March 10th, 2011

S.C. Hickman

A Grammar of Ontologies: Unlocking the Infrastructure of the World

The Infrastructure of the WorldHeidegger in Being and Time once said: "Metontology is possible only on the basis and in the perspective of the radical ontological problematic and is possible conjointly with it. Precisely the radicalization of fundamental ontology brings about the above-mentioned overturning of ontology out of its very self. What we seemingly separate here, by means of "disciplines," and provide with labels is actually one-just as the ontological difference is one, or the primal phenomenon of human existence! To think being as the being of beings and to conceive the being problem radically and universally means, at the same time, to make beings thematic in their totality in the light of ontology." (Being and Time, p.157) What if what we need is a Grammar of Ontologies, rather than a singular ontology: a meta- ontology of all particular varieties? This collection or grammar of ontological statements could be used to describe any other ontology – whether your dominant or preferred view is physical, spatial, temporal, material, process, functional, people, mental, conceptual or whatever. The collection – the URIdentified, referencable superset – is all that is needed.
Temporality is at the heart of the Object-Oriented philosophical project. If we reverse engineer ontology we get a metontology: a metaphysics of existence within which one can raise questions of ethics. What Heidegger once called a fundamental ontology, which he divided into two parts: the analytic of Dasein, and the analytic of temporalitas. [5] As Harman tells us "If developed, it would be nothing less than a thorough ontology of the metabole, the Umschlag or turnabout between a being's infrastructural depth and its sparkling exterior contours. This must be done concretely, and not just once-for-all as Heidegger does it. Unless and until this happens, most of his specific terms will remain nothing more than distracting literary figures for a single recurring dualism of light and shadow" (TB: v). [1]

One of the things that Heidegger performed, and the French deconstructionists tried to do after him, was to destroy (deconstruct) ontology from within, and by that I mean that the idea of presence as our sole concept of Being's habitation needed to be displaced, deconstructed, destroyed: the issue of Time as kairos instead of chronos (chronological time) - the threefold of past, present, future replaced the concept of presence. As Harman relates it, Heidegger wanted to destroy ontology as it had come down to us from the Greeks and "expose its inner structural skeleton" (HE, 59). Heidegger knew that this would not be an easy task, and that it would probably take countless generations of philosophers to perform such a feat; yet, with Being and Time he felt that he'd performed a new beginning for ontology by setting just such a task. To begin such a task we must remember that Being as conceived by Heidegger in his concept of Dasein is a 'who' not a 'what', and that it is an event, action, or performance that cannot be described from some outside vantage point(i.e., Being or beings cannot be reduced to its/their features, properties, or qualities as viewed from the outside by either a Transcendental observer or a discrete entity or consciousness ). Beings or objects are always already absorbed in the worldhood of the world: enmeshed in its infrastructure or environment, woven together and "fused within a colossal web of meaning in which everything refers to everything else" (HE, 63). What is being devalued in this ontological perspective is knowledge and consciousness as a special view onto this realm within which we are all, along with other objects, entities, or things enmeshed like bugs in a venus fly-trap.

[Addendum: I am in the midst of revising this essay. Below is but a subsection that will be removed into another blog post as a separate issue. I am in the midst of rethinking many issues surrounding the traditions of ontology that emerged out of its modern manifestations within the work of Brenatano, Pierce, and Frege and their many progeny within both the Analytic and Continental camps. So much to do. So little time. But somehow in my mind all of this will be connected back to the underlying currents that face opposing camps within both the Analytic and Continenatl camps. Not an easy task, and one that might take a long while... a lifetime perhaps. Yet, for the moment, one must define and delimit the territory, understand the questions, raise the issues in a form that will allow the opposing views to be displayed in a way that sets them to work on the major problems facing us in regards to this strange speculative philosophy I've found myself to be both an observer and participant.]

1. Graham Harman, Tool-Being: Elements in a Theory of Objects (TB) ( 1999 UMI Company)  
2. Graham Harman, Heidegger Explained (Open Court: Caruse Publishing Company 2007)
3. The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman, editors ( Melbourne 2011)
4. Iain Hamilton Grant, Schellingianism & Postmodernity: Towards a Materialist Naturphilosophie (Philosophy and Culture )
5. Jean Grondin, Sources of Hermenutics (State University of New York 1995)