Friday, December 28, 2012

Being and Correlation, What ARE They?

When I first started looking into object-oriented ontology I found all the talk of being (sometimes capitalized as Being) a bit peculiar, and this despite the fact that I’d read a fair amount of such talk in my youth and didn’t find it peculiar then. What had happened since then that made such ordinary philosophical discourse seem odd?

And correlation, as in correlationism, that really had me spinning. I read the words and made sense of them one at a time, but the sentences didn’t hold together for me. I couldn’t grasp what’s being talked about. I didn’t resonate. It just stayed there, like a lump of indigestible meat.

While talk of being and correlationism no longer seems strange, I’m still not sure what’s being talked about. I’m not even sure that the talkers themselves know. Consider this passage from Alexander Galloway’s recent cri de Coeur in Critical Inquiry, The Poverty of Philosophy: Realism and Post-Fordism (vol. 39, Winter 2013, p. 354):
For Meillassoux correlationism means that knowledge of the world is always the result of a correlation between subject and object. “By ‘correlation’ we mean the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other,” Meillassoux writes. Under the system of correlationism, subjectivity and objectivity are forever bound together.
Meillassoux’s statement naively reads as though there is being somewhere out there, like kumquats, x-rays, and elephants, and there is thinking, again somewhere out there, like galaxies, frogs, and geodes. And those things out there, being and thinking, they are terms than cannot be separately considered. What can that possibly mean?

I sort of understand what’s going on with being in the case of reductionism. The only thing that’s real is little tiny particles. Everything else can be reduced to them. So far, so good. Now we add “being” into the verbal mix. Is being some kind of metaphysical ‘stuff’ that the tiny particles have but nothing else does? Or is it merely a predicate that can be applied to those tiny particles, but nothing else? If so, what is it predicating of them? The question of whether or not being is a predicate, that's an old one, no?

So, when I’m reading Meillasoux’s statement I’m imagining one cloud out there that’s labeled ‘being’ and another one labeled ‘thinking.’ I then imagine little spots in each cloud and lines connecting a spot in the being cloud with a spot in the thinking cloud. Those lines are the correlations which the correlationist can’t get rid of. The anti-correlationist just erases them, or never draws them in the first place.

That all seems very muddy. To talk of being in this way is to reify it implicitly and it is that implicit reification that is the immediate sense of the assertion. One then has to pile on more prose to combat that implicit reification. No, that’s not what we mean. It’s more like THIS, or THIS, or well, not quite THAT, but THIS is better. And so on.

And THAT’s philosophy? Seems silly? And, put THAT way, it IS silly.

I can see why the Anglophone linguistic turners wanted to purge philosophical talk of questionable language.

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