February 21, 2009

Cardinal sin of structuralism lies in its tendency to confuse the map with the territory

Badiou, Extension, and Networks from Larval Subjects . by larvalsubjects

Badiou’s thesis is not that entities cannot enter into relations, only that they are not defined by their relations. Thus, while there is a gap between the ontological (being qua being or the discourse of multiplicity qua multiplicity) and the ontic (ordered or related elements in a world), Badiou’s ontology nonetheless strongly suggests that entities are prior to their relations in the domain of the ontic as well. Here relations are external to their terms, such that entities are not defined by their relations, but rather enter into their relations.
If entities are independent or prior to their relations, it follows that we should abandon the concept of structure and instead shift to a network or assemblage based model of relations among entities. The problem with the concept of structure is that it treats relations as internal relations, such that the elements belonging to the structure have no existence independent of its relations. In his marvelous popularization of network science, the Columbia sociologist Duncan Watts admirable puts his finger on this problem, writing that,

The crux of the matter is that in the past, networks have been viewed as objects of pure structure whose properties are fixed in time. Neither of these assumptions could be further from the truth. First, real networks represent populations of individual components that are actually doing something– generating power, sending data, or even making decisions. Although the structure of the relationships between a network’s components is interesting, it is important principally because it affects either their individual behavior or the behavior of the system as a whole. Second, networks are dynamic objects not just because things happen in networked systems, but because the networks themselves are evolving and changing in time, driven by activities or decisions of those very components. In the connected age, therefore, what happens and how it happens depend on the network. And the network in turn depends on what has happened previously. It is this view of a network as an integral part of a continuously evolving and self-constituting system– that is truly new about the science of networks. (Six Degrees, 28 - 29)

larvalsubjects Says: February 21, 2009 at 12:57 am Alexei,
I would also add that characterizing Badiou’s fondness for set theory in terms of the epistemic issue of presuppositionlessness misses the whole point (and real force) of his ontological move. What interests Badiou about ZF set theory is not that it is presuppositionless, but that it sidesteps these sorts of questions about epistemology and foundations altogether. The axioms of ZF set theory are not self-evident truths, but are decisions from which set theory begins. As far as I can tell, this is an entirely new beginning point in philosophy. No other philosopher I can think of has thought to begin from a decision rather than some sort of question of knowledge. If Badiou is able to begin from the axioms of set theory without having to engage in something like Kant’s critical analysis or a Heideggerian hermeneutic analysis of everydayness, then this is because the decisional starting point subtracts itself from any and all epistemic questions of evidences, asking only what follows from the constraints of these decisions, not what authorizes these decisions/axioms in the first place. This simplifies a complex matter a bit too much, but hopefully draws attention to just what is important about Badiou’s move in the history of philosophy.

larvalsubjects Says: February 21, 2009 at 3:26 am Alexei,
Thanks for the clarification. Glad we’re on the same page vis a vis Badiou. I’m not sure I understand your question about the epistemic versus the epistemological. My use of one term rather than the other is, I think, simply a matter of grammar, not a distinction between two different things. What I do object to, however, is what I call, following Bhaskar, the reduction of ontological questions to epistemic questions. This would be summed up in the Kantian aphorism that the conditions for the possibility of experience are identical to the conditions for the possibility of the objects of experience. That is, if Kant is to be followed, the latter claim is making an ontological claim about what any object must be, suturing it to conditions for our knowledge of that object. I would argue that we can, in fact, (in some cases) have a knowledge of what a world would be independent of our knowledge of it or our existence. Indeed, many of the objects dealt with in the sciences are beyond the scope of anything humans can experience or intuit. The problem with correlationism, especially in its phenomenological variant, is that it sutures all talk of objects to what can be experienced by humans. Thus, when we talk of cosmic time and space scales, or quantum time scales, we’re necessarily led to the conclusion that these things are pure fictions as they’re thoroughly unintuitable for humans.

larvalsubjects Says: February 21, 2009 at 4:12 am Thanks, Nathan. I like your way of putting it:
As I read Badiou, “entities” are precisely what are decomposed at the level of ontology. As you rightly point out, ontology is defined as “what can be said of being qua being independent of any particular being.” “Entities” thus emerge only through the ontic ordering of worlds, and therefore cannot properly be said to be “prior to their relations in the domain of the ontic.” The ontological situation of inconsistent multiplicity is not composed of “entities.” So, in that case, entities are precisely defined by and constituted through relations, though being qua being is non-relational.

I share your reading. This is why questions of individuation or the count-as-one are at the heart of the whole ontological. What, precisely, are these mechanisms and where do they come from? I’m sympathetic to Badiou’s infinite decomposition but have reservations as well. I think it’s precisely these questions that tend to be ignored in the reception of Badiou. On the other hand, this is Badiou’s “Judo” move. Anyone who has ever practiced Judo knows that you use the force and momentum of your opponent against them. This is the beauty of Badiou’s move against the postmodern skeptics. Rather than claiming that difference or infinite decomposition is the ruin of metaphysics, he asserts that this is metaphysics. That is, against the sophists he claims that their very gesture reveals the essence of being, rather than spelling the ruin of being. That’s something worth preserving.

The WholePoint of HisStory from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
Who can hope to obtain proper concepts of the present, without knowing the future? --Johann Georg Hamann

If we consider the historical form of Jesus, we see that he cannot be understood in isolation, unlike, say, Buddha or Shankara, who divulge a message of purely vertical metaphysics which stands outside time. In fact, the same could be said of the Koran, and we can see how this leads to certain inevitable problems, i.e., either the devaluation of time (as in Buddhism), or else the attempt to cease it altogether, so that we might all live shabbily ever after in a 7th century caliphate worse than death. But Jesus appears within a dense network of earlier truths, of which he is said to be the "fulfillment." Ultimately, as we shall see, his form is very much temporal as opposed to spatial.

Rehabilitating religious rights talk from The Immanent Frame by John Schmalzbauer

In December, we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, it has served as a charter for the modern human rights movement. Many scholars are unaware of the religious underpinnings of the Declaration.

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