Future, Present, & Past:
Speculative~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Thoughts on [at least] Two Truths & a Lie
There's a party game called Two Truths & a Lie; each person takes a turn & tells-- well, you can probably figure that part out-- and the others have to guess which is which. Perfect theme for this long post on dialethism and esotericism. (Long and somewhat disjointed; I'm posting it to keep track of a few intuitions which may or may not turn out to be well-founded.)
Amod's blog Love of All Wisdom is a blog after my own heart. Generous and rigorous, and catholic (small-'c' catholic) in interests. Recently Amod has been reading Graham Priest, whose thought also figured lately in a discussion over at Jon Cogburn's blog about skepticism and pantheism. Priest has made some interesting arguments for rehabilitating dialethism (the link is to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article by Priest), which as the name suggests is a "two-truth" theory, or the notion that there can be true contradictions. Amod's recent post makes a distinction between Priest's version, which is largely a dialethism of signs (propositions are the sorts of things that can contradict each other), and a dialethism like that of Hegel, who, he argues, sees contradictions as inhering in reality, in "the things themselves." Amod traces (or at least, relates) this to a difference between seeing the sentence, or the thing, as the primary truth-bearer. As an instance of the latter, he offers Augustine, according to MacIntyre:
for Augustine it is in terms of the relationships neither of statements nor of minds that truth is to be primarily characterized and understood. “Veritas,” a noun naming a substance, is a more fundamental expression than “verum,” an attribute of things, and the truth or falsity of statements is a tertiary matter. To speak truly is to speak of things as they really and truly are; and things really and truly are in virtue only of their relationship to veritas. So where Aristotle locates truth in the relationship of the mind to its objects, Augustine locates it in the source of the relationship of finite objects to that truth which is God. (Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry, p. 110)
I have at least two responses to this citation. First is a desire to preemptively ward off an attack, which (I imagine) takes some such form as: "Truth as a noun, that's at least half the trouble." A comment from Alf is a fair example of what I have in mind here:
Yes, we are able to "show" that abstraction is possible--and yes, we do it by *using* abstractions. Any time you use language at all, you make concepts out of a reality that isn't a concept at all (as Nietzsche enjoyed pointing out), but you easily *naturalize* this conception-making and mistake it for the real (a la Heidegger's "Age of the World Picture"). I see this approach as necessary to get along in the world (or indeed, to have any "world" as opposed to undifferentiated flux) at all! But it's a strategic fiction, a useful lie that we tell ourselves to give ourselves the comfort of predictability. We nominalize flows to think we grasp them. Our God is a noun--and I find that suspicious.
In the first half of this comment Alf is agreeing with me about the necessity of abstractions; in the second half, he's qualifying that agreement. Now Alf says "God," not "Truth;" but it's the suspicion of the noun that I want to analyze. Graham Harman blogged just yesterday:
much of contemporary philosophy is still too obsessed with the specter of the rock-hard, eternal substances of so-called “naive realism.” ....the intellectual establishment is now made up of millions of people who denounce essence and substance and praise difference and becoming.
(This in response to a fine post of Steve Shaviro's)
Now I am on record as being very sympathetic to a number of positions that are often yoked with emphasis on becoming and difference; the philosopher with whom I am most in resonance from the 20th century is Emmanuel Levinas, whose advocacy for difference could fairly be said to be hyperbolic. But Levinas is very different from Deleuze. In any case, I agree with Harman that an aversion to "naive realism" has a deleterious effect on thought. Nor is it just a matter of being in the in-crowd.
However (my second reaction), the sort of noun that MacIntyre means in characterizing Augustine's thought is not a noun like rock or fish, nor like crowd or explosion; nor even like substance or thought, though these are closer. Augustine's Veritas is that in which the true, i.e., real, thing, participates in. We might well demur from sharing this way of thinking, assuming we are confident of knowing what Augustine means. But I think we critique his meaning at our peril. As Alf writes, using the Wittgensteinian terms, we "show" that abstraction is possible by using abstractions. For Alf, I think (he'll correct me if I'm wrong) this is a necessity--one might almost say, a necessary evil. I see it as much more ontologically indicative. Wittgenstein suggests that it brings us close to a limit of what we can say, because language cannot model its own functioning from outside. I see this not as a mere epistemological limit, but an ontological feature of reality's self-disclosure. Priest also argues that there are limits to thought, but that there are ways of edging past them (e.g., "showing" not saying); and this seems to be where Amod goes as well.
This is one place where I think I part company with most of the SR and OOO theorists, but I would love to know for sure. The Speculative Realists' punching-bag "correlationism" is supposed to be the idea that you can't think what is outside thought. Sounds like a tautology, almost. Meillassoux in particular opposes it because it licenses all sorts of nonsense-- in fact, he implies, any nonsense at all; it precisely "makes room for faith," as Kant said. Interestingly, this is just what many opponents of dialethism say: approve contradictions, and anything at all can follow. Amod's first post on the subject does a good job of outlining why Priest thinks this particular spectre is, well, spectral. My question, then, is can the defense of the sort of dialethism Amod suggests Hegel held to-- contradictions inhering in reality, not just in sentences (which as MacIntyre notes, were tertiary for Augustine)-- be used to defend the "limits of thought" argument from Meillassoux's objections? Recently Paul Ennis at anotherheideggerblog answered a query of mine (in the aforementioned discussion on Jon Cognburn's blog) with a sketch of defense of Hegel from the charge of correlationism. In certain moods I'm beginning to wonder whether we always even need a defense.
One last point about dialethism: when the teachings of Averroes were condemned in 1277 one of the accusations against the professors at the Univeristy of Paris who were the targets was that they taught that there were two truths, a philosophical truth and a theological or religious truth. This dialethism was of course different from either Priest's or Hegel's... or was it? It's seriously debated as to just what is meant by the condemnation's reference to "two truths", but even allowing for the archbishop's missing the finer points of Siger of Brabant's thinking, it's quite clear that Averroism plays a significant role in the esotericism that runs through Medieval and Renaissance philosophy, via Spinoza and Lessing, all the way to the Nietzsche.
In this connection I want to point to another blog discussion that I read on Traxus' American Stranger blog, this one from two years ago. The comments eventually degenerate into one of the most depressing flame-wars I've ever seen, so I link to it with reservations, but the bad stuff doesn't hit until about halfway or more through the 159 comments, and the debate between the Balzacian "Le Colonel Chabert" and "Martin" is quite interesting for a while, in particular Chabert's hunches about Meillassoux's esoteric intentions: "He seem purposefully to provoke certain responses from his heideggerian colleagues while all the while posing as sort of gleaming eyed and quite convinced he will be able to overcome them with his “demonstration” of their “error”."
and again: "the effort to sideline ideology is dramatised; he says, you can’t confront this product as ideology, you have to take it as the product of disinterested rationality and judge it as such and refute it according to accepted scientific procedures. So, he does. He refutes it. The refutation is irresistible! But, everyone nonetheless resists it. The procedures and criteria of proof it turns out are not accepted here in this environment. This, then, the irrational, post-refutation, obstinate clinging to the refuted product of disinterested rationality, to the product that is shown (according to criteria borrowed from another discipline) to be in error…can this too be dealt with without consideration of ideology? This is where Meillassoux takes us; that’s the situation he has created at the moment."
And last: "I think his actual intention is to accomplish what critical theory attempted, but dramatically and theatrically. . ...the result is not to dismiss kant and everything after as silly or to reduce the stature of that work – rather the stature is raised or at least bolstered against its tendency to decline. The result is the construction of an inescapable wedding of two kinds of levels of posture, and an exercise in inhabiting them simultaneously –.....Meillassoux’ non-polemic, his theatrical, shows that these are not in fact the antagonists of importance – the battle is between Reason and Authority, between Science and The Inquisition.
This reads like Chabert thinks Meillassoux is staging a kind of intervention meant to show something that he isn't saying. I don't know what I think of this, but it just goes to show that the notion of the esoteric in philosophy is not only the prerogative of Straussians.
(O.K., the post turned out to be even more disjointed than I expected).