KNOWLEDGE IN THE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE OF COMING-TO-BE AND PASSING-AWAY.
So far there have been many attempts at locating knowledge in historical perspective since Hegel's Phenomenology. Nietzsche, Marx, Mannheim, Heidegger, Kuhn, Foucault, Bloor and Latour are the prominent names who tackled with the problem. It is also remarkable to note that any such attempt at understanding knowledge as a historical phenomenon necessarily leads to locate it in a social context as well. Historicizing goes hand in hand with sociologizing, hence unavoidable rise of sociology of knowledge. This paper aims to try to develop a basis upon which the problem of knowledge can be seen in a broader historical and social context with the help of the Aristotelian notion of coming-to-be (genesis) and passing-away (phthora). It is hoped that by this way some light can be shed on the shortcomings of the previous approaches to the historical question of knowledge and a better perspective can be gained in assessing the character of knowledge in the contemporary historical juncture.
In the history of Western thinking it was primarily Hegel, and then Heidegger who attempted to approach the problem of the historical character of knowing. Hegel thought of Spirit as an encompassing ground in whose history of development human beings and human understanding were just moments. In Phenomenology (1977, orig. pub. 1807), he gives consciousness, self-consciousness, reason and finally Spirit as the successive phases of the history of the development and as such his perspective develops the modern framework in which modern thinking of history is formed and remains. His notion of history was based upon one single subject, Spirit, and owing to the singularity of his Spirit, Hegel was able to assert the unity, and hence, the history of being in the form of a dialectical continuity. But, it had the strange peculiarity of asserting the qualitatively different determinations, or materializations of Spirit corresponding to these stages which primarily came about as the results of the internal dialectic of Spirit itself. Roughly speaking, Spirit becomes inanimate nature in sense-certainty, animate nature in perception and, universal human ego in understanding (consciousness), individual human in self-consciousness, society in reason, and finally, the state (presumably Prussian) in the Absolute (Spirit as in and for itself). The peculiarity of such a thinking is that with each new phase of Spirit there comes-to-be a new entity which was not there and which functions in that phase of Spirit as the ground (hypokeimenon) upon which everything coming-to-be (acquiring historical determination/Bestimmung) appears. And in each new phase of Spirit its previous embodiment does not necessarily disappear but becomes determined within this new ground which also gives it a new meaning, making it something different other than itself.
Similarly, in his 1938 lecture "The Age of the World Picture" (1977) where the centrality of Da-sein still dominates the argument in connection with the question of Being, Heidegger takes the theme of the 'history of Being' on the ground of metaphysics and divides that history into two major phases the last of which is further divided in some of his writings into two, or in some others into three sub-phases. According to him, what he calls as the inception (der Anfang) of Western thinking constitutes the first phase that starts with the pre-Socratics and lasts up to Plato (or in later texts, up to Socrates himself) specifying a period where Being has been claiming Da-sein as well as all the beings (die Seiende), and thus, letting the thinking of Being possible. But starting with Socrates (or Plato) the whole period up to now, that is, according to Heidegger, the whole history of modernity, is marked by the forgetfulness (lethe) of Being where Being withdraws and abandons Da-sein that sinks into the world of beings and thought loses itself amidst them. This theme, within the discussion of the 'history of being' was to dominate Heidegger's thinking during the late 1930s while the world was gradually drawn to the catastrophic World War II. Just to give a few examples one only needs to mention some posthumously published works written in these years: in 1936 he writes Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event) (2012), in 1938-39 Mindfulness (2008), in 1938-1940 The History of Beyng (2015), and in 1941 The Event (2013) and the lecture series Basic Concepts (1993). In The Age of World Picture (1977, 121-122) Heidegger divides this later phase into two sub-phases as the Medieval Christian era and the following modern era. The interesting point in this periodization, however (forgetting its serious problems for the time being) is that each era has been differentiated from each other with a specific ground (hypokeimenon) of its own. If the time of inception was marked by phusis, the Medieval Age was grounded by God, and our modern age unfolds on the human being as its ground.
As at each age these different grounds function as the conditions of possibility of entities coming-to-be and passing-away, the forms of knowledge emerging in these different ages are also different. At the age of inception during the time of the pre-Socratics (and, here, perhaps up to Plato and Aristotle) where phusis predominates as the ground, philosophy and episteme develop as the higher forms of knowledge. Then, with the rise of Christianity God comes to be the new hypokeimenon upon which medieval doctrina and scientia have been formed. And finally, modernity is marked as the replacement of God by the human beings who have assumed the hypokeimenon onto themselves with its corresponding form of higher knowledge as science. Therefore, these three consecutive forms of knowledge cannot be considered as the result of the cumulative accumulation of human knowledge for each occurs on a different ground (phusis, God and human being as different hypokeimena) in which, when they are not the ground, human beings just partake to form their human knowledge. Episteme can be considered as that knowledge falling to the lot of human beings existing on the ground of phusis, scientia and doctrina as human knowledge formed on the ground of God (human partaking in the knowledge of God), and finally, modern science as human knowledge aiming exactitude, if not the absolute, because since modernity on, according to Heidegger, it is human being now occupying the place of the ground.
Apart from the validity of these claims, however, as it was in the case of Hegel's thought, what is interesting in Heidegger's thinking is neither the stages themselves nor the elaboration of the question of the passage from one stage to another, but rather the emphasis laid upon the transformation of the ground. Or, perhaps better said, what is at stake here is once again the coming-to-be of that entity of gathering ground (hypokeimenon) upon which other entities show themselves. Of course, seen from the perspective of Spirit, Hegelian approach suffers from the supposition of the existence of one and the same entity undergoing progressive transformations. Likewise, Heidegger's thinking is based on the similar ungrounded presupposition of the One (hen in Greek) which for Kant was just there due to the 'unifying power of the concept' and could not be supported by any possible experience. Moreover, Heidegger seems even more hesitant than Hegel to give up the human Da-sein as the destinful shepherd of being occupying the center place of the analysis. Indeed, from the 1927 Being and Time (2001) to the 1938 article "The Age of the World Picture" Da-sein remains as that specific entity having the monopoly of existence in his hands and letting being to disclose itself in that truth (aletheia) which is nothing other than that opening that is Dasein with its concern. Yet, in that 1938 article Heidegger assumes a new and rather critical attitude toward that centrality of Dasein. Now, taken in the modern context, Dasein is identified as the new modern ground of existence who, in his forgetfulness of Being, erects the world before himself as an objectified (gegenstandlich) picture while posing as the sole subject (yet another rendering of hypokeimenon or Latin sub-iectum). For him, modern science is but the result of this objectification of the world in the hands of the human being functioning as the modern ground that suffers from the forgetfulness of Being and gets lost amongst beings. Eleven years later, however, in his lecture in 1949 entitled "The Question Concerning Technology" (1977) Heidegger points at a different direction. Here, Heidegger's main concern is rather the loss of the ground on the part of the human being as hypokeimenon and its replacement by technology whose essence, in that (new?) age of Being's abandoning of beings and Da-sein (Heidegger 2015, esp. Koinon section), is en-framing (Gestell) which brings about the serious danger of putting everything, including human beings, in a 'standing-reserve.' And again, what concerns us here primarily is that characterization of the ground, or rather grounds, which in their historical coming-to-be and passing-away, make entities be different, appear different in the historically specific constellation of their coming together.
Without tackling much with the problems of Eurocentrism, faith in the unity, obsession with overcoming of metaphysics, and yet metaphysical 'history of Beyng' as well as the still anthropomorphic reading of this history (let alone its romanticism), the Heideggerian approach still has the merit of showing the enormity of the shift of the gathering-ground which far exceeds the limits of the well-known approaches to the historical questioning of knowledge as they can be exemplified by Kuhn's (1996, orig. pub. 1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Foucault's (2005, orig. pub. 1966) The Order of Things. Kuhn's work was primarily located at the intersection of the problems posed by the 'history of science' tradition on the one hand, and the discussions of the 'logic of scientific discovery,' on the other. Its main theme was centered on the question of the 'accumulative character' of scientific knowledge and aimed at overcoming this difficulty by pointing at the historic 'paradigm' changes. But his work was still limited in its unquestioned presupposition of the continuity of science in which the shifting paradigms seemed cumulating (from the depths of history) towards our contemporary, modern science. From another perspective, Michel Foucault, in his 1966 book The Order of Things was to go much further than Kuhn and develop a certain concept of 'episteme' which helped him to put the rise and fall of certain knowledge practices and discourses in their historical context with a special emphasis on the notion of 'break' or 'discontinuity' implying that formation of an episteme is not the result of the accumulation of knowledge acquired in an earlier episteme. According to Foucault, episteme was a systematic formation regulating the production of knowledges and pertained more to the order of things in a historical period rather than to the consciousness of the practitioners of knowledge in that period (Foucault 2005, xiii-xiv). This meant that in 1966 Foucault was able to see the importance of the ground ("things themselves that are capable of being ordered") as the 'historical a priori' of any possible knowledge at a given period in its history, and distinguish it from the fundamental codes of culture that establish "for everyman, from the very first, the empirical orders" as well as from the reflexive knowledge of "the scientific theories or the philosophical interpretations" as something anterior to them (Foucault 2005, xii). Yet, the ambiguity of the relationship between 'the order of things' on the one hand and episteme as a term primarily referring to hidden rules regulating knowledge apparently led to a confusion as to the question of how these two are related and forced Foucault to see them as identical. Therefore, Foucault was to assume that the episteme pertaining to different periods in history had the same status in its relation (of its sameness) with what he called 'the order of things,' and thus, forced him to establish the continuity of one single human episteme as the whole ground of knowledge whose history is divided into different phases despite his good intentions to emphasize 'discontinuity' rather than continuity in history.
Overcoming above mentioned difficulties involves seeing knowledge as continuous, on the one hand, as it is human knowledge that we are trying to analyze from the beginning to the end, for, after all, we name it knowledge throughout all this time. But on the other hand, it also requires locating it (both the human being and its knowledge) on a history of grounds that are not total and cannot be seen as the sequential determinations of the same thing like Hegel's Spirit, Heidegger's Being, or the One, or even like the singular 'order of things' as Foucault suggested. It appears that to be able to open up such a perspective in looking at the question of knowledge that may overcome these limitations the Aristotelian understanding of the process of coming-to-be and passing-away will provide a better framework.
In Peri Geneseos kai Phthoras (On Coming-to-be and Passing-away) Aristotle (2002) raises the question of the possibility of coming-to-be and passing-away as a process that should be understood as categorically different from the other processes of change, viz. alteration, growth and locomotion. Aristotle (2002, 8, 317a20) explains this qualitative difference between coming-to-be and passing-away from other types of change as follows: "Coming to be and ceasing to be simpliciter occur, not in virtue of aggregation and segregation [of the same, and therefore acquiring or losing an accidental predicate], but when something changes from this to that as a whole. These people [monists] think that all such change is alteration, but there is in fact a distinction. For within the substratum [hypokeimenon, the register, ground upon which an affect shows itself as difference] there is something which corresponds to the definition [a defining predicate] and something which corresponds to the matter [hyle]". [Brackets are mine, EY]
Furthermore, in this text (1955, 187, 317b15) it appears it is possible to think of unqualified (haplos) coming-to-be and passing away as coming-to-be out of nothing and passing-away into nothing in two senses. The first of which is about the question of coming-to-be of a particular this from its not-being that particular this, while the other is about the more grave question of coming-to-be out of nothing (not-being at all) in general. According to him, it is the first sense that we can think about 'unqualified (haplos) coming-to-be this out of not-being this, otherwise it does not mean a coming-to-be out of not-being in general, because for him this appears to be impossible. And in this first sense 'unqualified' coming-to-be must be seen as a contemporaneous process of coming-to-be and passing-away of a this taking place amidst other processes of coming-to-be and passing-away producing and destroying those at the same time in the 'eternal return of becoming' (Aristotle 1955, 199, 319a25). Therefore, it cannot be seen as an isolated process but takes place always in relation to and within the context of all the other processes of coming-to-be and passing away. It is in this process there emerges the possibility of effecting and being affected through the formation of a substratum (hypokeimenon) which Aristotle identifies as matter (hyle) itself by saying that "Matter, in the chief and strictest sense of the world, is the substratum which admits of coming-to-be and passing-away" (Aristotle 1955, 203, 320a).
This material character of the substratum makes it the subject of the process of coming-to-be and passing-away while at the same time stripping both the substratum and matter from any stand-alone, self-standing and permanent substantial existence and defining it as something which is in the process of coming-to-be a this or that each time displaying a different materiality. And the importance attributed to sensation (aesthesis, Aristotle 1955, 201, 319b15) (of course, with all its varying degrees), indeed, as the mark of coming-to-be and passing-away of the substratum (hypokeimenon) as this points at the major role played by the couple of poiesis (action) and pathos (affection, irritation) in the whole process. For, all sensation can only be possible if there is a ground (hypokeimenon) of sensibility capable of effecting other grounds as well as being affected by them--that is why this process cannot take place in isolation--and registering these affects as the new components of the previous ground, regardless of how simple that can be, it still involves a knowing at the same time. Furthermore, it must be stated that what is called ground (hypokeimenon) in relation to the affects (pathe) that show themselves in it and are registered there, and ultimately to the particular these that appear on it as identifiable entities (ousian) owing to the itineration of the similar and connected affects as to constitute a certain but never complete unity (out of habit, ethos), stands as a (again incomplete, partial) this (entity, ousia) in relation to other grounds (hypokeimena), and perhaps, to another ground (hypokeimenon) in which it finds itself and upon which it shows itself.
If we push the Aristotelian arguments without trying to be completely loyal to him, in relation to the question of knowing it will be seen that what we call knowing becomes the recording (which already involves an awareness, however tiny it may be) of these interplay of differences--pathe, first quantitative, and then immediately qualitative (Deleuze 1986, 42-44) within the formation of the recording register where the ground as a sensible and sensing, and therefore knowable and knowing entity consisted of its own specific matter which may not necessarily be homogeneous and actualizing itself in this relational process of acting (poiein) and getting affected (paschein). Of course, this process of acting (effecting, poiein) and being acted upon (getting affected, paschein) which together produce all the materiality that there is cannot be separated from each other and must be thought as the aspects of the same process seen from different perspectives which are brought about by the generation of acting and affected entities (hypokeimenon-hyle-ousia). It must also be added that this recording register as substratum (hypokeimenon) remains entrapped from the very beginning of its coming-to-be within the process of forming and re-forming, and therefore, at the same time, within the very process of its own de-forming (passing-away) where the entity may or may not develop an internal differentiation of its parts (organs). However, if such a differentiation of the organs will ever take place, these organs may acquire some specific qualities of their own, possibly differentiating themselves into a sensible body and an awoken consciousness, though this is not necessary. For such a differentiation occurs as a result of the interaction of the entity, here taken as a register or ground (hypokeimenon) with other entities in the overall interconnectedness of the processes of coming-to-be, in the interplay of differences taken place in the vicinity. In this ongoing process neither the forming of the entity nor its diversification into specific organs cannot be taken as complete, but rather must be seen as incomplete and partial (approximately and for the most part).
In this process certain segments of the register ('gathering ground', hypokeimenon) may assume differential characteristics which may be seen as the process through which it acquires or develops organs with more or less differentiated qualities but still determined within the (incomplete) unity of the register, therefore seen as its parts. Thus, the entity as register which is itself something emergent (that is, assuming a definite form in its own process of coming-to-be), and therefore devoid of any substantial (in-itself) existence of its own and being a product of the interplay of differences, is always in relations with other entities (which, themselves are forming in their processes of coming-to-be and passing-away) where new forces (actions and counter-actions) are produced and recorded on it as affects (pathe) whose values can only be ascertained in relation to other differences which are already recorded, and thus, functioning as the ground of sensibility. For, a register (ground, hypokeimenon) in its relation of priority to the newly emerging affect is, indeed, nothing other than the historical a priori co-existence of these previous affects recorded. In this context, knowing simply becomes that difference of a record (affect as it is recorded) from the other records on the same register which may be found in quite simple series of differences, or simultaneously, in highly complex systems. The very marking of an affect as different from the others, or, its being recorded as this affect among other affects (differences) already implies, however simple could it be, a knowing of this as different from those. The repetition of the apparently same affect does not cancel out the recording of the difference between the earlier and later occurrence even if that difference may be nothing else than a temporal one which involves an awareness of the itineration of the like. However, it should be emphasized in passing that it is through the repetition of the like (but never the same) understood as the habit (ethos) forming activity, the register (ground, hypokeimenon) gathers itself and holds there sway for a while, while differentiating itself into parts up to this or that degree at the same time. Again, since itineration of the like in the repetition can never re-produce the same, the forming habit (ethos) can never display any completeness, thus always displaying a subversion however slight it may be and therefore keeping the possibility of transformation, and coming-to-be and passing-away open.
In its most general sense, therefore, knowing can be seen as this activity of relating-recording of a difference (an affect, pathos) in that never complete system of the register (entity) in its historicity. In this sense, knowing traverses the whole field of awareness which is the register itself as this entity even before the entity begins to differentiate into organs such as sensibility (body) and intelligibility (soul, mind or consciousness), for knowing is already a knowing as the marking of a that (difference, affect, pathos) in the form of an experience on that which is a this as ground, register and entity at the same time in its differentiated, yet incomplete unity which is something material (hyle), corporeal. Again, hyle, matter, materiality or corporeality must not be understood in terms of a given, substantial (in-itself) existence, but rather in terms of materialization ('mattering') of something which was not there before this double process of acting and being affected (poiein kai paschein). Kant (2000, 421) was well aware of it, when he described matter as "not a thing in itself at all, but only a species of representations in us," 'us' being here understood as the ground where knowing occurs. In that general sense, knowing, therefore, can be attributed to any entity whatsoever that is, in and through interaction, in the process of coming-to-be and passing-away.
However, at this level of generality, the concept (of knowing) does not say much. Hence, there is the need to specify and classify knowledge. Yet, a classification which hopes to cover all knowledge pertaining to every kind of entity would be impossible (and unnecessary), if not for anything else for the sole reason that the 'we' who attempts such a classification is not everything, but rather a socio-historical entity, an ambiguous group of human beings living at a certain age under certain social circumstances. Therefore, all 'we' can speak of knowing must necessarily need to be grounded on what we are as we are that 'hypokeimenon' upon which a certain form of knowledge becomes possible. As Kant (2000, 418) puts it beautifully: "It is obvious that if one wants to represent a thinking being, one must put oneself in its place, and thus substitute one's own subject for the object one wants to consider (...)" Yet, within the Western tradition of thinking, aiming at high, at the absolute knowing, knowing is generally conceived as something species specific to rational beings as God (or gods and His angels) and human beings are thought to be capable of knowing as much as they 'partake' in (or are created 'in the image of...') the divine. Ancients saw knowledge as a peculiarly human destiny and since then not much has changed. Plato has set the model by locating the possibility of knowing (for human beings) on the soul's kinship with Gods, and by aspiring to know 'like gods' (Hermann 2004). This basic model had been incorporated into religions when faith predominated the human perspective and when Enlightenment and modernity arrived it was kept largely intact with some slight modifications. For example, when Kant decided that human reason and consciousness is something given to humanity as species specific being by nature (Kant 2006, 5-6)-and behind that nature there still lurked the divine (If a short look would not be enough to see it in Kant's second and third critique, maybe a look at his lectures on ethics as well as his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (2002) will suffice. Even Heidegger conceived it as something peculiarly human basing the care of his Dasein, and thus its existence, on a primordial knowing and making this Dasein the destinful shepherd of being. Therefore, if Kant's observation will really be taken seriously, it can be concluded that every time we attempt to arrive at an understanding of what a knowing can be for any (rational or irrational) entity, what we are actually doing cannot go any further than substituting our "own subject for the object" we want to consider. Consequently, such an effort of imagining how knowing would be in the case of other beings would be in vain and unnecessary for it would not add anything to our understanding of knowing which would in each and every case be our knowing.
Despite the unavoidable usage of the third personal pronoun in the plural first person pronouns like 'we', 'ours' or 'us', the ambiguity of the terms still stands. For, in such a context the usual inclination is to understand it as 'humanity' which appears to be rather an empty concept, especially in matters related with knowing. Even if we suppose that biologically (with the exception of certain defects) all human beings are naturally (Kant) endowed with the same apparatus of knowing, they do not stand even in similar relations with knowledge. Further, if Hegel was right, the logical structure of this 'natural' apparatus will be different under different sets of experiences that human groups undergo. Therefore, the meaning of this personal pronoun appears to oscillate between those who are equipped to discuss (not necessarily adopt) the views expressed here and 'humanity as a whole', in between dwelling for a while upon any possible groupings which may not necessarily composed only of human beings. Say, for example, when the head of a corporation says 'we'.
But our knowing does not take place solely on a ground (hypokeimenon) that is what we are which is itself in the historical process of its coming-to-be and passing-away and the historicity of this ground should be conceived in its relations with other entities that show themselves on it as well as with other grounds that coexist with it in a multiplicity of contexts. On the one hand, this means that the organs of the ground that we are, that is our sensibility, understanding, etc., and their receptivity are affected by the effects exerted on it through production of habits (ethos) and sensitivities. On the other hand, this also means that the intricate relations of the ground that we are with other grounds surrounding, crisscrossing, intermixing and encompassing it all do have their impact on it. Especially, the last one, the encompassing ground (if there is any, it cannot be a total, all encompassing ground) can be thought as the larger ground upon which the ground that we are shows itself as an entity (ousia), as this human being (or as this group of human beings) among other entities. This thinking of an encompassing ground finds its expression in the thinking of becoming as something historical, here the historical being in the sense of thinking the process of coming-to-be and passing-away of an entity in relation with the other perceivable (from the point of view of that ground/entity that we are) grounds and entities.
Therefore, to be able to understand the contemporary problematization of knowledge one has to take into account the question of the ground (hypokeimenon) which had already begun to be marked, perhaps misleadingly, as 'technology' since the turn of the 20th century. It was first Weber who saw the technological character of the new age by emphasizing the transformation from value rationality to instrumental rationality (Weber 1978, 25-26, 2005, 123) and others followed the suit (for ex. Heidegger 1977 and Lyotard 1979). But they failed to see the ground upon which technology as the visible symptom of the times came to the foreground. For technology stands for efficiency and efficiency operates within the framework of profit maximization according to which everything showing itself acquires it value and significance under capitalism. Now, it seems it is no longer human beings functioning as the subjects (hypokeimenon) of knowledge and being as it was in the time of modernity, but rather capital gathering being upon itself as the new hypokeimenon and as the new god of the times (since it remains transcendent to human existence) allotting everything its due including humanity. In such a period it is not surprising that human knowledge would find its possibility as long and as much as it relates itself with capital as the phenomenon of 'commodification of knowledge' testifies.
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|Publication:||Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2018|
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