Posted by: Johan Normark | March 29, 2009

An ontology of ontologies vs. a flat ontology

In my entry on the cave site of Chakal Ja’as I mentioned iconic codes and a discursive order. It is now time to describe these different ontologies. Ontology concerns the entities that is believed to exist and that populate reality. DeLanda classifies the ontologies into three groups. Some believe that there is no reality beyond the human mind (“idealism”;). Others believe that the objects we observe do exist beyond us but they are sceptical to the idea that theories are independent from social constructions. Some believe that there is a world completely independent from the human mind. The two first perspectives deal with phenomena (the way things appear in our mind), and the latter also discuss nuomena (the things in themselves). This latter ontology is a realist ontology to which Deleuze belongs. However, Deleuze does not believe in essences or transcendental entities like the “naïve realists” do. Deleuze rather exchanges the idea of the general and the particular with the universal and the singular (ibid).

Wittgenstein belongs to DeLanda’s second category and he argues that our statements are either expressed beliefs or pictures of the real world. People give different versions of what is happening in the world. These are like language games with separate vocabularies and rules which fulfil different social roles. The language games are not justified by human agents, but they are played and sometimes understood. Different ontologies create theories with different versions of realities. There are many contradictory ontologies and no one can be said to represent the “absolute truth”. Instead of refusing different approaches to study the social, we should try to combine them, based in an ontology that allows this.

Wittgenstein and Aijmer

Wittgenstein and Aijmer

An attempt to do this has been proposed by the Swedish anthropologist Göran Aijmer. He summarizes three different, but equal, scientific orders which have their own discourses and presuppositions in studying social order. These analytic constructions are based in the realist, iconic and discursive orders. Aijmer’s symbological project is a merging of operational functions, semantics and social pragmatics. Results in one ontological order can be used in another and thus generate better understanding of social order.

To begin with, we have an operational order with realist presuppositions. Practical tasks make people form certain collectives for survival. People that perform one such task can be called a group, such as an “eating group” or a “cooking group.” What is important for us here is that these groups form in relation to materiality, and may in some cases be related to serial action. These groups are more likely series in Sartre’s terminology.

A second ontology is the iconic order which focuses on symbolism of iconic codes and its use. This order deals with powerful expressive forces. The acquisition of iconic symbolism is a conscious act but this symbolism is not language based and therefore it lacks referential meaning. The iconic codes are expressive devices that interact to form messages. People who reproduce images or materiality are familiar with the iconic grammar. The information about the icons lies in the icons themselves. The images manifest intuitive cognizance and are separated from everyday life. They create their own realities and form unintended messages or motives which are contextual and therefore are difficult to be retold outside an iconic event. The iconic codes are used to form a world that is different from the practical world seen in the operational order. Aijmer suggests that icons occur in real time, but in the iconic order, the icons lack temporality.

The discursive order relates to intentional pragmatic human action and conversations. Social discourse includes language and other sensory communications (iconography, smells, sounds, etc.). This order also includes several alternative stories.

The operational, iconic and discursive orders have a distant connection with the ethological order. This concerns the realist ontology which emphasizes the biological or genetic realities of human action. This order includes thinking, memory and the physical effects of living in a world as it is described by physics, geology and meteorology. Biological evolution may be included here since the iconic codes may be older than language.

What then is needed to merge these orders? Aijmer argues that we need to agree upon a universal human being to a minimal degree. There may be differences in certain social formations depending on which ontology is dominant. The “West” has emphasized a discursive order whereas “South Chinese people” emphasize the iconic order through the use of geomancy. However, the orders intertwine with each other. For example, we can study how the realist existence affects the discourses among certain groups and give them symbolic representations.

The Posthumanocentric approach believes this is fine. But what is universal in the human being that Aijmer seeks? How do we define this universal, particularly since there is an evolutionary component? It is quite obvious that individual habits of human beings cannot be the foundation for an ontology of ontologies since habits are not universal. In order to create a universal human being we need to reduce all differences and variations to a static representation that works everywhere and through all history.

Deleuze and DeLanda show us ways out of the representational chains by focusing on morphogenetic processes that differs and repeats. This can be done from a flat ontology and therefore there is no need to create different ontological orders, they can be joined within the same since the world is monistic.

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