Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lest you worry that I’m trying to premise philosophical claims on scientific claims

Sinthome wrote: I guess I’ve never found the question of normativity that vexing. It seems to me that life evaluates.
The reference to bat sonar was only meant as a metaphor or analogy, not as complex theoretical assertion. I think that we’re often stuck with an alternative between sense-data empiricism or rationalism or some combination thereof. I’m not suggesting you’re guilty of this, just situating my own thoughts. The common root is the idea that thought represents a world that exists independently of it, and the question is one of how it is possible to represent that world truthfully or accurately. After Darwin things get interesting as it becomes possible to imagine not only an evolution of species, but an evolution of umwelts or worlds as well, where we are talking about something less than a rationalism and more than an empiricism. That is, there’s structure here, a sort of “a priori” or pattern to experience, but it is not a distinction between what is thought (the rationalist) and what is experienced (the empiricist), but an ordering style immanent to a form of life (where style is something less than a logico-deductive rationalism, but more than empiricist, sense-data empiricism).
Lest you worry that I’m trying to premise philosophical claims on scientific claims, Darwin seems to be very much an incarnation of the spirit of his time. We see this ontological perspectivism all over the place in philosophy and literature during the 19th century. I call it ontological perspectivism, because epistemological perspectivism continues to believe in a thing-in-itself independent of perspective that all perspectives more or less converge on, whereas ontological perspectivism treats being as such as difference or multiplicity and perspective as an emergent ontological strata that exists in its own right and which isn’t a convergence on self-same and independent objects. This is difficult to articulate.
At any rate, this sort of ontological perspectivism can be seen in the work of Nietzsche and Bergson, as well as thinkers like James, Dewey, and Peirce, and is also found in literature like that of Henry James, Proust, and Joyce. A good deal of the historicists like Hegel, Dilthey, and Marx approach it, I think, without quite articulating it. Forerunners of this form of thought can also be found among 17th and 18th century thinkers like Spinoza, Leibniz, and Hume. I think Darwin just gives a particularly striking formulation of this thesis by virtue of his cross-species analysis, rather than focusing on the “human” alone (”human” must be put in square quotes now as different fields of individuation or ecologies allow the possibility of an identity of species when thought abstractly, but very different structures of cognition and affect due to emerging in different ecologies).
I am not convinced that the shared context issue is so problematic. If we’re thinking ecologically, then we can think about co-development of elements in a field that begin to develop their own rhythms of exchange, dependency, and communication, much like the orchid and the wasp come to develop together without encountering the world in the same way. There are all sorts of questions to ask here about assemblage formations surrounding environment, economics, etc., that are not themselves communications but that imbricate groups and promote networks (that can either be harmonious or conflictual or other things as well).
What’s interesting here, I think, is that such formations do not presuppose a shared perspective or way of seeing things. They can still be quite divergent, extremely so, while nonetheless interacting. This is one of the reasons I’m coming to prefer assemblage theory to systems. An assemblage is more than an atomism (that only grants existence to individuals) and less than a homogenizing system (that claims systems constitute their elements). You and I belong to lots of different and divergent assemblages (our employment, various friendships, local and national governments, etc., etc., etc) and form an assemblage here in the blogosphere, but nonetheless retain our individuality within this assemblage. Thus, unlike a system in Luhmann’s formulation, we’re not constituted by some totality from above, but constitute one another in our interactions and constitute ourselves, etc. It allows for a high degree of divergence among the elements entering into an assemblage, simultaneously seeing an assemblage (such as a society or ecosystem) as an individual while also allowing us to see individuals as belonging to that assemblage.
I’d like to steal Benjamin’s term “constellation” to refer to such assemblages, though this might be confusing. As you no, I’ve read little Benjamin, so I have no idea if I’m using the term in the way he does. Rather, I’m thinking of a singular, existing, formation of elements thrown together and which hang together, like a stellar constellation that has its own immanent statistical regularities. I think of a constellation as almost being like pastiche, where a bunch of things are thrown together forming a sort of mad combination that may or may not have conatus or a power to endure.
Benjamin is in no way guilty of my usage… I just find the word productive for thinking the contingency of existence. Today, in Spinoza, I read “By reality and perfection I understand the same thing” (Book II, Definition 6). One reading of this definition, mistaken I think, would be a Hegelian reading that claims that perfection is what is really real (much like Hegel’s understanding of truth and actuality as the identity of a thing with its notion). Another, stronger reading, would be that existence need not be contaminated by the notion, but is itself perfection. The aim here would be to think singular existence, rather than obfuscating it with the notion or representation. I think we need a new philosophy that thinks what I call “constellations” in their singular richness, resisting generalizing urges. Monday, 23/04/2007 at 9:08 am Permalink
Sinthome wrote: Assemblages, incidentally, can only be studied empirically. No one could deduce my relationship to you or others in the blogosphere without actually tracing the networks. These configurations or constellations can’t be deduced. Consequently, not an a priori, but a historical a priori or a material a priori that must be found through the investigation of a constellation and a tracing of its fiberous networks and singular points, rather than deduced through thought. Monday, 23/04/2007 at 9:10 am Permalink

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