William Desmond’s Metaphysics, Pt. II: The Quadradic Sense of Being

[On William Desmond’s metaphysics: pt. i]

William Desmond sees being as ever between determinacy and indeterminacy. Being becomes, as mentioned in the last post, by way of plenitude and excess rather than negation. Novelty emerges as a generation of the dialectic. However, rather than claiming a (Hegelian) dialectic of negation, say, of being and non-being, for Desmond the generation comes from the internally differentiated surplus of being. The becoming of being isn’t the simple opposite of stasis, it is complex in its dynamism by virtue of the mediation of difference (more on this later).

This complexity is critical to understand Desmond’s thick understanding of becoming. Now we must turn to his fourfold (quadratic) understanding of being:

1.) Univocal: unity, unmediated sameness, knowable, determinate

Being is one/knowable. Pure univocity is an abstraction, to be sure, but it operates on the abstract or theoretical level in a variety of forms, most notably in formal logic and mathematics. In many ways univocity is the aim of science, which is thus forever frustrated by equivocity.

2.) Equivocal: unmediated difference, otherness, unknowable, indeterminate

Being is many/unknowable. Pure equivocity is also an abstraction, as it would be completely unintelligible, but the truth of the matter – that being is differentiated – is almost irrefutable. There are different things; being is internally differentiated.

3.) Dialectical: self-mediation of difference

Being is the self-mediation of difference. Being consists also of the mediation of difference. In being difference isn’t static, it is mediated and becoming. This mediation is, by nature, generative. Novelty emerges from the mediation of difference in the basic Hegelian sense of dialectic.

4.) Metaxological: plural mediation of difference

Being is the plural-mediation of difference. This is Desmond’s contribution. Throughout much of his earlier career Desmond has shown that a Hegelian dialectic, while a fecund and dynamic notion which ushers in novelty, ultimately tends toward the univocal. The Hegelian dialectic is self-mediating, as the Geist (world spirit) self-differentiates and then self-mediates toward a telos without difference. In an effort to preserve difference – and here Desmond’s contribution is postmodern in a sense – he rips open the dialectic, not allowing it to entail provisional difference on the way to totalizing oneness. Instead Desmond posits that being is metaxological, without a singular world-transcending and world-uniting power which self-mediates all difference into a higher unity of itself, which sees being as internally differentiated and dialectical with mediations between an infinite plurality of locales.

 

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