What is Transcendental Materialism? pt 3

19Jun11

Iain Grant’s transcendental materialism (though I am not even sure if he would still want to use this to describe his own project) is partially in response to Schelling’s critique of Kant, specifically in regards to the transcendental. Instead of the transcendental focusing on the Kantian categories, the transcendental is a kind of power, or force in relation to various regions of materiality. To try and clear this up a bit the issue is combining the dispositional (or a powers ontology) with some idea of substantiality or materiality. This would seem to suggest either a dualism (of powers and non-powers which is the route Molnar takes), or a dispositional universe with multiple non-dispositional entities, substances with powers being the most fundamental or Grant’s version which, if I’m reading it right, suggest that reality is composed of powers and that that which seems non-dispositional is powers in different modalities.

The modality of powers seems to put Schelling at an odd crossing of Plato and Aristotle as he struggled to combine the fractured world or world of particularities with the surging worldsoul (without dimming the ontological lights into a black cow night). This raises the issue of the question over what the relation between realism and modality¬† – to what extent does modality bend and burst the limits of what realism is supposed to be (at least in a eliminativist sense). Here the question becomes how different is Schelling (and Grant’s subsequent system) from Kant when it comes to the transcendental and how this transcendental relates to realism vs materialism.

It is tempting to take up Schelling’s theological bent as has been done here as well as here and here. The transcendental for Schelling is a kind of shift between grounds, or ontological registers, than a categorical stability. The transcendental, in a modality of powers, is the possibility of new possibilities relative to the currently existing grounds. An ontology of powers requires developing a typology of becoming. Here is the outline that I proposed at ‘The Return of Metaphysics’:

1-Forces: Forces are ungrounded powers which pass through the material, they appear non-intentional and without ground.

2-Processes: are ungrounded apparent materializations of forces, they appear as the traditional category of immanence (though without givenness)

3-Potencies: are grounded and function in relation to both grounded and ungrounded powers.

4- Procedures: are grounded and effect the grounded, they are materially bound (homeostatic) processes.

To remain true to Schelling’s post-Kantian project (which following Paul Frank’s is a derivational monism which needs a unity of grounds) as well to adopt some of the contesting frameworks of dispositional ontologies, it would seem that grounds must be a modality of powers themselves. To return to Schelling’s mixing of Plato and Aristotle Franks discusses post-Kantian monism thusly:

“One thinks of the absolutely unconditioned as the first member of the series of conditions it grounds. But then, although one has sought to safeguard the distinctiveness of the absolutely unconditioned, say by assuming its temporal (or modal) transcendence, nevertheless the absolutely
unconditioned inevitably becomes homogeneous with the other members of the series. And then it becomes subject to the law of the series-to the
demand for an antecedent condition-and so it is no longer the absolutely unconditioned with which one hoped to satisfy reason’s demand once and
for all. Consequently, if this difficulty is to be overcome, it can only be by ensuring the heterogeneity of the absolutely unconditioned to every member
of the series of conditions” (102).

Again, the trickiness lies in the fact that the dispositional monism (if we can call it that) of Schelling is hardly a monism in that the One is not a closed one but only bears the mark of oneness or closedness in that there is an organic or active unity that is real (that is in the thing itself).¬† Discussions of Schelling’s absolute or organic philosophy would seem to cut off the possibility of forces (as outlined above) as they would construct it from immanence and nothing prior. This reading, I want to argue, is what makes Zizek’s (and others) reading of Schelling as pre-psychoanalytic possible as if one starts from immanence than the striving or abyssal thinking of Schelling cannot be metaphysical (given the ground of immanence). As Chris Lauer notes in The Suspension of Reason in Hegel and Schelling, it is for this reason that Schelling prides continuity over totality.

Materialism is far more tempting than realism vis a vis Schelling because of the demands of monism, even when that materiality is not of a substance but of a complex of powers, procedures, forces and processes. Franks’ book is mostly silent on Schelling and Schelling’s naturephilosophie perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly as Schelling’s naturephilosophie questions the possibility of systematicity. Heterogeneity battles against holism, a holism which again seems to instantiate immanence as the ultimate ground and not the open of the powers. How the pure heterogeniety or difference of forces becomes the closed holistic circularity stumbles on the question of pattern or form, how do modalities spawn other modalities, and so on. If reality is intelligible because of monisitic unity then it would seem that it is not completely knowable or clear because of derivation. Deleuze avoids this problem through the dissolution of unity and the primacy of difference in itself via ontology as becoming.

So then what does it mean to have an absolute of powers, a monism of powers, and not becoming, as ontological unity does not mean the death of powers, processes, and so on. Becoming explodes into obscurity but the difficulty is can modality make up the work of difference (becoming-as-difference)?

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One Response to “What is Transcendental Materialism? pt 3”

  1. That was a great read, very helpful.

    I think Schelling’s powers ontology and Whitehead’s process ontology are important conversation partners, since both of these philosophies attempt to reconcile continuity and atomicity without succumbing to holistic monism or black cow pantheism.


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