The Biological Kant. Note Quote.


The biological treatise takes as its object the realm of physics left out of Kant’s critical demarcations of scientific, that is, mathematical and mechanistic, physics. Here, the main idea was that scientifically understandable Nature was defined by lawfulness. In his Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, this idea was taken further in the following claim:

I claim, however, that there is only as much proper science to be found in any special doctrine on nature as there is mathematics therein, and further ‘a pure doctrine on nature about certain things in nature (doctrine on bodies and doctrine on minds) is only possible by means of mathematics’.

The basic idea is thus to identify Nature’s lawfulness with its ability to be studied by means of mathematical schemata uniting understanding and intuition. The central schema, to Kant, was numbers, so apt to be used in the understanding of mechanically caused movement. But already here, Kant is very well aware of a whole series of aspects of spontaneuosly experienced Nature is left out of sight by the concentration on matter in movement, and he calls for these further realms of Nature to be studied by a continuation of the Copernican turn, by the mind’s further study of the utmost limits of itself. Why do we spontaneously see natural purposes, in Nature? Purposiveness is wholly different from necessity, crucial to Kant’s definition of Nature. There is no reason in the general concept of Nature (as lawful) to assume that nature’s objects may serve each other as purposes. Nevertheless, we do not stop assuming just that. But what we do when we ascribe purposes to Nature is using the faculties of mind in another way than in science, much closer to the way we use them in the appreciation of beauty and art, the object of the first part of the book immediately before the treatment of teleological judgment. This judgment is characterized by a central distinction, already widely argued in this first part of the book: the difference between determinative and reflective judgments, respectively. While the judgment used scientifically to decide whether a specific case follows a certain rule in explanation by means of a derivation from a principle, and thus constitutes the objectivity of the object in question – the judgment which is reflective lacks all these features. It does not proceed by means of explanation, but by mere analogy; it is not constitutive, but merely regulative; it does not prove anything but merely judges, and it has no principle of reason to rest its head upon but the very act of judging itself. These ideas are now elaborated throughout the critic of teleological judgment.


In the section Analytik der teleologischen Urteilskraft, Kant gradually approaches the question: first is treated the merely formal expediency: We may ascribe purposes to geometry in so far as it is useful to us, just like rivers carrying fertile soils with them for trees to grow in may be ascribed purposes; these are, however, merely contingent purposes, dependent on an external telos. The crucial point is the existence of objects which are only possible as such in so far as defined by purposes:

That its form is not possible after mere natural laws, that is, such things which may not be known by us through understanding applied to objects of the senses; on the contrary that even the empirical knowledge about them, regarding their cause and effect, presupposes concepts of reason.

The idea here is that in order to conceive of objects which may not be explained with reference to understanding and its (in this case, mechanical) concepts only, these must be grasped by the non-empirical ideas of reason itself. If causes are perceived as being interlinked in chains, then such contingencies are to be thought of only as small causal circles on the chain, that is, as things being their own cause. Hence Kant’s definition of the Idea of a natural purpose:

an object exists as natural purpose, when it is cause and effect of itself.

This can be thought as an idea without contradiction, Kant maintains, but not conceived. This circularity (the small causal circles) is a very important feature in Kant’s tentative schematization of purposiveness. Another way of coining this Idea is – things as natural purposes are organized beings. This entails that naturally purposeful objects must possess a certain spatio-temporal construction: the parts of such a thing must be possible only through their relation to the whole – and, conversely, the parts must actively connect themselves to this whole. Thus, the corresponding idea can be summed up as the Idea of the Whole which is necessary to pass judgment on any empirical organism, and it is very interesting to note that Kant sums up the determination of any part of a Whole by all other parts in the phrase that a natural purpose is possible only as an organized and self-organizing being. This is probably the very birth certificate of the metaphysics of self-organization. It is important to keep in mind that Kant does not feel any vitalist temptation at supposing any organizing power or any autonomy on the part of the whole which may come into being only by this process of self-organization between its parts. When Kant talks about the forming power in the formation of the Whole, it is thus nothing outside of this self-organization of its parts.

This leads to Kant’s final definition: an organized being is that in which all that is alternating is ends and means. This idea is extremely important as a formalization of the idea of teleology: the natural purposes do not imply that there exists given, stable ends for nature to pursue, on the contrary, they are locally defined by causal cycles, in which every part interchangeably assumes the role of ends and means. Thus, there is no absolute end in this construal of nature’s teleology; it analyzes teleology formally at the same time as it relativizes it with respect to substance. Kant takes care to note that this maxim needs not be restricted to the beings – animals – which we spontaneously tend to judge as purposeful. The idea of natural purposes thus entails that there might exist a plan in nature rendering processes which we have all reasons to disgust purposeful for us. In this vision, teleology might embrace causality – and even aesthetics:

Also natural beauty, that is, its harmony with the free play of our epistemological faculties in the experience and judgment of its appearance can be seen in the way of objective purposivity of nature in its totality as system, in which man is a member.

An important consequence of Kant’s doctrine is that their teleology is so to speak secularized in two ways: (1) it is formal, and (2) it is local. It is formal because self-organization does not ascribe any special, substantial goal for organisms to pursue – other than the sustainment of self-organization. Thus teleology is merely a formal property in certain types of systems. This is why teleology is also local – it is to be found in certain systems when the causal chain form loops, as Kant metaphorically describes the cycles involved in self-organization – it is no overarching goal governing organisms from the outside. Teleology is a local, bottom-up, process only.

Kant does not in any way doubt the existence of organized beings, what is at stake is the possibility of dealing with them scientifically in terms of mechanics. Even if they exist as a given thing in experience, natural purposes can not receive any concept. This implies that biology is evident in so far as the existence of organisms cannot be doubted. Biology will never rise to the heights of science, its attempts at doing so are beforehand delimited, all scientific explanations of organisms being bound to be mechanical. Following this line of argument, it corresponds very well to present-day reductionism in biology, trying to take all problems of phenotypical characters, organization, morphogenesis, behavior, ecology, etc. back to the biochemistry of genetics. But the other side of the argument is that no matter how successful this reduction may prove, it will never be able to reduce or replace the teleological point of view necessary in order to understand the organism as such in the first place.

Evidently, there is something deeply unsatisfactory in this conclusion which is why most biologists have hesitated at adopting it and cling to either full-blown reductionism or to some brand of vitalism, subjecting themselves to the dangers of ‘transcendental illusion’ and allowing for some Goethe-like intuitive idea without any schematization. Kant tries to soften up the question by philosophical means by establishing an crossing over from metaphysics to physics, or, from the metaphysical constraints on mechanical physics and to physics in its empirical totality, including the organized beings of biology. Pure mechanics leaves physics as a whole unorganized, and this organization is sought to be established by means of mediating concepts’. Among them is the formative power, which is not conceived of in a vitalist substantialist manner, but rather a notion referring to the means by which matter manages to self-organize. It thus comprehends not only biological organization, but macrophysic solid matter physics as well. Here, he adds an important argument to the critic of judgment:

Because man is conscious of himself as a self-moving machine, without being able to further understand such a possibility, he can, and is entitled to, introduce a priori organic-moving forces of bodies into the classification of bodies in general and thus to distinguish mere mechanical bodies from self-propelled organic bodies.

Triadomania. Thought of the Day 117.0


Peirce’s famous ‘triadomania’ lets most of his decisive distinctions appear in threes, following the tripartition of his list of categories, the famous triad of First, Second, and Third, or Quality, Reaction, Representation, or Possibility, Actuality, Reality.

Firstness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, positively and without reference to anything else.

Secondness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, with respect to a second but regardless of any third.

Thirdness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, in bringing a second and third into relation to each other.

Firstness constitutes the quality of experience: in order for something to appear at all, it must do so due to a certain constellation of qualitative properties. Peirce often uses sensory qualities as examples, but it is important for the understanding of his thought that the examples may refer to phenomena very far from our standard conception of ‘sensory data’, e.g. forms or the ‘feeling’ of a whole melody or of a whole mathematical proof, not to be taken in a subjective sense but as a concept for the continuity of melody or proof as a whole, apart from the analytical steps and sequences in which it may be, subsequently, subdivided. In short, all sorts of simple and complex Gestalt qualities also qualify as Firstnesses. Firstness tend to form continua of possibilities such as the continua of shape, color, tone, etc. These qualities, however, are, taken in themselves, pure possibilities and must necessarily be incarnated in phenomena in order to appear. Secondness is the phenomenological category of ‘incarnation’ which makes this possible: it is the insistency, then, with which the individuated, actualized, existent phenomenon appears. Thus, Secondness necessarily forms discontinuous breaks in Firstness, allowing for particular qualities to enter into existence. The mind may imagine anything whatever in all sorts of quality combinations, but something appears with an irrefutable insisting power, reacting, actively, yielding resistance. Peirce’s favorite example is the resistance of the closed door – which might be imagined reduced to the quality of resistance feeling and thus degenerate to pure Firstness so that his theory imploded into a Hume-like solipsism – but to Peirce this resistance, surprise, event, this thisness, ‘haecceity’ as he calls it with a Scotist term, remains irreducible in the description of the phenomenon (a Kantian idea, at bottom: existence is no predicate). About Thirdness, Peirce may directly state that continuity represents it perfectly: ‘continuity and generality are two names of the same absence of distinction of individuals’. As against Secondness, Thirdness is general; it mediates between First and Second. The events of Secondness are never completely unique, such an event would be inexperiencable, but relates (3) to other events (2) due to certain features (1) in them; Thirdness is thus what facilitates understanding as well as pragmatic action, due to its continuous generality. With a famous example: if you dream about an apple pie, then the very qualities of that dream (taste, smell, warmth, crustiness, etc.) are pure Firstnesses, while the act of baking is composed of a series of actual Secondnesses. But their coordination is governed by a Thirdness: the recipe, being general, can never specify all properties in the individual apple pie, it has a schematic frame-character and subsumes an indefinite series – a whole continuum – of possible apple pies. Thirdness is thus necessarily general and vague. Of course, the recipe may be more or less precise, but no recipe exists which is able to determine each and every property in the cake, including date, hour, place, which tree the apples stem from, etc. – any recipe is necessarily general. In this case, the recipe (3) mediates between dream (1) and fulfilment (2) – its generality, symbolicity, relationality and future orientation are all characteristic for Thirdness. An important aspect of Peirce’s realism is that continuous generality may be experienced directly in perceptual judgments: ‘Generality, Thirdness, pours in upon us in our very perceptual judgments’.

All these determinations remain purely phenomenological, even if the later semiotic and metaphysical interpretations clearly shine through. In a more general, non-Peircean terminology, his phenomenology can be seen as the description of minimum aspects inherent in any imaginable possible world – for this reason it is imaginability which is the main argument, and this might point in the direction that Peirce could be open to critique for subjectivism, so often aimed at Husserl’s project, in some respects analogous. The concept of consciousness is invoked as the basis of imaginability: phenomenology is the study of invariant properties in any phenomenon appearing for a mind. Peirce’s answer would here be, on the one hand, the research community which according to him defines reality – an argument which structurally corresponds to Husserl’s reference to intersubjectivity as a necessary ingredient in objectivity (an object is a phenomenon which is intersubjectively accessible). Peirce, however, has a further argument here, namely his consequent refusal to delimit his concept of mind exclusively to human subjects (a category the use of which he obviously tries to minimize), mind-like processes may take place in nature without any subject being responsible. Peirce will, for continuity reasons, never accept any hard distinction between subject and object and remains extremely parsimonious in the employment of such terms.

From Peirce’s New Elements of Mathematics (The New Elements of Mathematics Vol. 4),

But just as the qualities, which as they are for themselves, are equally unrelated to one other, each being mere nothing for any other, yet form a continuum in which and because of their situation in which they acquire more or less resemblance and contrast with one another; and then this continuum is amplified in the continuum of possible feelings of quality, so the accidents of reaction, which are waking consciousnesses of pairs of qualities, may be expected to join themselves into a continuum. 

Since, then an accidental reaction is a combination or bringing into special connection of two qualities, and since further it is accidental and antigeneral or discontinuous, such an accidental reaction ought to be regarded as an adventitious singularity of the continuum of possible quality, just as two points of a sheet of paper might come into contact.

But although singularities are discontinuous, they may be continuous to a certain extent. Thus the sheet instead of touching itself in the union of two points may cut itself all along a line. Here there is a continuous line of singularity. In like manner, accidental reactions though they are breaches of generality may come to be generalized to a certain extent.

Secondness is now taken to actualize these quality possibilities based on an idea that any actual event involves a clash of qualities – in the ensuing argumentation Peirce underlines that the qualities involved in actualization need not be restrained to two but may be many, if they may only be ‘dissolved’ into pairs and hence do not break into the domain of Thirdness. This appearance of actuality, hence, has the property of singularities, spontaneously popping up in the space of possibilities and actualizing pairs of points in it. This transition from First to Second is conceived of along Aristotelian lines: as an actualization of a possibility – and this is expressed in the picture of a discontinuous singularity in the quality continuum. The topological fact that singularities must in general be defined with respect to the neighborhood of the manifold in which they appear, now becomes the argument for the fact that Secondness can never be completely discontinuous but still ‘inherits’ a certain small measure of continuity from the continuum of Firstness. Singularities, being discontinuous along certain dimensions, may be continuous in others, which provides the condition of possibility for Thirdness to exist as a tendency for Secondness to conform to a general law or regularity. As is evident, a completely pure Secondness is impossible in this continuous metaphysics – it remains a conceivable but unrealizable limit case, because a completely discon- tinuous event would amount to nothing. Thirdness already lies as a germ in the non-discontinuous aspects of the singularity. The occurrences of Secondness seem to be infinitesimal, then, rather than completely extensionless points.

Cthulhu Swims Left, Cthulhu Like Strauss, is not Christian


Nevertheless, Strauss’s unhappiness with the Left in the Cold War period is not tantamount to a categorical rejection of all leftist or modern thought per se….Strauss and his students largely agree with the traditional leftist dismissal of Christianity as an irrational influence on the political philosophy of the West. This fundamental consensus between Strauss and the Left, which has been neglected in most of the literature on Strauss, gravely affects their understanding of Anglo-American political thought. For Strauss was compelled to read out of this tradition any sign of a serious indebtedness to Christianity. Unlike the anti-democratic Far Right, which often faults Christianity for its universalist morality (e.g. charity) that made modern democracy possible, Strauss is ultimately critical of Christianity as a foundation for Anglo-American democracy because it is not sufficiently universalist (that is, intelligible to all human beings): it is sheer historicism to hold up one faith as the principal foundation of the West. As as result of this hermeneutical rationale, the very tradition that Strauss and his students wish to preserve as a  repository of rational accessible “eternal principles” is reinvented as a secular liberal artifice. (Leo Strauss and Anglo-American Democracy: Grant Havers)

Neoconservative thought is ultimately based on the notion that Christianity does not matter. In fact, Strauss’s understanding of European civilisation rejects the notion, first given express formulation by Aquinas, that there is no incompatibility between the Christian faith and reason. For Strauss, faith and reason were incompatible, yet influential upon each other. Whatever Strauss’s view of religion, it is clear that he felt that it had no obligatory right on reason: it existed in a separate domain. Sure, religion may be an influence, an inspiration, a tradition, etc.,  but if reason came to a conclusion separate to religion, reason had to be given its “latitude.” At its best, Straussian Neoconservatism is a secularism that is “respectful” towards religion, at worst, it plays cynical lip service to it.

Indeed, Strauss’s separation of faith and reason is contra to the Christian understanding of the two. Strauss may not have said much against Christianity, but the system he espouses is inherently incompatible with Christianity. In fact the lip service given to Christianity by the Neoconservative moment disguises the fact that that the secular agenda is still given primacy, and while attacks by an openly hostile Left may be easy to spot, the undermining of the Right goes unnoticed by an agent which talks about the importance of  “Athens and Jerusalem”, while pushing the metaphysics of the Left.

The importance of the dualistic hermeneutic in Strauss’s thought is hard to overstate, since it makes any significant attempt to spy rationality in faith almost impossible. It also throws into question Strauss’s respect for the tradition of Anglo-American democracy, whose main defenders, mightily attempted to distinguish “true religion” from superstitious dogma. If Strauss believes that no distinction is possible, does the religious basis for this civilization fall by the wayside? And, if this is the case, does the irreligious Left score the ultimate victory over the Right?

Athenian Secularism, Jacobin Secularism, Managerial Secularism, Socialist Secularism, Natsoc Secularism, Right secularism, Left secularism…….secularist market specialisation is still secularism. Cthulhu swims left because Cthulhu is a secularist.

Cthulhu swims left, Cthulhu like Strauss, is not Christian.

Whitehead and Peirce’s Synchronicity with Hegel’s Capital Error. Thought of the Day 97.0


The focus on experience ensures that Whitehead’s metaphysics is grounded. Otherwise the narrowness of approach would only culminate in sterile measurement. This becomes especially evident with regard to the science of history. Whitehead gives a lucid example of such ‘sterile measurement’ lacking the immediacy of experience.

Consider, for example, the scientific notion of measurement. Can we elucidate the turmoil of Europe by weighing its dictators, its prime ministers, and its editors of newspapers? The idea is absurd, although some relevant information might be obtained. (Alfred North Whitehead – Modes of Thought)

The wealth of experience leaves us with the problem of how to cope with it. Selection of data is required. This selection is done by a value judgment – the judgment of importance. Although Whitehead opposes the dichotomy of the two notions ‘importance’ and ‘matter of fact’, it is still necessary to distinguish grades and types of importance, which enables us to structure our experience, to focus it. This is very similar to hermeneutical theories in Schleiermacher, Gadamer and Habermas: the horizon of understanding structures the data. Therefore, we not only need judgment but the process of concrescence implicitly requires an aim. Whitehead explains that

By this term ‘aim’ is meant the exclusion of the boundless wealth of alternative potentiality and the inclusion of that definite factor of novelty which constitutes the selected way of entertaining those data in that process of unification.

The other idea that underlies experience is “matter of fact.”

There are two contrasted ideas which seem inevitably to underlie all width of experience, one of them is the notion of importance, the sense of importance, the presupposition of importance. The other is the notion of matter of fact. There is no escape from sheer matter of fact. It is the basis of importance; and importance is important because of the inescapable character of matter of fact.

By stressing the “alien character” of feeling that enters into the privately felt feeling of an occasion, Whitehead is able to distinguish the responsive and the supplemental stages of concrescence. The responsive stage being a purely receptive phase, the latter integrating the former ‘alien elements’ into a unity of feeling. The alien factor in the experiencing subjects saves Whitehead’s concept from being pure Spirit (Geist) in a Hegelian sense. There are more similarities between Hegelian thinking and Whitehead’s thought than his own comments on Hegel may suggest. But, his major criticism could probably be stated with Peirce, who wrote that

The capital error of Hegel which permeates his whole system in every part of it is that he almost altogether ignores the Outward clash. (The Essential Peirce 1)

Whitehead refers to that clash as matter of fact. Although, even there, one has to keep in mind that matter-of-fact is an abstraction. 

Matter of fact is an abstraction, arrived at by confining thought to purely formal relations which then masquerade as the final reality. This is why science, in its perfection, relapses into the study of differential equations. The concrete world has slipped through the meshes of the scientific net.

Whitehead clearly keeps the notion of prehension in his late writings as developed in Process and Reality. Just to give one example, 

I have, in my recent writings, used the word ‘prehension’ to express this process of appropriation. Also I have termed each individual act of immediate self-enjoyment an ‘occasion of experience’. I hold that these unities of existence, these occasions of experience, are the really real things which in their collective unity compose the evolving universe, ever plunging into the creative advance. 

Process needs an aim in Process and Reality as much as in Modes of Thought:

We must add yet another character to our description of life. This missing characteristic is ‘aim’. By this term ‘aim’ is meant the exclusion of the boundless wealth of alternative potentiality, and the inclusion of that definite factor of novelty which constitutes the selected way of entertaining those data in that process of unification. The aim is at that complex of feeling which is the enjoyment of those data in that way. ‘That way of enjoyment’ is selected from the boundless wealth of alternatives. It has been aimed at for actualization in that process.

Transcendentally Realist Modality. Thought of the Day 78.1


Let us start at the beginning first! Though the fact is not mentioned in Genesis, the first thing God said on the first day of creation was ‘Let there be necessity’. And there was necessity. And God saw necessity, that it was good. And God divided necessity from contingency. And only then did He say ‘Let there be light’. Several days later, Adam and Eve were introducing names for the animals into their language, and during a break between the fish and the birds, introduced also into their language modal auxiliary verbs, or devices that would be translated into English using modal auxiliary verbs, and rules for their use, rules according to which it can be said of some things that they ‘could’ have been otherwise, and of other things that they ‘could not’. In so doing they were merely putting labels on a distinction that was no more their creation than were the fishes of the sea or the beasts of the field or the birds of the air.

And here is the rival view. The failure of Genesis to mention any command ‘Let there be necessity’ is to be explained simply by the fact that no such command was issued. We have no reason to suppose that the language in which God speaks to the angels contains modal auxiliary verbs or any equivalent device. Sometime after the Tower of Babel some tribes found that their purposes would be better served by introducing into their language certain modal auxiliary verbs, and fixing certain rules for their use. When we say that this is necessary while that is contingent, we are applying such rules, rules that are products of human, not divine intelligence.

This theological language would have been the natural way for seventeenth or eighteenth century philosophers, who nearly all were or professed to be theists or deists, to discuss the matter. For many today, such language cannot be literally accepted, and if it is only taken metaphorically, then at least better than those who speak figuratively and frame the question as that of whether the ‘origin’ of necessity lies outside us or within us. So let us drop the theological language, and try again.

Well, here the first view: Ultimately reality as it is in itself, independently of our attempts to conceptualize and comprehend it, contains both facts about what is, and superfacts about what not only is but had to have been. Our modal usages, for instance, the distinction between the simple indicative ‘is’ and the construction ‘had to have been’, simply reflect this fundamental distinction in the world, a distinction that is and from the beginning always was there, independently of us and our concerns.

And here is the second view: We have reasons, connected with our various purposes in life, to use certain words, including ‘would’ and ‘might’, in certain ways, and thereby to make certain distinctions. The distinction between those things in the world that would have been no matter what and those that might have failed to be if only is a projection of the distinctions made in our language. Our saying there were necessities there before us is a retroactive application to the pre-human world of a way of speaking invented and created by human beings in order to solve human problems.

Well, that’s the second try. With it even if one has gotten rid of theology, unfortunately one has not gotten rid of all metaphors. The key remaining metaphor is the optical one: reflection vs projection. Perhaps the attempt should be to get rid of all metaphors, and admit that the two views are not so much philosophical theses or doctrines as ‘metaphilosophical’ attitudes or orientations: a stance that finds the ‘reflection’ metaphor congenial, and the stance that finds the ‘projection’ metaphor congenial. So, lets try a third time to describe the distinction between the two outlooks in literal terms, avoiding optics as well as theology.

To begin with, both sides grant that there is a correspondence or parallelism between two items. On the one hand, there are facts about the contrast between what is necessary and what is contingent. On the other hand, there are facts about our usage of modal auxiliary verbs such as ‘would’ and ‘might’, and these include, for instance, the fact that we have no use for questions of the form ‘Would 29 still have been a prime number if such-and- such?’ but may have use for questions of the form ‘Would 29 still have been the number of years it takes for Saturn to orbit the sun if such-and-such?’ The difference between the two sides concerns the order of explanation of the relation between the two parallel ranges of facts.

And what is meant by that? Well, both sides grant that ‘29 is necessarily prime’, for instance, is a proper thing to say, but they differ in the explanation why it is a proper thing to say. Asked why, the first side will say that ultimately it is simply because 29 is necessarily prime. That makes the proposition that 29 is necessarily prime true, and since the sentence ‘29 is necessarily prime’ expresses that proposition, it is true also, and a proper thing to say. The second side will say instead that ‘29 is necessarily prime’ is a proper thing to say because there is a rule of our language according to which it is a proper thing to say. This formulation of the difference between the two sides gets rid of metaphor, though it does put an awful lot of weight on the perhaps fragile ‘why’ and ‘because’.

Note that the adherents of the second view need not deny that 29 is necessarily prime. On the contrary, having said that the sentence ‘29 is necessarily prime’ is, per rules of our language, a proper thing to say, they will go on to say it. Nor need the adherents of the first view deny that recognition of the propriety of saying ‘29 is necessarily prime’ is enshrined in a rule of our language. The adherents of the first view need not even deny that proximately, as individuals, we learn that ‘29 is necessarily prime’ is a proper thing to say by picking up the pertinent rule in the course of learning our language. But the adherents of the first view will maintain that the rule itself is only proper because collectively, as the creators of the language, we or our remote answers have, in setting up the rule, managed to achieve correspondence with a pre-existing fact, or rather, a pre-existing superfact, the superfact that 29 is necessarily prime. The difference between the two views is, in the order of explanation.

The adherents regarding labels for the two sides, or ‘metaphilosophical’ stances, rather than inventing new ones, will simply take two of the most overworked terms in the philosophical lexicon and give them one more job to do, calling the reflection view ‘realism’ about modality, and the projection view ‘pragmatism’. That at least will be easy to remember, since ‘realism’ and ‘reflection’ begin with the same first two letters, as do ‘pragmatism’ and ‘projection’. The realist/pragmatist distinction has bearing across a range of issues and problems, and above all it has bearing on the meta-issue of which issues are significant. For the two sides will, or ought to, recognize quite different questions as the central unsolved problems in the theory of modality.

For those on the realist side, the old problem of the ultimate source of our knowledge of modality remains, even if it is granted that the proximate source lies in knowledge of linguistic conventions. For knowledge of linguistic conventions constitutes knowledge of a reality independent of us only insofar as our linguistic conventions reflect, at least to some degree, such an ultimate reality. So for the realist the problem remains of explaining how such degree of correspondence as there is between distinctions in language and distinctions in the world comes about. If the distinction in the world is something primary and independent, and not a mere projection of the distinction in language, then how the distinction in language comes to be even imperfectly aligned with the distinction in the world remains to be explained. For it cannot be said that we have faculties responsive to modal facts independent of us – not in any sense of ‘responsive’ implying that if the facts had been different, then our language would have been different, since modal facts couldn’t have been different. What then is the explanation? This is the problem of the epistemology of modality as it confronts the realist, and addressing it is or ought to be at the top of the realist agenda.

As for the pragmatist side, a chief argument of thinkers from Kant to Ayer and Strawson and beyond for their anti-realist stance has been precisely that if the distinction we perceive in reality is taken to be merely a projection of a distinction created by ourselves, then the epistemological problem dissolves. That seems more like a reason for hoping the Kantian or Ayerite or Strawsonian view is the right one, than for believing that it is; but in any case, even supposing the pragmatist view is the right one, and the problems of the epistemology of modality are dissolved, still the pragmatist side has an important unanswered question of its own to address. The pragmatist account, begins by saying that we have certain reasons, connected with our various purposes in life, to use certain words, including ‘would’ and ‘might’, in certain ways, and thereby to make certain distinctions. What the pragmatist owes us is an account of what these purposes are, and how the rules of our language help us to achieve them. Addressing that issue is or ought to be at the top of the pragmatists’ to-do list.

While the positivist Ayer dismisses all metaphysics, the ordinary-language philosopher Strawson distinguishes good metaphysics, which he calls ‘descriptive’, from bad metaphysics, which he calls ‘revisionary’, but which rather be called ‘transcendental’ (without intending any specifically Kantian connotations). Descriptive metaphysics aims to provide an explicit account of our ‘conceptual scheme’, of the most general categories of commonsense thought, as embodied in ordinary language. Transcendental metaphysics aims to get beyond or behind all merely human conceptual schemes and representations to ultimate reality as it is in itself, an aim that Ayer and Strawson agree is infeasible and probably unintelligible. The descriptive/transcendental divide in metaphysics is a paradigmatically ‘metaphilosophical’ issue, one about what philosophy is about. Realists about modality are paradigmatic transcendental metaphysicians. Pragmatists must in the first instance be descriptive metaphysicians, since we must to begin with understand much better than we currently do how our modal distinctions work and what work they do for us, before proposing any revisions or reforms. And so the difference between realists and pragmatists goes beyond the question of what issue should come first on the philosopher’s agenda, being as it is an issue about what philosophical agendas are about.

Anti-Haecceitism. Thought of the Day 45.0


; Conc is the property of being concurrent, Red is the property of definiteness, and Heavy is the property of vividness.

In the language of modern metaphysics, w and w′ above are qualitatively indiscernible. And anti-haecceitism is the doctrine which says that qualitatively indiscernible worlds are identical. So, we immediately see a problem looming.

But why accept anti-haecceitism? The best reasons focus on physics. Just as the debate between Leibniz and Newton’s followers focused on physics, the strongest arguments still against haecceitism come from physics. Anti-haecceitism as understood here concerns the identity of indiscernible (“isomorphic”) worlds or “situations” or “states”. In many areas of physics, including statistical physics, spacetime physics and quantum theory, the physics tells us that certain “indiscernible situations” are in fact literally identical.

A simple example comes from the statistical physics of “indiscernibile particles”. Consider a box, partitioned into Left-side and Right-side (L and R), and containing two indiscernible particles. One naively thinks this permits four distinct states or situations: i.e., both in L; both in R, and one in L and one in R. However, physics tells us that there are only three states, not four, and we might denote these: S2,0, S1,1, S0,2. The state S1,1, i.e., where “one is L and one is R”, is a single state; there are not two distinct possibilities. The correct description of S1,1 uses existential quantifiers:

∃x ∃y (x ≠ y ∧ Lx ∧ Ry)

One can (syntactically) introduce labels for the particles, say a, b. One can do this in two ways, to obtain:

a ≠ b ∧ La ∧ Rb

b ≠ a ∧ Lb ∧ Ra

But this labelling is purely representational, and not in any way fixed by the physical state S1,1 itself. So, there are distinct indiscernible objects in “situations” or states.

From spacetime physics, consider the principle sometimes called “Leibniz equivalence” (Norton). A formulation (but under a different name) is given in Wald’s monograph General Relativity. Wald’s formulation of Leibniz equivalence is, essentially, this:

isomorphic spacetime models represent the same physical world.

For example, let

S = (M, g, . . . )

be a spacetime model with carrier set |M| of points. (i.e., M is the underlying manifold.) Then Leibniz Equivalence implies:

If π : |M| → |M| is any bijection, then πS and S represent

the same world. There are many other examples, including examples from quantum theory. Consequently, independently of our pre-theoretic considerations concerning modality, it seems to me that our best physics – statistical physics, relativity and quantum theory – is telling us that anti-haecceitism is true: given a structure A which represents a world w, any permuted copy πA should somehow represent the same world, w.

Deleuzian Speculative Philosophy. Thought of the Day 44.0


Deleuze’s version of speculative philosophy is the procedure of counter-effectuation or counter-actualization. In defiance of the causal laws of an actual situation, speculation experiments with the quasi-causal intensities capable of bringing about effects that have their own retro-active power. This is its political import. Leibniz already argued that all things are effects or consequences, even though they do not necessarily have a cause, since the sufficient reason of what exists always lies outside of any actual series and remains virtual. (Leibniz) With the Principle of Sufficient Reason, he thus reinvented the Stoic disjunction between the series of corporeal causes and the series of incorporeal effects. Not because he anticipated the modern bifurcation of given necessary causes (How?) and metaphysically constructed reasons (Why?), but because for him the virtuality of effects is no less real than the interaction of causes. The effect always includes its own cause, since divergent series of events (incompossible worlds) enter into relation with any particular event (in this world), while these interpenetrating series are prior to, and not limited by, actual relations of causality per se. In terms of Deleuze, cause and effect do not share the same temporality. Whereas causes relate to one another in an eternal present (Chronos), effects relate to one another in a past-future purified of the present (Aion). Taken together, these temporalities form the double structure of every event (Logic of Sense). When the night is lit up by a sudden flash of lightning, this is the effect of an intensive, metaphysical becoming that contains its own destiny, integrating a differential potentiality that is irreducible to the physical series of necessary efficient causes that nonetheless participate in it. In order for such a contingent conjugation of events to be actualized (i.e. for effects to influence causes and become individuated in a materially extended state of affairs), however, its impersonal and pre-individual presence must be trusted upon. This takes a speculative investment or amor fati that forms its precursive reason/ground. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze refers to this will to speculate as the dark precursor which determines the path of a thunderbolt in advance but in reverse, as though intagliated by setting up a communication of difference with difference. It is therefore the differenciator of these differences or in- itself of difference. We find a paradigmatic example of this will to make a difference in William James’ The Will to Believe when he writes: We can and we may, as it were, jump with both feet off the ground into a world of which we trust the other parts to meet our jump and only so can the making of a perfected world of the pluralistic pattern ever take place. Only through our precursive trust in it can it come into being. (James) As Stengers explains, we can and do speculate each time we precursively trust in the possibility of connecting, of entering into a (partial) rapport that cannot be derived from the ground of our current, dominant premises. Or as Deleuze writes: the dark precursor is not the friend (Difference and Repetition) but rather the bad will of a traitor or enemy, since the will does not precede the presubjective cruelty of the event in its involuntariness. At the same time, however, we never jump into a vacuum. We always speculate by the milieu, since a jump in general could never be trusted: If a jump is always situated, it is because its aim is not to escape the ground in order to get access to a higher realm. The jump, connecting this ground, always this ground, with what it was alien to, has the necessity of a response. In other words, the ground must have been given the power to make itself felt as calling for new dimensions. (Stengers) Indeed, if speculative thought cannot be detached from a practical concern, Deleuze at the same time states that [t]here is no other ethic than the amor fati of philosophy. (What is Philosophy?) Speculative reasoning is thus an art of pure expression or efficacy, an art of precipitating events: an art that detects and affirms the possibility of other reasons insisting as so many virtual forces that have not yet had the chance to emerge but whose presence can be trusted upon to make a difference.

In Deleuze’s own terms, there is no such thing as pure reason, only heterogeneous processes of rationalization, of actualizing an irrational potential: There is no metaphysics, but rather a politics of being. (Deleuze) For this reason, the method of speculative philosophy is the method of dramatization. It is a method that distributes events according to a logic that conditions the order of their intelligibility. As such it belongs to what in Difference and Repetition is referred to as the proper order of reasons: differentiation-individuation-dramatisation-differenciation. A book of philosophy, Deleuze famously writes in the preface, should be in part a very particular species of detective novel, in part a kind of science fiction. On the one hand, the creation of concepts cannot be separated from a problematic milieu or stage that matters practically; on the other hand, it seeks to deterritorialize this milieu by speculating on the quasi-causal intensity of its becoming-other.

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Meillassoux’s Principle of Unreason Towards an Intuition of the Absolute In-itself. Note Quote.


The principle of reason such as it appears in philosophy is a principle of contingent reason: not only how philosophical reason concerns difference instead of identity, we but also why the Principle of Sufficient Reason can no longer be understood in terms of absolute necessity. In other words, Deleuze disconnects the Principle of Sufficient Reason from the ontotheological tradition no less than from its Heideggerian deconstruction. What remains then of Meillassoux’s criticism in After finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contigency that Deleuze no less than Hegel hypostatizes or absolutizes the correlation between thinking and being and thus brings back a vitalist version of speculative idealism through the back door?

At stake in Meillassoux’s criticism of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is a double problem: the conditions of possibility of thinking and knowing an absolute and subsequently the conditions of possibility of rational ideology critique. The first problem is primarily epistemological: how can philosophy justify scientific knowledge claims about a reality that is anterior to our relation to it and that is hence not given in the transcendental object of possible experience (the arche-fossil )? This is a problem for all post-Kantian epistemologies that hold that we can only ever know the correlate of being and thought. Instead of confronting this weak correlationist position head on, however, Meillassoux seeks a solution in the even stronger correlationist position that denies not only the knowability of the in itself, but also its very thinkability or imaginability. Simplified: if strong correlationists such as Heidegger or Wittgenstein insist on the historicity or facticity (non-necessity) of the correlation of reason and ground in order to demonstrate the impossibility of thought’s self-absolutization, then the very force of their argument, if it is not to contradict itself, implies more than they are willing to accept: the necessity of the contingency of the transcendental structure of the for itself. As a consequence, correlationism is incapable of demonstrating itself to be necessary. This is what Meillassoux calls the principle of factiality or the principle of unreason. It says that it is possible to think of two things that exist independently of thought’s relation to it: contingency as such and the principle of non-contradiction. The principle of unreason thus enables the intellectual intuition of something that is absolutely in itself, namely the absolute impossibility of a necessary being. And this in turn implies the real possibility of the completely random and unpredictable transformation of all things from one moment to the next. Logically speaking, the absolute is thus a hyperchaos or something akin to Time in which nothing is impossible, except it be necessary beings or necessary temporal experiences such as the laws of physics.

There is, moreover, nothing mysterious about this chaos. Contingency, and Meillassoux consistently refers to this as Hume’s discovery, is a purely logical and rational necessity, since without the principle of non-contradiction not even the principle of factiality would be absolute. It is thus a rational necessity that puts the Principle of Sufficient Reason out of action, since it would be irrational to claim that it is a real necessity as everything that is is devoid of any reason to be as it is. This leads Meillassoux to the surprising conclusion that [t]he Principle of Sufficient Reason is thus another name for the irrational… The refusal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is not the refusal of reason, but the discovery of the power of chaos harboured by its fundamental principle (non-contradiction). (Meillassoux 2007: 61) The principle of factiality thus legitimates or founds the rationalist requirement that reality be perfectly amenable to conceptual comprehension at the same time that it opens up [a] world emancipated from the Principle of Sufficient Reason (Meillassoux) but founded only on that of non-contradiction.

This emancipation brings us to the practical problem Meillassoux tries to solve, namely the possibility of ideology critique. Correlationism is essentially a discourse on the limits of thought for which the deabsolutization of the Principle of Sufficient Reason marks reason’s discovery of its own essential inability to uncover an absolute. Thus if the Galilean-Copernican revolution of modern science meant the paradoxical unveiling of thought’s capacity to think what there is regardless of whether thought exists or not, then Kant’s correlationist version of the Copernican revolution was in fact a Ptolemaic counterrevolution. Since Kant and even more since Heidegger, philosophy has been adverse precisely to the speculative import of modern science as a formal, mathematical knowledge of nature. Its unintended consequence is therefore that questions of ultimate reasons have been dislocated from the domain of metaphysics into that of non-rational, fideist discourse. Philosophy has thus made the contemporary end of metaphysics complicit with the religious belief in the Principle of Sufficient Reason beyond its very thinkability. Whence Meillassoux’s counter-intuitive conclusion that the refusal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason furnishes the minimal condition for every critique of ideology, insofar as ideology cannot be identified with just any variety of deceptive representation, but is rather any form of pseudo-rationality whose aim is to establish that what exists as a matter of fact exists necessarily. In this way a speculative critique pushes skeptical rationalism’s relinquishment of the Principle of Sufficient Reason to the point where it affirms that there is nothing beneath or beyond the manifest gratuitousness of the given nothing, but the limitless and lawless power of its destruction, emergence, or persistence. Such an absolutizing even though no longer absolutist approach would be the minimal condition for every critique of ideology: to reject dogmatic metaphysics means to reject all real necessity, and a fortiori to reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason, as well as the ontological argument.

On the one hand, Deleuze’s criticism of Heidegger bears many similarities to that of Meillassoux when he redefines the Principle of Sufficient Reason in terms of contingent reason or with Nietzsche and Mallarmé: nothing rather than something such that whatever exists is a fiat in itself. His Principle of Sufficient Reason is the plastic, anarchic and nomadic principle of a superior or transcendental empiricism that teaches us a strange reason, that of the multiple, chaos and difference. On the other hand, however, the fact that Deleuze still speaks of reason should make us wary. For whereas Deleuze seeks to reunite chaotic being with systematic thought, Meillassoux revives the classical opposition between empiricism and rationalism precisely in order to attack the pre-Kantian, absolute validity of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. His argument implies a return to a non-correlationist version of Kantianism insofar as it relies on the gap between being and thought and thus upon a logic of representation that renders Deleuze’s Principle of Sufficient Reason unrecognizable, either through a concept of time, or through materialism.

Organic and the Orgiastic. Cartography of Ground and Groundlessness in Deleuze and Heidegger. Thought of the Day 43.0


In his last hermeneutical Erörterung of Leibniz, The Principle of Ground, Heidegger traces back metaphysics to its epochal destiny in the twofold or duplicity (Zwiefalt) of Being and Thought and thus follows the ground in its self-ungrounding (zugrundegehen). Since the foundation of thought is also the foundation of Being, reason and ground are not equal but belong together (zusammenhören) in the Same as the ungrounded yet historical horizon of the metaphysical destiny of Being: On the one hand we say: Being and ground: the Same. On the other hand we say: Being: the abyss (Ab-Grund). What is important is to think the univocity (Einsinnigkeit) of both Sätze, those Sätze that are no longer Sätze. In Difference and Repetition, similarly, Deleuze tells us that sufficient reason is twisted into the groundless. He confirms that the Fold (Pli) is the differenciator of difference engulfed in groundlessness, always folding, unfolding, refolding: to ground is always to bend, to curve and recurve. He thus concludes:

Sufficient reason or ground is strangely bent: on the one hand, it leans towards what it grounds, towards the forms of representation; on the other hand, it turns and plunges into a groundless beyond the ground which resists all forms and cannot be represented.

Despite the fundamental similarity of their conclusions, however, our short overview of Deleuze’s transformation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason has already indicated that his argumentation is very different from Heideggerian hermeneutics. To ground, Deleuze agrees, is always to ground representation. But we should distinguish between two kinds of representation: organic or finite representation and orgiastic or infinite representation. What unites the classicisms of Kant, Descartes and Aristotle is that representation retains organic form as its principle and the finite as its element. Here the logical principle of identity always precedes ontology, such that the ground as element of difference remains undetermined and in itself. It is only with Hegel and Leibniz that representation discovers the ground as its principle and the infinite as its element. It is precisely the Principle of Sufficient Reason that enables thought to determine difference in itself. The ground is like a single and unique total moment, simultaneously the moment of the evanescence and production of difference, of disappearance and appearance. What the attempts at rendering representation infinite reveal, therefore, is that the ground has not only an Apollinian, orderly side, but also a hidden Dionysian, orgiastic side. Representation discovers within itself the limits of the organized; tumult, restlessness and passion underneath apparent calm. It rediscovers monstrosity.

The question then is how to evaluate this ambiguity that is essential to the ground. For Heidegger, the Zwiefalt is either naively interpreted from the perspective of its concave side, following the path of the history of Western thought as the belonging together of Being and thought in a common ground; or it is meditated from its convex side, excavating it from the history of the forgetting of Being the decline of the Fold (Wegfall der Zwiefalt, Vorenthalt der Zwiefalt) as the pivotal point of the Open in its unfolding and following the path that leads from the ground to the abyss. Instead of this all or nothing approach, Deleuze takes up the question in a Nietzschean, i.e. genealogical fashion. The attempt to represent difference in itself cannot be disconnected from its malediction, i.e. the moral representation of groundlessness as a completely undifferentiated abyss. As Bergson already observed, representational reason poses the problem of the ground in terms of the alternative between order and chaos. This goes in particular for the kind of representational reason that seeks to represent the irrepresentable: Representation, especially when it becomes infinite, is imbued with a presentiment of groundlessness. Because it has become infinite in order to include difference within itself, however, it represents groundlessness as a completely undifferentiated abyss, a universal lack of difference, an indifferent black nothingness. Indeed, if Deleuze is so hostile to Hegel, it is because the latter embodies like no other the ultimate illusion inseparable from the Principle of Sufficient Reason insofar as it grounds representation, namely that groundlessness should lack differences, when in fact it swarms with them.

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Meillassoux, Deleuze, and the Ordinal Relation Un-Grounding Hyper-Chaos. Thought of the Day 41.0


As Heidegger demonstrates in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, Kant limits the metaphysical hypostatization of the logical possibility of the absolute by subordinating the latter to a domain of real possibility circumscribed by reason’s relation to sensibility. In this way he turns the necessary temporal becoming of sensible intuition into the sufficient reason of the possible. Instead, the anti-Heideggerian thrust of Meillassoux’s intellectual intuition is that it absolutizes the a priori realm of pure logical possibility and disconnects the domain of mathematical intelligibility from sensibility. (Ray Brassier’s The Enigma of Realism: Robin Mackay – Collapse_ Philosophical Research and Development. Speculative Realism.) Hence the chaotic structure of his absolute time: Anything is possible. Whereas real possibility is bound to correlation and temporal becoming, logical possibility is bound only by non-contradiction. It is a pure or absolute possibility that points to a radical diachronicity of thinking and being: we can think of being without thought, but not of thought without being.

Deleuze clearly situates himself in the camp when he argues with Kant and Heidegger that time as pure auto-affection (folding) is the transcendental structure of thought. Whatever exists, in all its contingency, is grounded by the first two syntheses of time and ungrounded by the third, disjunctive synthesis in the implacable difference between past and future. For Deleuze, it is precisely the eternal return of the ordinal relation between what exists and what may exist that destroys necessity and guarantees contingency. As a transcendental empiricist, he thus agrees with the limitation of logical possibility to real possibility. On the one hand, he thus also agrees with Hume and Meillassoux that [r]eality is not the result of the laws which govern it. The law of entropy or degradation in thermodynamics, for example, is unveiled as nihilistic by Nietzsche s eternal return, since it is based on a transcendental illusion in which difference [of temperature] is the sufficient reason of change only to the extent that the change tends to negate difference. On the other hand, Meillassoux’s absolute capacity-to-be-other relative to the given (Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Alain Badiou – After finitude: an essay on the necessity of contingency) falls away in the face of what is actual here and now. This is because although Meillassoux s hyper-chaos may be like time, it also contains a tendency to undermine or even reject the significance of time. Thus one may wonder with Jon Roffe (Time_and_Ground_A_Critique_of_Meillassou) how time, as the sheer possibility of any future or different state of affairs, can provide the (non-)ground for the realization of this state of affairs in actuality. The problem is less that Meillassoux’s contingency is highly improbable than that his ontology includes no account of actual processes of transformation or development. As Peter Hallward (Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman (editors) – The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism) has noted, the abstract logical possibility of change is an empty and indeterminate postulate, completely abstracted from all experience and worldly or material affairs. For this reason, the difference between Deleuze and Meillassoux seems to come down to what is more important (rather than what is more originary): the ordinal sequences of sensible intuition or the logical lack of reason.

But for Deleuze time as the creatio ex nihilo of pure possibility is not just irrelevant in relation to real processes of chaosmosis, which are both chaotic and probabilistic, molecular and molar. Rather, because it puts the Principle of Sufficient Reason as principle of difference out of real action it is either meaningless with respecting to the real or it can only have a negative or limitative function. This is why Deleuze replaces the possible/real opposition with that of virtual/actual. Whereas conditions of possibility always relate asymmetrically and hierarchically to any real situation, the virtual as sufficient reason is no less real than the actual since it is first of all its unconditioned or unformed potential of becoming-other.