skip to Main Content

Process and the Derailing of Reality: Haunted Ontologies and Different Modes of Existence (Part II)

Process And The Derailing Of Reality: Haunted Ontologies And Different Modes Of Existence (Part II)

As we saw at the end of part one of this essay Voegelin’s anti-foundationalism is obviously something of a fragile and quixotic venture. Steven McGuire is not mistaken that Voegelin “invites the tendency to objectify the Beyond (even though he constantly warns us against doing so), since it accounts for our knowledge of it in terms of experience, which cannot help but suggest a subject-object relationship.” [1] Voegelin just can’t win. There might also seem something a little paranoiac, even Gnostic, about Voeglin’s impossible insistence that should we slip “hypostatize” something it is doomed to becoming either lifeless dogma or fuel for the further millenarian derailing of reality. We’re in a trap and cannot get out. However, this would be a very miserable and uncharitable reading of Voegelin. Rather, should we not emphasize that because concepts and symbols wear out over time there is always a need in every society for those with an open and curious soul?

McGuire also makes a very curious suggestion. If Voegelin had realized the prioritizing of being over experience in thinkers such as Schelling “he might have found the philosophical means to go beyond some of the difficul­ties that arise in relation to his own philosophy.”[2] Such a statement as this is very much in keeping with the spirit of the various new “speculative realisms.” The arche of philosophy to these is not experience, but being (and almost entirely univocal being at that). However, in following the Neo-Platonic and apophatic traditions in his efforts to avoid any notion of there being any arche of being in time, Voegelin, as we have seen, chose to focus on the notion of “non-existent realities” from which being proceeds, thus reducing being to something synonymous with the ontological condition of the immanent world. As a result although Voegelin affirmed analogy as the only available means to symbolize the It-Reality as he saw it, the anthropology of his most sustained work, Anamnesis, is perhaps simply too negative for the analogia entis. Yet, there is a very large Platonic elephant trumpeting in the corner of the room as well. This is the fact that for all Voegelin’s interest in Plato, non-existent realities and processive relations over “things,” he seems to have passed over the Platonic work that would seem to most closely affirm such an ontology – the Sophist.

Five Things and Many Specters

The Sophist is one of Plato’s last and most notoriously difficult works. It primarily concerns the question of Being and the Forms, but in a very different manner to the simple dualism of the Phaedo, the iatromatic creation myths of the Timaeus or the ontological paradoxes of the Parmenides. The two main interlocutors of the dialogue are an Eleatic “Stranger” (a student of Parmenides) and Theaetetus (the Platonic dialogue bearing his name occurring just prior to this one according to the narrative). The most unique aspect of the text is that instead of viewing the Forms as something subsequent to Being, the Sophist regards being as a Form and centers on five main Forms, or Megista Genē (Most Important Classes). These are Being (to on), Motion (kinesis), Rest (stasis), Same (tauton) and Different/Other (thateron).[3] These five produce a deducible metaphysical structure in which each of the parts requires the other parts in order for reality to have any sense, and, so it is agreed, it is impossible for any fewer than all of these five to necessarily exist.[4] Motion, Rest, Same and Different participate in Being, but are in themselves “non-being(s)” because they are not the same as Being.[5] Each is the same as itself and different from the others, and through movement mingles in a koinonia (togetherness).[6] However, very little is said about Motion, Rest or Same. The majority of the dialogue is about Being and the Other/Different.

The interplay between Being and the Other/Different allows the interlocutors to come to the conclusion that non-existence is simply the Other of Being, or contrast (Gr. antithesis).[7] This revolutionary decision is contrary to both the Sophists and Parmenides, who both claimed that non-being could not be. What “the Other of Being” means is that when someone says that something is not, what they really mean is that it is other than the thing is question and not that it does not necessarily exist. For example not-tall can mean short or the same height. Thus declares the Eleatic Stranger, while the genē of being are many, the genē of existent non-being are apeiron (infinite).[8] One can claim that something is not all manner of things and still be correct. Yet, at the same time pseudos (falsehood) exists and it is quite possible to say that certain things are or are not that aren’t true or do not exist at all: “there are tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of things that are not, some of which, both individually (kath’hekaston) and collectively (sumpanta), actually do exist in many ways (pollakhēi), while others, in many ways, do not actually exist.”[9]

The issue for the philosopher then becomes how to tell non-being that exists from non-being that doesn’t exist. Here Plato does something very interesting. Because he is talking about the ontological basis of reality, he views logos (discourse) as simply epiphenomenal of a world that is by its nature full of phantoms, false imitations and apatē (chicanery).[10] Men deceive – the sophist as the most perfect example, but so too through daimoniai teknēi (divine artifice) do the gods send people all sorts of visions of things in their sleep or in the firelight that are not really there.[11] Thus there is a “fourfold” – divine and human sincere acts of creation and imitation (poiētikē) and divine and human false acts of creation and imitation (ktētikē). Unlike in the Timaeus there is no clear hammering out of the Forms by the creator.[12] There is also no distinction made between eternal Being and transient Becoming. Instead the gods seem at mercy of the Five Most Important Classes, even in their making of the world. Plato has grounded confusion and illusion as necessary aspects of reality because of the Other/Different participating in Being, rendering existence full of equivocations, imitations, echoes. The true philosopher’s mission is thus to look beyond both human and divine deception, to sieve the phantasms out.

The Sophist with its Five Most Important Classes is a far more mature work as far as the question of participation and non-being goes than the Parmenides, but this comes at a price – the One/Same is nearly wholly brushed over. Motion, Rest and Same and Other are placed in the position that the One is in the Parmenides, as “beyond being” yet participating in it. However, Plato scrimps on the roles played by Motion, Rest and Same in favor of a long discussion focusing on Being and Different/Other. In fact, because so little is said about the Same/One, one might wonder if with the Other “divided up” (katakekermatisthai) throughout all of being, whether Plato has created an ontology of the Many that does away with the One before Neo-Platonism ever even existed.[13] Some thinkers have certainly considered this. One should note that Alain Badiou takes his set-theory ontology of the infinite multiplicity of non-being from this Platonic dialogue and the Parmenides. It should also be obvious that the dialectical logic of Same and Other we find in Hegel in strongly indebted to it.[14] So too did Gilles Deleuze see in the Sophist the possibility of Platonism overturning itself, though for slightly different reasons we will come to shortly.

In spite of this, Platonic thought after Plato ignored the existent non-entities in favor simply of the One as beyond being. This was because, as should be obvious, the radical experiential difference transcendental oneness represented to mystics such as Plotinus and Porphyry. In fact if we are to look for any other existent non-entity in the Platonic tradition it would have to be Matter – a concept we do not find in Plato, but which was adopted by the Neo-Platonists from Aristotle’s reductive reading of the mysterious Receptacle in Plato’s Timaeus.[15] Plotinus and Porphyry declared Matter, in comparison with Logos, Mind and Soul to be:

“falling outside of these, it could not properly receive the title of being but would appropriately be called non-being, not in the sense which motion is non-being or rest non-being, but truly non-being; it is a ghostly image of bulk (phantasma ogkou); a tendency towards substantial existence; it is static without being stable.”[16]

To describe Matter Plotinus makes liberal use of the symbol of the phantasm, as Plato had to describe the apatetic aspects of reality made by both the gods and men.[17] Matter is a trick inherent in emanated creation. It is a “flying absurdity” that the mystic is called upon to turn away from in favour of the Real. Being thus exists in the middle between phantasmal non-being and transcendental non-being, the twin darknesses of sophistic ignorance and the darkness above of blinding illumination.[18] It is this language that Voegelin speaks when he talks about “non-existent realities,” with the difference that because of his concerns with Gnosticism he does not actively engage in the pejoration of matter.

However, perhaps the strangest possibility is that in the Sophist Plato has discovered what we would have to call the equivocity of non-being, without having ever discovered the equivocity of being. His use of non-being seems to mean at least four different conceptions:

1) That something does not exist.

2) That negative predication does not mean non-existence, only that something is different from how it is predicated. Being qua being is apeiron plēthei (infinitely full) with otherness.

3) That the latter four of the five enumerated Most Important Classes are not in themselves the first: being.

4) The capacity for there to be apate (chicanery) in creation and thus in human speech, which, in truth, is the problem of 1 and 2 being intermeshed, requiring the philosopher to sort out the truth using logical dialectic.

We could even add a fifth on the basis of the Neo-Platonic usage regarding The One:

5) The nature of the source of existence, the transcendental entity beyond the usual bounds of human consciousness and the immanent world.

*As for Matter, the Neo-Platonic formulation seems like a strange confusion of 1), 3) and 4) all at once, which is why it perhaps does not seem to make much sense. How can it exist when it is a “true non-entity”, yet also be a mere ridiculous trick and a major element of the emanated cosmology? A Gnostic answer that poses the world as divine malevolence is just too easy to arrive at.

Regarding 1 and 2 some Plato scholars such as Marie Gill have found a similar equivocity in the positive ontology of participation in the Parmenides, referring to the “is” of existence as “complete” and that of predication as “incomplete.” The Parmenides is concerned largely with whether being is One or whether, simply, Being is. By admitting a difference or participation between the One and Being it begins to appear that there is instead Two – the One and Being. Gill writes:

“Since Parmenides appeals to the same entity – being – in both contexts, no semantic distinction is envisaged between ‘is’ in its incomplete and complete uses. Had he intended a semantic distinction, he would have posited two entities to explicate the two senses… The complete ‘is’ in Greek does not correspond to our modern notions of existence… There is no harm in translating “is” in this context as “exists”, if we recognize that many more things exist for Plato than exist for us. For him anything we can describe exists.”[19]

Although Plato is far more liberal with speculation about the existence of sayable existents than we are today (and gloriously so), he should have explicated the two senses in question and recognised the equivocity of Being (and non-being). If one begins to consider the possibility of the equivocity of non-being, then Badiou’s Platonic set-theory begins to appear thoroughly univocal – it is built wholly out of assuming 2.) to be the only kind of existent non-being there is – simply a Void of infinite multiplicity and difference structured by infinite empty lists that can be gathered up. Badiou never considers whether these “sets” contain elements of 1.) – proper non-existents – because the entire point is to structure “Worlds” and “Events” that forcibly gather up everything as One for Maoist revolutionary purposes.

Human beings have been constructing universal images of the “World” forever (and all are parochial, mortal and full of phantasms, whatever the size). It is very puzzling indeed as to why Badiou seems to only find his meager list of Saint Paul and then the revolutionary failures of the past two hundred years to be the only legitimate world-building Events. How Badiou must lean on the “obscure subject” who perverts the Event towards some great Body – God, Race, State – in order to prevent it from flowering into universal humanity, when he himself has such a forced body of eventings, outside of which men are reduced to nothing but meaningless little pleasure animals.[20] Yet, even before this, Badiou’s ontology of multiplicity has to ignore the Sophist’s non-being number 3.) – the other three Most Important Classes of Motion, Rest and Same –to forcibly overcome 4.) – the use of apatē by the post-modern sophist who denies the touted revolutionary Truth due to relativism. The whole thing is terribly blunt indeed. As Catherine Pickstock observes, what Badiou really needs is some negative theology to tame his rabid zealotry.[21] But the fact remains that more than 2000 years later we still deserve to hear a little more about all of the Most Important Classes– Same, Motion and Rest – as well as Being and Different. Perhaps do not even know what the speculative structure of the Five can do.

An Adventure

What might it look like to begin to fully restore the Five in a speculative ontology? We have a couple of clues. In the early 1924-5 lectures of Martin Heidegger on Plato’s Sophist the German thinker attempted to read Motion as logos – as the essence of mortal Dasein unconcealing and exploring being. Rest becomes Ständigkeit (permanence) – of Being eternally unconcealing and concealing itself through ontics.[22] However, to reduce Motion and Rest to simply the onticality of mortal man vs. eternal being seems somewhat of a short-changing of the interplay between the Five Most Important Classes. Ironically, this might even seem too Platonic for its own good – simply a reinvention of mortal becoming vs eternal being in the spirit of the Timaeus rather than anything in the spirit of the Sophist’s abandoning of such a division in favor of the Five that dictate the activities of even the immortal gods. It also seems a very small ontology indeed. What about the other non-human ontics we share the world with that express the difference and commonality of existence? What about the phantasms? Heidegger has very little time for these, and very little to say of note on non-being at all.

We are looking for something a little different. Something that takes Motion and Rest seriously as participating forces in being beyond simply man and eternal being. Something that also takes Same and Different seriously as weaving an ontological web of univocity and equivocity. Have there been any takers for such a task? In the middle of last century a French aesthetician called Étienne Souriau attempted something that seems curiously similar to what we might be looking for, even if the Sophist does not seem to have been a conscious influence. Deeply influenced by medieval ontology and William James, Souriau undertook an exploration of the modes of existence concerning the instauration (ongoing emergence) of a work of art.[23]

Souriau’s ontological modes are what we might call zones of univocity in an overall equivocal being that seems to suspend the question of unicity for the sake of exploration. He outlines five modes of existence. The first is the phenomenal – weak sensory flashes like the fleeting color of a certain cloud that appears and then is no more. Souriau goes beyond simply phenomenology to declare that it is the phenomenal that makes the scene for the viewer and that phenomenal entities exist in and for themselves.[24] The second mode is the reique, or “things.” If the essence of the phenomenal is that it manifests, that of the reique is that it endures. By reique Souriau means enduring entities from vases and stones to human beings that develop a “soul” or character by maturing over time. At any time they can fail, break and collapse, but this is the risk that “having a soul” is all about.[25]

The other modes, however, are even more arcane. The third is the syndoxic, which signifies imaginal entities like Santa Claus and mathematical equations. These might not seem to “exist” in the way we usually think of “things”, but they of course very strongly influence how we live in the world.[26] The syndoxic is like a kind of collective consciousness. Souriau wants to claim that such entities really do exist, but weakly and differently from phenomena and “things”, because they are utterly dependent upon human beings in order to be. The fourth mode is the virtual, on which Souriau has very little to say except that it means being able to look at something and imagine what could be made with it. The bridge that is imagined but is never completed is far more real, so Souriau claims, than the bridge that fails during its manufacture.[27]

The fifth and last mode is the synaptic, which signifies process. The synaptic is very different. It is not an ontic mode, but the mode which allows ontics to be brought together, transformed or destroyed through events.[28] Without the synaptic to process ontics the world might simply be nothing but a cosmos of withness, as William James once entertained – simply just so many entities with no relation between them: “The world is One just so far as its parts hold together by any definite connexion. It is many just so far as any definite connexion fails to obtain.”[29]  And indeed the synaptic is a very Jamesian conception, one of the conjunctive and disjunctive feeling of and, feeling of or, feeling of because.

To Souriau this is not some exhaustive list of modes for building a “metaphysical machine,” but what he calls lexis – exploration building upon speculative structures and experience of the world as an artist. As William James would say, and which Souriau embraces, there are many different ways to “cut” reality to make sense of it. This seems very much in keeping with the spirit of the Sophist, where the Eleatic Stranger’s speculative “fourfold” of divine and human truthfulness and trickery in acts of creation is explicitly regarded as a tmēma (cutting up) of reality to make sense of it using logos.[30] There is always space for logos to try things kata thateron tmēma (by a different cut), because this is what the ontology itself is always-already doing through the interplay of Same and Different, long before we ever come to try to organize it and sort the phantasms from what really is the case.

It should also be emphasized that Souriau’s starting point is a profound dislike for the Neo-Platonic concept of the diminution of being, of becoming as simply a less real form of being. The Sophist, as we have seen, with its Five offers an alternative framework to this. Souriau’s framework is the search of the aseity – the “pure existence” of possible modes, a Scholastic term which was traditionally reserved for God as self-caused entity. Opposed to this is abaliety – dependence upon another in order to exist. Souriau’s is a metaphysics of participation, and it is not so distant from the Sophist’s insistence on things as Same in themselves but participating through koinonia in the Other, Rest and Motion. Souriau thus might be helpfully read as a coincidental attempt to return the Same’s participation in Being to the Sophist, by teasing out the possible modes that run through Being, however intense in their self-existence or weak in their dependence upon other entities or modes to exist. This is certainly how I cannot help but read him. At very least one might hope that our replatonising of Souriau will be somewhat more interesting and productive than the efforts of speculative realist Bruno Latour, who helpfully first drew attention to Souriau’s work in the early 2010s and the proceeded to do very little with it at all.[31]

What is most important is that Souriau adamantly believes that one can only concentrate on either “ontic modes” (the first four) or process (the fifth), but not both at once. One might imagine possessing some “surexistence” – existing in a position to take in everything equally, but Souriau seems quite certain that for people this is impossible and does not even have a virtual existence of any significance.[32] One can engage in one way, and then in the other, but one cannot not refuse to make the decision. For Souriau, contrary to the Laruellian non-philosophers of recent times, there is no possibility of refusing to cut for fear of the monstrosity of metaphysical systems. Souriau’s imperative is an unequivocal: “But cut you must!”[33]

This impasse would seem curiously similar to the few words Plato actually spared on Rest and Motion – that neither can ever be or become the same as one another, yet both participate in being and in the Same and Different.[34] Nonetheless, Plato never clearly states the obvious fact that Motion is required for participation and mingling between the other four Most Important Classes to occur; Rest is required for there to be solid entities that can be described as Same or Other in relation to one another. Motion then is processive, conjunctive, disjunctive. Rest is the ontic modes, definable species of “stops” in the world. As Souriau claims, if one looks too closely at ontics, then process disappears from view. If one looks too closely at process, the “things” involved in it are swept away into simply flux. Perhaps then Heidegger was not wholly wrong to associate Motion with human logos, because like Motion it connects and disconnects ontics in the world. Nonetheless, Rest is also required for there to be anything ontic to connect or disconnect. We should then take logos in humans as epiphenomenal of forces already at work in the world, as an emergent aspect of the participatory ontology.

One should emphasise here that Souriau’s “surexistence,” is borrowed from Meister Eckhart’s Über-Sein, the Beyond-Being of God,[35] the language of which of course belongs to the Neo-Platonic understanding of the transcendent non-entity. Indeed, for Motion and Rest to be reconciled completely as Same or One would require some sort of meta-unicity or coincidentia oppositorum, something that is not only not-being (as Motion, Rest, Same and Different are), but is not any of them either. The Plato of the Sophist refuses any such thing because the dialogue places the Five all on the same level rather than simply erecting being or One/Same or Many/Different (as Badiou would have it) as the master signifier – the single Most Important Class. Yet, as we will shortly see, Souriau does not ignore the question of God in relation to Being, but he does refuse God as a mode of existence. So too does he refuse invoking God to try to simply suture up metaphysical systems to hide problems and rob the modes of Being of their difference.

Firstly, however, it is apposite to compare Souriau’s “surexistence” and its “cut” between the ontic and synaptic modes with Deleuze’s conception of process outlined in The Logic of Sense. The reason for this is that Deleuze here takes his starting point from Plato’s Sophist, albeit from a short interlude towards the end in which the Eleatic Stranger decides to clarify the nature of logos for dealing with sophists and concludes that one cannot have a verb without a subject.[36] Deleuze sees in this an opening to “reverse Platonism” – to claim that the eventing of things is more real than the “things” themselves. The subject of the verb disappears and becomes “phantasmic” – the verb becomes a kind of infinitive existing in and of itself. Deleuze declares: “equivocity is always the equivocity of nouns. The Verb is the univocity of language, in the form of an undetermined infinitive, without person, without present, without any diversity of voice.”[37]

It is worth noting that Deleuze’s “phantasmic” verb as entity in its own right takes some impetus from the Stoic conception of verbs as lekta – expressible non-entities that exist in spite of not being “things.” Deleuze seems convinced that he is part of some secret anti-Platonic lineage from the Sophists to the Stoics. However, the truth is perhaps far more banal – Plato in the Sophist simply did not amply point out the painfully obvious connection between verbs and the non-existent existent of Motion. If Motion participates in Being, Same and Different then it should only be sensible that the great diversity of processes and actions in the world should belong to it. Perhaps the Stoics, as successors to Platonism in many ways, understood this far better than the Neo-Platonists ever did. Nonetheless, because of Deleuze’s fixation on the univocity of being he is unable to grant to process its own ontologically different mode of existence as Souriau (whose work he knew) does by distinguishing the synaptic from the ontic modes. Instead Deleuze may call the lekta “pure event,” but he cannot think of them as anything more than as a kind of phantasmic “extra being,” something somehow immanently hovering around univocal being, part of it yet not.

Nevertheless, as the Sophist says, Motion is not being, but participates in being, as well as participating in the Same and the Other. Motion in its participation in being is neither a phantasmic fake nor univocal because there are so many – perhaps an infinity – of different “verbs” and conjunctions and disjunctions at work in the koinonia of reality. Motion could only ever be intellected as Same in its capacity of not being/being other than Rest (ontics). Thus, Deleuze is not incorrect per se, it is simply that, in Souriauian terms, he has made his “cut” by focusing on process alone to the point of overemphasizing the Same. This means that he has had to make a sacrifice. For this we should be thankful, for few have been brave enough to make such a “cut” and push “pure event” to the forefront. Nonetheless, other “cuts,” especially non-univocal ontic cuts, can of course still be legitimately made. We will return to Deleuze’s Logic of Sense in part three of this essay because Catherine Pickstock has a great deal to say about its consequences in relations to the ideas of Badiou, Meillassoux, Laruelle and other “speculative realists.”

Nonetheless, the paradox of Souriauian open exploration is the fact that it must always come to an end. The ontological exploration is akin to the risk in making a work of art that could end in failure. This is even extended by Souriau to the most “problematic” of all entities: God. Souriau will not let us simply have an ontic mode for God. He is not simply to be stacked as a transcendent mode on top of the other modes that have been enumerated like some cherry on top of a cake. Instead there is:

A terrible demand. The only ones to respond to it—the only ones, among the philosophers, to invoke the divine—are those who dare to make the Word speak (Saint Augustine, Malebranche, Pascal). In general, we could say that there is no divine taking of the stand in the universe of human discourse, except for the twenty-some odd pages of all the Scriptures of all religions, in which the impression of hearing a God speak in the language of God can be had. And twenty is a lot. Perhaps there are really only five altogether.”[38]

What a harsh judgement indeed! Moreover, God, Souriau claims, has hardly been loved as a “for-himself” just as is it rare indeed for a person we love to be loved for themselves rather than for what they mean to us. Thus, God is by far an extremely dangerous topic to symbolize and articulate, because God, especially the God of the ontological argument, is posed “whether we like it or not” and the onus is on the thinker to dare to declare such a problem so deeply connected to being to be irrelevant. Souriau thinks that to do so would be foolish. Instead we are asked to do something just as dangerous. The soul must:

“Take the personality of this God upon itself by sacrificing itself as an individual. Thus, it receives its reward—or its punishment. It gets what it wanted. It gets the God that it deserved.”[39]

What mortifying language! Does this mean that God in se is the maximal being? A unicity beyond being? Simply an ontologically different mode of existence? Each of these symbolizations, so we might say, has its genealogical origins in Plato’s Timaeus, Parmenides and Sophist respectively and there is little chance of forcing them to concur with one another any more than Plato himself ever managed. No wave of the wand of coincidentia is going to solve this any more than leaning hard on the Law of Non-Contradiction as though the world were some cheap computer that might instantly grind to a halt and put up the blue screen of death should we enter incommensurate data. No, we must live with what we decide. Perhaps we must fail and never even know it. Yet, in the end, one cannot ignore the imperative: “But cut you must!” One must make the decision, or find a different cut to make.

The ontotheological God, so we might say, is not as Heidegger said, the God to whom no one may pray nor sacrifice, but the God who cannot help but be for ontologically anxious humans more about prayers – salvation, tidy and totalizing theological systems. We would be very cold and vicious to pejorate this, and I do not think I can or want to. But the point remains that this voyage has only rarely been about the “open soul’s” sacrifice of pushing consciousness and symbolization to its limits to truly desire to know the nature of things in se and try to let them speak. As Plato exemplified, there is more than one way to do this, yet all ways have consequences, all of them fail to gather up the whole of things without some sense of loss and the decay of living symbols into hollow dogmatism over time.

What Souriau says could only have been written after we have all long since gotten what we deserved from the historical effects of the theological symbolizations of Plato, Aristotle and Christianity and their understandings of immanent and transcendent. Some of the things we have derived from these traditions have been very good; some of these have been very bad. If the latter were not the case, then Voegelin would have had very little to say about immanentism and Gnostics and the RO thinkers nothing to say of the univocity of being. What then is to be done? We must simply accept the risk involved and perform our duty as philosophers, artists, myth-makers as best we can and take up the risky business of thinking, doing, symbolizing.

Rather than giving up or nihilistically considering the history of philosophy and religion to have decayed into a failed work of art, we are invited to develop an “open soul” again and again. The Sophist suggests the bizarre notion that ontology is haunted and this is very hard to simply explain away. Existence is full of ghosts and trickery as a result of the participation of the Different/Other in being and the troublesome equivocity of non-being that results. We would be very foolish to assume that Plato regarded it possible to “complete the system” under such an ontology, for he himself most certainly did not even vaguely complete sufficient consideration of Same, Motion and Rest in the dialogue. Yet at the same time we would be equally as foolish to take up a Gnostic position that the world is inherently botched, which can only lead to attempts to try to find some form of cheat codes to force everything into a false “second reality” that attempts to dogmatically ignore or stamp out all the phantasms. Instead we must engage with them and sort through them. And, for anyone who wishes to pursue the path less traveled, that of the Sophist, this means treating the diversity of being and the koinonia of Same, Other, Rest and Motion seriously.

Souriau is one of the few people who has ever really attempted this. If any mortal laborer besides Plato has ever truly earned the Sophist’s title of poietic as opposed to ktetic then I think that Souriau as artist most certainly did. Catherine Pickstock, whose work we will be looking at in part three of this essay, is another. These supply the opening for a different sort of Platonism, a Thateroplatonism, if you will, that is able not only to do justice to the equivocity of being latent in Plato, but is able to make sufficient use of it to engage with the univocal and reductive sophistry of the “speculative turn.” It is up to us, then, to take Plato’s Sophist and Voegelin, Souriau and the analogia entis into different territories altogether. In the end, however, we will get what we deserve. If we should be foolish enough to think that what we might outline will be some new Age of the Spirit that “completes the system” then we will most definitely get the foolish payout we deserve. Yet, the “differentiation of being,” as Voegelin once called the teasing out of compact symbolizations of reality to their full potential, must go on.



[1] Steven F. McGuire, “Voegelin and Schelling on Freedom and the Beyond,” VoegelinView, 2nd April 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Plato, Sophist, 254b-d. The caveat is to go no further than the five, “Hina mē tarattōmetha en pollois” (lest we become confused in many matters/ by the many).  Assumedly this is a play on words.

[4] Ibid, 256d.

[5] Ibid, 255b-c.

[6] Ibid, 254b-d, 256b.

[7] Ibid, 257b. See also: 258b. See 258c-d on actively disobeying Parmenides’ injunction.

[8] Ibid, 256e-257a.

[9] Ibid, 259b.

[10] Ibid, 260b-261d. On the phantasmic, see this whole section, but also 266b-c on phantasmata autophuē (self-produced specters) and 267a on phantasmic mimesis.

[11] Ibid, 265ab-d, 266b-c. The division is between the ktetic – which is imitation to trick or to profit out of others – and the poetic which is simply the act of imitating the forms by making things (presumably honestly). At 266d these are called the phantastic and eikastic. This produces a “fourfold” of a sort in which there is a divine and a human version of each.

[12] At 265c-ethe creator is “Allou tinos ē theou demiourgountos” (somebody or the demiurgic god), but the interlocutors soon admit that they do not know whether it is that case that the gods made the world, or simply Nature.

[13] See esp. 257c-d. The comparison that is made here is with there being many forms of knowledge (epistemai) and arts (tekhnai). Plato seems to tacitly assume that these are simply parts of knowledge and artistry as wholes, but there is no effort made here to argue for participation in the One.

[14] It is hard to read 255d’s discourse on the other (thateron) and each thing’s relative other (pros heteron) and not think of Hegel.

[15] Plato, Timaeus, 49a, 50b-c. Cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics, I,6, On Generation and Corruption II. 1. On “prime matter” see Physics, I.9, Metaphysics, V.4-6. The fact is that Aristotle seemed unresolved on whether prime matter without form might be possible or not. Compare Metaphysics, VIII.3 and IX.7. For a detailed breakdown of the history of the problem and arguments (without any clear resolution) see: Thomas Ainsworth, “Form and Matter,” Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 8th February 2016,

[16] Plotinus, Enneads, III. 6.7.10-15. This is reiterated almost word for word in Porphyry, Launching Points to the Realm of Mind, s. 21.

[17] One might note that A. H. Armstrong, the translator of the Loeb Classical Library volume III of Plotinus really gets into the spirit of things, so to speak, by translating eidōla en eidōlō atekhnōs as “nothing but phantoms in a phantom”, eidōla eis eidōlon aphormon as “ghosts into a formless ghost”  and amenēna as “wraithlike.”

[18] Plato, Sophist, 254a.

[19] Marie Louise Gill, “Introduction” in Plato, Parmenides, Hackett, Indianapolis IN, 1996, p. 71. Cf. Charles Kahn, “Retrospect on the Verb ‘To Be’ and the Concept of ‘Being’, in S. Knuuttila and J. Hintikka (eds), The Logic of Being, Dordrecht, 1986, pp. 1-28.

[20] Alain Badiou, Logic of Worlds: Being and Event II, trans. Alberto Toscano, Bloomsbury Academic, London, 2013, esp. p. 58-9.

[21] Catherine Pickstock, “The Univocal Mode of Production.”

[22] Martin Heidegger, Plato’s Sophist, trans. Richard Rojcewicz and Andre Schuwver, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1997, p. 401. Heidegger’s linking of Motion with logos stems from linking motion with psyche. The soul is a self-moving entity. This is cribbed from Aristotle (of which much of Heidegger’s lectures in question liberally utilise to understand Plato, perhaps rather wrongly). Nonetheless, in Laws 893-7 we find the soul as foremost self-moving entity, connected with arguments that seem to prefigure the Aristotelian unmoved mover.

[23] Etienne Souriau, The Different Modes of Existence, trans. Eric Baranek and Tim Howles, Univocal, Minneapolis MN, 2015.

[24] Ibid, pp. 136-9.

[25] Ibid. pp. 140-149.

[26] Ibid, pp. 150-156.

[27] Ibid, p. 156-8.

[28] Ibid, p. 174.

[29] William James, Pragmatism, Meridian Books, New York, 1964, p. 105.

[30] Plato, Sophist, 266d. Note the use of the verb temnō (to cut) multiple times to describe the process in 265e-266a.

[31] In all honesty Bruno Latour, Enquiry into the Modes of Existence, trans. Catherine Porter, MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London, 2013 is top candidate for the dullest and most ineffectual book I have ever read (and I have read a lot of very dull and ineffectual books). Latour is famous for creating various network and systems theories that are precursor to “object orientated ontology” in that they emphasise the importance all manner of non-human “actors” have on how societies function. In his works there is also a fair shot of rather generic ecological thought about “Gaia” and modernity as the false belief in dividing the world into nature and human culture, which we have heard endlessly remixed since the 60s. Enquiry simply reheats this in an attempt to describe the “modes of existence” that the “moderns” believe in and need to alter in order to overcome climate change. There’s not a single interesting suggestion or observation in the entire book. It seems rather a shame that Souriau’s lexis has been reduced to something so banal, uncreative and lacking any real speculative risk. Yet, one might note that Latour also knows about Voegelin and from him has extracted very little except the idea that Gnostic domination of nature must be replaced by “immanence without immanentism” – simply more immanent systems theory cosmologies. Calling the fellow a boor would be kind. We can do better!

[32] Etienne Souriau, The Different Modes, pp. 195-7.

[33] Etienne Souriau, The Different Modes, p. 179.

[34] Plato, Sophist, 254e-255b.

[35] Etienne Souriau, The Different Modes, p. 197.

[36] Plato, Sophist, 262.

[37] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, p. 190.

[38] Etienne Souriau, The Different Modes p. 166.

[39] Ibid, p. 167 n. 117.


This is the second of six parts. Also available are “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Voegelin, Process and the New Realism,” Process and the Derailing of Reality: Catherine Pickstock and the Return of Platonic Cosmology,” “Process and the Derailing of Reality: The Strange Curse of the Ages of the World,” “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Love and Violence,” and “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Erotic Theology.”

Jonathan Ratcliffe

Jonathan Ratcliffe is Associate Editor of VoegelinView and a doctoral candidate in Asian History at the Australian National University. He is working with Chris Heggie-Brown on a history of technology and politics, provisionally titled "Voegelin Among the Machines."

Back To Top