Agent-Centered Metaphysics

5 April 2011

Tuesday


In several posts I have discussed the difficulty of finding exactly the right terminology for an exposition of one’s ideas. Even if you have the idea down pat, if you can’t find an intuitively perspicuous way to formulate that idea linguistically, it can be very difficult to communicate this idea to others. With the right formulation, on the other hand, you will see the light bulb go on over another’s head and you know in that moment that you’ve made your point (if you’re explaining yourself in person).

This was recently the case with what I now call Metaphysical Ecology, and concerning which I explained that I had to change my terminology from Integral Ecology to Metaphysical Ecology. I have since made peace with this change, and in fact I prefer my new formulations in terms of metaphysical ecology and metaphysical history to my previous formulations, since my project is, at bottom, a philosophical project. Since I don’t personally see anyone who reads this, I don’t know if the light bulb goes on, but I think that my revised formulations make the point better.

This concern for the right terminology has also been the case with my unnamed principle and unnamed fallacy, for which I still lack an intuitively perspicuous formulation — though I think I’m getting closer to this one, and plan to write about it again soon. In the meantime, I continue to use the very awkward formulation of the unnamed principle and the unnamed fallacy.

In my formulations of metaphysical history I have had occasion to refer several times to “conceptions of history” even as I have know that this expression is inadequate. I have meant something closer to “conceptions of history, with history taken in an extended sense.” Moreover, as I have several times written that my use of “metaphysical history” is intended to capture a sense of history in an extended philosophical sense, my formulation could be, “conceptions of metaphysical history.” This is getting close to accuracy, but it also remains awkward and unwieldy. Ideally, a formulation of an idea should not only be intuitively perspicuous, but should also encapsulate the essence of the idea in a few words. On this score, my previous formulations cannot be counted as successful.

Thinking about this awkwardness and the need for an incisive formulation, I have hit on Agent-Centered Metaphysics as an adequate expression of my intentions and ambitions for this line of my thought. As soon as I thought of this I also thought of Agent-Oriented Ontology (by obvious analogy to object-oriented ontology), but that would be a bit tendentious, so I will not make use of it, though it is accurate and perhaps informative because of the analogy.

So, my historico-metaphysical formulations of human agency (the political), human non-agency (the catastrophic and cataclysmic), non-human agency (the eschatological), and non-human non-agency (the naturalistic) I will henceforth collectively refer to as “Agent-Centered Metaphysics.”

My ultimate source for this is Plato himself, whose definition of being I discussed in Extrapolating Plato’s Definition of Being. If being, as Plato says, is the power to affect or be affected, then we affect through our actions (i.e., our agency) and are affected in turn through the actions of others (i.e., the agency of the other). Thus being and agency are convertible terms: to do is to be, and to be is to do (or be done). This is the heart of Agent-Centered Metaphysics. Metaphysical history and metaphysical ecology grow out of this living germ of being-as-agency. I account my recent work on Ecological Temporality as especially important to this effort, as time is central to any understanding of the ways in which beings affect and are affected by others, i.e., time is central to the understanding of agency. Thus my Platonic point of departure is immediately given an anti-platonic spin.

Another point of reference I have emphasized throughout is Anatol Rapoport’s interpretation of Clausewitz in terms of a more comprehensive tripartite distinction in conceptions of war: the political, the cataclysmic, and the eschatological (Clausewitz is the paradigmatic representative of the first of these three). I discussed Rapoport’s scheme in several posts, especially More on Clausewitz, Three Conceptions of History, and The Naturalistic Conception of History.

I have, to date, only made the merest sketch of Agent-Centered Metaphysics, and the greater part of the work suggested by my formulations remains to be done. That is to say, the very idea of Agent-Centered Metaphysics invites and indeed demands extrapolation to the fullest extent of philosophical thought.

One problem in particular that I have worked on a little but for which I do not yet have a good formulation is the relation between agency and demography. I see the world through the twin prisms of agency and demography, and I have defined the divisions of metaphysical history (prehuman prehistory, nomadism, agriculturalism, and industrialism) on the basis of demography, but I have yet to work out the systematic relationship between the two. So that is as much as to say that this is all very much a work in progress, and I am here confirming that to write a blog is to think in public (as someone said — I don’t know who it was).

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2 Responses to “Agent-Centered Metaphysics”

  1. Metaphysics is the subject which is for, by and to all the people of the world with no gender restriction.

    • geopolicraticus said

      Dear Sennayaswamy,

      Thanks for your comment. I perhaps should have indicated in my post that when I use the term “metaphysics” I am using it in the sense of traditional Western philosophy, which, according to Aristotle, is an inquiry into beings in so far as they are beings. While much more could be said in the way of the definition of metaphysics, Aristotle is at least a good starting point.

      Are beings in so far as they are beings gendered beings? That is a good question. I have previously hinted that this is the case in A Theory of Sexual Difference, where I wrote that, “The reification of sexuality in the world is an inescapable fact of the human condition: Sexuality is the urcategorie of ontology and the sexual dialectic is the urcategorie of schematic categorical distinctions.”

      This would, in any case, be a potentially fruitful line of inquiry.

      Very Respectfully Yours,

      Nick

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