Readers may be curious why I have couched the concept dark matter, which is an avowedly ontological concept (or rather, a non-ontological or anontological concept), in such blatantly epistemological language – judgment, determinability, the ‘unknown unknown’, et cetera. Am I simply referring to a version of the Kantian indeterminate object = x, and so on?
I’ll answer in two ways: the first a short, too easy answer, and the second one that gets at my basic concern or contention with ‘object-oriented philosophy’, and with (philosophical) ontology in general.
The short answer is that I intend this talk of judgment and determinability not in the narrow sense of human cognition, but more broadly as shorthand for inter-object relations. So dark matter is akin to the Kantian x, but only for the kind of ‘Kantianism of objects’ that Graham has championed. An existential judgment, in this sense, need not involve cognition, but only some kind of inter-object interaction or relation.
In order for a given object to relate to or interact with another, that other object must exist in some capacity or degree, even if we grant that this capacity is null before said interaction. So a ‘judgment’ that a thing exists or exists in such-and-such a degree is made not simply by humans, but also by other objects: a leaf ‘judges’ sunlight to exist when it absorbs it via photosynthesis, et cetera.
This of course makes dark matter as a hypothetical object difficult to pin down: can objects really form hypotheses about other objects that ‘may or may not exist’? This is my point however. Dark matter as unspecified can neither be said to interact with objects, and hence to be deemed existent through these interactions; nor can it be said to not interact with objects, and hence be non-existent in view of said interactions. The point is not simply that we do not know if dark matter has relations; the point is that the objects don’t ‘know’ either. Dark matter is akin to the neutrino, passing right through objects without any registration by the latter. Hence, judgment cannot be passed.
The second answer leads me back to a contention I had earlier raised with object-oriented philosophy, namely, why should we assume that the real as it exists apart from human beings has an objectal form? Why is the Real made up of objects? Graham rejected this criticism by claiming that such skepticism regarding objectality leads us either to anti-realism of some sort, or to posit the real as made up of an indivisible ‘formless lump’ onto which humans impose individual objectality, or of a pre-individual field of intensive variations that ‘crystallize’ into actual objects.
Whatever the value of these realist alternatives to object-realism, this nonetheless missed my point. I am no more trying to restrict humanity from any possible knowledge of the Real than I am trying to offer an alternative picture of it. My point is that all of these options – the reality of individual objects, of a formless unity, of an intensive spatium, or of noumena as unknowable but thinkable – simultaneously posit the Real as separate from thought, and nonetheless bind it to a given conceptual articulation.
Objectality, unity, intensity, unknowability – these are all concepts. If we are to hold to the rejection of correlationism characteristic of Speculative Realism, we must altogether abandon images of the Real that bind it to a concept, and instead posit that the Real is already given without concept. Philosophy cannot determine the mode of existence of the Real as it is apart from thought, because existence itself is still a determination of thought, through the concept. Non-philosophy properly begins by accepting this essential limitation of philosophy, and instead claiming that it is not thought that may (or may not) determine the Real, it is the Real that determines thought (in-the-last-instance).
So when Levi says:
The minimal condition for whether or not a philosophy counts as “realist” can be found in what that philosopher thinks can be said of a world in which all humans and rational animals have ceased to exist. Here the dividing line is not between whether or not the philosopher holds that a world independent of humans exists, but rather whether or not certain entities known by humans would exist as they exist even if humans did not exist…
he nonetheless betrays that for his onticology, the Real itself is amenable to concepts, to human thought. Even if the world is indifferent to its ‘being thought’ by humans at any given time, it is nonetheless still essentially bound to conceptual determinability.
My point here is not that the Real would fundamentally change if thought were to vanish, nor that the Real exists in some unthinkable form beyond thought. The thought of objects is not some ‘mere appearance’ of a greater Reality. My point is that the Real is neither genuinely thinkable nor unthinkable, but foreclosed to thought; it cannot be contained by either concept (thinkable or unthinkable), but eludes this decisional dyad. Both thinkability and unthinkability are modes of givenness, positing the Real as given in one or another concept. But for non-philosophy, the Real is already given-without-givenness; it is indifferent to either concept.
It is in this sense that anontology is a non-conceptual or non-philosophical realism. It is a realism that claims not that objects without humans would continue to exist as they did for humans, nor the contrary; ‘object’ and ‘existence’ are both conceptual determinations, but the Real is already given without such conceptual determinations.
I realize I might sound like a bit of a broken record, so let me sharpen my critical distance from Levi’s realism. For him, objects exist, and we may have access to the way objects exist, but this access does not determine said mode of existence. My claim is that both ‘object’ and ‘existence’ are themselves determinations of thought that posit the Real as given in such a way. It is pointless to say the Real would still be given in this way, in this mode of givenness, because this still poses a bilateral correspondence of Real and concept which does not hold for the Real itself.
In other words, Levi’s position that modes of existence are indifferent to thought, even while they are thinkable, misses the point that mode-of-existence is itself a thought or determination of thought. It posits that the concept is sufficient to the Real, even if the Real is not determined by this concept. But this still amounts to a certain autonomous sufficiency of the concept. Our claim is that concepts are only relatively autonomous, determined by the absention of the Real without-concept.
Anontology seeks this Real without-concept, and this obliges us to admit that the Real is foreclosed to conceptualization; i.e., as soon as we use concepts, we lose the Real. Yet we can nonetheless adopt a symbol that, without conceptualizing the Real, acts as a stand-in or marker for the fact of its foreclosure, which would amount to the suspension of the sufficiency of concepts. Far from ruining conceptuality or philosophy, this opens up a new creative power for philosophy.
Ontology as anontology is no longer required to be an autonomous determination of the Real; it is no longer required to be sufficient to its object or to speak authoritatively of its object. It posits ontology as determined by its object, but not determining of this object. The various conceptual articulations of the Real thereby become a material within which we can enact the foreclosure of that Real, and thereby posit the relative autonomy of ontology and ontological concepts, suspending their authoritative claims to sufficiency while nonetheless opening them to an ‘improper use’.
To summarize, I think Levi’s shift from epistemological to ontological philosophy misses the fact that they are always co-implicated. Ontology always relies on a conceptual determination of the Real, even if we allow the Real to possess these determinations in-itself. Non-philosophy suspends the dyadic co-implication of epistemology and ontology, of thought and Real or concept and object, and extracts the Real itself as indifferent to this dyad, not determined by it but unilaterally determining of it. Anontology is the product of this operation, it is ontology deprived of its authority and reduced to a material for thought, no longer a law for the Real.