non-difference)across Attributes makes possible the grasp of objecthood.

One might be tempted to say that the “order and connection” itself is already a differentiation, from one thing to another, one thought to another, but sub specie aeternitas, it can just be considered one great fixed articulation.

As mentioned in my last comments to Graham, it may be this depth that saves one from the undifferentiated slag of a DeLandian universe, a depth leveraged upon a non-difference which makes no (transitive) difference, the force of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), and Being as the capacity to act.

Perhaps of interest is a brief discussion I had with David Chalmers in which I attempted to introduce him to the notion that Spinoza presented a “zombie world” as our world (and not just a the logical possibility of it), and that Spinoza held a position that had great affinity to Chalmer’s idea of a protopanpsychism. Because Chalmers did not come from a typical philosophical pedagogy he was admittedly less than familiar with Spinoza, but considered the issue.

Loosely related to this: The Reality of the Affects: Spinoza’s Plotinian Real and Some Experiments in Re-translation, “idea” as “information”