Friday, March 23, 2007

How relational ontology changes our view of temporality

Turning Things Inside Out with Hegel Back to Sinthome’s post I mentioned earlier, although I really have time now for no more than a gloss on it. Hegel’s Science of Logic contains (as Zizek realised) in the ‘Logic of Essence’ one of the most sustained and subversive assaults on the idea of essence. The need for such a protracted, complex and forbidding exercise lies in the continual temptation of philosophy to betray its inherent atheism, the demand of immanence. Sceptical critiques of an accepted authority, that which stands outside the field of dispute, surveys the territory and settles the terms of the conflict, constantly advance only to fall back on a new authority, a new figurehead who embodies (in Kant’s language) the transcendental right to critique outside of time and space. Descartes furnishes the ego and its unchanging relation to being, Kant returns us to reason as the unmoved transcendental lawyer.
Hegel proposes in the Phenomenology to do without this constant return to the presupposed viewpoint of a theoros, the observer who is wholly separate from that which is observed. The subject and object are co-constitutive, and are not given to us as fixed instances of the sanctified knower and the veiled to-be-known. As Sinthome puts it: The epistemological question is thus poorly posed, abstractly posed, stupidly posed, so long as we think of it as a question of how an independent mind (a mind-in-itself) can know an independent object as it-itself is (a being-in-itself). It is in these interrelations that both the properties of subject and the properties of object come-to-be. Hegel’s conception of the in-itself will thus be one of becoming or coming to be.
The ‘Logic of Essence’ in the Science of Logic attempts to carry this forward by mounting a full-on critique of the separation between essence and ‘mere’ reflection, essence and appearance, ground and grounded, and substance and accidents. Through this movement, the concept of relation - Kant’s third causal category of reciprocity - receives a full articulation as the primary means of thinking identity dynamically. As Sinthome writes, there is no inner core to things that provides their effectivity, their capacity to produce an effect autonomously. There are only the relationships between things that govern the ongoing expression of their potential: Hegel writes (I don’t have the exact reference to hand) of the idea of existence, not as the achievement of a finished, settled accretion of individual being, but as a process of coming-to-be through which the interrelated conditions of a thing’s existence complete or augment [ergänzt] themselves in another thing. This is to foreshadow the conceptual universe of complexity theory, in which co-constitutive, dynamic, non-linear relations are shown to subvert putatively unidirectional causal series. Sinthome notes that the predilection for a fixed relationship between a veiled to-be-known and a pure knower are reflected, in slightly differing configurations, across a ‘wide variety of skepticisms common to thought today’. The habit of mind that refers causality and determination to the equivalent of the efficient cause - just one out of Aristotle’s four modes of aition - is one to which we return just as often. For example, I noted recently how trying to force empirical evidence into this mode of explanation was at the heart of Martin Durkin’s recent ‘documentary’ on climate change.
Ultimately, Hegel’s Logic is perhaps best seen as an account of how determination in general is possible and how it become actual - not so much ‘why is there anything rather than nothing’ but ‘why is anything even capable of being considered as different from nothing’. To answer the first question, you have to have assumed a particular answer to the second (and with it, a particularly constituted knower) - which is perhaps the core of a Hegelian response to Schelling. As such, it bears direct comparison with Deleuze’s account of individuation - a link which Sinthome continues to explore, and which I look forward to reading more about. I think it’s clear that there is territory to be productively explored between the account of relational being as self-augmenting which Hegel gives and Deleuze’s concept of the virtual-actual. Particularly, there’s the temporal aspects of these concepts - such as the idea that the unfinished, inherently futural nature of things is a positive constituent of their actual being, and moreover that their potential or futurity is inherently and always already determinate - differentiated if not differenciated, in Deleuze’s language, inwardly relational potential or reflection into self in Hegel’s.
With respect to my own obsessions, there is clearly here much to be said about how relational ontology of this kind changes our view of temporality - producing a rather different view of the reality of the future than is traditionally allowed. Thursday Hegel This entry was posted on Thursday, March 22nd, 2007 at 3:52 pm and is filed under philosophische, deleuze, hegel, time.

No comments:

Post a Comment