April 26, 2005

Substance is not one

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Infinite Thought responds to my call for a 'naturalistic religion'. This seems like a classic case of something that should be 'taken to Dissensus', but for now:

1. There are different senses of naturalism, but some of then CAN be equated with materialism. The point of the Spinozist insistence on Nature is to deny any space for theism by radically refusing any possibility of the supernatural. Contra Plantinga's 'weaselism', I would say that science does commit one to this kind of naturalism. But to say that God is Nature is not to suggest that there is a determining (i.e. Personal) entity which is Nature; that would be to re-introduce transcendence.

2. Lacan's and Zizek's anti-naturalism might be better construed as an anti-naturalization: i.e. surely they are naturalistic in the sense that they refuse the supernatural, but at the same time they want to deny that the particular semiotic regime arising from a particular take on human physiology is 'natural' as in (1) inevitable and (2) ethically and epistemologically 'correct'. But the very point of Spinoza's naturalism (contra Aquinas' supernaturalism) is that nothing is more natural than anything else. In fact, it is only via Spinozistic naturalism that the word 'natural' can be evacuated of any possible sense: natural as opposed to what?

3. To be clear, then: the naturalism I call for is to be understood in two ways (1) as a total refusal of the supernatural and (2) an assertion of determinism. Again, though, it has to be made clear that there is no Nature which causes anything: rather Nature is the network of causes and effects that will have been the case.

4. Badiou's attack on Spinoza. I may be misunderstanding this, but it seems to rest on a conflation of two claims: 'there is only one substance' and 'substance is One'. Spinozist monism differs from Neo-Platonist accounts of God by refusing the second claim, which again would involve making a space for transcendence. The claim that there is nothing outside or apart from Nature doesn't entail any commitment to the view there is a quality, 'oneness', which Nature possesses. On the contrary, in fact. Subtracting transcendence and denying the supernatural is precisely a subtraction of the 1 (n-1): it leads to the zero of the body without organs, not the One of the body with organ.

5. The claim that 'Thought is radically disjunct from any naturalistic account thereof' is susceptible to many interpretations (in part because of the ambiguities in the meaning of 'naturalism', as gestured to above) but I can't come up with one that isn't crypto-idealist. The over-rating of the importance of thought (as opposed to practice) in Badiou, the flirtation with the idea that thought is somehow independent of any material substrate (what IS his philosophy of mind any how?) seem to me vices of Badiou's philosophy, not strengths. The attack on Spinoza's 'closed ontology' stems from a similar weakness in my view, but this time it is Badiou's voluntarism and crypto-phenomeonology that is the problem. What seems to be being refused here is Spinoza's distinction between how things are 'under the aspect of eternity' and how they appear in lived duration. Badiou is no friend of lived duration, but it is only at this level, it seems to me, that there can be anything that looks like 'breaks' or disjunctions.

6. The idea that religion is always about meaning is question-begging. Of course, I would want to make an opposing claim: any refusal of monism is effectively an advocacy of theism. The only way to destroy theism is to reject all forms of transcendence, personalism, and dualism. Thus Theism might always be about meaning, but what religion would look like if monism were asserted AGAINST theism is an open question.

Posted by mark at April 26, 2005 10:01 AM | TrackBack