Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Some Thoughts on Ontology

Recently, there was another throw down between the relationists and the OOO. And almost predictably, it also became annoyingly personal between many of the participants. For various reasons (including that I had too much to do this weekend to actually keep up), I'm not going to respond to any of it. Instead, it merely encouraged me to make a rare post on ontology proper. What is going to follow are a series of relatively unsupported theses on ontology that I sometimes, on occasion, subscribe to. I welcome responses, but I have no real desire to defend current thoughts. So, feel free to disagree. I'll read and think about it. I probably won't defend anything. Though I might, if the spirit moves me.

(1) I don't believe in first philosophy. Instead, philosophy is filled with semi-discreet, enmeshing sub-disciplines. Ethics and ontology are two different things, but not wholly different. And more importantly, one doesn't come before the other. (And of course, it could also be aesthetics, epistemology, etc.).

(2) Obviously, I am anti-anthropocentric. In ethics and other things this might be a weak anti-anthropocentrism. I am convinced that we need to extend our ethical duties and obligations to other animals, I am not convinced we do so to my desk. I am, however, completely convinced that my desk is a full ontological being. That is to say, I am a strong anti-anthropocentrist in ontology. For example, in order to open up the desk, I have to first open up the drawer above my lap, and only then am I allowed to open up the drawers to my side. That seems to me that I am dealing with a real ontological interaction. Meanwhile, the conductive elements in the microchips in my computer interact with electricity, and random bits of information occasionally get lost or moved around without my ever telling my computer to do those things. In other words, it is obvious to me that things interact with each other, and humans never have to be on site for this to happen (this is so obvious to me, I wonder how anyone can disagree with it).

(3) I'm not sure about withdrawal. I am sure about opacity. Any system of relation (both internal systems and external systems) has to deal with opacity. This is basically an anti-anthropocentric reading of Glissant's brilliant text, Poetics of Relation. I highly suggest it for anyone who hasn't read it. Opacity means that beings are never given over to another being. This is both true for beings outside of my self, but also beings internal to my self. Now, opacity is not an empirical part of relations to be overcome, but a constitutive part of relations that is both essential and important. As Wittgenstein famously put it, "We have got onto slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!"

There are a lot more, but I suddenly have to run. If I don't hit the publish button, I know I won't come back to this post anytime soon.