Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Contradiction in Onticology

Someone should feel free to either point out what I am missing or confirm that I am correct.

Is not Levi's post on A-theology contrary to his recent post on substance and process?  I think so.

Just like when I used to correspond with him, we would have moments of concordance and divergence, and now I am wondering if he is his own worst enemy or if he is being contrary on purpose.

For instance, if he pushes the externality of objective relations, but then admits of endo- and exo-relations, he appears to either contradict himself or perhaps equivocate.  When I pushed him on this months ago, he insisted on the substantial nature of objects, but then appears to take it away when calling objects "time worms" in a different post.  There might be a way to square this, and I did try hard to find a way, and now I wonder if someone would like to point it out.  I say this not because I think that I am mistaken--I think I am correct--but I cannot claim not to have seen such contradictions resolved by unforeseen moves before.

In my own work, there is the distinction between the continuity of nature vs. logical relation vs. causal relation, etc.  In short, everything must be continuous so as to be related in some sense, or they could never share a causal relation without making appeals to ex nihilo causation that is excluded in naturalism.  But continuity is not causality, and the logic of continuity is not the same as that of causation.  That difference has confused many who have misunderstood process thought by think that all relations must be causal or predicate-subject relations.

I would ask that contributions to the conversation be constructive and not airing of grievances.  Likewise, my aim is to be constructive, and I hope to learn something from the conversation.  Despite all my disagreements with Harman, I can say that I admire his work and have learned from it, which I think is higher praise than my believing in its veracity.


  1. Jason,
    It's no secret that I am not a neutral voice in this. But if you, and perhaps others, are noting these contradictions, then despite my non-neutrality I am beginning to think that there is something to it. (In other words my contempt for some of these people hasn't managed my otherwise clear philosophical lens.)

    I've maintained for months that contradictory statements were being made. Months. Unlike you, however, I (no longer) admire either Harman's or Levi's work - not only because of unreconciled problems that from a philosophical level just weight the view down to the point where it no longer floats. I am also not so sure that that much new ground has been broken, as has been claimed. But the "bad blood" between me and that crew is no secret to anyone.

    I just wanted to voice that from a philosophical perspective (which I can read someone philosophically and look to the argument despite how I feel about their personality), there are huge problems. You mention just a few of them in your post. If critique weren't taken so personally by these folks then I would certainly write up a follow up to your post made here - I still may do that because all pleasantries are aside anyway.

    Leon/after nature

  2. I admire Harman's philosophy and writing; it's a very beautiful thing. Likewise, Bryant is a fantastic essayist/blogger. The new ground in Bryant's work is the encoding of process insights into new forms for continental consumption, which has been done before, but he appears to have a unique angle on it. Contemporary continental scholars would know more than I.

    I think you should keep the pleasantries out from and center. Better yet, just do conference papers on it as that will be more productive.

  3. I wish to point out my response to the problem of internal and external relations, which I have posted upon before numerous times. In short, I argue for the integrity per integration of the potentialities of nature. In short, natural potentialities can interact, integrate, and combine to produce new potentialities that are dependent upon the "lower" (temporally-historically and constitutively-hierarchically) potentialities. Hence, a complex potentiality could be though as analogous to a dynamic system itself. Then the difference between internal and external relations is context dependent under logical analysis, though determinate under ontological analysis.

  4. I've been thinking about this. Perhaps Levi's tactic of arguing against positions that almost no one holds is a brilliant rhetorical strategy. You get people energized to fight against a common "enemy," but you also offend almost no one because the opponent's camp is empty. You can then imply, and let people make further implications of their own, that the enemy is a view that actually exists. Hence, anti-transcendence sounds a lot like anti-religious philosophy, and you let people make that inference while you might deny it.

    A friend of mine tears his hair out because this tactic was used in Asian philosophy years ago to found many careers; argue against a reading that no one holds and spend decades defeating the enemy.

  5. Oh, the other "enemy" I've seen in OOO studies is the "human." Now, process philosophy often has about the same viewpoint, but it's just never expressed that way, through that rhetorical device.

  6. "Perhaps Levi's tactic of arguing against positions that almost no one holds is a brilliant rhetorical strategy."

    Jason, this is called a straw-man. It's a common OOO tactic. Set up positions that are easy to knock down; easier to knock down because no one holds them. There *are no* departments where people wear Whitehead & Hartshorne sigla on arm bands. Other than Claremont, is process *really* so mainstream, the hegemony? No way.

    NO ONE holds views about transcendence as Levi construes them. Partially because they are consistently construed in a contradictory way.

    The only rhetorical device I see would be like knowingly saying things which are so outlandish and crazy simply to draw attention to yourself. It's not brilliant, Jason. It is just a poor way of doing philosophy.

    I could constantly blog one position and then change my mind, throwing punches at an empty enemy camp - and then drawing people in by allowing others to make inferences and then attack them on that (when originally you really had to argument to begin with).

    If you notice, no one with a Ph.D. takes it seriously. Meillassoux and Speculative Realism, yes. Straw man arguments? No.


  7. Leon,

    Chill, man.

    It's not straw man, which is misrepresenting an argument. No argument is being misrepresented. Be nice. Or at least nicer.

  8. Jason,
    I hate niceness.

    Ok, I'll stop. But I still think it's a strawman.

    Bah humbug,

  9. Jason,
    Pain is not allowing me sleep. But I was thinking, it can't be a strawman - you are right, there is no original position. But rhetoric deserves a name. so I would like to title it "Bandcamp fallacy." Or the "Imaginary Enemy Fallacy." Arguing against a camp which does not exist. No one is playing that tune, so by arguing against those who only exist in my imagination I can make myself look better.

    I should try that.


  10. That really not why I brought the topic up.

    Rather, I am pondering through the following problem. If a number of scholars or a whole field defines themselves (itself) against a generic position, and someone from a parallel position comes along, then the new-comer may feel compelled to defend one's position even though the counter-arguments do not apply. I think much of that has happened with some of my brushes with OOO.

    I mean, who really thinks everything is purely internal relations? On the flip side, I would argue against there being a single external relation (substance-wise), because either the relation is not real or one posits nature as discontinuous. Why is this a big deal? Because that move--discontinuity--raises far, far more questions than it solves. Or, if one argues for complete withdrawal, we can either understand that in a fairly mundane way, e.g., take the edge of of Harman's reading of Heidegger, or we can read that as an appeal to an active discontinuity. (I intend "discontinuity" in both logical and ontological denotations, in which case withdrawal is more an ontological than logical concept.) If the former, it's not that insightful. If the latter, it really is a new idea, but.... see above.

    I suppose what I am getting at is that when philosophers start weaving arguments against positions few or none hold, but that are similar to actually held positions, conversation can quickly become a terrible wreck. This is one reason I try to talk to people--often continuing long after they wish to--because I really do want to understand. But then one frequently hits that chasm: am I in fact understanding and my interlocutor has made a grave error, or am I not understanding?

    The best that I have been able to figure out is to argue against positions or people, but then make it very, very clear who one is addressing.


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