File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2000/bhaskar.0010, message 52

Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2000 22:36:12 +0100
Subject: Re: BHA: DPF C 2.10

Dear Howard and Hans and all,

Howard: I came across a reference to the distinction between the two 
aspects of ontology (categorial and dispositional) in an article by Roy on 
the reality of ideas in the Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. 
There is an also an article on 'Ontology' (possibly in the same journal) 
that might also make a similar reference. I don't think he elaborates and 
it took me a while to get to grips with the idea.

(My apologies in advance, I have made this is a long post in an attempt to 
make it clear, but I've no doubt it heaps confusion on confusion).

The comments I made to Hans on the internal relations between the two 
aspects of ontology (categorial and dispositional) have prepared the way 
for engaging with queries about the relation between the two kinds of 
realism, and for trying to understand absences as being internal to 
causality. I'd like to look at absence from several perspectives and end up 
by trying to make sense of the various ways in which we can speak of 
absences as being somehow causal.

Just as the 1M category of 'depth' is a universalisable category, which 
none of us are sufficiently troubled by to question the initial premises of 
CR, so the later 2E (absence), 3L (totality) and 4D (agentive capacities) 
categories are developments of the implications of depth. RB discovered 
that the system of 1M categories was insufficient, so he moved on to the 
development of other parts of the system. The key to the development was 
the critique of monovalence and revolved around Roy's central claim for the 
reality of absence.

At the most general level, Roy argues that absence is a necessary category 
because the idea that Being is purely positive (monovalent) is 
unsustainable and that incorporating absence (introducing polyvalence) does 
away with the problems of monovalence. Once polyvalence is accepted is 
should be fairly readily acceptable that absences are causal. At least it 
becomes necessary to conceptualise structural causality in terms of 
polyvalence (internally related absences and presences). (What worried me 
about Hans' original formulations, and indeed RB's in FEW, was that they 
appeared to tend towards monovalence.)

Monovalence, the idea that all being is positive, means that everything to 
which 'being' refers is positive, in a state of substantive existence. It 
means that the future and past and present are all positive, i.e. all exist 
in the same space-time: Blockism in ontology. We need the category of 
'absence' to accommodate the fact that what is positive at one moment can 
become negative at the next, and that the same applies to what is negative 
or absent. The initial use of polyvalence, then, is to capture the fact 
that the substance of being changes from one moment to another. Both terms, 
presence and absence are qualities of being, but no substantive being is 
eternally present or absent. No substantive being, or aspect of being 
retains either of these qualities indefinitely. Substantive beings or parts 
of being are changing the entire time (and doing so at different rates). 
The level at which change occurs (structures, activities, events), with 
aspects being positive in one space-time and negative in another (and vice 
versa), so that the patterns of positivity and negativity will change and 
vary across time and space.

Once polyvalence has been established it becomes possible to understand 
absences in various, related, ways. Polyvalence is intended to register 
change. From the perspective of what already is, presences become absences: 
absences are just things that are absented in the course of change - Eating 
food absents it. From the perspective of what is becoming we can say that 
absences become presences. From this perspective absences are just those 
possibilities of becoming which are realised - my breakfast becomes 
nutrition for my body. From yet another perspective there are those 
possibilities of becoming which are not realised - the toast left on my 
plate in the morning, the coffee that went without being drunk. Once the 
toast and coffee have been cleaned away and can no longer be consumed they 
no longer constitute a nutritional possibility for me. These absences are 
only real for as long as they are possibilities.

This gives us several inflections of meaning. Possibilities of change in 
general are all real absences; some possibilities of change are realised in 
the form of presences becoming absences (absenting the presence and giving 
rise to an absence); some possibilities of change are realised in the form 
of absences becoming presences (absenting absences and giving rise to 
presences). Finally, once change has occurred in such a way that the 
structure of possibilities has changed so that unrealised possibilities are 
no longer possibilities, then we have the absenting of an absence. This 
kind of change entails the emergence of a constraint.

There is still a little way to go before we can speak of absences as 
causal. One of Roy's earliest contributions was to point up the 
transfactuality of mechanisms. Transfactuality is really a 3L (totality) 
category. Mechanisms do not exist in isolation but in ensembles, 
conjunctures and totalities, as more or less integrated systems with levels 
of complexity. The formation of the totality, of the structure of 
structures, within which the mechanism is located, is the product of 
previous process. The totality embodies presences and absences of all the 
kinds indicated above. The structure of causality necessarily entails 
absences of all kinds.

No effect or change can be accounted for solely in terms of the mechanism 
that 'caused' it, for the specific effect depends on the particular 
conditions under which the mechanism operates. The various processes that 
gave rise to those conditions were polyvalent. The conditions themselves 
are polyvalent, combining presences and absences (possibilities).

On this view absences are internal to all things and are therefore 
necessarily part of the structure of causation. This means that absences 
are causal, but that on their own they do not cause anything. This is 
because 'absences on their own' do not exist. They do not exist any more 
than presences on their own do. Once polyvalence is understood there is no 
state of affairs that does not embody presences and different modes of 
absence. Not only must all states of affairs be understood polyvalently, 
the changes that flow from any state of affairs must also be understood in 
the same terms.

There have been some good examples of (partially) causal absences given 
already. Let me go back to the example of someone falling through the ice. 
We can narrow down our terms of reference and use the language of the 
experiment which abstracts a mechanism from time and space. From such a 
perspective it is right to speak of falling through ice as a result of the 
balance of forces at work. But we known that this abstracts from the more 
complex context in any number of ways. By expanding the spatio-temporal 
terms of reference the full explanation would have to involve the person's 
mass and the planet's gravity (extending that argument further it would of 
course take in the wider processes of the formation of the planet, solar 
system, galaxy and universe - each of which has a different temporality and 
involves an infinite number of possibilities having arisen, going 
unrealised, being realised). On a more human, less absurd sounding 
approach, we could ask questions about the formation of the ice's 
structure. The actual structure of the ice and the real balance of forces 
depends on the processes that produced the specific thickness of the ice. 
The absence of sufficiently thick ice could be a contributory cause. Or 
again, the reasons for that absence, say an unusually mild spell will be 
said to have caused an absence which caused an accident. The mild spell in 
turn could have been the result of a cold spell which was possible but was 
not realised.

Similarly, a narrow focus on the structure of the ice abstracts from the 
behaviour of the unfortunate victim of the accident. It would, however, 
only be proper to speak of the absence of the knowledge of the danger being 
a contributory cause if that absence could have been absented, i.e. if the 
person's acquiring that knowledge was a real possibility. If it was not 
possible for the victim to have known, then we cannot speak of the state of 
knowledge as a real absence. Contrast this with the tragedy of Romeo and 
Juliet: for the want of the message making its way to Romeo he believes 
Juliet to be really dead. The real absence of the priest's message has 
(partially) caused the deaths. Had the priest made other arrangements the 
message would have got through (and we would have had no play!).

This last distinction is of some importance. It is possible for us to speak 
of events in terms of absences that were not real possibilities. We might 
want to say of the person falling through the ice that there was an absence 
of knowledge of the thinness of the ice. But if there was no way that the 
person could have come to that knowledge, if it did not belong to the 
structure of possibilities, then we cannot speak of the absence in causal 
or any other realist terms. More dramatically: if a person dies of 
starvation under conditions where obtaining food is not possible, we cannot 
speak of the causal efficacy of the absence of food. This is to say we can 
reach a point in time at which the structure of possibilities is 
transformed such that it no longer contains the possibility of obtaining 
food. What we can say at this point, though, is that the second order 
absence, the absence of the possibility of the food, was a causal absence. 
In other words, the impossibility of getting food was a cause of the death, 
rather than the absence of the food. The starvation was caused by a 
constraint, not an absence. To avoid such death it becomes necessary to 
absent similar constraints. If this is accomplished then those lives that 
are lived out in the absence of possible starvation can be partially 
explained in terms of the absence of those constraints.

This last argument has implications both for Roy's account of dialectic and 
for the whole of the argument in FEW, but I'll save that for now. 

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