Friday, July 13, 2007


Renaud Barbaras argues that "if phenomenology opens onto a cosmology, the latter can only have the meaning of a cosmobiology" (Desire and Distance, p. 134). To get where Barbaras is coming from it is necessary to define at least three terms: cosmology, life, and knowledge.

Barbaras quotes Ricœur's definition of a cosmology as "a universe of discourse that would be 'neutral' with respect to objectivity and subjectivity," offering the possibility of a "material ontology common to the region of nature–known by external perception and objective natural sciences–and to the region of consciousness known by reflection and by phenomenology of the subject" (Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary, p. 423, IN Desire and Distance, p. 132). Barbaras' material ontology purports to radicalize an Aristotlean theory of act and potency by suspending the question of the primacy of substance (ouisa), thereby avoiding an anthropologization of being, "the projection of the structures of life and action onto natural reality" (p. 133).

In making this argument Barbaras may be relying upon two senses of what life is. In speaking of an eternal "explosion of being" (following Merleau-Ponty), of a primordial movement (following Patoĉka) that doesn't distinguish clearly between the movement of manifestation and the movement of desire, Barbaras points to "an originary life short of the distinction between living and appearing" (p. 133). Since I've come to the view that life should be a univocal concept (though I'm not fully committed to asserting it), the notion of an originary life is a bit of a (not insurmountable) problem for me.

Anyway, by anchoring perception in vital activity, a question is raised about the problem of knowledge.

Finally, at the conclusion of this study, one question is essential: How can knowledge be accounted for? In a more general way, How can we account for the order of meanings on the basis of this analysis of perception? Perception has been separated from the reference to a positive object in order to inscribe it in life itself; however, in doing so, an insurmountable gulf may have been introduced between the order of living and that of knowledge. Ther alternative would be between a philosophy of perception (which does not lose sight of the possibility of understanding and which is therefore forced to define it teleologically from this posssibility) and a philosophy that, by clarifying the rootedness of perceiving in vital activity and consequently in separating out a nucleus common to the human person and to animals, abandons the attempt to account for the rational order and thus adopts a sort of displaced Platonism. In reality, this objection is unfounded because it presupposes a certain idea of knowledge, and above all life. Thus it is not because we regrasp perception on the basis of living that we compromise the possibility of accounting for the continuity of perceiving and knowing; rather, it is to the degree that we conceive of living in a reductionist way as a subjugation to needs.

(p. 134, Barbaras' emphasis)

Barbaras insists that desire is not need because whereas needs can be fulfilled, desire is never satisfied. He also holds that "[a]ll desire is desire of a world," indicating that his cosmology has been accessed phenomenologically. Desire is negative not in the sense of negating something that would have to be assumed to exist positively in order to satisfy it, as if it were a need; but rather desire is thoroughly and always negative with respect to its own being. The living subject, in Barbaras' view, is fully capable of negativity, that is, of desire. The negativity of desire is "by no means the attribute of the human person and of its anguish; instead it emerges from the vital level" (p. 136). (Incidentally, this idea could serve to distinguish Barbaras' cosmobiology from an existentialism.)

Because living is always already desire, we can say that life is always in the mode of exploration, always reaching out. From that point of view there is a continuity between living and knowing, so long as we understand knowledge not as "the apprehension of positive meanings," but rather as interrogation (pp. 136-137). The movement of questioning and the movement of desire are fundamentally the same movement, inscribed in life.

Labels: , , , , ,

posted by Fido the Yak at 12:15 PM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not that relevant but I was trawling thru some files looking for coments on whitehead and couldn't restrain myself from looking at Mario's 'Palindrome'.

'In order to interestedly deny the real elapsing of situational transformations (“time”), gnosticists pretend that “being” is merely a distinctional predication, and as a result believe that “l’intelligibilité se dit non pas de l’être mais des discours sur l’être” (“intelligibility is not said of ‘being’ but of the discourses on ‘being’”). This of course inaugurates the ideologies of mediation, which claim that one never knows one’s reality in itself but only through veils and shadows, as Paul Ricoeur bluntly epitomized: “...there is no self-knowledge without some kind of detour through signs, symbols and cultural works, etc.”'

July 13, 2007 2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did once read Ivor Leclerc, 'The nature of physical existenc', Allen and Unwin, 1972. It's a useful text on Whitehead.

And just to be even more irrelevant another snippet from Palindrome which is basically an essay on 'cosmological- biospheric evolution':

"Such a natural science also tells us that circumstanced existentialities were instrumented as a means, that is functionalized, by some physical process, i.e. the cosmological-biospheric evolution, which in turn was functionalized to afford responsibility to some finite semoviences.
The fact of having been circumstanced to evolutionarily developed anatomophysiological means for realizing the situation, entails the mentioned responsibility.
A constitutive but – because finding oneself living in such circumstances is itself a non-chosen surprise – a non-compulsive responsibility that, as well as the enrichment of their ontic consistency acquired with the utilization of their freedom, does not depend on their continuing availing, or on their being bereft, of brain-provided noematic updates.
Sense (meaning) is what is at stake in a time-processes-including reality not originating from necessity but also setting, with being, axiological value.

This is so because the non-entitative, unoriginated portion of reality is not forced to set this value under any necessity that would spoil its freedom." (crocco, Palindrome).

July 13, 2007 2:41 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Here's a link to Palindrome.

That last snippet went right past me. I'll read the whole thing and blog it sometime.

July 14, 2007 10:21 AM  

Post a Comment

Fido the Yak front page