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Tag Archives: Reid

Spinoza’s Substance and the Objects of Objection

Reid has an interesting discussion of what he calls Anthrophobia, a term he admits rhetorically made steer in the wrong direction of his criticism. It is the fear that those that reject so called Flat-Ontologies have of losing what is “human”. The discussion follows Larval Subject in the comments section of Ontophobia (a blog I do not participate in). I want to re-post here some of my comments offer to Reid because they bring up for me one of the more valuable offerings of Spinoza’s ontology, the ability negotiate the tension and desires of Flat Ontologies, and their attempted deepening.

Reid, when you say…

I think that you and Graham, specifically Graham on this point, should draw the full dehumanizing conclusions of flat ontology, which is that humans do not have a naturally privileged status. Rather, this privilege is an artificial effect of economic stratification. Moreover, while it may be virtuous compared with poverty, I don’t think it is so in itself. So in part, the call for dehumanization is one for a new ethic of life that does not depend on abstract opposition to poverty, and rather seeks to fully embrace its ‘unclean’ and ‘contaminating’ character (culturally, not biologically), the better to transform rich and poor….

…I want a unified approach to politics and ontology that suspends the sufficiency of their prescriptive claims, in order to make equivocal use of their components.”

I have to say that you are right on it. I just wonder why Spinoza’s example (if you want to filter it through a Deleuze ontology that is okay too), doesn’t satisfy just this kind of need? The natural kinds of sedimentation possess only the “dignity” (what Spinoza calls “right”) that they can manage. In this sense the essential dignity is not pre-existing, except in the most eternal/essence sense, but processual, ever determined and restricted. (See Althusser on Spinoza perhaps, to take apart the possibilities of such an analysis.)

The embrace of the unclean or contaminated is the embrace of the fact that there is no “human” per se, nothing to be contaminated in the first place, the flesh as expression.

When Dr. M [Graham Harman] tries to say to you…

“The problem is that Badiou’s real is not much of a real (if we’re speaking of inconsistent multiplicity here. It’s inarticulate, not carved into parts. Its only role is to haunt any count with an excess or residue that escapes the count.”

1). I can’t see how this differs any more from the (OOP) “haunting” of the object that is always in retreat (talk about a haunting), which as you point out has no identifiable attachment to its expression (nothing that makes it THAT object).

2). Badiou’s Real in my view is really very much like Plotinus’s Hen (the One/Expressed), which is beyond the Being/Non-Being determination. It does seem to haunt a bit, but really this leads to point three…

3). For reasons 1 and 2, it seems that Spinoza’s expressive Substance is the way out between the Scylla and Charybdis. Because objects are merely determined, modal expressions of Substance, a Substance which does not belong to any one particular object, we avoid the Aristotelian problem, and because Substance by its very nature expresses itself in determined fashion we end up on the better side of the ontological/epistemological divide, which is to say, we can be (asymptotically) equivocal about our descriptions. Prescriptions certainly remain, but they are only performatively sufficient. They help constitute our capacities to form mutual bodies of affect and thought, which are no less material bodies; and this is a prescription/epistemic which itself becomes re-inscribed, or understood as pre-positedly ontological: expressions of our powers to act, feel and be.

It seems that following Reid if we really want to theoretically grant, and then therefore work for in analysis and reason, the full dignity of extant human beings (and other things non-human), the full variety of Substanced expression must be embraced (with their sedimented values), we require a pre/post/human ontology (what Adrian called Prehistoric) that only Spinoza provided, one in which “objects” are ever transpierced by powers, knowing that “essence” projected onto some retreating screen/void, (or “singularity” bubbled up from morass, and stretched out onto a mathematical grid), is not the pragma foundation of the dignity of others. Ultimately dignity is composed of mutualities, mutualities which are bodies to be affectively and objectively made.

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Taking the “God” out of the 17th Century

The Backbone Concept

Graham Harman posts a brief summation of his thinking about the lasting historical heritage of a natural dichotomy in philosophy, occasionalism vs. skepticism. I can’t tell, maybe this was something of a response to my last post on his attempted complementary reading of Hume and Malebranche. If it is, it does not address the error of Malebranche and then Reid which produces this dichotomy of matching errors; but it does provide an interesting tracing of this split into contemporary philosophy (to some anticipated consternation of Kantians who thought Kant effectively changed the location of the Sun, for the better).

But Graham’s appeal to occasionalism brings to mind something larger, the difficulty in how much of a theistic philosophical metaphysics can or should be taken into non-theistic contexts. Graham for instance wants to describe the world as an occasionalist, wherein the explanatory feature of such a theory from the past is “God”. He seems to feel that all that remains is for someone to overcome the fear of blasphemy that contrained someone like Malebranche, and adopt the theory sans God, that is, sans explanans.

To my ear though, taking the explanatory feature of “God” out of occasionalist thinking (and many other Medieval to 17th century philosophical explanations) could be compared to taking the actual vertebra out of the organisms of the classification Vertebrates. It leaves something of a non-functioning organism of jelly. Impressive as a loose assemblage of visera. We see the conceptual organs all there laying in a puddle, but why can’t it lift itself or walk?

I think that as we examine and appropriate philosophies from other centuries, in particular theories that turn to a comprensive concept of God as an explanatory force, there is a danger of thinking that we can remove for ours own use all the non-theistic elements, as if they were the “real” philosophy, now stripped of their superstition. Part of this tendency (and one can see it when people talk about Descartes’ theory of Mind in a contemporary sense), comes from our experiences from science. It seems to us properly atheistic moderns that “God” was a kind of superfluous idea tacked onto real  physical explanation, something Occam’s Razor can simply shave off. Thinkers of the past were something like closet atheists, or immanent underdeveloped atheists. Aside from the distortion this brings to the history of Science itself such that we no longer understand what scientific theories meant to those that invented them, (Newton was after all a devoted Alchemist), in the conceptual jigsaw-puzzle realm of philosophy to take out the “God” part of a metaphysical explanation often does not often leave behind a functioning, coherent theory of the world. There is no residing “physical theory” lying beneath the “theistic theory” which structured the concepts organizing the metaphysics of Medieval, Renaissance and 17th century thought. One cannot simply peel away the layer of God, exposing the bones of rationality, for the concept  of God made up much of those bones.

This does not mean that one has to remain a theist in order to make use of strong influences from these centuries, but it does mean that one has to account, piece by piece, for the full explanatory function that the concept of “God” served in any such theory. One cannot simply subtract the “God” out of Augustine’s theory of a world of semiotics, nor even the “God” out of Descartes’ theory of cognition and Substance, and certainly not the “God” out of Malebranche’s occassionalism without a severe restructuring of coherent interrelations of concepts, and a restoration of the explantory power of the theory itself,  in replacement terms of its most dynamic concept. Philosophy is not science (and science is probably not even science).