Speculative Ontology/Transcendental Dynamism: a note


In his famous “On What There Is” (hat tip Pete W.) Quine notes the paradoxical argument of Plato’s beard – namely that how can one talk of something that doesn’t exist without inferring its existence:

‘This is the old Platonic riddle of nonbeing. Nonbeing must in some sense be, otherwise what is it that there is not? This tangled doctrine might be nicknamed Plato’s beard; historically it has proved tough, frequently dulling the edge of Occam’s razor.”

Quine goes on to discuss how this leads to an indistinction of real and ideal which leads to the delapidation of words like exist (when then leads to serious difficulties in have modalities operate within a world bloated with entities). Later on in the piece Quine writes:

“We commit ourselves to an ontology containing numbers when we say there are prime numbers larger than a million; we commit ourselves to an ontology containing centaurs when we say there are centaurs; and we commit ourselves to an ontology containing Pegasus when we say Pegasus is. But we do not commit ourselves to an ontology containing Pegasus or the author of Waverley or the round square cupola on Berkeley College when we say that Pegasus or the author of Waverley or the cupola in question is not. We need no longer labor under the delusion that the meaningfulness of a statement containing a singular term presupposes an entity named by the term. A singular term need not name to be significant.”

What is interesting (and what Peter spoke about here in very different terms) is the status of the pre-ontological or of taking Plato’s beard as an ontological or meontological starting point rather than an epistemological one. Namely, it is interesting to take Plato’s beard as an arcane model for becoming as being and becoming as requiring a rigorous distinction between knowing and being and being and becoming.

In this sense I want to talk about Transcendental Dynamism (as a philosophy rooted in Schelling Naturphilosophie and System of Identity) as a dynamism between the real and the ideal as a decision both real and ideal. A claim I’ve made many times is that the division between real and ideal in Schelling is methodological in the ideal and does not exist in the real insofar as Schelling is a monist. Schelling is a particularly weird monist however because his one principle is fragmented or divided in its very being. The contradictory non-fixed nature of Schelling’s absolute may make him appear as an absolute idealist (which Paul Franks argues) but that seems to ignore the fact that Schelling’s objective subject-object is rooted in a dynamic nature or absolute which is in itself non-substantive (that substance is secondary) again, not to fall into the ideal, but to leave open a dynamic between the real and the ideal that allows both to develop most openly. I think this is what the ‘lump critique’ of Schelling misses as well. Individuation is not an all or nothing game in the sense that not yet actualized things, or tendencies (actants) are not ideal because they can’t even be thought for Schelling – we can only talk about them ideally.

I think were Schelling seems awfully close to idealism (and or correlationism) is this point where he posits ideal entities in place of unknowns. However, as it clear in his early works these entities (such as the actants in the First Outline) are less than ideal in that they are not even ideal to the point of purely thinkable other than as placeholders to be tested by science or by speculative ontologies which may come up with more elegant or more forceful means for uniting the real and the ideal.

Here it is also clear how Schelling is very different from Deleuze in regards to describing non-materiality. Whereas Deleuze settles on conceptualization for Schelling this is always only a poor shadow of reality, where Deleuze wars against metaphor, metaphor is a far more honest (in its inadequacy) way of describing philosophical problems.

2 Responses to “Speculative Ontology/Transcendental Dynamism: a note”

  1. Quine sounds like a simpleton. Why is does he not apply the same reasoning to the affirmation of the Pegasus as to the affirmation of the not Pegasus?

  2. 2 dmf

    Dr Iain Grant (UWE) talk from the Human Experience and Nature

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