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The “heart” of Neo-Liberalism, blah, blah, blah

While I try to shrug off all this Neo-liberalism this, and Neo-liberalism that, as other blogsters are using fancy acronyms for Neo-liberalism as if they are busy making entries in the Merck manual, this one passage of qualifications and analogies from the Neo-liberal hating Levi Bryant I find interesting (yes, he has equated Neo-liberalism with Nazism recently):

While I do not disagree with Rowan William’s thesis that the picture of the human as an intrinsically self-seeking creature constitutes a false anthropology, I have noticed that there is a tendency to treat the core of neo-liberal capitalist ideology as consisting almost entirely of this false anthropology. What is missing in this conception of neo-liberal ideology is the legal and normative framework that underlies this way of relating to the world and others. On the one hand, in order for neo-liberal capitalist ideology to get off the ground it requires what what might be called a “pure subject” or a “subject-without-qualities”, not unlike Descartes’ cogito or Kant’s transcendental unity of apperception. At the heart of neo-liberal capitalist ideology (NLCI) is not so much a subject pursuing self-interest, as a legal subject functioning as the substrate of property, commercial obligations and debts, and divorced from social context and conditions of production.

One can see right away from the bolded material that analogies abound. Levi objects to an anthropological view being read as the core of Neo-liberalism, because there is a framework (legal normative) in which (?) a substrate operates (legal subject) onto which various formal economic relations adhere.  What Levi denies, in something beyond a point of emphasis, is that the “heart” or the “core” of Neo-liberalism is the self-interested subject. Instead it is a mere formalism of “subject” and its laws. To put it briefly, it’s not the self-seeking, self-interested desiring-subject, it’s the structured-subject (legally and philosophically) that is the troublesome kernel of Neo-liberalism. Let’s leave aside the kind of rhetorical slippage between philosophical “subject” and legal “subject” here, is it really correct to say that THIS is the core/heart of Neoliberalism (whatever that is)?

From my perspective the attempt to minimize the anthropological myth, the idea that human beings are essentially and naturally selfish beings, and instead draw a different heart/core made of some kind of structuralization, misses something. The entire legal and normative framework, we would say, came into existence and into justification in the very strong context of the belief that human beings are self-interested beings, essentially. The entire formalized drive towards privatization is made in response to this picture of humanity, it is naturalized within it. While I’m not sure who is saying that Neo-liberalism is nothing but this myth – David Graeber does make a vivid anthropological argument that “even” exchange is something that is done between enemies, suggesting that economic models of abstract equivalencies are necessarily mythologically self-interested ones – I am also unsure how much of the “framework” and its formalized subject could operate without it. In fact, as Spinoza knew just at the cusp of the Cartesian subject, one cannot cut off the conception of the cogito from the idea of its separate faculties of Willing and Judgment. In order undo the abstract subject, willing and freedom have to be radicalized. The desiring subject, how it desires, and what it desires for is integral to the very isolation of the said “substrate” of the subject in the first place. In fact, all of this stems to a great degree from Representational conceptions of knowledge and related questions of autonomy, freedom and desire.

I don’t really know what good finding the heart or the core of Neoliberalism does, other than create a kind of rhetorical force to steady the aim of our critique. But I do doubt that our narratives about how humans naturally (or if one is in Lacanian moods, structurally) desire are not every bit as important as the laws and norms that are created to regulate and shape those desires. I personally find the Neo-liberalism stigma mark to be something of a canard, designed by those that think “radical break”, getting “outside”, is the only way towards justice, but in any case, philosophies of “lack” (including much of what flows from Hegel, and those that hunger after essentialized “nothingness” or “absence” or “object”) have a great deal to do with foreclosing the possibilities of thinking about the “subject”, or better, the self beyond its normative product-buying, object-chasing behavior. One  also has to ask, as we pre-occupy ourselves with “objects” as essential and constitutive relations, are we not already caught up in economies (of desire, of real capital) which presuppose the “lack” which drives them, sinking deeper into our mental concrete the assumptions which secure the relations we would wish to change or improve upon.

The Soul Crushed and Twisted by the Mechanical Arts – Plato

Plato’s Prisons of Techne

I repost here the quote from the Republic that in usual Platonic, imagistic language is full of potential truths. Here we find Socrates discrediting primarily the sophists, but really by virtue of a whole class of technically skilled [techne] workers, those whose power and knowledge consists in their experiences, and standing, as workers. In condensed fashion he runs the gambit from prisoners to technicians to mere machine workers. All of these he tells us, wish to gravitate, actually more, leap or fly to the prestige of philosophy:

Just as men out of prisons into holy sanctuaries are fleeing, so these joyous men out from technical arts are leaping into Philosophy, as if those being most intricate would hit upon the little art of themselves. For in comparison with the other arts the honor of philosophy even though abandoned is more magnificent. This is the flight of the many unaccomplished by nature, who from the technical arts and even workmanship, their bodies have been mutilated and their souls envined and even crushed through the mechanical arts.

Plato, Republic [495d]

Leaving the question of the sophists aside and picking up the word-image, we really have something here. There is the interminable sense that our experiences as workers confined to the techniques of our knowing and doing, caught within the demands of an economic and thereby psychic necessity, contort us, alter us. And Plato’s image is quite strong as he evokes the worker or technician (and some editors have thought that he had the military arts in mind, but the image carries through) whose body is maimed by the arts he practices. We see vividly the industry worker, or other friends of the “machine” who has lost fingers or received other bodily harm, even desk workers whose time in the chair have changed their posture. All of these graftings of a machinic upon the human body are rolled up into the image of the prisoner at the beginning of the passage, the one who is confined, shackled by circumstances of every degree. And all of these make for Socrates those who are unqualified to the seat of Philosopher. This is because, as the body is the image of the soul, it is not only bodies that have been exacted upon, it is souls, and here in the end forming a bookend to the prisoner the image is striking. The mechanical arts (by which we are to see mean arts, perhaps those of low craftsmen, even with the association of the weaver who is feminine), actually “envine”, they envelope and slowly twist and choke the soul, even eventually crush or pulverize it. What comes to mind for me is of a gear-working, a rack that out of its unnatural nature incrementally destroys the cognitive powers of the soul. Here “work” in every mechanical gradient becomes the equivalent of torture.

At a certain level we have condensed here all of the reasons why the economic freedoms of others become a high priority for us. For it is not just in political restriction that the voice and soul becomes contorted, but also that the very lived mechanical – and we read mechanical even in the most abstract sense of purposed and productive repetitions – states of workers are binding and cognitively contorting devices. At least that is the rhetorical picture. Aside from Plato’s political aim, the freeing of cognitions from devices remains a kind of halo of a hope, an attractor.

Scholastic Silence: How to Comtemplate

But in this ethical picture stands its opposite, the idea that the Philosopher is he who is not contorted, maimed or crushed. The one whose body and soul stands relatively whole, unpressured, the one who can see clearly, from a distance. It is there that Bourdieu’s critique of the “scholastic point of view” which I brought up in my last post, occurs. The production of the quietude of the Philosopher, the near monastic, let us say scholastic isolation from the contortions of mechanical art pressures, is, Bourdieu wants us to know, artificial. The cocoon and buffer that creates the gap between a world of devices and techniques exacted, and the imagined realm of reasons, has to be built. It has been constructed through labors which themselves are structured. And then it too is structured by internal devices and arts. What Bourdieu wants us to know is that when the philosopher adopts the scholastic point of view, he/she is likely carrying with him/her the vast train of social constructions (literal constructions) which enable that monastic cell of contemplation, and there is both a social and epistemic responsibility towards the excavation of those inherited and largely unconscious relations (an excavation that in some sense is retarded by flat ontologies who know only their surface).

The One Machinist of the 17th Century

In a way it is the Philosopher who knows least the mutilations of his/her body, the envinings of his/her soul, the pulverizations, due to the very quietude of contemplation. And to this great dis-orientation of thinking towards the mere mechanical, my mind turns towards the rise of the philosophy of the mechanical, the Dutch flowering of Cartesian mechanism. It seems here that most, if there was to be a philosophy that embraced the mechanical nature of thinking it would be found here. I wrote some time ago about the “hand of de Beaune” a brilliant mathematician who was working hard in the service of Descartes on the production of a fantastic automated lens-grinding machine :Descartes and Spinoza: Craft and Reason and The Hand of De Beaune. With somewhat of a coincidence de Beaune’s hand was severely cut just as Plato’s technician’s body was maimed. Descartes’ dream though was of producing machines which no hand would touch, pure, abstract machines, concretized maths, in a sense, those which would free the otherwise fettered human mind. Plato’s dichotomy duplicates itself, the machine as enemy to the mind because of the body, as well as its instrumental aid. As I have pointed out in my investigation of Spinoza’s lens-grinding, Spinoza was the only “worker” of the period, and in fact the only craftsman per se. While lens-grinding and machine fascination was an elite hobby among the new scientist riche, Spinoza was actually a worker, and engaged his lens lathe daily as a matter of his economic sustainance. Deep in this machinic age, only Spinoza new the machine in a fashion Plato’s Socrates could not. He knew it with his hands.

In an interesting fashion, Spinoza’s “scholastic point of view” embodies a unique self-reflective awareness that is encapsulated in his worker, machine status, as well as one might admit, his standing as an ostricized Jew. He occupied a position at the border, a stand-point, that made of his quietude a different sort of awareness. Born of the age of the machine, Spinoza understood the human being too as a device, a complex series of ordinations, to which other complex serieses of ordinations are connected, a “spiritual automaton” he called the human being. In this awareness the “worker” takes on a different place: Not that of “prisoner” to stand in dialectical opposition to the unmutilated man, but of machinic degree. Our work becomes an expression of machines, machines of which we never extricate ourselves. It is only that we need to choose our machines (those of which we are made) more carefully, with an eye to liberation. The gaze of leisure is to be questioned.

Blogged Quietism

In this view blogging of course becomes a significant phenomena. Some philosophical bloggers write out of a self-created cocoon to escape the twisting techne of university or college, forming however brief a contemplation of respite, engaging the machinic of the internet. Some blog in order to be able to speculate, to freely exhibit what they might be able to think, if they were allowed to. Yet, as we produce our ideas and disseminate them, to the degree that we do not embrace the machinic, we are fraught with generating the modes that have produced our monk-cell, unconsciously, not recognizing the shapes of our bodies and souls.

Atop this image of the mechanical arts that contort there is the artist, we might say, is also the self-artist. The one that grasps the inherent machinic character of the human, and purposely undergoes specific machinic contortions upon both body and soul, not to perfect, but to express (and to some degree soterologically free themself and others from) the specific techne of the world, as it stands. To take on the machine, in the way that a poet takes on a complex meter.

Freud and then Heine: Spinoza Does not Deny God, but Always Humanity

Freud and Spinoza on Kant’s Freedom

A few days ago I listened to the paper by Michael Mack (Nottingham), “Spinoza and Freud, or how to be mindful of the mind”  from the Spinoza and Bodies conference (audio here), and one quote really stood out, taken from Heine on Spinoza. Mack’s paper argues that Freud subverts the primary aim of Kantian philosophy: the autonomy of the human under and definition of Freedom. That is, the Copernican turn accomplishes a radical autonomy of man which is strictly modern, that the recursively defined categories of thought provide humanity with a kind of fresh space, a topos, upon which to do and be and make whatever they well, a cocoon of freedom. He doesn’t express it in this way, but I do. Freud takes this from Kant and the modern heritage in that he takes from the inside the autonomy that Kant attempted to carve out,  the “self”. I had never really thought if it in these terms, but one can see that it is precisely at the level of freedom that Spinoza’s Freedom and Kant’s Freedom collide, and one can see Mack’s point that Freud and Spinoza are on the same side on this, that the “self” is ever only partially free, and the sense that we are all exposed to causal forces far beyond our control, the ignorance of which deceives us into thinking we are freer than we are.

The paper is a wild ride at times, and Mack has the haltering verbal excitement of someone overly familiar with a history of ideas and some much neglected material that makes his reading engaging, at least to my ear. He exposes some, one wants to say sublimated, or at least seldom acknowledged even by Freud himself, influence of Spinoza on the father of psychoanalysis. Mack’s point falls off in the area of the Death Drive where he doesn’t do a sharp enough job of contrasting the admitted radical difference of Spinoza and Freud on this point, a chasm gap, surely on account of time .  For me, any comparison between Spinoza and Freud must at least start or end there. Where Mack is really strong is how he positions Freud and Spinoza towards Kant’s autonomy, and the subject of the Self.

In making his point about Freud, Spinoza and Jewishness, Mack brings the wonderful quote by Heine on the subject of Spinoza’s charged atheism. In an almost over-statement in response to the Pantheism Controversy, Heine declares, it is not God that is denied by Spinoza, but rather Man:

“Nothing but fear, unreason and malice could bestow on such a doctrine the qualification of atheism. No one has spoken so sublimely of Deity than Spinoza. Instead of saying that he denied God, one might say that he denied Man. All finite things are to him but modes of the Infinite Substance, all finite substances are contained in God, the human mind but the luminous ray of infinite thought, the human body but an atom of infinite extension. God is the infinite cause both of mind and of body, natura naturans.”
This starting point of Heine’s the erasure of Man, is the widescope though still concrete view that meets up nicely with Caroline Williams’s paper, already mentioned here:  Subjectless Subjectivity, A Geography of Subject: Beyond Objectology. Beginning with this erasure comes the integrated recomplexification of Man, humanity, Self, Subject, State, on an entirely different order. None of these abstract, cognitive boundaries are “kingdoms within a kingdom” but rather are shot through with material effects and forces beyond their knowledge, their autonomy.
 
Michael Mack’s paper is derived from a new book due out March 2010,  Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity: The Hidden Enlightenment of Diversity from Spinoza to Freud, Continum Books, something certainly to look out for.

“Indifference” – Thinking Through Cold

 

Prologue to Cold

Time has been spent lately thinking about Schelling’s Idealist appropriations and improvements on Spinoza’s notion of Substance and self, the way that he bent Nature’s history forward towards a development involving a supposedly higher unity, or at least self-conscious, expression, through an attempt to (re)unify the subject and the object. Unfortunately, because he held quite strong Idealist strains which conceived of the subject and the object under a fundamental binary involving the freedom of the self, itself representationalist and based upon a metaphor of a mirror’s reflection, I believe he missed one of the most radical notions contain in Spinoza’s thesis: that freedom consists not in binaries, but in infinities, and that what is “cold” provides in any case, the moment of eruption.

Spinoza’s project might be considered as a contructivist, immanent search for the leverage of Absolute Zero.

For those that don’t know, Absolute Zero, like the much more acclaimed speed of light, stands at a physical limit of the Universe, a temperature state no thing can be put into. So cold that all movement between related parts stops, so frozen that one has only pure structure, or we might say information, with no loss of entropy. Scientists have been attempting to cool things to the lowest point since the mid 19th century, then concentrating on trying to liquefying the eternal gases like oxygen and hydrogen. Now they have gotten within a few hundred billionths of a degree and produced the fantastic Einstein-Bose Condensate, bringing matter into such curious states that the wave functions of quantum particles begin to overlap and quantum effects start to manifest themselves on the macroscopic scale. At the very least the human quest for Absolute Zero, and the remarkable counter-intuitive behaviors of matter there make of the stuff of striking scientific analogy and fact.

I want to draw on the concept of Absolute Zero, −459.67° F or 0 Kelvin, to expose the raw potentiality involved in Spinoza’s criticism of most concepts of the world and our place in it, and in doing so show how Spinoza’s metaphysics signficantly involves prescriptions and diagnoses for how to go about finding real points in a lived life, in real situations, for radical, radix, change (liberation). When I say that I want to draw on the concept, there is a fine line being walked here, for generally I resist loose philosophical appropriations of scientific principles meant to describe very specific physical phenomena (so much messiness with what is done with Quantum Mechanics). There is ever a danger that what is being described in science becomes the event for only a merely fantastical imagination only stimulated by the idea found in a discipline. And perhaps this is the case here. The coldest of the cold has remarkable consonances with the conceptual (and even psychological) armature of Spinoza’s prescription, and in many senses there risks a vast and even confused conflation. But there is more than this to the transfer of Scientific Cold to Spinoza’s Metaphysical Cold, and this is found in translated attempts to connect Spinoza’s thinking on the concept of Idea to a universal notion of Information as a constituent element of the Universe (discussed some here: Information, Spinoza’s “Idea” and The Structure of the Universe ), joining matter and energy. If indeed there is a productive collaboration between Spinozist Idea and Stonier’s notion of Information, the real states of non-entropy, absolute cold, the zero-point edge of all reality, provide a real nexus between what is being described and our prescriptions. In a certain literal sense, Absolute Zero would be a place or state of pure Idea (or at least its approach). I want to investigate then, what it means for us to pursue states of Absolute Zero within our very temperate realm of the human, as a kind of liberating attractor, in the richness of an imaginary and prospective unveiling of the powers of Spinozist metaphysics, without losing the possible literal correspondence between Spinoza’s thinking and the informational properties of the Universe.

From Magnetism to Cold

In the 18th century there was another philosophical appropriation from science, which at least in my view gave birth to one of the more confused ideologies of philosophical thinking…the “dialectic”. Schelling invented the modern dialectic which Hegel perfected into pure abstractions, in part through the influence of Brugmans’ research into magnetism. Schelling, in his quest to reconsile the subject and the object as they are problematically posed in Kant’s and then Ficte’s Idealism, and in result synthesize ethics and subjectivity to objective natural philosophy, found inspiration in the points of “indifference” that Brugmans discovered in magetized metal. Between the metal’s polarities of +/- there were to be found points which were seemingly a kind of null-source of the polarity itself, or rather more technically, there were spatial threshold limits in a metal piece set to be magnetized by another which when fallen short of or transgressed in the process of being stroked produced the said polarity, and when ended upon, did not.

“I shall therefore take the opportunity of calling them the points of indifference. This seems to me to be a not entirely unsuitable, for the ends of the rod which has been stroked up to these points have an indifferent effect upon the poles of the magnetic needle” (Brugmans, Magnitismus seu de affinitatibus magneticis observationes academicae 1778)

These points of “indifference”  inspired in Schelling the notion that there are to be found points or a state of indifference (or really nondifference) to which the Idealist opposites of subject and object are immanent. Ultimately this state of Indifference, apart from Schelling’s early theories on magnetism and the construction of the Universe, would come to be interpreted as the Dark God, Ungrund, or blind Nature within God that gives birth to the otherwise oppositional Identity and difference and other oppositions.

What I want to think on is the Idealist notion of opposition itself, the idea of Absolute Opposition, which drives Schellings entire system (or systems). I would like to take on the very notion of opposed things, and redefine the power of Schelling’s original appeal to magnetism and Indifference to unlock just how Spinoza’s treatment of Idea and Object (and inside and outside) radically dispels all the hierarchies that Idealism attempts to set up to resolve what is for me a false problem, an cast image on which Man is set as precipice.

The difficulty follows from the host of philosophies of Representation and of Reflection that flow from Kant, and Schelling is certainly not immune, despite his Spinozist vertex (in a triangle of Idealism, Spinozism and Romanticism). It will be upon Spinoza’s non-representationalist conception of knowledge, his minimalization of the importance of self-reflection and thus human centricity, that I will try to rebuild the notion of Indifference with an intended radical effect. To see how Schelling conceives of necessary, conceptual opposition, and its Ur-source in optical metaphor one need only look at his comparisons of oppositions found in Bruno, where we find that a mirror image is irreconcilable to its object, unlike combinative chemicals. We are to read all “necessary” oppositions in just this sort of spectral way:

Bruno: I say that things are relatively opposed if they can cease being opposites and can be united in some third thing. Such an identification is unthinkable for absolute opposites, though. You will have an example of relative opposition if you think of two chemical substances with opposite properties, for they can be combined and so produce a third substance. You will have an example of the other sort of opposition if you think of an object and the mirror image of that object. For you can conceive of any third thing that would allow mirror image to pass over into object or permit the object to be transformed into an image? Aren’t they precisely so related that one is object, and the other image, absolutely, necessarily, and eternally distinct from one another?

Bruno, or, On the natural and the divine principle of things

Buried in the heart of Schelling’s attempt to reconcile these supposed opposites is the plague-born philosophy of reflection rich in its imaginary confabulations, leveraged upon the metaphysical consequences that must be earned due to the essentiality of human beings in the hierarchy of creatures. A philosophy of object, reflection and judgment encrusts itself with concerns for the ontological priority of human freedom (necessary for Christian theology and soul-orientation), knotting at its core this representationalist dream: the idea is a reflection of some sort. What is needed is a radix reformulation of what distinguishes idea from object, and a deepened sense of what the Indifference of imagined opposites can provide, in particular when “reflection” is not seen as an occasion of ontological apex.

Instead of thinking how God could ever reflect upon himself and create some sort of unity (as an idealized projection of what human beings optimally do), instead Spinoza provides a kind of maximalization of thought such that human actions (including thoughts) occupy no more priority in the Universe than anything else: human thoughts are about as similar to God’s as the barking dog is to a heavenly constellation, Spinoza tells us. Because ideas are not reflections of their objects (nor objects of their ideas), but rather are parallel expressions of extended things, there is a kind of “indifference” that is already found at the level of any idea (or thing) at all. Each and everything idea/thing is co-incident of Substance, expressively.  The indifference of the distinction between idea and thing resides in their singular essence. 

While Schelling will find the ultimate Indifference between opposites to be posited in a Dark, Unconscious God Ungrund which out of pure yearning give birth to the subsuming Ground of God as a collective of Identity into which all of difference is joined, as due to the quite reflective preoccupation of his philosophy, in Spinoza the Indifference (if we can borrow the term) falls to Substance itself which contains all things as a Unity come out of its unbound nature, a pure affirmation without lack; thus for him the differentiation of essences expressed in an infinite number of Attributes flows from its sheerly immanent, determined and infinite nature. The supposedly necessary “opposites” such as those that occur in fantasmic mirrors do not seem to find anywhere to take hold. Instead, idea and thing are already made mutual and co-incident, born of their essence in a dependent net of horizontal causes. As such in a certain fashion, each and every essence as it expresses itself as an idea and a thing, it itself an Indifference wherein ideas ARE things (despite Spinoza’s restriction against ideas and things cross-causing events in one or the other). Our causal explanations indeed trace out their chains in one or the other, but these two infinities are locked in a singular core of each essence, an essence which makes of any thing-idea existence a bright and gravitious star. Substance is already Indifferent as is each essence, which is its indifferent expression.

There is a sort of rhetorical game going on in my argument because Spinoza does not solve the problem that Schelling attempts to solve with the notion of Indifference because his formulations prevent it in the first place. So when I say that for Spinoza Substance is Indifferent or an essence is indifferent, there is a near non-homology. I say only near non-homology though because I would like to keep to the original science borrowing that inspired Schelling in the first place: there are points within a metal extension that are null to the process of being magnetized into poles. Because the split between thing and idea does not occur, the “point” between them is simply their immanent origin (and not a mirror’s tain), and not a null ground or subsumption of any sort. If indeed poles of magnetism are taken to indicate an imaginary split between idea and thing, image and object, subject and object, as such things are in Spinoza’s vision, the null point of their mutuality actual falls to the conditions of their expression, and within that, to what I would say is their Cold Point.

The Issue of Cold

Upon this framework for a general notion of non-representationalist, non-reflexive Indifference I want to open the path forward from the other end, that of a prescriptive diagnosis for radical change and freedom of action, within history and the condition of human thought. Under the onus of such a path Spinoza’s answer is: look for the Cold, pursue Absolute Zero, find Indifference. 

To be continued…The Cold of the Body Without Organs

Swimming Without Pause: Production Sans Subject:Toscano on Schelling and Spinoza

Breathing Matter

In this wonderfully conceived essay on Schelling and Spinoza “Fanaticism and Production: On Schelling’s Philosophy of Indifference” Albert Toscano works from a perspective of production, taking as a general question of philosophy the object seen as product. As he traces out Schelling’s struggle with Kantian concerns with the object, Toscano describes well the absolute limit at which Spinoza has placed himself, the radical of radicals (at least for the late 18th and 19th century mind). What the “subject” does, and I had never considered this in just this way, is provide a break in production, a gap, a respite, a hollowed out moment when all production stops. The machine that churns, relentlessly, holds its gears, if only locally. To have removed the importance of the subject, which Spinoza’s absolute philosophy ever threatens to do, is to remove the breath taken in the swim (leading to all sorts of transcendental leveragings). The appeal to the subject was not initially this, one suspects, but rather simply the way in which the subject seemed to explain how one escaped from the actual, what was happening in the moment (in the way that a dead, inanimate object seemingly cannot). But rather, subjectivity became more, a question of salvation, how to breath in a world of pure matter.

A significant passage:

Its two definitions, as eternal becoming and producing without limit, testify to Schelling’s monumental effort, even while still in Fichte’s wake, to think production beyond its Greek matrix: beyond transcendence construed either as the primacy of an effect or product or as the exteriority of form to matter. Philosophy as a suspension-in-production is thus geared towards resisting the tyranny of the actual, as that which covers over the activity which gave rise to it and leads to  these effects or illusions of transcendence which are engendered by the separation of subject and object. We are now ready to understand the retroactive significance of those passages in Schelling’s late lectures which refer to Spinoza’s substance as a “being (das Seyende) without potentiality”, “powerless being”, and his system as one of “complete quiescence”. The clue to this matter will come from one of Deleuze’s seminars, in the form of what may be an implicit avowal of an insufficiency of Spinoza which bears some interesting resemblances to Schelling’s own. Deleuze makes the following remark:

The necessity in Nature is that there will not be any relationships which are not effectuated [effectués]. The entirety of the possible is necessary, which means that all relationships have been or will be effectuated. […] Nature is the totality of effectuations of all possible, and therefore necessary, relationships. This is identity in Spinoza, the absolute identity of the possible and the necessary.(13.01.1981)

Now, if we turn to the Munich lectures, we can understand what is meant when Schelling, to support his critique, states that Spinoza’s is a system in which “the cause has completely merged into the effect”. For Schelling, in Spinoza’s system of necessity a suspension in production, even an artificial one, is unthinkable. There is simply nothing which would allow one to abstract production from product, which would allow an unlimited activity as pure cause to hold itself suspended before its effects. The reasons further adduced by Schelling in this 1833 text to support his claims against Spinozism, show him instead retreating to the positions held before that momentous threshold in German Idealist appropriations of Spinoza, the Supplement to the Ideen referred to above. “The God of Spinoza”, writes Schelling, “is still lost in substantiality and thereby immobility. For mobility (or possibility) is only in the subject. The subject of Spinoza is just object”. It is evident that, at this point, Schelling could no longer stand behind that fraught and tenuous, but nevertheless singular project of bringing together, through the indifferentiation of transcendental and natural-philosophy, the concepts of indifference and production into a philosophical endeavour truly beyond the legacy of Kantianism. To a certain degree the Schellingian project foundered precisely because of its radical character. In trying to think past the dichotomy of subject and object, Schelling found himself in a conceptual vacuum of sorts, unable to give due consistency to an inquiry which sought to break with the damning alternative between the articulation of subject and object on the one hand and the “night when all cows are black” on the other, as Hegel famously sniped at his former collaborator (16-17)

While I enjoyed Toscano’s take on Schelling and production I think that something is missed here, not in his description, but in the very notion of a “suspension before effects” as it is related to the notion of a Deleuzian avowal of a Spinozist “insufficiency”. Indeed it would seem that Spinoza does not let you breathe, insofar as you consider the material (object) environment alien (unbreathable). And if one cannot breathe, how can that which suffocates you breathe? Spinoza makes the world unbreathable, under the conditions to which a subject is put to use – and Toscano does an excellent job of discussing the apogee of Schelling’s flight towards Spinoza, away from Kant and Fichte. But in that holding of the breath, in Spinoza, as he submerges you, you then are forced eventually to gasp. One may find that beneath those oxygenated waters already there was breath, waiting. All the binaries of Idealism, many of which Schelling rapidly played, are organized against this possibility, that in matter, right there in the actual, you can and already breathe. No extrication was needed. Key to this is the suspension that is imagined to have happened through the subject, the gap in which “production” is supposed to have stopped and ground its gears, is an illusion. Production has continued, in the same way that the desert sun shines for the ostrich. All that one has done is secluded one’s knowledge. This is not accomplished through a “negation” or the imposition of the human powers of nothingness. It is done through a tempoing of the human half-directed, to a line of production, a river of it that it cannot follow, through the “picture” of an affirmation. Spinoza’s radical, powerless nihilism is a constructive one, one might suggest. It is one that, mid-stream, finds any action to come on the fly, amid production. There is no “time out” in history.

What is most interesting when following the Pantheism Controversy and all the ways in which people reacted to and corrected Spinoza is to key your eye upon what each was trying to preserve from Spinozist annihilation. You can’t think that, or we’ll lose “x”. Nearly everything that was an “x” for late 18th century German philosophy had strong political and ideological roots, that from this distance show themselves more clearly (in Schelling one of those “x”s was “freedom”). The terrible limit at which philosophy placed Spinoza during the controversy and its aftermath exposes as well the radical possible for both ourselves as a people and as subjects. To think without “x”. It would be a path of participation and cybernetic change through integration, aesthetic thresholds of fray and fixity, instead of instrumentally induced “breaks” in the order of being, timeouts wherein we get to play at God.

Omens of the Future: Intellection and Imagination

[click on photo for larger image]

More on the Balling Letter

This is a follow up on the train of thought I began two days ago on the subject of Spinoza’s letter to Peter Balling where Spinoza brings up the curious notion of sharing in the essence of another person, and even the result that one could have phenomenological experiences of future events: Spinoza’s Scheme of the Prophetic Imagination. I wanted to really explore just how Spinoza is using or conceiving of the imagination as a wayward point between events of the body, and events of the mind, as it seems that this is most important to determining the value of Spinoza’s comments, in particular how they might reveal just how he conceived of the importance of the “imitation of the affects” and also our general capacity to know (and/or participate in) the essences of external things.

Spinoza displays some inconsistency in how he treats the imagination (and even the concept of order, discussed here: Spinoza’s Two Concepts of Order), throughout his work. And the problem of the standing of the “imagination” in 17th century thought is not something unique to Spinoza. By and large though I think we can assume that what Spinoza means by the imagination is what we commonly mean by phenomena, that is our experiences of things either being present to us, or our ability to conjure them up apart from their presence. Largely these are just what we would call our “experiences” in general. So when Spinoza and Peter Balling are talking about either a waking dream of a diseased slave or the sounds of an ailing child groan, these are hallucinatory effects which are not different in mechanism than the effects we experience when we perceive the world.

Spinoza early on takes these experiences of the imagination to be best seen as products of the body, and as sources of confusion. We do not understand their causes, and they kinda of erupt out of our ignorance, seemingly at random. They are the products of external bodies interacting with and stimulating our own body. Most importantly, it is this tendency towards randomness (in terms of their meaningfulness) that Spinoza is most concerned with, the way in which our phenomenal experiences occlude and confuse, something which Spinoza attributes to their bodily source. You can see this in his Emendation where he claims that the effects of the imagination are only caused by bodies, but it is interesting that when it comes down to it Spinoza himself seems a bit confused on how to classify them by their source in the body. Instead it is merely their tendency towards (apparent) randomness and also our passivity towards them and the world which distinguishes them from products of the Intellect. In this sense explanations of our experiences which turn to our body alone, due to our ignorance of causes, tend to create passive states to be contrasted with the workings of the Intellect which are activities of our being:

Thus we have distinguished between the true idea and other perceptions, and we have established that the fictitious, the false, and other ideas have their origin in the imagination, that is, in certain sensations that are (so to speak) fortuitous and unconnected, arising not from the power of the mind but from external causes, in accordance as the body, dreaming or waking, receives various motions. Or if you wish, you may here understand by imagination whatever you please, as long as it is something different from the intellect, and the soul has a passive relationship to it. It matters not how you understand it, now that we know that it is something random, and that the soul is passive to it, while we know how we may be delivered from it with the aid of the intellect [84].

Emendation of the Intellect

In this way our experiences are seen as simply the receiving of motions from external bodies, and our bodies become something of a “picture making machine” (citing the end of Willa Cather’s story “Paul’s Case“). But by the time of Spinoza’s writing of his letter to Balling in 1664, perhaps some six years after the Emendation (if we are to believe Mignini), Spinoza adopts a dual possible source for effects of the imagination and our experiences. They can come either from the states of our body, or from the Intellect. In fact, Spinoza regards a whole class of imaginary effects as near automatic traces of the ideas we form in the Intellect:

The effects of the imagination arise from the constitution either of body or of mind. To avoid all prolixity, for the present I shall prove this simply from what we experience. We find by experience that fevers and other corporeal changes are the cause of delirium, and that those whose blood is thick imagine nothing but quarrels, troubles, murders and things of that sort. We also see that the imagination can be determined simply by the constitution of the soul, since, as we find, it follows in the wake of the intellect in all things, linking together and interconnecting its images and words just as the intellect does its demonstrations, so that there is almost nothing we can understand without the imagination instantly forming an image.

Letter 17, To Peter Balling, July 20th 1664

Apart from the take in the Emendation, here the imagination actually “follows in the wake of the Intellect” and distinct from the opinion that it tends towards randomness in meaning, its images and words (!) are interconnected just as (one presumes, in a way similar to) the intellect’s linking of its proofs. It should be noted that Spinoza is reasoning from “experience” itself here, and not making a deductive determination, but it is clear that he has at the very least shifted his stance away from the significantly passive and randomesque sources of the imagination some years back. And even more evocative, the very concept of linked and interconnected images and words strongly calls to mind the linchpin proposition 13 of part II of the Ethics, wherein the order and connection of ideas and (extended) things is said to be the same. There is nearly a third “order and connection” going on here.

How Can The Imagination Have Two Sources?

This aspect of the letter actually has troubled me quite a bit. In fact any place Spinoza argued that there is either a bodily source or a mental source for an event I felt a deep objection arise in me that Spinoza’s parallel postulate strictly forbids any such ultimate distinction. As you can see from the diagram posted above, the order and connections of the bodily state expressions of an essence run necessarily parallel to their ideational expression; and Spinoza precludes the idea that one side of the parallel can have causal effect on the other. So any bodily state, when taken as the causal source of an event, must also have its parallel ideational state which additionally the causal source of the same event (read as an ideational expression). What determines whether one uses the bodily state as the causal source or not is whether the event is read as either a physical expression, or as an ideational one. But all events are necessarily both. So when Spinoza says in the Emendation that the imagination (those events) are bodily in nature, this can only mean that he is already speaking of them as physical (putting some strain on the future of the parallel postulate). By the time of writing of letter 17, the effects of the Imagination are dichotomized, but at first blush this is not at the level of description. Instead it seems rather for Spinoza there are kinds or classes of effects of the Imagination. Delirums and dispositional judgments spring from bodily constitutions, and in this case, prophetic imaginary experiences which spring from the mind or the constitution of the soul.

What are we to make of this supposedly confusion of the parallel postulate wherein some experiential events are predisposed to be explained through a physical causal chain, and others through an ideational one? And what are we to make of the causal difficulties involved in the notion of the imagination “following in the wake” of the Intellect, or even that such wake-following possesses its own order of expression? I think the answer lies within the kinds of relevant causes that get swept up in either chain of explanatory force. That is to say, while we may presume that the parallel postulate holds and that there is a causal chain of each kind flowing backwards for any one event, which chain we chose depends on both our access to information about that chain, but also what each explanation would reveal. And in the case of our experiences of our interactions with things external to us, indeed each chain gives us a different method of self-analysis and world orientation which is in some sense linked to the ontological lean each event has towards the world itself. Spinoza wants to say something of the effect, there could be two seemingly similar imaginative effects, waking dreams, but understanding one might tell us more about ourselves (if we take it to be the product of the physical states of our body), and the other might tell us something more about the world, something external to us, (if we take it to be the product of our ideational state and our relational juxtaposition to other things in the world). You can see this in the way that Spinoza justifies that Peter Balling’s hallucination would indeed be prophetic, born out of the love and literal union of the father to the son:

[continuing from the passage just cited] This being so, I say that none of the effects of the imagination which are due to corporeal causes can ever be omens of things to come, because their causes do not involve future things. But the effects of the imagination, or images, which have their origin in the constitution of the mind can be omens of some future event because the mind can have confused awareness beforehand of something that is to come. So it can imagine it has firmly and vividly as if such a thing were present to it…

The Logic of the Future

What I propose is that the dichotomy Spinoza uses is one quite natural to us. In lieu of the medical common place at the time, thickness of blood, we moderns need only replace “low dopamine levels” or “damage to the cerebral cortex” to see that physical causal explanations of our experiences and judgments gain their traction from the way in which those experiences fail to shed light upon the world. The meaningfulness of those mental events, in that they fail to reveal the world (for others or ourselves), drains away, and is recouped through a physical explanation. In Spinoza’s letter, a fever explains a hallucination when the vision does not seem to derive from events in the world. Physical dispositions explain those that are too morbidly or aggressively predisposed, when those mental events seem out of joint with what is going on. To take another example, “its the drink speaking” is a regular dismissal of the “truths” spoken by a drunk person. The recapture of explanatory force at the level of the physical is accomplished by understanding better the way in which physical causes are operating. One might cure a fever to ride oneself of delirium, or abstain from alcohol to avoid overly emotional outbursts (or take lithium to avoid depressions). Key though to Spinoza’s dual cause interpretation is that given that mental events lack traction in the real world (seemingly), such imaginary effects will simply seem to the person experiencing them to verge towards “random”. A cloak of ignorance covers much of the causal chain, leading to confusions.

There is another path to explanation, the path to order and sense-making, and it is to this that Spinoza sets up his alternate explanation of a waking dream. Imaginary effects, in that they follow in the wake of the Intellect actually can reveal the world itself – and in this case even indicate something of its future. Spinoza predicates this upon what he calls “participating” in the essence of another person (or perhaps more correctly, in the affections and ideas of another person), something he calls a union and a becoming as if one and the same, via love. For clarity sake I diagram out the two causal explanations of waking dreams below:

[click on photo for large image]

I think that there is more than our ability to interpret waking dreams at stake in these descriptions. In fact I think we have clue to the very picture of the world Spinoza holds as it underwrites all of his epistemic arguments for how we do and do not know things in the world. But first I would like take up the very notion that we might have premonitory imaginary experiences. This is something that strikes us as sheer superstition, and it is hard for us to accept that the quite sober Spinoza would indulge in such a fancy. But I think I can appeal to some very real, in fact everyday experiences which may clear up just what future-vision may be for Spinoza, or perhaps why he holds the claim that he does: that things of the Intellect involve things of the future. The first of these is obvious, the sciences indeed are, based on acts of intellection, quite predictive. But it is more than this, for Spinoza is talking about an outright hallucination of a future event, so much so it is as if the event is happening right in front of you. Do we have any instances of this sort we can draw on? The most instructive one I believe is the example shared by Spinoza and Wittgenstein, discussed here: Understanding in a Flash and the Mastery of Technique. This is when a mathematical series is being expressed and that there is a rule that is being followed in the succession of numbers. It don’t think it is too much of a stretch to refer to what Wittgenstein called “characteristic accompaniments” as effects of the imagination which are not understanding itself, but rather seem to come in the wake of understanding. If I say aloud “2, 4, 6, 8…” it is not out of the question that you might have an auditory hallucination of the sound “1o” in anticipation of the next number. This in fact would be an albeit confused but still imaginary premonition of a future event, even if I happen to stop at the number 8. In fact we get a glimpse at what Spinoza means by the “wake of the Intellect”. In some sense this power of anticipation through imaginary phenomena expresses our grasp of a situation is what Spinoza is appealing to when trying to explain how Balling’s vision differs from his own. And most importantly, the foundation of this difference is the participatory relationship the father has with his son’s essence, the literal union of the two.

How Adequate Are Our Ideas of External Things?

Much has been debated about the way Spinoza conceives the adequacy of our ideas of external things, and in this questions about just how adequate the ideas of Science are. Spinoza is restrictive to the value of abstractions (of which much of Sciences seems to be composed), and mathematics (which he calls both a product of, and an aid to, the imagination in letter 12). Spinoza’s theory of Common Notions introduced in the Ethics simply is too bare to do the weight of carrying  the whole load of how we gain knowledge about states of the world. Indeed I side with others such as Michael Della Rocca and Eric Schliesser who, for different reasons, renounce that completely adequate ideas could be held about things external to us, insofar as they are taken as separate things. And I think core to the issue of adequate knowledges is Spinoza’s Letter 17 notion of participating in the essence of another person to strong ideational effect. There seems to be an undercurrent of participation in essences between Spinoza’s intuitions about how we hold ideas of other things i the first place.

Most readings that seek to resolve the difficulties of how adequate our knowledge of external thing is turn to either our necessarily adequate knowledge of “common notions” (supposedly ideas that are common to both ourselves and external things) or to the infinite modes like “motion and rest”, which in turn are taken to be common to all things. And Spinoza towards the end of his unfinished treatise on the Emendation gives us a good hint at how we should think about these very “real” things, things we must train our Intellect to:

As to the ordering of all our perceptions and their proper arrangement and unification, it is required that, as soon as possible and reason demands, we should ask whether there is a being – and also what kind of being – which is the cause of all things so that its essence objectified is the cause of all our ideas [ut  class=”hiddenSpellError” pre=”ut “>eius essentia obiectiva sit etiam causa omnium nostrarum idearum]. Then our mind, as we have said, will reproduce [referet] Nature as closely as possible, for it will possess the in the form of thought the essence, order and unity of Nature. Hence we can see that it is above all necessary for us always to deduce our ideas from physical things, i.e., from real beings, advancing, as far as we can, in accordance with the chain of causes from one real being to another real being, neither inferring something real from them nor inferring them from something real. For in either case the true progress of the intellect is interrupted.

But it should be noted that by the series of causes and real beings I do not here mean the series of mutable particular things, but only the series of fixed and eternal things. It would be impossible for human limitation to grasp the series of mutable particular things, not only because they are innumerable but also because of the infinite number of factors affecting one and the same thing, each of which can be the cause of the existence or nonexistence of the thing. For the existence of mutable particular things has no connection with their essence; that is (as we have said), their existence is not an eternal truth.

But neither is there any need for us to understand their series. For the essences of particular mutable things are not to be elicited from their series or order of existing, which would furnish us with nothing but their extrinsic characteristics, their relations, or, at most, their circumstances. All these are far from the inmost essence of things. This essence is to be sought only from the fixed eternal things, and at the same time from the laws in these things as well as in their true codes [veris codicibus] so inscribed, which govern the coming into existence and the ordering of all particular things [99-101]

The Emendation of the Intellect

In such a passage our modern scientific gaze turns to these “true codes” and “laws” which govern particular things, and we ask ourselves just how Spinoza conceives that we can know these laws within his framework of knowledges. And how are we to conceive of the passing from one real thing to another, without falling into abstraction? What does it mean for us to identify what kind of being is the cause of all our ideas so that we hold the essence of something in our mind, as the source of our own ideas of a particular thing? What I suggest is that Spinoza’s letter 17 notion of “participation” in an essence is precisely the relation that Spinoza is thinking of here. There is for Spinoza a genuine transformation of the self, through the power of its ideas, when it comes to perceive and think about particular things external to it. And I would suggest that this transformation involves the literal becoming other than itself, or rather, forming a mutuality with the object known such that the inter-relationship expresses a new essence: 

 

[click on photo for larger image]

In letter 17 the father is said to necessarily have an idea of the affections of the body of his son due to the degree of their union so as to have become one and the same. They have achieved a kind of identity which at the ideational level anchors the adequacy (or at least the greatly increased adequacy) of his idea of his son’s affections, so much so that the future of the son’s illness leaves a trace in the imagination of the present. That indeed a new essence is achieved through the father’s love could be argued in two ways, following two of the definitions of what makes any composition of physical parts an “individual”. The first is that any fixed ratio of a communication of parts achieves individuality, and there is no reason at all why one would not admit any cognitive inter-relationship between a knower and a known as just such a communication of parts (however mediated). The second is that Spinoza defines as an individual anything combination of causes which produces a singular effect. In the case of the father’s premonition, at least as Spinoza qualifies it, it is the union of the two, closely related to the level of essences, that produces this imaginary event, establishing this union itself as an individual. But I suggest further, participation in the essences of other things external to us is the FUNDAMENTAL mode of our knowing anything about anything in the world, and this is due to the fact that any particular modal expression shares its status as an expression of Substance with any other modal expression. If there are laws (and codes) which govern the expression of any two modal forms, these two modes are necessarily participating in the essences of each, at the very least through their sharing of the governance which brings them into being and order.

The Participatory Ontology of Knowing

But something more is meant by “participation” by Spinoza in this letter, in particular how it is due to the deep love of the father for his son. In the Ethics “love” is relegated to the order of the passions, a complimentary psychological part to hate, each echoing back into the other. Here in the letter to Balling instead love is seen as the source of a deep ideational union between two persons, and a kind of prophetic power of epistemological imagination: a father that can foreseen his son’s death, however confusedly. In the Ethics Love is defined as the increase of perfection accompanied by the idea of an external cause, and in this sense the father loves his son because he regards the son as the source and cause of his own increases in perfection and joy. I have always taken this phrase “accompanied by the idea of an external cause” to be a reprovement for the human tendency to select out only ONE cause for the complexity of relations which compose our mental and physical events. Indeed the beloved is “a” cause of our increase in joy and active perfection, but what makes this a passive relation is the exclusion of all other causes, the entire matrix of intimate connections which for Spinoza go all the way up to God-Substance, and all the way into our own individual states, which have brought about this change. What distinguishes Spinoza’s participatory love from just this sort of passion, at least so far as how he exemplifies it (and notice he speaks of an ideal relation, and not necessarily the Balling experience), is that it creates a participation in essence which connects one’s own ideas with the affections of the other person. And implicitly, I would propose, such a love-paricipation must involve all the common notions, the mutuality of human nature and the infinite modes as determining and shared expressions. One has, at least potentially, ideas of all these mediating things in just the same way that one has ideas of the affections of the son.

If this line of thinking is to be embraced as underwriting knowledge for Spinoza, that is, degrees of participation qualified by the degree of adequacy of one’s ideas, the degree of one’s being, and even the strength of intellectual love, then Spinoza’s principle of the “imitation of the affects” has to be reconsidered or at least put into juxtaposition with the participation in essences, due to love:

 E3, Proposition 27: If we imagine a thing like us, toward which we have had no affect, to be affected with some affect, we are thereby affected with a like affect…

Such a proposition puts the imagination front and center in the processes which allow us to achieve social bonds, not only with other humans but with almost all things in the world; (I argue this at some length here: The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation, Part I of IV) The question always is, How can mere processes of projective imagination gain any ground on which such imagining and experiencing the world through others actually proves efficacious and informative. When Spinoza says “If we imagine a thing like us” is there a concrete, or real “like us” which makes this process gain traction and ultimately real? If we take up Spinoza’s Letter 17 musings on the prophetic, and if we grant that essence participation is fundamental to the access of at least some of our intellectual activity and awarenesses, it would seem that the imitation of the affects is an imaginary expression “in the wake of” real intellectual, ideational unions, unions which vary by degrees of adequacy and being. The question is not whether we can have adequate ideas of external, particular things, but rather how adequate ideas express themselves in varying degrees of our occasions of cybernetic union with things in the world. It is for this that Spinoza wants us to concentrate on “real beings” which constitute our very combinative participation with those things we know, use and ultimately love.

Revelation in the Wake of Intellect

Lastly, this would suggest, that if our world being – quite in contrast with Heidegger is not a “thrown-into-ness” of alienation – is one of a necessarily participation and overlapping, boundary-defying mutuality of expression, in which our knowing of things is to some degree our being them (Campanella), then our imaginations may very well be capable of producing phenomenal presentations of our futures, however confusedly, in much the same fashion that Peter Balling foresaw his son via participation. Additionally, it is my suspicion that Spinoza’s dream of the Scabrous Brazilian slave was no mere random eruption of the physical states of his body, as he would have it, but likely an expression, however mitigated, of the actual relations of Spinoza to the Jewish community back in Amsterdam, and the slave trade discussed some here: Spinoza and the Caliban Question.

Understanding in a Flash and the Mastery of Technique

 
 
Eternity and Know-how
 
I’ve been reflecting on the concurrences between the excellent passage from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations below, and the Spinoza point made, which follows. Wittgenstein’s brilliant, economically, though quite gnomically put point has always been “there is no rule for how to follow a rule”. Simply so, when following a rule for action, the rule itself (nor the appeal to any other meta-rule) is not sufficient to justify the application of the rule, at least from any foundational conception of knowledge. In the passage below Wittgenstein picks up the simple mathematical example of rule-following, which he attempts to sculpt down to its most essential aspects. What is most telling is they way in which he rejects any temporal mental action/experience, what he calls a “mental process” as the source for what is called “understanding”. That is, anything that has what Spinoza named “duration” cannot be the origin of our ability to comprehend.
 
I’ve always looked at this passage with amazement, as we hear Wittgenstein’s mind ticking in self-conversation in his usual style, feeling a surgeon’s hands being placed right in the meat of what the much philosophically pursued “understanding” is. Never though had I connected the passage, either in influence or just in terms of content, to the similar analogy used by Spinoza to point out the difference between “rational” knowledge given by the appeal to reasons (the art of reasoning) and the preferred “intuitional” knowledge that comes out of a union with God, Substance, Nature.
 
Here is the respected passage from Wittgenstein. If you are not familiar with his method, keep track of the different Socratic voices:
145. Suppose the pupil now writes the series 0 to 9 to our satisfaction. – And this will only be the case when he is often successful, not if it does it right once in a hundred attempts. Now I continue the series and draw his attention to the recurrence of the first series in the units; and then to its recurrence in the tens. (Which only means that I use particular emphases, underline figures, write them one under another in such-and-such ways, and similar things.) – And now at some point he continues the series independently – or he does not.- But why do you say that? so much is obvious! – Of course; I only wish to say: the effect of any further explanation depends on reaction.
 
Now, however, let us suppose that after some efforts on the teacher’s part he continues the series correctly, that is, as we do it. So now we can say he has mastered the system. – But how far need he continue the series for us to have the right to say that? Clearly you cannot state a limit here.-
 
146. Suppose I now ask: “Has he understood the system when he continues the series to the hundredth place?” Or – if I should not speak of ‘understanding’ in connection with our primitive language-game: Has he got the system, if he continues the correctly so far? – Perhaps you will say here: to have got the system (or, again, to understand it) can’t consist in continuing the series up to this or that number: that is only applying one’s understanding. The understanding itself is a state which is the source of the correct use.
 
What is one really thinking of here? Isn’t one thinking of the derivation of a series from its algebraic formula? Or at least of something analogous? – But this is where we were before. The points is, we may think of more than one/ application of an algebraic formula; and any type of application may in turn be formulated algebraically; but naturally this does not get us any further.- The application is still a criterion of understanding.
 
147. “But how can this be? When I say I understand the rule of a series, I am surely not saying so because I have found out/ that up to now I had applied the algebraic formula in such-and-such a way! In my own case at all events I surely know that I mean such-and-such a series; it doesn’t matter how far I have actually developed it.” –
 
Your idea, then, is that you know the application of the rule of the series quite apart from remembering actual applications to particular numbers.  And you will perhaps say: “Of course! For the series is infinite and the bit of it that I can have developed finite.”
148. But what does this knowledge consist in? Let me ask: When do you know the application? Always? day and night? or only when you are actually thinking of the rule? do you know it, that is, in the same way as you know the alphabet and the multiplication table? Or is what you call “knowledge” a state of consciousness or a process – say a thought of something, or the like?
 
149. If one says that knowing the ABC is a state of the mind, one is thinking of a state of a mental apparatus (perhaps of the brain) by means of which we explain the manifestations/ of that knowledge. Such a state is called a disposition. But there are objections to speaking of a state of the mind here, inasmuch as there ought to be two different criteria for such a state: a knowledge of a the construction of the apparatus, quite apart from what it does. (Nothing would be more confusing here that to use the words “conscious” and “unconscious” for the contrast between states of consciousness and dispositions. For this pair covers up a grammatical difference.)
 
150. The grammar of the word “knows”  is evidently closely related to that of “can”, “is able to”. But also closely related to that of “understands”. (‘Mastery’ of a technique.)
 
Footnote, bottom of page 50: a) “Understanding a word” : a state. But a mental/ state? – Depression, excitement, pain, are called mental states. Carry out a grammatical investigation as follows: we say
 
“He was depressed the whole day.”
“He was in great excitement the whole day.”
“He has been in continuous pain since yesterday”.-
 
We also say “Since yesterday I have understood this word”. “Continuously”, though? – To be sure, one can speak of an interruption of understanding. But in what cases? Compare: “When did your pains get less?” and “When did you stop understanding that word?”
 
b) Suppose it were asked: When do you know how to play chess? All the time? or just while you are making a move? And the whole of chess during each move?- How queer that knowing how to play chess should take such a short time, and a game so much longer!
 
151. But there is also this use of the word “to know”: we say “Now I know!” – and similarly “Now I can do it!” and “Now I understand!”
 
Let us imagine the following example: A writes series of numbers down; B watches him and tries to find a law for the sequences of numbers. If he succeeds he exclaims: “Now I can go on!” – So this capacity, this understanding, is something that makes its appearance in a moment. So let us try and see what it is that makes its appearance here. – A has written down the numbers 1, 5, 11, 19, 29; at this point B says he knows how to go on. What happened here? Various things may have happened; for example, while A was slowly putting one number after another, B was occupied with trying various algebraic formulae on the numbers when had been written down. After A had written the number 19 B tried the formula a (subscript) n = n² + n -1; and the next number confirmed his hypothesis.
 
Or again, B does not think of formulae. He watches A writing his numbers down with a feeling of tension, and all sorts of vague thoughts go through his head. Finally he asks himself: “What is the series of differences?” He finds the series 4, 6, 8, 10 and says: Now I can go on.
 
Or he watches and says “Yes, I know that series” – and continues it, just as he would have done if A had written down the series 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, – Or he says nothing at all and simply continues the series. Perhaps he had what may be called the sensation “that’s easy!” (Such a sensation is, for example, that of a light quick intake of breath, as when one is slightly startled.)
 
152. But are the processes which I describe here understanding? “B understands the principle of the series” surely doesn’t mean simply: the formula “an =…” occurs to B. For it is perfectly imaginable that the formula should occur to him and that he should nevertheless not understand. “He understands” must have more in than: the formula occurs to him. And equally, more than any of those more or less characteristic accompaniments/ or manifestations of understanding.
 
153. We are trying to get a hold of the mental processes of understanding which seems to be hidden behind those coarser and therefore more readily visible accompaniments. But we do not succeed; or, rather, it does not get as far as a real attempt. For even supposing I had found something that happened in all those cases of understanding, – why should it be the understanding? And how can the process of understanding have been hidden, when I said “Now I understand” because I understood?! And if I say it is hidden – then how do I know what I have to look for? I am in a muddle.
 
154. But wait – if “Now I understand the principle” does not mean the same as “The formula…occurs to me” (or “I say the formula”, “I write it down”, etc.) – does it follow from this that I employ the sentence “Now I understand…” or “Now I can go on” as a description of a process occurring behind or side by side with that of saying the formula?
 
155. If there has to be anything ‘behind the utterance of the formula’ it is particular circumstances, which justify me in saying I can go on – when the formula occurs to me.
 
Try not to think of understanding as a ‘mental process’ at all. For that is the expression which confuses you. But ask yourself: in what sort of case, in what kind of circumstances, do we say, “Now I know how to go on,” when, that is, the formula has occurred to me? –
 
In the sense in which there are processes (including mental processes) which are characteristic of understanding, understanding is not a mental process.
 
(A pain growing more or less; the hearing of a tune or a sentence: these are mental processes.)
 
156. Thus what I wanted to say was: when he suddenly knew how to go one, when he understood the principle, then possibly he had a special experience – and if he is asked: What was it? What took place when you suddenly grasped the principle?” perhaps he will describe it much as we described it above – but for us it is the circumstances/ under which he had such an experience that justified him in saying in such a case that he understands, that he knows how to go on.
 
Philosophical Investigations

There are several aspects of comparison between Wittgenstein and Spinoza, but most signficantly are Wittgenstein’s “nothing is hidden” assertion, as well as the notion that the learning of a rule is very much like the “mastery of a technique”. Evocatively he places “know” to be very close to the use of “can” or “is able to”, moving us very close Spinoza’s metaphysical point that knowing isn’t a representational state, but is an action.

Here are the related example from Spinoza’s Short Treatise, followed by the same example from two other works, concerning the ability to follow a rule:

Part II, Chapter I

Someone has merely heard someone else say that if, in the rule of three, you multiply the second and third numbers, and divide the product by the first, you then find the fourth number, which has the same proportion to the third as the second has to the first. And in spite of the fact that the one who told him this could be lying, he still governed his actions according to this rule, without having had any more knowledge of the rule of three than a blind man has of color. So whatever he may have been able to say about it, he repeated it, as a parrot repeats what it has been taught.
 
A second person, of quicker perception [more active intelligence, Shirley], is not content in this way with report, but tests it with some particular calculations, and finding that these agree with it, give his belief to it. But we have rightly said that this one too is subject to error. For how can he be sure that the experience of some particular [cases] can be a rule for him for all.
 
A third, being satisfied with neither with report, because it can deceive, nor with the experience of some particular [cases], because it cannot be a rule, consults true reason, which has never, when properly used, been deceptive. Reason tells him that because of the property of proportionality in these numbers, this is so, and coud not have been, or happened otherwise.
 
But a fourth, who has the clearest knowledge of all, has no need either of report, or of experience, or of the art of reasoning, because through his penetration he immediately sees the proportionality in all the calculations….
 
Chapter II
 
We call the first opinion because it is subject to error, and has no place in anything of which we are certain, but only where guessing and speculating are spoken of.
 
We call the second belief (opinion), because the things we grasp only through reason, we do not see, but know only through a conviction in the intellect that it must be so and not otherwise.
 
But we call that clear knowledge that comes not from being convinced by reasons, but from being aware of and enjoying the thing itself. This goes far beyond the others…
 
 the Short Treatise
 
…Suppose there are three numbers. Someone is seeking a fourth, which is to the third as the second is to the first. Here merchants will usually say that they know what to do to find the fourth number, because they have not yet forgotten that procedure which they heard from their teachers, without any demonstration.
 
Others will construct a universal axiom from an experience with simple numbers, where the fourth number is evident through itself – as in the numbers 2, 4, 3, and 6. Here they find by trial that if the second is multiplied by the third, and the product is divided by the first, the result is 6. Since they see that this produces the same number which they knew to be the proportional number withou this procedure, they infer that the procedure is always a good way to find the fourth number in the proportion.
 
But mathematicians know, by the force of the demonstration of Proposition 19 in Book VII of Euclid, which numbers are proportional to one another, from the nature of proportion, and its property, viz. that the product of the second and the third. Nevertheless, they do not see the adequate proportionality of the given numbers. And if they do, they see it not by the force of the Proposition, but intuitively, or without going through any procedure.
 
Emendation of the Intellect (23)
 
…Given the numbers 1, 2 and 3, no one fails to see that the fourth proportional number is 6 – and we see this much more clearly because we infer the fourth number from the ratio which, in one glance, we see the first number to have the second.
 
Ethics, IIp40s2iv
Tool Use and Eternity
After all this quotation I want to create the picture that for both Spinoza and Wittgenstein the rules of reason were to be seen as tools (and not knowledge in their own right), techniques of action. What both thinkers shared was a engineer’s sensitivity towards the way that parts fit together. Spinoza of course was a master lens-craftsman and Wittgenstein an amateur architect and mechanical engineer (I believe he designed his own aircraft engine, if I recall correctly). What is most germane, as both thinkers reflect back upon each other, is I think the way in which Wittgenstein’s “circumstances” which act as the criteria for our justification of the rule-following of others, opens out the historical immanence for Spinoza’s view towards eternity. This is to say, or argumentation about the truths of actions find their criteria in the real, historical milieu to which they are immanent. I think that this is very much in keeping with Spinoza’s articulation (as long as we remain under the question of “justification”). In this sense, reason has a historically contingent, natura naturata manifestation and horizon. But as well, Spinoza’s window unto eternity, aside from the question of justification, makes more clear Wittgenstein’s own attachment to a denial of durative processes as the source of understanding. Instead, while historically contingent criteria, all immanent to their circumstances, may lead us to the intuitive grasp of wholes, these are mere tools in a certain, transpiercing of history through intuitive grasp (in which the issue of justification falls away). Ultimately these are human and abiotic bindings, constitutive of their mutuality, in the end causal relations of perception. In all perceptions, including those of animals and inanimate objects, nothing is hidden, nothing lies beyond.
I think that this goes onto explain Spinoza’s own reticence towards the technological innovations of Christiaan Huygens in the area of lens grinding. Huygens and his brother were brilliant experimenters with the art of lens grinding, an area of craft which Spinoza specialized in. What is of note is that Spinoza did not find the Huygens’ shiny devices of much interest, just the sorts of machines that were arriving on the scene which seemed to manifest cleanly the powers of mathematical knowledge itself. Mechanical instruments seemed to express abstract truths without the stain of human hand. But Spinoza found this the least bit interesting:

The said Huygens has been a totally occupied man, and so he is, with polishing glass dioptrics; to that end a workshop he has outfitted, and in it he is able to “turn” pans – as is said, it’s certainly polished – what tho’ thusly he will have accomplished I don’t know, nor, to admit a truth, strongly do I desire to know. For me, as is said, experience has taught that with spherical pans, being polished by a free hand is safer and better than any machine. 

Spinoza in his letter to Oldenburg refers actually to the supposedly lowest level of knowledge in his trinity, experience, as the reproof of the importance of the semi-automated machine that he saw. I don’t believe that this is a small dispositional point. Rather, just as Wittgenstein refuses any grounding of “understanding” in rules (which are tools), and as Spinoza puts “intuitional knowledge” above the truths found in the Art of Reasoning, I believe that Spinoza found the appeal of instruments themselves as abstract devices and powers (be they rules, theorems, machines) to be utterly secondary to the intuitional revelation of God and Nature itself, through those tools. His preference for the “free hand” over the automated gear turn, expressed above, is not simply a pragmatic issue (most of Huygens devices did not seem to produce usable lenses), but also a question of just what the human/technological interface involved, and the powers of its action. Instrumentality, like that would mark much of scientific pursuit, was a fetish. Maths and Science were tools used for the transformational intuition of truth, a strong de-centering of the subject, and were not truths about the world themselves.

Was Tuberculosis the Condition of Spinoza’s Emendation of the Intellect?

I have argued before that Spinoza’s life was likely one that involved carrying the burden of the disease tuberculosis, and that indeed it may have been the disease that influenced some of his most important decisions including his young adult break from the community and devotion to philosophy, as well as the decisions to live away from Amsterdam in states of relative isolation, and perhaps even his break from writing the Ethics and the turn to the Theological-Political Treatise: Spinoza and Tuberculosis: His Disease and Devotion. This is not to say that this is definitely the case in any of these events, but only that as far as I have read his disease is almost never considered by biographers or interpreters as a causal influence upon his life’s trajectory.

The article was called to my attention again and as it happens I was also looking back over Spinoza’s first philosophical work (following Mignini), the Emendation of the Intellect for other reasons last night. I was struck by more than one reference to death, disease and health in its first pages. I went back and inserted a reference in the original post, but it seems good to put them altogether here, for it strikes me that at the very least Spinoza does have disease and death on his mind as he makes his definitive break from the “uncertain” to the “certain”, leaving behind both the community he grew up in and the pursuit of wealth (his family buisness).

Four Citations of Health, Malady and Death

Keep in mind this is a prospective view, meant only to cast a different light on much-looked-at texts, and not a full-blown thesis. And thus the four citations I give are not definitive in any sense, but only supportive of general understanding that is missing in the common interpretations of Spinoza’s life and work.

The first of these is the opening paragraph of the Emendation. Here Spinoza cites “experience” that has taught him of the uncertain. As mentioned in the first article, the deaths of his step mother Esther and then of his father (1654-55) seven months apart, if from tuberculosis, approximately 3-4 years previous, not to mention that the possible onset of the disease in himself could have formed a definite part of this “experience”.

After experience has taught me that all the things which regularly occur in ordinary life are empty and futile, and I saw that all the things which were the cause or object of my fear had nothing of good or bad in themselves, except insofar as [my] mind was moved by them, I resolved at last to try to find out whether there was anything which would be the true good, capable of communicating itself, and which alone would affect the mind, all others being rejected – whether there was something which, once found and acquired, would continuously give me the greatest joy, to eternity [1]

If my hypothesis is correct, Spinoza has been suffering from some symptomatic tuberculosis, just as others of his family had, and that these bouts of coughing and possible blood were in some sense a wake up call to a devotion to the Infinite form him. I read something of this as expressed in his talk of the intervals of peace that increased with his determined change of mentality, possibly understood as a certain conflation of his disease with mental inordination itself (the worries and pursuits of the family business in trade). Could it be that it was intervals of real health, in the cyclic nature of TB, that coincided with Spinoza’s own attempts to straighten out his thinking?:

I saw this, however; that so long as the mind was turned toward these thoughts, it was turned away from those things [greed, desire, love of esteem], and was thinking seriously about the new goal. That was a great comfort to me. For I saw that those evils would not refuse to yield to remedies. And although in the beginning these intervals were rare, and lasted a very short time, nevertheless, after the true good became more and more known to me, the intervals became more frequent and longer – especially after I saw that the acquisition of money, sensual pleasure, and esteem are only obstacles so long as they are sought for their own sakes, and not the means to other things [11]

Then there is a small note on the importance of health, and the understanding of disease which he places between moral philosophy and mechanics, as important in the pursuit of human perfection. Though this could be a mere inclusive coincidence, but it also places the issue of “health” in chronological order between Spinoza’s own moral education at the hands of rabbis, and the discovery of Cartesian mechanics, likely at the Van den Enden school:

Third, attention must be paid to Moral Philosophy and to Instruction concerning the Education of children. Because Health is not small means to achieving this end, fourthly, the whole of Medicine must be worked out [15]

And lastly of the four opening references we have Spinoza speaking of the inadequate knowledge he has of his own condition, the mere report and inference if his own birth and death. Out of context of course these would be common ways of talking about how we “know” we are going to die, but note the specificity here. Spinoza says that he knows that he is going to die because “others like me” have died if from different illnesses. This strikes me as a philosophical abstraction from a real condition, the likelihood that both his step-mother and father had died of the same illness, and that indeed Spinoza was symptomatic of it was well. He “knew” he was going to die in a very real and specific way, and not just the common way that we all know, I suggest.

I know only from report the date of my birth, and who my parents were, and similar things, which I never have doubted. By random experience I know that I shall die, for I affirm this because I have seen others like me die, even though they had not all lived the same length of time and did not all die of the same illness [20]

Surely none of this is conclusive, but if correct it would shed more like both on the radical break Spinoza made towards a philosophy of the eternal, and away from the community that would excommunicate him. Further, it qualifies to a much greater degree Spinoza’s concern with the body and its limitations, and his attempts at mental perfection. It puts further emphasis upon his notion of the contingency of the body and the ignorance we have of its causes, and would show the way in which he envisioned mental clarity as the one self-determining path out of confused bondage. He was not so much escaping death, as embracing its brute fact and appreciating it, thinking in death’s shadow, I would propose, in a time where death was to become quite prevalent and all the more seemingly contingent.

Infinitely Narrow: How Spinoza Corrects Descartes’ Lenses

Corry Shores has another nice post up in his series on my study of Spinoza’s optical theories and practices. He is the only person, as far as I know, who has made an attempt to read through the whole of my study and it is with great appreciation to find my thoughts reflected there. Here, 6: Seeing Differences between Descartes and Spinoza. Some Observations on Spinoza’s Sight. [The Kvond Spinoza’s Foci Summary Series], he points out a power conceptual, and pictorial difference between Descartes and Spinoza. In my understanding it is hard to over estimate just how pervasive Descartes’ optical metaphor for consciousness and methodology for clarity became, in particular when it was grafted onto by Idealist notions of fundamental intentionality, self-hood, and subject/object duality. Spinoza’s correction to the hyperbolic lens, the lens that Descartes felt would unlock all the powers of clear, nearly unlimited vision to man, stands at a fundamental cross-roads in the history of philosophy, noting the turn-out where modernity could not branched off from the Idealism it followed.

This contrast between the narrowly clear and self-evident, and the broad spectrum, comprehensive intuition of a whole makes an interesting contact point to a discussion Carl Dyke and I have been having over at his blog, on the Infinity Standard (something he regards as an unhealthy societal influence), Existential infinity. Descartes envisioned an infinity as well, an infinite power developed upon the tunnel vision of narrow band precision of clarity, ultimately founded upon the notion of the “self” as indubitable. While Spinoza wanted to say of lenses, of eyes, and ultimately of consciousness, whenever we are perceiving something clearly it is always because we are already perceiving the vista of what lies beyond it. There is no narrow clarity that supersedes and establishes the role of the margin. In fact, as is the case in criticisms of philosophies of Presence, it is always the margin, the ground, that allows the narrow, bright center to have importance, or even substance at all. As I have mentioned before, recent concerns about objects and their centrality are grown out of the image of clear centrality itself, something that comes out of Descartes’ optics, and as I tried to show, Kepler before him.

We do not realize how much our folk and philosophical conception of consciousness and the world is governed by a metaphor of tunnel vision.

A related post: The Hole at the “Center of Vision”

Being/s as Power to Affect or to Be Affected

From the Sophist

Ξένος:

λέγω δὴ τὸ καὶ ὁποιανοῦν [τινα] κεκτημένον δύναμιν [247ε] εἴτ᾽ εἰς τὸ ποιεῖν ἕτερον ὁτιοῦν πεφυκὸς εἴτ᾽ εἰς τὸ παθεῖν καὶ σμικρότατον ὑπὸ τοῦ φαυλοτάτου, κἂν εἰ μόνον εἰς ἅπαξ, πᾶν τοῦτο ὄντως εἶναι: τίθεμαι γὰρ ὅρον [ὁρίζειν] τὰ ὄντα ὡς ἔστιν οὐκ ἄλλο τι πλὴν δύναμις.

Stranger:

I sat that that which has acquired any power (capacity) of any kind, either to create a change in anything of any nature [247e] or to be affected even in the least by the slightest, even if only on one occasion, all this actually IS. For I set up the term to divide beings to be nothing else but power (capacity).

As a means of comparison Spinoza’s:

That which so disposes the human body that it can be affected in many ways, or which renders it capable of affecting external bodies in many ways, is advantageous to man, and is more advantageous in proportion as by its means the body becomes more capable of being affected in many ways and to affect other bodies; on the other hand, that thing is injurious which renders the body less capable of affecting or be affected – E4p38

A Vectorial Understanding of Being