Monday, 17 September 2012


Dark Chemistry writes to Levi Bryant:
“Ontology has value insofar as it is difficult to form being in the way we aim for if we do not have a knowledge of what being is and what entities are active in assemblages.” When you use the term ‘knowledge’ is this actually an admission of a need for some interaction with an epistemological perspective onto ontology? And, if so, then wouldn’t there be a need to see epistemology and ontology as reinforcing each other than as divisive enemies vying over territorial jurisdictions? I mean, it seems that there is a need to formulate some form of dialectical interplay between the two domains of epistemology and ontology, which even for Aristotle was a not seen as a problem since in his systematic thinking he formulated both an ontology and epistemology.
I know it wasn't addressed at me but I'm going to think this question through from a realist perspective, for whatever it's worth!  (My brain started whirring and I had to write it down before I forgot it, so I thought that I might as well post it now.)

If 'ontology' names the practice of providing *accounts* of being then it does not name being itself.  Therefore, ontologies are items of knowledge.  Since all knowledge is known by someone and all knowers are finite then there are practical preconditions for and limitations on all knowledge, including ontology.  If 'epistemology' names the practice of providing accounts of the preconditions for and limitations to knowledge then ontology can, of course, be analysed epistemologically.

This does not, however, make epistemology a *precondition* of ontology.  You can produce ontological accounts without having first produced epistemological ones -- you can make claims about what is without first laying out the epistemic preconditions for your claims.

Ontologies qua items of knowledge presuppose finite knowers and, consequently, conditions for and limitations to knowing.  But such conditions and limitations on knowing are not epistemology itself, they are its object.  Ontology presupposes the conditions and limitations studied by epistemology but not epistemology itself.

Therefore, ontology does not *need* epistemology.  You can have ontologies without epistemologies (and vice versa).  Ontology owes nothing to epistemology.  Its first, foremost concern is being.  It's primary duty is that of providing accounts of being.  Epistemology is not even a secondary concern, it is separate concern entirely.

Whether or not you choose to ally ontology and epistemology or set them at each others' throats is entirely up to you.  There is no strict need for a dialectical relation between the two.

The main reason to ally your ontology with an epistemology is in order to make the latter, as Latour would say, a political epistemology.  Epistemologies are generally devices meant to convince people of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of certain ways of knowing.  To addend an epistemology to an ontology is to go one step beyond making claims with respect to what is and saying, additionally, why it is that you're right and why people should agree with you.

So, yes, they can reinforce each other but they needn't do so.  They bear each other no a priori commitments -- no arranged marriages!


  1. Yea, I appreciate the input on that... I guess my main concern has been why there seems to be so much animosity within the epistemological community toward Levi and his materialist or machinic ontology... Just seems that both domains have their place in philosophy, and as you say, and I agree, the do not need to meet. Yet, many in the blogging community seem to think otherwise... many are forcibly in need of proving that one or the other should rule the day so to speak.

    This has always seemed to lead to erroneous in thinking...

    Nice blog... I'll have to add you to my blogroll and spend some time here.. thanks!

  2. Hey, thanks for the kind words!

    One place that the antagonism tends to come from, I think, is the move that Bhaskar, for instance, makes where he says that ontology is logically prior to epistemology because epistemology must presuppose a particular structure to the world in order to know what is knowable. Epistemologists reply: but you must have some epistemology in order to know that, therefore epistemology comes before ontology.

    Everyone wants to be doing 'first philosophy' -- the most important, most fundamental, most foundational. Everyone wants to be the gatekeeper to everyone else's own thought, it seems. I think if you separate out the -ologies into separate and only potentially complimentary discourses then much of that arrogance and resulting flimflam is precluded.

    Another reason for the antagonism is that some people take ontology to be kind of a dirty word. They take 'X is Y' to be not just a claim that's open for discussion but a dogmatic claim -- a forceful closure of the debate -- semantic violence, as the Derrideans might put it.

    I think that's just a load of old rubbish. People on the whole are smart enough not to believe everything they're told -- *especially* when it concerns abstract philosophical claims!

  3. Yea.. I just wish that people would actually study in depth the individuals they try to critque... I've always tried to keep critque out of my web blog and just show forth the actual views of the author in question. Critque has its place: in the peer based review journals, where it is expected to be of higher standards. One can learn from opposin views, but malice and cynical jibes will never produce knowledge.

    Well, going to spend a little time reading through some of your back logs.... take care!