Friday, August 03, 2012
Mathew Abbott on political ontology.
As Heidegger always insisted, metaphysical thought is perfectly equipped to inquire about beings. Depending on its founding concepts, it can think the causes of beings (Aristotle), the mathematical/geometrical structure of beings (Descartes), the conditions for our knowledge of beings (Kant), the phenomenological qualities of beings (Husserl), and so on. But the being of beings is presupposed by these modes of thought, and for an essential structural reason: these philosophies, arising as they do in the wake of the Platonic equation of being with the Idea (which Heidegger takes to have been decisive for the development of Western thought), are trapped in various versions of a representational paradigm. In this paradigm, which obviously needs to be defined very broadly if it is to apply to thinkers as different as (say) Descartes and Aristotle, there is a model of truth at work in which it is a property of statements that correspond to (or correctly represent) how it is with the world. A statement, then, is a means of pointing out things about the world (including of course affective or mental states and other ‘interior’ events): in Aristotle’s terms it is a ‘saying something of something’ [legein ti kata tinos]; in Heidegger’s it is “a presentation and representation of the real and unreal.” And the problem with representational models is that they cannot possibly point out the fact that ‘existence exists,’ because as Kant showed in his attack on the ontological proof of God, existence cannot be a property of existence (it is not a “real predicate”). This is the root of Heidegger’s history of being as metaphysics, under which the question of being cannot even pose itself as such. As Heidegger puts it in the third volume of his Nietzsche, “within metaphysics there is nothing to being as such.” The history of being as metaphysics is a history of a blindness before the question of being, of representational understandings of truth repeatedly passing over its very status as a question.
At this point, it should be clear that political ontology is (or is intended to be) post-metaphysical. This means that it will be concerned with thinking our political situation in terms of its metaphysical heritage, working from the premise that the blindness before the ontological question characteristic of metaphysics has real consequences for ontic politics. To engage in political ontology, then, means thinking from out of the idea that our conceptual systems have a deep and deeply problematic blind spot; that our representational models miss the fact of being because of a constitutive structural flaw. The claim, in other words, is that political thought has inherited the basic flaw of metaphysics, coming as it does from out of the very tradition that Heidegger worked to undermine.
Hat tip to An und für sich.
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