Intellectual Mitosis

One does not have to do more than a cursory review of intellectual history to find intellectual bifurcations everywhere. There’s nominalism vs. realism, rationalism vs. empiricism, analytic vs. continental, and so on. Earlier this month at the Claremont Conference Steven Shaviro nicely articulated the bifurcation between his position and Graham Harman’s. Whereas the problem for Harman is how objects can enter into contact and communication with one another, a problem he solves with his notions of vicarious causation and allure, the problem for Shaviro is one of how to break free from the incessant web of contacts and relations, how to get some elbow room as Shaviro put it (citing Whitehead). In Priest’s book in contradiction, which I discussed here in yesterday’s post, he highlights the early modern bifurcation between the continuous and the discrete (a bifurcation that of course predates early modern thought and is not exclusive to the western tradition). Priest signals Leibniz and Hume as emblematic of this bifurcation. In a response Leibniz wrote to a letter of Malebranche, Malebranche arguing for his occasionalist position (that is, coming down in favor of the discrete), Leibniz puts forth what Priest calls the “Leibniz Continuity Condition.” Citing Leibniz:

When the difference between two instances in a given series or that which is presupposed can be diminished until it becomes smaller than any given quantity whatever, the corresponding difference in what is sought or in their results must of necessity also be diminished or become less than any given quantity whatever. Or to put it more commonly, when two instances or data approach each other continuously, so that one at last passes over into the other, it is necessary for their consequences or results (or the unknown) to do so also).

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