Definitive Introduction to Metamodern Metaphysics

Including Reflections on the Psychological, Anthropological, and Economic Interpretation of the Conditions of Possibility

Let us ask ourselves a question. Is it accidental that post-metaphysical thinking and the philosophical methods of deconstruction appear alongside the political projects interested in disarming and disempowering world institutions, or those interested in dismantling patriarchy, and the remaining after-effects of colonialism? We can be sure that following WWII, the real power of technology had asked that the human animal problematize the use and application of technology, among other sociological and political concerns. Because of the pervasiveness of this power, we should not be surprised that during this same period, academic philosophy too was also subordinated to sociological concerns and preoccupied with the tools on offer by way of sociologic. In a little-referenced paper from 2003, titled The Problem of Critique, Steven M. Feldman identifies this turn away from metaphysics and towards a certain epistemological sociology, one that goes by the name of metamodernism,

“Metamodernism not only rejects epistemological foundationalism, but further dismisses these concerns as insignificant in comparison to other more pressing issues. Metamodernists tend to emphasize the operation and orientation of power.”

“Jürgen Habermas, for instance, unequivocally declares himself to be postmetaphysical.”

Feldman epitomizes this period of thought by reference to the debate surrounding intellectuals such as Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jürgen Habermas, and Jacques Derrida, among others. At the same time, we should also acknowledge that narratives such as Feldman’s “metamodernism” indicate that their author is standing at some distance from that which is described. Only once both author and reader are standing on the outside, can the truth of such a historical periodization resonate. To be sure, such a historical periodization places the author and the reader outside of that which is described; and in this case, beyond post-WWII humanism and its “problematizing of critique”. When standing together with Feldman in such a space, and looking at our own historical paradigm, we can also ask if metaphysical questions would again be useful, and particularly when addressing the challenges of a “metamodernity” — namely,

a problematizing of labor;

a problematizing of restlessness;

a problematizing of the other; and,

a lack of care.

Of course, given this list, and when looking into the history of metaphysics, we have reason to suspect that the subjectivist metaphysics of Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, and Martin Heidegger would be satisfactory in addressing metamodern challenges. To be sure, a post-individualistic thinking was not only required of the post-WWII project, it is also present for us today. However, to believe that a post-individualistic metaphysics could be achieved by way of a “collective-”, “social-”, “national-”, or “identity-” (or even a “dividual-”) subject would be a deception. In each of those approaches, the human animal remains as the subject, as it has since the inception of the modern era. What is required of a metamodern metaphysics is a new subject matter which can account for the phenomena of the human animal, but also non-human animals, machines, intelligent programs, and even algorithms. In this article we will announce such a subject. We will also frame the thinking space which treats of this subject. Finally, we will conclude by considering what questions a metamodern metaphysics faces. But firstly, a few remarks on subjects are required.

Remarks on subject matter and subjects

Subject is a word which comes to us by way of Latin subiectum, subicio (from sub, “under, beneath, at the foot of” and iacio, “I lay, set, establish, build, found, construct”). The present infinitive of iacio is iacere. Fundamenta iacere means “to lay the foundations”. Within scientific disciplines, various objects serve as subject matter, such that all discourse within that discipline is directed towards those grounding subjects. For example, man in the case of anthropology; the psyche in the case of psychology; or society in the case of sociology. The subject of any metaphysics is, however, the subject in a twofold manner. Metaphysics takes the subject matter of its discourse which is, at the same time, the subject which stands at the foundation of the description which accounts for the very presence of the world. Today, of course, we generally consider this subject the human animal — and, it is quite likely that we take the subject as that animal’s consciousness. A metaphysics describing anything other than the imagery produced by human animal’s brain activity might even appear as occult. We can trace a history of the subject, thusly understood, back to the Ancient Greeks, and back to the priority of the human animal in the economy of the πολις. However, such an understanding of the subject became pronounced in the modern era. And while the word subiectum or subject is absent in the metaphysical architectonic of Kant. It was Kant’s transcendental philosophy which encouraged the necessity of this word in later metaphysical discourse. Therefore, it is worth our time to recapitulate Kant’s philosophy as we bring ourselves forward through history and up into the state of metaphysics as we find it here and now.

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason

Before highlighting features of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, we should note that during Kant’s time, Isaac Newton’s mechanics had a profound impact on the interpretation of the natural world. However, Kant acknowledged that the phenomenal experience did not merely appear, but was rather conditioned. Speaking colloquially, we might say that there are conditions which “inform” or “form the image of” whatever we discover in nature. Today, we know Kant’s conditions as the conditions of possibility. Immediately, we should notice the two domains of explanation. Firstly, Newton’s domain, which accounts for causality. Secondly, Kant’s, which accounts for the conditions for the understanding of that causality. For Kant, nature is understood as the total of all appearances that can be synthesized together, according to a priori concepts. In addition, Kant also understood that causality is a rational organizing principle imposed upon nature. However, Kant also understood that his transcendental explanation has limitations. He understood these limitations as those of metaphysical questioning generally. Kant had resigned that whatever falls outside the realm of intuition, also falls outside the scope of metaphysical interrogation. Thus, Kant speaks of the thing in itself,

“We rightly consider objects of sense as mere appearances, confess thereby that they are based upon a thing in itself, though we know not this thing as it is in itself, but only know its appearances, viz., the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.”

What is important for us to acknowledge is that Kant is operating with a rational model of consciousness which produces synthetic judgements about nature. Acknowledging this, and also acknowledging the placement of the occult (the unknowable) within Kant’s metaphysical architectonic, the domain of Kant’s metaphysical description should be clear. Colloquially, we might call his domain of philosophical inquiry “psychological”. Throughout the rest of this article we will continue with this qualification, never minding the nuances which might keep “psychological” metaphysics, such as that of Kant’s, distinct from the science which we know as psychology.

Now, what may strike any one of us living today is that if we were to simply accept the conditions of possibility by way of Kant’s rational model of consciousness, then we would have only explained how the intuition of appearances and their motion is possible. What would be explicitly lacking in this form of description is an explanation as to which object adheres in consciousness. The problem asked about here can be further considered by way of the following example: consider that lightning is not tantamount to or merely a type of electromagnetic discharge. At most, we could say that the description electromagnetic discharge is a refinement of the description lightning. But we could never say that one is more true or even more accurate than the other. This means that whether the object “lightning” adheres in consciousness or whether “electromagnetic discharge” adheres cannot be described by synthetic judgements alone. Rather, it must be conditioned by something other than subjective consciousness. Therefore, we must admit that a more robust architectonic would be needed to describe the conditions by which objects adhere in consciousness. And therefore, we require a deeper structure which can describe the conditions of possibility. Of course, and as is well known, the question regarding the which is one which Being and Time begins to answer by way of a more robust and “anthropological” thinking.

Heidegger’s Being and Time

Heidegger’s move away from “psychological” philosophizing and towards a certain anthropological orientation provides for a more robust understanding of the conditions of possibility. This is apparent in the opening paragraphs of his Being and Time, which make clear that the subject of his architectonic is something other than the I myself. When Heidegger’s questioner asks into the subject under investigation, the questioner does not find an I, but rather a mine. This mine is not a me, nor is it even my consciousness. It is rather da sein (“being there”). Yet, my da sein is not exclusive to me. Rather my da sein is the one — Heidegger’s one is the any one of us. But this does not mean the subject of his architectonic is us either. Rather, the subject of Heidegger’s metaphysical inquiry is the possibilities available to this any one of us. This means that the subject of Heidegger’s transcendentalism — that is, the conditions of possibility — is the possibilities available to a tribe, village, community, industry, or nation. Given this, of course, it is properly incorrect to call Heidegger’s metaphysics in Being and Time “anthropological”, insofar as the subject under interrogation is not “man”, but rather the possibilities available to this animal. At the same time, we use this expression to draw contrast between Heidegger’s subject and those philosophies which take the human animal’s ψυχη, (psūkhe, “mind” or “soul”) as its subject matter.

Heidegger firstly sheds light on the question as to which object adheres within a tribe, a village, a community, industry, or a nation by borrowing thinking from the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard — principally, Kierkegaard’s nivellering (“leveling”.) For Heidegger, einebnung (“leveling down”) conditions the possibilities which are available when being there in my tribe. Recalling section 41 of Heidegger’s Being and Time, we remember that,

Being there’s projection of itself understandingly is in each case already alongside a world that has been discovered. From this world it takes its possibilities, and it does so first in accordance with the way things have been interpreted by ‘the one’. This interpretation has already restricted the possible options of choice to what lies within the range of the familiar, the attainable, the respectable — that which is fitting and proper. This leveling off of being there’s possibilities to what is proximally at its everyday disposal also results in a dimming down of the possible as such.”

The devices by which the social commercium of the tribe “levels” the possibilities available to its members are well-understood. We may call to mind any number of social mechanisms which we might call the sacred or the taboo. Of course, and not to be overlooked, for Heidegger such social mechanisms are not merely restrictive. And much like Kierkegaard, for Heidegger too, leveling is not a negative condition. Though, unlike Kierkegaard, for Heidegger, the positive possibilities which emerge in leveling are not to be found in the grace and gifts from God. For Heidegger, leveling down does not convey any moral sentiments. Rather, Heidegger’s understanding of leveling down falls into his metaphysical architectonic. For Heidegger, leveling down conditions the possibility of an authentic self from out of the possibilities available to the one. The possibility of authenticity constitutes the positive possibility inherent to leveling down. Heidegger’s architectonic maintaining, the self is explanatorily dependent on the one. This is to say, the self is always a derivation or modification of the any one of us. So, without leveling down, there could be no authentic self.

Of course, at the same time, and for those of us harboring a more liberal spirit, we may want to outright reject Heidegger’s socially interpreted conditions of possibility. However, if this is the case, let us remind ourselves that these conditioning mechanisms would remain even in a political landscape where personal responsibility and individual or group liberties are pronounced. Even in cultures such as those of the West, and particularly the United States, where choosing personal pronouns and gender identity, for example, are increasingly necessary (and which seem to indicate a profound expression of individual power over the social commercium), this could never count as proof against the self’s conditioning in the one. After all, a culture of choosing personal pronouns and gender identity may rather count as proof of the self’s conditioning. It is reasonable to assume that a deconstruction of gender institutions would only be necessary in a culture which had dramatized the differences between the masculine and the feminine to such an extent that it could no longer maintain. We might even find evidence of this dramatization of the genders in the American popular culture of the 1980s. If this history is correct, this would then also account for why such instances of individual self-expression are not as pronounced in cultures outside of the West, and particularly outside of the United States.

The reign of “sociological” philosophizing

Now, it should be remarked that Heidegger’s teacher, professor Edmund Husserl, was disappointed in his student book. A bit of retroactive psychoanalysis might tell us that he was disappointed, specifically, in that Heidegger’s anthropological form of explanation had diverged so drastically from his own psychological. Yet, despite Husserl’s disappointment, and when looking within the history of Western philosophy, it seems that Heidegger does stand at the inception of a new era of philosophizing, one which assumes the human animal’s commercium as a conditioning factor of the self. Plus, by integrating the human animal’s πραξις (praxis) into his descriptions of the condition of possibility, Heidegger’s metaphysics also provided later philosophers a liberation from any concern over or skepticism about the existence of the external world. The result of this liberation was a trend in thinking towards “the sociological” and, perhaps quite unfortunately, the “socially constructed”. We can cite the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, who wrestled with Heidegger’s Being and Time early in his career, and who also tried to fix Heidegger’s anthropological metaphysics for the liberal palette. To a certain extent, we can even include Judith Butler, whose “performativity” is a reading of being, which follows when interpreting being exclusively within the narrow realm of “a society of individuals”. Sociological philosophies such as these take the human animal’s commercium as a condition of possibility, but revert their attention back to the experience of the individual human animal within this commercium. We might even say that this prioritization of the individual human animal and its experience is the defining difference between “anthropological” and “sociological” philosophizing.

Now, despite Heidegger’s successes in expanding the scope by which to think about the conditions of possibility, what should also be obvious is that any anthropological or sociological reading of the conditions of possibility also preserves an unfortunate basis — namely, the priority of the human animal over non-human animals, even machines, intelligent programs, and perhaps even algorithms. Today, we might find it difficult to maintain this bias. Of course, and to Heidegger’s credit, and when looking back into history, and towards a particular period of human civilization, we can see that the conditions of possibility to which one has been “thrown” could be indicated by the various human tribes, villages, communities, industries, or nations which we find record into history by the human hand. However, when looking at our own era today, we might find these forms of human organizations merely types, and only particular instances of, various environmental “work-worlds” which indicate da sein. If we follow this conclusion, then it would be correct to name the greater economic or ecological commercium as the proper realm for philosophizing on the conditions of possibility today. This commercium is indicated by the commerce of the human animal, but also includes non-human animals, machines, intelligent programs, and even algorithms, along with every other element of the earth. To be sure, any advance which could be made to Heidegger’s principal question of Being and Time — namely, the sense of time — could only be elucidated once thinking within the realm of the commercium.

Introducing the πραξις-πολις

In looking for directives for expounding upon this “economic” or “ecological” commercium, we can return to a period of history just before the subjectum had been prepared for by Plato (and, to be sure, above all by Aristotle). This means that in order to find a directive for expounding upon the commercium, we can look towards the natural philosophers. For these ancients, there was no theory apart from practice. Theory, as the Ancient Greeks understood it, was the highest mode of ενεργεια (enērgeia, “the actualizing of potential”), but they understood it only as the supreme realization of genuine πραξις (“doing”), the innermost determining center of their entire existence as a people. For these ancients, theory springs forth from doing. It is dependent on it. In order to understand this “doing”, perhaps we could think of the doing of a people by way of an analogy. Imagine, for example, some primordial ooze which, by way of its practical dealing with its environment, draws definition in that environment, such that this ooze not only comes to a “theory” about the world, but also comes to the descriptions which belong to that theory — whether that theory is of material nature, and includes descriptions such as food and chair, or whether that theory is moral, and includes in it, for example, feminism and liberty. We could think of this primordial ooze as a human animal, perhaps a child, and we could then further think of this process of articulation within the environment by way of a child’s development — this process, then, accounting for the ways in which the child learns to operate with the objects mom and spoon, and even the object me. We could equally think of this process as of that of a tribe, a nation, or a “society”. In this case, we may say that this primordial πραξις is the condition for not only cognitive representation, but also language and culture too. Though, we should beware of getting too caught up in these specific psychological or sociological analogies. Within socialist economic theory (again, from within Marxist literature, for example) it might be common to translate πραξις simply as production. However, we should equally beware of translating πραξις from Ancient Greek into modern thought solely through the framework of material economics. Instead of using either a psychological, sociological, or a material economic frame of thought, we can use our analogy of the primordial organism to consider exactly this indefinite object, a people — or rather, the doing of a people. If we do, then we can say that, just as with the human child, this doing of a people allows for the world to be articulated, as the world which it is, in its intellectual or theoretical fashion. This primordial state of being, so to speak, then, is the very condition for knowledge itself. It is the condition for any science, from psychology and sociology to economics. Inasmuch, we can say that this primordial commerce is prior to even material description. That is to say, it is prior to the discipline of physics, which is, after all, one type of language or “theory” — and that is to say, this particular conception of a doing of a peopleπραξις, as a primordial commerce, belongs to what we would call today metaphysical description.

Let us then recall that in Ancient Greece, the πολις is where one found himself at home in a language, already within a λογος, which projects towards a future for that πολις. Within this “project area”, so to speak, we find our λογος (language or logic) — that is to say, we find that which organizes activity towards the ορισμος (horismos, “horizon”) — it organizes πραξις. Πραξις refers to the economic dealings which project towards the ορισμος. Everything disclosed and uncovered before that ορισμος is the πολις. All possibilities (any object of value which projects towards the ορισμος) is what constitutes the “material” of the πολις. This may include hammers, cement mixers, wayfinding signs, or other values such as economic competition and individual liberty. The πολις indicates the condition for the being of that “material” too. To be sure, this condition is prior to any knowledge about the city or of its productive infrastructures — or even of the goals and results which its administrators seek to achieve. Only on account of this primordial state of being is any articulation of objects possible — and this includes any objectification of any particular  you or me (or, as in the case today, intelligent programs and even algorithms). With both the πραξις and the ορισμος to which that πραξις projects, we can announce the subject matter of a metamodern metaphysics. However, we must beware of confusing πραξις with modern translation such as “production” or πολις with “city” or “state”. To be sure, this would be to inject inherited conceptions from recent-past projects and time periods into our own today. This procedure would then not only trivialize our own problems today, but would render any genuine solutions to metamodern problems impossible. Therefore, we prefer to use the Ancient Greek language to refer to objects of our metamodern metaphysical architectonic. In heeding this concern, we designate the subject of the commercium — that is, the subject of metamodern metaphysics — as the twofold object, πραξιςπολιςΠραξις refers us to a commercium, as what we are looking at; πολις to the commercium, as where we are looking from.

Of course, given our appeals to the ancients and to the proximity of the πολις, are we not proposing an outright archaic metaphysics? Certainly, in light of the material benefits produced of a globalized economy, appeals to locale have been seen as anachronistic, isolationist, and (at their worst) manifestations of underlying xenophobia. And there is also a pressing technological objection. Not only has transportation brought the people of different ethnicities and nations within arm’s reach, but communication technology too, and specifically those platforms provided of the internet, should prove to us that πραξις has reached global expanse. By way of these and other planetary technologies, the human body has been augmented with paraphernalia such that we are wont to call our experience post-human. According to this narrative, the human animal is now at the hands of the god technology, which is, after all, that by which our modern economy functions. This is, no doubt, a clever move by the accelerationists and other proponents of technological solutions to modern problems. However, we should not be seduced into rejecting our appeals to the ancients without further clarifying proximity. What should be noted is that ορισμος too, as we are using the word here in this article, belongs to our metaphysical architectonic. As such, to speak of ορισμος as definitive of a locale is incorrect. The ορισμος does not indicate a physical locale, even if, for the most part, local canvases are still where we find a proximal wheeling and dealing with the environment. With remote working a real possibility nowadays, each one of us will have to consider the relationships between both the proximal and the locale more penetratingly, because, after all, if we are honest with ourselves, when standing in the here and now, we must admit the metaphysics of the πραξιςπολις must resonate more profoundly than, for example, the epistemologist’s tabula rasa — Locke’s “white paper”. And, to be sure, even if we paint a story about “the global economy”, this story would still be supported by our metaphysics.

Following Aristotle’s lead, Heidegger would say that da sein (as the way of being of a tribe of human animals) has been thrown (perhaps we could say “born”) into its possibilities. However, statements such Heidegger’s can only be possible once taking the human animal as the subject of the being of the world. “Thrownness” belongs to the very existence of da sein. Yet, as we have made clear, that which lies below, as the subiectum of any self, is nothing like the way of being of a human animal. Rather, we use the term πραξιςπολις to suggest a gravity outside of any human animal’s experience — one which pulls da sein inward, towards the epicenter of the pole, only to push da sein outward and towards its horizons. Taking expression from Mozart, we can say that any da sein (and therefore also any individualized or “authentic self”) is a mere amanuensis to this primordial power. Insofar as the human animal is an object for our subject, we cannot say that the subject is “thrown” or “born” into some condition which it could never escape. Rather the self is explanatory dependent upon having been drawn into a projection which we would never wish to escape. This never is indicated by the lust for engagement which is experienced when pursuing one’s passions. And it is equally indicated by envy when that lust is not able to be satisfied.

Remarks on “objectivist” metaphysics

Of course, to say that we are suggesting that metamodern metaphysics are “objectivist” would be properly incorrect; yet, we can make a claim to “objectivist” metaphysics on account of the educational value of that term. In suggesting the πραξιςπολις as the subject of the commercium as the conditions of possibility of the emergent paradigm, we are doing a subjectivist metaphysics (and, in fact, all metaphysics and all science must be “subjective” — insofar as metaphysics and all sciences must have a subject which they study). However, we take as our architectonic that which has up to now been considered an object for man — namely, the many and various projects and projections which have been indicated by the human animal’s interpersonal commerce. Hence, we do find educational value in saying that we are suggesting a type of “objectivist” metaphysics.

Outstanding questions of metamodern metaphysics

In order to advance the discipline of metaphysics by way of an objectivist metaphysics, metamodern metaphysics must develop an architectonic of the πραξιςπολις as that which is more fundamental for the being of the world than either the cogito sum, the transcendental subject, da sein, or the dividual. If this metaphysics are to be truly progressive, then the explanatory power of this metaphysics must be greater than what those prior descriptions have accomplished. Of course, and even if this were accomplished, this metaphysics would be needless if it were without consequence to real world issues and practical matters. Of principal importance to the metamodern political project is an understanding of both power and history. However, we must admit that any reflection on power or history, which has not firstly begun with observing the phenomena to which these words direct our attention, will have assumed a nursery school understanding of each, and thereby already began a problematization by way of a thinking which is inappropriate to the phenomena today.

In a certain sense, this article is a call for those thinkers who stand between two chairs. One on hand, we are metaphysicians; one the other, we are politicians. In both chairs, we understand that treating metaphysics as a science has the potential to transform the political landscape. Or, perhaps we could say that metaphysics is the most abstract and therefore robust expression of that political landscape, which brings clarity to that landscape. When acting as “political metaphysicians”, and not strictly as “political strategists”, it is not up for us to decide which projects any human animals may take up, or whether they wish to animate any particular ethos in doing so. If this were our concern, we would place politics before metaphysics. But, of course, this cannot be the case. Rather, for us here, we restrict ourselves to a description of the conditions of possibility, and leave for later an understanding of which strategies follow consequently, among certain peoples, places, and times.

First economics philosophy

In thinking of the name of the discipline which pursues metaphysical description as an answer to the questions of the metamodern paradigm, we can turn towards Aristotle’s τα περι της πρωτης φιλοσοφιας (that is, “the [writings] concerning first philosophy”). Of course, the French philosopher Rene Descartes offers a more English-friendly term for this realm of thought; prima philosophia. And so, following the Latinized expression, we might say that we are here doing prima economics — prime economics. However, for ease of translation into English, let us simply name the thinking space of the commercium as first economics. In the thinking space of first economics we are liberated from the modern individual-subject of “psychological” metaphysics, including even Heidegger’s “anthropological” pattern of thought, and the sociological priority too. For further ease, we may simply call the subject of first economics philosophy “the project”.