Applied Critique: Existence, Pseudo-Existence and OOO
Over at larvalsubjects (in order: here, here, here, here and most recently here), I’ve been having a discussion with Levi about existence, and the idea of fictional existence more specifically (more like pestering him about it, but I digress). I’m very interested in fictional existence because I take it to be a prime example of what I call pseudo-existence. This is a concept I have mentioned before in relation to my claim that norms have no real Being, i.e., they are pseudo-beings. The discussion has forced me to start clearing up a few things, and it struck me that explaining this concept of pseudo-existence is a good way of showing how my methodology is a critical one, in the sense I laid down earlier in this post. It will also let me justify a number of claims made in my post on normativity and ontology.
In explaining this I want to combat an objection that Levi has made against my approach, namely, that I am “conflating an issue of epistemology– how our statements link up with objects –with an issue of ontology.“, and the implication that I am thereby falling into correlationism. The reason I am not conflating the two is precisely that I take a critical approach to ontology: I try to work out exactly what it is to do ontology and the demands it places on us before engaging in it. What Levi takes to be a conflation of epistemological and ontological claims is actually the making of certain critical claims (which do have epistemological implications) that delimit the nature of ontology. In virtue of their delimiting role, these claims are not themselves ontological claims. The relation here is just what Heidegger would identify as the relation between the formulation of the question of the meaning of Being and the actual inquiry into the meaning of Being itself.
I’m going to try and make this relation clear first, in order that we can then draw some conclusions about existence. I should also note here that I do not take Being (Sein, the Being of beings) and existence (Seiendheit, as in ‘Pete exists’) to be equivalent. I take existence to be simply one of the many ways in which Being is said. I also follow Heidegger in holding that ontology and metaphysics are not exactly the same thing, even though they are closely interlinked (see my earlier post on this here). This is because ontology is the inquiry into Being, and metaphysics is the inquiry into beingness, and this is just what beings are, or the essence of existence. If we recognise that Being is more than existence, we must separate ontology and metaphysics. However, it does not mean that we can’t do both, or even that we can do them properly in isolation from one another.
As a final note, this is a long post (over 6000 words). It’s length and density is due to necessity rather than desire. I appologise in advance for my inability to condense it further.
1. The Pre-Ontological Understanding of Being
There are many different conceptions of the nature of Being (which include conceptions of the nature of existence), both explicit philosophical ontologies (and metaphysics), and the conceptions that are implicit within certain cultures or historical epochs. Heidegger has done his fair share of uncovering and de-constructing both, although it must be said that he took any of the explicit metaphysical conceptions of Being to not be fully explicit, insofar as they did not think Being proper but only thought beingness. Perhaps most importantly, Heidegger identified a persistent error in the history of western thought as such – an implicit conception of Being as presence -which haunted all philosophical thought from Plato to Nietzsche.
In relation to this plurality of ontologies, both implicit and explicit, we must ask: What do they have in common? What is it which guarantees that they are even about the same thing?
If there were not some minimal meaning that all of these different theories or implicit conceptions had in common, then it would be legitimate to say that they weren’t talking about the same thing, that at best, ontology is just a sort of family resemblance term which groups a bunch of interrelated attitudes and theories that have no unifying thread. In this case, ‘Being’ would be a sort of empty signifier that floated between disparate discourses, and the question of its meaning would be without good sense.
Heidegger’s answer to this question is that what is common to all of these conceptions of Being, be they implicit, explicit or somewhere in between, is what he calls the pre-ontological understanding of Being. This is that minimal understanding of Being that we all share insofar as we can understand anything, that is insofar as we can understand beings. For Heidegger, this pre-ontological understanding is necessarily held in common and ahistorical. This is not to say that our conceptions of Being aren’t historical. As already noted, Heidegger does a great deal of work trying to trace the historical development of our implicit and explicit conceptions of Being. It is simply the case that what makes them all conceptions of Being is not itself subject to historical change. Conceptions of Being, including fully explicit philosophical ontologies, are developed out of our common pre-ontological understanding.
Heidegger’s other important insight, which I take to be a critical insight, is that the formulation of the question of the meaning of Being, or what I have called the delimitation of the constraints upon ontology, must be carried out through first making explicit the structure of this pre-ontological understanding. This does not mean that answering the question is simply a matter of clarifying our existing understanding. This is the kind of approach that analytic philosophers inspired by Quine take (‘to be is to be the value of a bound variable’, or ‘there is nothing more to Being than the existential quantifier’). Rather, the explication of the structure of our pre-ontological understanding is not yet ontology at all. Ontology proper proceeds from that understanding, but develops it into an account of Being as it is in itself.
Where I and Heidegger differ is that he takes the pre-ontological understanding of Being to consist in some special kind of Being (Existenz) that all of us share, in opposition to those beings that don’t understand anything, but are merely understood (extant entities, like toasters, jam sandwiches and meteorites). Thus, for him, the explication of the pre-ontological understanding takes the form of an existential analytic, or an account of that special kind of Being. My problem with this approach is twofold:
1) It ultimately leads Heidegger into what is legitimately identified as a correlationist position, whereby Being is indexed to that special kind of Being (Dasein). This is a bold claim that demands more attention, and I can’t give it that attention here. However, I did go into this in a little more detail here.
2) It requires making a substantive assumption about Being, which is not part of our pre-ontological understanding, in order to pursue it. This is the assumption that it is legitimate to divide Being into different kinds of Being (such as existence and extance), i.e., that Being is not univocal (in the strong sense I outline here). Such an assumption could only be vindicated in the course of the inquiry into Being itself, and as such it is not a legitimate methodological assumption. This is a point at which Heidegger conflates critical and ontological claims.
I differ from Heidegger insofar as I take the pre-ontological understanding of Being to consist in our implicit grasp of the fundamental norms governing discourse, or the fundamental norms of rationality. In essence, I take it that we find our pre-ontological understanding of Being in the ways we talk about beings. I won’t rehearse all of the reasons why we should take it that there are fundamental norms of rationality that we are all bound by (see here). The important point to recognise though is that the explication of such norms, if it is methodologically rigorous (in the way I propose fundamental deontology to be rigorous), can entirely avoid making the kinds of conflation between methodology and ontology that Heidegger made. This is because it need only say what it is we should do, and need say nothing about what it is that we are. Indeed it need not, and should not, say anything about what is at all. If our explication of the pre-ontological understanding of Being says nothing about what is, then it says nothing that could possibly be construed as ontological.
Moving on, our implicit understanding of fundamental norms contains our understanding of the purely formal notions of existence, predication, identity, essence, truth, and ‘what is’ or ‘what is the case’. Our pre-ontological understanding of Being consists in our grasp of these formal notions, insofar as they are what establish the basic structure of discourse, or ‘talk about’ anything. The interesting insight here is that the pre-ontological understanding of Being is a formal understanding of Being. At this point, people usually accuse me of simply being Quine, and trying to reduce pre-ontological understanding to symbolic logic (at which point a counterstrike style announcement echoes “Logicians Win!“). I’m doing nothing of the sort, as there is much to the structure of the way we talk about things that is irreducible to symbolic logic (at least as its classically understood). What is good about this notion of formality is that it lets us restate why pre-ontological understanding is common to all conceptions of Being: it is the common form to which all those conceptions supply a content.
Now, I’m obviously not going to give a complete account of my methodology for uncovering the structure of discourse (though I have sketched it in other posts) and neither am I going to carry out in full here. What I’m now going to do is simply look at one, very fundamental, part of the structure of discourse – the notion of existence – and try to draw some conclusions for how ontology proper must proceed from it.
2. Generic Existence, Quine, and Existential Commitment
The formal notion of existence is principally a generic notion of existence. It is univocal (that is said of all existents in the same way) in a purely trivial sense. This is because to be a generic existent is just to be an object of thought, or the referent of a claim. I will simply use the word ‘object’ to indicate what I mean by ‘generic existent’.
So, all objects have generic existence in common insofar as the formal structure of generic existence is to be found in all forms of thought and talk about anything, regardless of whether it is mathematical (e.g., ‘there is a solution to this equation’, ‘there is no largest prime number’, etc.) or literary (e.g., ‘Harry Potter has no sister’, ‘there is a tragic arc in Hamlet’, etc.), whether it is part of the natural sciences (e.g., ‘there is a black hole at the heart of the milky way’, ‘there is a lowest possible temperature’, etc.) or the social sciences (e.g., ‘there is no such thing as society’, ‘there is a special relationship between the US and UK’), or even part of formal and informal logic (e.g., ‘there are self-contradictory propositions’, ‘there are no consequences of adopting this claim’, etc.).
Quine correctly identified this formal structure as quantificational. Insofar as we quantify over a domain of things (e.g., the domain of numbers), we are in a certain sense committed to the existence of the things in that domain. If one holds that there are a certain number of things in that domain which have a certain characteristic, then one is committed to the existence of a number of such things, or if that number is 0 the non-existence of any such thing. One will note that issues of existential commitment are essentially tied up with issues of number here.
In current discussions within analytic ontology there is a lot of talk about quantifier variance. This just means variance between the domains which are quantified over. This is used to define different kinds of existence relative to the domain which is quantified over. This means that we can talk about numerical existence, physical existence, and propositional existence as being distinct insofar as we quantify over, or count, numbers, physical objects, and propositions in different ways (I prefer Brandom’s substitutional account of quantification to the objectual account most analytic ontologists use, as it gives us more insight into how domains are constituted out of a certain kind of relations that establish a set canonical designators, but I digress). What is important is that what I’m calling generic existence is the genus of which all of these different notion are species, insofar as a generic existent or object is just something which is quantified over at all. This can be interpreted as implying a domain which includes the totality of objects (something that I believe Badiou is very much against), but it need not be.
We can characterise Quine as an ontological formalist insofar as he takes it that there is nothing more to Being than this formal notion of generic existence and the other aspects of symbolic logic which it depends on (predication, as handled by predicate calculus, and identity). This is the content of Quine’s famous phrase: “to be is to be the value of a bound variable”. This means he takes it that there is nothing more to Being than given by our pre-ontological understanding, which I of course disagree with (I also disagree with his explication of this pre-ontological understanding, but that will become clear).
What this position does is to effectively deny that there are any interesting questions of existence independent of questions of truth. We take it to be trivially true that ‘2 is the smallest prime number’, and so we are committed to the existence of both numbers in general (to numerical existence as such) and more specifically to the existence of the number 2. Quine’s central insight should thus be taken to be the following: we are committed to the existence of anything about which we take there to be something that can be truly said, other than that it does not exist. This means that if we take ‘Harry Potter is a wizard’ to be true, then we are committed to the existence of Harry Potter. Quine thus rejects any division of objects into those that are real and those that are unreal, or those that really exist and those that exist in another sense. He sees such approaches (the classic target being Meinong, who advocated a distinction in Being between subsistence and existence) as simply pushing back the question of existence, so that we must then regress and ask after the sense of existence common to both real existents and unreal existents.
However, this does not mean that Quine has to allow the existence of anything and everything. Quine is not only an ontological formalist but also an ontological conservative. He wields Occam’s razor like a scalpel to eliminate any entities that play no explanatory role. In effect, what Quine does is to distinguish between casual talk about ‘what is’ and the rigorous talk of ‘what is’ that takes place (or rather, should take place) in the natural sciences. Essentially, Quine holds that we should work out what exists (or what our existential commitments are) on the basis of a sanitized version of the claims held true by the natural sciences. This sanitization requires reformulating the claims of the natural sciences in rigorous quantificational terms to eliminate any terms that play no explanatory role. For instance, statements like ‘man is the rational animal’, need not be taken to imply the existence of an entity named ‘man’, but can be rephrased in quantificational terms as referring to a set of entities (‘if something is a man then it is both rational and an animal’, or ‘the set of men is the intersection of the set of rational entities and animals’).
Quine’s central insight is thus qualified, as he is not concerned with all claims to truth, but only a certain kind of claim to truth. Importantly, this does not mean that Quine talks about a different kind of truth. Quine’s notion of truth is just as formal and generic as his notion of existence.
Overall, Quine’s view is a very good example of the Kantian view that existence is not a predicate. There are not some objects of which we predicate existence, and some of which we predicate non-existence. There are only objects. Anyone interested in Critique’s of this general position should look at Colin McGinn’s book Logical Properties, which is excellent, if wrong (he takes the bull by the horns and denies the Kantian view entirely) and Kit Fine’s paper ‘The Quesiton of Ontology’ (I’m far more sympathetic to Fine, who puts forward a host of good criticisms to Quine, and argues that ontology is concerned with the notion of reality).
3. Object-Oriented Ontology as Generic Metaphysics
It will come as a surprise to most that the OOO crowd (Graham and Levi et al) have a certain amount in common with Quine. They also reject a distinction between real and unreal objects. This seems to be primarily what Levi means when he endorses the notion of ‘flat ontology’. The idea is thus to treat all the different kinds of objects that we think and talk about as being on the same footing. Hamlet, differential equations, the mood of a party – all these things are objects, and should be treated in the same terms (although they are all very different types of object). It thus seems as if OOO is concerned with generic existence in similar way to Quine.
Now, before I can move on to explaining how OOO differs from Quine, I must pre-empt some accusations that I’m misunderstanding OOO in an obvious way:-
1) I am not saying that insofar as OOO puts ‘all the different kinds of objects that we think and talk about’ on the same footing, that it is thereby only concerned with those objects that we in fact think or talk about (or perhaps even can think or talk about). This is to misread OOO as a crude form of correlationism, and this is obviously wrong. It is simply the case that, for OOO, if we do think or talk about something then we should take it at face value as an existing object. What exists and what we think exists (or what our existential commitments are) is not the same thing, for OOO or for Quine.
2) The fact that we can think and talk about non-existent objects should not be taken to imply that non-existent objects exist, i.e., that there are such things as objects which have the property of non-existence. OOO allows for the possibility that our thought or talk fails to connect with anything that exists. To take a page from Hertzog, many people talked and thought about Eldorado, but this does not mean that Eldorado is an object. In this sense, I think that OOO endorses some form of Quine’s central insight, and simply takes talk about Eldorado to be false rather than about some special kind of object.
Moving on, OOO differs from Quine in at least two important ways:-
1) Ontological Liberalism: OOO rejects Quine’s conservatism and the whole project of trying to sanitize our existential commitments by appeal to explanatory criteria. This does not mean that OOO can’t eliminate some entities by reconsidering certain forms of ordinary talk. For instance, the other aspect of ‘flat ontology’ that Levi gets from DeLanda (which I think is perhaps unrelated to the first) is that universals are not objects. In this sense at least some advocates of OOO can endorse the results of some Quinean analyses of language, such as the elimination of ‘man is a rational animal’ in favour of ‘if something is a man, then it is both rational and an animal’. Of course, I am well aware that they would not think about it as the practice of mere linguistic analysis.
2) Metaphysics: OOO rejects Quine’s ontological formalism insofar as it wants to give content to the notion of generic existence. OOO is not interested in simply analyzing the way we talk about objects, but wants to know what objects are. This is to say that they want to do metaphysics. They want to inquire into the essence of existence.
On the basis of these insights, I think that we can characterise what OOO is in a unique way: it is the metaphysics of generic existence.
4. An Alternative Approach
Now that I’ve adequately delimited OOO, I can say precisely where my own approach differs from it. There will obviously more differences than I can present here (and most likely more than I am even aware of), but the fundamental difference is that I accept precisely what both OOO and Quine reject: that there is a distinction between real and unreal objects, or, to put it in my preferred terms, that there is a distinction between real existence and pseudo-existence (or between beings and pseudo-beings).
This means that I think there are in fact three different notions of existence: the genus – generic existence, and two mutually exclusive species – real existence and pseudo existence.
Importantly, this division does not fall foul of Quine’s criticism of Meinong. On the one hand, I accept Quine’s analysis of generic existence (for the most part), and this staves of the accusation of regress in the formal dimension. On the other hand, I do not split Being in two, because I take the distinction between real existence and pseudo existence to itself be a formal distinction, not an ontological distinction. Pseudo-beings do not have a different kind of Being to real beings, rather, they have no Being whatsoever. I take pseudo-beings to be mere projections generated by the way we talk, some of them necessarily so. For instance, on my view, we cannot help but talk about entities such as propositions and norms, but this does not mean that we are thereby committed to their really existing.
The crucial thesis I am putting forward in opposition to OOO is that the distinction between real existence and pseudo-existence is not an illegitimate methodological posit that elides the distinction between critical claims and ontological claims, as Heidegger’s distinction between Dasein and non-Dasein does, but rather that the distinction is already implicit within our pre-ontological understanding, and as such it demands that we think it through.
What I share with OOO is the desire to do metaphysics. Indeed, I think that we are obligated to do metaphysics insofar as we do ontology (though the reason I think this might have to wait for another time). However, I think that in contrast to OOO’s metaphysics of generic existence, I think we must pursue a metaphysics of real existence. We must ask after the essence of beings, whilst excluding pseudo-beings from contaminating our inquiry. Such contamination prevents us from getting at Being as it is in itself.
I must add a clarificatory point: We must not confuse the question ‘What is the essence of (real) beings?’ with the question ‘What is the essence of actual beings?’. Some physicalists have a tendency to make this conflation, which is why they say that ‘All and only physical entities exist’ and yet say things like ‘However, there might be a possible world in which there exists something that is not physical’. We are not interested in the contingent common characteristics of what really exists, but in what is essential to real existence. For example, if it is true that ‘to be is to be material’ then there is only an epistemic sense in which ‘there could have been immaterial beings’, but no alethic sense. This would equally hold if ‘to be is to be ethereal’ was true.
Now, so far, I’ve only explained what my approach is and how it differs from Quine’s and OOO. I haven’t yet provided reasons why one might think I am right, and thus that we should pursue a metaphysics of real existence. To do this properly would simply be to carry out the Critique of ontology I have been advocating – what I call fundamental deontology. It is only by carrying this out properly that I can demonstrate that there is a formal distinction between real existence and pseudo-existence implicit within our pre-ontological understanding of Being, and also that this fact demands that we think develop a contentful notion of such existence. I am under no illusions that I can carry out this project here. However, in the rest of this post I will try to gesture at some of the moves I intend to make in the Critique proper.
5. Truth, Objectivity, and Reality
I think that the proper place to start with the explication of our pre-ontological understanding of existence (not of Being as such) is with Quine’s central insight: insofar as we hold certain claims about an object to be true, we are committed to the existence of that object. This points toward an important relationship between existence and truth (one of the other ways in which Being is said).
Now, even Quine himself couldn’t take this insight neat, but had to qualify it (in terms of the notion of explanation). OOO comes about as close as one can to accepting this insight in its pure form (although, as I’ve suggested, they can qualify a little it if they want to). I don’t want to take it neat either, as it is precisely this claim which mandates that we concern ourself with generic existence. However, I don’t want to qualify it in the way that Quine does, as that seems fairly haphazard (and there has been plenty written on just how hard it is to get a handle on precisely what Quine’s explanatorily accented notion of ontological commitment commits us to). I think the important point to recognise is that despite all of his qualifications regarding precisely which truths imply existence, he never introduces different kinds of truth. He maintains a formal, and generic concept of truth.
Taking this clue in hand, my suggestion is that the way to properly qualify Quine’s central insight, is by making a distinction between objective and non-objective truth. If we do this, we can modify the insight accordingly: insofar as we hold certain claims about an object to be objectively true, we are committed to the existence of that object.
If we accept this modified insight, we find that it becomes a lot easier to be ontologically conservative. If we deny the existence of any object that we are not committed to (and why should we accept the existence of anything we aren’t committed to?), then we deny the existence of any object of which we hold nothing to be objectively true. This replicates a certain claim that OOO endorses, namely that whatever exists exists in the manner it does in a way that is at least partially independent of us. The only things that don’t exist are those things that are entirely dependent upon us. However, the real difference between this approach and that of OOO is that I take this distinction to be another formal distinction. The kind of dependence in question is a formal dependence, not an ontological dependence of any kind, be it mereological, causal or otherwise.
The problem is articulating the difference between objective and non-objective truth in a purely formal, non-ontological fashion. If we are to do so, we must avoid talking about objective and non-objective truths as if they are objects, and as if their status is dependent upon the objects to which they refer (in just the way that Heidegger warns us not to take truths to be present-at-hand), because this would leave us in a vicious circle. Brandom provides us with the insight which is required to conceive of objectivity in a purely formal way (indeed, Brandom himself claims that objectivity is ‘form’ which is present in the structure of the game of giving and asking for reasons).
The first part of Brandom’s insight is that instead of talking about truth as if it were a general kind, of which truths are particular instantiations, we should instead talk about truth-assessment. Truth assessment is part of the structure of discourse (indeed, according to Brandom and others it is the heart of discourse), and as such it is governed by the fundamental norms of rationality. It is thus susceptible to an explication in purely normative terms (i.e., in terms of what we should do, rather than what is the case). To differentiate objective truth from non-objective truth we simply have to differentiate between the normative structure of assessments of objective truth and those of non-objective truth.
There is an additional premise that must be added here, which I argued for in a paper I gave a few months ago (‘Truth, Correctness and Normativity’), but the argument for which would take too long to reproduce. This is the claim that what distinguishes truth-assessment from other forms of correctness-assessment is the way in which truth-claims (or assertions) license challenges to them (i.e., that one may demand reasons for them). This implies that precisely what distinguishes truth-assessment is that to be able to assess the truth of a claim, one must be capable of engaging in an argument about it (or the game of giving and asking for reasons for it). This also implies that, because asserting a claim is implicitly involves assessing it as true, making claims is dependent upon exactly the same argumentative capacity. This is a sort of backdoor argument for Brandomian inferentialism, which is based on the thesis that linguistic competence is essentially inferential competence. Leaving this complex network of commitment to one side, the important thing this premise tells us is that if we are to look for differences in the normative structure of objective truth assessment and non-objective truth assessment, it is going to be found in differences between the kinds of argument that are had about objective and non-objective truths.
The second part of Brandom’s insight is that what is distinctive of claims that are subject to objective assessment is that whether they are true or not swings free of any of our attitudes about what is true. It is this which produces the independence which we take to be characteristic of real beings in opposition to pseudo-beings. What we thus need to show what it is about arguments about what is objectively true which frees the truth-assessment they carry out from any reference to our attitudes, or show what it is about arguments about what is not objectively true which yokes them to our attitudes.
However, Brandom can only take us so far here, because at this point his notion of objectivity becomes somewhat schizophrenic. He does not really have one notion of objectivity, but several. Unfortunately, to explain this properly requires a post in itself.
7. A Partial Conclusion (To Be Continued…)
I’m very aware that this post has gone on for too long, so I’m going to make some final gestures in the direction I intend to proceed before promising to examine it further in a later post.
It is important to note that non-objective truth is not the same thing as subjective truth. A properly subjective claim is one in which a sole individual has authority over whether the claim is true or false. The paradigm example is the authority a subject has over which claims it acknowledges commitment to (e.g., ‘I’m committed to p and q, but not r’). It must be noted that subjects do not have sole authority over what they are committed to as a consequence of the commitments they acknowledge, they can even be wrong about them (i.e., I can be committed to r even though I deny it). There are of course some tricky examples to deal with, such as lying (e.g., ‘me, committed to p?, ha!’), but I don’t think we have too much trouble as long as we remember that the concept of commitment is not that of belief. This subjective authority over one’s commitments is just the same as the authority one has over what one has decided, where this notion of decision is not the same as the notion of intention (just as commitment is not belief). It is thus on the basis of this authority that one can gain any other kind of authority (e.g., legal power, or military command), through which one’s decisions become binding on others. If one had no authority over which decision one had taken, then one could have no authority at all. This is a sort of stuttering authority (one decides what one decides and no one else).
The important point to note about this kind of authority is that people can still argue about what commitments someone has acknowledged or what decisions they have made in the absence of that person. If I am in another room, my friends may argue about what shirt I will decide to wear, as if my decision is an object the properties of which are contested. When I come back into the room (regardless of whether I’ve actually put the shirt on yet) I end the argument, because I have the authority to stipulate what is true. I decide. I take it that my decision is a pseudo-object, because I have complete authority over its content, and thus it has no independence whatsoever. This is an overly crude story, but I don’t have space here to tackle the counter-examples that will inevitably turn up (lying, self-misunderstanding, etc.).
My rough thesis, which needs a great deal more elaboration, is that all arguments about non-objective truths share a certain structure in common with this kind of argument. When we argue about the content of a norm (for instance), we argue as if there is someone who has authority standing in another room, waiting to come in and put us out of our misery. This gives arguments about non-objective truths a certain characteristic structure, which we could describe loosely as interpretational.
Another good example of this structure is arguments about what someone who is dead meant by some statement or text, such as a dead author. We can indeed treat an author as if they are dead (a la Barthe), which is just stripping them of this authority to the point at which they get to take part in the interpretational argument themselves. It precludes them from making certain moves, but they can give reasons like anyone. However, removing their authority does not thereby make what they’re talking about into a determinate object that is independent of them. In fact, as Derrida and others have argued, it undermines the notion that there is a determinate object that is ‘the author’s meaning’ at all.
Another good example of this structure which focuses less literally on authority of an originating individual is law based on precedent. In this case, when a question arises which seems undetermined in relation to the body of cases, a judge has to extrapolate from those cases (interpret) how to go on. He deploys reasons garnered from those cases to justify his decision. However, he does so under the pretense that they do indeed determine an answer (which they indeed do in part, but not in full). His interpretation then becomes part of the set of cases which only partially determines the next judge’s interpretation, even though this interpretation is made under the assumption that there is some completely determinate answer implicit within them. In this case, there is a kind of progressive determination of legal norms, even though they are never determinate. I thus take ‘laws’ to be pseudo-objects, in the same way the ‘the author’s meaning’ is.
However, even legal systems involve certain authoritative acts of origin (the pronouncements of lawmakers) to which interpretations explicitly appeal. What about norms that are completely implicit? Take for instance the norms of dinner party ettiquette. They seem to have formed over centuries, and there is no one person or group of people at which we can point the finger for originating them. How are we to engage in an interpretation of what is involved if there is no one to interpret? The point to be made here is that there need not be specific individuals in order for the argument to have the structure of an interpretation. Indeed it still proceeds as if there is a purely formal interpretant. This is essentially what Heidegger calls Das Man, or the One.
All of this requires a great deal more development, but it does outline the basic distinction between beings and pseudo-beings. Beings are real precisely insofar as they are determinate and they constrain our talk about them. Pseudo-beings are not real precisely insofar as they are indeterminate and the only thing that constrains our talk about them is ourselves (and by this I do not mean that we each of us only constrains themself, but rather that in inter-subjective cases that we constrain eachother).
In this post I’ve tried to lay out a whole chunk of my thinking in relation to a couple other positions, and I’ve tried to do so in a way that focuses on the particular strategy (or strategies) I adopt at the expense of where those strategies take me. Hopefully, after I finish my continuing post on Deleuze and sufficient reason, I will find the time to examine the notion of objectivity in more detail, which will help make the schematic conception of reality and pseudo-existence I have worked out here more robust.
If you’re reading this sentence, thankyou for getting to the end!
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