January 10, 2009 Brief Remarks on the Ontic Principle Posted by larvalsubjects
This connection might give the impression that the Ontic Principle is epistemological, pertaining to autopoiesis, systems theory, or some similar theory of operational closure where systems constitute their own elements. Certainly I have written often about autopoiesis and systems theory on this blog. However, it is important to note that the Ontic Principle is strictly ontological in nature.
To properly envision the scope of the Ontic Principle we must imagine, after the fashion of Roy Bhaskar (without necessarily sharing his ontology) a world without humans, or, after the fashion of Quentin Meillassoux, a world without thought. This is not because entities independent of the human are the real differences that make a difference– certainly humans fulfill the Ontic Principle and the Principle of Act-uality –but rather because this thought experiment allows us to think ontologically and in terms of beings entirely independent, where the question is not one of whether or not we register a difference but whether a differences is produced in and among entities regardless of whether humans are there to register them. Such is the ruin of Parmenides and his equation of being and thought.
larvalsubjects Says: January 10, 2009 at 5:54 pm
My thesis would be two-fold: On the one hand, any act-uality or entity is a difference, and any act-uality necessarily produces difference in some respect or capacity. The scope of differences can be very small. Here I would completely agree with you in your thesis that an act-uality can simply be ignored by some other act-uality. As Spinoza says in Post. 1 of Book III of the Ethics
A body can be affected in many ways, whereby its power of activity is increased or diminished, and also in other ways which do not render its power of activity either greater or less.
However, the fact that one body does not affect or produce a difference in another body does not entail that no difference is being produced elsewhere in the world. Here my point is thoroughly ontological, not epistemic. I agree with the thesis that another body might not affect me at all, but that’s not the issue with the Ontic Principle. The Ontic Principle is about beings, not about our knowledge of beings. Thus following Bhaskar’s arguments about causality, the thesis is not about events that we register epistemically, but about beings are there whether we know it or not.
I’m still toying around with this, but I suppose that in part my line of thinking here would be Thomist in a sense, in that I am equating being and acting. To be is to act. Here then I would perhaps depart from Bhaskar in rejecting the notion of causal mechanisms that are without acting; but I still need to think about this.
On the other hand, I think Roy Bhaskar’s transcendental realism as developed in A Realist Theory of Science provides the resources for moving from the domain of epistemology to ontology.
- First, Bhaskar argues that the treatment of being according to the requirements of knowledge, or the reduction of being to knowledge of being, constitutes a fallacy that he refers to as the “epistemic fallacy”. This fallacy is rife throughout both Anglo-American and Continental philosophy, and is visible in social constructivisms that reduce being to discourses about being, forms of phenomenology that reduce being to sense-bestowing intuition or only allow us to talk of being in terms of being-given or donated, and, of course, Kantianism.
- Consequently, second, Bhaskar argues that our scientific practice can only be rendered intelligible by positing the reality or mind-independence of the objects investigated by science. This argument holds, I think, for many other domains beyond science.
- As a consequence, third, Bhaskar, in a line of thought exceedingly close to Meillassoux’s argument from the arche-fossil, argues that ontologically we must be able to envision a world independent of humans or where humans do not exist. Incidentally, the point is not that humans do not, according to the Ontic Principle, make a difference. Humans are beings too and as such they contribute a difference. Rather, by the Ontological Principle, the point is far more modest: humans do not make the only or most important difference.
Somewhere or other, if memory serves me correctly, Whitehead remarks that philosophies do not fail by dint of being false but by virtue of hyperbole. That is, they raise one principle to the principle of everything, effectively erasing the rest. Kant gets something right but then shackles all of being to mind.