Metaphysics and the Fundamentals of Objectuality

Draft for comments in class – Seminar of Philosophy

OLAVO DE CARVALHO

Translated by Henrique Dmyterko, July 14th, 2002

If Kant asserts that metaphysical science is impossible for lacking a representable object in intuition, it is because he has not meditated deep enough about the very notion of “ob-ject”. Intuition of any object is intuition of a finite form, whose borders with other objects immediately reveal us the limits of its entire set of possibilities of action and passion (in other words, possibilities of acting or suffering actions). Looking at a cat, we know by means of intuition that it cannot fly. If this information about the cat were absent from in-tuition, than it would be a false intuition, or else, it would be the intuition of a generic cast of a cat which is not a cat. Looking at a square, we instantly know it cannot be divided by one segment of a straight line into two squares, and if cut by an exact diagonal line, there will be two isosceles triangles as a result. To be able to immediately know these facts is to have the intuition of the square. A simple and passive perception of a square shape, regard-less of any of its inherent form properties, is not yet an intuition: it is pure sensation and matter for a possible intuition which will take place at the precise moment when the square begins to show something of its internal constitution. Hence, intuition is not just a senso-rial perception of a static form. Rather, it is the intellection of a finite system of possibili-ties, the grasping – no matter how diffuse and vague it may be at start -, of an algorithmic formula of an organized and unitary set of potencies. A set whose integral form exactly en-folds both identity and unity of the object of intuition. In view of this, that set of potencies is simultaneously intuited in poles apart: positive and negative. Positive, for the assertion of potencies – at least, of some of them – which reveal themselves in the form of the object. Negative, for the limits that distinguish these potencies from other possible or surrounding ones absent from the object itself, exactly as in the case of the cat, which is instantly per-ceived as a walking and not a flying animal. In short: a form is perceived in one instanta-neous and inseparable way as an articulated set of possibilities and impossibilities.

That very instantaneousness, inherent in the nature of the intuitive act, makes the kant-ian distinction between what is data coming from the object and what is (according to Kant) projected either by a priori structures of our own way of perception or by the catego-ries of our reason onto it, impossible for the matter. These structures, being general and ubiquitous, identical in all men, could not magically adapt themselves to an object’s given forms, one by one, if the object in turn did not mold them to itself by force of its intrinsical constitution. To suppose the contrary would be to admit the object is just pure matter without its own formal limits, being its sole limits those projected by the observer onto it. For that reason, there would not be another way to distinguish among the various objects but for the projections made by the subject of understanding, being this subject free to randomly cast onto this or that object any form he so desired. In principle, nothing could prevent a subject from projecting at a cat the form of a triangle or at a triangle the form of a hen. That would make perception simply impossible, as well as any practical adaptation of the observer to the material surroundings circumstances. It is thus mandatory to admit that the limits of the object — its form, indeed — are manifested in an evident manner by its mere and simple presence. Well, as we have seen, those limits are an organized system of possibilities and impossi-bilities. Thus, possibility and impossibility – as well as the articulation between both of them – are not forms a priori projected onto an object. They are, in fact, constitutive ele-ments of its very presence. To intuit an object is to instantaneously apprehend in its form a defined articulation of possibilities and impossibilities.

But at the same time, neither possibility nor impossibility, and not even their articula-tion, are in themselves objects of sense perception. If they are not pure projected forms, neither are they given to us as objects. They are given “in” an object, but not as objects. The solution to this apparent enigma is that they are indeed the very form of objec-tuality. To be an object – real or imaginary – is to have the power of presenting itself as an articulated system of possibilities and impossibilities, a system condensed in such a way it is instantaneously apprehensible by means of intuition.

In that sense, Kant was right by saying that metaphysics’ “traditional” objects – considering what he regarded as metaphysics, learned from Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz and Wolff –, i.e., God, liberty, immortality and so on, are not objects of experience.

However, metaphysics, instead of being the study of any of those particular objects, is the study of possibility and of impossibility as understood from their most comprehensive and universal meaning. The very terms used to describe and write about conventional meta-physical issues -omnipotence, infinitude, absoluteness and so on — have no meaning at all, except when defined in terms of possibility and impossibility.

Therefore, possibility and impossibility, not being themselves data coming from experi-ence, are in turn given during experience itself, and no experience happens without them. At the ontological level, by not being objects, they are essential constituents of objectual-ity, as well as of objectivity at the knowledge level. Although they are not themselves ob-jects of intuition, they cannot be disembodied from intuition, because intuition is nothing more than the instantaneous understanding of a given articulation between possibility and impossibility as a definite objective presence.

Accordingly, there is no obstacle whatsoever to prevent possibility and impossibility from becoming objects of scientific knowledge through the very same methods by which other kinds of constituents become objects of any science, i.e., by the abstractive separation of data taken from an experience. Metaphysics is the science of objectuality as such, that is to say: it is the fundamental of the very possibility of constituting any objective knowledge. There is obviously a spontaneous metaphysical understanding embodied in the act of delimitating an object of any science, and without this understanding, no science would be possible. It would not be possible to delimit objects – either those of science or those of any practical or cognitive activity – without the aptitude of perceiving the forms-limits from the data of an experience. That aptitude is precisely the metaphysical talent inherent in human intelligence as a whole. Man is the only animal that produces science because he is the only metaphysical animal: the only animal capable of objectivity, that is, of understanding objectuality in objects.

The conceivable argument against those acknowledgments, such as “possibility and im-possibility are mere generic logical frameworks, without any concrete substantiality”, is worthless. Indeed, it is only in concrete substantiality that they appear and their very ap-pearance, as we have seen, is itself concrete substantiality. Or else, it is the only concrete substantiality of objects of experience. Without this concrete substantiality, those objects could not be intuited, i.e., they could not be understood as substantive presences, but solely as empty forms. The very notion of possibility and impossibility, fathomed as pure logical form, external to the reality of an experience, is simply one of the possibilities we instantaneously apprehend during the concrete articulation between possibility and im-possibility, as presented in an experience. From this articulation, we abstractly separate data that makes it real, and keeping in mind the abstract concept of possibility and impos-sibility, we then proceed by separately considering it as a pure being of reason. Such an abstract separation would be obviously impossible if lacking a previous apprehension of any concrete articulation between possibility and impossibility in a given case, thus, relying on it not only logically as well as ontologically, being worthless any artifice such as throw-ing at an experience something that can only be obtained – by means of abstraction – from the very same experience.

Kant himself, when intending to reduce possibility and impossibility to mere logical cate-gories, independent of experience, has not been able to conceive an experience that were independent of them, which emphasizes the huge difference between a mental distinction and a real-real distinction, as understood by Scholastic philosophers. Possibility and im-possibility can be “independently” conceived, with regards to an experience, precisely be-cause they are the founding conditions of objectuality and transcend any particular experi-ence as well as any particular object. For this same reason, an object -when considered “out” and “independently” of them- is not even pure, amorphous and generic matter. It is just a chimerical conjecture: an object without objectuality.

Hence, there is no way out. Metaphysics is not only possible but also absolutely neces-sary, at least as a fundamental – implicit and explicit – of the possibility of sciences.

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