Friday, January 4, 2013

On the Matter of Vitalism

This brief working paper is available for download on my SSRN page.
Introduction: The Old Dead Matter Ain’t What It Used to Be

These three short posts take as their starting point some observations that Levi Bryant made about Jane Bennett’s vitalism as set forth in Vibrant Matter. At the time I wrote them I was not at all anticipating the work that has occupied me in the last half year, elaborating a pluralist metaphysics on a skeletal core of ideas from object-oriented ontology. But the key position in that elaboration is evident in these three pieces.

That key notion, as I’ve now stated many times, is that, where Harman employs a rhetoric of privation and thinks of objects as withdrawing, I use a rhetoric of plenitude and think of objects as wells of abundance. THAT’s what was driving me in this passage from the third of these pieces:
I note as well that the terms of this discussion have now moved away from the terms in which Levi Bryant posed his original criticism of Bennett. Instead of self-organization [Bryant] vs. vitalism [Bennett] I’m talking about: 1) “weird” matter, and 2) various kinds of properties of objects, specifically, classically mechanical, chaotically mechanical, and 3) possibly unspecified others. My bias in this is that there ARE other classes of properties and that, with careful analysis, it should be possible to identify some of those classes.
That objects not only have many properties, but many classes of properties, that is what I mean by objects as wells of abundance. I made the distinction between classical properties and chaotic properties in the second of these pieces, and made it in computational terms.

In the first piece I made a point that I take from Bennett, namely that the contemporary conception of mere matter that we have from quantum mechanics is so very different from that available to Descartes and so many others that the distinction between living and non-living that they in part founded on the distinction must be re-thought. The purpose of such a rethinking is not to assert that difference between a rock and an acorn, for example, is not so great as it once was. In this new dispensation they are still very different kinds of things, but the whole conceptual world in which that difference is inscribed and traced is itself a new and by no means complete one.

It’s all in play and up for grabs. It’s a new world, one of which we have yet to take the measure.

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