Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Logic of Catastrophe: A Study in Arachnology, Part I

          Kant… This catastrophic spider…
        - Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist (hat-tip Edward Feser)
In a discussion spawned by the last post's attempt to defend Heidegger against a common historicistic misreading, I was given occasion to sketch a rough, formal definition of that logical specimen which may serve, within certain limits, as a criterion according to which the difference between historicism and Heidegger's seynsgeschichte may be judged irreducible. The Liar's Paradox, as the specimen is sometimes called, was there specified as follows: 
The "Liar's Paradox" names any proposition the form of which contradicts that same proposition's content due to the manner in which the latter referentially contains the former." The Liar's Paradox as I have just formulated it can assume either a universal or a particular form, in keeping with the twofold possibility of the form of all predication (or if you prefer, propositional formation).
An example of its universal form would be: "All propositions are false". An example of its particular form would be "This proposition is false."".
The Liar's Paradox has a history whose origins may be traced at least as far back as the ancient Greek Cretan Epimenides, whose famous warning that "All Cretan's are liars" raised suspicion in regard not only to its credibility but, remarkably, also to its incredibility. But for the purposes of the present post, it is not its alleged ancient Greek origin but its alleged exemplification in modern transcendental idealism that is in need of some consideration: the author of Just Thomism has recently drawn attention to the way in which the "basic thesis" of Kant's first Kritik offers us a shining example of just such a logical fallacy:
The basic thesis of the Critique is that the mind cannot move beyond the bounds of possible experience. But the more often he argues and repeats the point, the more ironic it becomes, for sooner or later it becomes clear that Kant is giving page after page of non-empirical arguments to show that only empirical arguments are possible. To use Kant’s own language in his preface, when does he ever put the nature of the mind on the witness stand and force it to only answer the questions that he is putting to it? 
Is Kant, logically speaking, a bold-faced Liar? The question, however seemingly simplistic, is obviously an important one: perjury is perhaps least acceptable before the tribunal of Rational criticism. And while the objection is not an uncommon  one among intelligent readers of Kant, it is all the more pressing since Kant himself does not leave the peculiar character of his "thesis" unaddressed: 
That the understanding, therefore, cannot make of its a priori principles, or even of its conceptions, other than an empirical use, is a proposition which leads to the most important results. A transcendental use is made of a conception in a fundamental proposition or principle, when it is applied to things in general and in themselves, an empirical use, when it is applied merely to appearances , that is, to objects of a possible experience. (KrV A 239, B 298
If we are to examine Kant's words in the light of the aforementioned objection, then the first order of business is to ensure that no equivocation is afoot --or, in other words, that the terms to which the objection has been raised can be translated without significant remainder into those of the Kritik's actual proposition. Thinking along these lines we may be inclined to take observation of a state of affairs at once superficial and significant: the word Kant employs above which has been rendered as "understanding" is verstand. An immediate difference in terminology becomes apparent with the force of something obvious: Kant's work is not entitled "Kritik der Reinen Verstand", but "Kritik der Reinen Vernunft". It would be hard to overstate the importance of differentiating between the two faculties and of never losing sight of their difference, not only in the first Kritik, nor only in the entire critical project of Kant, but in German Idealism as a whole --even when, as in Hegel, the goal is to arrive at the Identity within this difference.

But for our present purposes, such a superficial  observation, while necessary, is insufficient. For what is at stake in the task at hand is not only that the powers of the mind cannot be reduced to verstand, but that the nature of verstand, when positively expounded and clearly specified, be unconfused with the source of Kant's proposition regarding the limitations of the employment of that same verstand. What does Kant mean by speaking of the "use of the understanding", in either its transcendental or its empirical variety? What is the nature of such "use" or "application"?  In his most general accounts, Kant speaks of verstand as "a spontaneity of knowledge" in distinction from the receptivity of sensibility (KrV A 126). At such a level of description we might very well be inclined to think of the understanding as identifiable with "mind" or with "the mental faculty" broadly conceived. But Kant also supplies his reader with far more specific accounts of the understanding: Kant's revolutionary claim is that it is possible "to reduce all acts of the understanding to judgements" and thus to regard the understanding specifically as "faculty of judgments" (KrV A 68, B 93). The precise sense then, of "the use of the understanding" here in question regards those functions whose combinatory power enables the setzen, the positing, that occurs in and is proper to all scientific, that is, synthetic judgment. Analytic judgments such as those that are to be found in logic, may well constitute a propaedeutic to science, but they can never constitute a body of scientific knowledge proper; they are not to be regarded as a use or application of the understanding, either in its transcendental or empirical variety. The use of the understanding, then, precisely in so far as it is so regarded, results in the acquisition of objective knowledge, i.e. not simply tautologous, but ampliative knowledge, which extends the wealth of what is already known,  and whose systematic possession constitutes, for Kant, the aims of all science. The use of the understanding is most properly referred to the acquisition of scientific knowledge, and that scientific knowledge, because it  must be ampliative (and therefore objective), must depend upon the possibility of categorial judgement, i.e. the capacity to say something about something

But it is here that the question is only begged all the more: when we revisit Kant's quotation above, isn’t Kant therein saying something ("cannot make any use other than empirical"about something ("the understanding" as it relates to its "a priori principles" and "conceptions")? But if we bear firmly in mind the specific meaning of the understanding that Kant has clarified, then an answer becomes detectable.  For what is meant by "saying something about something", i.e. by categorial judgment, is that act by which one can establish relations with an object --and not just any manner of relations, but precisely those in terms of which the object itself can be known and knowledge can thereby be amplified.  In other words the combination achieved in such judgment must be achieved in just such a way that that combination be justified and necessitated by nothing but the object itself; the grounds of our judgment must be looked for nowhere else than in the object itself. Only thus is knowledge truly objective. I can, on the other hand, say something about an object without my statement being objective knowledge (but only an opining about perception), as in Kant's famous example: "the rock in the sun over there is warm". This judgment does indeed refer to an object as to its matter. But --and this is the crucial point --it does not find the ground of its combination therein. Rather we should say in such a case that this combination is only to be found in the representing subject, in which the representations of  "rock" and "warmth" have happened to coincide. Such a judgement is a judgement of perception.  But if a judgment is to produce objective knowledge, if it is to truly say something about something, if it is to be a categorial judgment, then it must be a judgement of experience, the sole possibility of which depends upon the application of the categories and not upon subjective coincidence. Thus, when I say: "the sun causes the rock over there to increase in temperature", I am now relying on much more than a coincidence of representations to intend the object of my judgement; I am relying not on the mere subjective simultaneity revealed within time as inner intuition but upon the objective succession of time as universal intuition, i.e. as the element in which alone the matter of my representations (and not my representations qua form) can be given. Such a distinction is the fundamental basis of the second of Kant's Analogies of Experience, and, more generally of all dynamical determinations, and it must therefore be regarded as elementary to the entire argument, the "basic thesis", of the Kritik itself. 

To recapitulate: the use of the understanding, when specified as judgment, can be roughly spoken of as the act whereby one predicates or "says something about something", but such saying is itself a πολλαχῶς λεγόμενον. When we sort out the equivocation at play here, we discover that the primary sense of such "saying something about something" is the judgement qua judgment of experience, whose combination is objective, and not the judgment of perception whose combination is subjective. The case of Kant's proposition regarding the use of the understanding that we are discussing above can be classified in neither of the two ways just mentioned; the necessity of its connexion depends neither upon the use of the a priori principles of the understanding, nor upon the coincidence of representation, which is why the statement is properly logical in the transcendental sense; its matter, while belonging to a determinate domain (unlike General Logic, which bears no reference to material content whatsoever), is itself yet formal and only that. It is for this reason that Kant begins his second book of the Transcendental Analytic, namely, The Analytic of Principles, by noting the following regarding the material content of all knowledge proper to Transcendental Logic
As Transcendental Logic is limited to a certain determinate content, namely to the content of those modes of knowledge which are pure and a priori, it cannot follow general logic in its division...Understanding and judgment find, therefore, in transcendental logic their canon of objectively valid and correct employment.  (KrV A 131, B 170)  
Kant's point here bears repeating: a canon of the objective and correct employment of the understanding, and not that objective knowledge gained by such employment, is to provide the proper subject matter of the transcendental logic. For the Liar's Paradox to be operative in Kant's transcendento-logical statement that "the understanding, therefore, cannot make of its a priori principles, or even of its conceptions other than an empirical use", that statement must be a product of the use of the a priori principles or conceptions of the understanding, i.e. it must be establishing a categorial saying something about something. But this is not what it is doing, since categorial application, because it by definition is grounded in the object itself, always depends on the givenness of time in terms of which the appearance of that object is informed. If all objects of knowledge are in the first place given in and under the conditions of intuition as Kant has transcendentally exposited them, and if one accepts that the very application of the categories depends on those conditions and owes all of its (formal) meaning to them,  then his thesis regarding the empirical limits of the use of the understanding is logically unassailable. But however his exposition and analysis of the conditions of knowing be understood, it cannot be understood as vulnerable to the Liar's Paradox.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Footnote to a Common, All Too Common "Explanation" of Seynsgeschichte

I find myself regularly marveling at the attempts, made by many an otherwise adept reader, to explicate Heidegger's understanding of the History of Being in a manner that inevitably ends up reducing the whole affair to a cultural historicism (sometimes even empirically ascertained!). What's worse, Heidegger's "idea about Western history" is depicted as one that is not even aware of its own vulnerability to the liar's paradox! Thus, either the question of how Heidegger himself would be able to 'access' the meaning of previous ages or the question of how he would be able to access the fact that he could not access such meaning often goes entirely neglected in such historicistic readings. I don't mean to suggest that there aren't insightful inquiries and honest work being done on Heidegger's seynsgeschichtliche denken, even in the abbreviated form afforded by the "blogosphere" (see, for example, the excellent William Koch's Philosophy Blog among others). Nor am I suggesting that the thought take only one form of articulation --indeed by definition, as it were, it cannot. But there is a persistent and often even crude misunderstanding of Heidegger's Seynsgeschichte that seems to me to have plagued its English-speaking reception, and it should be purged.

It is fortuitous, then, that even a reader who finds himself inept in the art of interpreting Heidegger carefully has been provided many passages in which Heidegger is nearly vitriolic in his appraisal of both "culture" and historicism. In Besinnung (1938-9), Heidegger writes:

   "Finally, the thinking in terms of values is the most superficial superficialization of Being as objectness...Domination of cultural consciousness and consequently domination of cutural politics pursues a growing consolidation of modernity in the direction of that which modernity as such pursues, namely, the forgottenness of Sein. The uprootedness of man does not consist in a certain shaping and particular degeneration of culture and cultural consciousness. Rather, culture as such is this uprootedness and indicates the severance of man's as yet ungrounded ownmost from history...Historicism is the total domination of history in the sense of reckoning with what is past in view of what is present, all in order to claim thereby once and for all man's ownmost as 'historical' --not geschichtliche. The domination of history will be overcome only through geschichte, through a novel decision and through an ever-first inquiry into the truth of Seyn."  (GA 66, pg. 147 in the English translation (poorly) entitled "Mindfulness").

Here it is quite obvious that historicism is not only being deliberately contrasted with Seynsgeschichte but that the latter is proposed as a manner of overcoming the former. What are people thinking when they try to 'describe' the history of Being as a succession of cultural understandings that are simply not governed by any overarching rationality? With such a description, one may have succeeded in offering an understanding of history that has lost --or rather simply negated --any resemblance to Hegelian Universal History, but they are equally (if not further) removed from Heidegger's Seynsgeschichte. As if Heidegger were speaking of a sociological version of Kuhnian paradigm shift. What could be more facile? (And, in fact, that is not being fair to Kuhn). It is perhaps well past time to take seriously Heidegger's insistence that in order to think the History of Being we must first of all understand that and how it is something yet to come, something which properly lies in the future (zukunft). The History of Being is no account of past cultures, practices, or even concepts. It is no account of the past at all.  Rather, as Heidegger reminds us in his widely read letter to Jean Beaufret, the History of Being lies imminently before us. It is the History of what has not yet been thought --and this now means: the way the unthought intiates and rules the very movement of History. What is still unthought: this criterion should be applied to all 'synoptic accounts' or 'explanations' of seynsgeschichte --not as a measure that can be replaced by or confused with the explanatory grounds of irrationality (say, the id or unconscious), but as a measure which always separates itself off from such explanatory conceptions by differing from them in a manner that relies on the future. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Resuscitating an earlier conversation regarding the problem of past love -- the problem, that is, of whether love can, as time passes, ever retain (or even resuscitate) its very essence, indeed, of whether love must not of necessity contradict and so lose itself the moment it should take leave of the present and become a thing of the past, Amos of KTL has seen fit to expound upon the likeness obtaining between such a past love and a god that has passed away:

If [the god] is gone and dead, how can it have been a god? Certainly, it is not the God who "at every time and in every place,...draws close to man" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1). By withdrawing from me after exacting my promise it has withdrawn its right to be called a god. But a god does not change, so it never was a god. Never to have been a god: this is how a god dies.

The logic of divine death --unmistakably Nietzschean in origin --is in a certain sense deceptively simple. Among the many who have revisited its simplicity since it was first proclaimed through the mouth of a "mad man", in that famous failed attempt to teach the common man the basic principle of a fröhliche Wissenschaft, it is Jean Luc Marion who offers perhaps the most succinct formulation of its general shape:

A “God” who can die harbors already, even when he is not dying, such a weakness that from the outset he falls short of the idea that we cannot not form of a “God.” And is it not the least of courtesies that he should satisfy a propaedeutic concept, even if it is only our own? A “God” who decides to die dies from the beginning, since he undoubtedly needs a beginning –which means that the “death of God” sets forth a contradiction: that which dies does not have any right to claim, even when it is alive, to be “God. (The Idol and Distance)

Omitting for the nonce a consideration of, for example, Marion's conspicuous use of a double negation (" we cannot not..."), we may yet appreciate how crucial the function of temporality is for this logic of divine mortality: a single moment --that moment of terrible epiphany in which it is finally ascertained that god is no longer --this single moment, it is claimed, reveals as so much illusion all the moments, indeed, the entire history, that had lead up to this very moment of revelation. Prior history, as the history of the god who has been, is simply the process by which its own farcical nature has now unfolded. The logic's conclusion thus offers itself straightforwardly: the god never was. If anyone has promised things or himself to such a god, those promises are to be esteemed null and void ---unless, as Rainscape has suggested, it can be supposed or in someway believed that another, this time immortal, god was evesdropping on such promise-making all along. But what if one, upon carefully examining the temporality by which god's life becomes a lie, were to object that somewhere along the way the original problem at stake had become conflated with another, entirely different problem? After all, is the problem of a despondent 'god' the same as the problem of a god who has become despondent? It is Nietzsche himself, who refused to lose sight of the double edged necessity of this logic: the truth of the moment of the death of god required god's previous life precisely to the extent that it would be capable of denying it. The Moment, if it was going to mark the beginning of an eternity in which god never existed, would have to mark it off from an eternity in which he always existed. Thus does Nietzsche have Zarathustra recognize the remarkable and confounding demands such a moment would have to make upon the one who endures it (I shall quote at length):

“Look at this gateway! Dwarf! It hath
two faces. Two roads come together here: these hath no
one yet gone to the end of.
This long lane backwards: it continueth for an eternity.
And that long lane forward—that is another eternity.
They are antithetical to one another, these roads; they
directly abut on one another:—and it is here, at this gateway,
that they come together. The name of the gateway is
inscribed above: ‘This Moment.’
But should one follow them further—and ever further
and further on, thinkest thou, dwarf, that these roads
would be eternally antithetical?”—
“Observe,” continued I, “This Moment! From the gateway,
This Moment, there runneth a long eternal lane backwards:
behind us lieth an eternity.
Must not whatever can run its course of all things, have
already run along that lane? Must not whatever can happen
of all things have already happened, resulted, and
gone by?
And if everything have already existed, what thinkest
thou, dwarf, of This Moment? Must not this gateway also—
have already existed?
And are not all things closely bound together in such
wise that This Moment draweth all coming things after it?
consequently—itself also?
For whatever can run its course of all things, also in
this long lane outward—must it once more run!—
And this slow spider which creepeth in the moonlight,
and this moonlight itself, and thou and I in this gateway
whispering together, whispering of eternal things—must
we not all have already existed?
—And must we not return and run in that other lane
out before us, that long weird lane—must we not eternally
Thus did I speak, and my speech grew ever softer: for I was
afraid of my own thoughts, and the thoughts behind my thoughts.
(Thus Spake Zarathustra)

The moment of the death of god, the moment of eternal contradiction that contains the impossible yet necessary union of two eternities --this moment is extraordinary in its very structure as a moment, its very temporality. Even without asking what truly singular thing is happening in this moment, there is the easily overlooked question of how it is happening. How does this moment itself happen? Zarathustra proclaims at the turning point of his discourse to the dwarf -- the culminating moment of his discourse on the Moment --that "This Moment draweth all coming things after it...consequently—itself also" (bold mine). Nietzsche elsewhere, both through the double of Zarathustra and through his own private letters, refers to this moment as the moment of his "loneliest loneliness". But with this characterization, Nietzsche is not giving some "biographical context" for his thought, as if the moment should be situated within the extensive background of a solitary life; he is rather describing the very intensive structure of the moment and it only. For if god is to die in such a moment, then this moment must take place as the expression of its own impossibility. Of course it is true that the eternity of god's presence can never have been an eternity if it ends, AND the eternity of god's absence will never have been an eternity if it begins. But above all even the moment itself cannot have happened ---and this because of what transpires in it: an event which denies a priori both its past  (god's presence) and its future (god's absence), thereby denying also the possibility its present, namely the moment itself. The moment therefore steals itself away. It is a time not spent but stolen. It is nothing but the moment of its own withdrawal, and it is therefore nothing all the more, indeed emphatically.

But if, then, the moment has this problematic yet emphatic character of preceding itself, along with everything that has come before it and everything that will come after, if it "draweth all coming things", that is all things which come and go, "after it", then it is so unprecedented that it threatens to lose its character as a moment. And again, such a loss would necessarily not be one that occurred at any subsequent time, but would occur in and as the moment. The moment is thus a moment of self-loss; it can never really happen, can never really have happened, at best it is a flash of what is already the case, namely god's presence or his absence. And this is in fact what Nietzsche's German famously calls it, for the English "Moment" does not render the German appropriation of Latin, i.e."Momente", but rather the truly Germanic "Augenblick". The moment under consideration here is a sudden flash, a momentary lapse, a blink of the eye, an Augen-blick. Like the Anglo-Saxon blican, the German blicken signifies "a glance, a glimpse, or a glittering, a shining." Not insignificantly, Blicken itself passes through such terms as blinzen and blinzeln, to wink and to blink, and is found in such expressions as blinz-äugig, that is, blink-eyed or weak-eyed. The term then passes on to designate a complete privation of sight as in Blinde-kuh, or that ancient children's game "blind man's buff".

The deceptively simple logic of divine death leads to this compound loss: the loss of time in time ---Die Ewige Wiederkunft des Gleichen in der Augenblick. It now becomes apparent that if we hold fast to the demands of this logic, then not only the god but also the death of god withdraws --and with it the very moment in which all of this happens. But this withdrawal of everything --so radical that it requires that everything never have been, that everything be essentially gone --this withdrawal itself, surely it (to return to the conspicuous use of a double negative) is not nothing. It is this peculiarity of the withdrawal, that it is not nothing, even if only (and especially) because it gives nothing ---it is this peculiarity that Heidegger, that one and only speaker of a word still missing, was compelled with gadfly-like insistence, never to cease invoking in our memory. And indeed, not only the death of the divinity or the moment of this death, but also the logic of this death, has a place in our memory that antedates the death itself, a place that stretches much farther back than its Nietzschean variety, a place to be found, then, not only at the Nietzschean end but at the Platonic beginning, and even at that beginning it is imbued with a waning mythical echo:

"The μύθος is that appeal of foremost and radical concern to all human beings which makes man think of what appears, what is in being. Λόγος says the same; μύθος and λόγος are not, as our current historians of philosophy claim, placed into opposition by philosophy as such. On the contrary, the early Greek thinkers (Parmenides, fragment 8) are precisely the ones to use μύθος and λόγος in the same sense. Mύθος and λόγος become separated at that point where neither μύθος nor λόγος can keep to its original nature. In Plato's work, this separation has already taken place. Historians and philologists, by virtue of a prejudice which modern rationalism adopted from Platonism, imagine that μύθος was destroyed by λόγος. But nothing religious is ever destroyed by logic; it is destroyed only by the god's withdrawal." (Was heißt Denken?)

Heidegger is here, as usual, exercising a very particular care over his words. The audience of his lecture is at once the recipient of a daring proposal and of caution as to how it should be understood. Although ontology, if it is to take its first step, must recognize that it does not involve itself in "μῦθον τινα διηγεῖσθαι", in that is, "telling a myth" (Plato's Sophist, 242c) --a phrase famously quoted and insisted upon by Heidegger some 25 years prior to his delivery of the Was heißt Denken? lectures, nevertheless we are here told that μύθος itself "makes man think of what appears, what is in being." Μύθος not only engenders but compels a thinking of what appears, what is in being. We cannot here consider how cautiously Heidegger lays this comma down --more cautiously then if it were a stick of dynamite; for "what appears" precedes "what is in being" not only in the order of Heidegger's sentence. But for the immediate purposes of the question at hand, it is enough to underscore the surprising compulsion of myth upon thinking, the seemingly implausible force that through the "green fuse" of thinking drives philosophy and its logic to flower. It is this unexpected claim that gives the further support for Heidegger to assert that "philosophy as such" is entirely innocent of the crime of making μύθος and λόγος oppose each other; μύθος belongs to a soil altogether subterranean to philosophy, and indeed, one by which its first growth, its first appearance, is made possible and even "compelled". No, not philosophy as such, which is indebted to μύθος, but both μύθος and λόγος themselves are to be held responsible. What is it that they did? They did not, and more precisely could not keep to their original nature. Only thus did they come into conflict in such a way that λόγος was fated to overtake μύθος and to bid it farewell. What is this not-keeping in which a failure of essential proportions takes place? We may gather at least this much en route to an answer: the original nature of μύθος and λόγος are of such a sort that they need to be kept, to be preserved. When they are not kept, they are given, and thus given away, lost. Only in the loss of this their original nature --a nature in which their appearance remained concealed, that is kept, do the two come into opposition. Philosophy as such, before the time of Plato, thought of "what appears, what is in being" but it did not expose the original nature of what it was thinking. The Presocratics could not achieve this, because what they were thinking was of such a nature that they had to keep it in their thoughts; they had to keep thinking about it, for it had not yet ever been thought. But Plato, who, we are told, in some measure had to achieve this exposure, was faced with the vexing problem that he could no longer keep thinking in the way Parmenides had, and therefore he could no longer keep in thought the original, concealed nature of μύθος and λόγος. Such failure was emphatically not Plato's doing --rather it is only the lucidity of Plato as opposed to the chiaroscura of the Pre-Socratics that attests to the fact that "this separation has already taken place." But as nonchalant as Heidegger is in delivering such a "fact", he is at the same time speaking with masterful care: the separation does not take place in Plato's work, but "has already taken place" in Plato's work; indeed, it has taken place as the very condition for the possibility of Plato's work, even though it is precisely this separation that will be problematized in Plato's work. We are thus faced with a curious state of affairs: it did not yet happen in the Presocratics, only to have already happened in Plato's work. When then --at what moment --did such an event take place? Instead, like the death of god, this event of separation in which μύθος and λόγος both fail to keep to their original essence steals away unseen, unexperienced, unsuffered, untranspired, only to be proclaimed later, in a thought out of season. There is no present moment of separation. There is only the time when it has not yet happened, and the time when it has already happened. In the former time, such a separation is not yet conceivable, that is to say, it is not yet possible. In the latter time, such a union is no longer conceivable, that is to say no longer thinkable. The separation testified to by the work of Plato, like the death testified to by Nietzsche, both obey a logic in which the testimony each thinker gives buries the event to which it testifies. Both falsify so completely the past from which they are breaking that even the moment of the break is cast into an enigmatic obscurity. And amidst the ruction of such a break, certain quiet questions slip away unasked and unaccounted for. Why was something like a break ever needed? What can account for this original and long lasting entanglement with μύθος? Why did god need to die? What was this comforting and great illusion of the eternal existence of the god? These were not nothing. Nor were they deliberately decided upon or contrived, as I have had pause to consider elsewhere on this blog:

First, it must be admitted that we do not ever decide to be involved in that dimension in which the divine brilliantly flashes. If the Greek gods were by no means the stupendous, ex nihilo inventions of the poets, still less were they the fruits of a some sort of consensus among the people. Ancient man was pre-committed to hierophany. The failure to recognize this pre-commitment to such a hierophantic realm is what in part characterizes the essential presumption of modern impiety. Ancient piety, understood in terms of this characterization, is not --at least in the first place --a personal decision, since it could only be something fit for the scales of phronetic deliberation if it has beforehand lost all of its gravitas as a compelling, commanding hierophany, i.e. as something quite other than either a fact or a contrivance. Homer himself offers his testimony in this respect:"Far-darting Apollo descended upon the Achaian camp as the night." This is neither contestable nor incontestable. It occurs in a realm whose stillness and purity lies before any possibility of contention. From out of the overwhelming brilliance of such a realm, men find themselves pouring libations and sacrificing in holocausts in accord with a need which they have not yet understood ---a need which has all the same been given for them to attempt to fulfill. Such need, such necessity understood as ἀναγκὴ, is the pulse of the tragic essence of the Greeks, which means of course the Greek essence of tragedy, namely τραγοιδία as the scape-goat's song of sacrifice.

What can account for this pre-given experience of the god? What can eradicate it? If the god once was, yet is now no longer, does this falsify the god? Does it destroy the god? Or is this destruction of the god, like that of myth, one that is preceded by a certain inexplicable concealment? Does all destruction always fall short of truly destroying, since it can never destroy the past that preceded it? Does not this past, not simply as what is past, but as what has indeed once been envelop in perfect remove what is now destroyed? The withdrawal of what once appeared limits the very reach of destruction, and so this withdrawal itself gives testimony to whatever has withdrawn. But the withdrawal is of the god. The god who is asserted to never have existed on the basis of his evanescence, is a fortiori the god who once was. But what god is this whose very flight testifies to his arrival and above all where can such a god be found? As the culmination of Heidegger's Beiträge would have it:

Flight and arrival of gods now together move into what has been and are removed from what is past.
But the futural, the truth of Seyn as refusal, contains within itself the ensuring of greatness, not the empty magnitude of empty and gigantic eternity, but of the shortest pathway.

Is then, the once irresistible love, which, in departing from the heart in which it once had burnt and abandoning it to the tragedy of an inexplicable fragmentation, not all the more undeniable for that fact?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Threefold Fortune Cookie: Hegelian Phenomenology in 30 seconds

1.) Motion is Illusory.

2.) In order for something to be Illusory, it is necessary that it appear as true, only to afterwards undergo a change such that its appearance moves from truth into untruth.

3.) Motion is therefore not --as it first appeared to be --simply illusory, but is an essential part of the truth, since the truth about illusion itself is dependent on motion.

* * *

Like every fortune cookie, it is the message inside --in this case the inner movement --that counts. Whether that message comprehends even the future is a question worth leaving on the table.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

What Has Already Been Lost In Space? (Part 1)

Commenting on our last consideration of the problem of the definition of space (after taking the time to apply some warranted scrutiny), Amos of KTL found that same consideration to be missing something essential: the proper requisites of the very definition itself seem to have been lost on that previous consideration:

How is the coinciding permeation of space by time a definition, rather than a fact about space? Could not one ask, if space were its own being permeated by time as something other, what would it be prior to this permeation such that it could be permeated?

It is only from within the confines of the problematic of space as it was first introduced (over at A City in Speech) that a proper response can now be ventured to these important observations offered by Amos, if only because one must never fail to exercise a certain respect for the place where he already is, and this a fortiori in the case of a consideration of the a priori nature of space. What we have tried to show in our previous consideration was that the subterranean understanding which governed the initial introduction of this problematic is one that can and must be brought to light and drawn out in meticulous fashion along lines that are unmistakably Kantian. If we keep this hermeneutic situation firmly in view, then a certain light falls upon the otherwise tangled thicket of possible responses to Amos' question regarding the temporal permeation of space.

What does it mean to think space as a pure form of finite intuition? More specifically, when we ask the question "What is space?", how is our search for this 'what' impacted by the peculiarity that space is not intuited like something spatial, but is rather intuited a priori along with and in advance of anything (in space)? The question of what something is either has an object or it does not. If it does, then this is a possible object of experience about which an empirical question may be raised; if it does not, then this is a condition for the possibility of such experience about which a transcendental question may be raised. In the case of the former, namely, the empirical question, what is aimed at is constituted at the most fundamental level by two elements: 1.) the receptivity of intuition and 2.) the spontaneity of the understanding; any possible object of experience, any "what" about which we make inquiry, depends upon 'what' is intuited (the sense manifold) and 'what' is understood (i.e. the categorical organization of the sense manifold). Kant sometimes calls this dual dependency which combines intuition and understanding the "unity of representation". Strictly speaking, only if space, considered in exclusion from anything else, required the unity of representation could it possibly be an object of experience to which an empirical question may be plied. Only if this is the case can we extend our knowledge about space and discover, as Amos would have it, "a fact about space". And, indeed, Kant does more than concede that such discoveries are, in point of fact, possible; his entire first Kritik relies upon and, in another way, founds such discoveries. They are none other than what Kant calls formal intuitions, and in the case of space, they are to be found in that familiar body of apodictic knowledge known as geometry. But a formal intuition of space can in no wise be confused with the form of intuition of space:

Space, represented as object (as we are required to do in geometry), contains more than the mere form of intuition; it also contains combination of the manifold, given according to the form of sensibility, in an intuitive representation, so that the form of intuition gives only the manifold, the formal intuition gives unity of representation.(CPR B161)

Space, insofar as it is formally intuited, is given as a unity of representation in reference to which facts can be established. Thus we may ask and give definitive answer to the question "what is a line?" But the question "what is space?" asks for what any such formal intuition, in its unity of representation, depends upon, namely the transcendental form of intuition of space. To this latter transcendental question and its answer the synthetic a priori judgment capable of establishing facts about space is necessarily indebted. Therefore the question "what is space?" can neither offer a definition produced by the understanding nor ipso facto can it look for that unity given in and by the "unity of representation". The definition of space as a pure intuition must be given in its unity by pure intuition. The oneness or unity of pure space can only be discovered only when its borders or confines are seen, and yet because this unity is not the unity of representation, these borders cannot be de-fined by the understanding, but rather must be intuited. It is as if we must in some way see rather than apprehend the definition of space. But how is such seeing to take place if what is to be seen is neither something we can experience nor even conceivable? It must take place by way of an intuition that is non-empirical, i.e. pure. And for this reason we cannot expect it to be positively demonstrated (and therefore understood in its necessity); it must instead be given, i.e. intuited.

Now, if there were nothing to be purely intuited other than space, then the form of the intuition of space would have to be able to give itself, in its unity, and therefore constitute itself as self-defining. But because something else is given as a form in pure intuition, namely time, this is not necessary. The question remains: is it possible? The only answer to this question must be found by way of recourse to pure intuition. Kant himself indicates the answer by the following observation:

Whatever the origin of our representations,...whether they arise a priori, or being appearances [i.e. possible objects of experience] have an empirical origin, they must all, as modifications of the mind, belong to inner sense. All our knowledge [i.e. any intuition, concept, or unity of representation] is thus finally subject to time, the formal condition of inner sense. In it they must all be ordered, connected and brought into relation.(CPR, A 98)

Kant's observation can be supplied with the testimony of a quick reference to our awareness of anything in space: this awareness itself is not spatial, it is not something that we might bump into like a tree in the forest. It is not defined by space. On the other hand, what about space? If it can be said to be anything, and it is already lost to any attempt to conceive of it, than it must be received as an intuition, i.e. as a form given in the intuition of a sense manifold. But, as Kant just observed, not just the understanding, but intuition too, and any sort of representation, takes place in time. So much is this the case that when Amos proposes the possibility of the alternative, namely,"Could not one ask, if space were its own being permeated by time as something other, what would it be prior to this permeation such that it could be permeated?" he has already presupposed time insofar as he speaks of "space prior to this permeation" ---in other words, the priority is nothing if it is not a temporal one.

When this problematic of the temporal definition of space as Kant has framed it is reflected upon, a paradoxical formulation which it seems we must be content with asserts itself regarding the definition of space: the essence of space is, in the immediate pure intuition of space, lost in that intuition. Space, because it is definable by the pure intuition of time and this alone, must first be lost, since the essence of space is not only, according to the order of intuition, found later, but above all because it is found precisely as what is found later. The de-finition of space is found as what has been lost in space. And it is in this sense that I would like, at least initially, to read the last and most astute comment Amos has left in connection with our recent post on Ereignis:

Also, is space as it transpires in the shifting encounter an example of what "always comes too late?"

Friday, February 19, 2010


Thinking, Heidegger never fails to remind us, is preliminary. But the reason for this, its preliminary nature, is often, and quite wrongly, understood as the limitation of a perspectival horizon ---as if this preliminary nature of thinking were simply the result of the fact that "one can always learn more." But the preliminary nature of thinking consists in just the opposite: one already knows too much --indeed long before he has ever tried to think about what it is that he already knows. The preliminary nature of thinking has nothing to do with the constantly expanding itinerary of some "philosopher of infinite tasks". It is rather a consequence of the radical confinement of thinking to what it already has to think; the proper matter always comes too late to thinking, refusing thinking the luxury of "forging ahead", compelling it to retract itself from the outset, taking back its very beginning. Therefore, it must be vigilantly recalled that the preliminary nature of thinking is a consequence of its dilatory arrival. The thoughtful word hesitates. Otherwise, what there is for thinking to first of all think would be missed entirely.

It is with this dilatory essence of thinking in mind that Heidegger writes in his letter to Jean Beaufret:

Things that really matter, although they are not defined for all eternity, even when they come very late still come at the right time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lost in Space

If borders or limits are required for definition, and if space by definition cannot be anything spatial --and must therefore by definition be refused any limit or border --then we seem prima facie to confront in the problem of space an irresolvable ἀπορία. The apparent force of this problematic has once again asserted itself in a debate that has since fallen into ellipsis over at A City in Speech:

We will close at the present by highlighting that space constantly retreats to the background whenever it is involved in a question. Turn your mind now to the concept of space, and try to fix your thoughts upon it. What comes into your mind? If there are any images of objects within space itself, clear them at once, since space itself cannot be that which it contains. Clear away all materiality from the conception, and fix your gaze upon space itself. Stripped of matter, what remains? What is space?

Thus does the problematic initially impinge itself upon our initial effort to in any way clarify it. But what initially, that is immediately, seems to of itself deny any resolution, often needs only enough pause to embark on a second reflection, i.e., it needs only the mediation of time; although space will refuse all shape and form, it nevertheless must permit of definition insofar as there properly belongs to it the possibility of being encountered as formless. After all, it must be admitted that space is not in the first place experienced as indefinable. The question is therefore begged:

What condition is necessary to make such an encounter of space, namely, as indefinable, possible?

The answer can be brought into relief negatively: there must be something non-spatial about our very encounter of space, something which allows us to see it at first only as a backdrop that is always already there in our encounter of any object of experience, only to allow us to see it later on as an indefinable fore-ground that vexes our attempts to think it. And indeed, in the course of this shift, space itself does not change, yet our encounter with it changes emphatically. The implication being brought into relief has now become obvious:what is capable of constituting the condition for the possibility of any such shifting encounter of space is not space itself but something outside of space itself, something which, being other than space, could not simply reside alongside of space (in just another space, as it were), but would have, at the same time as it remained outside of and beyond space, to permeate it through and through. Of course, in keeping with this a priori permeation, the positive identity of this non-spatial condition has, even in this our present musing upon the definition of space, necessarily already been mentioned. Space is not only bordered by what already permeates it; it is defined by this very coinciding permeation: space is defined by being defined already, i.e. it is defined by time.

Such an answer is in many ways a stock response. It is clearly drawn along Kantian lines, and is --like many things Kantian --easily incorporated into the System of Hegel. As Kant would have it, the pure inner intuition of time is not simply some complement to the pure outer intuition of space: time is not only inner intuition but also universal intuition. What is spatial is already temporal. What is important to see is that this universal status does not erase or correct time's designation as internal. Rather, time is universal intuition in a manner that outer intuition cannot be, and it must therefore be other than what is outer; it must be internal. Time must be internal intuition at the same time as it is universal intuition, and this alone vouchsafes its universal status. But what time is this, which would allow the intuition of time to be necessarily differentiated into what is internal and what is universal, while at and as the same time, insisting upon the necessity of their identity?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Aphoristic Meditation I: Hegel and The Miscarriage of History

Some days I wake up in the morning and it hits me: the world is coming to an end.

Other days it dawns on me that I know better: the world has long since already ended.

But what's this?
Could the end of the world be such thing as to have been missed?

-Pseudonymic Aphorism 1

What would it mean that the end of history is presently missing, that history is, at this point in time, still missing its end? Hegel spoke of the end as nothing other than the beginning which has, in the passage of time, ceased to be the beginning, and has thus become other than itself. For Hegel, this self-othering of the beginning becomes complete in and as the end. The end is the other beginning. Here we must be more precise: the end is indeed the beginning, but no longer bound, that is, no longer bound to end. This is why Hegel spoke of the Unendlich end, the Infinite end. The Infinite end is not the endless succession of present moments, of 'nows' that never stop coming ---if only because, by virtue of their succeeding, these moments are bound; they are by nature bound to succeed. Because they are bound to succeed, they fail to reach beyond this boundary. Success, as that in terms of which these moments approximate their boundary, is the very thing which keeps them from ever attaining ---that is, overcoming ---it. For Hegel however --and that means, with the establishment of the system of science as absolute knowledge, we now already know the end towards which all of this has been leading.

Contra Hegel, however, Heidegger, by way of that other historical thinking, had to indicate that the true end is not the unbound beginning which, coming after succession itself, necessitates it. The true end is not the Infinite end. Rather, the end is the interruption of the beginning, and it is merely this. For the beginning, if it is truly a beginning and therefore harbors the greatness that alone gives the beginning its possibility, is by no means bound by the end; it is bound by itself only. Because of this it is not bound to end, but to return to the beginning (a difference that is impossible for Hegel). In the movement of seynsgeschichte, the end is, therefore, not something that is initially missed (in and as the beginning) and finally attained (in and as the end). Instead, the end is missed in itself, i.e. in a missing that is proper to the end. The end is missed ---essentially. This is why the true meaning of the end cannot be conceived in terms of limit, but must be found in those words that are most of all already spoken, the earliest words: πέρας, or as Heidegger often reminds us, "that from which something begins." The earliest word for end means beginning.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Piety at the Heart of Technology: Conversations along a Cyberpath

Not long ago, over at the excellent KTL, an attempt to stoke the ashy embers of a fire that hasn't "even yet been kindled" regarding the Technikfrage began with the following question:
"How are we to decide whether the claim a work of art makes on us is one which it is pious to obey? If it is impious to ask such a question, how are we to become initiated into the correlative of piety? Or if it is a matter of returning to an original piety from the impiety of our questioning the claim a work of art has made on us, how are we ever to extricate ourselves from idolatrous claims?"
It is this train of inquiry that recalls that famous, oracular pronouncement which concluded a consideration of the historically-founding power of art --a consideration which itself served to conclude a hitherto unattempted inquiry into just what we are to think the essence of technology is. This pronouncement famously runs: Questioning is the piety of thought. With such a pronouncement, Heidegger consummates his consideration of what has been called art in ancient Greece, and no doubt refers most of all to the third of that cryptic triptych of questions cited above. For here, Heidegger is referring to the calm heroism not of asking a question or a collection of questions, but of raising and upholding a line of questioning, i.e., of following through on such questioning in such a way that an entire passage of questioning surprisingly unfolds as the very way one is to question, a way which the questioner must go. This questioning attains its essential necessity by undermining itself, i.e. by eventually putting into question the presupposition of the intial question it in the first place raises. In this manner of a continual stream of interrogative retractationes, it moves according to a strict necessity, as opposed to whim; what such questioning presupposes beforehand is what it asks after. In the case of piety, the above commentator seems to recognize this necessity of questioning to be inherent in the very precondition of locating the 'correlate of piety', when he asks: "if it is impious to ask such a question, [then] how are we [ever] to become initiated into the correlative of piety?" Here --in this very question --the necessity of such questioning is confirmed even as it is questioned.

But the question that is begged from this confirmation is "Why?". Put another way, if it is true that the piety of the ancient Greek experience of the overwhelming yet uncertain presence of divinity ensured in advance that one would never, at least so long as that presence remained, raise so much as a single interrogative syllable towards such divinity, then on the strength of the very same principle it is just as true that we, lateborn as we are, must question. For ancient man did not win the piety which characterizes his essence by way of a preliminary series of deliberations or interrogative exercises: the divine ALREADY came to presence before his eyes. Indeed, even before he opened his eyes the appearance of the divinities rested on the tip of his tongue, in the telling word of μύθος which he had inherited. But let it be stated with the assurance of a principle: the manner in which what is divine is given is also the manner in which it is missed; such is the peculiar essence of what can properly be called divine. Therefore, according to the very same divine essence whereby ancient man could not help but begin in a certain unsolicited and undiscovered piety, so too must the attempts of today, i.e. in the age whose essence lies in technology, begin in an unsolicited and undiscovered impiety. To sustain a line of questioning which not only arises from but goes after its starting point, i.e, the starting point inherited by an age thoroughly ruled by the essence of technology, is to bring the origin of impiety into question even as such a questioning springs from this its origin. Through such an effort, it may happen that impiety thus for the first time faces itself. What does such impiety look like and why has it taken so long to even be glimpsed? Is it possible that this very impiety hid in the piety of the ancients? Is it possible that the ancient piety hides in the impiety of man's existence today?

Several highly important distinctions must be observed here:

1.) First, it must be admitted that we do not ever decide to be involved in that dimension in which the divine brilliantly flashes. If the Greek gods were by no means the stupendous, ex nihilo inventions of the poets, still less were they the fruits of a some sort of consensus among the people. Ancient man was pre-committed to hierophany. The failure to recognize this pre-commitment to such a hierophantic realm is what in part characterizes the essential presumption of modern impiety. Ancient piety, understood in terms of this characterization, is not --at least in the first place --a personal decision, since it could only be something fit for the scales of phronetic deliberation if it if it has beforehand lost all of its gravitas as a compelling, commanding hierophany, i.e. as something quite other than either a fact or a contrivance. Homer himself offers his testimony in this respect:"Far-darting Apollo descended upon the Achaian camp as the night." This is neither contestable nor incontestable. It occurs in a realm whose stillness and purity lies before any possibility of contention. From out of the overwhelming brilliance of such a realm, men find themselves pouring libations and sacrificing in holocausts in accord with a need which they have not yet understood ---a need which has all the same been given for them to attempt to fulfill. Such need, such necessity understood as ἀναγκὴ, is the pulse of the tragic essence of the Greeks, which means of course the Greek essence of tragedy, namely τραγοιδία as the scape-goat's song of sacrifice.

2.) Second, on the basis of this aforementioned pre-commitment, a clearer idea of modern impiety comes to light: it too is not the result of a deliberation. Thinking that the gods --or a god --lie in the hands of men, to be believed or not believed, is a thought which does not precede but is rather precisely made possible by this impiety. In the words of Beitrage, the "decision regarding the flight or arrival of gods" is not some personal decision of an individual 'ego' that preliminarily confronts the 'possibility of religion'. It is an historical decision; it is not a decision about one's preferred 'world-view', but about whether one will have recalled his prior state of pre-commitment.

3.)Thirdly and most relevant to the above quotation, however, is the following line of inquiry: in which domain is the proper response/responsibility to the mysterious hierophany of historical divinity bounded? The answer can be pointed to by reflecting on a few superficial observations:

A.) The Ethical Hierophany of the Ancients.
In the throes of ancient piety, an ethical dimension was inextricable from hierophany. In other words, the divinities were not a landscape which some diviners had the luxury to gaze upon. Nor were they in some perhaps more mysterious way removed from their witnesses. They were rather the homeland itself, in the sense that they arose from and coyly inhabited the habitual haunts, the familiar ways and by-ways of the people, the ἤθος. Such an inhabiting made itself known in and as the ἤθος; the gods flashed in the sense of demanding prayer, sacrifice, and even housing (whether housing in myth under the roof of the mouth, or in the sacred precinct under the roof of the temple). In this way the pre-commitment of ancient piety necessarily entailed an ethical obedience which was itself entirely pre-reflective and unamenable to later conceptual elucidation. It was obeyed without being decided on or 'cognitively' known. It is important to recognize that on account of this ethical intimacy, even a man who was 'impious' was not a man who denied the pre-givenness of the gods, but a man who wished to supercede or resist their interventions or aims.

B.)The Ethical Blasphemy of Modernity.
Modern impiety shares precisely the same mode of pre-givenness as ancient piety. One is from the outset ethically un-committed. He must decide what and who he will believe ---or so he has been given to believe, and this is the point. Thus the realm of divinity to which historical humanity had been committed does not, in modernity, get erased or even put up for decision ---any more than its premodern, and indeed, Greek origin is effaced or confronted -- rather, it simply grows so obscure as to be a vaccuum of unacknowledged pre-commitment. It is in this hidden indebtedness that Modernity achieves its innermost identity.

C.) The Non-Ethical Hierophany of the Technological Age.
By way of contrast, the questioning that arises in and by virtue of the age of technology does not find the divinity pre-given in an inevitable hierophany, nor does it find it as an object of man's consent or deliberation or disbelief. Instead, the questioning that genuinely arises in the present age finds the very pre-givenness as something itself not yet understood and therefore questionable. In such a posture of questioning, what has happened to the aforementioned ethical intimacy? When one questions in this fashion, has he committed hastily to an unknown master? Or has he undertaken for the first time to prepare for the arrival of what ancient man only experienced the fading after-glow of? Can one defer and wait for what he has pre-committed to since time immemorial?