What is the Meaning of Architectonics? On Walter’s Watson’s The Architectonics of Meaning

Posted by Edward Willatt on Sunday, February 21, 2016 Under: Architectonics




Walter Watson’s The Architectonics of Meaning: Foundations of the New Pluralism (1985, second edition 1993) is at once modest and hugely ambitious in its project.  In this work of less than two hundred pages the history of Western philosophy, plus that of natural science and elements of literature and Eastern philosophy, are synthesised within an architectonic.  The range of thinkers which span the extremes of opposing views is wide indeed.  Yet Watson proclaims the standpoint of ‘the new pluralism’.   No theory is superior to any other; all are included and recognised as ‘archic variables’ or basic possibilities of thought. 

We must consider whether this vast construction achieves more than excellence in scholarship and exegesis.  Does this pluralistic architectonic undermine the ability of philosophy or any other disciplines to ‘make a difference’ if all their efforts have equal value?  Is this a ‘levelling down’ of thought that neglects the real genesis and energy of this activity?  If all positions are equal, are they not equally impotent in their ability to make progress or ‘stand their ground’, to resist reactive forces and realise the potential of thought in the world? 

Watson starts with diversity as something continuous in the history of philosophy.   His architectonic must realise the implications of diversity and show that the differences between philosophies are non-oppositional.  A key claim in Watson’s approach to architectonics is that different philosophies are incompatible only insofar as we need to use one system of thought at a time. Just as we cannot use both the metric and decimal systems of measurement to grasp and ‘mark out’ the world, so we cannot use both empiricist and rationalist principles to do philosophy.   This leads Watson to the arbitrariness of foundational philosophical decisions by analogy with the decision between inches and centimetres.  We have to make this choice in order to think just as we have to make a choice between systems of measurement in order to measure anything and understand the dimensions of objects and spaces.  This judgement is at once foundational for purposeful and constructive activity, and utterly arbitrary.  Thus we have the figure of the architectonic thinker making an arbitrary choice in a radically subjective foundational gesture.  This will have implications for Watson’s attempt to found a pluralism of all philosophical positions.  If the subject's interpretation is primary, questions arise about assuming the subject as a starting point.  If our position is that of a monistic materialist, shouldn’t we seek to account for the emergence of a subject rather than beginning by assuming its simple existence?  We will return to this point.  What exactly is chosen so arbitrarily in the subject’s decision about how to interpret the world? 

Watson’s method is to take account of the different principles from which philosophies start and on which they depend.   This will produce an understanding of the multiplicity of approaches and a widening of the horizon of possibilities.  It also has cross-disciplinary implications: 

‘Further, since the special arts and sciences are particular embodiments of philosophic principles,a pluralism at the level of philosophy implies the possibility of a similar pluralism at the level of thespecial arts and sciences’. (Watson 1993: xiv)

In this architectonic, the different approaches of arts and sciences cannot be resolved by appealing to the way the world is.  Instead it is different approaches, frameworks, styles or paradigms that determine how we see the world and reflect fundamental philosophical differences.   Philosophic principles also found other disciplines.  They include Creative Principles.  These are initiating, arbitrary powers (ibid: 103).  For Watson these are possibilities of thought exemplified in the Book of Genesis and its account of creation but reactivated in Heidegger's Being and Time where the God and human of Genesis become Being and Dasein (ibid: 110).  These are the co-creators.  Another case is Elementary Principles which again have a huge range in Watson's reading of the history of thought.  They are embodied by Plotinus' the One, Nietzsche's Will to Power and Freud's psychic energy (ibid: 117, 123).  For Freud and Nietzsche it is a conflict of elemental forces that is manifested in our thought and experience.  For Plotinus it is a spiritual, non-material unity that is elementary.  

In contrast to both Creative and Elementary Principles, Comprehensive Principles envisage the design of the whole and its functioning.  An example is Plato’s dialogues because each shows a different way in which the Comprehensive Principle of the Good causes functioning (ibid: 128).  On this reading, the harmony of both psyche and polis in the Republic is the result of each part of these structures functioning according to the Idea of the Good.  Finally, we have Reflexive Principles.  Here we do not look for a cause of functioning, such as a transcendent Idea, but make functioning the cause of itself (ibid: 136).  The sciences established by Aristotle are governed by Reflexive Principles because these actualise themselves through disciplinary activities.  The motion studied by natural science actualises the principle that initiates this intellectual endeavour (ibid: 138).  Likewise, metaphysics is ‘thought thinking itself’, it actualises the principle that founds it.  We do not look beyond the activity that is the genesis of these sciences to account for them.  This strategy allows Watson to visit a dizzying array of philosophies, scientific theories and artistic practices, uncovering in each an ‘archic variable’ that in every case organises, unifies and shines forth in its explanatory power and intellectual satisfaction.  There is nothing lacking in these principles but what about their relations with one another?  What about the encounters and disputations that characterise the history of thought and leave their mark? 

The approach Watson takes to architectonics is based upon some major claims.  We saw that he assumes the existence of a subject capable of making judgements about the interpretation of reality as arbitrary as those between different systems of measurements.  Such undetermined judgements are unconditioned by forces that certain thinkers consider to be necessary conditions of thought and its judgements.  Watson also moves to undermine the apparent force and importance of disagreements in the history of philosophy.  He does this by again appealing to the adequacy of judgements and in particular the exemplary ability and reputation of the subjects who judge.  Having named some famous disputants on either side of a debate, Watson argues that with such names on either side ‘… who can suppose that one of these groups must be simply wrong?  Our initial thought that the greatest wisdom enforces the most profound pluralism seems sufficiently confirmed even in this single comparison’ (ibid: 57).  The reputation and excellence of judging subjects confirms the adequacy of arbitrary judgements about how to interpret the world.  Yet many thinkers have recognised the worth of both sides in a disputation without drawing from this the equality of different positions.  Hegel’s system advances by subsuming both sides in a dialectic where the common element, absolute spirit, is found in both thesis and antithesis.  Likewise, a reduction of the non-material to the material recognises what it reduces but is clear in its reduction of what appears to be non-material to fully material processes and structures.  Why should a pantheon of opposed but brilliant minds lead us to embrace pluralism? 

In order to make his case, Watson formulates a concept of reciprocal priority in order to capture the equality and parity of different philosophies.  This is based on the idea that every approach can include all the others (ibid: 69).  As such they are 'reciprocally prior' to one another.  They are equally prior to one another because they make it possible for each other to have priority.  Thus, it is only because material realities can include non-material realities that we can range over reality giving satisfying material explanations.  We are free to choose materialism as we are free to choose centimetres or inches.  Our ability to incorporate other approaches to reality equalises them all in an equal relation of reciprocal priority.  Any philosophy embodies an ‘archic profile’ that is able to include all other philosophies and their results (ibid: 149).  We can affirm each philosophy:  ‘Each of the realities will then include the others, and be a reality of realities’ (ibid: 42).  Yet, this affirmation does not involve a negation of any other philosophy.  It seems that all philosophies join in a common project of realising the possibilities of thought by expanding to include everything that can be thought without denying the ability of other approaches to do the very same thing.  Does this all-embracing conception give us any grip upon the reality of thought and its dynamics over centuries of disputation and apparent conflict over reality?  Do we keep hold of the sharp divisions between philosophies that seem to range across the history of thought, such as when Speculative Realists reject transcendental philosophy in a critical judgement that energises their expansive system building?


For Watson the history of philosophy represents a cycle of shifts between three epochs: the ontic, the epistemic and the semantic (ibid: 5).  Thus the architectonic thinker does not, as is the case with David Casper Friedrich’s painting of ‘The Wayfarer Above the Sea of Fog’ (c. 1818), stand in the face a completely undetermined landscape.   They exist within an epoch which focuses upon either being, knowing or meaning until problems and contradictions build up and initiate a paradigm shift.  Watson locates his own work in this all-encompassing process:  ‘… here as throughout we are working in a semantic context and seeking causes internal to the text’ (ibid: 101).  This text was first published in 1985 and we could locate a return to what Watson calls an ontic epoch in the work of Alain Badiou and the loose grouping of thinkers often referred to as Speculative Realists.  Founding gestures in these systems include a rejection of both language and text based philosophy, and of the Kantian legacy of epistemic conditions of thought.  This might be described as a decisive break with the current situation, something that for thinkers like Badiou is necessary to account for change.  Watson finds fertile ground in his own epoch for an architectonics of meaning because such eras embrace the diversity of philosophies.  Ontic and epistemic epochs don’t bring this ‘multiplicity of doctrines’ to the fore as semantic ones do (ibid: 10).   For Watson his conception of architectonics is appropriate to the semantic epoch which he inhabits.  An architectonics of being or knowledge would reduce semantics and meaning-creation to being or knowing.  Watson finds that ontic epochs have produced and elaborated Aristotle’s Metaphysics with its architectonic of being.  Recurring epistemic epochs can develop the architectonics of knowing set out in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.  Yet where does this leave Watson’s claims about epochs other than his own?  Has he not confined himself to a semantic epoch and undermined his claims about the ‘archic elements’ that account for the emergence of different architectonics within different epochs?  Does he have the perspective and the resources to construct this account of architectonics in all its forms, this architectonic of architectonics?  Is not his approach in the end semantic, all too semantic? 

In his Architectonics of Meaning Watson seeks to draw upon the energy produced by the multiplicity of possibilities and constructions he locates across different epochs and philosophies.  Yet we’ve suggested that he privileges semantics even while claiming to establish pluralism.  For Watson the first principles that have always concerned philosophy are conceived as ‘… causes of the functioning of texts, and as reciprocally prior values of variables common to all texts’ (ibid: 13).  This emphasis within Watson’s architectonic seems to limit its explanatory power and grasp on the dynamics of thought.   Other epochs, ontic and epistemic, demand that we ‘take a stand’ on what is real or what is a condition of knowledge.  Yet in Watson’s architectonic of meaning there isn’t even any real friction between positions, nothing against which we can proclaim and defend our position.  It is as if the solidity of different systems melts away in a celebration of creativity and difference.  Architectonics does not provide a solid ground for ‘taking a stand’, for the fidelity that for Badiou is the practical foundation of events in the face of their lack of any foundation or justification in the current state of the situation.  For many thinkers a non-semantic reality or structure is at stake.  It is the things themselves or the most basic concepts that matter.  For example, Ray Brassier's nihilistic project seems to resist incorporation into Watson’s conception because, for this thinker, ‘… it is precisely the extinction of meaning that clears the way for the intelligibility of extinction’ (Brassier 2007, p. 238).[1]  Such philosophy is always against other philosophies and it is hard to make sense of such projects in any other way.  Such philosophies need an Other and this must be a genuine Other rather than an illusory opponent subsumed in an equality of ‘reciprocal priority’.  Without this friction and resistance, can we explain how such positions emerge in the first place?  Watson gives us an unbalanced architectonic which privileges a certain dynamic of meaning and interpretation in a way that leaves it unable to account for quite different dynamics such as critique and resistance to alternatives. 

We must consider the self-awareness and modesty shown by Watson about his own position in the final sentence of The Architectonics of Meaning:  ‘The insight presented here into the archic determinants of our thought, an insight appropriate to a semantic epoch, is one further step in the progressive realization of thought by itself’ (Watson 1993: 170).  This appropriateness to a semantic epoch is recognised and yet not seen as undermining the conception of architectonics in general as it is presented here.  Watson envisages other epochs uncovering and celebrating the pluralism that semantic epochs are best at appreciating.  They would come to the same conclusion that because we can incorporate different views of reality within one another their reciprocal priority is established.  Yet wouldn’t they take this as a dispute over the ability of philosophies to produce an account that has the greatest explanatory power, empirical authenticity and logical rigor?  Would they not lay claim to being closer to reality, to the basic elements of being or the basic concepts of knowledge?  It is hard to see how we can make sense of Watson’s conception of architectonics in these contexts.  In these landscapes of thought there are oppositions and divisions which reflect non-semantic reality and the problems it poses for us.  Yet for Watson there seems to be no outside of thought, no other to the diversity of mutually inclusive possibilities he celebrates, which could shock thought into action and explain why forceful and divisive philosophies emerge in the first place. 

In Water Watson’s Architectonics of Meaning we find that a multitude of philosophical systems are related and categorized in enlightening ways.  Drawing these connections leads us to a conception of architectonics as a pluralism founded upon the reciprocal priority of apparently opposed and incompatible world views.  Yet we’ve been unable to account for the oppositional relations that mark out fields of philosophical activity and conflict using this model of architectonics.  This is particularly the case with political ontologies.  For example, Marxism is forceful in its critique of non-material realities since it conceives of them as effects of structures that subject human beings to alienation and exploitation.  Since Watson’s book was published positions have been developed that draw energy from a critique of positions like his.  Watson calls for us to experiment with pluralism, to try to set aside the attempt to destroy principles different from our own.  This will produce assimilation and ‘… the irreducible oppositions of principle [will] recede into the background’ (ibid: x).  Yet for a political ontology it is the resistance of human subjects and communities that is at stake.  It genuinely matters that reality should be understood in certain ways if this is a condition of a certain praxis involving resistance to oppression and injustice.[2]  If we return to Watson’s inaugural gesture – an arbitrary subjective judgement on the model of choosing a system of measurement – we find this model of judgement to be at fault.  Rather than a forceful judgement based on the necessity of ‘taking a stand’, we have choice between equal possibilities in which nothing is at stake.  It is hard to see how thought finds its energy without inequality and opposition.  There is no account or genesis of thought because the alternatives are equally valid and there is no impetus to develop one or the other.  In the end we find that Watson’s conception of architectonics does not carry across to the other epochs he describes.  It makes no sense to thinkers who seek to build against, or in the face of, opposing doctrines, to resist alternatives, to change the current state of things because it is not in fact equal to the truth of being in which they place their faith.

  

Bibliography

Brassier, Ray (2015), ‘Ray Brassier interviewed by Marcin Rychter - I am a nihilist because I still believe in truth’, Kronos, 2015.  Retrieved from http://www.kronos.org.pl/index.php?23151,896 [date accessed: 20th February 2016].
— (2007), Nihil Unbound:  Enlightenment and Extinction, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hallward, Peter (2006), Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, London and New York: Verso.
Nancy, Jean-Luc (1993), The Birth to Presence, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Watson, Walter (1993), The Architectonics of Meaning: Foundations of the New Pluralism, 2nd edn., Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.



[1] Brassier adds:  ‘…philosophy is neither a medium of affirmation nor a source of justification, but rather the organon of extinction’ (ibid, 239).  Elsewhere he links his nihilism to other disciplines:  ‘… a project is now underway to understand and explain human consciousness in terms that are compatible with the natural sciences, such that the meanings generated by consciousness can themselves be understood and explained as the products of purposeless but perfectly intelligible processes, which are at once neurobiological and sociohistorical’ (Brassier 2015). 

[2] For example, Peter Hallward’s critique of continental philosophy has in its sites thinkers like Gilles Deleuze and Jean-Luc Nancy.  They are said to have neglected the actual, political and concrete situations in which we find ourselves in favour of the virtual production of reality.  In the case of Nancy it is the privileging of presencing over presence that is at fault:  ‘Presence is what is born, and does not cease being born.  Of it and to it there is birth, and only birth’. (Nancy 1993: 2).  See Hallward 2006 for a critique of Deleuze’s alleged privileging of the virtual over the actual and its concerns. 

In : Architectonics 



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What is the Meaning of Architectonics? On Walter’s Watson’s The Architectonics of Meaning

Posted by Edward Willatt on Sunday, February 21, 2016 Under: Architectonics




Walter Watson’s The Architectonics of Meaning: Foundations of the New Pluralism (1985, second edition 1993) is at once modest and hugely ambitious in its project.  In this work of less than two hundred pages the history of Western philosophy, plus that of natural science and elements of literature and Eastern philosophy, are synthesised within an architectonic.  The range of thinkers which span the extremes of opposing views is wide indeed.  Yet Watson proclaims the standpoint of ‘the new pluralism’.   No theory is superior to any other; all are included and recognised as ‘archic variables’ or basic possibilities of thought. 

We must consider whether this vast construction achieves more than excellence in scholarship and exegesis.  Does this pluralistic architectonic undermine the ability of philosophy or any other disciplines to ‘make a difference’ if all their efforts have equal value?  Is this a ‘levelling down’ of thought that neglects the real genesis and energy of this activity?  If all positions are equal, are they not equally impotent in their ability to make progress or ‘stand their ground’, to resist reactive forces and realise the potential of thought in the world? 

Watson starts with diversity as something continuous in the history of philosophy.   His architectonic must realise the implications of diversity and show that the differences between philosophies are non-oppositional.  A key claim in Watson’s approach to architectonics is that different philosophies are incompatible only insofar as we need to use one system of thought at a time. Just as we cannot use both the metric and decimal systems of measurement to grasp and ‘mark out’ the world, so we cannot use both empiricist and rationalist principles to do philosophy.   This leads Watson to the arbitrariness of foundational philosophical decisions by analogy with the decision between inches and centimetres.  We have to make this choice in order to think just as we have to make a choice between systems of measurement in order to measure anything and understand the dimensions of objects and spaces.  This judgement is at once foundational for purposeful and constructive activity, and utterly arbitrary.  Thus we have the figure of the architectonic thinker making an arbitrary choice in a radically subjective foundational gesture.  This will have implications for Watson’s attempt to found a pluralism of all philosophical positions.  If the subject's interpretation is primary, questions arise about assuming the subject as a starting point.  If our position is that of a monistic materialist, shouldn’t we seek to account for the emergence of a subject rather than beginning by assuming its simple existence?  We will return to this point.  What exactly is chosen so arbitrarily in the subject’s decision about how to interpret the world? 

Watson’s method is to take account of the different principles from which philosophies start and on which they depend.   This will produce an understanding of the multiplicity of approaches and a widening of the horizon of possibilities.  It also has cross-disciplinary implications: 

‘Further, since the special arts and sciences are particular embodiments of philosophic principles,a pluralism at the level of philosophy implies the possibility of a similar pluralism at the level of thespecial arts and sciences’. (Watson 1993: xiv)

In this architectonic, the different approaches of arts and sciences cannot be resolved by appealing to the way the world is.  Instead it is different approaches, frameworks, styles or paradigms that determine how we see the world and reflect fundamental philosophical differences.   Philosophic principles also found other disciplines.  They include Creative Principles.  These are initiating, arbitrary powers (ibid: 103).  For Watson these are possibilities of thought exemplified in the Book of Genesis and its account of creation but reactivated in Heidegger's Being and Time where the God and human of Genesis become Being and Dasein (ibid: 110).  These are the co-creators.  Another case is Elementary Principles which again have a huge range in Watson's reading of the history of thought.  They are embodied by Plotinus' the One, Nietzsche's Will to Power and Freud's psychic energy (ibid: 117, 123).  For Freud and Nietzsche it is a conflict of elemental forces that is manifested in our thought and experience.  For Plotinus it is a spiritual, non-material unity that is elementary.  

In contrast to both Creative and Elementary Principles, Comprehensive Principles envisage the design of the whole and its functioning.  An example is Plato’s dialogues because each shows a different way in which the Comprehensive Principle of the Good causes functioning (ibid: 128).  On this reading, the harmony of both psyche and polis in the Republic is the result of each part of these structures functioning according to the Idea of the Good.  Finally, we have Reflexive Principles.  Here we do not look for a cause of functioning, such as a transcendent Idea, but make functioning the cause of itself (ibid: 136).  The sciences established by Aristotle are governed by Reflexive Principles because these actualise themselves through disciplinary activities.  The motion studied by natural science actualises the principle that initiates this intellectual endeavour (ibid: 138).  Likewise, metaphysics is ‘thought thinking itself’, it actualises the principle that founds it.  We do not look beyond the activity that is the genesis of these sciences to account for them.  This strategy allows Watson to visit a dizzying array of philosophies, scientific theories and artistic practices, uncovering in each an ‘archic variable’ that in every case organises, unifies and shines forth in its explanatory power and intellectual satisfaction.  There is nothing lacking in these principles but what about their relations with one another?  What about the encounters and disputations that characterise the history of thought and leave their mark? 

The approach Watson takes to architectonics is based upon some major claims.  We saw that he assumes the existence of a subject capable of making judgements about the interpretation of reality as arbitrary as those between different systems of measurements.  Such undetermined judgements are unconditioned by forces that certain thinkers consider to be necessary conditions of thought and its judgements.  Watson also moves to undermine the apparent force and importance of disagreements in the history of philosophy.  He does this by again appealing to the adequacy of judgements and in particular the exemplary ability and reputation of the subjects who judge.  Having named some famous disputants on either side of a debate, Watson argues that with such names on either side ‘… who can suppose that one of these groups must be simply wrong?  Our initial thought that the greatest wisdom enforces the most profound pluralism seems sufficiently confirmed even in this single comparison’ (ibid: 57).  The reputation and excellence of judging subjects confirms the adequacy of arbitrary judgements about how to interpret the world.  Yet many thinkers have recognised the worth of both sides in a disputation without drawing from this the equality of different positions.  Hegel’s system advances by subsuming both sides in a dialectic where the common element, absolute spirit, is found in both thesis and antithesis.  Likewise, a reduction of the non-material to the material recognises what it reduces but is clear in its reduction of what appears to be non-material to fully material processes and structures.  Why should a pantheon of opposed but brilliant minds lead us to embrace pluralism? 

In order to make his case, Watson formulates a concept of reciprocal priority in order to capture the equality and parity of different philosophies.  This is based on the idea that every approach can include all the others (ibid: 69).  As such they are 'reciprocally prior' to one another.  They are equally prior to one another because they make it possible for each other to have priority.  Thus, it is only because material realities can include non-material realities that we can range over reality giving satisfying material explanations.  We are free to choose materialism as we are free to choose centimetres or inches.  Our ability to incorporate other approaches to reality equalises them all in an equal relation of reciprocal priority.  Any philosophy embodies an ‘archic profile’ that is able to include all other philosophies and their results (ibid: 149).  We can affirm each philosophy:  ‘Each of the realities will then include the others, and be a reality of realities’ (ibid: 42).  Yet, this affirmation does not involve a negation of any other philosophy.  It seems that all philosophies join in a common project of realising the possibilities of thought by expanding to include everything that can be thought without denying the ability of other approaches to do the very same thing.  Does this all-embracing conception give us any grip upon the reality of thought and its dynamics over centuries of disputation and apparent conflict over reality?  Do we keep hold of the sharp divisions between philosophies that seem to range across the history of thought, such as when Speculative Realists reject transcendental philosophy in a critical judgement that energises their expansive system building?


For Watson the history of philosophy represents a cycle of shifts between three epochs: the ontic, the epistemic and the semantic (ibid: 5).  Thus the architectonic thinker does not, as is the case with David Casper Friedrich’s painting of ‘The Wayfarer Above the Sea of Fog’ (c. 1818), stand in the face a completely undetermined landscape.   They exist within an epoch which focuses upon either being, knowing or meaning until problems and contradictions build up and initiate a paradigm shift.  Watson locates his own work in this all-encompassing process:  ‘… here as throughout we are working in a semantic context and seeking causes internal to the text’ (ibid: 101).  This text was first published in 1985 and we could locate a return to what Watson calls an ontic epoch in the work of Alain Badiou and the loose grouping of thinkers often referred to as Speculative Realists.  Founding gestures in these systems include a rejection of both language and text based philosophy, and of the Kantian legacy of epistemic conditions of thought.  This might be described as a decisive break with the current situation, something that for thinkers like Badiou is necessary to account for change.  Watson finds fertile ground in his own epoch for an architectonics of meaning because such eras embrace the diversity of philosophies.  Ontic and epistemic epochs don’t bring this ‘multiplicity of doctrines’ to the fore as semantic ones do (ibid: 10).   For Watson his conception of architectonics is appropriate to the semantic epoch which he inhabits.  An architectonics of being or knowledge would reduce semantics and meaning-creation to being or knowing.  Watson finds that ontic epochs have produced and elaborated Aristotle’s Metaphysics with its architectonic of being.  Recurring epistemic epochs can develop the architectonics of knowing set out in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.  Yet where does this leave Watson’s claims about epochs other than his own?  Has he not confined himself to a semantic epoch and undermined his claims about the ‘archic elements’ that account for the emergence of different architectonics within different epochs?  Does he have the perspective and the resources to construct this account of architectonics in all its forms, this architectonic of architectonics?  Is not his approach in the end semantic, all too semantic? 

In his Architectonics of Meaning Watson seeks to draw upon the energy produced by the multiplicity of possibilities and constructions he locates across different epochs and philosophies.  Yet we’ve suggested that he privileges semantics even while claiming to establish pluralism.  For Watson the first principles that have always concerned philosophy are conceived as ‘… causes of the functioning of texts, and as reciprocally prior values of variables common to all texts’ (ibid: 13).  This emphasis within Watson’s architectonic seems to limit its explanatory power and grasp on the dynamics of thought.   Other epochs, ontic and epistemic, demand that we ‘take a stand’ on what is real or what is a condition of knowledge.  Yet in Watson’s architectonic of meaning there isn’t even any real friction between positions, nothing against which we can proclaim and defend our position.  It is as if the solidity of different systems melts away in a celebration of creativity and difference.  Architectonics does not provide a solid ground for ‘taking a stand’, for the fidelity that for Badiou is the practical foundation of events in the face of their lack of any foundation or justification in the current state of the situation.  For many thinkers a non-semantic reality or structure is at stake.  It is the things themselves or the most basic concepts that matter.  For example, Ray Brassier's nihilistic project seems to resist incorporation into Watson’s conception because, for this thinker, ‘… it is precisely the extinction of meaning that clears the way for the intelligibility of extinction’ (Brassier 2007, p. 238).[1]  Such philosophy is always against other philosophies and it is hard to make sense of such projects in any other way.  Such philosophies need an Other and this must be a genuine Other rather than an illusory opponent subsumed in an equality of ‘reciprocal priority’.  Without this friction and resistance, can we explain how such positions emerge in the first place?  Watson gives us an unbalanced architectonic which privileges a certain dynamic of meaning and interpretation in a way that leaves it unable to account for quite different dynamics such as critique and resistance to alternatives. 

We must consider the self-awareness and modesty shown by Watson about his own position in the final sentence of The Architectonics of Meaning:  ‘The insight presented here into the archic determinants of our thought, an insight appropriate to a semantic epoch, is one further step in the progressive realization of thought by itself’ (Watson 1993: 170).  This appropriateness to a semantic epoch is recognised and yet not seen as undermining the conception of architectonics in general as it is presented here.  Watson envisages other epochs uncovering and celebrating the pluralism that semantic epochs are best at appreciating.  They would come to the same conclusion that because we can incorporate different views of reality within one another their reciprocal priority is established.  Yet wouldn’t they take this as a dispute over the ability of philosophies to produce an account that has the greatest explanatory power, empirical authenticity and logical rigor?  Would they not lay claim to being closer to reality, to the basic elements of being or the basic concepts of knowledge?  It is hard to see how we can make sense of Watson’s conception of architectonics in these contexts.  In these landscapes of thought there are oppositions and divisions which reflect non-semantic reality and the problems it poses for us.  Yet for Watson there seems to be no outside of thought, no other to the diversity of mutually inclusive possibilities he celebrates, which could shock thought into action and explain why forceful and divisive philosophies emerge in the first place. 

In Water Watson’s Architectonics of Meaning we find that a multitude of philosophical systems are related and categorized in enlightening ways.  Drawing these connections leads us to a conception of architectonics as a pluralism founded upon the reciprocal priority of apparently opposed and incompatible world views.  Yet we’ve been unable to account for the oppositional relations that mark out fields of philosophical activity and conflict using this model of architectonics.  This is particularly the case with political ontologies.  For example, Marxism is forceful in its critique of non-material realities since it conceives of them as effects of structures that subject human beings to alienation and exploitation.  Since Watson’s book was published positions have been developed that draw energy from a critique of positions like his.  Watson calls for us to experiment with pluralism, to try to set aside the attempt to destroy principles different from our own.  This will produce assimilation and ‘… the irreducible oppositions of principle [will] recede into the background’ (ibid: x).  Yet for a political ontology it is the resistance of human subjects and communities that is at stake.  It genuinely matters that reality should be understood in certain ways if this is a condition of a certain praxis involving resistance to oppression and injustice.[2]  If we return to Watson’s inaugural gesture – an arbitrary subjective judgement on the model of choosing a system of measurement – we find this model of judgement to be at fault.  Rather than a forceful judgement based on the necessity of ‘taking a stand’, we have choice between equal possibilities in which nothing is at stake.  It is hard to see how thought finds its energy without inequality and opposition.  There is no account or genesis of thought because the alternatives are equally valid and there is no impetus to develop one or the other.  In the end we find that Watson’s conception of architectonics does not carry across to the other epochs he describes.  It makes no sense to thinkers who seek to build against, or in the face of, opposing doctrines, to resist alternatives, to change the current state of things because it is not in fact equal to the truth of being in which they place their faith.

  

Bibliography

Brassier, Ray (2015), ‘Ray Brassier interviewed by Marcin Rychter - I am a nihilist because I still believe in truth’, Kronos, 2015.  Retrieved from http://www.kronos.org.pl/index.php?23151,896 [date accessed: 20th February 2016].
— (2007), Nihil Unbound:  Enlightenment and Extinction, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hallward, Peter (2006), Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, London and New York: Verso.
Nancy, Jean-Luc (1993), The Birth to Presence, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Watson, Walter (1993), The Architectonics of Meaning: Foundations of the New Pluralism, 2nd edn., Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.



[1] Brassier adds:  ‘…philosophy is neither a medium of affirmation nor a source of justification, but rather the organon of extinction’ (ibid, 239).  Elsewhere he links his nihilism to other disciplines:  ‘… a project is now underway to understand and explain human consciousness in terms that are compatible with the natural sciences, such that the meanings generated by consciousness can themselves be understood and explained as the products of purposeless but perfectly intelligible processes, which are at once neurobiological and sociohistorical’ (Brassier 2015). 

[2] For example, Peter Hallward’s critique of continental philosophy has in its sites thinkers like Gilles Deleuze and Jean-Luc Nancy.  They are said to have neglected the actual, political and concrete situations in which we find ourselves in favour of the virtual production of reality.  In the case of Nancy it is the privileging of presencing over presence that is at fault:  ‘Presence is what is born, and does not cease being born.  Of it and to it there is birth, and only birth’. (Nancy 1993: 2).  See Hallward 2006 for a critique of Deleuze’s alleged privileging of the virtual over the actual and its concerns. 

In : Architectonics 



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