[KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever

wessr at onid.orst.edu wessr at onid.orst.edu
Fri Nov 14 21:36:41 EST 2014

Greg, turning to your claim that "the job of metaphysics is to explain  
the phenomena of difference and change, which always requires at the  
bare minimum schism or the existence of two"--

There is a problem at the beginning with your contrast to "stasis":  
there can never be ONE because ONE produces stasis. This contrast is  
okay, but you need to go farther to decide whether you want to add a  
contrast to "chaos." A lot hangs on how you decide. I'll try to  
explain in a series of three points, each one getting a little more  

First, change from A to B clearly presupposes difference between A and  
B, while it is not clear if the reverse is the case, so I’ll focus on  
change, which clearly combines difference and change.

Second, explaining change philosophically requires some structure that  
theorizes how change occurs. The structure itself is prior and  
permanent. An example is the interactional structure that you sketch,  
with A and B each essential to the other but not reducible to the  
other, each sometimes dominating and sometimes being dominated. This  
structure, I assume, is permanent. In other words, it is not the  
structure that explains change today, whereas a different structure  
may explain it tomorrow. In sum, TWO (change between A and B) entails  
ONE (permanent structure), with the ONE being the ULTIMATE PRIORITY.  
(By the way, I have an analogous argument in my Burke book in arguing  
that historicizing requires some trans-historical, NOT transcendent,  
structure that is permanent and that explains historical change.)

Third, if you really want to make change prior to everything,  
eliminating permanent structure of any kind, so that the structure  
that explains change today may be replaced by a different one  
tomorrow, then one current possibility is the example of Quentin  
Meillassoux, who pushes change to the point of claiming that the laws  
of nature themselves can change, in fact, have changed (he sees the  
emergence of life as a break with what was prior, not as an evolution  
from it). For Meillassoux, nothing is prior to change, or  
“contingency,” to use the term he uses. Change can change the way  
change occurs.

Where Meillassoux is ultimately going is not altogether clear insofar  
as his projected major work is incomplete, but portions of this work  
are translated in Graham Harman’s QUENTIN MEILLASSOUX: PHILOSOPHY IN  
THE MAKING, and what these portions suggest is that Meillassoux aims  
to philosophize what amounts to nothing less than MIRACLES. With a  
miracle, I concede that you have TWO (change between A and B) without  
ONE. Such a miracle is to be distinguished from Biblical miracles,  
where there is a ONE in the form of God. There is no God in  
Meillassoux. Instead, he proposes paradoxically to believe in God  
because he does NOT exist (Harman 238).

TWO without ONE is Chaos, or as Meillassoux calls it, "hyper-chaos":  
"Our absolute, in effect, is nothing other than an extreme form of  
chaos, a hyper-chaos, for which nothing is or would seem to be  
impossible, not even the unthinkable" (After Finitude: An Essay on the  
Necessity of Contingency, p. 64). Here, there is indeed no permanent  
structure: change can occur one way today, another way tomorrow. (Let  
me stress, I’m only reporting on Meillassoux, not defending where he  
seems to be going. What Meillassoux is good at, though, is pushing  
issues to a level of ULTIMATE PRIORITY.)

A final note: personally, I'm not sure you can ever get rid of the ONE  
and remain intelligible. I'm not convinced that Derrida managed that,  
and hyper-chaos is a kind of ONE. What happens may be that the term  
"one" has many senses (see Aristotle), so that you can always reject  
"one" in one sense, while unwittingly deploying it in another. But  
this, of course, is very speculative, equivalent to walking a  
tightrope between what used to be the twin towers--very easy to have a  
bad fall.



Quoting Gregory Desilet <info at gregorydesilet.com>:

> Bob—as I sit under the covers, wrapped in a blanket (and, yes, the  
> heat is also on) and the temperature outside is 6 degrees with a  
> wind chill taking it to -3 degrees, and I was just last weekend  
> playing golf in shirtsleeves, I find myself feisty, resentful,  
> oppressed by cabin fever, and in peak argumentative form. So please  
> forgive me for taking stubborn but amicable issue with you on a  
> point or two you make in your recent post. It may just be a symptom  
> of weather induced orneriness.
> I agree that philosophy is more fundamental than religion. But I  
> would argue that most religions, as practiced in their  
> institutionally codified and highly influential forms, do NOT get to  
> the philosophical issues more quickly. In fact, I would argue the  
> reverse. Such religions are among the primary obstacles to getting  
> at core philosophical issues because they very effectively block  
> open philosophical inquiry by an overly narrow disposition toward  
> what counts as evidence justifying belief. The medieval period of  
> “philosophy” was not called the “dark ages” for nothing. Human  
> inquiry effectively stalled for over a 1000 years and many valuable  
> insights gained during the Hellenic period were lost or buried under  
> mountains of dogma and authoritarian induced ignorance.
> As for monotheism, I don’t believe it is philosophically more  
> coherent or defensible, nor is the more philosophically abstract  
> position of monism. Instead, these positions are overly reductive  
> and consequently become incoherent with respect to addressing issues  
> of essential difference.
> These points are, of course, debatable. So I offer an excerpt from  
> some recent relevant musings of mine, which also provide a  
> definition of metaphysics and postmodernism that may be of use to  
> some participants in this forum. Sorry for the length of this post,  
> but you can also blame that on the weather. So if this post seems  
> wearisome, please pray for better weather in Colorado and elsewhere.
> Definition of Postmodernism
> Postmodernism presents a significant break from traditional and  
> modern metaphysics.
> Definition of Metaphysics
> Metaphysics is the philosophy of the nature of being through which  
> every speculation about the nature of being involves a grounding  
> assumption about the primary structure of oppositional relations.  
> Technically speaking, there can be no monistic metaphysics because  
> the job of metaphysics is to explain the phenomena of difference and  
> change, which always requires at the bare minimum schism or the  
> existence of two. If there were but ONE, there could be only stasis  
> and nothing could HAPPEN; there could be no EVENTS and there could  
> be nothing like CONSCIOUSNESS. In this sense every coherent  
> metaphysics amounts to a metaphysics of the nature of being as  
> becoming.
> In pre-modern or traditional metaphysics the primary structure of  
> oppositional relation consists of the view that one side of the  
> pairing is accidental, inessential, illusion, or contamination (for  
> example, Platonic metaphysics of being/time where being is pure,  
> stable, and unchanging and is then contaminated by time, which  
> introduces impurity, instability, and change and is fundamentally  
> inessential to the nature of being). Call this metaphysics:  
> antagonism, describing a tension permanently erosive of a  
> fundamental essence.
> In modern metaphysics the primary oppositional structure posits one  
> side as essential to the pairing but always subordinate to the other  
> (for example, Cartesian and Kantian subject/object relations where  
> the object is subordinate to the subject by virtue of the act of  
> cognition wherein the subject effectively appropriates the object).  
> Call this metaphysics: subagonism, describing a tension of permanent  
> dominance of one side between different essences.
> In postmodern metaphysics the primary oppositional structure  
> consists of an understanding of oppositional relations whereby each  
> side is essential to the other and one side cannot be reduced to the  
> other (for example, the particle/wave relation in physics where  
> particles cannot be reduced to waves and waves cannot be reduced to  
> particles and even when one manifests itself without the other, the  
> other exists alongside it in superposition). Call this metaphysics:  
> synagonism, describing a tension of interaction, alternation, and  
> exchange among sides equal but not mutually erosive in essence; one  
> side may dominate the other in changing contexts but neither is  
> essentially dominant.
> Thus, postmodernism, as a philosophically distinct orientation, may  
> be defined as the adoption of a metaphysics applying synagonal  
> structure to key oppositions or displacing key oppositions with new  
> synagonal oppositions.
> Greg

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