Relations and reactions

dancing+graffiti_40910987In a post on Marx’s dialectical method and Deleuze, Steven Shaviro makes the interesting claim that it is Deleuze’s pluralism that is transcendental.  It is the theory of relations that Deleuze has which underpins his pluralism and this theory of relations, presumably, would be the place to look for a transcendental structure in the sense of a ‘condition of possibility’-type argument (Shaviro makes it explicit he’s referring to a Kantian transcendental when talking of Deleuze’s ‘transcendental pluralism).  Indeed this is plainly the case for Shaviro, since the article begins from the differences and similarities between dialectics and Deleuzian thought in terms of their theory of relations.  He suggests a strong commonality around this area of theory of relations, arguing that:

There are definite commonalities. (1) Both the Hegelian/dialectical language of negativity, and the James/Bergson/Deleuze language of virtuality, insist that all those things that are omitted by the positivist cataloguing of atomistic facts are altogether real. (2) Both locate this reality by asserting that the relations between things are as real as the things themselves, and that ‘things’ don’t exist first, but only come to be through their multiple relations. (3) Both construct materialist (rather than idealist) accounts of these relations, of how they constitute the real, and of how they continually change (over time) the nature of what is real.  (4) Both offer similar critiques of the tradition of bourgeois thought that leads from Descartes through the British empiricists and on to 20th century scientism and post-positivism. (numbers in brackets inserted)”


I’m in general sympathy with this line of thought, though I’m currently struggling to understand a number of things that I can’t quite get to fit easily into this model – notably notions of necessity, force and learning.  For example, if relations are as real as things (indeed things result from relations) then logical relations are presumably amongst the real.  This, I take it, is part of Husserl’s argument against psychologism, where he distinguishes between logical facts and logical rules, between the reality of the relation and its ‘normative’ content (more on this over here).  Husserl’s distinction, however, seems troublesome because of its reliance upon a strange thing he calls ‘meaning content’, reliance upon which just seems circular in the sense that we cannot explain the meaning of the force of logical relations (their ‘prerogativity’) by appealing to their meaning content, unless we want to produce something that’s no more illuminating than Tarski’s truth form (‘Snow is white’ IFF Snow is white).  The arguments of deflationists, disquotationalist and various other ‘-ists’ of analytical philosophy all seem to suggest that even if we begin with Tarski the real explanatory work is still to be done as to the role and function of ‘truth’ statements.  The same, I think, holds for logical relations – if we ascribe their specific force to their meaning content we seem to have forgotten that their force is the primary meaning function of the logical relation.  In terms of Marx and Deleuze, are we unavoidably caught within a kind of psychologism?  Is there nothing more we can say about logical relations than ‘this is how we happen to formulate things’?

One response from a naturalistic point of view seems to be put forward by Penelope Maddy in her recent book ‘Second Philosophy’.  I’ve not long received my copy of this and so have only just begun to read it in any detail (Xmas holidays mean that I hope to spend a little time with this text over the next few weeks).  A recent review in NDPR, however, suggests that Maddy’s response is to locate the implication structures (ground-consequent dependencies) within the world.  The various logical models then develop from these core features of the world with which we are in touch via our cognitive evolution.  At first sight this seems like a straight forward re-introduction of causal necessity into the world as a reality, despite all the Humean problems involved in this.  I’m not sure about this route, though that is part of the reason I want to get to grips with Maddy’s work, to see whether this account makes sense.  My impression, though, is that this route is one that is well-trodden and well-problematised.

In a practical sense, however, it is useful to have Shaviro’s characterisation since I think the emphasis on relations is exactly where the connection between practical and theoretical can be made most interesting and where politics and philosophy might interestingly interact.  There’s a whole load more posts on Shaviro’s site that I haven’t read so I also think I might be spending a little time over there this holiday.

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philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

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